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Mad, glad or sad: what type of atheist are you?

This weekend thousands of so-called “New Atheists” will converge on Melbourne for the second Global Atheist Convention. Last month Alain de Botton, a European popular philosopher, received copious coverage…

There are many different religions, but are there different types of atheism? EPA/Andy Rain

This weekend thousands of so-called “New Atheists” will converge on Melbourne for the second Global Atheist Convention. Last month Alain de Botton, a European popular philosopher, received copious coverage of his visit promoting his book, Religion for Atheists: A Non-Believer’s Guide to the Uses of Religion.

In the light of these atheist visitations, I’ve been working on a taxonomy of the varieties of non-religious belief. My tentative pigeon-holing of atheism divides my non-believing friends (with no disrespect intended) into three species: the sad, the glad and the mad.

The sad

The sad atheists, say Albert Camus or Jean Paul Sartre, are those who take the God question seriously. They know that the stakes are high; without a transcendent reality it is notoriously difficult to find objective morality and human purpose beyond individual and cultural subjectivity.

But despite their awareness of the cost, the sad atheist cannot believe in a super-reality which might be the source of meaning to quell our anxieties.

The glad

The glad atheist — think de Botton — floats through the godless life with not a care for the issues at stake. For de Botton, the tragedy of atheism is that it threw out the wonderful trappings of religion with the dirty bathwater of belief in God.

“Of course, no religions are true in any god-given sense”, says de Botton in the second sentence of his book Religion for Atheists, after which he proceeds cheerily to ignore the serious questions that thinkers have grappled with for thousands of years.

A “glad” atheist - popular philosopher Alain de Botton. AAP Image/Hamish Hamilton

Do we really think “it is a failing of historic proportions that BMW’s concern for rigour and precision has not stretched to founding a school or a political party”? Or can we agree that “secular education will never succeed in reaching its potential until humanities lecturers are sent to be trained by African-American Pentecostal preachers”?

In the end, despite flowing prose and incisive analysis of the modern condition, de Botton’s proposals for religion after the death of God are trite.

While it presents as a serious proposal for post-God transcendence, de Botton’s vision is better described as the musings of an aesthete who dreams of re-religionising culture.

But the dreams are wild and ungrounded and the book finishes up as an elegy for a fading world of religious hopes and values. It is poetic, beautiful at times, but not profound; its glad atheism is best suited to those who take their religion or atheism watered down.

The mad

The mad atheists on the other hand, take their atheism neat and they are as cranky as hell at religion. They are at the vanguard of the so called “God wars” and are led by biologist and science populist, Richard Dawkins.

The “mad” atheist – Richard Dawkins. Flickr/Shane Pope

The cranky atheists claim the high intellectual ground — this year’s convention is “A Celebration of Reason”. But the unreasonable and combative attitude of their writings such as Dawkins’ The God Delusion prompts other non-believers like philosopher Michael Ruse to feel embarrassed to be an atheist.

At the so-called Reason Rally in Washington last month Dawkins is quoted encouraging the atheist crowd to publicly vilify religious believers; “Mock them… they should be challenged and ridiculed with contempt.”

This is not the stuff of civil conversation and does nothing for the cause of reason; it is the tone of atheist fundamentalism and surely not the way to challenge the other fundamentalism(s) which the New Atheists love to hate.

Less light entertainment, more serious debate

Last year, I attended the inaugural Global Atheist Convention billed as “probably the world’s largest atheist convention”. This year’s will possibly be bigger and better; better for many because it will have more comedians.

This week’s convention ostensibly celebrates reason but if the 2010 event is anything to go by, serious reasoning will not be given a hearing.

Is it a coincidence that one of the few speakers at the last convention who engaged intelligently with the issues, is missing from this year’s line up?

In 2010 philosopher Tamas Pataki opened his talk by saying that after listening to the other speakers and comedians he had come to the realisation that he would probably be the least popular speaker. He was right.

Pataki gave four reasons for this: “I have no jokes; I have no inclination to incite ridicule of the religious; I plan to do some philosophy; and I criticise some of the other atheists.”

It’s an unfortunate reflection on the lack of serious thinking at the convention that apparently Pataki was not invited back.

Taking atheism seriously

As much as they want to discard religion there is a sense in which the New Atheists are defined by it; their vitriolic anti-religious stance confirms former atheist Alister McGrath’s suggestion that:

“Western atheism now finds itself in something of a twilight zone. Once a worldview with a positive view of reality, it seems to have become a permanent pressure group, its defensive agenda dominated by concerns about limiting the growing political influence of religion.”

Although I’ve never had the pleasure of being an atheist myself, I take some varieties of atheism seriously. But when it comes to the current discussion I join forces with serious thinking atheists and hope for better than the glad de Botton or the mad Dawkins.

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200 Comments sorted by

  1. Clive Hamilton

    Professor of Public Ethics, Centre For Applied Philosophy & Public Ethics (CAPPE) at Charles Sturt University

    Nice article. When Dawkins opens his book declaring that the existence of God is a scientific question he immediately put himself in the same category as the intelligent design crew. What is the point of discussing metaphysical questions with someone who denies metaphysics?

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    1. Jake Kirk

      Student (Pharmacology major)

      In reply to Clive Hamilton

      I think even dawkins accepts he can't actually prove or disprove the existence of God though. I'm sure as a scientist, he is even more acutely aware of this fact. If God exists, no matter how strong your argument against a God existing, he suddenly doesn't disappear and pop out of existence. Likewise, no matter how strong your belief and argument *in favour* of a God existing, if theres simply nothing out there, he doesn't suddenly appear.

      Pure reason can only take us so far.

      This is why any…

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    2. Chris Mulherin

      Postgrad, tutor, lecturer at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Jake Kirk

      Jake, you say "I think its true, even though religious people would disagree with me, that they can't totally prove God exists."

      In the religious circles I mix in, I don't know anyone who would say they can "totally prove that God exists."

      There's an interesting discussion by Stanley Fish in the New York Times just recently on the idea of proof and evidence in science and religion: Part 1 is here: http://j.mp/HAitJP Part 2 is here: http://j.mp/HwLZ5S

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    3. Tim Paton

      Automotive Engineer

      In reply to Clive Hamilton

      Show some evidence of "metaphysics", and I'm sure Mr Dawkins will start taking it seriously. A paper in a reputable journal would be a good start.

      When Pell started waffling about metaphysics on Q&A the other night, I realised that the discussion had degraded into a clash of terminology. One side says "metaphysics", the other side calls it "make-believe".

      When a priest blesses a biscuit, it still looks like a biscuit and is chemically indistinguishable from a non-blessed biscuit, but [metaphysics / make-believe] has in fact turned it into human flesh.

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    4. Jeff Poole

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Clive Hamilton

      "What is the point of discussing metaphysical questions with someone who denies metaphysics?"

      Clive, when did you become a science denier?

