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  • exchemist May 2012
    Yes Bonnie certainly agree we can be duped, especially when we're young. But I am now convinced that you have been poorly served by what you were taught, and a bit of contact with a thoughtful cleric might at least enable you to clear away some of the brushwood and focus on the real problems with religious belief. The Fall of Adam and Original Sin thing for example: I was taught (back in the 60s) that the allegory of the Garden of Eden and eating the forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil is a way of describing Man's acquisition of reason and hence the ability to know right from wrong, i.e the arrival of moral responsibility, while original sin is his predisposition towards doing wrong in spite of this knowledge. And Christ's purpose was presented as to overcome this by teaching us his two new commandments, superseding the old Jewish ones, and to set us the perfect example to follow, through his life and death. I don't personally find those concepts self-evidently ridiculous, though as I say, I have doubts about the truth of it all. 

    I am also sure that other religions make attempts, more or less successfully, to grasp the nature and purpose of man, put the daily cares of the world into perspective and enable a state of meditative calm, provide rules for living and so on. Islam for example, seems terribly vague in English, but if you ever have the chance to hear reading from the Koran in the original classical Arabic, you may be struck, as I was, by the realisation it is poetry of almost hypnotic power, even if you don't understand the language. I see no reason why some of these should not also find favour with a Creator, if there is one, and be helpful to people even if there is not. 

    None of this is really to justify any religion, just to say I think it doesn't do justice to dismiss a religion on the basis of some pieces of half-understood doctrine, shorn of context.  

    As for the last question, about being God for 60 seconds, I confess it seems far from intriguing to me: on the contrary it strikes me as tiresomely facile and meaningless, a bit like saying what would do if you were the Queen for a day or something (i.e. who cares and so what?). But I may be missing the point. What would this exercise show, do you think?     

  • Hi Exchemist, .. yes, I'm sure you are right about my upbringing regarding my catholisism, .. my church experiences were not particularly happy events as a youth, the local priest Father Sheehan was a particularly nasty fellow, with little compassion, he was a real fire and brimstone preacher with tales of hell on most sundays it would seem. My father would have a real struggle making us go every sunday, .. I have absolutely no fond memories of church at all. ( this obviously explains a lot about my view on faith now). Maybe I have a rather convoluted idea of Original sin and Adam and Eve from a mixture of sources.

    Haha, yes, maybe that last question was a little bit facile and childish, it was actually put to me by a young niece, and i thought it did have some merit.

    Obviously, i can think of lots of things I could do to improve our lives in 60 seconds, .. remove hunger, stop wars, stop illness's, have no religions, have inexhaustible resources.

    I suppose it's another take on John Lennons Imagine. .. If God could do these things, why doesn't he? .. then do we go back to the circular logic thing of .. well, it's all down to mans original sin!


    Yes, I've heard that the Qu'ran doesn't translate that well into English, and much of the poetry and prose is lost in translation.

    Thanks for all the replies, it is good to have a reasonably informative discussion on here.

    I dont totally rule out the possibility of some kind of deity out there in the cosmos, but I'm pretty sure it wont be the god of the bible.  Have you ever seen the video by Philhellenes, called Science saved my life on youtube? .. it's rather good.

  • SimonSimon May 2012
    Thanks for the recommendation of Philhellenes movie. I just watched it and as usual I want to say a great big "yes!" to the science aspects but a sad shake of the head to the usual atheist polemic.

    As both exchemist and I have been trying to show, the biggest problem with the atheist position - and certainly the gnu-atheist arguments - is its focus on a straw-man characterisation of religion. Yes of course it is possible to find fundamentalists who believe the most ludicrous things and behave in the most despicable ways, however this is not what religion is for most people. When I hear atheists say "the world will be a better place without religion" I am inclined to agree IF religion actually was what people like Richard Dawkins characterise it to be. However religion is not just one thing. It is a complex ever changing smorgasborg of ideas and experiences that crucially people find helpful in understanding life. It is certainly not an alternative to science or rational thought. I sometimes hesitate to use the word "myth" because many people mistake it with the word "fiction", however if you really want to understand what religion is you really have to understand the role of myth in human narratives, and this takes both work and time. Sadly many people who get involved in the whole atheism vs religion argument seldom show a passion for actually getting to the bottom of what the argument is about.

