Tag Archives: Religion

Those Spiteful Atheists

Some stupidity like this is doing the rounds:

1) Being an atheist is okay. Being an atheist and shaming religions and spirituality as silly and not real is not okay

2) Being a Christian is okay. Being homophobic, misogynistic, racist or otherwise hateful person in the name of Christianity is not okay

3) Being a reindeer is okay. Bullying and excluding another reindeer because it has a shiny red nose is not okay

But Hold On

Atheists don’t generally shame spirituality and say it’s not real. Spirituality is a human emotional feeling that some humans have more than others; and some atheists are spiritual, though they don’t need a deity for that.

Atheists do say religion’s gods are not real, and that’s just as okay as believers saying their gods ARE real.

And, of course, when YOU the believer say YOUR god is real, and the only true god, then YOU are saying the gods of other religions are not real. And that’s okay?

These very different gods cannot be all real. So believers inherently deny the reality of all gods but theirs. So, this admonition aimed at atheists is hypocritical BS.

But let’s look a little closer at those words above and what they imply.

Is it okay to criticise those Christians that are homophobic, misogynistic,
racist? Of course it is. YOU just did it above. And do YOU think racism is shameful, or not?

Let’s look at another angle.

Point 2 seems reasonable, because it is criticising the persecution of people for what they are and cannot help being: homosexual, female, of a different ethnic origin. Point 3 is similarly aimed at people for what they are – the animal equivalent of fat-shaming, or bullying kids that need to wear glasses, or bulling people for being a bit further from the norm than most others.

But when you look at point 1, what is this ‘shaming’ really targeting? It’s targeting the ideas and beliefs that people hold. It’s targeting the religious based justification for homophobic, misogynistic, racist agendas.

Is that not okay?

If you think not, then you need to think twice when you post jokes that make fun of or shame Conservatives, or even Fascists. If ideas are not up for scrutiny then you’ve just shut down the whole debate of political ideas, including your own. YOU have taken on one of the most reprehensible
aspects of extremists ideologies – shutting up criticism.

What do you think those three points are meant to do, if not shame people into thinking cuddly nice religion deserves a free pass on criticism and ridicule for stupid ideas.

The bollocks above is based entirely on the religious demand for special privilege. If you think YOUR belief is that special it cannot be made fun of, then you are demanding a privilege that in all likelihood YOUR religious
belief does not live up to. Have you read the religious scriptures of most religions and how it doesn’t merely shame non-believers, but in many places predicts their eternal suffering in hell, or even demands their punishment, even their death, here on earth. And based on what? Some ancient texts written in totally ignorant times?

If you think some politicians are not making sense because they are not paying attention to reality, then most religions DESERVE shaming and ridicule, because they are based directly on myth and not on reality.

At least David Cameron isn’t going to Europe and arguing for changes in fishing quotas because Poseidon demands it.

And yet, those nice warn friendly Anglicans don’t deserve ridicule for their beliefs? Think again: Floods are judgment on society, say bishops.

Get over yourselves. Religion is stupid, and often shamefully homophobic, misogynistic, racist. The method of using faith to sustain your religious belief is exactly the same faith mechanism that religiously inspired terrorists use to sustain their belief in the most abhorrent scriptures of their religion.

Another Empty Claim That ISIS ‘Warp’ The Religion

Paris attack: As a Muslim I’m disgusted how Isis can carry out this violence and claim to represent my faith – Miqdaad Versi

“I am equally if not more so angry that these people should do so through some misguided and warped grasp of my faith.”

Come on, Miqdaad, this is not convincing. You really can’t make a case that it is a warped grasp of ‘your’ faith without being very explicit about what your faith is; and simply saying it’s ‘Islam’ is the nature of the problem. Because ‘your’ Islam is not ‘their’ Islam. What you take from Islam isn’t what they take form Islam. But let’s be honest here, what they take from Islam is right their in the ‘inerrant’ world of god, and in the examples of the life of your prophet: the stoning, the beheading, the demand for lashing for sex outside marriage. You have to ‘warp’ those words, with selectivity, the magic of ‘context’, or whatever else you do to take only love and peace from those texts.

“But there is also a real concern that in the days ahead, there will be those who will try to use the Parisian atrocity to divide the British society and as an excuse to launch attacks against Muslims, as happened after the Charlie Hebdo attacks earlier this year.”

I appreciate that concern. But let’s be honest, it will pale into insignificance compared to the threat that atheist bloggers in Bangladesh live under. Some perspective, please.

“With a number of horrific tweets talking about killing all Muslims …”

You know this is mostly bullshit, right? Let’s take a moment here to note that when ISIS say they want to kill infidels, they really mean it. They were real deaths in Paris, not empty threats. The killers of Lee Rigby really did kill him and didn’t merely post empty threats on twitter.

“… and with people such as Richard Dawkins equating Islam with Nazism, …”

Again, let’s be honest here. Dawkins is referring to the way Islam is presented to us by ISIS. This has many similarities to the surge of Nazism, including the persecution and genocidal treatment of whole groups of people based on their religious or political identity. And, again, the script for that can quite legitimately be taken from the Islamic texts – at least as legitimately as you take your watered down Islam of love and peace.

“Verbal assaults against Muslims have already begun to take place.”

Wow! Verbal assaults. Now that’s not nice, and we should object to it strongly. But hardly on a scale of the Paris attack is it.

“At a bus stop in the UK today, a man shouted, “They need to all die, these Muslims need to die. Look what they’re doing in Paris,” to a young Muslim woman.”

Take a moment, Miqdaad, and think about what has been said by Muslims around the world regarding non-Muslims. Look at the rhetoric used any time a cartoon of Muhammed is produced.

“British Muslims have also been rocked by suicide attacks devastating Beirut which killed over 40 people, and in Baghdad, which took over 20 lives.”

British Muslims have been rocked? Why mention British Muslims in the context of these killings? Suddenly the unity of Muslims is important, when Muslims are victims, but not so much when Muslims are the perpetrators?

I stand with you against the physical attacks on Muslims in the UK that you describe. However, when you list the attacks in Beruit and Baghdad, they have been attacked by Muslims, so making your point particularly decietful.

“These incidents come on the back of thousands being killed by Daesh in Iraq, Syria and Yemen, amongst others.”

Yes, we know that most victims of Muslim Islamists are Muslims. And we know that pious Muslims can become victim to the incitement to violence for merely having been supposed to have damaged a copy of the Quran.

“There are many who feel wary of trying to restate the fact that #MuslimsAreNotTerrorists…”

Dishonest again, Miqdaad. Try ‘#MostMuslimsAreNotTerrorists’, because some clearly are.

“Once again there will be a debate as to whether Muslims should be compelled to condemn those terrorists who kill in our name.”

Do you feel it needs to be debated whether Muslims should condemn those terrorists?

“Sadly, I feel we have no option but to make sure our voice is heard.”

And I feel the same too, though I suspect many of your fellow Muslims would call me an Islamophobe for doing so. And you know full well if you state it too loudly and clearly some of your fellow Muslims will call you a traitor, because, again, unity in the face of criticism of your religion is far more important than siding with infidels against the extremes of your religion.

“Muslim have come out in united condemnation to stand apart from this evil.”

Yes, and that is very welcome.

“There is also a desire to move beyond words and show solidarity through action.”

Even better.

“As we all mourn the devastation caused by these terrorists, who try and claim legitimacy from the faith of Islam, …”

They do no more than you do, Miqdaad. You too claim legitimacy. And you and the terrorists deny it of each other. You play the Takfir game.

“… and as we all support effective methods to keep our nation safe and secure, we cannot let the terrorists win by dividing us. Together, we must stand united.”

This is the most heartening part of your piece. But it really doesn’t help when you hide from the facts. ISIS can claim Islamic legitimacy just as much as you can. You may not like that, and nor do I. I wish you and ISIS were of different religions. It would make life a lot simpler of all of us.

But you share the same ‘inerrant Quran and the texts of the Hadith; and the ISIS interpretation needs far fewer excuses and contexts to justify it.

If you really think that we should all stand together, then let’s do it for the liberal that allow us to criticise each others beliefs without fear of violence in the name of it, or without stifling dissent within your religion by persecution and even a sentence of death for leaving it.

Do you support what Maajid Nawaz is doing? Or is that asking too much? How about Asra Nomani? Or are you so stuck with the inerrancy of your tests that you must play the Takfir game with ISIS?

Justin Welby Likes To Torture Sick People?

And here we go with another religious justification for torturing people, from Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby.

Of course he doesn’t like to torture sick people, or to use his religious belief to justify such torture. I thought, well, if he’s prepared to use ridiculous rhetoric to make his case, I might too. But then thought again, decided that’s basically dishonest, and added this retraction. I’ll leave the dishonest BS to Justin.

With other faith leaders, I have joined in writing to members of parliament, urging them to oppose Rob Marris’s assisted dying bill. We have written, not in an attempt to push “the religious” viewpoint on others …

I’m sorry, Justin, but that’s precisely what you are doing, with other faith leaders. You are indeed trying to push your religious views on us.

but because we are concerned that a change in the current law on assisted suicide would have detrimental effects both on individuals and on our society.

And your view that the effects will be detrimental is biased by your religious views. Now that’s not to say you can’t provide a reasonable argument independent of your religious views, I’m just saying I don’t think you have. But let’s get down to addressing your concerns.

First, a change in the law to permit assisted suicide would cross a fundamental legal and ethical Rubicon.

Yes it will, for the better. For too long the principles of the sacredness of life have been, yes, sacred – i.e. religious. Life is a process. We, that is our mental selves, are along for the ride. Only your religious convictions associate this life with additional notions of souls and minds that are distinct from our physical reality. I don’t share your views. I value this life and the lives of others while they are being lived. I’m all for improving health and medicine to extend enjoyable life as much as possible. I’m even keen on using more advanced artificial means of extending life where it is wanted, perhaps in ways that you might not – if being a cyborg could bring a greater more enjoyable life I’d be for it. Only a presumption of the specialness of human life in some weird mythical sense sees current humans as the pinnacle of earthly creation. See us properly on an extending evolutionary scale and we are just somewhere in there and are not the chosen ones the religious presume we are.

This respect for the lives of others goes to the heart of both our criminal and human rights laws and ought not to be abandoned.

But, look, it is precisely out of respect for the wishes of those of a free and sound mind to maintain self-determination at the end of their lives that I think they should be able to do as they wish. Do we need religious busy-bodies dictating to the slowly dying that their lives are worth more to the living religious than they are to the ones carrying the burden. You’re not helping in the way you think you are – because you are thinking like a religious know-it-all that knows what your god wants when it comes to suffering people. If someone of sound mind, facing long term suffering and incapacity really wants to end it, I respect that wish, and if they can’t do it themselves it seems only humane to assist and not hang around with useless false comfort and a bit of cheering on while watching them suffer.

While it is not a crime in the UK for someone to take his or her own life we recognise that it is a tragedy and we, rightly, do all that we can to prevent suicide. The assisted dying bill requires us to turn this stance on its head, not merely legitimising suicide, but actively supporting it.

This is truly moronic, or dishonest – maybe both. Of course, this bill isn’t about ‘legitimising suicide’ or actively supporting it, because this isn’t really suicide in the usual sense that we’re talking about. This is quite different to, for example, the many cases where people with psychological troubles are looking for an out because they are suffering mental torment.

This is about people who know they are going to suffer the remainder of their lives in some soul destroying diminished capacity, if not abject pain, and they’ve had enough. This is suicide only in a technical sense, and it is only in this technical sense in which your concern here applies – which makes me think it all the more dishonest, that someone supposedly as spiritual as you is missing the spirit of the bill, which is to relieve suffering, to show some respect for self-determination, to have some compassion for a person that understands their own mind. It’s not about ‘actively supporting suicide’ at all – far from it. The bill very specifically guards against suicide, in the spirit of the term.

We are asked to sanction doctors participating in individuals taking steps to end their lives. This is a change of monumental proportions both in the law and in the role of doctors; it is little wonder that it is opposed by the medical profession.

You misrepresent the bill, Justin, because its intent is to make it as fair and as safe as possible. Doctors have never been opposed to this en masse, and those that appreciate the relief from suffering and recognise the brutality of enforced continued suffering, have always had to play stupid games to get around the law. It’s a terrible moral mess that puts doctors through this, as well as the suffering patients.

Currently, those who act wholly out of compassion in assisting someone they know to end their lives will not face prosecution. I feel profoundly the grief and struggle of anyone finding themselves in such a situation, desiring to respond with love in the face of suffering.

So, here you are tacitly legitimising and supporting assisted suicide? And I can only think it’s your religious convictions, that you want to impress on us, that makes you put that aside for the sake of some ridiculous principle. Dishonest. Actually legitimise assisted dying, if you really want to be compassionate. Put your sky-god in his compartment, as you have to do so often as a religious believer dealing with real life.

I know what it is to sit at the bedside of someone you love enormously and yet be torn by fears and worries about their future.

It is your religious belief that presumes there is a future that should be had, in this world or the imaginary next one. Now, if the patient believes the same, and does not want to end their life, then by all means do your religious thing and give them the support they ask for. Nobody is forcing you or dying fellow believers to give up religious principles for yourselves and actively seek or assist in death.