      'Metaphysics' is unproveable by definition hence it is merely an opinion.

      Yet you and other religious people try to treat it like provable science.

      This kind of lie - and it is a lie - is precisely why Dawkins and others get so riled up.

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    5. Gavin Moodie
      Gavin Moodie is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Adjunct professor at RMIT University

      In reply to Jeff Poole

      These comments are a travesty of metaphysics, which is that branch of philosophy that considers questions above the physical. For example, we observe apples of many different shapes, colours and sizes, yet we recognise them all as apples. Clearly the physical apples exist, but is it also useful to posit the existence of the idea or concept of an apple of which physical apples are examples?

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    6. Jeff Poole

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Gavin Moodie

      Well they're a travesty to people who believe that the unreal is real.

      Those of us who don't wear those blinkers see perception, memory and imagination without the added film flam.

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    7. Gavin Moodie
      Gavin Moodie is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Adjunct professor at RMIT University

      In reply to Jeff Poole

      But this is conflating the real with the physical. That is a perfectly respectable philosophical position, of course - indeed, it is one in which Australian philosophers are distinguished. But there is an alternative position which argues that abstract entities such as number, truth and beauty also exist in a relevant sense. I suggest that position is also credible.

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    8. Jeff Poole

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Gavin Moodie

      You have every right to suggest it and i have every right to laugh and point at the silly man who thinks that there is no material difference between reality and imagination...

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    9. Citizen SG

      Citizen

      In reply to Chris Mulherin

      It is possible to examine the existence of God as a scientific question. It is possible to examine the existence of God as an ontological question from a metaphysical perspective. Mixing the two is like oil and water.
      Dawkins is right to reject religion as peurile and facile when examing from a scientific perspective. He is right to reject the conviction of a god-created universe using ockam's razor. The importance of faith in the examination of questions about being human are not scientific questions and should not fall under the aegis of scientific enquiry. Athiests are wrong to reject these aspects of faith using scientific enquiry in the same way that religious people are wrong to reject scientific enquiry by appealing to faith.

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    10. Chris Mulherin

      Postgrad, tutor, lecturer at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Gavin Moodie

      Hi Gavin,

      No serious religious person thinks that faith is beyond examination. That's more of a caricature, a straw man shot, and the kind we need to rise above if we are to have serious conversation. All positions ought to be examined. The question is what standards and types of evidence and reasons we use in that examination.

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    11. Fred Pribac

      logged in via email @internode.on.net

      In reply to Clive Hamilton

      Is metaphsyics the new word for "faith"?

      If we are trying to gain a deeper understanding of the universe and our place in it, whose metaphysics should we consider? Christian, muslim, buddhist, bon, wiccan, spiritualism, shamanistm, etc etc etc ... because they clearly do not align with each other and cannot all be a correct conception of the workings of the universe?

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    12. Citizen SG

      Citizen

      In reply to Gavin Moodie

      Gavin, My point was that those that are religious use their faith to examine aspects of humanity not subject to scientific enquiry. But they still may use reason and rationality to draw judgements upon how humans should behave/act/feel within the broad framework of their religion. Or they may not and uncritically apply the pronouncements of a 2000 year old book. It doesn't make them immune to criticism and it doesn't mean you can't challenge their reasoning but it is not a matter of scientific enquiry or even relevance. It more properly lies within the boundaries of philosophical enquiry.
      Now if you want to debate god/s from a philosophical perspective that's a more interesting matter... but god vs science, two different playing fields entirely... as pell v dawkins showed on monday night, it's not even interesting.

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    13. Citizen SG

      Citizen

      In reply to Gavin Moodie

      Depends on who's doing the thinking and your definition of faith. If you are stating that religion biases reason than yes there are many examples, creationism being one, descatre's notorious proof for god being another. Faith can be used as a tool within a reasoned argument. Eg. Moral theory can interchangeably use faith or any other arbitrary value system in certain circumstances.
      Sometimes the endpoint is invariably faith based and that is the point, ie spinoza's concept of the universe... doesn't make his reasoning flawed even though his endpoint was always going to be about the nature of god. His conclusion was surprising for his time and demonstrates that he was not necessarily biased into creating an argument for the judeo-christian god.

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  2. Grendelus Malleolus

    Senior Nerd

    So being an Anglican Minister is not considered a "relevant affiliation" for disclosure purposes?

    Amusing.

    Ahhh I be a bit cheeky true, but isn't a minister of religion commenting of his preferred varieties of atheism a bit dodgy?

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    1. Chris Mulherin

      Postgrad, tutor, lecturer at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Grendelus Malleolus

      Yes: the disclosure question vexed me briefly...

      But I doubt if shares in the Anglican Church will rise due to this article. And I know that the Anglican Church won't be paying me for writing it!

      All in all, in the spirit of the disclosure statement: nothing to disclose.

      There: all is now disclosed.

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    2. Chris Mulherin

      Postgrad, tutor, lecturer at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Chris Mulherin

      Still pondering the disclosure issue...

      The fact that I am an Anglican minister and also not an atheist (!) appears in my profile and the article respectively. But should that have been 'disclosed' in the disclosure statement as well? Excluding financial benefits from writing the article (there are none), why? What does this imply?

      If disclosure includes non-financial interests like being an Anglican minister then surely every single author on The Conversation has a disclosure issue simply…

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    3. Michael Block

      Idler

      In reply to Chris Mulherin

      I think that it's relevant in the same way that a drug company employed doctor should reveal his links when commenting about a product marketed by his employer. We all bring biases to every opinion, it just reveals your perspective to the reader and allows them more information with which to form their own opinion on it.

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    4. Stiofán Mac Suibhne

      Contrarian / Epistemologist

      In reply to Grendelus Malleolus

      Church of England only came in to being as a monarch tired of killing wives needed a religion that permitted wife killing or permitted divorce or multiple marriages or some such. So dont be too hard on an Anglican minister, its a tradition that emerged from pragmatism. A tradition that emerged from the killing of woman to ordaining them. Many would say it's not a religion at all and that's why the English went on to invent cricket so they could have something to believe in.

      I would say Anglicanism…

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    5. Jeff Poole

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Chris Mulherin

      Your 'payment' is an eternity in heaven. It may be a silly and rather pathetic fantasy but YOU believe it so it motivates you.

      I would venture to suggest that it probably motivates you as much as the love or need of money motivates others.

      Hence full disclosure - on this page - is necessary.

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    6. David Semmens

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Stiofán Mac Suibhne

      "Church of England only came in to being as a monarch tired of killing wives needed a religion that permitted wife killing or permitted divorce or multiple marriages or some such. So dont be too hard on an Anglican minister, its a tradition that emerged from pragmatism. A tradition that emerged from the killing of woman to ordaining them."

      Those objective Christian morals sure do seem very much like they're subjective...