    As exchemist said we are each "dealt a hand" in life and must make the best of it we can. In some instances that means accepting our background and the necessary distortion it places on how we view things, but in other ways it gives us an excuse to try and understand - have empathy - with other people. The best way to do this latter task is to build relationships and study. My Christian worldview changed radically when a good friend of mine "came out" as gay and was essentially forced out of the church. This made me revaluate a lot of my world view and spend some time studying the roots of Christianity. Indeed I went a bit over the top with this and ended up back at university doing two more (secular) degrees motivated precisely by this. As a result I get a bit frustrated when especially atheists imply that I hold my beliefs based upon some kind of unthinking loyalty to the way I was bought up. Yes of course I have been influenced by the way I have been bought up, but just because I remain a Christian does not mean I haven't though about my views very carefully. Although I see the attraction to the sound-bite simplicity of Dawkinesque gnuatheism that draws a distinction between the enlightened atheists and the medieval religionists, the fact is that life is a lot more complicated than this simple dichotomy suggests, and atheists certainly do not have the monopoly on intelligence, academic rigour or life experience.
  • exchemist May 2012

    The Philhellenes video really makes me angry. How I loathe blatant propaganda like this. How can anyone expect to convince a person, if their presentation is so obviously one-sided from the outset? This video is replete with tendentious language. In the first 2 minutes of the dialogue on religion, religions are asserted, with no supporting justification: 

    - to make "magical" claims, 

    - to have engaged in an "arms race"

    -  to seek to make people "obedient" by 

    - "frightening" them with

    -  concepts that they "cannot easily escape". 

    - to use words like "eternity" cheaply while "all other words are open to abuse until they mean exactly what religion wants them to mean". [ er, whatever that may mean - I've no idea what they are driving at here, I'm afraid]. 

    And so on, ad nauseam.

    The contrast in language with the totally uncritical ooh-gosh stuff about the stars was laughable. I see no point in engaging with people who stuff a preconceived conclusion down your throat, instead of arguing their case properly, like men. And who is it for? Anyone with any lingering sympathies towards religious belief will be alienated in seconds, as I was. It must be just to preach to the converted, I suppose, to reinforce them in their beliefs. Bonnie, this is dreadful, manipulative bilge, surely you must have noticed some of these weaknesses? 

    Here endeth the rant.  Now an attempt at some analysis. 

    Leaving to one side the cynical, marketing man's attempt to pull the strings of the viewer, one obvious weakness struck me, and perhaps this is its real failure. None of it deals with the inner experience of what it is like to be human - the realm of the humanities. It is all about the natural world - i.e. the realm of science. For example, the introduction to the part about religion says, "in light of this unarguable fact [not sure exactly which one from the preceding stream of ooh-gosh stuff but presumably something to do with the origins of the elements that gave rise of the earth and to life], what place in the c.21st for organised religion?" 

    What a clunking non-sequitur.  Surely the real core of most religions is to do with how to life your life, both as an individual and as a member of a society, and how to cope with life's vicissitudes? Cosmology is NOT what religion is for. This video is symptomatic of the narrow reductionism of Dawkins and his acolytes, who seem to be stuck in the trap I fell into when young, which is, having labelled everything subjective about human experience as unscientific (which of course it sort of is, though some of relativity and quantum theory might hint that is not strictly so), to then make the error of rejecting the subjective as meaningless and valueless. It is as if these people have never read a novel or been to a play and found it told them something about life, have never listened to music and been transported, have never been in love or experienced the love of a child. (But they have of course, and to ignore this part of their experience because science doesn't help with it is just blinkered.) 

    And then it's back to what I can only describe as falsehoods and insinuations about organised religion. This fellow (who has no children by the way) says he's never "seen fear" in the eyes of children as he describes the cosmos to them. Well, mate, this may come as a shock but I can tell you that, contrary to what you insinuate, I've never seen fear in the eyes of children being prepared for their 1st Communion either. And why does he say "if you can't look, what does this tell you about your religion?"  He seems to imply religious people are forbidden to do science. This is just arrant cobblers.

    And you really think this is good, Bonnie?        

  • Hey, .. what can I say, .. i liked it. It just highlights that we're all different, Yes, he layed it on really thick, with very emotional terms, but I found it quite moving. It hit a nerve with me. .. all my bad church experiences were encapsulated in the video. The immensity of the cosmos was quite well documented.Thanks for your replies, it was interesting hearing your views. I didn't expect such a huge backlash, but I'm more than happy to listen to your comments. Haha, despite me liking this video, Philhellenes has actually blocked me from his channel, when the video came out I asked him why he only allowed positive comments, .. a few seconds later, .. I'm blocked.  I spend quite a bit of time on youtube, and I've generally found this to be a tactic of Christians.. block or disable comments etc.

