Thursday, 10 May 2007

Darwin and humanity: Should we rid the mind of God? (2007) - Peter Atkins & Alister McGrath

This is a really excellent talk by Peter Atkins. WASP love his point about "ALL Why questions are nonsensical and actually can be transformed to HOW questions that science could answer"

Atkins Highlights: "why shouldn't the Universe be wholly without Purpose. There is no evidence at all that the Universe has a purpose." (7 min)

Alister McGrath is a theologist. Mostly nonsensical!

A special debate between Alister McGrath, Professor of Historical Theology at Oxford University, author of "Dawkins' God" and "The Dawkins Delusion" and Peter Atkins, Professor of Chemistry at Oxford University, well-known atheist and supporter of Richard Dawkins. As seen on Channel 4's "The trouble with atheism".

View the Video (1 hour 20 mins - half that if you skip Alister McGrath's nonsense)

Link to Comments at:

Out of the 145 comments at 17th May 2007 (phew!) WASP thinks the following are interesting although some are way "off topic":-

1. Comment #27038 by James Carroll on March 23, 2007 at 1:56 am

 avatarProfessor Atkins is amazing, and he was phenomenal in the debate. He made many great points and had a counterpoint to everything that Mr. McGrath said.

My confidence in my own atheism has risen ten-fold after listening to Mr. Peter Atkins talk.

Thanks for posting this, and thanks Professor Atkins for brilliantly defending atheism. It's a pleasure to listen to.

3. Comment #27051 by bitbutter on March 23, 2007 at 3:36 am

 avatarI enjoyed this. In particular i was happy to be reminded of this piece of wisdom:

"Why are we here?" : 'why' questions presuppose an underlying intentionality, a creator. This is an unjustified supposition. Hence, it's the wrong question.

4. Comment #27053 by Cineaste on March 23, 2007 at 3:43 am

Once the exchanges started, Atkins dominated this debate.

5. Comment #27056 by Rtambree on March 23, 2007 at 3:50 am

A useful debating trick would be to ask the audience to just insert "Zeus" for whenever your theist opponent argues for God. The absurdity should immediately become self evident for the fence-sitters.

15. Comment #27094 by Quine on March 23, 2007 at 6:08 am

 avatarI would have asked McGrath,"if Santa Clause does not exist, why do so many children believe in him?"

30. Comment #27168 by davyB on March 23, 2007 at 10:37 am

The sound gets better at about 15 minutes.

There's not much in this debate because McGrath's arguments are almost totally vacuuous. He once hinted at the design argument, but mostly he just says he believes because he "thinks it is true," or "it is what's good."

Atkins fumbled when he was asked why simple explanations are generally to be preferred to complicated ones.

35. Comment #27196 by Ricky Ramirez on March 23, 2007 at 1:40 pm

davyB said:

"Atkins fumbled when he was asked why simple explanations are generally to be preferred to complicated ones."

I agree. I didn't watch the whole debate, but this would have been a perfect opportunity to explain Occam's Razor (or parsimony) and its use in the scientific method.

I love Occam's Razor; it really allows one to "slice" through the nonsensical arguments for the existence of supernatural gods.

36. Comment #27205 by Jenin on March 23, 2007 at 2:19 pm

Maybe McGrath thinks his ridiculously dramatic gestures and tone of voice cover up the fact he has absolutely nothing to say.

38. Comment #27211 by keith on March 23, 2007 at 2:48 pm

Can someone explain this to me?
"I knew just enough astronomy to know that the light from some of those stars wouldn't hit earth for hundreds of years"
How could he be looking at light arriving from stars yet think that it wouldn't arrive until hundreds of years later?

41. Comment #27214 by CaptainShiny on March 23, 2007 at 3:12 pm

 avatarMy favorite part:
"We see a world so infinitely complex--"
"So we should just cop out?"

42. Comment #27215 by gimlibengloin on March 23, 2007 at 3:14 pm

Rickt Ramirez (35)

"I love Occam's Razor; it really allows one to "slice" through the nonsensical arguments for the existence of supernatural gods."

Hmmm! The problem is that Occam's razor isn't the objective test that many people like to think that it is. Both the theist and the atheist can use it with equal facility and conviction.
For example, in The Blind Watchmaker Richard dawkins argues that although the origin of life by chance is extremely improbable it is made much more probable if we allow for the existence of billions of other planets (or universes) - the argument being that out of all the billions and billions of planets it was bound to happen somewhere. Of course, the theist would have a 'field day' with this since a theory that requires the exuistence of billions and billions of unobservable planets (and universes?) to explain life is clearly at loggerheads with Occam's razor.

