Tag Archives: Faith

Let there be no light

I am overawed by the predictive power of Leviticus, if I’m right in thinking that that’s the book that set the rules for orthodox jews.

As far as I can make out, from this BBC story, (Light sensors cause religious row) orthodox jews aren’t allowed to see by electric light on holy days.

A couple have taken legal action after claiming motion sensors installed at their holiday flat in Dorset breached their rights as Orthodox Jews.
Gordon and Dena Coleman said they cannot leave or enter their Bournemouth flat on the Sabbath because the hallway sensors automatically switch on lights.
The couple’s religious code bans lights and other electrical equipment being switched on during Jewish holidays.

I can’t understand the problem, here. If the hallway sensors detect that it’s dark – the outside world will have street lighting, surely.

So the litigious couple can’t go in the street anyway, as far as I can see. Because then they would be in non-kosher electric light anyway….

Unless street-lighting doesn’t count because those lights are already on when the couple leave their home. In which case, I suggest that they trick the sensors and just switch the lights on permanently in advance of any jewish holiday… Lateral thinking, hey?.

Did Leviticus ban all electric light? Or just proscribe electric light switches and motion sensors but say some lights were acceptably kosher?

As I said at the beginning – this rulebook seems so amazingly farsighted. There must have been real prophets at work, if they foresaw electric lighting a few thousand years ago. Is there anything in there about when we get the jetpacks?

Darwin is not the atheist god.

In today’s Guardian, Madeleine Bunting has obviously run out of things to write about and pulled a bit of a weird post about atheists and Darwin to try and stir things up (and she has succeeded here at least :-) ).

With a peice titled “Darwin shouldn’t be hijacked by New Atheists – he is an ethical inspiration” she generates all manner of fallacies and incorrect statements. Interestingly, she achieves this without actually saying much at all. What a wonderful example of how you can fill four columns in a national daily newspaper with, effectively, nothing. She is writing about 2009 being the “Year of Darwin” (as well as Gallileo, but that is another story) and begins with what a “brilliant scientist” Darwin was, leading to this:

He is, Newton apart, the greatest British scientist ever, so it makes good sense for the British Council, among others, to use this as an opportunity to flag up the prestigious history of British science.

Now, I am sure there are many British scientists (living and dead) who would take offence at this. Darwin’s work (and Newtons) was indeed brilliant, but there have been many other examples of equal brilliance albeit in different fields. Lawrence Krauss, in New Scientist, states that “anyone who was looking could have seen that humans were animals” which is certainly true – Darwin’s brilliance was to have been looking…

Further on, Madeleine identifies one of the biggest worries about the state of British education (and possibly a reason behind the Year of Darwin):

What drives this anniversary is a missionary zeal to persuade and convince the public of the truth of Darwin’s great discoveries, because, astoundingly – despite the mountain of scientific evidence – there is still considerable scepticism and even hostility to this great Victorian. A poll for the BBC in 2006 found that less than half the British population accepted the theory of evolution as the best description for the development of life.

Less than half. In a “largely” secular nation. Sad, isn’t it. I have some doubts of the figures, because I know of no-one personally who would say Evolution is false. For 30+ million people in the UK to think this, the chances of me never having met even one is pretty remote. While I personally feel the figures are somewhat inaccurate, it doesn’t matter. One person thinking the Sky Pixie shook magic dust out and life appeared is one too many.

From this point on, however, it goes downhill. Madeleine falls into the trap of thinking Darwin is the Atheist equivalent of Jesus. She seems to think that atheists require a historical icon to have been an atheist to support the cause. She seems to imply that Darwin has become the Old Testament Prophet of the New Atheism.

Utter nonsense but first some quotes:

In particular, what would have baffled Darwin is his recruitment as standard bearer for atheism in the 21st century.

Where has this come from? Creationists initiated the battle against Darwin, invoking their god to strike down evolution. Religious people of almost all persuasions are happy to accept evolution as valid science. The catholic church has embraced the work of Darwin. How in the name of Wotan is Darwin the “standard bearer” for Atheism?

I actually think Madeleine has mistaken Darwin for Dawkins. Easily done, but a mistake none the less.

Yet bizarrely, the whole 19th-century collapse of faith is now pinned on Darwin.

Only by Creationists. Again, she is using the arguments of creationists against atheists. Madness. There have been atheists as long as there have been humans. We are born atheists and some are converted into theists. The Royal Society was full of non-theists who had nothing to do with Darwin. This is just nonsense you would expect to see on Rapture Ready or CARM.

The fear is that the anniversary will be hijacked by the New Atheism as the perfect battleground for another round of jousting over the absurdity of belief (a position that Darwin pointedly never took up).