    Are you saying that love and all of our strong emotions can only come from God?, you seemed to imply that science can't tackle these subjects, .. I would strongly disagree with this, there are branches of science that deal quite well with our altruistic side. Why do I cry my eyes out when I hear a song from Adele, .. ( or hundreds of other pieces of music), .. I don't put this down to any Godly experience. Why does a dog pine for it's master?, ..I'm sure we can explain this in scientific terms.  

    Hey, at the end of the day, I'm just an average person from a run down council estate with a low education, It sounds like I'm punching well above my weight with you 2 guys. I'm searching for answers to life the same as you. I've not found them in organised religion, or with any personal emotional connection with Jesus.

    Hmmm, I was going to recommend another video, but that last one went down like a lead balloon. If you think there is anything ( I'm talking youtube here), that I'd like to view that will give me a better understanding of your viewpoint, I'd be more than happy to view it.

    Exchemist, you mentioned the "History of Christianity" from Mr McDiarmid in a previous comment, .. yes, i watched the series on channel 4 when it came out, very good too.  Did you ever see the series on BBC2, Around the world in 80 faiths?, .. that was quite an eye opener aswell.

    I seem to have been hit with both barrels!! , but, your comments have been noted.  .. I'd pass them on to Philhellenes, .. er, .. but i can't. 

    Actually, it would be quite interesting if you could leave comments (within the alloted 300 spaces), on Phils video, and see if they get put up, .. and what reaction you get from other viewers. But like I say, not sure if he will allow negative comments.

    Thanks again. Very stimulating.


  • exchemist May 2012
    Well Bonnie I will say that you have done me a power of good with your questions. I don't know your background but you hold up your end of the debate a lot better than some who make far greater claims for their level of expertise (Simon may chuckle here: he knows one individual that I have in mind). As I've found before, arguing on this forum really helps me get my wishy-washy half-formed notions solidified and set down in words. And it lets me speculate a bit about next steps. So I really appreciate this opportunity for a discussion with you. Please don't in any way at all see my contempt for this video as reflecting on you - far from it.

    But.....that video....yes I admit that sort of thing is like treading on a landmine where I'm concerned. I'd be all in favour of an atheist position being put forward, based on an honest attempt to understand one or more religions and then pointing out the flaws. I am highly sceptical of the claims of Christianity myself, as you know. I just cannot stomach glib propaganda such as this, because it is just bigotry with no reasoned argument.
    Now, I don't mean at all to suggest emotions come from God. As far as I'm concerned there may not even be a God. What I said, I think, was that this video fails for me because (irritating propaganda aside) it fails to engage AT ALL with the things that religions are really intended to do, which I contend are mostly to do with the internal experiences of life. All this guff about how wonderful cosmology is, is a total red herring. It says nothing about how to live your life, your human relationships or how to deal with personal triumph and disaster. What they should be attacking, if they are honest, is either Jesus' central commandment to love our neighbour, or if they think that message is OK, then the way that message has been lost or buried under extraneous power games over history by organised religion - which I think we'd all agree it has been at times - and then make their case for saying this weakness of religion will never be remedied and that therefore religion causes more harm than good and is a dead end that should be abandoned. That would be a respectable argument, if not a new one. It could be developed in a reasoned manner, with supporting examples, and without all the mind-bending crap of stupid images of hell, sinister-looking prelates, an apocalyptic sound track and the rest of it. 

    But this would be what Simon would probably call an Old Atheist argument, for which the knowledge of Historians and Anthropologists would be of prime importance, NOT that of scientists. What really gets up the noses of me, and I guess others in the CiS forum, is the attempt by certain scientists who lead the New Atheist movement to muscle in on a debate they have not taken the trouble to understand by manufacturing, through a public relations exercise rather than thoughtful debate, a fake conflict between religion and science. If you want a personal statement of why I am in this forum, that's pretty close.  


  • Thanks for your words Exchemist.

    Am i to assume you mean a certain Mr Dawkins when you write about "certain scientists who lead the New atheist movement".?