44. Comment #27220 by BaronOchs on March 23, 2007 at 3:25 pm

 avatarInteresting thoughts gimli. Is postulating -even infinitely many- other universes as big a leap as postulating a divine being?

Hardly I think. Universes are things we know a little about, thanks to centuries of enquiry. We know they can exist and we know more than a little about how they do so. On the other hand we have no clue as to how an omnipotent-omniscient-eternal-being might exist, and as I have remarked in another post, we cannot in principle understand.

The bottom line is when cosmologists talk about a multiverse or other universe than our own, these are not just speculations but parts of theories than can ultimately offer testable predictions, even if we can't do so at this stage in science. That is more than can be said for any belief in a designer.

45. Comment #27222 by Janus on March 23, 2007 at 3:27 pm

 avatarThat billions of planets exist is a fact. Occam's razor tells us not to posit the existence of superfluous entities. Things that we know exist aren't superfluous, by definition.

As for multiple universes, while it's not an entirely stupid argument that they're just as superfluous as God, the multiverse hypothesis has the advantage of actually solving the problem of the universe's initial complexity. It has "explanatory power", as Atkins says. God has none whatsoever.

46. Comment #27223 by JJoe on March 23, 2007 at 3:31 pm

While I thought Prof. Atkins did a fine job I couldn't help thinking how much I would have preferred seeing Dawkins debate McGrath instead. I think Richard would have surely shredded some of McGrath's silly statements about science.

Particularly McGrath's point about how Darwin might be usurped in 150 years by something else (and I'm paraphrasing his point) and how that somehow was a negative of science. On the contrary, I think that's one of the beauties of the scientific method. It's self-correcting mechanism of further refinement towards a more accurate understanding of the natural world. If something comes along that better explains our rise than evolution, then fine. If it's to be accepted it'll have to withstand rigorous debate and examination.

Can religion make the same claim? Since when did religion ever alter it's explanations of the world except when there was overwhelming social pressure or the rare papal epiphany?

56. Comment #27241 by RickM on March 23, 2007 at 4:03 pm

 avatarIt's seems to be clearing up; I'm at 15 min. in. Also it's a bit better at:
Can I prove it?

67. Comment #27270 by Janus on March 23, 2007 at 4:51 pm

 avatargimlibengloin wrote:
"Its not clear as to how the multiverse theory solves the problem becuase they're exists no causal relation between myriads of other universes and our own universe. Ultimately the multiverse theory says that the universe is the result of chance but considering the number of trial runs it could conceivably happen. But chance is still the absense of an explanation.

On the other hand God does explain because as acknowledged by Dawkins living organisms give every appearance of having been designed by an intelligence. Therefore the creator hypothesis is a perfect fit with the facts."

The multiverse solves the problem of initial complexity because our universe, at its "beginning", was relatively simple; in fact, if some theoretical physicists are correct, it was fundamentally simple. Therefore all that still needs to be explained is why our universe has the kind of complexity it does, why the laws that govern it are those described by our theories (as opposed to other, imaginary theories). The multiverse hypothesis answers that last question. So complexity in general is explained, as is our universe's so-called fine-tuning.

On the other hand, God, defined as the uncaused designer and creator of Everything That Exists except itself, doesn't explain anything. Explaining something means describing the behavior of an entity in terms of simpler entities. Explaining a complex entity (the universe) by saying it was made by another complex entity (God) is an intermediate explanation at best, not an ultimate one. Let's say, for example, that we want to explain the origin of the first proto-cells on Earth. What would you think of someone who explains them by saying they were created by alien bio-engineers who came to Earth in their space-ships billions of years ago? That person may be right, but he hasn't explained much. He may have explained the origin of life on Earth, but he obviously hasn't explained the origin of life, period.

Likewise, saying God made our universe universe may explain the complexity of our universe, but it doesn't explain complexity, period. By appealing to the God hypothesis you're only pushing back the real problem, just as the person who appealed to alien bio-engineers did. It doesn't solve anything. The only way to truly explain complexity, to truly explain _everything_ is to come up with a real explanation: An explanation that describes the origin and behavior of everything in terms of fundamentally simple entities. Theories like those of Paul Davies (Google him) combined with the multiverse hypothesis do just that.

And by the way, chance isn't the absence of an explanation. Chance is a perfectly good explanation for why I got a '6' three times in a row when throwing a six-sided dice. Chance can be a _bad_ explanation when the odds are astronomically bad against a certain outcome, certainly, like it is in the case of lifeforms more complex than relatively simple self-replicating molecules, hence why natural selection is necessary.

