Commenting on Comments

I was not planning to do a post on the nonsense being spouted by the comments on the John Humphrys article over on the Times Online (see previous post), but the idiocy and madness some of them presented couldn’t be ignored. Please forgive me, Zeus.

In no particular order we get this wonder from “Timothy” in Ross-on-Wye:

Christianity can be tested by whether the Resurrection occurred or not (1 Cor15). Secular and hostile sources such as Josephus, Tacitus, Lucian, the Talmud and the Toledoth Jeshu testify of the crucifixion of Jesus and the empty tomb. That blood and water flowed from Jesus’ side indicates heart failure and we can be certain He was dead. If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead where is His body? The disciples started proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus in Jerusalem where the Priests could have produced the body if they knew where it was, ending Christianity. Why would the disciples steal Jesus’ body?

Blimey, where do I start. First off, shall we look at motivation? The disciples had a vested interest in Jesus’ body not being found, so there is motive for them to ensure the priests didn’t know where the body was.

More interestingly shall we look at the witnesses (Secular and Hostile sources)? For example, Tacitus was born in about AD56 (56CE for purists) and is unlikely to have travelled to the middle east until around AD76 (or 76CE if you prefer). Even allowing for some major errors on the date of Jesus’ birth, it is unlikely that Tacitus was around to see the event and if anything, he is repeating a secondary or tertiary source. Lucian is even more removed as it was around AD125 (125 CE) he was born. Josephus has potential, being born around AD37 (37 CE), but that is stretching things.

So basically this discounts the secular sources as evidence. The Toledoth Jeschu is equally flawed as it was written around the second century after Jesus was supposed to have been born – again this means it is the result of secondary or tertiary sources AT BEST. I will ignore the Talmud because I don’t know it well enough to comment on how it describes Jesus’ life.

From “D Walsh” in Skipton we get:

For the intellectually honest, atheism is also a matter of faith. It is difficult to prove a negative. There is no absolute proof of the non-existence of god(s), though the lack of proof for his/her/their existence is suggestive. Atheism is therefore a belief, rather than a lack of it.

This is a tired old argument. Lack of belief is not a belief unless you have the preconceived idea that the thing being believed about exists. For example, if I chose to believe the keyboard under my fingers right now didn’t exist, this would be an item of faith. While it is unprovable, I have met no (sane) adults who believes that Faeries do not swap children at night. Atheism is not a matter of faith. Ever.

“Virginia” in Australia writes:

The atheist are the stupid ones. They refused to believe that they will burn in hell for all eternity. There is really no point in trying to convince these people as they are the minority as God puts the belief in us when we were created. That is why there are very few geniune atheist if the truth were known. The physical body dies but the spirit lives forever. So everyone has eternal life, it is where you will spend it. Imagine a world full of atheist? There will be no accountability charity justice compassion purpose worth morals mercy regrets guilt sin compassion and hope. Who do think run orphanges, soup kitchens, red cross, Salvation army, life line, op shops, youth camps, and many other charitable organisations? The atheist? CERTAINLY NOT.!! The atheists think about no one except themselves and if the world is full of them, it would be like HELL. So dont be so proud to be one of them, we dont envy you, we feel sorry for you that your life is so worthless.

This is what I love about the loving, caring, compassionate theists… It is a good job that is only Atheists who can be frowned upon for speaking out. It is good job the world isn’t full of evil atheists, isn’t it… “Chie” in Tokyo continues the false reasoning argument about Atheism:

Agnosticism is the only logical position a thoughtful human being can adopt. Once understood properly, it ends the futile and barren debate about whether God exists or not. Atheists (if by this is meant people who believe that there is no God) are in just as a rationally untenable position as believers. This is why it has to be said that Dawkins, although interesting on religion, shows his intellectual limitations. It’s probably due to the influence of Western mind training, which tends to take a binary approach to everything.

