Australian journalist touts religion as infinitely superior to atheism—without considering whether religion is true

Kiwi Heather Hastie sent me this long article from The Australian, the biggest-selling newspaper in the country. The paper is also said to be conservative (I don’t read it), which explains why Greg Sheridan, its foreign editor, got so much space to tout Christianity and fulminate against atheism.  Click on the screenshot below to go to the piece:


What we have here is basically a long and rather disconnected rant about how atheism is really a religion (with Dawkins its head priest), how atheism was practiced with disastrous results by Stalin and Pol Pot, about how without religion there is no way to determine what is moral—in contrast, Christianity and God have given us a firm morality—about how Christianity created everything that is good about Western society, and how faith has inspired innumerable acts of kindness and charity.

Well, we can contest all of that (especially the claim that atheism is a religion, that morality comes from God, and that democracy and the like are really Christian institutions), but Sheridan undercuts his entire thesis with one brief statement. But first a few choice quotes from this deluded man (quotes indented; my comments flush left):

Atheist bashing:

Atheism is every bit as much a religious faith as any religion, but it is less rational and less human than Christianity. It would-be self-appointed pope is Richard Dawkins of The God Delusion fame. His is an intolerant papacy, full of dogmatic pronouncements and ridicule and sneering for any who stray from the true doctrinal path. A slew of atheist bishops — the author and critic Christopher Hitchens, US philosopher Daniel Dennett, AC Grayling — perform the traditional tasks of bishops, reinforcing each other, reasserting doctrine.

Atheism isn’t religion because there’s no supernatural in it; it’s far more rational than Christianity, which has no evidence for its truth claims (see below); and Dawkins’s “dogmatic pronouncements” include saying he’s not 100% sure there’s a god, but giving a sort of Bayesian probability level. In contrast, Sheridan has no doubt there’s a God, and it’s the Christian one.

Dawkins graciously concedes that Joseph Stalin was an atheist and a mass murderer. But whereas Dawkins attributes any bad thing done by any Christian to their Christianity, and any good thing done by any Christian to a lingering humanism in contradiction of Christianity, his contrasting escape clause for the effects of atheist belief is absurd.

So while he acknowledges ­Stalin’s atheism he says it had no effect on Stalin’s actions. Yet Stalin was the leader of the Soviet Union and a devoted adherent of Marxist communism, the most powerful atheist ideology of the 20th century.

No, Dawkins certainly does not impute every bad thing done by Christians as due to their faith, nor every good thing due to their humanism. And yes, Stalin was an atheist, but also erected a quasi-religious system in which he was a God and had anointed sons (e.g., Lynsenko). Stalin was neither a humanist nor did he murder largely in the name of atheism.

Sheridan goes on to say that the death of Christianity (and yes, it’s on its last legs) is wreaking all sorts of societal havoc:

But liberalism today is unravelling. The loss of faith in God has been accompanied in the West by the collapse of faith in institutions, and indeed in humanity itself. Is it entirely a coincidence that the decline of religious belief is accompanied by a decline in belief in democracy, as evident in Australia in successive Lowy polls? Indeed the least religious cohort is also the cohort with the least faith in democracy.

. . . It has been rightly said that when people stop believing in God they don’t believe in nothing, they believe in anything. An intolerant atheism is just one variant of a wild miscellany of ideologies and esoteric cults gaining ground in the West. Witchcraft is undergoing a big revival. Old-fashioned communist banners have been seen in many recent demonstrations in London. The murderous violence in Charlottesville was accompanied by Nazi swastikas.

Correlation is not causation. And as for the big revival of witchcraft, that’s palpable nonsense. Further, might Sheridan imagine that the increase in the alt-right’s demonstrations have something to do with Trump’s election, with the most deeply Christian people voting for Trump?

Human beings create themselves inside a culture. A culture without God will create different human beings. This is a much bigger shift than everything implied by the rise of digital technology, though this is involved in the revolution of the person we are now embarking on. When our culture has exiled God, there will be a radical change to the human personality and all our social institutions and relations.