An absence of an explanation (i.e. a hypothesis with no explanatory power) amounts to saying that complexity "just is", or "simply exists". For example, saying that the human species and all animals on Earth "just exist" would be a cop-out, obviously. Complexity begs for an explanation. Likewise, saying that God "just exists" is a cop-out, because God, by definition, has designed the universe, and must therefore be very intelligent indeed, and intelligence must be complex, again by definition.

Design cannot be the ultimate explanation for Everything That Exists, because it's explaining complexity by appealing to complexity. Chance might be the ultimate explanation, if the odds are good enough. If they aren't good enough, a complexity-generating process such as natural selection must be involved. It's the only true solution to the problem of complexity.

And now, after reading your latest post, I see that you're a creationist, which makes me very sorry I wasted my time replying to you. Ah well.

68. Comment #27273 by diquea on March 23, 2007 at 5:07 pm

I'm so glad Atkins called McGrath out on preaching with his opening 'argument.' Not only was it a sermon, but totally irrelevant to the topic being discussed. "SHOULD we rid our minds of religion," not "WILL we."

I was also glad to see Atkins point out the idiocy of "why" questions, once one has a firm grasp of evolutionary theory

69. Comment #27275 by briancoughlanworldcitizen on March 23, 2007 at 5:08 pm

 avatarThe brave men you mention, and I have to say you have some gall indeed to bring them up in this context, were the vangaurd that shattered the hold the church had on mens minds.

Why else do we see such a fierce backlash against science in fundamentalist circles? Because they realise, belatedly thank goodness, that reason is their enemy. Of course the church has always been basically aware of this, hence the meme of "faith" and Luthers injunction to "put out the eyes of reason".

So that old carnard gets trotted out as usual:-) Where do our fancy morals come from? What is the meaning of life? WHY???

Grow up already, find your own meaning and stop trying to pin your existence to a foundation which is simply absent. We'll find our own way, with the ethical grammer evolution has built into us, and the application of these handy brains to overcome our baser instincts. Or maybe we won't. It's a crapshoot. In any event a book that encourages murder for non existent "crimes", genocide and slavery is not going to be much use to us.

Interesting choice of scripture, you really are whipped and spineless aren'tcha?

2:11 Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling.

Why? Because he'll kill me if I don't? Or he'll kill my family? Or torture me in hell for eternity? Gee ... I see the light now Jesus.

Here are a few other choice cuts of biblical morality.

Leviticus 21:9 And the daughter of any priest, if she profane herself by playing the whore, she profaneth her father: she shall be burnt with fire.

24:16 And he that blasphemeth the name of the LORD, he shall surely be put to death, and all the congregation shall certainly stone him: as well the stranger, as he that is born in the land, when he blasphemeth the name of the Lord, shall be put to death.

14:18 The LORD is longsuffering, and of great mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression, and by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation.
(Shit! Can you say Orwell?)

Deuteronomy 2:34 And we took all his cities at that time, and utterly destroyed the men, and the women, and the little ones, of every city, we left none to remain:

1 Samuel 6:19 And he smote the men of Bethshemesh, because they had looked into the ark of the LORD, even he smote of the people fifty thousand and threescore and ten men: and the people lamented, because the LORD had smitten many of the people with a great slaughter.
(Really, the whole alien technology run amok idea makes waaaay more sense)

2 Samuel 24:14 And David said unto Gad, I am in a great strait: let us fall now into the hand of the LORD; for his mercies are great: and let me not fall into the hand of man.
24:15 So the LORD sent a pestilence upon Israel from the morning even to the time appointed: and there died of the people from Dan even to Beersheba seventy thousand men.

Care to refer me to some more scripture? I've got lots of fun verses to share. Want to take a stab at justifying any of this toxic stuff? I could really use a laugh.

70. Comment #27277 by briancoughlanworldcitizen on March 23, 2007 at 5:20 pm

 avatarAnd now, after reading your latest post, I see that you're a creationist, which makes me very sorry I wasted my time replying to you. Ah well.

Me too:-( GG let me refer you to where all your bullshit (there really is no kinder way to describe this stuff) questions have long been answered and in excruciating detail.

Still, though I'd be happy to hear your defence of Gods behaviour in the scriptures I've pointed you to in His awesome majesties holy word. You certainly deserve every square inch of your ass kicked for using the utterly discredited macro/micro evolution distinction. It's just dishonest, tsk, tsk and you a Christian!!!

71. Comment #27278 by briancoughlanworldcitizen on March 23, 2007 at 5:41 pm

 avatarLet me close with this particularly senseless piece of drivel.

2 Kings
2:22 So the waters were healed unto this day, according to the saying of Elisha which he spake.
2:23 And he went up from thence unto Bethel: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head.
2:24 And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the LORD. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them.

Wow!!! Mr. Grumpy, sensitive or what?