Again, this is nonsense. No matter how much woo you try to wrap around the situation, nor how much patronising you do the situation remains the same. If Chie is trying to suggest God is in a quantum superposition along with Zeus, Hera, Thor, Hemidal, Loki, Monkey, Fox, Rabbit and every other god humanity has come up with over the aeons, then he is deluded. A similar argument is suggested by “Richard” in Bexhill, Essex, which proves the point about people from Essex being thick.

“Eugene” from Heildelberg, Germany (I strongly suspect he is an American serviceman, and he reminds me of one I worked with many years ago) writes a diatribe which finishes with the patronising:

If you are truly intelligent, you will come to this coclusion. GOD IS MORE PROBABLE THAN NOT.

Nonsense. He doesn’t even say which god he thinks is more probable than any of the others. It is nothing but an appeal to mystery in funny clothes.

“Warren Toles,” from Canada, goes a long way to prove that Theists really are stupid and opens his comment with:

It is interesting that there are so many brilliant people in this world that will believe Darwin’s THEORY of evolution and completely dismiss the the Biblical account of creation. This can only be accounted for by the fact that those taking this position have not studied either the Bible or Darwin’s life story including the fact that he dismissed his own theory of evolution prior to his death. And yet we continue to teach Darwin’s Theory of evolution in our schools and Universities as though it is pure fact without any doubt attached to it.

It is great isn’t it. First off it is painfully obvious that Warren has no idea what a “theory” of science actually means. I assume he wants alternate theories of gravitation, thermodynamics (etc) to be taught as well. Add in the nonsense about Darwin’s dismissal of evolution on his death bed and you can see why Atheists laugh at the way Theists believe things without questioning… Shame on you Warren, the internet is a great tool – you should use it to learn new things.

“John W” from Oldham lives in a bleak world and writes:

As soon as you say there is no god, you say that there is no such thing as life or as a person. You reduce everything down to its component parts. You say all our thoughts are self interested delusions, lacking any intrinsic value. You forever steal the smile from the babies face, remove the beauty from the sunset and kill all that is noble in the world.

Wow. My being an atheist seems to stop my children smiling… Oddly this is not the case. I find it worrying that some people really do think they only reason they can be happy in this life is because some invisible person has promised them something in an imaginary afterlife. If this wasn’t a world religion, these people would be in a lunatic asylum. I think the idea that people are only “noble” because of god is what really steals the nobility of their actions. It makes them a vessel for others and implies that without Big Brother watching them, they would really be stealing and raping. I find that a sad, sad world.

“CC” from Cardiff falsifies himself with this:

Having read Dawkins God Delusion out of interest, I am still not convinced about religion or atheism. There are strong arguments for atheism in the book, but there are also some weak arguments. Having a scientific background and a career in engineering, I like to see real evidence. Maths and statistics can be used to ‘prove’ anything academically. So what are the weak arguments for atheism:
1. There must be a planet of other beings out there STATISTICALLY. Ok, but then if those planets do exist then the laws of evolution would apply and we might expect that one of them might be more advanced than we are…so where are they?
2. Although we as humans have made fantastic progress is medicine, we are still only tinkering. Until we can CREATE life from the basic elements I remain unconvinced that we can ever do it.
3. The human state of consciousness, how a body gets life in it cannot be reproduced by humans ‘artificially’.
I feel that if I say I am an atheist then I it would be naive

Wow, he claims to have a scientific background but demonstrates no understanding of science or mathematics. Maybe it is true what they say about engineers… Statistically, in an infinite universe, there are an infinite number of planets out there with life. Basic principles state we (on Earth) are not in a unique position regarding time or place, so you must assume that there are, indeed, some alien civilisations who are more advanced than ours. However, and this is important, these basic principles also assume that the laws of physics hold equally at all points in the universe (keep this in mind). Now, we know that statistically, the chances of another planet near to Earth having an massively advanced alien civilisation is low so we can dismiss them, this means that the statistically probably aliens are going to be quite some distance from Earth, the nearest potentially habitable planet is 60 light years away. Why must all Alien civilisations be capable of Faster than Light travel along with a burning desire to visit Earth? The rest of his “reasoning” is even more dribble.