But, Justin, we don’t all think like you or believe in fantasies the way you do. We are capable of self-determination and prefer it to Welby’s-god-determiniation. I don’t want you having a say in my death, or preventing it when I’m ready to go. So, thanks, but butt out.

I agree that the law should take a considered and compassionate approach to caring relatives who are asked by those closest to them to help bring their lives to an end. To change the law, however, to give individuals access to medically prescribed lethal drugs risks replacing the type of personal compassion that is forged in a lifetime relationship for a “process” marked by clinical and judicial detachment.

In other words, despite your religious convictions, you are here justifying lying, pure dishonesty, hypocrisy. What your position amounts to is, “It is wrong to assist you. But hold on, I’ll just look the other way. … Oh, did you die while I wasn’t looking? How sad but noble of you to fight to the end.”

You’re a fraud – even if you don’t realise it yourself. But I don’t find it strange that the religious are able to fool themselves so easily, as it’s a requirement for religious belief in the first place.

As the European Court has noted, the legal understanding of the “right to life” would have to be fundamentally rewritten and for no good effect.

This is plain stupid. The “right to life” is just that, a right, to life; the capacity for me to maintain my life in the face of others that might want to take it. It is my right, not yours or the European Court’s, or the law’s, or my government’s. While our government has a duty to assist in my right to life, to help protect my life against those wishing to take it, it has no rights with regard to my life.

What a “right to life” is not, is a requirement to live. The government should not have the “right to my life” such that they must protect my life against me when I am able to judge it has run its course and is no longer useful to me.

Again, this is not the same issue as stepping in to help someone who is ill and does not have the psychological competence to maintain their own life. If we find someone unconscious after a road accident it is prudent to think they did not want to be in this predicament, and so we actively aid them in their “right to life”. If someone is seriously depressed then it is right to help them recover so that they might re-appraise the worth of their life, to them, not to your religious convictions.

But …

  • My right to my life is not your right to enforce my continued life upon me.
  • your duty to help me maintain my life, when I want it maintained, or when it is safe to presume I would want it maintained is not your right to presume I want my life maintained, when I have, in a state of full competence, specified conditions when I don’t want it to be maintained.

Get your god damned religion out of my life!

On to Justin’s second concern …

Second, a change in the law would place very many thousands of vulnerable people at risk. … It is impossible to ensure that they and other vulnerable people would not be placed under pressure to end their lives prematurely in ways that proposed safeguards cannot hope to detect.

Nonsense. There’s one simple requirement: assisted dying can only be used when the patient has, during a time of mental competence, made a living statement about their right to die wishes, or when, with reasonable precaution, it is thought they would wish it, or, where they protracted suffering is unavoidable. Yes, this is new ground, but it’s not too difficult to come up with clear states of being under which the right to die is complied with.

Make no mistake, MPs are being asked to take a huge gamble that a changed law would protect the vulnerable. There is no need to take such a risk since the current law continues to protect the vulnerable while harbouring no threat for those who act wholly out of compassion.

This is utter rubbish. Of course the law can and would be adapted as circumstances arise. You worry about MP’s, but not my right to self-determination? Religious authority shows too much concern for authority in general – let the MPs do their job and the right thing and give the freedom of self-determination we are asking for.

But more than that. Those that act out of compassion are precisely not the people whose right to die is the subject of this statement. Without a pre-determined statement of conditions in which one might want to die, leaving the burden on those loving family and friends, and the doctors, while there is still the potential weight of a murder charge hovering over their heads, ignores the well-being of all those directly concerned, and totally ignores the wishes of the person that wants to die.

We know from the US states of Oregon and Washington that between 40% and 60% of those who used legally prescribed lethal drugs to end their lives cited concern that they would be a burden on their families as a factor in their decision to bring their lives to a premature end.

The problem here is not with the principle of burden. I, now, in good health and hopefully some time off any miserable death, anticipate the horrendous suffering I’d impose on my family with a drawn out painful end. I value my life greatly, but I know that there could come a time when I submit my family to a dreadful struggle. And it’s no good telling me how much they would want me to struggle on, how much they would not want to lose me – I take those as given, knowing my family. But we’re talking about MY choice here, not theirs. The decision about how much of a burden I want to be is MINE, not theirs; or yours, Justin Welby!

The situation is this, if my dying is such that I would want an assisted death: 1a) I will die at the end of a long, painful illness, in which my family watches me slowly die, and 1b) then I will be dead and they will miss me; 2a) they will see me die quickly, under my own terms, without further suffering, and 2b) then I will be dead and they will miss me. They suffer (b) in either case. Why would I want to put them or me through (1a) rather than (2a)? Only a warped religiously inspired perspective would see any virtue in (1a) and immorality in (2b).

So, since the principle of burden is not the problem, the case of the figures you quoted exposes an actual problem of establishing the subjects’ thinking on the principle of burden prior to their actually becoming incapable of rational decision making.

There is a genuine problem that has to be addressed.

When my second child was born my wife insisted that no matter what she says during childbirth, I must not let the doctors give her an epidural (one of those treatments that still carries actual risk – as a friend having a knee replacement recently found out to her cost). Needless to say, with a breach birth and a long struggle, the air was blue with my wife’s insistence that the doctors should in fact kill the pain – and I of course could not object, seeing her suffering.

So, when it comes to painful end game of life, how do you deal with a loved one who had previously declared their will to live on but who changes their mind and decides, in their pain, they want death? This bill doesn’t solve that problem, but neither does the current state of affairs. It is possible that in such a case the weight of opinion at the time, of the patient and the doctors, would assist dying and be protected under the bill; but not under current law, where there is no process that justifies their action, and where a case could be made that they were killing the patient against the patient’s prior wishes.

The reverse isn’t a problem. With a stated wish to die when suffering a protracted end of life, if a person declares that they have changed their mind, perhaps had some religious epiphany and decided they must suffer on, then by default that wish should be upheld. If the subject swaps and changes over a period of time, by all means default to holding off the deadly injections.

But when the stated wish is continuously and consistently stated and documented until such time that the patient loses all capacity to reason, then uphold the wish and put an end to the suffering.

Once a law permitting assisted suicide is in place there can be no effective safeguard against this worry …

The worry is an unjustified one, Justin. If I don’t want to be a burden on my family when in a state of suffering, then why would you add to my suffering all the more by making me watch them watching me in an indeterminate painful end? Your logic seems clouded by something. I wonder what. A religious presupposition that all cases of choosing death is morally wrong? You are imposing your religious convictions on this conversation in a way you declared you were not.

never mind the much more insidious pressure that could come from a very small minority of unsupportive relatives who wish not to be burdened.

This doesn’t hold much water either. First, if the family is genuinely unfeeling they can just walk away and leave it to the state to look after the subject. If they have some motive for wanting a quick death for their relative, then with or without a declaration from the subject it should not be their decision. Why do we give so much weight to family to make these decisions? Partly because under the current system the burden cannot legally or fairly be put on the doctors, and also because without the right to die and a pre-declared wish to die the family has become the natural go-to people.

Of course there are situations when family may wish the subject dead sooner rather than later despite the subject’s own wishes, and that’s another reason why a clear right to die declaration should be required, and the assisted dying agreed by independent doctors and a court. And as with current (UK) conditions for power of attorney, there should be legal and medical backup to establish the state of mind of someone making such a declaration ahead of time, and the doctors and the court should protect against potential conflicting family interests.

So, that leaves us with a case where the subject has declared their wish to die under some conditions, and those conditions have been met by the subject’s state of health. The fear that the family might now wish that the subject were dead is irrelevant. Their wish is merely coincidental with the subject’s, albeit with different motives. If someone dies in an accident and a family member declares, “Good riddance”, we might censure them, but we would not be tempted to accuse them of murder.

The exhaustion of caring, sometimes combined with relationships that have been difficult for years before someone fell ill, can lead people to want and feel things that they should not.

Religious morality comes to the fore again. Who gets to decide whether one’s feelings are justified or not? Wishing someone was dead, for whatever reason, is presumed to be awful and immoral, ‘sinful’. Does that always apply? Was it wrong to wish Hitler dead? Come on, Justin, do a little philosophy here. When do the religious thought police become justified in deciding what we should and should not think? Do I get to enact laws that prevent you thinking your spiritual thoughts?

Even so, even if you are firmly convinced that wishing someone dead is immoral, having a legal framework in which a subject can state their own conditions for death removes this burden from worriers like you, Justin. No doubt your religious ire will continue to be inflamed, but I reject your stance on this. If I’ve declared conditions under which I want to be put down, then I want my wish upheld no matter how much a family member may wish it for nefarious reasons. Whose death are we talking about here? The subject’s. Whose wishes are we talking about here? The subject’s.

Just as my estate has to be dealt with through the inconvenient process of probate, if I don’t leave instructions, then by not declaring the terms of my own death I’m leaving family and friends in a burdensome position that I know as a sane person I would not wish upon them.

Many people hope they leave this life with a quick and painless end. They hopefully anticipate death in sleep after a good life. I don’t know anyone that thinks it’s a good idea that they live a slow and painful death, have their bodies survive in some diminished totally dependent state. Why you would wish this on others instead of a determined assisted resolution when self-determination has gone, is one of those perverse mysteries of religion.

All of us who have been involved in pastoral care and bereavement care have heard the confusion people feel about how they behaved to a demanding relative.

Yes, and that’s why family members should be removed from the decision making. If the subject has made a wish then that’s what determines that a chosen end of life is on the table. If the subject has not had the opportunity to state their wish, then the suffering should be assessed by doctors, family, and, as the bill requires, independent views. A demanding relative will not dictate the outcome for a subject that has made their wishes clear, because it will be backed up by independent doctors and by the court.

Note here that when it comes to people that are already in a state whereby they wish to end it soonish, and have mental competence, but not the capacity to do it themselves painlessly, they can be pretty far into the incapacitated state and still be competent enough to declare their wishes.

I would suspect there will be more problems where family members object to the death wish of the subject than there are from those colluding to end a life against the subject’s wishes. Even atheists sometimes have interfering religious do-gooders making moral decisions for them. I’m sure many people are forced to suffer a long game when they might wish a shorter one for themselves. Even when they have clearly stated that, they are forced to live on and suffer.

If, Justin, you want to call the right to die ‘suicide’, then I choose to label your version of your right to enforce unwanted life as ‘torture’.

The tests in the bill do not make space, and never could, for the infinite complexity of motives and desires that human beings feel.

The current system does not make space for even finite complexity of the motives and desires of the subjects wishing to be done with their own lives. So, complaining that the fact that some position does not account for infinite possibilities is a bit lame, Justin.

Also, the safeguards are actually stronger than I’d wish for myself. So, “A terminal illness (with a prognosis of six months or less to live)” does not allow me to die under some conditions that I would want to apply. If I was entering a near vegetative state with sever dementia (having got past the stages where I come in and out of self-awareness, suffering confusion and fear) it is reasonable to say that I would no longer be suffering, in my mental oblivion. In such a case I now, while still in a competent state, would wish that in such a future my life be ended for no other reason than that I would be a burden on my family, and the state (i.e. the greater population). My choice.

How come if I run into a building to save a life, but die as a result, I’m a hero, but if I want to relieve my family and the state from caring for an empty fleshy carcass, I’m somehow not quite right in the head when making that decision before that dismal state occurs? Religious presupposition to objective moral correctness, that’s how. To hell with your opinions on what’s right for me!

The law at present does make that space, …

It does not. It dances around it dishonestly.

and yet calls us to be the best we can.

Who the hell gives you the right, Justin, to demand I be the best I can when near death; and who gives you the right to decide what being the best I can amounts to? If I feel my life has run its course and I want to remove myself from being a burden on my family, who are you to moralise that I should not? As it happens, I think I would be being the best I can be in the circumstances. But why expect someone to be at their best in painful death? Your whole perspective is fluffed up with pious ideology.

My third concern is that we need to reflect on what sort of society we might become if we were to permit assisted suicide.

I’m ahead of you here Justin. I’m already reflecting on what sort of society we are for putting up with religious presuppositions to moral authority. Get over yourself. Your fancy hat doesn’t buy you moral authority in my book. Your undue privileged position in the House of Lords is getting you far more say in this than is warranted for believers of fairy tales and myths.

At present, we can show love, care and compassion to those who at all ages and stages of life are contemplating suicide. We can try to intervene, to support them to embrace life once more.

Quite right. But I would put it to you that the right to die is incorrectly conflated with suicidal tendencies brought on by mental distress. It is possible that mental distress could bring on depressive suicidal thoughts in the very subjects of this debate, whereas if they were of sound psychological mind it would not choose assisted death. That’s what the safeguards are for.

We can do all in our power to surround those who are terminally ill with the best possible palliative care, including physical, emotional and spiritual support. We can redouble our efforts to alleviate suffering. We can show that we love even when people have given up on caring for themselves. We can support our doctors and nurses as they act consistently in the best interests of their patients, affirming life and caring for the vulnerable.

Palliative care is an honourable thing is some cases: on the battle field or in an accident, with no hope of assistance; in cases where the subject has decided they have some moral duty or see some virtue to carry on. By all means do what you can to relieve suffering.

And all that means not a jot if the subject has already decided their own fate. What happens to self-determination? You have removed it at a time when they need it as much as any other. Typical of the religious, presuming they know best what others want or need – or what is ‘right’. And if the subject declares they want death, the religious answer is that they couldn’t possibly be right, because God wouldn’t want them to think that way.