. . . Of course people can be good and charitable without religious motivation. But even Dawkins ­admits that without God there is no ultimate way to define good and evil.

I can answer Sheridan’s first paragraph here with one word: Scandinavia. Are Swedes and Danes “different human beings” from the rest of us? In fact, the largely atheistic countries of northern Europe have more empathic and well developed social and governmental institutions than religious societies, something Sheridan completely ignores. And, as Plato set out in the Euthyphro dialogues, even with God there is no “ultimate way to define good and evil.” If you define it simply as “what God wants and doesn’t want,” you’re thrown into the dilemma of trying to justify doing what God wants as “good” simply because God wants it. Nobody really does that: they impute to God pre-existing concepts of good and evil based on secular morality. To say that these concepts disappear under atheism is to claim that Scandinavia is immoral and lawless.

Christianity osculating:

But some parts of the New Testament with more obvious long-term implications for political culture are forgotten.

Consider Saint Paul, in his letter to the Galatians: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

It took a long time to abolish slavery. But Christianity brought with it the revolutionary doctrine that slaves were human beings, with human souls, with human dignity, with a personal relationship to an almighty God.

Saint Paul preached tolerance only for Christians, for crying out loud. And the abolition of slavery owes more to changing secular sentiments than to Christianity, for many Christians enforced and justified slavery on Biblical and religious grounds. If Christianity carries the doctrine that slaves are humans with dignity, why did so many Christians hold slaves?

The Christian churches are often identified with social conservatism. They were also hugely influential in 2000 years of history in providing relief to the poor and the sick. And in the 19th century, faithful to the New Testament honouring of the poor, they were instrumental in the development of liberalism for the rights of the working class and impoverished people.

. . . All of the Christian churches in Australia do similar [charity] work. A good deal of it now receives government funds. But there is still an enormous volunteer effort that involves people who believe the love of Christ inspires and obliges them to love their neighbours.

Contra Sheridan, the Enlightenment and much of its sequelae resulted from the rejection of religious dogma.

Sheridan undercuts himself.  He does this by saying that it’s not enough for religion to inspire good acts: it must be true (my emphases):

What are we losing here? Religious belief cannot be sustained on the basis that it is useful to society. People only subscribe to it if they think it’s true. This means not only a rational ascent, but an intuitive sense that religion is real, a sense that our innate hope and wonder are not meaningless, that our lives are not meaningless. In all the important decisions in life — who we will marry and the like — we use all the means of understanding at our disposal. Our intuition of God, and of hope, is admissible evidence, it is part of the reason we believe.

And yet nowhere in the article, except in this paragraph’s claim that “intuition” is “admissible evidence”, does Sheridan give the evidence why he thinks that Christianity is not only true, but other religions are false. Which part of Christianity does he think is true? Was Jesus the son of God? (He probably agrees.) Was Jesus crucified and then bodily resurrected? Is there a Trinity? Is there a hell? Was Jesus born of a virgin? Did he drive a flock of demon-ridden pigs over a cliff? Sheridan doesn’t tell us what he believes to be “true” based on his intuition. He just takes that intuition as dispositive, and then goes on to slam atheism and tout Christianity.

But intuition is NOT “admissible evidence”. If it were, people’s gut feelings would always correspond to reality. And I’d love to put Sheridan in a lab without instruments and ask him to intuit what is true about quantum mechanics or evolution. Admissible evidence is based on the same things in all areas of human endeavor: observation, doubt, testability, and replication—in other words, what I call “science construed broadly.” When it’s not based on these quasi-scientific methods, it’s not even evidence, it’s a “feeling.”

As always, we face the problem of people touting religion as a force for good without considering whether there’s any evidence for its claims. Sam Harris has disposed of this tactic in his “Big Diamond” argument. If you say that something that is unproven or false is nevertheless a force for good, then you’re making the patronizing Little People’s argument. And, most important, we already know that people can be good without God. Scandinavia and other countries of northern Europe show that humanism can be an even better force for good, as humanism doesn’t rest on any observations about the world that can be empirically proven. As I said yesterday, it’s a preference about how we want the world to be, but a preference that, I maintain, comes with fewer maladaptive byproducts than does Christianity.