I will finish (for now) with this head ache inducing comment from “William J” in Oban, Scotland: (Dont you just love the case choice…)

The fact we can debate, discuss, and not only argue about belief,but even in extreme situations go to war over beliefs, in anyway detract from belief:
In fact, rather it proves that belief is Truth.
Richard Dawkins is in fact a Belief Meister He Believes in Non-belief. John Humpry is Still Seeking He Believes in Seeking.
I Believe in God.
The only problem occurs if any of us try to force our beliefs upon the other two. I recently read somewhere that Charles Darwin is indirectly responsible for The Horror of The Nazi Gas Chamber and The Second World War. I found this Idea Abhorrent yet then no sooner had this thought registered,when I remembered The French Revolution was a product of Militant Aitheism. Yet There Again , our “Glorious Revolution” The English Civil War was Based upon The Opposite Belief incidentally it Was The Scottish Covenanters who having handed King Charles The First over to The Parliamentary Army were so Horrified at The English Action, The Crowned Charles

Toutatis knows what he is trying to say here, but I will point to this as further evidence as to the IQ of theists and atheists. Read the comments, they are priceless. Atheists point out logical flaws and are accused of “hateful attacks.” Theists demonstrate ignorance (and more than a little hate towards atheists) and everyone gushes about how wonderful they are.

[tags]Religion, John Humphrys, In God We Doubt, Belief, Christiantiy, Islam, Judaism, Society, Culture, Darwin, Dawkins, Evolution, Creationism, Bible, Tacitus, Toutatis, Zeus, Hera, Loki, Times Online, Nonsense, Delusion, God, Logic, Logical Fallacy, Fallacies, Atheist, Agnosticism, Atheism, Theism, Woo, Lucian, Josephus, Toledoth Jeschu, Talmud, Flaws, Idiocy[/tags]

Missing the Point?

I was browsing through the Times blogs yesterday and I came across one by John Humphrys (which was actually an extract from “In God We Doubt” about to be published by Hodder & Stoughton) carrying the title “In God we doubt” with the following tagline:

He went looking for God and ended up an angry agnostic – unable to believe but enraged by the arrogance of militant atheists. It’s hard to see the purpose of the world, he says, but don’t blame its evils on religion

As you can see, there was no way I wasn’t going to read this!

Overall, this is a reasonably well written piece. While it isn’t good enough to make me interested in buying the book it may well appeal to some people with wavering faith and the writing style is certainly inoffensive on the whole. John Humphrys is basically explaining how he went from being brought up a good Christian to his faith wavering and finally he “deconverted” to agnosticism. I wont go into the nonsensical idea that “agnosticism” is anything other than a complete wet lettuce of a philosophical idea, which has at its root the basic assumption that God does exist but is insufficiently proven for worship, that is for another day.

There is one, possibly major, problem with the whole piece and (I suspect) the line of reasoning from which it flows. After a lengthy and introspective introduction, Mr Humphrys identifies what he sees as “the attitude of those militant atheists who seem to hold believers in contempt.” (It is interesting that he makes a list of seven points, but again this diversion can wait). His reflection on “militant atheists” produces the following list of characteristics, faults and problems: (These are opinions which “militant atheists” are supposed to hold to)

1. Believers are mostly naive or stupid. Or, at least, they’re not as clever as atheists.

2. The few clever ones are pathetic because they need a crutch to get them through life.

3. They are also pathetic because they can’t accept the finality of death.

4. They have been brainwashed into believing. There is no such thing as a “Christian child”, for instance – just a child whose parents have had her baptised.

5. They have been bullied into believing.

6. If we don’t wipe out religious belief by next Thursday week, civilisation as we know it is doomed.

7. Trust me: I’m an atheist. I make no apology if I have oversimplified their views with that little list: it’s what they do to believers all the time.