How can this possibly square with a loving God? Would 40 children really have hung about while the bears ate the first 2 kids? I mean really, would you?

Logistically how would this work? Lets assume the kids scatter in all directions, and it takes each bear 30 seconds to kill one child, and each running child can cover 100 metres in 30 seconds. Given the motivation, I consider this a modest understatement of their likely speed.

Then 90 seconds in we have 6 dead kids, and the bears in the middle (or perhaps off the centre) of a rapidly expanding circle of children at least 600 metres in diameter, and growing by 200 metres every 30 seconds. For goodness sake after 5 minutes, some of these kids will be 2 kilometres away from the damn bears, and surely the bears would stop and eat some of the kids whole? Which brings me on to my next question, how many 40 kilogram children can a bear actually eat?

Lets assume each bear weighs 500 kilos. Once again, 24 kids in, each bear has eaten their own body weight in kids ... likely?

Unless it was another of Gods miracles.

72. Comment #27279 by diquea on March 23, 2007 at 5:42 pm

"Positing the existence of a Designer/Creator for the universe and life isn't a 'cop-out' though, is it? Why does prof dawkins acknowledge that organisms look designed? BECAUSE THEY DO, BRIAN. And why do they look designed? BECAUSE THEY WERE, BRIAN. Can I prove it? Of course not. But its a better explanation than time, chance, and natural selection."

Who cares if it fits the definition of the term "cop-out." I mean, in my opinion it is sort of an excuse, or an evasion of the responsibility of using the scientific mode of reasoning and seeking truth, so I'd say it is. But that doesn't matter. No one cares. The god-concept is meaningless; it is here to explain the design of complex systems which "appear to be designed" (I don't think they necessarily do), but is arbitrarily excluded from having to answer to this same 'problem.' As Dawkins also says, that thing which designs things which looks designed, must be equally complex. If you disagree with this, you do so [again] only arbitrarily.

Do they look designed? I don't know, were those 99% of all species which are now extinct designed? Did god just have a little trouble with designing, so he ended their line? Was it a hit-or-miss thing, or trial and error? Does the fact that thousands of people a year choke due to our breathing and eating through the same orifice seem designed?

A better explanation than time, chance and natural selection?! What a claim!! A better explanation because it takes less thought, work, and research? What makes it a better explanation? Because you can [once again] arbitrarily claim that every single fact is compatible with your god, because it works in mysterious ways? It is all powerful?

And by the way, there is NO better explanation than natural selection. It is an undeniable fact that natural selection is a MUST, given environmental conditions that make a specific gene more suitable for survival. It is only logical that natural selection is true, given environmental adaptation.

This is how it goes: There is nothing in the natural world that is SUGGESTIVE of a god. More importantly, there is no thing suggestive of any specific god, and definitely not of his opinions on homosexuality, and whether a woman ought to be stoned for not screaming loud enough while being raped. EVERYTHING is COMPATIBLE with a god-concept, if you allow him to be all-powerful and above logic, thereby giving him the ability to do anything.

73. Comment #27280 by Luthien on March 23, 2007 at 5:44 pm

 avatar69. Comment #27275 by briancoughlanworldcitizen on March 23, 2007 at 5:08 pm

Brian, often these people try to claim that this is all Old Testament stuff, and Jesus bcame to correct all this (yeh, I know how weak that is). So I like to use the following quote from the New Testament:

"Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence." 1 Timothy 2:11-12

74. Comment #27282 by diquea on March 23, 2007 at 5:50 pm

"Brian, often these people try to claim that this is all Old Testament stuff, and Jesus bcame to correct all this (yeh, I know how weak that is)."

I know exactly what you mean Luthien. I find it so incredibly odd, though, that they seek comfort in knowing that their god is no longer like this. Hey, sure... in the OLD Testament he was a disgusting personality. But he's different now, Jesus came and corrected all of it. As if it seems reasonable that Jesus (God himself) came to correct God's (Jesus himself) ludicrous demands and commands of the Old Testament. Even if God no longer desires those Old Testament laws still be followed, he DID, at one point in time. How does one seek solace in this?

75. Comment #27284 by briancoughlanworldcitizen on March 23, 2007 at 5:54 pm

 avatarI find it so incredibly odd, though, that they seek comfort in knowing that their god is no longer like this. Hey, sure... in the OLD Testament he was a disgusting personality. But he's different now

Exactly. It is an indefensible position. Either God is all powerful and all loving, or he's not, and the Old Testament is proof positive that he's not. Hence the whole thing evaporates.

76. Comment #27285 by mmurray on March 23, 2007 at 6:07 pm

And why do they look designed? BECAUSE THEY WERE, BRIAN.