And finally, there’s the evidence in Pinker’s Better Angels of Our Nature that, at least in the West, morality increases as religion wanes. Now that, too, could be only a correlation, but I think there’s some causation there too. For with its dogmatism and spurning of reason, religion has long served as an impediment to real moral progress.

48 Comments

  1. Posted August 29, 2017 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    Well Christianity and god certainly provided a firm morality in Australia when one considers the abuses against migrated children and the indigenous population.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted August 29, 2017 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

      Sheridan alludes to that in the article, and the good Catholic that he is, he praises the government’s appalling stance for keeping Australia safe.

  2. Geoff Toscano
    Posted August 29, 2017 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    I clicked the link to the article and hit a paywall. In some ways I’m relieved I don’t have to suffer increased blood pressure from reading it in its entirety, though I’m always curious to see how the comments stack. My guess is Sheridan will have taken quite a bit of stick.

  3. BJ
    Posted August 29, 2017 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    So, basically all the same absurd and thoroughly discredited arguments contra atheism that are regurgitated ad nauseam. Hooorraaayyyy.

  4. Posted August 29, 2017 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    Gosh, if atheism is a religion (It is not.) then why is this Christian not giving it the respect due one’s sincere religious beliefs. I cannot trust anyone who demands respect for their beliefs but do not give it for others. They are two-faced.

    Christians never respect atheists, telling lie after lie about us and we rarely fire back and when we do, they play the respect card. I respect the fact that our prisons are full of Christians, there not because they are Christians, but because they have committed crimes. There, that’s respect!

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted August 29, 2017 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

      Great comment! I love your first sentence in particular – I’d never thought of that.

    • Kiwi Dave
      Posted August 29, 2017 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

      Triggered by Sheridan’s disrespect for my atheist religion I will retreat to the safe space of my local atheist church where the atheist priest, wearing her special atheist clothes, trained at the atheist seminary and conversant with the 39 articles of atheism, will lead our worship of the atheist God, recite the atheist creed, read from the prophet Dawkins (PBUH) and then conduct the sacred atheist ritual of baby eating.

  5. Brujo Feo
    Posted August 29, 2017 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    Perhaps because I’m checking in from an Italian IP address, but the linked article is locked behind a subscription paywall.

    But did he really say “a rational ascent”? Perhaps that’s a climb that he hasn’t yet attempted…

    Ascent
    Assent
    Accent…

    • jimroberts
      Posted August 29, 2017 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

      I was surprised that PCC(E) didn’t have (sic) after “rational ascent”.

    • Taz
      Posted August 29, 2017 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

      It’s a climb that either terminates or repeats.

  6. Posted August 29, 2017 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    I think your comments about Stalin are spot on. I don’t think he killed people in the name of atheism, he killed people in the name of Josef Stalin.

    It seems to me that a lot of these murderous “atheist” regimes (Stalin, Pol Pot, NK, Hitler etc) actually built quasi religious ideologies often with the dictator as the focus of adulation.

    The big “evil” is killing people because they won’t subscribe to an idea, whether it has supernatural trappings or not.

    • Posted August 29, 2017 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

      I call North Korea a confucian stalinist theocracy, where that triple oxymoron is deliberate.

    • H.R.G.
      Posted August 30, 2017 at 4:30 am | Permalink

      Just a point: the Nazi regime and ideology were definitely theist.

  7. Historian
    Posted August 29, 2017 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    At least in regard to the abolition of slavery in the United States, it is undeniably true that ardent Christians played a major role in the abolition movement in pre-Civil War America. The Gilda Lerner Institute has an interesting article entitled “Abolition and Religion.” The author, Robert Abzug, makes several pertinent points:

    “Before the war, the vast majority of white Christians in both sections opposed emancipation. A few years into hostilities, the improbable had become the inevitable: Abolition, a once-despised cause now justified the costliest of American wars.”