Religious presuppositions are crawling all over your opinion on this, Justin. I and many others don’t share them. Even many religious people don’t share them in the same way. You are so far removed from our reality you can’t see it, or choose not to let us have it for ourselves, even though we have no objection to you doing your religious thing when dying.

We risk all this for what? Becoming a society where each life is no longer seen as worth protecting, worth honouring, worth fighting for?

This is about as dishonest as you can get. When you ask, “We risk all this?”, the risks you have outlined are not risky at all, or far less risky than the current state of affairs. And it is your religiously biased opinion about what society should be that is clouding your opinion on what will happen to society. The right to die is actually improving society, acknowledging the wishes of the individual without burdening them with the religiously determined weight of the sanctity of life. Odd that a death cult that sees a better life after death as something waiting in the wings should be so clingy even when the subject knows what they want.

The current law and the guidelines for practice work

They do not! Many people suffer when they should have an opportunity to end the suffering. But they can’t, because a history of religious presuppositions about human life have been battered into us by religion – often literally and fatally, ironically. The current law and guidelines are working for you, so that’s what’s important, eh?

In spite of individual celebrity opinions and the “findings” of snap opinion polls (that cannot hope to do justice to the intricacies of the issue)

Oops, your religious authority slip is showing. Of course, why didn’t I realise that. We need the training of men in clown suits that believe in imaginary beings to get to the real rational fundamentals of a problem like this.

And yes, you can consider that an ad hominem, if you wish, but it is no worse a one than that demeaning statement of yours. Who the hell are you to presume that the people polled do not know their own mind? Who are you to decide that many of them have not got well thought out opinions about their own life and death? And it wouldn’t matter if a minority wanted this change.

The bill helps those that know they are in for a rough ride determine their own end-game, and it helps those that are suffering when otherwise they would be forced to endure, by family, doctors or the law. It’s an attempt to provide more dignity and to relieve more suffering that the current state of affairs does.

You are opposing a bill that would give us self-determination at a time when we wouldn’t have the physical capacity to act on it, and when loving, caring assistance would be appreciated.

Stop the torture, Justin. Support the bill.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols and Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis Have A Cunning Plan

Cardinal Vincent Nichols and Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis reveal their cunning plan to bring those dreaded Muslims on side and blame everything on the atheists: In the secular age, it is crucial for people of faith to stick together. Good luck with that.

This is such a brazen plea for anti-secularism, and a worry about Islam disguised as the reaching out of the hand of friendship. Many Muslims will see right through it, as atheists see right through the machinations of all religions.

It really is laughably abysmal to see these men trying to make a temporary truce, like competing Mafia families : Cosa Nostra begets Nostra Aetate: Our Thing In Our Time: the unbelievable things we have to do to survive.

we find ourselves challenged by a new but no less troubling set of global issues which make a reaffirmation of the principles of the document [Nostra Aetate] immensely significant

The global issues that are troubling them are the rise of an Islam that reminds them of their own barbaric history, and a failure of their religions to persist and grow without such barbaric means of repressing dissent.

Today, as we travel together to the Vatican for a historic audience with the Pope, at which we will discuss some of these challenges ..

I’d love to be a fly on that wall at that meeting, because you can bet that what’s said won’t be published, especially when it comes to dealing with Islam.

Jewish and Catholic shared history has been so deeply stained with the blood of innocent men, women and children, whose only crime was a sincerely held personal religious conviction ..

No. The crimes have been many, including the spilling of the blood of innocents and the persecution of each others’ faiths, as well as the persecution of those that don’t share the faith. Judaism is a small sect and inherently insular by the nature of its propagation – they like to keep it in the family – so it hasn’t seen the degree of in-fighting that has plagued Christianity, but it does make a lot of noise for its size. Christians have spilled and burned the blood of many fellow Christians on the grounds of ‘sincerely held personal religious conviction’. And Islam does the same – and as is often pointed out, the greatest number of victims of Islam are Muslims.

Religious conviction is full-square responsible for so much divisive hate and death. And where it isn’t directly responsible, it can be so easily co-opted to any cause, and even turned into the primary motivator that pulls other believers along with it. The Quran and Hadith make excellent ISIS recruitment manuals. Do you live in Pakistan and have a business grievance with a neighbour? Claim he destroyed a copy of the Quran, or that he blasphemed against the prophet. Problem solved.

In many places to be a person of faith can be, in and of itself, an act of courage

The greatest courage required is in the face of fellow religionists. And this has been evidently so for millennia. In fact, except for a few specifically and genuinely peaceful sects, there’s a bloody history to religion, and the Abrahamic religions are the greatest culprits and their own victims. Violent secular threats to religion have been predominantly a 20th century mechanised political phenomenon – but, hey, that’s good enough to blame all atheists for those crimes against humanity.

The worse you get from a humanist atheist is a lack of privileged presumed respect, and occasional derision. Now that seems pretty tame, when you consider how the religious, especially Cardinals, Bishops and Imams have been blaming every natural disaster on the evilness of atheists (and when necessary on other believers that don’t agree with them). How does an atheist pointing out your irrationality compare with your claim to the atheist’s irrationality and condemnation to a fiery eternity? The only reason you get away with it is because atheists don’t believe in your crazy hell – water of a ducks back. Death for blasphemy (or apostasy) has been and still is a repressive force used by religion.

To confess your belief in God no longer commands universal respect for a deep commitment to a lofty ideal, self-discipline and moral conviction.

Damned right it doesn’t. The metaphysical claims of your religions are no more than myths, and yet you build a life and a career out of conning other people into the same belief, taking every opportunity to catch them at birth and indoctrinate them, and you think you deserve respect?


In many societies you are more likely to be dismissed as naïve, unsophisticated and narrow-minded.

Damned right you are. What’s most laughable is the way in which you take some fundamentally flawed premises and heap sophisticated complexity onto it, and you think that results in some sophisticated substantiated truth. It’s built on such erroneous foundations that it doesn’t matter how sophisticated the obfuscating edifice you build on top, the foundations are rotten. And you deserve to be called out on it.

As such, when a view is expressed which is informed by one’s faith on issues such as assisted dying, the value of family life or social responsibility, that view is often treated with scepticism, as though it is somehow less rational or ill-founded.

You have as much right to offer up your reasoning about human suffering and come up with ways to deal with it. But as soon as you tell us your faith informs you of what to think, that makes no difference.

If you think
(a) “assisted dying is a good thing because it releases suffering”,
(b) “I want to relive suffering in a person’s inevitable death”,
(c) “God tells me so”,

then I’m listening to (a) and (b), but (c) tells me nothing, adds no useful information about the problem. However, it does make me suspicious of the reliability of your argument, because there is nothing in (c) that prevents you turning your argument to

(a) “assisted dying is a bad thing because the suffering is necessary”,
(b) “I don’t want to relieve the suffering”,
(c) “God tells me so”.

And all of this amid the alarming increase in the brazen persecution of Christian, Muslim and Jewish minorities which has become one of the most pressing and shameful issues of our time.

Ah, now we come to the duplicity of this statement. You don’t want to inflame your Muslim co-religionists, because they are dangerous – as the link in that sentence shows.

That link, incidentally, is misleading. The article is a little better: “A grim irony of the Charlie Hebdo murders and recent violence in Copenhagen is that Arab Christians endure far more vehement insults at the hands of Wahhabists than do Muslims from secular satirists in the West.” As is generally the case. When ‘secular’ regimes in the Middle East give believers a hard time they do it to everyone, not least the atheist activists, and they co-opt Islam to do it when convenient. But, it does no harm muddy the waters and pretend that the satirical and sceptical rhetoric from ‘militant’ atheists is comparable to the actual death threatened and often carried out by fellow religionists.

That is why it is more important than ever for faith communities like ours to cultivate close working relationships.

You bet. Because the real threat is fellow religionists. There’s no need to suck up to atheists because they only rhetorically abuse your intelligence rather than your earthly body – all of a sudden earthly matters are important.

We share so much in common – a great respect for the tradition that stretches back thousands of years behind us, and a determination to ensure that that same tradition will stretch out long into the future.

Yes you do. But your fundamental differences are a casmaclyptic. The inter-faith stuff is a sham, a band aid over a gushing wound. Christian and Muslim faiths are pretty quick on the draw when it comes to accusations of blasphemy – but there is inherent blasphemy at the very core of the beliefs of your fellow religionists. The core beliefs of Christianity and Islam are far greater blasphemies than any atheists can come up with.

An atheist simply matches the Christian belief with a single non-belief.
An atheist simply matches the Islamic belief with simple non-belief.
A Muslim not only rejects the Christian belief, but adds a blasphemy in turn – a double whammy, a two-pointer.

We are committed to our stewardship of the planet, …

And who gave you that authority? Each of your fictional gods?

… teaching peace and pursuing it, …

If only that was all you did.

… bringing Godliness into the world, …

Whether we want it or not – and if you get us young enough not to know whether we want to not: bonus!

… promoting social responsibility

A good start: stop persecuting people that don’t believe what you believe would be a good start. That would be socially responsible.

… and encouraging society to look after its most vulnerable.”

Having made them most vulnerable in the first place, by subduing them to authority. Get a man to submit to god, then get god to give you the reins. That’s how it works.

These shared objectives became ever more possible after Nostra Aetate. They will be the antidote for negative views of faith that have crept into the world, …

I’m afraid not. You think you’re showing your common ground? That only exposes your incompatible differences that make a mockery of your metaphysical claims to authority.

… and they will make clear its limitless potential for achieving greatness.

Yes, we know power and control of peoples lives is your goal. But thanks for spelling it out.

We pray that the normalisation of Catholic-Jewish relations in recent decades will offer valuable lessons for others around the world consumed by religious and cultural hostilities.

Coded message to Muslims again.

Let this jubilee year in the Catholic Church be a catalyst for all faith communities who are “on God’s side” to work positively and collaboratively and harder than ever before for the sake of all humanity.

Well, yes, for the sake of all humanity let’s hope the co-operation between the faiths gets them to tone down their divisive agendas. Of course as that happens it will be the *secular that you hope to suppress.

* And on we go with this misrepresentation of secularism and the conflating of it with atheism. Secularism is actually a benefit to the inter-faith stuff. It prevents some state religion monopolising the faith arena and persecuting minority faiths. Unfortunately the secular vision of free expression is a tad inconvenient to the religious, particularly if it comes with the rational idea of not indoctrinating children in faith schools. Free thinking is the most dangerous long term threat to any religion, while other religions the internecine conflicts among believers of different sects are temporary struggles for supremacy.

God Probabilities Are Pointless, Even From Physicists

Physicist Sean Carroll indulges one of his physics colleagues in a post Guest Post: Don Page on God and Cosmology. Sean:

Don Page is one of the world’s leading experts on theoretical gravitational physics and cosmology, as well as a previous guest-blogger around these parts. … He is also, somewhat unusually among cosmologists, an Evangelical Christian, and interested in the relationship between cosmology and religious belief.

From here on I’ll address Don on his piece, by picking up only the statements I think are really problematic. I’m basically repeating what I wrote in the comments section, with some minor mods.

So, Don you say this:

… such as my assumption that the world is the best possible …

Why would anyone make such an assumption? Based on what? Compared to what? What’s a worse world? What are the metrics? The comment by Phillip Helbig says it all:

The optimist believes that he lives in the best of all possible worlds. So does the pessimist.

Back to you Don:

I mainly think philosophical arguments might be useful for motivating someone

Like propaganda? It is clear that theists are manipulating and abusing philosophy, logic, reason, evidence, to make it best fit their beliefs.

… raise the prior probability someone might assign to theism. I do think that if one assigns theism not too low a prior probability …

You shouldn’t have a prior probability about something for which you have zero data. The prior probability isn’t 100%, isn’t 0%, isn’t 50% – it’s unknown. No data. Making a guess, or expressing a bias from personal religiosity and assigning a probability is doing a great injustice to probability.

the historical evidence for the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus

What, like hearsay of Josephus passed off as evidence? There is no historical record of the words or teachings of Jesus. The death? We can barely support his existence, by extensive hearsay, but as ‘evidence’ it’s no better than claims made about Mohammed’s revelations. By the way, how do you set the prior probability that Mohammed was telling the truth about his revelations, or the likelihood he was lying, or that he was delusional? What’s the prior probability that Jesus was a nutty preacher. Using the statistics of what we do know about how common nutty preachers were at the time the best evidence we have is he’s one of many. I’d really like to know on what basis all this is judged remotely true.

Ben Goran in the comments refers to Richard Carrier’s On the Historicity of Jesus. Good choice.

… can lead to a posterior probability for theism (and for Jesus being the Son of God) being quite high.

This really will not do. For miraculous things to happen, such as a resurrection, you need a God. You presuppose a God. Then you find stuff that’s in a book that says, look, here’s a miracle of that God – without any evidence it happened beyond hearsay, and again I remind you your hearsay is competing with that about Mohammed. Then you say, look, it’s all real, Christianity rules, OK.

But if one thinks a priori that theism is extremely improbable, then the historical evidence for the Resurrection would be discounted and not lead to a high posterior probability for theism.