BOLLOCKS - Why do testicles hang outside the body -- it's a pretty silly place for equipment so vital to reproduction. Why are lower backs so prone to causing trouble in old age. Why can't we regrow our teeth -- lots of people in less advanced societies end up eating with their gums. What is the point of the appendix? Why don't we have voluntary control over conception -- that would save untold amounts of grief. Why run the windpipe and the foodpipe down the same tube making it very likely that people will choke.

And of course there is also the old joke: `How do we know god is a civil engineer' `Only a civil engineer would run a sewer through a recreation area'. [Apologies to the civil engineers :-)]

For every example of apparent good design there are lots of examples of botched patch up jobs which are what you would expect if natural selection was active because it can only make small incremental changes without any overview of the whole structure.

Stephen J Gould wrote some great essays on this. Try for example:'s-thumb.html


78. Comment #27289 by diquea on March 23, 2007 at 6:37 pm

I have heard that testicles need to be at a slightly cooler temperature to keep sperm alive, than they would be were they inside the body. I'm not sure if that is correct, but just what I've heard.

81. Comment #27293 by briancoughlanworldcitizen on March 23, 2007 at 6:52 pm

 avatarEarth, Mars, Venus -- which is the fourth ? Surely Mercury is too hot? I am not sure `thrive' is the right word for Mars.

Certainly Mercury is quite hopeless. Mars is pretty good though, caves, weather and liquid water in the recent past.

The satellites of the gas giants provide a range of possible habitats. Europa probably has a liquid ocean beneath a thick crust of ice, and if this is the case it would be a brilliant environment for life. Titan, looks a lot like the primordial Earth.

Venus I'd have written off 5 years ago, but the discovery of organisims living in sulphur and boiling water next to deep sea vents here on Earth makes one wonder. This probably means we ought to give Io a shot as well.

So actually 4 mainstream, and 2 marginal life supporting environments in our solar system alone.

82. Comment #27294 by Bremas on March 23, 2007 at 7:07 pm

post 60. by briancoughlanworldcitizen

"If the tyrannical christian God existed, we should kill him for attempting to enslave the human race."

That one hit my funnybone...If you don't mind, I'm going to steal it and use it later.

Also, for all those here trying to debate a fundie, I'm going to plagiarize from Dr. Atkins…The idea of god is just an insecure person looking for love. I say don't try to debate with them. Give them a lollipop to suck on instead. It might be more effective.

85. Comment #27300 by Zaphod on March 23, 2007 at 7:54 pm

 avatarMcGrath just annoyed me when he kept saying and inferring atheism requires faith. He says he was an atheist. I am sorry but Mr McGrath doesn't know what the word means. How can you have faith in the lack of a belief, that is madness. His atheism is certainly not mine or the atheism of anyone I know. I have a lack of a belief in many things. Santa, Fairies, Zeus, Apollo, Allah, Yahweh, Bigfoot, zombies, ghosts etc. Does the lack of belief in these things require faith. State what faith in your opinion means Mr McGrath.

Mr McGrath talks about meaning, good, evil, purpose, why? I am sorry but the universe doesn't owe you anything. It exists, it is here, and it is humans alone on this planet at least, that see things through purpose coloured spectacles. Just because we make things for a purpose doesn't mean life the universe and everything also has a purpose.

The fact that all life on this plant has a genetic origin in the primordials soup and even farther than that all matter in the solar system more or less was once at the heart of a star, this I think is an amazingly and fantastically mesmerising view. It is splendid in the extreme.

And on a final thought. The universe and the world don't revolve around you, the universe existed 10 billion years before the earth even arose and another 4.5998 billion years went by on earth without humanity. The universe and the earth and most of life that we know of doesn't need humanity. We are the first species to understand our surroundings at least on this planet. This is an amazing thing.

The fact that people don't see this as enough baffles me. You and I are lucky to be alive. Be grateful that you have the ability to understand the world at all.

89. Comment #27316 by DistrictSelectman on March 23, 2007 at 11:34 pm

 avatarThank you for allowing me to see this McGrath twit in the flesh. He truly is a circus barker appealing to the recently born sucker.

Also, around 45':
"I came here for an argument!"
"No you didn't!"