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  3. Michael Block

    Idler

    I think that you'll find that there are many more categories beyond the limited stereotypes that you mention. How about the 'contented atheist?' Someone who has a personal ethical structure around which they choose to organise their internal life and transactions with others and who don't really care whether there's a god, gods or not?

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    1. Michael Block

      Idler

      In reply to Michael Block

      It really puzzles me that many people with religious faith not only believe that they have a mortgage on personal ethics but can't even imagine that anyone can choose to live by an ethical framework that hasn't been commanded or invested by god or gods. Many people just don't need an imposed framework or the threat or promise of an eternal life in order to lead a happy ethical life.

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    2. David Semmens

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Michael Block

      I wondered what the cost of giving up objective ethics was too. I think it's pretty clear that ethics and morals are now, and have always been, subjective. That's why the so-called objective ethics and morals that the religious ascribe to god align strongly with their own subjective ethics and morals.

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    3. Greg Horgan

      The Bush Philosopher

      In reply to Michael Block

      I'm with Michael on this one. I seem to be able to organise my atheism quite well. I source great ideas from wherever I can. I don't much care about dogmatism/fundamentalism of any variety and my internal life fits me like a well worn glove. I'm content to live without a god or gods. I am also content to allow others to see their world through their own conceptual filters too. There is room for us all.

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    4. Richard Bodle

      business

      In reply to Michael Block

      "mortgage on personal ethics" This is a common misconception put forward by athiests and is not the case at all.. at least in the case of Christian theism.. In fact Scripture teaches that all have a moral compass,..that we all can perceive a moral reality and are able to act in accord..whether one believes in "God" or not...ie humanity does not live in a moral vacuum.
      What the Theist will say however is that with the athiestic worldview there is no "objective grounds" for this moraility. Basically..if you think through the implications of secular humanism ( a common athiestic worldview for eg) morals..can be no more than illusory..

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    5. Michael Block

      Idler

      In reply to Richard Bodle

      It's a common and deliberate distortion of theists to claim that living an ethical life by choice (choice of ethical position, choice of behaviour) is illusory and empty as if meaning and validation can only come from a deity.

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    6. James Walker

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Michael Block

      "subjective ethics" = smug self-approval for doing whatever seems easy at the time.

      "absolute ethics" = Does your moral code have absolute authority? If you travelled to the edge of the universe, would it still apply? If you travelled to the beginning of time, or should you survive to the end of the universe, would it still apply?
      If so, your ethic is unlimited, unbounded, and your rightful ruler: congrats, you've just described God. If not, it's just a whim that you're following until the going gets tough.

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    7. Michael Block

      Idler

      In reply to James Walker

      There's nothing smug about my ethics James, especially in comparison to your strawman argument! I'm happy to see them as my own belief system but that I could also not have the mortgage on 'the truth' and may also be 'wrong'. If I travelled to the edge of the universe and ethical beliefs were different then how would you reconcile that with your god. My beliefs aren't a whom, they're carefully considered.

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    8. Richard Bodle

      business

      In reply to Michael Block

      Michael..again that is not what is being said. What is being said that under the Atheistic worldview, morals/ the concepts of Good and Evil are not objectively grounded.( If the can be please tell me how as I have yet to hear a explanation) & as such can these ideas can be no more than relative concepts.
      Ie what might be seen as Evil in one century.eg the gassing of Jews..might be seen for whatever reason as a good thing in another.

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    9. Peter Ormonde
      Peter Ormonde is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Farmer

      In reply to Richard Bodle

      Curious example Richard... the good folks shoveling down the zyklon-B into the showers were good christian god-fearing folks in the main...

      Can't see too much evidence of an objective moral grounding there myself.

      The chaps dropping bombs or firing V2s into London, the good Spanish Catholics who bombed Guernica, the Chilean Generals who organised the slaughter of tens of thousands and murdered Allende... they all had god on their side.

      God was in Calley's back pocket at Mai Lai. Andres…

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    10. Richard Bodle

      business

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      C`mon Peter besides this tired Ad hom....you still seemed to have completely missed the question.
      The question is not about how we come to know moral values. I`m not appealing to God at all to know that objective moral values and duties exist. The question is about the reality of
      moral values..(moral ontology) ie: under atheism how do you know that morals are " true" ?

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    11. Michael Block

      Idler

      In reply to Richard Bodle

      Richard, why is this question so important to you? I don't know if my moral values are 'true' with any certainly but I certainly don't lose any sleep over it, I follow them because I believe that it's an ethical way to live my life. Personal choice, personal responsibility. I don't need them carved on stone tablets to legitimise them. If there turns out to be a more suitable moral code to live with then I'll gladly embrace it. If someone tries to impose one that I think unsuitable then I'll oppose it. As you can see from Peter Ormonde's post, gods are not necessarily a helpful guide to morality.

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    12. Peter Ormonde
      Peter Ormonde is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Farmer

      In reply to Richard Bodle

      Ad hominem? What ad hominem?

      Just because you might take stuff personally doesn't make it ad hominem ... just that your ideas are not based in reality or history.

      You suggested earlier that religion established an objectively grounded moral framework to guide our behaviour - or at least the behaviour of believers. I'm simply pointing out that some of the greatest crimes in human history have been done by those who believed they were acting "morally" were, in fact, doing "god's work" ... like…

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    13. Michael Block

      Idler

      In reply to Richard Bodle

      Richard I think you finally understand morality. We have some degree of free will with our genetic programming limitations and abilities. It's up to us to choose well but to imply that there is a moral absolute that applies across the multiverse throughout all time without proof is conceited. I don't know if my moral values are 'true', to me this uncertainty makes them even more precious.

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  4. Jeff Poole

    logged in via Facebook

    Let's see, us 'heretics' have been stoned, drowned and burned alive for daring to speak out against the Christian religion - or merely going against its precepts - for a couple of thousand years. Right up to today, ask any African gay or lesbian person.

    And yet WE are the ones who have to show respect for the people who continue to follow this venomous faith.

    Get Real!

    Why on Earth should I show the slightest respect for any belief system that - right NOW - is killing, torturing and ruining the lives of my community throughout the world?

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    1. Jake Kirk

      Student (Pharmacology major)

      In reply to Jeff Poole

      If the belief system is doing as you say, you shouldn't have to show any respect for it. That is if it is legitimately entrenched in the belief system to begin with.

      I'm an atheist agnostic but even i realise we cant lump all believers together into a monolithic bloc. I know plenty of Christians who are fine with gay rights and to a lesser extent gay marriage. Most of them are decent, average, friendly and accepting people like you and me, its just that the idiots can shout the loudest.

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    2. Donncha Redmond

      Software Developer

      In reply to Jake Kirk

      Individual Christians may be fine with gay rights, but it's usually in opposition to the teachings of their own church. For example, I'm sure you could find many Catholics who would approve of gay marriage, and even vote in favour of it, but the Catholic Church's position, and teachings, are vehemently against it. Similarly, most would approve of the use of condoms to prevent the spread of AIDS in Africa.

