Recently a group of Islamic State sympathisers entered a Catholic Church in Normandy, France, during Mass, took hostages and murdered a priest.
Naturally, the French authorities condemned this violent act. This line in particular caught my eye:
François Hollande, the French president, promised to win the war against terrorism. In a televised address to the nation he said: “To attack a church, kill a priest, is to profane the republic.”
The republic? The irony here was a little rich. The republic, established by the French Revolution? The revolution in which clergy were literally being killed by those advocating atheism and reason, because the clergy represented allegiance to a foreign power? The republic whose violent birth is still celebrated on Bastille Day, commemorating a day of shocking violence, killings and beheading? Surely there is a fundamental disconnect here. I mean sure, of course I get that Mr Hollande condemns the attack. I don’t doubt his sincerity. But there doesn’t seem to be much careful, consistent thought to this statement in a French context, that an attack on the Church is an attack on the Republic.
Richard Dawkins isn’t stupid. He’s a bright spark. This makes me think that his muddle-headedness about arguments for God’s existence can’t be written off as a dullard’s inability to understand. The confusion must surely be an intentional tactic to confuse matters, giving his fans the impression that arguments for God’s existence are just a bit of a mess. The (possibly kinder) alternative is that Dawkins exhibits an inexcusable laziness and hubris, pontificating about arguments that he has never taken the time to understand because he just knows that religious beliefs are a load of nonsense.
At a public event to discuss his recent book about himself this month, Dr Dawkins was asked what he considers to be the best argument for God’s existence. Naturally, he prefaced his answer with a reminder that he doesn’t believe in God or that there are any good arguments for God’s existence. But if pressed for the best argument out there, here is what he says:
The mission of the American Humanist Association is to advance humanism, an ethical and life-affirming philosophy free of belief in any gods and other supernatural forces. Advocating for equalityfor nontheists and a society guided by reason, empathy, and our growing knowledge of the world, the AHA promotes a worldview that encourages individuals to live informed and meaningful lives that aspire to the greater good. [Emphasis added]
They aren’t old fashioned humanists, the AHA. Old fashioned humanists believed in silly things like God. Isn’t that funny? No, these are modern, clever humanists. It’s fun to call this group AHA, because “Ahaa!” is the sound you make when you’ve had a clever idea. The AHA’s friends are all very, very clever, which is why this is such a good name. Don’t you agree?
Is the internet really a benevolent playground of truth about religion?
Some people read conspiracy theory websites and magazines. In fact, I’d wager that more people than ever before read them. As a result, more people than ever before believe ridiculous conspiracy theories. Although I have no desire to see people forced to stop reading such trash, I really wish they would. The fact that more such theories are available now than ever before does not increase the likelihood that people who read this material are going to stumble onto a true theory. It just means that there is more nonsense to choose from, leading to paranoid, sometimes hysterically funny, and often sad, unscientific and damaging beliefs and practices. I have little sympathy for anyone who would reply by saying something like “Dude, you’re just threatened. The truth is out there and now that it’s out there, you can’t stop people finding out.”
I suspect that my perspective on the proliferation of conspiracy theory websites and magazines is shared by most people. At least I hope it is. Such material gives a platform to views that frankly do not deserve it.
Are religious people on the whole more likely to be mentally ill?
We live in a world where people form strong opinions (or rather, are happy to see their already strong opinions/biases reinforced) by browsing headlines. So when people see the (still fairly recent) headline, “Spiritual people are more likely to be mentally ill,” you can guess what prejudices will be reinforced. “Religion is a symptom of an unwell mind!” Or maybe “Religion is so crazy that it makes those who believe in it go mad!”
Is atheism or theism more natural for human beings?
According to online author Tim Covell, “Everyone is born atheist. Religion is learned.” Similarly, over at the “rational response squad” you’re treated to the same claim: that “Many people don’t know it but everyone is born an Atheist, it’s not until a child has religious beliefs Pushed on them with out any evidence to support them that they “think” their [sic] a Theist.” David McAfee makes the same claim: “Now, the way I see it, everybody is born an atheist and, without submersion into religion as a child, we would most likely maintain that position…” These are just examples. There are plenty more out there in the non-peer-reviewed pool of “intellectual diversity” that is the internet. But is this claim true?
You may have noticed a bit of buzz recently about a new survey that (so the buzz is saying) shows that atheists know more about Christianity than Evangelicals do. I’ve seen self professed atheists make this claim online before, and now their bias confirmation tendencies have kicked into overdrive with the release of a recent Pew Forum study.
The last month has been pretty crazy for me: changing job and moving house being among the main culprits for this state of affairs. But after much ado, here it is, Episode 15! This time I’m asking a simple question: Why be an atheist? And if you’re not one, why become one? And if you are one, why try to persuade other people to become one?
I’ve started a new trend with this episode. Some previous episodes were just too long for a lot of listeners, so I’m making a fairly strict rule that episodes shall not exceed forty minutes. This one’s just under twenty eight minutes, so I’m off to a good start. Also, I’ll only be putting episodes up each fortnight rather than weekly, just because I don’t have quite as much time as I did before – plus with all these people downloading an episode every week I literally couldn’t afford the bandwidth!
So here it is, enjoy. As always, comments either here or by email to be discussed on the show are more than welcome.