90. Comment #27323 by thinkwiturhead on March 24, 2007 at 1:46 am

to me these types of debates should procede a lot differently.

this guy says he was an atheist and then converted to christianity. the first question that should be thrown at this guy is why do you believe the proposition of christianity and what life expierence caused this belief rather than belief in another religion.

apart from purpose of existence...he should from the very beginning have to explain why he thinks God's son/one in the same with God was on Earth at one point and for some reason this figure only made himself known to a small jewish/roman community that represented a tiny portion of the world population...and from this all the other absurd claims christianity makes

if he addresed these question-- at least i could listen and try to understand where he is coming from. instead his debate is left to the small portion of knowledge science has yet completly explain...although all that are open minded can see what direction these questions are headed

92. Comment #27326 by epeeist on March 24, 2007 at 2:41 am

 avatarComment #27261 by gimlibengloin
I'm not sure the onus is on me since the Argument to Design is clearly the most reasonable explanation of the data. I'm not sure of the point you're making about 'religious retreat'. Firstly, the scientific method is an outgrowth of the biblical worldview - Bacon, Boyle, Descartes, Newton, Galileo, Pascal, Pasteur, maxwell ever heard of these guys? however, again I'm not sure of your point so I can't really respond to it.

Total ballocks as usual.

Science (note the Greek root) was an outgrowth of Greek civilisation. The underlying mathematics came from Babylon and Egypt. Without the contribution of Arabic numbers and the concept of zero (which seems to have originally come from India) it would have been difficult for science to get where it is today.

The progenitators of Jesus couldn't even get within spitting distance of the value of pi.

Your argument also fails in that the above scientists were not doing science Ad maiorem Dei gloriam. Bacon's formulation of scientific reason was in direct contradiction to the accepted, scholastic view.

95. Comment #27376 by briancoughlanworldcitizen on March 24, 2007 at 9:27 am

 avatarYou may have the good grace to recognize that the problem is with humanity - not just religion.

I think this is rather obvious frankly. If there is no God, no Devil etc., clearly our problems are self inflicted. In that context though, religion is not part of the solution, but part of the problem.

The relentless self deception required to believe the absurdities of religion, corrode and undermine cognition generally, and does nothing to assist the critical process of self analysis required to plumb the worst excesses of human nature.

The sooner we divest a significant proportion of the populace of the delusion of religious faith, the sooner we'll make faster progress.

97. Comment #27403 by Ricky Ramirez on March 24, 2007 at 11:54 am

gimlibengloin said:

"living organisms give every appearance of having been designed by an intelligence."

By that logic the Sun gives every appearance of revolving around the Earth. Have you ever been in space?

"the scientific method is an outgrowth of the biblical worldview - Bacon, Boyle, Descartes, Newton, Galileo, Pascal, Pasteur, maxwell "

You are talking as if the scientific method was derived exclusively from the Bible...I hope you are not suggesting that pagan ancient Greeks like Thales of Miletus, Theodorus, Empedocles, Democritus, Anaxagoras, Euclid, Aristotle, Plato et al, were Bible readers!

100. Comment #27414 by Blacknad on March 24, 2007 at 12:58 pm

"The relentless self deception required to believe the absurdities of religion, corrode and undermine cognition generally, and does nothing to assist the critical process of self analysis required to plumb the worst excesses of human nature."

So over half of the world's population have corroded cognition? Surely this is a generalization. It must feel good to be one of the intelligent ones able to look down from your lofty heights upon us lowly retards ;)

Is it every religious person who falls into that bracket?

Are there perhaps one or two who manage to have faith but can also maintain a proper critical analysis when it comes to science?

Maybe someone like Professor John Polkinghorne? Maybe one of the 10,000 members of the UK 'Christians in Science' (nothing to do with creationists – just people actually doing science)?

If it is possible that one religious person does not have corroded cognition but does have the 'critical process of self analysis required to plumb the worst excesses of human nature' then your argument falls, because there is then no definite link between cause and effect.

I would suggest that there are probably an equal number of people, both religious and non-religious who have corroded cognition, and this has little to do with the 'relentless self deception required to believe the absurdities of religion'. The UK is hardly religious, but half the population does not believe in evolution. This has nothing to do with religion and everything to do with ignorance. You may as well target your ire upon everyone who idles their life away in front of the TV and blindly accepts everything it chucks at them.

Or are you maybe looking at the US fundamentalists and painting us all with the same brush? If any system of thought or belief is judged by its worst excesses then we all fall. It is also not sound science to understand anything by its extremes.

The big difference between fundamentalists and moderates is nothing but an astounding degree of ignorance. Virtually every Christian I personally know accepts evolution as a sound theory and will agree that the evidence clearly supports it.

101. Comment #27418 by briancoughlanworldcitizen on March 24, 2007 at 1:20 pm

 avatarVirtually every Christian I personally know accepts evolution as a sound theory and will agree that the evidence clearly supports it.

Thats super, but you still believe, that Jesus died for your sins, rose from the dead and listens to your prayers. You insist that God is three yet one. If you're catholic, you believe that the wafer turns into the literal flesh of Christ in the mass. Can you motivate these extreme beliefs? Do you have evidence for them? If you reject some, and accept others, on what basis do you do that?