    Abzug goes on:

    ”Always a minority who despaired at their lack of influence, abolitionists nonetheless managed over a thirty-year period to widen the terms of debate over slavery. At the core of their demand for immediate emancipation and citizenship for the freed slave lay a special religious vision, one built upon radical readings of Christianity but rendered in the mainstream vocabulary of American Protestantism and civil religion. Abolitionists deemed slavery a sin at odds with the Christian mission of saving souls and the progress of humanity promised by the Protestant Reformation and the American Revolution. To them, the redemption of America depended upon black freedom.”

    He concludes:

    “Although most white Americans still saw abolition as a threat to the carefully balanced peace between northerners and southerners, and between blacks and whites, abolitionists had made emancipation a part of the nation’s moral imagination. With the coming of war, no vision of Christian sacrifice better suited the time than a moral crusade to free the slave.”

    https://www.gilderlehrman.org/history-by-era/slavery-and-anti-slavery/essays/abolition-and-religion

    So, there can be little doubt that the abolitionists such as William Lloyd Garrison, imbued with intense religious fervor, turned around the North in regard to the moral imperative of abolishing slavery. But, it is equally undeniably true that in the South ardent Christians played a major role in defending the institution. In regard to the Southern Baptists, Wikipedia notes:

    “Slavery in the 19th century became the most critical moral issue dividing Baptists in the United States. Struggling to gain a foothold in the South, after the American Revolution, the next generation of southern Baptist preachers accommodated themselves to the leadership of southern society. Rather than challenging the gentry on slavery and urging manumission (as did the Quakers and Methodists), they began to interpret the Bible as supporting the practice of slavery and encouraged good paternalistic practices by slaveholders. They preached to slaves to accept their places and obey their masters. In the two decades after the Revolution during the Second Great Awakening, Baptist preachers abandoned their pleas that slaves be manumitted.”

    Wikipedia also notes that the Southern Baptists as an organization came into being because of this:

    “The word Southern in Southern Baptist Convention stems from it having been founded in 1845 at a regional convention held in Augusta, Georgia in the Southern United States, following a split in the national group of members from the northern Baptists over the issue of slavery; the immediate issue was whether Southern slave owners could serve as missionaries.”

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Southern_Baptist_Convention#Divisions_over_slavery

    What all this means that on the issue of slavery, as virtually all issues, religion can be used to justify anything. Subscribing to Christianity, particularly of the evangelical kind, is hardly the source to look to for universal morality.

    As an aside, it is interesting to observe that the intense religious fervor of many, if not most, abolitionists became an integral part of the Republican Party. That intense moral conviction can be seen in the evangelical opposition to abortion.

    • Posted August 29, 2017 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

      Good comment. For such reasons, I think it better to regard religious reasons brought towards others as a tool of rhetoric, and towards the self as a tool of rationalization.

      When religion holds such a sway over people, we must expected that it will be found around historical advocacy for about any position. And indeed, it goes much deeper than that, whatever happened was according to God’s plan, including outcomes in wars, or duels. Through commonplace magical thinking, whatever people convinced themselves God wanted, it was realized in the world. Since God is really a God of rhetorics, persuasion and rationalisation, God’s Will is also something akin to a Zeitgeist.

      Thus unsurprisingly, believers who pursues an aim A will convince themselves that A is what God wants — maybe being against Nazis. And if a believer wants B, will likewise cast his wishes in religious rationalization, perhaps that “Gott ist mit uns” (the Nazi soldier).

    • Jeremy Tarone
      Posted August 29, 2017 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

      Almost all adherents believe they know what God wants, they know how God wants them (and everyone else) to live and behave. There are thousands of Christian sects alone and they don’t agree with each other.

      Yet very few seem to consider the problem of determining which if any are true without any objective evidence.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted August 30, 2017 at 7:01 am | Permalink

        God wants me to do exactly what *I* want to do. After all, we’re all part of God’s plan, and God is omniscient, omnipotent and infallible. Therefore, I can’t possibly want to do something God wouldn’t want me to do, can I?

        cr

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted August 30, 2017 at 7:03 am | Permalink

          Oops!