      Many people who are religious pick and choose what they want from their religion. They'll take the comfort that a belief in a God can provide (often only when times get tough), but ignore the outdated teachings which are at odds with their daily lives.

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    3. Michael Block

      Idler

      In reply to Donncha Redmond

      So if you pick and choose from religious belief as it suits you are you still religious or only partly religious?

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    4. Jake Kirk

      Student (Pharmacology major)

      In reply to Donncha Redmond

      Well, it depends which church you're talking about. A lot of Anglicans seem fine with it for instance. The catholic church, just by numbers, is the largest church in the world. You have to remember, people aren't only against gay rights for religious reasons, it's also a cultural and generational thing a lot of the time.

      I think its very important to distinguish between the religion of the elite clergy and the religion of the people. There are some theories out there in the early development…

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    5. Jake Kirk

      Student (Pharmacology major)

      In reply to Michael Block

      I think this should be defined around a core set of fundamentals, in the case of Christianity, something like the Nicene creed (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_versions_of_the_Nicene_Creed_in_current_use).

      In the absence of God or Jesus actually telling us, all we have is reason and human interpretation. Obviously, if you're a believer in Christianity, you believe in all of the nicene creed. Jesus died, was resurrected, he was the messiah, resurrection of the dead on the day of judgement, ect. The really core fundamental beliefs.

      The rest depends on how literal you want to be, i mean you could construe God as having actual hands or actual eyes if you're extremely literal to the text.

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    6. Donncha Redmond

      Software Developer

      In reply to Michael Block

      I wondered that myself. If you as belonging to a particular religion are you not bound to take it as a whole? After all, teachings are usually presented as 'the word of God', so who are mere mortals to decide to accept one bit as truth and another as rubbish.

      I suppose if you don't identify with any one religion, but are still religious in that you believe in some deity/higher power, I guess you'd be free to pick and choose.

      On the other hand, the fact that the teachings are modified to fit the times (albeit usually belatedly) would indicate that they're less the 'word of God' and more the 'word of Man', so why believe any of it in that case?

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    7. Michael Block

      Idler

      In reply to Jake Kirk

      Jake, if it's the word of God then how can any of it be open to interpretation?

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    8. James Walker

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Jeff Poole

      What a delightful little persecution complex you've got going there!

      Freedom of belief starts with Christianity and Constantine - the Roman empire casually persecuted any belief that wasn't supported by centuries of tradition. Athiest countries have a far worse human rights record that *any* religion - from the Reign of Terror through to modern Albania, athiesm makes Islam look good.

      As for homosexuality: What's the oldest, largest, most famous gay pickup joint in the world? The YMCA - Young Men's Christian Association. In return, Christianity gets a constant barrage of abuse from the gay lobby, with the very sacraments of the church under attack.
      Meanwhile, what group has slaughtered gays relentlessly throughout the 20thC? Marxists, inspired by Marx himself, with Stalin slaughtering every gay he could lay his hands on. So naturally, the gay lobby is insanely left wing! A world wide case of Stockholm Syndrome.

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    9. David Jones

      Postdoctoral Fellow in High Energy Astro-particle physics

      In reply to James Walker

      Firstly, let me dissect your first point. Atheism is not at all like any of the Judeo-Christian religions, since no atheist leader has EVER killed someone for not being an atheist. Religion, in it's absolutist sense (a sense which is, thankfully no longer generally practised today, and I'm sure not what you are thinking of), has ALWAYS killed and/or persecuted people for not being like them. It comes down to the first commandment; 'I am the lord your god, you shall worship no other god but me'. So…

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    10. David Jones

      Postdoctoral Fellow in High Energy Astro-particle physics

      In reply to jamie jardine

      Except that you are completely wrong on all counts. These killings were never on religious grounds. Moral and/or societal grounds yes. And Falun Gong refugees hardly make a case for deadly religious persecution from atheists. Whatever their reason from fleeing, death from atheists is not the case. Death from communists, there you have a point.

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    11. jamie jardine

      Acupuncturist

      In reply to David Jones

      "As for Constantine, the truth that you so easily elide is that he was reacting to a particular set of political circumstances - freedom of religion be damned."

      As you rightly point out here most religous violence too has a politcal agenda, whether it be based on moral and/or societal grounds or just out and out control and manipulation of the population. Athiestic socialism is no different in that regard, just another control structure with the same agenda.

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    12. David Jones

      Postdoctoral Fellow in High Energy Astro-particle physics

      In reply to jamie jardine

      This is the fundamental problem that I have with your argument: you subscribe their actions to atheism by your " Athiestic socialism" label. This is completely wrong. Communism is not an ideal about atheism, it's (in theory) about placing the power of the masses with the people. So to ascribe the actions of insane despots to atheism is to present a fundamentally flawed argument. It doesn't matter whether Stalin believed in the Flying Spaghetti monster from Outer Space, he still would've killed millions…

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    13. Jeff Poole

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to James Walker

      Ah James Walker, wanna know why I get angry at the religious? Look in the Mirror mate.

      The level of homophobia in you, with the stereotyping and then move on to spread the usual comforting lies about atheism with a side order of islamophobia.

      Not to mention conveniently forgetting that the man who ordered the murder of hundreds of thousands of Queers and Gypsies beside the six million Jews was, of course, a Catholic...

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    14. Jeff Poole

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Jake Kirk

      Trouble is the sane(ish) christians - lets stick with them since they're MY cultural background. So much so that I was in training to be a preacher at one time.

      The sane (ish) christians NEVER stand up and tell their leaders to get real or they'll move to the less homophobic church down the road...

      Nor do these saner christians EVER bother to go and tell the whackjob Pentecostalists and Baptists to lift their game. When did you last hear of George Pell (the anti-semite see Q&A on Monday) denouncing the gay-torturing HIllsong church?

      Anglicanism in Africa is vocally supporting the legal murder of queers. Every Anglican that doesn't speak out against that barbarism, up to and including daffy old Archbishops, is just as guilty as the poofterbashers trying to get gay love made a hanging offence...

      So while the individuals might be 'nice' they are complicit in the furtherance of hatred.

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    15. Michael Block

      Idler

      In reply to James Walker

      James, the Romans actually respected the deities of conquered cultures and incorporated many of them into their own religious framework. There was a large temple to Isis in Rome for instance. They had some problems with Judaism because it denied the existence of their own gods but were very happy to accept additional gods in other cultures. Certainly they killed thousands of people, but never because their gods commanded it, always for political reasons or social control. Don't just accept your 'mass feeding of Christians to the lions' from Hollywood history

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    16. Judith Olney

      Ms

      In reply to Jake Kirk

      Wouldn't it be great if the various religious followers only judged their own. Unfortunately this is far from reality, and precisely why we have had so much conflict between different religions, and between the religious and those that do not believe.