After sharing his earth shattering wisdom the reader is further encouraged to discover each point in detail. It is here that I largely gave up on any hope for him. The explanations and rebuttals follow, now with my rebuttal of his rebuttal…

1. This is so clearly untrue it’s barely worth bothering with. Richard Dawkins, in his bestselling The God Delusion, was reduced to producing a “study” by Mensa that purported to show an inverse relationship between intelligence and belief. He also claimed that only a very few members of the Royal Society believe in a personal god. So what? Some believers are undoubtedly stupid (witness the creationists) but I’ve met one or two atheists I wouldn’t trust to change a lightbulb.

In his first sentence he gets it spot on, but possibly not in the way he thinks and despite his scorn for this it is his first point and he goes to great lengths to try and dismiss it. The reality of the matter is no “militant atheist” I know really thinks all theists are dumb and I would be interested in seeing the published information to support this idea. There are very intelligent and well educated theists – this goes without saying – and equally there are retarded atheists. Here, Humphrys has created a strawman and then attacked it. He tried to demolish it with an appeal to ridicule but, come the crunch, he failed. Nothing in what he writes actually says anything relevant to the point he tries to address so I suspect this is actually proof some atheists are dumb.

The strawman used by Humphrys reads that atheists think theists are “mostly” dumb or not as clever as atheists. Nothing that he writes contradicts this idea, except the appeal to ridicule at the beginning – and if it really is so clearly untrue, why address it first and foremost? If he strongly thinks it is false, then why is he using phrases like “reduced to using a ‘study'” (with sneer quotes)? Strawmen are wonderful things, but they need to be used properly…

2. Don’t we all? Some use booze rather than the Bible. It doesn’t prove anything about either.

Here he continues the strawman and again says nothing. I am not sure what point he is trying to make here. Does he mean to imply that religious belief is “good” because some people need alcohol to get through the day? Is he saying that the Bible (or what ever religious belief) is nothing but a crutch for people with problems and then claiming it doesn’t prove the original (yet strawman) argument he presented? If so, he is sadly mistaken.

After what he must feel was a rapier-like strike with the first point, Mr Humphrys descends into meaningless, pointless sentences like point 2. I am sure, somewhere, it means something but reading it on the Times Blog is baffling. He has no means of dismissing the claimed idea, for example with point 2 he does not even attempt to explain why intelligent theists are not simply clinging to their belief like an alcoholic clings to their bottle, he just says (an intellectually lazy) “so what.” For example:

3. Maybe, but it doesn’t mean they’re wrong. Count the number of atheists in the foxholes or the cancer wards.

Again, he has no point other than a strawman. He has no way of dismissing or even disagreeing with it and finally he trots out the old stalwart of the theist case – Atheists in Foxholes. Now, anyone who has read “God Is Not Great” will know that Christopher Hitchens is indeed someone who has been an atheist under fire, as have I and many, many other people I know. In all honesty, I know more people who have been an atheist in a foxhole than a theist.

But even if we assume the claim is correct, it leaves open the argument that the gods the theists are worshipping are somewhat neglectful. Surely they should be caring for their believers more than unbelievers, so why is it so many of the faithful are made to suffer…?

4. True, and many children reject it when they get older. But many others stay with it.

This leaves me with a massive “eh?” So what? He agrees with the militant atheist claim, so what is his point?

5. This is also true in many cases but you can’t actually bully someone into believing – just into pretending to believe.

Mr Humphrys is misrepresenting the “militant atheists” claim here so that he can simply add a rebuttal in the form of a twist. Obviously he is thinks it is ok for religions to bully people into observing their practices because, deep down, the person doesn’t believe in them. Madness.

6. Of course the mad mullahs are dangerous and extreme Islamism is a threat to be taken seriously. But we’ve survived monotheist religion for 4,000 years or so, and I can think of one or two other things that are a greater threat to civilisation.

It seems his liberalised anglican upbringing is showing here. Fundamentalist Islam is, indeed, dangerous in the short term violence aspect but the reality is no amount of terrorist attacks can destroy civilised democracy. Yes, people may die but then people die every day. The destruction of civil liberties that is following the fear of Islam provides a more long-term worry. The destruction of education being forced upon the west by Fundamentalist Christianity is more likely to do long-term harm to our societies ability to exist than people with semtex strapped to their chests. (Even “liberal” Holland is suffering – for example). The “harm” caused by religion is not always exemplified by planes flying into towers – think of the oppression of homosexuals, the subjugation of women, caste systems, refusal of medical treatment for minors etc.