Don, you are mistaken in that direction too. This is really important! There is no need to think theism is improbable. One has only to be totally open to it, and then look at the evidence. There is none. What is offered as evidence turns out to be: unevidenced hearsay, nothing that can’t be illusions and delusions, lies and propaganda – and all these have at least some actual prior probabilities because we know that these latter human frailties do actually occur.

I tend to favor a Bayesian approach in which one assigns prior probabilities

But Bayesian stuff works only when you have actual statistics to form your prior probabilities. Even if they are as flaky as much statistical evidence is (and we know how we often reach wrong conclusions about the efficacy of medicines in that arena), at least it’s actual data of a sort. But for universe creation and gods it’s no better than a pretence at mathematical credibility when there’s no data to work with.

… when the product is normalized by dividing by the sum of the products for all theories

This is crazy talk. Are probabilities based on the human capacity to imagine ideas, invent fantasies? is the correct probability determined by one’s own credibility? This is not to be treated like some meta-analysis of numerous sets of actual statistical results. It’s a meta-analysis of guesses. It’s pointless.

… since we don’t yet have _any_ plausible complete theory for the universe to calculate the conditional probability, given the theory, of any realistic observation.

So, the correct response to the question of whether there is some sort of intelligent agent creator of universes is to say: I haven’t got the foggiest clue.

From there proceed to act on what we do have. The empirical investigation of the universe and what that tells us. Our understanding of minute physics may still be open to question, but at the level of chemistry, creating medicines, building planes that don’t fall out the sky randomly – and it’s all quite mechanistic, naturalistic.

The working conclusion, then, is to live **as if** this: that what we empirically find is all there is, whether it is or not, because if we cannot detect a god of any kind knowingly then whether there is one or not makes no difference. It really is that simple.

However, since to me the totality of data, including the historical evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus, is most simply explained by postulating that there is a God …

What? We’ll come back to evidence shortly, but for now let’s just go back to an earlier point, from above:

can lead to a posterior probability for theism (and for Jesus being the Son of God) being quite high

And let’s put these together:

  1. the historical evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus, is most simply explained by postulating that there is a God
  2. can lead to a posterior probability for theism [i.e. there is a God]

So, postulating a God basically leads to a posterior probability that there is a God. And, while we’re at it, the assertion that the resurrection occurred is used to show that Jesus was resurrected [because he really was the son of God].

Doesn’t that look just a tad suspicious? Don, that looks embarrassing to me.

This is no more than affirming the consequent, invoking a circular argument. Don, you could only make an argument if you had good evidence of a God, and then good evidence of a naturalism busting resurrection. You have evidence of neither. You are presupposing there’s a God that can do stuff like resurrections, taking one of the many myths and taking that to be caused by this presupposed God, and then using that resurrection as the evidence of the divine Jesus, who is God. What? Seriously, What?

But on the matter of evidence, the pretend evidence for the resurrection is most simply explained by being the myth of one of the many myth asserting religions, and that people that believed in gods in ancient times were probably even more gullible than people today. Don, you think they may not have been so gullible. How gullible do you think Scientologists are? What are your probabilities for the existence of Thetans? How about Joseph Smith? Not convinced? Well, a hell of large number of reasonably well educated 21st century people believe that nonsense. Can you see why it’s far more reasonable to think these ancients were duped, or self-duped?

I do believe by faith…

Oh no! Don, please! Not the faith get out of jail card? Well, okay, in which case you can dismiss all you said before this point as it means nothing now in this context. All that effort doing just what William Lane Craig does, pretending to use reason and evidence and probabilities picked out of your nether regions – even though you reject some of WLC’s reasoning. And all it really took is faith. Why not faith in Mohammed? Well, you’re a Christian. Is that how you do your physics?

We simply do not know whether or not our universe had a beginning, but there are certainly models

See, you can do it correctly if you try. We simply do not know. And, for God there are no models that are based on other confirmed models of physics and cosmology. Sean’s work and your work in physics and cosmology does not come out of nowhere, but all religions do: there’s always someone that we know invented a religion, or the origins of the religion are lost entirely in time. You really should be applying this cosmological scepticism to God: we do not know and we have no models and no data. There are no measurements, no mathematic models, nothing but hearsay and the occasional claims of messianic individuals that think they are hooked up with their own god.

In summary, I think the evidence from fine tuning is ambiguous

Ambiguous? It’s down right dumb. What do we know about the extra-universe ‘physics’ of universe creation, such that it does not necessarily cause universes just like this one. What if all universe necessarily must have the physics of this one, because of some as yet unknown extra-universe feature? How do we know that all these universes are not such that only initial conditions determine whether life evolves abundantly, rarely or not at all. We don’t know that the constants that **allow** evolved life actually **necessitate** evolved life. With different initial conditions it could be that the universe evolve without ever experiencing intelligent life that goes on to wonder if the universe is fine tuned. We’d then have a ‘fine tuned’ universe tuned with no tuned products in it. What reason would we have to think such a universe is fine tuned?

There’s a big difference between:

– Speculative interpretations of limited cosmological data with multiple speculatively viable theories


– Believing ancient religious stories based on stuff that’s indistinguishable from all the other stories you too would pass off as myth

That difference is that with physics one does not tend to make assertions about behaviour any morality based on them – unless they very specifically inform our understanding of human behaviour and morality, such as evolution, psychology, neuroscience. There are no moral or behavioural prescriptions or proscriptions associated with Sean’s preference for Everett, but there are real human consequences that result from people believing stuff for which there is no evidence, in religion, and the consequences are all too often not good ones.

Look at it this way:

Problem 1: A company makes bags of 100 black balls, but manufacturing errors cause some balls to be white. We know the limits: 100 black, 100 white. We know from experience that people complain if they have more than 40 white balls. We do some tests and stuff. We play with probabilities. We use Bayes. We run controlled trials. Whatever. It’s real if uncertain data. What’s the probability of getting a bag with 100 black balls? We can start to look into it, come to some conclusions, do more measurements, more sampling, more calculations.

Problem 2: How are universes made? We don’t know. As an analogy for this, this is me telling you there’s a bag out there; possibly an infinitely large bag; and it might have some balls in it or it might not. If it has, then some might be black, or not. Some might be white, or not. The bag might contain refrigerators rather than balls, or not. Now, what are you going to tell me about the content of the bag – the probability that there are 100 black balls in the bag, that there’s God in the bag, ten gods, …? Nothing. Oh, and there might not actually be a bag out there; there might just be this universe.

Problem 1 is the sort of problem we can play with. Problem 2 is God stuff. The former is the reality we have to deal with. The latter is make believe – faith, indeed.

Mehdi Hasan Destroys Islam

Mehdi Hasan destroys Islam. He doesn’t mean to, but as he thinks he’s distancing Islam from ISIS he picks so many reasons for rejecting Islam. Good job, Mehdi.

In this online CNN video, Does ISIS have any religious legitimacy?, Mehdi Hasan debates with Graeme Wood over Wood’s piece on ISIS. Mehdi responded in his own article, which had lots of holes in it and begged and received criticism. Poor sap Mehdi just can’t stop putting his foot in his mouth.

Mehdi Hasan has put a lot of effort into declaring ISIS to be un-Islamic to the point of denying they are Islamic at all.

Mehdi insists there are motivations other than Islam for people joining ISIS. Even if religion were not the main motivating factor that gets them going, that wouldn’t mean they were not Islamic in what they do, in what they believe. When Christians go to war quoting God’s words it doesn’t make them non-Christian. May make them awful Christians, but still Christian. That someone has some other prime motivation for what they do, but they are Muslims when they do it, and use their Islamic texts selectively to justify themselves, does not make them un-Islamic.

Mehdi does not use all the texts of Islam – he is a liberal or moderate (hard to tell, he’s so slippery) Muslim. So he too is uni-Islamic, by his own standards of reasoning. ISIS are cherry picking, using a fringe interpretation? Sure. But ‘nice’ Muslims like Mehdi have to cherry pick too, to ignore the crazy stuff, or they have to come up with ‘scholarly’ reasons for justifying it ‘in context’.

Mehdi doesn’t want us to take what ISIS say as ‘gospel’. I don’t. But I don’t take as gospel anything Mehdi Hasan says on Islam. Muslims denouncing other Muslims is a Takfir game, and Mehdi is just as guilty of it as ISIS when they denounce liberal and moderate Muslims.

Mehdi is sceptical about ISIS claims to be holy warriors? Why? Religions are not necessarily non-warrior like, non-cruel, non-peaceful. The claims in Islam to be the religion of peace are contradicted explicitly by many parts of the texts. And if we must take those cruel texts with some nuance and context why can’t we apply nuance and context to the explicit claim that Islam the religion of peace? Double standards. Mehdi, like many religious people, likes to apply nuance and context to excuse the awful texts, but then come over all literal when it suits them. It is a literalist view that there really is a god, Allah.

Religion is the factor. Not the only one, but arguably the major one. No persecuted Jews or Hindus are radicalised to the extent that many Muslims are, such that international terrorism by so many Islamic groups plagues our age. That there are other factors doesn’t negate religion as a significant one if not the primary one. All the terrorist groups killing around the world in the name of Islam are testament to the Islamic nature of their terrorist activities.

Mehdi thinks that people are leaving London to join ISIS for other reasons than their Islamic perspective. The Islamic texts excuse the radicalisation in response to other factors in a way that other religions currently do not. It’s easy for Christians to distance themselves from the older texts of the Bible.

And what of the idea that ISIS are an unscholarly fringe cult and not really true Islam? Doesn’t matter. Compared to Christianity Islam is a minority religion. So is Judaism. We don’t deny someone’s claim to religion based on minority status.

Why can’t *very* Islamic be used to describe those that adhere to a more literal interpretation of the most vile cherry picked texts? Mehdi is not *very* Islamic according to conservatives that don’t accept his liberalism.

Mehdi wonders, “Why can’t we find *learned* scholars…” to support ISIS? This is very convenient move by scholars that want to distance themselves from ISIS. But we can find many scholars in Islamic states spouting similar rhetoric to ISIS on many counts. Saudi is executing people for trivial acts that shouldn’t even be crimes (and Mehdi the liberal would agree). Mehdi mentions the Grand Mufti of Saudi? Really? has he been tuning into that guy’s recent bollocks? You need to pick better advocates for your ‘nice’ Islam, Mehdi.

That the Islamic credentials of ISIS are disputed does not mean they are not Islamic. Sunni v Shia go through this process of denouncing each other. I’ve been told by Shias that I should listen only to good Shia scholars. And by Sunnis that say that only Sunni scholars have a correct interpretation. Takfir talking twits.

“They tell western journalists that they are serious about their faith, and we believe them…” – And inherent in that statement is the implication that we should believe Mehdi’s version of Islam is Islamic? Get over yourself, Mehdi. It is sufficient to simply observe. If they talk like Muslims, walk like Muslims, behead like Saudi Muslims, and match their behaviour to the texts, then ISIS are Muslims.

Mehdi foolishly appeals to other ideological states to excuse Islam and reject ISIS. He mentions North Korea. We don’t consider North Korea to be democratic because they are not, by any sense of democracy. But there is no way that ISIS are not Islamic – they pray, follow the texts – even if they are extreme and have a brutal interpretation.

Wood: “They [ISIS scholars] are not making things up” – Well, no more than any other Muslim scholars. In a world of religious bullshit how do you judge the validity of one bullshitter over many others?

Mehdi again: Naive recruits are buying “Islam for Dummies”, so this shows they are not true Muslims? Does this happen often, all the time, for all recruits? Let’s put aside how often that happens. More important to note is that such dummies can turn to violence so easily and find justification for it in Islamic texts. This means that the Islamic texts are dangerous weapons!

Handing a Quran to an ignoramus is no better than giving a child a loaded automatic weapon. This ‘naive unscholarly’ point is not making a good case for Islam. Quite the opposite, it is endorsing the case made by Sam Harris. This is exactly what he has been saying, that many Muslims do in fact interpret the texts literally. No amount of scholarly mental gymnastics is going to fix this. In fact the more scholarly learning is require the more dangerous the raw texts are. They are awful texts. So, yes, Islam (as described in the texts) is the mother lode of bad ideas.

Wood: “They are serious about the texts.” Even if they are in disagreement with Muslim scholarship through the ages it does not mean they are not motivated by their religion.

Are ISIS a revolutionary form of Islam? If they are, that may mean that they are not practising Mehdi Hasan’s Islam; but that doesn’t mean it is not Islam.

Again, even if they were universally declared to be un-Islamic, and even if they said, “Look, we are not Muslims, we are not Islamic, but we’re using the Islamic texts to determine what we do.” then, that merely goes to show again how awful these texts are: they can be turned to such brutal use; they contain brutal prescriptions.

Mehdi asks again, why we should think them scholarly when *all of Islam* scholars, whether conservative or liberal, Sufi or Salafi, Sunni or Shia, reject ISIS. Come on Mehdi, all those factions reject each other, you twit. Note the implication that *all Muslims* have a unity to them – and people like Sam Harris get criticised for being too general in their language? A unity of convenience. The duplicity stinks to high heaven.