      As someone who does not believe in any god/gods, I fully accept that this is my personal view, and do not try and force this view on others, although I am happy to discuss my view civilly. If only the religious could do the same, we would live in…

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    17. Michael Block

      Idler

      In reply to Judith Olney

      That would be ideal. The problem is that various religious groups become offended that others don't share their values and seek to impose their viewpoint on the whole community. Abortion and gay marriage are 2 examples of this in our country, imposition of sharia law in other countries

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    18. Peter Ormonde
      Peter Ormonde is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Farmer

      In reply to James Walker

      "Athiest (sic) countries have a far worse human rights record that *any* religion - from the Reign of Terror through to modern Albania, athiesm (sic) makes Islam look good."

      "...makes Islam look good"? Strewth what a pig-iggnerunt thing to say.

      This is the problem with Christians ... this smug sense of god-given superiority... never have to read another book... never have to examine the facts... just know - absolutely know - that they are possessed of a first class pass by the Lord.

      Read…

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    19. Judith Olney

      Ms

      In reply to Michael Block

      Organised religion is the tool of the tyrant, where a rational and logical reason for discrimination against a group cannot be found, the irrational and illogical will be called into play. Tyrants use our base human fear of the "other" to legitimise discrimination, religion is just one of the tools they use, racism and bigotry are others. Religion, racism and bigotry only make sense when you do not attempt to apply rational thinking, and give in to the fear.

      If religious belief was of a personal nature, where people were free to decide for themselves what type of religion they wished to believe in, or indeed not believe in, there would be absolutely no need for any organised religion.

      Like most things in the human world, it boils down to power and control, and secondary to power and control, is greed.

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    20. Judith Olney

      Ms

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      I'm not trying to convince anyone, just putting across my views. This forum is more a discussion than debate, apart from the odd troll. I enjoy a discussion that I can get my teeth into, informative and entertainment, and no fools in sight :)

      Fools are only ignorant until educated, the problem in our societies is those that are wilfully and vocally ignorant, because they don't want to be educated, knowledge would take away their excuses.

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    21. Peter Ormonde
      Peter Ormonde is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Farmer

      In reply to Judith Olney

      You've convinced me anyway Judith - intentionally or not.

      Although that Pell bloke probably put the matter to complete and eternal rest as far as I'm concerned. No wonder they use pulpits to lend a tone of authority to their ignorant silliness. I just wish he'd worn his pointy hat.

      Can you just imagine what heaven would be like filled with these pious pig iggnerunt pontificators? I reckon the warmer nether regions would be far more interesting. A better class of person entirely.

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    22. Peter Ormonde
      Peter Ormonde is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Farmer

      In reply to Judith Olney

      Might be worth having a discussion with some - but I suspect they are they ones who won't discuss it. They are the one's who don't KNOW there is a god, but just hope there is something bigger and better than us.

      The curious thing about this god-inventing species of ours is that normally rational, clever and capable people can have a foot in both camps... spending all week meticulously analysis and dissecting arguments and data and then spending their Sunday mornings listening to the divinely…

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    23. Peter Ormonde
      Peter Ormonde is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Farmer

      In reply to Judith Olney

      Yep ... you're probably right Judith... winning converts, building cathedrals and the like not to mention all those epistles and things ... running a cult could take over one's whole life if you weren't disciplined about it. Not to mention the afterlife of course.

      Still the hats are pretty cool and I was looking forward to the miracles.But I guess I'll just have to put up with being boring and sensible then. Just settle for life as it is. That's interesting enough. And much stranger and more wonderful than this religious make-believe with its pre-packaged answers

      I wonder how Pell would go on a spit. I suspect there'd be a bitter aftertaste of hypocrisy.

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    24. Judith Olney

      Ms

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      Cathedrals!!! I'm exhausted just thinking about the cost of those, we would have to have a pretty extensive tithing regime to cover that, and provide all the comforts I would expect for being a cult leader. Maybe we should ask the catholic church for pointers on how to get people to pay up.

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    25. Peter Ormonde
      Peter Ormonde is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Farmer

      In reply to Judith Olney

      Yeah tithes would be cool Judith... but it's not like any decent religious outfit has to actually pay for stuff. Ask Michelangelo. Ask my grandfather who hauled the marble for St Mary's in Sydney all the way from the NSW South Coast on bullock drays and never got a zac for it. Still they'll get their rewards in heaven won't they?... as will we all.

      Unless of course one can swing a transcendental deal, go a bit exotic ... get in on the orange robe clobber and live in opulence and insane paranoid…

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    26. Judith Olney

      Ms

      In reply to Michael Block

      Ron Hubbard is just one of very many that have beaten me to to it. The use of religion by those who wish to control others, started when humans realised the gullibility of those less intelligent then they.

      Cults have existed, and do exist, in every society, its only the format that changes.

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    27. Peter Ormonde
      Peter Ormonde is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Farmer

      In reply to Judith Olney

      Up to a point Judith ... and that is certainly what they become - vehicles for dominating and controlling others. But I'm not sure they all start out like that.

      Take Islam for example. Now what Mohammed actually managed to do was establish a set of rules that allowed a disparate mob of warring tribes all over the Saudi peninsular to stop slaughtering each other and pinching each others camels, kids and girlfriends. Simple rules of engagement - no killing women and children for example... how…

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    28. Judith Olney

      Ms

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      The higher authority and infallibility are there from the start of any cult or religion, as it was with christianity, islam, mormonism, or scientology, if these claims were not present at the beginning, the cult ideas would have been examined and found to be false. Telling people that you are a prophet of god, or indeed god himself, shuts down and meaningful examination of your ideas. The original ideas espoused by the cult leader, may have had some moral values, but these are very quickly swamped…

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    29. Peter Ormonde
      Peter Ormonde is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Farmer

      In reply to Judith Olney

      Yep ... not disputing that at all ... but sometimes perhaps most times the initial idea brings some benefits to the societies that accept them. For example, that you stop killing each other and start killing non-believers. OK it's an admittedly small incremental improvement.

      Buddhism is a bit more interesting than most I think ... not even a religion in many forms - certainly no requirement or reliance on any "god notion" but in others a deeply authoritarian force on which entire political and economic superstructures are constructed (like Tibet).

      My bacon this morning was excellent ... a truly miraculous transubstantiation. The makings of an excellent sacrament there if I'm not mistaken.

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    30. Judith Olney

      Ms

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      I see your point, but no sooner are the ideas that benefit society spoken or written down, than they are ignored or bastardised. Look at the ten commandments of the jews, christians and islam, one of them, " thou shalt not kill", (or murder as some interpret it), no sooner written then the exceptions start popping up.

      So in fact society hasn't benefited at all from this idea, or rule, because it has served to add many more justifications for killing, rather than prevent it.

      I agree with you on buddhism, more a philosophy than religion, much like Taoism. Both interesting to study, I've learnt more about humanitarianism from studying buddhism, than any monotheistic religion.