    Again, here I have to disagree with you, .. for me, he's been like a breath of fresh air, unafraid to criticize the church and their beliefs in a celestial all powerful being. He probably does pop up a bit too much in the media for my liking sometimes, but, you say he doesn't do the thoughtful debate ,.. I've seen him do plenty, look on youtube, type in Dawkins debate. .. I'm sure you'll see a long list crop up.

    The man does seem to be demonised from all quarters of the religious community, .. i suppose writing a book called "The God delusion", he must have known there would be a massive backlash from the religious side. To be fair to him, he does talk about the sheer beauty and majesty of Christian art, and the wonder of great pieces of music dedicated to God that move him to tears. But i suppose if there's one thing that Richard Dawkins fails to grasp, it's that people NEED religion, I saw how much it meant to my father, and various other family members. It would be wrong to take away that hope of salvation. I have a devoutly religious auntie in her last few years of her life, .. there is no way I would ever consider having this kind of debate with her. I've heard Richard Dawkins say on numberous occaisions that truth is what matters most. Yes, i agree with him, but you can't stop people from believing, we always have and always will.  Was it Simon or Anthony who said somewhere in this thread, that even if they found conclusive proof that Jesus didn't exist, they would still believe.

    Haha, i was thinking today about Richard Dawkins, .. i had this image of him going into a packed church of worshippers, ..and just generally pointing out things, and saying  .. "Thats not real, ....   that never happened, ........  he didn't exist . . . . . . . etc etc.  Thats kind of how i think the Christian community see him, .. as a bit of a fly in the ointment. A party pooper perhaps.

    Time has caught up with me I'm afraid, .. beddybies.


  • SimonSimon May 2012
    Was it Simon or Anthony who said somewhere in this thread, that even if they found conclusive proof that Jesus didn't exist, they would still believe.

    I'm slightly amused by the way my comment has been taken. Far from saying "I will cling onto my belief even if it is proved irrational" which is how I think Bonnie has interpreted it, what I was actually meaning was "even if the ontological aspect of my belief is shown to be false, I will still believe for purely practical/utilitarian reasons". In other-words because Christianity works for me, I am not ever so worried about trying to prove whether the ontological claims are true. This is very very different from the "fundamentalists who fly airplanes into buildings" position. Indeed I have met many Christians who do not consider me a Christian - but that's their problem!

    I am slightly saddened that despite many paragraphs Bonnie is still singing the praises of Richard Dawkins. I think exchemist summed up where both of us are coming from when he said:

    But this would be what Simon would probably call an Old Atheist argument, for which the knowledge of Historians and Anthropologists would be of prime importance, NOT that of scientists. What really gets up the noses of me, and I guess others in the CiS forum, is the attempt by certain scientists who lead the New Atheist movement to muscle in on a debate they have not taken the trouble to understand by manufacturing, through a public relations exercise rather than thoughtful debate, a fake conflict between religion and science.

    Continuing from this, one of my biggest frustrations with both the new atheists and their nemeses - the creationists - is that both positions are triumphs of style over content. Whether it's in multi-million dollar creationist museum or catchy one liners and provocatively titled books, both parties really do not engage seriously with science, philosophy or theology. In one way that makes me want to ignore them as people who do not really have anything interesting to contribute, however because they do seem to have influence another part of me feels that it is necessary to engage with their ideas. If I can convince Bonnie that there is a lot more to the subject than people like Dawkins I will feel at least a small step has been made!

  • exchemist May 2012
    Bonnie, yes, Prof. Dawkins is one. Peter Atkins is another, which I find personally interesting as he is a bit of a hero to me in another context. Atkins' lectures on quantum chemistry, when I studied it as an undergraduate, were the most mind-expanding intellectual experience I have had in my entire life. I take my hat off to him. I can quite see that his evident fascination, and deep understanding, of the mysteries of wave/particle duality and the apparent dissolution of the physical world into mathematics lead you to ask deep questions about the nature of physical reality and thus get you into philosophy (Schrodinger's Cat and Heisenberg's Uncertainly Principle are just the start of it!) I can also see this may take, at least in part, the place of religion in his life. Certainly the workings of nature, understood at this deep level, induce a sense of awe and mystery which has never left me. And he was (probably still is) a brilliant lecturer. I still occasionally re-read parts of his book, almost 40 years later, though these days I struggle to follow the maths. 

    But a sense of awe in nature is NOT proof, or even evidence, that religion is dangerous nonsense. In fact for many it strengthens their belief in a creator (see Simon and his "fine tuning" of the universe for example). As it happens, Professor Charles Coulson, who was the next best lecturer on the same course and was an FRS into the bargain, was in his spare time Chairman of the Methodists' Conference! 