C'mon Blacknad, if this is not impaired cognition, what is?

Look, I accept that we are all irrational from time to time, that we beleive things without evidence, and occasionally operate on faith. The critical difference is that the atheist/agnostic does not claim that their belief systems are endorsed by the creator of the universe. My irrationality must stand on its own, but the religious shore theirs up with "God", and there the conversation must end.

For the record, I was a fundamentalist, so I've got a really good idea what it's like in the inside. Now that I'm out, I can really see the whole mechanisim of obfuscation and doublespeak used to enslave me. A relentlessly honest analysis of the foundations of your faith is beneficial, read some (previously) banned books, Thomas Paine is a good place to start. Good luck.

103. Comment #27450 by Blacknad on March 24, 2007 at 5:29 pm

briancoughlanworldcitizen said:

"My irrationality must stand on its own, but the religious shore theirs up with "God", and there the conversation must end.."

Hiya Brian,

Ex smokers are said to be the most likely to be anti-smoking. It seems to be the same with ex-fundamentalists.

You have experienced one form of Christianity, its worst form, and this will surely colour your perspective. It's just that as a Christian for 22 years my experience is that (outside the US) those types are in a minority, but obviously the most vocal and newsworthy. Those who just take Jesus' words at face value and try to go about doing good in their community are just not noteworthy. Moderate Christianity is massive and, in the main, is much less black and white than those who think they have a monopoly on truth and assume they have a literal, inerrant scripture.

For me and many others, the conversation does not end with "God".

I have a tenuous grip on the truth and do not allow my understanding of it stand in the way of what science tells me.

I don't really understand why the non religious have such a problem with people like me. I'm happy to let you get on with things as you wish and respect your choice to believe or disbelieve whatever you want.

I am in broad agreement with many of your criticisms of religion.

If no one objects I'll hang around. I'm interested in debate to futher understanding, especially my own. I have no interest in proselytising.

104. Comment #27452 by BaronOchs on March 24, 2007 at 5:42 pm

 avatarWell Blacknad you seem a nice bloke who enjoys churchgoing and having his balls stroked. So I'm interested to know, do you believe christianity is true and other religions are false? Or do you believe all religions express the same basic truths? What about Heaven and Hell? do you believe someone's fate after death depends on their acceptance of some specific metaphysical claims?

105. Comment #27467 by Kervinator on March 24, 2007 at 6:40 pm

 avatarMcGrath states that we are not born atheists but agnostics. This is just plain wrong. Atheism is the absence of belief in a deity whereas agnosticism is the argument that there is not enough evidence for or against the existence of a deity. Since when is a child born with the knowledge of the "possibility" of there being a god? I'm surprised Atkins didn't jump all over that one.

110. Comment #27519 by k1mgy on March 25, 2007 at 6:16 am

 avatarAtkins remark on arrogance was downright funny and well put. I shall have many occasions to use it myself.

The sound was not from a camera microphone but appeared to be snagged from a microphone on a stand to the front of Professor McGrath. Might say something as to a possibility of the technician's leaning, or lack of thought. Had it been placed front and centre of the table, we would then have heard both speakers equally poorly.

116. Comment #27817 by Rick777 on March 27, 2007 at 12:03 am

This was a classic debate of this type . The basic issue being epistemology, which was touched on several times by Prof Atkins but was not responded to in any meaningful way whatsoever by McGrath. When pushed by an audience question to clarify , McGrath went straight to the New Testament, I think this pretty much answered that question.

Prof McGrath loves the argument from 'meaning and purpose",but never once explained how belief in a ubiquitous disembodied entity gave meaning to ones life that would not be there if there wasn`t one? I think Ian McGinn might have been a good match for McGraths` codswollop on that point.

Faith can transform your life ? Well, I just watched a documentary on the Discovery channel here in Canada regarding the "Heavens Gate " cult and subsequent mass suicide. Every person interviewed in that cult prior to their group demise found ultimate meaning and purpose that transformed their lives . Right down to gleefully showing off their Star Trek like uniforms emblazened with "Heavens Gate AWAY TEAM" patches !

117. Comment #28036 by Priapus on March 27, 2007 at 4:42 pm

That McGrath character is a bloody monomaniac; monomaniacally obsessed with Dawkins. Throughout this debate, McGrath's monomaniacal proclivity manifests itself numerously and arbitrarily and without provocation; he simply conjures Dawkins out of nowhere, almost foaming at the mouth. McGrath needs to learn that, in endeavouring to negate the arguments put forward by Richard Dawkins, he is not providing any evidence or argument of his own. Dawkins, brilliant as he is, is just one man amongst billions who have lived and billions who will live; all of whom may have been given over to the occasional bout of fallibility...