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    31. Peter Ormonde
      Peter Ormonde is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Farmer

      In reply to Judith Olney

      Well there's buddhism and then there's Buddhism Judith ... try telling the Tibetans that it's a just a philosophy... with all that silliness about reincarnation, miracles and doing pilgrimages on one's knees... or the Thai peasants who devote every spare baht they've got into propping up temples and monasteries.

      I reckon any ism ... anything with leaders and followers ...is inherently authoritarian - and in most cases the ultimate authority comes from some Ultimate Authority god like creation that speaks through the leaders.

      But meditation is probably a good thing ... long as one doesn't drift into the delusion that some sort of god is speaking to us, that he she or it cares about us, knows we exist, or has set up this whole universe business just to give us something to look at.

      I reckon if there's anything about like a god he speaks through bird song myself.

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    32. Judith Olney

      Ms

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      Totally agree, being part of the universe is more than enough for me, I don't need religion made up by other human beings, to tell me why I'm here, or who apparently planned all this, or where I'm going to end up. The journey is the exciting part for me, I don't want any fraudulent spoilers confusing truth with hubris, and trying to con me into their idea of how it all works.

      Just being is enough.

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  5. Scott Dunsdon

    logged in via Facebook

    I've never liked the "mad" type, the "sad" got me depressed at uni, and the "glad" I have more in common with - but as you say, I prefer things a little more practical.

    Perhaps there's room for a fourth type? The rational, optimistic atheist humanist. I'm hoping to see Chris Stedman on Monday night as part of a panel on atheists working alongside people of faith in productive and progressive ways.

    http://roadlesstraveled.eventbrite.com/

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  6. David Semmens

    logged in via Twitter

    I bet being misinterpreted gets Richard more 'mad' than religion. He was talking about mocking ideas not people. And there are many religious ideas worthy of mocking with contempt. That he was talking about ideas is pretty clear from what Dawkins actually said. Here is a direct quote from the transcript:

    So when I meet somebody who claims to be religious, my first impulse is: “I don’t believe you. I don’t believe you until you tell me do you really believe — for example, if they say they are Catholic…

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    1. David Semmens

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to David Semmens

      Is it not still policy on The Conversation to promptly correct errors in articles? As I point out above, Richard Dawkins did not "encourag[e] the atheist crowd to publicly vilify religious believers". I am wondering when this statement will be corrected?

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    2. Chris Mulherin

      Postgrad, tutor, lecturer at University of Melbourne

      In reply to David Semmens

      Hi David,

      I'm happy to say that yours is one possible interpretation of the quoted words. Who or what the pronoun refers to is disputable. But let's give RD the benefit of the doubt in this case. I had trouble getting an authoritative transcript of the speech. That's why I said "quoted as saying". But those who follow RD a little know that his mockery and contempt extends to more than ideas.

      But I think you're splitting hairs here: my point above is that polite and civil conversation is appropriate between people who hold serious beliefs, atheist or religious. (Which of course doesn't rule out vigorous debate and friendly banter.)

      And on that point I know that RD and you yourself disagree, as do most people who have commented here. But personally I don't think mockery of people or ideas is a great way forward for the conversation or The Conversation.

      Cheers,
      Chris

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    3. David Semmens

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Chris Mulherin

      I don't think there is much to interpret in his quote above. He is clearly speaking about ideas. And they way you quote him in your article drops the important context in which he used the words mock, ridicule and contempt. It misrepresents what he actually said. Worse, claiming that he "encouraged the atheist crowd to publicly vilify religious believers" is plain wrong and should be corrected.

      A quick search reveals a number of transcripts available online. If you are not sure about their accuracy…

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    4. Chris Mulherin

      Postgrad, tutor, lecturer at University of Melbourne

      In reply to David Semmens

      Hi David,

      This will be my last foray into the subject (and it's only because I'm assuming that you're sincerely doubting that RD is derisive about people).

      I still think you’re missing the point about civility but let me quote the only source I know at first hand: the Global Atheist Convention in 2010 which I attended myself. The audio is online: http://blogs.radionational.net.au/atheistconvention/?page_id=618

      At about 16min RD equates sophisticated theologians with “fundamentalist wingnuts…

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    5. David Semmens

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Chris Mulherin

      The Dawkins quote you link to shows him criticising people for their ideas. He doesn't call the archbishop 'barking mad', he calls his argument that spiritual healing should be covered by the NHS barking mad. It's strong, strident language indeed, but the only point he comes close to a personal attack is suggesting that John Lennox is masquerading as a scientist.

      And in the audio you link to (it's the part 2 file for those others interested) he is equating the arguments of serious theologians…

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  7. Dale Bloom

    Analyst

    Atheistism has become the New Religion, with Richard Dawkins as the New Pope.

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    1. Michael Block

      Idler

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      Dale surely a religion is a set of organised beliefs that ultimately rely on faith not proof. Atheism cannot be a religion by that definition. The Pope is the head of one particular religion, as atheism is neither a religion nor an organisation, nor is he elected by a group of cardinals on what basis is he a Pope?

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    2. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Michael Block

      Michael Block,
      There are people who seem to be just as passionate about atheism as there are people who are passionate about a religion, and such people seem to swoon at the feet of declared atheists such as Richard Dawkins, who could be their New Pope.

      There seems to be an innate human desire in most people for a belief in something bigger than oneself, and atheism seems to fit that bill for some people, but objectively speaking, atheisms is beginning to have most of the characteristics of various organised religions.

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    3. James Walker

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Michael Block

      That's an atheist's definition of religion, sure. The atheist David Hume, to be precise.
      For fun, get an anthropologist or sociologist to attempt to define religion, and watch them wibble. Can't be done.

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    4. Michael Block

      Idler

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      Dale I think that you are equating passion with religion, in which case chocolate and romantic love would also be religions!

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    5. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Michael Block

      Michael Block.
      I have also noticed a considerable amount of bigotry and intolerance amongst those who want to call themselves an atheist. They often have quite strident condemnation of someone who calls themselves religious or identifies themselves as belonging to a particular religion.

      When this occurs, atheism now the characteristics of a extremist type religion

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    6. jamie jardine

      Acupuncturist

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      Wow Dale, negative 21 votes, that must almost be a new record. You must have hit upon a raw nerve there..

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    7. Michael Block

      Idler

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      Dale I think that you are confusing bigotry and intolerance with religion and atheism. True, some religious sects may include bigotry and intolerance as a part of their creed but xenophobia is a very human characteristic, not an inherent characteristic or either atheism or religion.
      If you read Freud's Totem & Taboo you see fried making an important point that the reason we have rules, laws, social sanctions against particular impulses thoughts or behaviours is because they are a part of us. Religion could be a force for good, and whilst it is in some ways there are many obvious examples of how it enshrines and reinforces these unhelpful aspects of being human.
      It reminds me of a quote by that great wit George Bernard Shaw: Christianity might be a good thing if anyone ever tried it.