    You or I could stand up in church and shout that it is all baloney just as well as Dawkins or Atkins. But why should anyone listen to us? So the question is, what do they bring to the argument that you or I could not? Zippo. The real arguments against religion are the ones you and I between us advanced at the beginning, to do with the large number of them, the possibility (likelihood?) that they are just the product of a universal human need and so forth. Or the practical argument that their honourable philosophical and moral principles always seem to get perverted in practice by the power-hungry and the greedy, making their influence on society inevitably baleful. 

    None of these arguments has anything to do with natural science. 

    (And, actually if you take note of the allegations chucked around in that video, the objections they are really making are all of this type, nothing to do with science.)     

    That is my basic point, on which I feel really strongly. 

    I respect your atheism Bonnie, but I submit your champion should not be Dawkins or any other natural scientist. Natural science just operates on the wrong wavelength to address this issue. 
  • Regarding Simons point that I took something he said, and misinterpreted it ( quite innocently i may add), doesn't that highlight one of the bibles problems that throughout it's long and chequered history, that it's been altered ( again quite innocently by tired scribes mixing up or omiting words) and changed by religious councils with a far more deliberate hand, to ensure their power grip. I think it's quite natural that people see things and interpret them in different ways.

    This was one of the reasons leading to my atheism. A book that I had been brought up to believe had some divine power within, was at closer inspection, nothing of the sort.  Without wishing to denegrate the bible completely,  indeed, it was one of mankinds earliest attempts to understand our surroundings, we didn't know about micro organisms etc, .. ( hey, here's a tip god might have put in his 10 commandments.. wash your hands). I applaud the bible for it's early attempts at trying to make sense of the world, .. but, it's not divinely inspired,.. no one in here can convince me of that, .. I'll be happy to listen to anyone who says it is, I'm open minded, .. if it makes sense ,I'll take it on board.  Maybe god should have brought out a revised edition every year, with slight improvements and ammendments. Obviously I'm being tongue-in-cheek. But it seems to me, we've not done our species any favours by holding on to an out dated scripture. Why should I believe the bible?, surely no god would be idiotic enough to think he could write a book containing so many errors, and get away with it.

    The Emperor has no clothes!  Sshhhhhh

    I await the backlash.

  • SimonSimon May 2012
    Well at least exchemist and I have enjoyed agreeing with each other - bonnie I am beginning to wonder what your purpose is posting here as that last post seemed somewhat detached from where our discussion has been going.

    You could probably guess from what has already been said that I think you have missed the point of the bible somewhat. It is not a text book nor a history book. It is a collection of ancient literature that yes, is God inspired, but in a way I don't think you have grasped. Rather than reading them at face value the stories are better seen as inspirational challenges to who we are and how we see life. Don't like the injustice and cruelty in the old testament - perhaps the reason it is there is to highlight the injustice we see around us? Confused by the bizarre visions in Revelations - perhaps it reminds us of the opaqueness of life and the desire for justice... The work of Rene Girard is brilliant in this respect, interpreting the bible from the position of literary criticism/ anthropology. Far from removing the "spirit" from the bible, such an approach just underlines from an academic perspective just what a remarkable text it is.

    Someone once said to me that instead of us reading the bible, we should let the bible read us.

    I fear your comments about the bible are the equivalent of me saying Shakespeare is a waste of time because none of the characters really existed. 


    PS Before anyone accuses me of heresy, I'm not directly equating the bible with Shakespearian plays, just pointing out a way someone can completely miss the point of a written text by looking at it in the wrong way.
  • exchemist May 2012
    As an aside, I mentioned this discussion to my aged mother yesterday (in her 80s now, was an English teacher for years and a "high and dry" Anglican most of her life). She laughed and said Dawkins reminds her of a mediaeval jester with a pig's bladder on a stick, banging the heads of the clerics with it. Then she said "the trouble with Dawkins is he thinks religion is an assent to a set of propositions. He doesn't understand it is a way to live your life." I think that's more or less what Simon and I have been saying, in slightly different words.

    But, as Simon says, we've all gone off-topic now. The original question was why we believe what we believe (in my case what I'm not sure I believe but am not prepared to dismiss as entirely false), with a plea for kindness. I think we've had a good crack at that, haven't we?