So, Harris says ‘Islam’ is bad, based on the texts and how far too many interpretations of it are barbaric, from the implementations of Sharia in some states, to the killing of people by Muslim mobs around the world, and even to the homophobic hatred expressed by ‘moderate’ Muslims. And for this his critics claim he is injuring ALL Muslims. But then, Muslims like Mehdi Hasan are quick to defend Islam, ALL Islam, while being part of the Islamic tradition that denounces fellow Muslims as un-Islamic. It’s impossible to have an honest debate with people like Mehdi Hasan.

Mehdi: “No serious person would call the Branch Davidians Christian?” Well, quite. But the Roman Catholics thought the Anglican Church of Henry VIII to be non-Christian. This happens throughout the ages. There are always schisms. Again, Islam even has a tool, Takfir, for dealing with this, where other faiths only have heresy.

Mehdi comes back to the religious novices. Again that isn’t a good response. It just shows how dangerous the texts are that they can be used to incite such novices to ideological violence.

Mehdi thinks drugs alcohol and petty crime are responsible? That’s bullshit. The fact that many of these people are bright promising students is completely ignored by Mehdi Hasan.

But, I take his point, that some of the ignorant youths joining ISIS are not well educated. But I take it further. Very few if any Muslims conform to scholarly Islam – they do their own reasonable thing – unless incited to riot and rage by clerics and other Islam Dummies. This isn’t really saying much for Islam. Christianity does a lot of saving souls of druggies, but Islam makes it easy to recruit them for ISIS? Mehdi, please, this is not a good case you are making.

Mehdi: ISIS is about real holy warriors trading in porn? Well, sexual interest has never been a bar to religious belief. Neither has child abuse. So, Islam is so bad that it can’t prevent you doing the very things that some of its teachings forbid? Islam really is crap isn’t it. You heard that from Mehdi Hasan. Islamic texts can be used to incite people to violence, AND can’t dissuade them from using porn. OK.

Mehdi explains that few extremists are Islamic scholars. Well, neither are most Muslims. But again, that doesn’t bode well when dangerous Islamic texts prescribing all sorts of punishments, such as stoning adulterers to death, are as freely available as dangerous guns in the US. Telling us that people that join ISIS aren’t real scholars tells us all we need to know about the Islamic texts: not to be used by non-scholars.

Mehdi, “They [ISIS] pepper their language with Islamic quotations. Of course they do, it’s the best way to recruit people.” – What? So, here we have Mehdi Hasan telling us how good the texts of Islam are for recruiting Jihadists. After spending so much time telling us it’s not about religion he now admits that the Islamic texts are great extremists recruitment texts! Incredible.

Mehdi thinks that the Nazi party isn’t explained by Mein Kampf? You need the Treaty of Versailles, he says, to understand the Nazis? What on earth is he talking about? Of course you can get a lot about the Nazis from Mein Kampf, but like the Quran it’s not the only texts that the Nazis depend on. And the Hadith supplement the Quran superbly for Jihadists recruitment. Well done Mehdi, ISIS Sales Rep of the Year. You cannot understand ISIS by watching its videos and taking them literally? Well, those sources help; and of course you can read the Quran and Hadith it to clinch it. Wood responds: could you understand Nazism without Mein Kampf? We have to understand what the ideology is. And it is Islamic, without a shadow of a doubt. That Mehdi Hasan invokes Takfir on ISIS, and they on him, is not really making a case of any virtue.

Mehdi belittles ISIS propaganda. Is it a fair representation of what an Islamic state would be like? No, surely not, we hope. But if you think that gets Islam a pass you are very much mistaken. If you think *any* Islamic state there has ever been is worth having you are not getting the message about what liberal non-Muslims find wrong with Islam (and, for the record, US Christianity is no good advert for Christianity).

Wood speaks to the dishonesty of Mehdi Hasan who wants to play down the Islamic aspect of their motivation as much as possible, and to blame the western states for creating this monster. There is only one point here we can make, but it does Islam no good:

So, the west intervenes and takes out some undemocratic dictator, and leaves a vacuum in which this mess can arise? No, it’s not a vacuum. It’s a history of divisive Islamic disputes that have arisen from the mess, to now take hold. The inability to build a liberal democracy, or even establish a stable Islamic state, is not a good advert for Islam. If the Iranian theocracy that persecutes Sunnis is not a clue to Mehdi Hasan that Islam is not a good thing, then he us surely blinded by his biases.

Mehdi thinks we drown out the voices that reject ISIS? No we do not. Because Islam in places like Saudi and Iran does not give us an Islam that is any better. They give an Islam that is merely more controlled, less chaotic. You cannot build a state that is so self destructive. ISIS is a poor example of a state of any kind, to be sure; but that does not in itself make it un-Islamic. Again, we are not drowning out the beheadings in Saudi, but Mehdi Hasan is, for he rarely mentions it. If anything, it is other Muslims, the majority of Muslims, or the majority power systems of the Islamic world, that drown out the truly liberal Muslims in so many Islamic states.

Wood: ISIS is not only not an inevitable outcome of Islam, it isn’t even an inevitable outcome of a literalist Islam. Quite, but that doesn’t say much for Islam. Islam is an enabler of ISIS because its texts can so easily be turned to that purpose. Try that with Humanism – what Humanist texts would drive hordes of Humanists to start terror campaigns to form a Humanist State that persecutes all other beliefs?

Mehdi does not deny the numbers and the threat of ISIS. He agrees we should take them seriously. But the problem is that all this *Not Islamic* nonsense is the biggest denials destruction I’ve ever seen anywhere. This is the subject. Not what we can do about ISIS, not how we can prevent recruitment. In fact the Islamophobia mongering of Mehdi Hasan and others is preventing an honest reflection within Islam, within British Islam. Everyone is so busy defending Islam they are by default defending ISIS. Their Islamophobia rhetoric is fuelling the victimhood that is inciting yet more young Muslims to join up. Great job at recruiting for ISIS Mehdi.

Mehdi acknowledges at last (a bit late in the game) that it makes no sense to have the debate without any religious discussion – something he has been trying to achieve – but, he thinks it dangerous to say they are very Islamic, or even more Islamic. But, Mehdi, it’s far more dangerous to deny their Islamic influence and play this Islamophobia card.

Mehdi thinks talking about their Islamic status gives them some substantive claim to being Islamic. Well, it does, because they are. Again, not your Islam, Mehdi, but that’s just you playing your dishonest Takfir game, which is their game too.

Mehdi disputes the idea that ISIS take their religion more seriously than most Muslims. This is indeed a contentious point, but not totally devoid of merit. Many Muslims, like people of most religions, are varied in their devoutness and adherence to the requirements of the texts. There are two measures that need to be taken together: literalism and seriousness (or piety). Many non-serious non-literalist Muslims are just like believers in many other religions – they believe in their god, but basically just want to do the ordinary stuff of living. A serious (pious) but non-literalist Muslim may still be comfortable with democratic liberalism, in that they are personally pious but don’t enforce that on anyone else, because they don’t take the prescription to spread Islam so literally. But a seriously pious literalist of Islam is a dangerous beast.

Mehdi worries we might be throwing the majority of Muslims ‘under the bus’. This is nonsense. Islam is already a bad religion with all the states that implement it, and within the UK. If it were a reformed personal practice devoid of apostasy, blasphemy, and all punishments of any kind, then it wouldn’t be a problem. No body would care – and in fact people are so credulous there may well be far more converts than there now are.

Mehdi says that ISIS crave legitimacy and we shouldn’t be giving it to them. This is typical of cultures where superficial appearances mean more than genuine honesty. It’s the kind of culture where being pleasant to someone is far more important for making a good impression for the religion than being honest. We see this in the way in which so many Muslims interviewed will not give straight talking answers when they are asked about their support for various punishments prescribed by Islam. They have to maintain the facade of the religion of piece.

Mehdi doesn’t want us to denigrate the whole world of Islam. Sorry, Mehdi, it was already understood to be a vile religion as practised in all countries where it is a majority. ISIS is merely the appearance of the worst of Islam, that many non-Muslims worried about, but which many Muslims denied could ever come about. Here it is, our worst Islamic nightmare. Your worst Islamic nightmare. No wonder you are in denial.

On discussing the religious element Mehdi again insists ISIS is a fringe cult, with zero support within the Muslim world. That’s clearly false because these are not non-Muslims joining ISIS, but Muslims. And with any extremist fringe there are more supporters out there that have not yet or may never actually join them – but to say there is zero support is a down right lie. Duplicitous Mehdi Hasan strikes again.

Mehdi insist again that religion is not the motivator but the justification. Isn’t that to Islam’s discredit that it can be so used to justify these horrors? Yes, the revolutionary violence of other ideologies may have been used by previous generations. But this violent behemoth is justified very specifically by religious texts that in state contexts elsewhere have accusations of sorcery, stoning of adulterers, hanging of gays. It’s a barbaric religion, and Mehdi Hasan is only confirming that for us by his duplicitous denials.

We get back to the ‘learned scholars’ point. Wood: they are serious about the texts because they are from a literalist tradition. They are interested in the plain meaning of the words.

Well, of course, and there is plenty of religious barbarism in there to get their teeth into – find anything remotely like that in Humanism, which doesn’t even have the much ignored horrors of the Bible.

So, here we have both literalist scholars, and naive Islamic Dummies, all able to use these dangerous weapons of the Quran and the Hadith more lethally than all the school shooting sprees in the US.

And, the problem is that the scholars of Islam are making stuff up about interpretations of a fantasy. That can lead pretty much anywhere, because there are few restraints on scholarly interpretation of otherwise explicit texts. And yes, the humanism of most people stops them becoming ISIS-like, but in these more humane times it’s astonishing that Islamic states still subscribe to barbaric practices justified by Islam.

Wood concedes he’s not Muslim and it is not for him to say who is interpreting Islam correctly. Gleeful Mehdi is only too pleased to jump on this point; forgetting, or perhaps not realising, that even as a Muslim he is in no position either, because to many scholars his liberal Islam isn’t true Islam either – Mehdi Hasan is not a Muslim, according to some Muslims. Takfir. How about that.

Mehdi mentions Anjem Choudary – an attention seeking blowhard? Well, Choudary has the texts to back him up. Choudary is not a joke figure for many of the people that think the way he does. And CAGE and other Islamic organisations are implicated in his type of extremism. If these minorities were as small as Mehdi Hasan would have us believe there wouldn’t be a problem. And, Choudary’s links to Hizb ut-Tahrir isn’t a win for Mehdi, because that organisation has quite a following, and they only denounce ISIS as the true Caliphate because its not their Caliphate. More Takfir tosh.

Mehdi seems to be under the impression that ISIS is taken seriously because of their actual scholarly credentials. It isn’t. They are taken seriously in this regard precisely because they can so easily turn people to violence because they, like any Muslim, can aspire to being scholarly; and scholarly on barbaric punishments is so easy when the texts support it.

Mehdi again wants us not to take their word as ‘gospel’, because of their barbarity in beheading scholars, raping young girls. Those things are not a means to discredit their Islamic status if they can find justification in Islamic texts.

Mehdi answers the point that ISIS can quote the text by referring to David Koresh and his use of the Bible. Is this supposed to be a plus for Islam? Is this supposed to convince us that the Islamic texts cannot be used for such atrocities? Mehdi, you are a fool if you think this is making Islam sound any better. It is truly laughable that Mehdi uses David Koresh as an example of another religious cult easily finding justification in ancient barbaric texts. The joke is on you Mehdi. Koresh believed himself to be the final prophet of his cult. Where have we heard that before? Mohammed! Mehdi, keep digging that hole.

Mehdi: “No one is saying these people are not Muslims” – What? If they are Muslims in what way are they un-Islamic? This is stupid. “They are not authentically representative of Muslims.” Well, nor are Sunnis of Shias or Shias of Sunnis. What the hell, Mehdi, keep digging.

Mehdi tries the error of attribution? Oh, Mehdi, you total bullshitter. No one is denying all the political discontent, the identity crises, or whatever else you’d like to include. The point is that the barbaric texts of Islam are the justification, as you say. Isn’t that enough to condemn the Islamic texts? Of course that doesn’t condemn all Muslims because so many Muslims cherry pick (as you claim ISIS do) and interpret in their own way (as you claim ISIS do).

Don’t you get it Mehdi? Islam needs reform to put its nasty texts behind it. But it cannot because the Quran is supposed to be inerrant and the Hadith are used to justify so much more of the political and judicial aspects of Islam.

Mehdi brings up socio-economic factors? You have got to be kidding me. The wealthy Saudi families? The King of Jordan invoking Islamic wrath for the death of their pilot? The well educated British people being turned to join ISIS? The ignorant ‘scholars’ in Saudi and Iran that persecute people, Muslims and non-Muslim? The UAE courts that have criminalised rape victims, Muslim and non-Muslim alike? Get real Mehdi, there is nothing that Muslims in Britain are suffering that cannot be said of Jews and Hindus. All the recent anti-Islamic push-back has included frustrated right wing nationalist in Britain as a direct result of the vociferous supremacist nature of Islam, as sold in the UK by many Muslims, as well as Islam’s reputation as implemented in Islam dominated states.

Mehdi worries about us obsessing over the Islamic nature of ISIS? He’s the one obsessing over it, in his obsession with denying it. It is not being obsessive to point out that ISIS is using the Quran and Hadith to justify their actions when in fact they are. These are the facts that even Mehdi Hasan admits to. Get over it, Mehdi, accept that it’s right there in the texts and deal with it. Sadly, you cannot deal with it because these are your texts too.