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    8. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Michael Block

      Michael Block
      Everything is chaos without organisation (see entropy).

      It is difficult to organise large numbers of people without some laws or restrictions, and corruption can enter into it.

      I have noticed Dawkins and other atheists often pick on Christianity, and seldom mention other religions, or mention such things as yoga or meditation that can also be spiritual.

      I think they have something against Christianity, and that is their main spite.

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    9. Michael Block

      Idler

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      Theism is only one organising principle for the organisation of society. dawkins focuses on Christianity because it's the predominant theism in our western society, however very little of what he says is confined only to Christianity but applies to all theisms. We can freely have these debates in Western societies precisely because the Church(es) and State have become separate and the right to freedom of belief and speech has followed from this. It would be difficult to have this discussion in many Moslem dominated countries.

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    10. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Michael Block

      Michael Block
      I would think Christians are easier to pick on because they are more tolerant of criticisms, and I think many Christians are more tolerant of criticism than many aethiests.

      There are big holes in much of science, and the more science carries out research, the more it becomes apparent that there is much that remains unknown. It reaches a point where it becomes too expensive to carry out any further research.

      As an example, it is almost impossible to know what are all the compounds in a single drop of crude oil, because it becomes too expensive to qualify and quantify all the compounds.

      So science will never find the answers to everything, and anyone who believes science can do that hasn't looked at a reseach lab budget.

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    11. Michael Block

      Idler

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      Dale I think the thing about atheists is that generally they are happy not knowing all the answers and have no need to see 'god's will' behind events that they can't explain. As you say, somethings will just remain a mystery.

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    12. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Michael Block

      Michael Block

      Well I'm glad you now realise that science research will only scratch the surface, at best.

      As for "God's will", it is mostly a Christian term, and constant attacks by atheists on Christianity are rather boring.

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    13. Michael Block

      Idler

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      Dale, I first learnt that science offers imperfect understanding in secondary school, a long time ago. Science can do much more than scratch the surface but it would never pretend to know everything about everything except as an ideal goal that will never be attained. Insha'Allah you will understand that god's will is not only a Christian concept Dale.

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    14. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Michael Block

      Michael Block

      And if atheists such as Richard Dawkins applied his criticisms to Islam as he has applied to Christianity, he may well find a certain Fatwa being applied to him.

      Which shows how tolerant and accommodating Christianity is.

      I can’t say the same about atheists.

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    15. Michael Block

      Idler

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      Dale why won't you allow yourself to say the same thing about atheists? Is it because atheists are a diverse group of people with many positions on a range of issues on a spectrum of tolerance, or because you feel that Christianity is 'under attack' and you have to 'win?'
      Are you talking about Christians as individuals who also have a diverse range of views on may issues, or about institutionalised Christianity in which case which version? Do you include the Westbro Baptist Church in your tolerant and accommodating Christianity? Are all Moslems the same? Is all organised branches of Islam as intolerant as each other? I think that you run the risk of creating straw men by oversimplifying complex issues.

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    16. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Michael Block

      Michael Block

      Many people have various spiritual beliefs, but there are atheists saying that science explains all, and spiritual beliefs are “fairy tales”.

      Science knows very little compared to what could be known, and scientists cannot form consensus on many issues. As I have mentioned elsewhere, areas of science such as social science cannot form a single scientific law despite all the money spent on it. I have also seen how science can be corrupted by ideology, and people involved with that ideology use distorted surveys and research papers to advance their ideology. The scientific method means nothing at all to quite a few people who want to call themselves scientists.

      There are also vast sums of money spent on science for the military, and a considerable number of scientists employed developing military weapons to kill.

      So in all, science is not that sparkling clean and perfect.

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    17. Michael Block

      Idler

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      Da;e nobody would disagree with you that these are some of the characteristics of human nature. Do you think that these characteristics also apply to organised religion? This is not an article on science but on atheism. Atheists and theists are also not immune from exhibiting these characteristics, there is an overwhelming litany of perversion and evil that has been committed by people in the name of religion throughout recorded history

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    18. Colin MacGillivray

      Architect, retired, Sarawak

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      Dale the reason why RD gets a bit angry at times may be
      because he is almost the only "preacher" of atheism
      on the planet. He is up against hundreds of thousands,
      perhaps millions, of god preachers from hundreds of
      varieties of god belief groups.

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    19. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Michael Block

      Michael Block
      “there is an overwhelming litany of perversion and evil that has been committed by people in the name of religion throughout recorded history”

      No exactly. Marxist and communist systems often tried to eliminate religions, but were responsible for more deaths and murders last century than any other political system in history, often through forced mass starvation and concentration camps. Mao Tse-tung is believed to be the greatest mass murder in history, possibly followed by Stalin, who killed more Russians than the Germans, but neither regimes were religious.

      Like all else, religions have positives and negatives, but I tend to think humans have an innate desire for spirituality and for a religion.

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    20. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Colin MacGillivray

      Colin MacGillivray
      RD reminds me of a certain Germaine Look At Me Greer.

      Another academic from a UK university who liked to be the focus of attention.

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    21. Michael Block

      Idler

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      Dale I give up. In your one-eyed campaign to prove the evils of atheism and the total desirability of religious belief you aren't even bothering to read or reflect on anything that I've written!

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    22. Judith Olney

      Ms

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      Atheism is the non-belief in god/gods. As an atheist I do not accept the concept of a god or gods, as there is no evidence at all to show the existence of a god or gods. If at some stage proof of the existence of god/gods can be provided, I will question my view. There is nothing wrong with challenging the ideas of the religious, the problem is that many religious people cannot separate the ideas of religion from themselves.

      I don't have a problem discussing my non-belief in god/gods, because…

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    23. Metta Bhavana

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Colin MacGillivray

      Colin, RD's self-appointed task sees him making many enemies, but at the same time eschewing any allies who may have sympathy with his views. Anger and intemperate ill-will gains little. From a Buddhist perspective there is something a little provincial and narrow minded, even obsessional, in RD's crusade for the hegemony of scientific rationalism. All scientific argument is inferential because it is constantly open to new information. A little moderation is a good starting point for all debate because…

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    24. Metta Bhavana

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Judith Olney

      Judith, from a Theravada Buddhist sociologist's point of view, the issue is not the existence of Gods. There is equally no proof they don't exist. Their existence is inconsequential. If Gods suddenly appeared in the world, the central issue - and a question you would undoubtedly raise once you had rearranged your views to accommodate these hypothetical deities - would be that they must exist in a world of impermanence and change, stress and suffering, and non-self and non-soul. If, you might ask…

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    25. Judith Olney

      Ms

      In reply to Metta Bhavana

      Arguing about god/gods is meaningless, now, as there is no evidence for their existence now. I see no evidence for their existence in the past, so can learn nothing there, and the future is unknown.