The fear by creationists. What is this “New Atheism” thing anyway? What does it mean? Does it imply people have found a new way of not believing? Does it actually have any meaning or is it an underhanded way of taking a shot at Atheists? Is it an example of how some atheists hate their own lack of belief so much they feel the need to distance themselves from others? (This leads to a point excellently expressed on The Atheist Ethicist Blog)

Agnosticism is not a valid belief structure. You either believe there is a god, or you dont. There is no new way to not believe, just in the modern world people are less frightened of stating they don’t believe. It is not “militant atheism” any more than Songs of Praise is militant Christianity.

Next we have a sleight of words trick:

Many of the prominent voices in the New Atheism are lined up to reassert that it is simply impossible to believe in God and accept Darwin’s theory of evolution; Richard Dawkins and the US philosopher Daniel Dennett are among those due to appear in Darwin200 events.

Wow, this is good. There are two points here and she writes to imply they are heavily linked. She first tells us that people are lined up to assert that it is impossible to believe in a Deity (any deity) and accept Evolution and then mentions Dawkins. The implication is clear, Dawkin will be one of these people. This appeals on some levels, because Dawkins is an outspoken atheist (damn his eyes for having the temeretity to speak out….) but it is clearly written by someone who knows nothing of what Dawkins has said.

It is possible to believe in the Christian God and accept evolution. Evolution makes no claims on the origin of life. The Catholic church is happy that God planted the seeds and life evolved. See, it is easy. Evolution disproves a literal interpretation of the bible, but outside the more fundamentalist minds this is rarely found anyway. It is, largely, only devout creationists who feel that Evolution alone challenges God.

Science as a whole challenges belief. In the God Delusion, and during his TV shows and talks, Dawkins uses a vast array of scientific fields to challenge the existence of any deity. I can not think of a scientific disciple which does not provide information to show there is no [Wotan|Odin|Thor|Set|Dievas|Allah|Krishna| etc]. Astronomy and Geology rubbish any idea of a literal interpretation of the biblical creation theory. Evolution is but one strand. No one would say “hey, ignore everything else in science, the only thing that disproves the bible is the genetic similarity between humans and chimps” (or what ever variation you want).

However.

There is a group of people who do think Evolution is the only means by which God can be disproven. These people are convinced that the rest of the scientific stable supports the existence of god, and provides a framework for him to exist. These people also think Dawkins is the evil spokesman of “Darwinism” and these people use the term “New Atheism” to put down those uppity non-believers who have the cheek to speak out in public.

Creationists.

Madeleine Bunting’s article has been so heavily influenced by creationist thinking you could almost read it on CARM, Uncommon Descent or the like. Almost but not quite. The terms are creationis terms. The arguments are creationist-inspired. But the general tone is one of a non-believer. I suspect there is some element of lazy journalism here, or a creationist researcher, or both. Possibly, Madeleine Bunting is an “Old Atheist” – the sort who kept quiet, went to church, paid a tithe etc but didn’t have faith – or perhaps she is an “Agnostic” – an atheist who wont admit it – but either way, she is wrong about Atheism needing, wanting or having a standard bearer in the form of Charles Darwin.

Science – Religion

Sorry, I had planned to stop going on about the comments on the Jamie Whyte article. However, on further reading there were some comments I couldn’t pass up on.

The first was just trivially funny, so I will kill it now. Several of the commenters came up with witty counter arguments along the lines of this one:

Surely this line of argument applies just as surely to atheists. What about the weight of living without a God? Your line of reasoning exposes you as one who does not believe either
David , London,

Erm yes. Being an atheist means you do not believe. It is kind of in the definition of the term. Being an atheist does not mean you “believe” in a hedonistic lifestyle of death and destruction (strikes me as being a bit too biblical to be honest). It does not mean you have be debauched and craven to fulfil your belief structure (again, this seems a bit like a few churches….). It simply means you do not believe in any gods. Easy isn’t it?

Anyway, onto the more important one – this time a commenter gets at the big problem faced in the west:

You were one of my philosophy lecturers when I was at Cambridge in the 90s. I reject your ‘realist’ view of science. Science doesn’t explain the origins of anything, it’s merely a useful construction to help us form judgements about the future. This view lets religion and science coexist.
andrew, London,

Now, I cant help but agree that Science does not explain the ultimate origins of some things, but to claim religion does so is a huge fallacy. I can only hope that Andrew learned more during his studies. “Religion” is not a solid body of information that can answer questions – every religion has a different creation myth and they can’t all be correct. Equally, the best that “religion” (ah, Loki, lets use Christianity as an example) can do is explain origins as “God Did It.”