Mehdi says we must understand ISIS. Well, yes. But denying their Islamic status, even if it’s not your Islamic status, isn’t helping in that endeavour. You are adding to the problem.

Mehdi points out that ISIS is also the product of the invasion of Iraq? Then that’s not saying a lot for the capacity of the religion of peace to come together and form a peaceful state in Iraq when the hated Americans left. Where was the unity of Islam? It was lost in the divisive corrosive nature that plagues all religions in conflict. The war in Iraq freed the chaos of religious sectarianism that was repressed under Saddam. That sectarianism is now free. That’s not a good advert for Islam, Mehdi.

Mehdi starts to make concessions toward the end, because he pretty much has to. He points out how Wood’s piece upset people – well, yes, because it contained more of the truth about the Islamic nature of ISIS than Mehdi Hasan and others have been happy with. It must be a very discomforting truth to take in, that your inerrant Quran can be so easily used to turn naive people to such grotesque behaviours. It’s right there in the texts!

It’s funny how we non-Muslims are told so often how we should listen to Muslims rather than make stuff up. Wood spoke to Muslims. But not the right type of Muslims according to his critics. Takfir talk again.

Mehdi wants to now avoid the notion that it’s a war within Islam. Well, many Muslims are being killed, by Muslims. Mehdi seems prepared to twist the argument any way he can to avoid pinning any of it on Islam.

Yes, we want to take into account all factors. But once all other factors have been removed, all social injustices sorted (as if that happens, to any group) we will still have Islamic theocracies behaving barbarically in the name of Islam. Iran was primarily an Islamic theocratic revolution. If you think that’s a good advert for Islam think again.

Sorry, Mehdi, but you are making me more and more convinced that Islam is by nature a dishonest religion.

Humanism: teaches only good stuff. If you kill in the name of humanism you will find no texts supporting your actions.

Islam: teaches good stuff and brutal barbaric stuff. Good, evil, or either, depending on mood or cartoons, Islam justifies it all. If you want to use it for good, you can. If you want to use it for evil, you can. Great.

And, this evening, as I write this, the Tunisia museum attack happened. If ISIS is doing one thing of use, it is, despite the denials, forcing Muslims to wake up to the nature of their own religion and its capacity to be turned to the barbaric ends that the texts prescribe. No amount of scholarly bullshit can hide the heinous nature of these inerrant texts.

Seriously Flawed Religious Apologetics

Samuel James over at Patheos has put up some apologetics that are supposed to help the non-science Christian. Unfortunately they re really poor at giving Christians good answers to critiques of their beliefs.

Lack of scientific knowledge can leave Christians feeling vulnerable when talking to unbelieving friends about why faith is superior to skepticism.

4 Responses a Non-Scientist Christian Can Give to Science-Based Atheism

These will not help any Christian make his or her case, but will only lead to ridicule. Sorry, but there’s enough of this very same stuff around as it is. You’re still vulnerable, because these points are pointless.

1) We cannot know from science if science itself is the best source of knowledge.

This is not quite right. I know what you mean. There is no way you can prove absolutely from science that science is absolutely the best source of knowledge. Unfortunately you are falling for that old philosophical problem of assuming that it is necessary to prove something in the logical absolute true/false sense. It isn’t.

We’ll come up against this again in your other points, so let’s settle it here.

Humans cannot prove things absolutely. All proofs, including deductive arguments used by characters like William Lane Craig, rely on premises that themselves need proving, and so on back through argument after argument. A particular argument may be valid, but if you cannot prove its premises the proof isn’t sound, and if it’s not a sound argument it isn’t providing assured proof of its conclusion.

In the end, with any argument chain, proving premises back through arguments intended to prove premises, we come up against premises we cannot prove. They might be guesses, hypotheses, hunches, results of experience – whatever they are they are not proved.

So, what we can only ever acquire knowledge by probing and observing the world, coming up with ideas, hypotheses, theories, reasoned explanations, intuitive ideas, imaginative prompts, and testing those ideas against the world. This is empiricism at work. And it’s all about the reliability of results, not about proof in that logical deductive sense. Of course we can use deduction to derive one reliable result to others – but proof is only ever a stepping stone to more knowledge, and not a mechanism for acquiring knowledge.

We know science is the best source of knowledge because it works so well, because nothing else is as productive.

Another aspect of this science business that confuses the religious and sloppy philosophers alike is the extent to which science-like knowledge acquisition is the founded on the only way humans can come to any knowledge. Humans have brains made of neurons, and those neurons work pretty much as peripheral neutrons do. The upshot is that brain neurons are ‘experiential’ components, just as the peripheral neutrons are, and the result is that humans are experiential creatures at every level, and are evolved from experiential creatures without neurons. Humans are empirical creatures. It’s our only way of acquiring knowledge. 

The consequence is that science is no more than a bunch of methods that are based on our empirical nature, enhanced, improved, made more rigorous, in order to make our empirical knowledge acquisition more reliable.

Here’s why this question matters. If the first option is true, then logically, science absolutely is the supreme mode of knowledge, and everything we believe about anything must be in submission to it. The problem though is that whether or not all of reality is ultimately explainable through scientific concepts is not itself a scientifically provable theory. It is a philosophical premise, not a scientific conclusion.

Yes. But that’s not a problem. It’s the way the world is, the way human knowledge acquisition is. We cannot know anything absolutely, so we have to make do with the reliable contingent results of science.

The only way to definitively prove that science explains everything would be to have exhaustive knowledge of all reality, and then be able to explain (using only scientific data) what all reality is and what it means. Such a feat is impossible.

Yes. But I’ve explained why that is inevitable, but also why it doesn’t matter, and why it’s still the best we have, all we have.

Therefore, the belief that science is the best source of knowledge must be accepted on faith, for it cannot be verified through testing.

No! No! No! This does not follow from your other points. While it cannot be proved absolutely that science guarantees exhaustive knowledge, it can be verified through testing that it is the best source of knowledge, and based on these results and the scientific knowledge about our evolved biological nature, that its empirical methods constitute the only way of knowing. It’s easy in principle. Did we observe that the British Comet aircraft was really reliable? No. Empirical observation of planes falling out the skies demonstrated a problem, and more science demonstrated the nature of the problem – too late to save that plane. But that knowledge added to the safety of air travel, as have many other empirical observations and experiments, some of which took more deaths to cause improvements, some improvements coming from better science prior to deaths. That’s how messy science is because that’s how messy the world is for us humans, with our limited epistemological reach.

And just to head off where you are going with this, the contingency of science is not a loophole through which religion can sneak in. Not only is religion not some other way of knowing, it is nothing more than minimising the good methods of science and is in fact making a virtue out of an extremely poor use of our basic methods of knowing.

2) Scientific consensus can and frequently does change. This limits its epistemological authority.

I love the comic way theists make one of science’s graces into a limitation, while extolling religions discreditable obstinance as a virtue.

Look, since humans do not have perfect knowledge (something I think you agree with) we are limited to making the best we can, and then making improvements when we can. A great feature of science, and engineering generally, is that ‘good enough’ for the purpose in hand is good enough. And on top of that, what’s good enough now can be used to make future results even better.

The measurement precision of any instrument was limited by the craftsmanship of the artisan that made it. But then those instruments, that improve the natural inaccuracy of humans can not only make more accurate measurements easier, the instruments can also be used to make even more accurate instruments.

And in science generally, the more tests are repeated, and the test methods improved, and the more modes (branches if science) that are used the more confidence we have in our results.

This is all good stuff. It makes science good for progress. That some older ideas are improved upon or even replaced is progress. It’s a good thing!

And yet set against this we have religion that insists on sticking with ancient ideas come what may. In fact, much to the cost of many lives, having new ideas in religion can be dangerous and even fatal. Heresy is real thing in religion. You charge people with heresy as a negative act against the religion. The charge of heresy in science is a derogatory one in the opposite sense, in that the holding of ideas to be fundamentally unassailable such that a challenge is considered a heresy is a criticism of those entrenched ideas, not the new ideas or the heretic. Religion: heretic bad. Science: heretic good.

One does not wait on science to exhaustively explain something before believing it. If that were so then 99% of human beings on the planet would not believe in the most basic realities of existence, or would be irrational in believing without having exhaustive scientific knowledge.

Well, that’s right. But let’s see where you’re going with this …

If current scientific consensus points away from the existence of God (a highly disputable point, by the way), then who is to say that consensus cannot change? If it can, then science’s intellectual authority is limited, and the expectation that it will continue to oppose religious belief is more a matter of faith.

It’s only a highly disputable point in the minds of theists, who don’t appreciate how powerful science is, and how totally inadequate religion is. The point isn’t that science is limited to some extent, the point is that it is inordinately better than religion. If science was only 20% reliable that’s damned good when your alternative, religion, is 0%.

But, let’s get down to the detail. Yes, consensus could change to favour God – but only when there is evidence of God. This isn’t a a trivial beauty pageant where you get to pick the contestant in the nicest outfit, the one with the robes and funny hats. Just bring the evidence and science will take note. Unlike religion, where evidence is actually a bad thing and faith is de rigueur.

Just a final thought, on this possibility of evidence for God. Your point applies just as well to Islam as Christianity, to astrology, to fairies existing. This puerile play on the remote possibility of evidence turning up to favour your particular unevidenced belief is laughable.

This point (2) is seriously messed up in your head.

3) Only supernatural theism provides a rational justification of scientific work.

No! No! No!

Adding the word ‘rational’ isn’t helping. It’s not rational.

But you do need supernatural theism to have a rational justification of science.

Of course not. We have the empirical evidential justification that science is better than anything else. Remember, we not only can’t have absolute proof, but we also don’t need it. The results of science speak for themselves.

Why on earth would you want to dream up an imaginary supernatural explanation for something that already works? That it works without supernatural explanation is evidence itself that the supernatural isn’t needed.

You do realise this is just a God of the Gaps argument, don’t you? We don’t have absolute logical proof that science is infallible, so you are injecting this supernatural to fill that proof gap. But all you’ve done is filled the gap with a presupposition of a God – you’ve added an unexplained premise – and remember how deductive proofs never prove anything because they don’t have proven premises? You have just added an unproven premise: supernaturalism.

It means that scientific inquiry done on the assumption that there is no higher intelligence than evolved human intelligence is making a value judgment that it has no right to make.

There is no assumption that there is no higher intelligence than humans. We already accept that there might be alien species that are more intelligent than us now. There might be post-humans, trans-humans, in the future that are more intelligent than us now. There might be AI systems in the future more intelligent than us now. And yes, as some remote possibility there might be billions of super-natural gods more intelligent than us, and hyper-natural gods in a higher still realm of even greater intelligence than them – and not a drop of evidence for any of it. Whether it’s aliens, AI or gods, it’s all speculation.

We take modern humans to be the most intelligent creatures we know of because, from evidence, we are the most intelligent creatures we know of. it’s a working conclusion not an assumption. Don’t paint our contingent empirical knowledge with your presuppositional supernaturalist brush.

Why is knowledge better than ignorance? The atheist would respond that ignorance has less survival value than truth; after all, if you believe wrong things or do not know enough about your environment, you’re less likely to survive and flourish. But this explanation only applies to a very small amount of scientific knowledge. There is little survival value in knowing, for example, the complicated workings of time–space theory, or the genus of certain insects, or the distance of Jupiter from Mars.

In a trivial sense you are right. And for all the good prayer does there’s little survival benefit in pretending to know there’s a God. But that’s all irrelevant. Even if our intellectual curiosity is no more than an evolutionary by-product, we are stuck with it. We like finding stuff out. Whether it helps survival or not is irrelevant – as is sex after a certain age, or after a vasectomy or other contraception, but still enjoyable nonetheless. 

Human beings believe that knowing is better than ignorance because they believe that truth is better than falsity, and light is better than darkness. But where does such a conclusion come from? It does not come from scientific principles.

it comes from our evolved nature, whether useful or not. Another God of the Gaps argument is due I suppose.

You cannot study science hard enough to understand why you should study science at all.

Of course you can: psychology, neuroscience, anthropology, biology, …, science is in the business of explaining many things about the world, including why one species does what it does.

To study science presupposes a valuing of truth that must be experienced outside of scientific study.

No it does not. It doesn’t presuppose anything. We discover that we value truth by observing that we value truth. We then dig deeper into brain sciences to figure out why we value things. This isn’t news. Even if we don’t have as many answers as we like we have some, and are acquiring more. No more God of the Gaps, please.

It is only rational to pursue scientific knowledge that doesn’t offer immediate survival value if there is some external, transcendent value in knowing truth.

What utter rubbish! We can hypothesise that truth value comes from the basics of survival – the more accurate, closer to the truth about facts in the world, our knowledge is, the more likely we are to survive. That’s all that’s required. No need to hypothesise transcendental nonsense – which you hypothesise only because you already believe the God stuff.

4) Only supernatural theism gives us assurance that real scientific knowledge is possible.

Philosopher Alvin Plantinga? No! For pity’s sake, he’s not a philosopher, he’s a theologian, with all the rep suppositions that a theologian has that stops him doing what philosophers should do, which is to be sceptical, to engage in critical thinking, to leave your presuppositions at the door. 