          Sorry PCC, God wanted me to imbed that. Obviously.

    • Steve Pollard
      Posted August 29, 2017 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

      That is a very valuable and educative comment – very many thanks.

      As an amateur observer from the other side of the Atlantic, I would welcome your take on why the unreformed South managed to push back in the late 19th/early 20th centuries: the time, as I understand it (and please correct my understanding) when many of the memorials to the Southern heroes, including the Charlottesville Lee statue, were being put up. In other words, why didn’t the victorious Unionists succeed in enforcing their societal standards on the Confederacy? Was it simply a combination of battle fatigue and lack of resources?

      • Historian
        Posted August 29, 2017 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

        By the mid-1870s the country was exhausted by the war and its aftermath and wanted to move on, even if meant leaving the recently emancipated slaves under the thumb of the “redeemed” southern states,now run by many of the same people who ran them before the war. The North was plenty racist and within about a decade, it lost interest in the welfare of African-Americans. The fact that they were technically free was good enough. There were also political shenanigans involved. See the Wikipedia article about the contested presidential election of 1876. After all the killing, the white southern ruling class was still in charge while African-Americans, technically not slaves, were not very far above that condition. The demise of Reconstruction was quite shameful. And yet, southern whites could not stop whining how the Yankees oppressed them. After about just almost any revolution, those on the losing side are slaughtered in the thousands or more. This didn’t happen to the southern traitors. They got off as easily as can be imagined.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted August 29, 2017 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

      There’s no doubt that many US abolitionists were motivated by their Christian beliefs. But, as you say, they were a minority amongst Christians in the North originally.

      I think the important lesson is that religion can be used to justify any position you want it to.

      Devoted Christians inevitably insist Hitler was an atheist, especially if they’re Catholic. There is perhaps one sentence he said that’s used to justify this opinion. It’s like using the fact that there was a hoax skull (before it was discovered and removed) to dismiss human evolution.

  8. Liz
    Posted August 29, 2017 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for sharing this. I find very religious people interesting. They’re more interesting than infuriating to me after years of practicing tolerance. I had some contact with the Mormons a couple of years ago. We talked about religion. They were so young. There were two I had been mainly talking to and they were 19. We all were sort of busy after a few meetings and so sort of just drifted out of contact. A new missionary just started calling me last week after two years. I asked about Elder Peterson, one of the two, and asked how he was doing. The new missionary let me know that he completed his mission and moved back home. Yet another starfish I was unable to throw back into the ocean. Although I think the other young man may have dropped out. He was definitely thinking about the things I was saying more than the other one. The new missionary didn’t know anything about him. I thought he stopped calling because he dropped out. Maybe he did.

    • Jeremy Tarone
      Posted August 29, 2017 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

      I talked to a couple a few years ago, I always saw them walking around as I walked my dog.
      When our paths finally crossed and we chatted I simply couldn’t bring myself to call a couple of teenagers “Elder”.

      • Liz
        Posted August 29, 2017 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

        They were introduced with the Elder but I ended up going with the last name only. So, so young. At one of the meetings, they asked me to lead them in prayer for the closing. I had made my intentions known and they knew I didn’t pray, so when they bowed their heads – all four boys – I felt *almost* bad that these people had moms. So I continued to do more of a “thank you to you boys” instead of a god for meeting, talking, discussing, debating etc. They were 19 but they looked maybe 14 or 15. If I wasn’t going to challenge them, though, who else would?

        • bundorgarden
          Posted August 29, 2017 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

          They always look young; nice skins, clean cut etc. This is probably because they dont drink, smoke, take drugs etc!

      • Brujo Feo
        Posted August 29, 2017 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

        In México, a waiter is always “joven” (young man), even if he is old enough to be your grandfather.

  9. Kevin
    Posted August 29, 2017 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

    Sheridan needs to read The God Delusion.

    Hope in something that is false or has no evidence is delusional.