Now, call me old fashioned but that isn’t an explanation. To claim that science can not explain the origin of something but saying “it was created by God” is an explanation is raving madness. The most basic example of this is the origin of life fallacy. While evolutionary theory makes no claims about the origin of life, the general scientific consensus seems to be along the lines of chance mixture of chemicals in the early Earth. The “Faithful” dislike this because it isn’t an answer to them – they want to know who created the chemicals to be mixed. Science can then bring in the creation of heavy elements in super nova, which leads to the question where did the early stars come from. We move to the “big bang” which leads to the question “what caused the time=0 event” at this point the Honest Science says “we do not know.”

Is this a bad thing? Not really. It is an honest answer. At best “Religion” can take it a stage further with “[deity of choice] caused it to happen” but still the question remains – who created the deity? Dishonest Religion weasels back with words to the effect of the “Uncreated Creator” but it is a screaming logical fallacy.

The last point “Andrew” made is also interesting. So interesting, I’ll repeat it here:

This view lets religion and science coexist.

How? While in an ideal world, and for some people, their particular religion and science can co-exist, as a general term it is impossible. Science demands its practitioners accept the evidence presented before them and dismiss even the most cherished notion should the evidence demand it. Religion is the exact opposite. It demands its practitioners cling to their notions in the face of evidence, no matter how strong.

In light of this, how can the two co-exist? One must always be corrupted by the other. If my religion dictated that the Earth was flat, could that co-exist with Science? No. Either I allow the evidence to alter my religion (either changing the interpretation of its canons or simply pretending parts of its holy book don’t exist) or I refute the evidence because my faith is strong.

That is not co-existing, one or the other must triumph. Personally I thought the enlightenment was when Science had taken the lead, but it seems a large portion of the world is trying to drag itself back to the middle ages.

Dumb Belief

Alun posted an excellent link as a comment on heather’s last post. This pointed to an article by Jamie Whyte on the Times Online. Now I am a big fan of Jamie Whyte, so it goes without saying the article is interesting, well written and possibly informative.

The basic crux of it is that people who profess to believe don’t actually believe – rather they go through the motions and pretend to have FAITH in what ever sky faerie they think is the correct one. Jamie argues that, if people really did believe, they would have to act on their crackpottery, but as most people just go about their daily lives in the same manner as an atheist, what belief is there really out there?

As I largely agree with Jamie Whyte on this topic, I won’t go into it any further – however there are some comments on the Times article that really cannot be ignored. :-)

Take this nugget:

I’m a Catholic. My election vote always goes to the candidate most likely to vote for policies that will save unborn lives. Issues such as health care, education and housing are of little significance if the right to life is not accorded to all human beings at all stages of development.

Julia, Manchester, UK

First off, I have to say “Liar, liar pants on fire” as I very, very much doubt this is from someone who lives in the UK. The terminology used is very much American and relates to US political issues. Lying for Jesus is still lying and this is just a pointless lie as teh intarweb is truly global – who cares where you come from?

More interestingly, from an angry atheist point of view, is the perverted world view it expresses.

“Julia” will base her choices on a government based on how it treats an unborn life. She cares not how badly people who are currently alive are treated, it is the unborn life that means more. Who cares if people are starving to death, dying of hypothermia or falling down with all manner of communicable diseases as long as no fetus is aborted.

How can that not be wrong? (The cynic in me puts this down to a distorted form of capitalism – they actually only want more babies so they have more people to subjugate and take money from).

Moving on, we hit the tired old drivel one comes to expect from poorly educated theists:

First, just because someone calls themself a Christian, does not mean that they are in fact a Christian, Second, do you ‘believe’ or do you ‘wish’ that this column actually has any meaning?….since under an Atheistic world view, we are all here by chance and have no purpose or meaning.
John, USA

I don’t mean to be rude to any American readers, but this strikes me as really being from an American. It is no argument. It is some one who doesn’t understand atheism (at least we have Religious Education classes) and is so brainwashed by Southern Baptism they can;t comprehend an alternative. I am a touch confused where the “meaning” came from – I am sure Jamie Whyte doesn’t care if “John” thinks the column has meaning – although obviously it had enough to get John to respond….

In quick succession we find:

Atheism is the state religion of a decaying culture; the new British state religion. Your column of atheism has every sign of a religious argument. (Religion: “that which is of ultimate importance.”)
Could you imagine a Christian getting a platform such as the one you have; never happen in UK.
kris, Pass,

No, I don’t get it either. I am sure the Church of England, the Church of Scotland, The Church of Wales and the Church of Ireland have their own views on our “state religion” – given that the figure head of the state is head of the Church of England, I could only dream of a day when Atheism was a “state religion” – even if it did contort the brain trying to explain how “atheism” can be a religion. As for the last sentence, the mind boggles. The Times alone has four times as many Christian columnists as atheists ones. There is even a whole section of the Times blogs for “faith” blogs. Sorry kris, but you fail.