We already have plenty of contingent assurance that ‘real’ scientific knowledge is possible. And it it’s not real, if we are living some solipsistic imagined existence, so that all of material reality is only imagined in immaterial minds, then so what? But going down that path gets rid of your God too.

The “evolutionary argument against naturalism” is not complicated, it’s simple, and wrong.

Those two Plantinga facts:

– First, the theory of evolution is true, and humans have descended from lower life forms over time. 

– Second, humans are rational beings in a higher degree and superior way to lesser evolved creatures.

That isn’t that informative. You cannot derive from that what Plantinga thinks he can derive. There is no “tension between these two facts”.

If human beings are a more evolved species of primate, then our cognitive faculties (ie, the parts of our body and mind that allow us to be rational creatures) have evolved out of lesser cognitive faculties. But, Plantinga says, if God does not exist, then the only factors that affected human evolution are time and chance. Based on time and chance alone, why should we be confident that our rational minds–which are merely the sum of lesser evolved minds plus time and chance–are actually rational at all?

This betrays a really inadequate view of evolution, and biology, and physics, and reason.

It’s not just time and chance. More to the point the changes are not independent chance events. They are contingent events. A chance mutation acts in an environment that favours it to not. If it is favoured it’s more likely to persist in the gene pool, and it’s more likely to be favoured if it contributes to survival, or at least isn’t detrimental to it. It’s the selection, natural selection, that does the work of maintaining good chance changes and discarding bad ones.

And, reason is no more than the mechanistic working of a biological brain clicking away somewhat like a computer – and the somewhat it an important point here, since we re not exactly like computers in how we do computation. But reason is nothing more than messy computation using concepts and language to manipulate ideas.

What basis do we have to believe our own conclusions?

We don’t have any basis, in an absolute sense, no logical proof that our conclusions will be right. But we can recognise quite well when our conclusions turn out to work, and when they don’t. We know we make mistakes in this area. Look, Samuel, you and Plantinga have come to unreliable conclusions. Or if you are right then we on the atheist side have come to the wrong conclusions. Either way, we aren’t guaranteed to make the right conclusions, so that alone shows Plantinga’s thesis is wrong. We cannot know we are right perfectly, which is what you’d expect from an evolved organism that wasn’t designed by a perfect being for perfectly rational behaviour.

How do we know we are actually capable of knowing truth more than a primate? 

Taking you to mean any ‘other’ primate, well, we don’t, except in as far as we can show that we are more capable. In detecting the best location for food, the best place to sleep in the forest, then I guess we don’t know some things as well as they do, without artificial help. But on the whole we know we make better use of our brains intellectually by observing that we do – by looking at them and comparing empirically. This is all too easy. I seriously worry about the religious mind that can’t grasp this.

If the only players in our existence are lesser creatures, time, and chance, how do we know we are even highly evolved at all?

Jeez, these are seriously poor questions. We know we are highly evolved only in as much as our science tells us and no more. There might be species out in space more* evolved than we are. Had mammals not become dominant some other species might have evolved to be more* evolved. We know only, from our own observations, that on this planet we know of no more evolved species than us. It really is that empirically simple.

[* I’m playing your game here. Being *more* evolved is a dubious qualifier.] 

It makes no sense to assume that humans can really make sense of their world on a conceptual level if human consciousness arose out of the very world it responds to.

We are not assuming it. We are observing that it is the case. If we are wrong, and, say, we’re actually as dumb as horse shit, then we are doing a better job of fooling ourselves than we thought was possible when we started to laugh at the religious for the horse shit they believe in. C’est la vie. In the meantime, we still think believing in unevidenced gods is dumb.

Nagel agrees with Plantinga that atheistic naturalism cannot explain why human beings can be rational creatures and do rational things that should be trusted.

You do realise that if this is right, then we also have no reason to be confident in Plantinga’s reasoning, for believing in senses divinitatis? Right? You do realise that if naturalism is true, and this limitation you are perceiving is also true, then in a naturalistic non-supernatural universe this Plantinga horse shit is just the kind of horse shit that such limited humans might come up with? Right? The fact that we have this disagreement, between our rational empirical perspective and the theological imaginary friends, this is just what would happen under the naturalism Plantinga is worried about.

If there’s actually a God, and he has given us these brains, then we atheists are using them to show pretty well that there’s no evidence for God, and Plantinga has been put on earth by this God to make such a dumb argument that it actually increases belief in the stupidity of apologetics and the absence of God.

If Carl Sagan is correct and the material universe is all there was, is, and ever will be, then science itself is nothing more than a shot in the dark.

It is a shot in the dark. Enhanced by a science that started by shining Newton’s a light, and went on to invent night vision goggles, telescopes, microscopes, to help us on our way.

Religion is the art of being in a darkened space, insisting on remaining blind folded, and then imagining all the things that might be out there, without ever stepping into the unknown to actually test those ideas. It’s seriously stupid.


Sorry Samuel, but you are way off base. This is only going to encourage non-sciency Christians to keep churning out this sort of poor response to atheism and science all over the net.

Science is contingent, adaptive. That’s a good thing.

Religion is absolute, static, resistive to change. That’s a bad thing.

Heresy in religion is a bad thing, and in some cases punishable. Apostasy, blasphemy, heresy, are all tools to shut down thinking and encourage obedience. The best that can happen to the heretic is that he will be ignored, or scorned, or denounced as a sinner. But he could fact death or torture.

Heresy in science is a good thing, as long as it is backed up by evidence. The worse that happens is people laugh at your dumb ideas. See Deepak Chopra, Rupert Sheldrake.

Josephus on Christianity Is Hearsay

There are a bunch of people building reputations on the historicity of Jesus – whether the man Jesus existed, what he did, what he claimed to do.

Christians want, no, need, Jesus to be a real mortal man, at least, because they depend on that in order to make their next set of claims about his divinity, his miracles, and most of all, the resurrection.

Non-Christian scholars go to great lengths to show not only that the information we have a bout Jesus is unreliable, but in some cases it is so flawed they think he didn’t even exist.

In history it really helps make your case if there are some independent sources that contribute facts to a story to give us some confidence in the story. One area where Christian scholars fail so badly it amounts to professional dishonesty is regard this independent evidence claim.

One source in particular can be relied upon to be behind most claims you hear from Christians if they start telling you there’s ‘plenty’ (a vague often used term) of evidence for the resurrection. When you look at their sources they tend to go something like this:

1 – Many who are not scholars will point to William Lane Craig, and may even give links to his site and some of the pages where he tells us there are ‘plenty’ of independent sources.

2 – When you go to William Lane Craig you will see that he offers Josephus, and Pliny and Tacitus. But the go-to guy in the end is Josephus.

3 – When you’ve gone down this rabbit whole with the Christian and given your reasons why this isn’t independent evidence, they’ll offer some other Christian scholars, who, they assure you, will provide categorical evidence for the resurrection. Of course these sources never do. But where they do claim to be offering evidence you can bet your shirt on it that they will either point to some other source, like William Lane Craig again, or will cite Josephus themselves.

4 – Some Christians will actually try to cite just Josephus – but usually it’s not Josephus directly that they cite but some description of what Josephus contains along with some explanation of why it’s so good. But this is not actually looking at the content of Josephus.

If you’re not familiar with Josephus you could start here: Wikipedia on Josephus

Remember, Josephus was a Jew, captured by Rome, and writing from Rome. Here’s a brief summary with links: Jewish Virtual Library on Josephus. And from there note this: “However, because of Josephus’ proclivity to depend on hearsay and legend, scholars are never sure what to accept as fact.”

Or, you could try this source: Bible Study Tools on Josephus.

Scholarly Opinion on the Reliability Of Extant Josephus Texts

One of the controversies over what is currently available is the extent to which current transcripts are genuine copies of what Josephus actually wrote, or whether they have been modified by Christians to tell a better story. This is the stuff of historical scholarly work – which I’m not qualified to judge, but which has, of course, its Christian non-Christian perspectives.

I am specifically avoiding this angle, because I don’t think it is necessary in order to make my point. And, I have to say, both the Christian and non-Christian scholars seem to be on thin ice. You can judge for your self by reading them – I bet you’ll soon become bored with the detail that makes no difference.

Josephus as Hearsay

I appreciate the historical interests in these old texts, but in the case against Christianity the most obvious criticism of Josephus and other ‘independent’ sources is that they are nothing more than hearsay. Josephus is not evidence for Jesus at all.

At best, if we ignore the controversy of the reliability of the extant texts, then it is nothing more than a report of what Christians were saying they believed.

Whether it’s what Christians reported directly to Josephus, or what Josephus picked up from non-Christian sources telling what Christians were saying, is unknown.

The same is true of course when a Christian source is provided. If a non-Christian hears some stories about Christ, thinks it all sounds pretty good, and becomes a Christian, then this is now a biased Christian source that is peddling what are basically his unreliable sources that made him Christian in the first place.

And so it goes even today.

History Hangs on Threads

This is a problem for history generally. But in most respects it’s unimportant.

I don’t know of anyone today living their lives in such a way that depends categorically on the truth of whether Nero fiddled as Rome burned. If one believed that legend, then came across information that debunks it, it wouldn’t be the end of your world. One has only to say, “Oh well, I was wrong about that.”

Some historical researchers could build academic careers on something that is later debunked. And the same is true in science. But once the facts are establish there’s no hiding place. It may involve the consumption of some humble pie, but then any scholar or researcher worth their salt would get the pie out, and after a hearty meal they’d get on with using the new data.

The Christian Life Based on Hearsay

But in the case of Christianity people build careers and whole lives on the claim that Jesus was God (ignoring theological quibbles on that score) and that he died to save us. All based on nothing better than hearsay.

You go to church, pray to God and Jesus Christ. Maybe you’re a Roman Catholic and you really believe that when the wafer is blessed it turns into the literal body of Christ. Maybe you’re a ‘sophisticated’ theologian and don’t buy any of the high church stuff, but still believe in Jesus Christ, Son of God, and the resurrection.

It’s based entirely on hearsay? Yes!

The words of Jesus? Put into his mouth entirely by the writers of the Gospels. There is zero evidence Jesus said any of it. When reported in the Gospels some time after the death of Jesus (again, we’re not even demanding proof the mortal man existed here) then it is nothing more than hearsay.

It is no less hearsay than anything a Muslim might claim about Mohammed. Muslims can even make a better claim to the historicity of Mohammed – though of course what Mohammed’s followers tell us Mohammed was told by Gabriel, who was instructed by Allah, is several levels of hearsay too.

I don’t think enough is made of this. Christianity is a religion based entirely on hearsay. But Josephus is a Christian trump card they are allowed to get away with far too often.

Religious Language Frustrates Michael Nugent

Michael Nugent tries to grasp and challenge the meaning of the mystical words of Swami Purnananda as the latter explains something or other about his beliefs.

I’ve always been fascinated by how well artists capture moving water. I remember visiting Niagara Falls, and I tried to pick out and follow a pattern in the flow of water as it went over the edge – no sooner had I selected one fast moving ripple to examine its form and it was gone, and the water just kept on coming. Swami Purnananda’s meaningless words just keep on coming, and Michael Nugent has barely a moment to grasp each one and impart some sense onto it.

Swami Purnananda, “I frame in poetic language admittedly”

And there lies the problem of the whole of religious mysticism.

If you keep telling yourself this stuff enough the brain comes to believe it. The brain builds a contextually consistent and eventually familiar conceptual framework where all this stuff ties together and forms some ‘holistic’ explanation that has ephemeral ties to the real word through a careful selection of words – and it helps here if the words are vague or of multiple meanings so they are protected from literal evidential analysis. The whole system can then stand alone, in the brain, detached from empirical scrutiny.

I guess that’s why it takes so long to become a mystic or a priest. Until the brain is thoroughly programmed in this poetic language the brain’s owner is a struggling novice.

In a way I think it’s very much like learning some difficult scientific or mathematical concept. I know from experience that I’ve struggled to really ‘get it’ some times. Evolution, thermodynamics – there are many topics which can seem difficult to grasp until you have many of the bits pinned down, then it all clicks and you get it. I can see why those without a lot of background can find evolution and thermodynamics and other scientific ideas so incredible, and why they look for other explanations.

The scientific conceptual systems succeed or fail on the extent to which they stand up to the empirical challenge. Not so religion.

It doesn’t seem to matter to many people that the religious mystical stuff isn’t grounded in empirical evidence, or that it doesn’t actually work at doing anything – outside all the psychological benefits they find in their communities of common belief. Of course they have to ignore as much as possible how easily such unsupported beliefs can lead to atrocities in the real world; and where they can they blame those outcomes on something else. Many must be finding that deflection tough to sustain in the face of the proclaimed faith of ISIS – though even some atheists still try valiantly to excuse religious belief of being open to any interpretation at all.

Deepities indeed, as was pointed out in an early comment on Michael Nugent’s blog.

What do I believe ‘in’? Nothing.

I had a conversation with an atheist friend recently and I think we surprised each other.

Though an atheist she still felt she needed to believe in ‘something’, though she didn’t quite know in what; and to some extent she envied religious believers in that they had something to turn to, some belief. This surprised me, because though I know of some atheists who feel this way this was my first opportunity to hear it first hand. What surprised me more was her surprise at the nature my atheism.