    Question for Sheridan: What is God? If he’s not got an answer, then nothing to see here folks.

  10. Taz
    Posted August 29, 2017 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

    Articles like this always strike me as being just a bit desperate.

  11. Sastra
    Posted August 29, 2017 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    Anyone who makes the argument that only God can make something objectively right or objectively wrong has to commit themselves to accepting two uncomfortable facts.

    First, they are not God, and (in their own understanding) God is not them. Given all the variations and interpretations of God, if it is possible that other people misunderstand God’s moral nature, then it is likewise possible that they do, too. If you do not create God, then you discover God. And prepare yourself to be surprised.

    Second — they could be surprised. God’s unchanging perfect nature of absolute Good might have little resemblance to their expectations. In which case, they have no recourse for declaring God morally imperfect or wrong, no matter WHAT. There’s no ethical philosophy, no starting out with a basic human understanding of the good, no Social Contract, no structure to assess, not even a damned appeal to ones damn intuition. In theory, anything goes. In theory, it’s now even worse than no God.

    Divine Command Theory isn’t going to cash out well as a way for establishing any right and wrong worth having.

    • Kevin
      Posted August 29, 2017 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

      Cash out is right.

      Christian like to save all their money in their secret god-bank. Notice that they never spend any of it, because they know the bank does not pay out.

      They believe their savings will pay out at end of life, because it doesn’t pay during life.

  12. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted August 29, 2017 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    You’ve also got conflicting moral claims within different schools of Christianity, of which the two most obvious areas are slavery and sexual ethics.
    For a good account of how many have used Christianity to justify slavery, see the book “The Arrogance of Faith” by Forrest Wood (sic).
    For a well-written strong critique of classical Christian sexual ethics written by a modernist Christian see “Dirt, Greed, and Sex” by William Countryman.

    It’s easy to see that the 4 or 5 horsemen don’t reinforce each other since they disagree on quite a few things. (“Patience with God” by Frank Schaeffer remains the only Christian reflection on New Atheism I know of that seems to be deeply aware of internal disagreements of some atheists with others.)

    Some folks have a well-honed intuition, but intuition always needs some follow-up investigation.

    The fallacy of attributing good things done by Christians to their residual humanism is one that (IMO) Christopher Hitchens veered close to, but Dawkins never did.

  13. peepuk
    Posted August 29, 2017 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    A belief is (google) “an acceptance that something exists or is true, especially one without proof”

    Atheism is a form of nihilism and definitely not a belief.

    But most atheists are (secular) humanists.

    Communism/socialism, fascism and liberalism are three different kinds of humanism.

    These ideologies are competing with religion and have more or less the same function in human societies. Personally I don’t mind if someone would call humanism a kind of religion; not all religions have a God.

  14. Roger
    Posted August 29, 2017 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    Finally, someone who proved Jesus is God. Too bad his religion is going extinct. Bad timing. They could have used this guy back in the cavemen days.

  15. Posted August 29, 2017 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

    An article that pleads for the legitimacy of Christianity would never have been written or published in a major newspaper a generation ago. There was no need – Christianity had near absolute acceptance. Sheridan represents the last screams of a defunct dogma as it gets inexorably ground under the clear ice sheet of reason(sorry about the metaphor).

    rz

  16. Posted August 29, 2017 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

    I have an unruly urge to mock this guy.
    But if he ever comes out of the cardboard and looks up, sees millions upon millions of stars, will his god explain that profusion of stella matter and to what end. Something pretty for humans? cause he was doodling with his creation pen… I think he/r only required one.
    Science can and no god need be invoked or an atheist for that matter, but for Sheridan just the small matter of a reality check.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted August 30, 2017 at 7:11 am | Permalink

      Mention of the stars…

      https://sites.uni.edu/morgans/astro/course/TheStar.pdf

      cr

      • Posted August 30, 2017 at 9:09 pm | Permalink

        Hey thanks for that link, enjoyed that… i feel like i just dissed a civilisation in my comment though.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted August 30, 2017 at 9:16 pm | Permalink

          I don’t think you did, but even if you did, it wasn’t intentional 😉

          cr

  17. bundorgarden
    Posted August 29, 2017 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

    A few years ago Richard Dawkins was flown out to Australia to debate George Pell (at the time the head of the Catholic church in Australia; now Cardinal Pell). The debate was televised and Pell came across as bumbling, illogical and somewhat foolish, while Dawkins presented his usual eloquent arguments.