Why is he so obsessed with and fixated on Richard Dawkins? There are plenty of 'infidels' out there putting forth a multifarious welter of arguments against God and indeed against the ludicrious manifestions of belief in God, the miasmatic ooze of which is plaguing the potential for progressive 21st century discourse; c'mon now McGrath... I am waiting with fervid anticipation for The Pinker Delusion, The Harris Delusion, The Dennett Delusion, The Sagan Delusion, The Hitchens Delusion, The Russell Delusion, The Priapus Delusion etc etc etc etc etc etc etc.......

119. Comment #28512 by jamesstephenbrown on March 29, 2007 at 2:08 pm

I don't know how I would perform in front of a crowded auditorium, but it did strike me that McGrath missed a few simple points...

Why is Atheism simpler?

Because it doesn't posit a God (the most complex thing in the universe, apparently).

If something is outside the field of science, then it is not unscientific to deny it, it is unscientific to assert it.

And finally, there is a very good reason that the concept of God exists despite God's actual non-existence. It's called organised religion. If God's existence was so self-evident, why would we need churches?

121. Comment #28518 by Rtambree on March 29, 2007 at 2:29 pm

Question to Alister McGrath: Would you like a glass of water?

Alister McGrath: Before I undertake to enter into a dialogue about the probabilities and significance of the issues surrounding the underlying tension inherent to the parameters of the question, I think we need to engage in a different investigation altogether, one of epistemological and ontological necessity, or as Quine wrote, the matrices that derive from resolving the contingencies arising from a theological and ecumenical reconciliation between whether the water or the glass are framed in the same meta-space as my thirst, without the holistic prism that the scriptures illuminate through their transcendence, and this is, in my mind, something that we can address further.

140. Comment #29808 by Bonzai on April 4, 2007 at 10:58 pm

I don't think there is much to be debated, I don't think there is much that can be debated.

There are two seperate questions

1) Whether there is a God?

2) Whether a belief in a God is meaningful in people's life?

Atkins mainly tried to argue that the answer to 1) is "no". He seemed to take for granted that a negative answer to 2) automatically (or easily) followed from a negative answer to 1).

McGrath on the other hand attempted clumsily and in vain to deduce "yes" to 1) based on his "yes" answer to 2). For him an affirmative answer to 2) is not difficult to establish as it is about his subjective experience.

But it is entirely possible that the answer to 1) is negative but still the answer to 2) is affirmative. I think this is indeed the way it is. I agree with Dawkins that there is little evidence to support that there is a God; indeed evidence that we do have strongly suggests the absence of such a being. But for many people the belief of God does have a transformative effect on their lives, for better or for worse.

Thus the two speakers were basically talking over each other's head.

I do not agree with atheists such as Dawkins and Harris who insist on exorcising God out of people's belief system.

First, I don't see the necessity of it. So what if it is not real? If placebo works for you who am I to take it away?

In terms of social effects the issue should be what people do with their religious beliefs, not whether such beliefs are absent or present. Some people become suicide bombers because of religion, but faith also motivates others to dedicate their lives for the betterment of others. I am aware of Weinberg's famous quote and I think there is some truth to it. But if you blame religion for people who do horrible things in the name of God like Dawkins argues, you cannot dismiss the believers who claim that they become better people because of their faith.

In arguing that religion should die simply because it is irrational is tentamount of turning rationality itself to a virtue. It is not self evident, at least not to me. For example, it may be that self sacrifice is irrational while cheating and lying to gain benefits is eminantly rational( at least according to the system of cost benefit analysis adopted by a lot of economists, there are other ways to do these calculi, but the point is deciding what is "rational" may not be as easy as it seems) With the proper framework one can probably argue that rationality is "desirable" for most instances but an argument is required and I have the feeling that it is not so easy. But Dawkins and his supporters simply take this as an axiom.

Secondly, most people won't be persuaded to give up religion simply because of rational arguments. Afterall, few people become religious because they are convinced by alledged proof of God's existence by theologians. For most believers religion appeals at a more primal, emotional level. Dawkins may have an explanation for this primal yearn from biology, but having an explanation doesn't make the feeling less real. We know from biology that "love" is just a chemical trick but I don't think even the author of the selfish genes sees his children as just meat bags that carry his DNAs. I sure hope not.

That being the case, hitting people over the head, telling them that they are stupid for believing in imaginary beings is not going to change many hearts and minds. You may actually turn people off by acting like secular evangelicals.

145. Comment #30692 by maton100 on April 9, 2007 at 11:06 am

Why doesn't God himself come down and debate. Why does God always need an attorney?