She asked me, well what do you believe in? You surely must believe in something, ‘in humanity’, for example? Her surprise was that I said that as far as I can tell I don’t believe in anything, in that religious type of ‘believing IN something’, and I don’t need to. What about life, family, your wife?

I chose to respond about my wife – one’s wife is a common subject when believers insists that surely you have ‘faith’ in your wife’s love for you. Of course I love my wife. Along with my (adult) children she is most important to me. But I don’t ‘believe in’ her, in some all encompassing sort of way. She’s another human being. She has flaws, as do we all. It would be unfair to ‘believe’ in her in that way, and totally unnecessary. I trust her; and I’ve learned to do that with experience of not being given any reason not to. Exactly what I trust her with or about is less clear, but generally I’d say I trust her when she says she loves me; I trust her not to intentionally do anything that would hurt me in any way. But my wife and I are simply two human animals that have that type of loving bond that humans are capable of. It’s not magic. It’s not spiritual. It’s human. It’s what humans do.

I could come over all lyrical, quote lines from poems or love songs to express how deep my love is, but that seems to be rather superficial when trying to get to the bottom of this belief stuff. I need to explain it rationally. Spouting words of romantic love would express my feelings, perhaps, but wouldn’t go any way to explaining anything about belief.

Believing ‘in’ stuff always seems rather contrived; fake. I’m not disputing that people do believe like that. But I get the feeling that they’ve been busy fooling themselves into such beliefs, buying into romanticism spouted by poets, philosophers and theologians. It all seems such unnecessary nonsense. I get all the wonder and magic of living a human life, with other humans, and with other animals on this plant, and from the mysteries of the universe itself. I don’t see the need to believe ‘in’ anything.

Coincidentally Will Self has a piece in the BBC News magazine: A Point of View: Why not caring about anything is only for the young. “It is not the content of our beliefs that really matters, so much as the practice of believing itself, argues Will Self.”

Well, no, believing doesn’t matter. Or, rather, not believing ‘in’ something, avoiding such an error, is what actually matters, because it allows you to believe whatever you find to be the case. I find that believing ‘in’ something gives that something an importance that cannot then be betrayed by truth, and can lead to the denial of any truth that threatens what you happen to believe ‘in’. Religions gain their coercive authority from having people submit to belief ‘in’ them.

“Dostoevsky understood that what humans are, in terms of our moral being, is crucially tied up with what – if anything – we believe.”

As a matter observation, I guess that has been right, historically; mostly, for the thinkers that think about thought about those things. But I don’t think it’s a necessity for humans. I think it’s a habit, like one’s religion, that we have tended to fall into, or grown up into. It seems so common that I suppose it might be some quirk of the brain that makes it happen; an accident of genetics and gene expression in the environment of human brain evolution.

“In the contemporary secular era, one the lineaments of which Dostoevsky could perfectly well discern when he was writing in the 1870s, there are plenty of people keen to assert that they have no beliefs at all, if by this is meant a settled conviction about such big questions as why we are here, where we are going, and whether good and evil are ultimate realities or merely functions of a given social structure during a particular era.”

Quite right. If the enlightenment has shown us anything it’s that such convictions are foolish. It’s ironic that believers are often quick to tell us how wrong we atheist science proponents are in our belief ‘in’ science. They assume we believe ‘in’ science the way they believe ‘in’ whatever it is they believe in. And they couldn’t be more wrong. Scientific scepticism is the withholding of conviction – barring over enthusiasm in one’s pet theory now and again, but we’re quick to clarify the contingency of our apparent beliefs The contingency is what we take for granted as a lesson quickly learned in the failure to make accurate predictions when we expect to be able to make them. A failed experiment is telling us something: something unexpected about the subject of the experiment, or something unexpected about how to perform the experiment.

Learning to trust science generally, as a process of discovery, as the best process we have available to us, is not a commitment to a belief ‘in’ it. And when it comes to science in specific instances it’s usually the scientist doing the science that knows full well how contingent their very positive looking results are.

“But is it really true to say we have no beliefs? After all, if we truly believed nothing it would be difficult for us to operate in a world where everyone else behaves as if they did believe in something, that something being – by and large – the efficiency and reliability of the technologies we rely on for our daily life.”

Will Self is here failing to distinguish between belief, as expressed when we say ‘belief in’, and a learned trust.

Trust is a powerful empirical tool used throughout the animal kingdom, by animals possessing brains. Trust: we can start with it, and potentially withdraw it; or we can start without it and learn when to award it. The inquisitive nature of the young is an expression of this learning process: to dive in head first with no negative expectation, and learn from one’s mistakes, or to tread cautiously and learn what can be trusted.

Now it may well be that the human brain, with greater powers of reflection, is sometimes a little too sceptical for its own good, and often a little too trusting in invisible powers for which there is no evidence. These are issues of psychology and neuroscience that we are still trying to discover in detail. But despite our history of over indulgence in belief ‘in’ things, there is no reason to suppose this is some necessity for survival, or happiness.

“When we push button A we very much expect B to happen, when we flick a light switch we anticipate the light going on.”

Well, yes. These are learned expectations. There is no reason to believe a switch will bring forth light, and any ancient would be rightly mystified if it had. From an early age my children grew up with VHS video recorders which they could use to record and play back TV programmes. That was something I learned was possible at a much later stage in life than them, since I grew up with only two TV channels, then four, and no means of recording. My childrens children will think it quite natural to walk down the street seemingly talking to themselves when in fact they are in intimate live conversation with someone on the other side of the world. How would that not be sorcery to people of earlier times. But these are not beliefs ‘in’ anything.

“they depend upon beliefs that we hold on trust”

Yes, on trust, not through belief ‘in’. They are commitments of quite different kinds.

“This reliance on essentially occult beliefs for the smooth running of the physical aspects of our lives has engendered a further strange belief in us, a belief about our beliefs concerning those big, metaphysical questions.”

For some that aren’t fortunate enough to have the opportunity, through circumstances, to enlighten themselves that may be fair enough; but for anyone at all educated this amounts to wilful ignorance. I don’t know many details of physics, cosmology, chemistry, biology, and when I try to express my opinions on these subject I no doubt make mistakes, or run out explanatory steam. But I know enough to know that there will be answers there, if in fact I know that someone somewhere has taken the effort to make the appropriate discoveries. It seems to me that failing to grasp the rudiments of how things work is a failure of inquisitiveness not unrelated to the closing down of inquiry we see in many systems that require a belief ‘in’ them.

We can even go so far as to make reasonably educated estimates about as yet incomplete knowledge; not because we know that these things ‘will’ be discovered, but from a trust born of previously successful extrapolations. And tempered by previous failures too. So, as just one example, I see no principled barrier to humans discovering the nature of consciousness, as a function of a biological brain, to the extent that one day we will be able to enhance our own consciousness, encapsulate it in substrates other than evolved brains, and will be able to generate it afresh. There really is no known principle that persuades me this will not be possible. There is, however, a lot of belief ‘in’ stuff going on in some human brains that prevents them entertaining this possibility. Their belief ‘in’ some unsubstantiated specialness of human kind or person, often divinely created and so outside the creative reach of man himself, prevents them seeing the possibility. Believing ‘in’ things seems such a hindrance to the imagination – another irony given the flights of fancy believers often engage in without any need for evidence to support their beliefs.

“This abrupt curtailment of the Western metaphysical project has left us at the bottom of our metaphorical gardens, in our figurative garden sheds, and depending for our belief system on a series of makeshift structures we’ve knocked up ourselves.”

That’s right. We’ve invented some holy shit. And look at the price we are paying for that right now. The most profoundly religious places on earth are often the most abysmal. Of course the dogmas of religious belief are no worse than those of atheistic beliefs ‘in’ something or other – as religious believers will be only to pleased to remind us by bringing up Stalin and other wackos. But sceptical scientific atheism isn’t made of the same stuff: it’s the lack of unconditional belief ‘in’ things. If we’re going to believe something it’s going to be conditional on the evidence that supports it; and if better evidence comes along we give up the belief somewhat easily, though sometimes reluctantly, because our beliefs are contingent.

“If called to account on the gimcrack quality of our convictions, we relapse into a sort of stoicism light: “Well,” we say, “it’s true that these beliefs aren’t altogether credible, but that doesn’t matter because at root I don’t believe in anything – I’m just trying to get by like the rest of us.” But the problem with stoicism light is that it just can’t deal with the heavy stuff.”

I agree. There’s a lot of unthinking conviction going on. And ‘sophisticated theology’ is the cheapest and showiest ornament of all. And it’s all so unnecessary. But worse, it’s always poorly thought out. Supposedly sophisticated, it’s nothing but a sham.

“The problem with our contemporary secular beliefs is that they’re either makeshift, or entered into unconsciously, simply as a necessary operating system for our busy and digitised lives. The great believers in the wonder of the universe, as revealed to us by science, seem to have considerable difficulty in either galvanising us to social solidarity, or providing us with true solace.”

As for the social solidarity I defy you to give any example of solidarity that is more inclusive of people than is science. There are no bars to membership. And as unlikely as it is to find someone that is both Muslim and Christian, there is no reason a Muslim or a Christian can’t be a scientist.

And as for solace, I think the difficulty is in the minds of those expecting solace. Cast it off. You don’t need it. Or, to put it another way, there’s a natural peace and solace in the freedom from belief ‘in’ anything in particular. It’s deeply liberating.

Life throws up crap, and often this happens when you’ve taken the greatest care in your life to avoid it; and to rub salt in, you witness the most cavalier kind swanning through life happily with the least effort. When will you get it into your heads that the chaotic nature of nature defies perfect order. Shit happens, and the best you can do is try to avoid it happening to you and your loved ones, and if you can help a few others around the world avoid it too, all the better for your empathetic biology. And if you can positively create and improve, then better still.

“I’ve yet to hear of anyone going gently into that dark night on the basis that she or he is happily anticipating their dissolution into cosmic dust.”

Then you’re not listening.

That’s not to say an individual at death’s door doesn’t long to survive. We are biological survival machines. We are programmed to stay alive if we can, and barring relief from pain and suffering the human organism is programmed not to go gently. If you doubt the power of this biological force of nature then watch the beating twitching body of a mouse your cat has toyed with. For a more traumatic example make yourself witness (it’s your duty to do so) the struggling body of the victim of a beheading at the hands of those that currently take their solace from the religion of Allah. Then decide what makes stoicism so biologically unnatural, and how reliable religion is at providing solace.

It is one of the supreme powers of self control to slip away in fully conscious peace – it goes against our biological grain. And all the more incredible when not pretending we are simply crossing over to a better eternal life of bliss. Knowing you are going, right now, and this is the end, may be a challenge to our animal survival that even a contemplative brain has difficulty with. All the more virtuous then, if virtue is something you find appealing.

“nor do I witness multitudes assembling in order that they may sing the periodic table together, or recite prime numbers in plain chant.”

And what’s that got to do with the price of eggs? Do you think atheists that believe in nothing in particular cannot be stirred by the rhythms of music. Emotive religious music can be deeply moving. But then so is music by the Doors. Try Rhythms of the Brain, by Gyorgy Buzsaki if you want to know why rhythm is important – it’s nothing to do with the religious content. It’s nothing to do with believing ‘in’ something.

“By contrast, religious beliefs continue to offer many people genuine succour, and they do this, I think, as Dostoevsky realised, not because of the specific concepts they appear to enshrine – such as an afterlife or eternal judgement – but because they place the human individual in a universal context, and thereby give her life meaning.”

I can understand that, in a time of near absolute ignorance. And the irrelevance of the specific content of belief goes some way to explain the arbitrary and varied nature of it. What else could explain the success of Scientology? A trumped up religion, invented by a failed science fiction writer, and people actually believe ‘in’ that stuff? This tells us more about the gullibility of the human brain than it does about our need for succour – or it tells us it’s such a desperate need we’ll believe damned near anything other than the cold facts of life and death. It is almost as incredible that any educated intellectual falls for the religious crap, but sure enough they do. And some of them scientists too. Even biologists.

We might still be early in our journey of the discovery of this universe and beyond, but the sciences of physics, chemistry, biology and evolution, and latterly the brain sciences and the discoveries of our symbiotic relationship with all life on earth, and with any other life there might be in the universe, and with the rhythms in the dust of the universe – all this, it gives life far greater meaning than any trumped up imaginary fantasy.

Don’t get me wrong. Fantasy has its places, from childhood fairy tales, to adult fictions, theatres, art. We are emotionally driven intellects, and it’s often fun to lose ourselves in our imagination. And the devotional life may have its merits in personal fulfilment – it takes all sorts, and there’s no telling what one’s brain might find satisfying. And the simplicity and beauty of non-belief-in provides an exhilarating freedom of its own kind.

So, it’s not a belief ‘in’ something, the universe, and our place in it that we need. It’s the marvel of the discovery that we collectively, accumulatively, we lumps of dynamic dust, have been able to contemplate and understand what we are, what we came from, where we might yet go, that gives life its meaning. That and a good pint or a tasty dram, a hearty meal, passionate sex, holding hands, a melody, a pleasant snooze in the afternoon. Living our small short lives and marvelling at the greater universe is plenty satisfying enough. I don’t need to pretend in an afterlife or in any cosmic shepherd to watch over me and guide me. The last thing I need is the atrocious nonsense that the big religions dream up. I don’t need to believe ‘in’ something; what a chore.