Also, I am not sure his history is up to speed either. While Judaism may have been around for 4000 years, it is certainly a lot shorter period of time in which monotheistic death cults have been dominant on a global scale – let alone people who get their orders from the voice in their head god having access to nuclear weapons.

7. Why? For those of us who are neither believers nor atheists it can be very difficult. Doubters are left in the deeply unsatisfactory position of finding the existence of God unprovable and implausible, and the comfort of faith unachievable. But at the same time we find the reality of belief undeniable.

Again, we have the illusion of a middle ground which is more reasoned, more acceptable, than the non-belief of Atheism. This middle ground has been largely created by theists who seek to undermine the idea that atheism can exist. It is not logical to have no opinion on the subject unless you have given it no thought. I am confused by the concept of finding the existence of god implausible but the reality of belief undeniable. Working through what passes for logic is giving me a head ache but I will try:

Mr Humphrys is asserting he is an agnostic because he finds the existence of god implausible but the reality that people “believe” in god is undeniable so he can’t think of himself as an atheist.

Did I get it right?

It has that wonderful ring of being “true” but it isn’t. Just because lots of other people “believe” something with all their hearts does not mean it is true. For centuries people believed that the Earth was the centre of the solar system, that the solar system was the universe, that stars were ancient warriors, that the gods sat on top of Mount Olympus and interfered with mankind and so on. Not one of these things were true and all the belief in the world will not overturn that.

It strikes me that, although Mr Humphrys describes himself as an “agnostic” and ridicules the idea that children are indoctrinated into religious beliefs, he is suffering from this indoctrination. He (I assume) will certainly agree that lightning is not the result of Zeus’ anger, that Neptune does not control the oceans and Loki is not spreading global mischief. He (again, I assume) will agree that there is a continent across the ocean from Europe, that the Chinese are not devils, that elves do not live in woods, dwarves do not mine gold in the Norse mountains, faeries do not steal Irish children and the tooth fairy is not responsible for the coin under the pillow.

All of these things have at some point been believed to be true by people over the world. All of them. They all have as much evidence for existing as the Christian God. If the existence of belief is proof of existence, then they exist. The existence of the things I mentioned is implausible and unlikely, but this seems not to matter to Mr Humphrys.

I find myself wondering if he really does doubt the existence of god.

On a final note, and getting back to the subject of this diatribe, Mr Humphrys closes with:

As for the fanatics – religious or secular – history suggests they succeed only to the extent that we allow ourselves to be defeated by our own irrational fear. For every fanatic there are countless ordinary, decent people who believe in their own version of a benevolent God and wish no harm to anyone. Many of them regard it as their duty to try to make the world a better place. It is too easy to blame the evils of the world on belief in God. In the end, if we make a mess of things, we shall have ourselves to blame – not religion and not God. After all, he doesn’t exist. Does he?

While I actually agree with the first part of this (and this is why I feel the “fear of Islam” is more worrying than the effects of actual terrorism), he finishes it up by missing the point completely. I know of no atheists who blame god for the world’s troubles. The blame has, at times, been placed on religion which, despite the assertion he closes with, is something he seems to be agreeing with. The people are making a mess of things. They are making a mess of it under the idea that they are working to a higher power and worldly suffering will be followed by a reward in the afterlife. This is the result of religion not secularism.

(I will leave looking at Giles Fraser to others for now but if you have spare time read the comments, they are priceless – even Fr Brian Storey pops up!)

[tags]John Humphrys, Humphrys, Religion, Belief, Christianity, Faith, Delusion, God, Bible, Logic, Fallacy, Strawman, Appeal To Ridicule, Philosophy, Society, Culture, Understanding, Times Online, Logical Fallacy, Confusion, Islam, Monotheism, History, Agnostic, Atheist, Militant Atheist, In God We Doubt, Book[/tags]