It seems Americans just can’t stay away from English newspapers lately:

Why do you care?
Why does it irritate and anger you so much?
Why is it necessary to attack Christianity?
Because you are not sure.
There’s a part of you that wants to believe and you won’t allow it.
That’s very sad.
Roy, Vermont, USA

Erm, no. Why do western Atheists care about, and attack, the insane spreading of Christianity – well, simply because it directly affects our lives. Laws are passed based on Christian doctrine. Taxes are taken from hard working atheists to fund crackpot theists. Both are good reasons to care about Christianity in politics. Still, the ideal counter argument is why, “Roy,” do you care about what an Atheist says? Is it because part of you is not sure? For a BELIEVER that has to hurt. That really is sad.

Next we stray into very volatile territory:

I’m an agnostic and I think unborn children should be protected. It’s not about a soul, it’s the knowledge that once a life has started there is no difference between destroying it ten weeks or ten years later. Interestingly, the foetuses killed in Omagh are included in the tally of those murdered.
Paul Williams, London, UK

“Agnostic” – well, I have commented on that line of weak thinking in the past, but then again Santa may be real, no one has totally proven he isn’t.

Without straying too far into the abortion debate, this has a bit of a flaw. Basically put, it is not an argument against abortion, it is one against all form of contraception – along with being against eating meat, euthanasia etc. In itself these may be fine ideas and some people do agree with them but it is not an “anti-abortion” argument. The question still remains – when does “life” begin. The Omagh death tally is just an irrelevance.

From the almost-arguments we get the predictable Godwining of the thread:

Kant’s Enlightenment could have been his reaction to an overbearingly strict religious upbringing.Despite its “civilizing”
commentary, Kant himself rprtdly delighted at the news of the
French Revolution.Murderous atheistic Communism/Nazism were the major global effects of Enlightenment philosophy.
Joan Moira Peters, Whangarei UK Citizen, temp o/seas in New Zealand

Yada, yada, nonsense. This is such nonsense that I hope anyone reading this blog wont need me to explain.

Things start to go downhill here:

But it’s not just Christians who don’t follow through. Determinists continue to talk as if they were “free” to judge the validity of an argument. And atheists aren’t always the self-interested hedonists one might expect from believers in a meaningless universe with only a darwinian moral compass!
JS, Glasgow, UK

Nope. I am lost. I am not sure of the point trying to be made here and part of me thinks it could be somewhat tongue in cheek, although any reference to “Darwinian” annoys me.

With that, then, I will end my search though the comments. I strongly suggest you take a look and remember the comments read from the bottom of the list up. Some are interesting, some are annoying and lots are just plain crazy!

Rushdie interview

Salman Rushdie spoke about religion and atheism, in an interview on the Canadian CBC news site

Q: ……. Is this a comment on the current vogue for atheism?

A: Maybe it’s making a slight comeback. In the ’60s and ’70s, religion was in extreme retreat. It really felt as if that subject was over. The idea that we would have to reckon with religion as a major force in public life would have seemed absurd, if you had suggested it to me when I was in my 20s.

For someone of my generation, what’s been shocking is the way that religion has rushed back and returned to public life. And it’s only happened since the 1980s. In the Eastern hemisphere, it’s the rise of radical Islam and here it has to do with the Christian right.

Absolutely right. Ideas that seemed twenty years ago to have only historical value are now powerful mass motivators.

Rushdie says that he differs slightly from Hitchens or Dawkins in that:

… I have no problem with religion, as long as it’s private. If people find it consoling or uplifting or nourishing – not my business. Why should I dictate to people what they should enjoy? I may think they’re dumb, but it’s not my business. Where it becomes my business is when it comes into the public arena and is a social and political force that seeks to impose certain norms on society. Then, I think it becomes a malicious force.

Well, yes. I tend to agree with him here. We all have an infinite number of false beliefs and they are noone else’s concern, no matter how dumb, unless we act upon them in ways that have an impact on other people.

But, playing Devil’s Advocate, religion can never really be a wholly private matter. It’s socially transmitted. A patchwork of individually derived superstitions is one thing. A (more-or-less) internally coherent belief system is another. It requires central authority to propagate its ideas. mechanisms for transmitting its message and, apparently, having been organised, it needs to strengthen its internal cohesion by defining non-believers as other. (*)

Can you have a personal god belief that’s not produced through society? It doesn’t seem likely. Believing in a concept of “gods” isn’t an automatic response to the wonders of the universe. Otherwise, people wouldn’t bother to indoctrinate their young into their belief systems. We would all be born fully formed christians or muslims or hindus or whatever. Or, at least, all religions would be singing from the same hymnsheet.

I’m not convinced that a personal god can be so easily separated from socially organised belief. However, if anyone knows what can happen when you challenge organised religion, it’s Salman Rushdie. So, I take his point that individual folly hardly matters when mass folly is so dangerous.

(*) Sorry, sociological and philosophical pedants, I know I am reifying religion here. It’s just a rough description, OK?