    Greg Sheridan reviewed the debate in The Australian claiming that Pell completely outclassed Dawkins!I couldnt believe it. I later found out that Sheriden is an ardent Catholic.

    Incidentalty, The Australian isnt the biggest selling newspaper in Australia, and it is conservative. However I read it because it has the best news coverage of the Australian papers, and it often reports on issues that the left leaning papers avoid for ideological reasons or otherwise.

    It is a Murdoch newspaper, which of course makes it anathema to letist leaning readers.

  18. Posted August 29, 2017 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

    The Australian is not Australia’s biggest circulation newspaper, by a long shot. But it is a conservative Murdoch (Fox) mouthpiece.

  19. Posted August 29, 2017 at 9:08 pm | Permalink

    Hypnotist/magician, Derren Brown knows this process well:

    Derren Brown is a hypnotist and magician – someone who understands the processes of deception well. He was an evangelical Christian as a youngun who begun to question what the grounds of faith relied on.
    “A good friend who worked as a psychic healer told me how she had healed a chap at a party who had badly scalded his arm after a boiler burst in front of him. Her account of it seemed impressive: she laid hands on him for a while, and the pain and blistering had subsided very rapidly.
    So as we had mutual friends, I asked someone else who has been at the party if the story was true. He laughed. Yes, she had indeed laid hands on him, but only after they’d packed his arm in ice and snow for over an hour. My psychic friend had not wished to mislead me; she had simply filtered out the snow-packing as unimportant in the story. Indeed, the episode was confirmation of her abilities, and it fueled her belief.
    The more I came up against this sort of thing, the more I became concerned that I, as a Christian, was falling into exactly the same trap. Was I not indulging the same sort of circular belief? Remembering prayers that had been answered, and forgetting those that weren’t? Or deciding they had been answered but in a less obvious way? What separated my belief from the equally firm convictions of my psychic friend, other than the fact that hers were less mainstream and therefore easier to poke fun at? Weren’t we both guilty of the same comforting nonsense?
    …Indeed, it is something of an insult to the very truth I might hold dear to say that something is true just because I believe it is.”
    -Derren Brown ‘Tricks of the Mind’

  20. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted August 30, 2017 at 6:51 am | Permalink

    “Sheridan undercuts himself. He does this by saying that it’s not enough for religion to inspire good acts: it must be true (my emphases):
    ‘What are we losing here? Religious belief cannot be sustained on the basis that it is useful to society. *People only subscribe to it if they think it’s true*.'”

    I have to split a hair and disagree there. Sheridan isn’t saying that religion needs to be true, only that people have to *think* it’s true. In other words, he’s unwittingly echoing Josef Goebbels –
    “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”

    cr

  21. Posted August 30, 2017 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

    “Saint Paul preached tolerance only for Christians, for crying out loud.”

    Adlai Stevenson once said that St. Paul always made him think of Norman Vincent Peale: “I find Paul appealing and Peale appalling.”

    Well, Paul can also be appalling, but–to be fair–not on the question of tolerance. Having been converted from paganism, his entire mission was to exclude no one on the basis of religious beliefs or non-belief:

    “For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: which shows that the work of the law is written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness.” (1 Corinthians 10:31-32)

    In other words, the important thing is not to adhere to the “law” of external institutions but to follow one’s “heart” and “conscience.” By any standard, and certainly in contrast to John and the other apostles, this is pretty damned tolerant.

  22. Charles
    Posted August 30, 2017 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

    Atheism is a religion?

    I don’t remember who said it but it works.

    “If atheism is a religion, bald is a hair color.”


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