      There is only now.

      "life is so hard, how can we be anything but kind"

      "when those around you are deluded, keep your own counsel"

      Happiness to you also.

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    26. Chris Mulherin

      Postgrad, tutor, lecturer at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      Further to the grounding of morality: NYT has links to a couple of ABC articles on the subject. I quote below from the NYT (at http://j.mp/IwHEyQ ) with links to the two ABC articles.

      Cheers,
      Chris

      QUOTE:

      At the Religion and Ethics section of The Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s website, two philosophers use the quote, “If there is no God, everything is permitted,” commonly attributed to Dostoevsky, as a touchstone for considering whether there is an ultimate source of ethical authority…

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  8. Colin MacGillivray

    Architect, retired, Sarawak

    Most atheists are content to keep their belief to themselves.
    My belief is that the Big Bang was the creator of everything.
    Lots of science to back my belief up.
    If people beieve in Santa Claus or a pot of gold at the end of the
    rainbow and it doesn't affect my life, that's fine

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  9. Tim Scanlon

    Author and Scientist

    I think it is sad that "believers" can't seem to grasp the idea of people not needing a higher power to cling to. This article is another example of that failed understanding, that need to classify and deride people who wish to attain knowledge without the impediment of presumption.

    We only have to look at Cardinal Pell's statements on Monday night on Q&A to see that those bound by religious dogma are all too happy to say "God did it" rather than trying to understand it. He was ignorant of the…

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    1. jamie jardine

      Acupuncturist

      In reply to Tim Scanlon

      "even the recent Australian census form had no category for them to tick."

      If I remember rightly you could select no religion, I'm not sure why there should be a category for athiests, or maybe there should. I would still have selected no religion either way..

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    2. jamie jardine

      Acupuncturist

      In reply to Tim Scanlon

      From my understanding the ABS are only interested in religous affiliation;

      "The first level of the classification, the broad group level, comprises seven categories and provides a broad overall picture of the religious affiliation of the Australian population"

      I don't believe in marriage, but they had no category for that either, instead I had to select single, so I hear ya.. ;)

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    3. Tim Scanlon

      Author and Scientist

      In reply to jamie jardine

      Actually they had a comment that they knew it didn't adequately cover the categories and it would be reviewed again before the next census. The category is already hovering near 20% of the population, any higher and they are acknowledging that they need to figure atheists (or any other no religion) in the national decision making. Currently decision making is helping allocate funding:
      "Classification uses
      The ASCRG is for use in collecting, aggregating and disseminating data relating to the religious…

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    4. jamie jardine

      Acupuncturist

      In reply to Tim Scanlon

      How exactly do you define an athiest? Is it just that you don't believe in the God of the Abrahamic religions, or are you against all religion. The Buddhist's for example don't believe in God or any other spiritual concepts, nor do they go around starting wars, are you against them too. Bearing in mind the Latin root of the word religion means 'to bind together', do you feel bound in a common cause with your fellow athiests? So much so that you feel you need your own category on the census. Or do you just want to deny believers of their community services??

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    5. Tim Scanlon

      Author and Scientist

      In reply to jamie jardine

      Firstly, I never stated I was an atheist.

      Secondly, atheist is a non-theist. Theism is the belief in a deity or deities.

      Thirdly, being atheist doesn't make you against religion. If anything the opposite is true. Religion is the one that is against any other denomination or creed than that of any other. We are all born atheist and we are then indoctrinated into a set religious code.

      Deny believers of their services? I said the complete opposite of that. Currently money from the "non-religious…

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    6. Metta Bhavana

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to jamie jardine

      Clarifying Buddhism slightly from Jamie's comment above. "The Buddhists for example don't believe in God or any other spiritual concepts, nor do they go around starting wars, are you against them too? Bearing in mind the Latin root of the word religion means 'to bind together...'" The aim or object of Buddhist practice is directly insight - the coming to terms with the nature of reality as experienced. The indirect aim is Nibanna (nirvana), which means to "unbind," or release. The lack of crusades…

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  10. George Antony

    Retired Physicist

    It strikes me as a tad hypocritical to characterise people as "mad" an "sad" and then complain that "[t]his is not the stuff of civil conversation and does nothing for the cause of reason."

    It is not uncommon for the speakers of any convention to change from year to year. You make some rather serious claims against the organisers of the Global Atheist Convention? Could you please back them up?

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  11. Anthony Nolan

    logged in via email @hotmail.com

    Buddhists are atheists. You forgot to mention us in your ideologically driven and skewed typology. That's a big group of people who you don't even count as atheists. This is typical of how you Christians debate - misrepresent the facts all the while whining about the incivility of your erstwhile opponents like Dawkins. Try again with the typology if you want to be taken seriously.

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  12. Robert Richardson

    logged in via Facebook

    Richard Dawkins may well be seen as a fundamentalist or mad atheist, uncompromising in his rhetoric. He does aim squarely at believers and supernaturalism generally and is probably by the recent flourish of bad press jeopardizing a distinguished scientific reputation by doing so. But why does Dawkins do it? Many seem to be drawing parallels with religious fanaticism and urbane perspectives and educated sophisticates are not simply tempted to view he passion as ideological zealotry they are proclaiming…

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    1. Robert Richardson

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Robert Richardson

      arrrghh there is no edit function :/ any way you may find a mistake or two but the one I saw and you will should have "he" replaced by "his"

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  13. Mark Harrigan

    PhD Physicist

    I side with Dawkins (although he needs to develop a sense of humour!) and (the late great) Hitchens on this one.

    Religious people believe in a deity for which there is not a skerrick of evidence. They have "faith". Non-theists (or atheists of you prefer) do not have "faith". Rather, if they are genuine in their atheism, they examine reality through the best available intersubjective empiricism (best embodied by the scientific method of inquiry) and conclude that the evidence for the absence…

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    1. Richard Bodle

      business

      In reply to Mark Harrigan

      "Religious people believe in a deity for which there is not a skerrick of evidence."
      Not at all., contrary to popular (but uninformed opinion) there are strong arguments, based in science/philosophy and history for Christian theism.
      Typically Christian apologists put forward 5 arguments in a culminative case, that is argued point to the existence of God.
      These are .
      1 Cosmological
      2. Fine tuning of the Universe,
      3. Moral .
      4 Ontological
      5. Historicity of Jesus of Nazareth
      Now I am not saying that these will prove God beyond doubt , but there certainly are are arguments out there that can be put forward.

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    2. Mark Harrigan

      PhD Physicist

      In reply to Richard Bodle

      Arguments - especially teleological ones -are neither convincing nor evidence.

      Should you be able to table ACTUAL evidence I should be pleased to examine it.

      None of your points constitute aby form of evidence whatsoever.

      1) Cosmology - Cosmology seek to understand the origin, evolution, structure, and ultimate fate of the Universe at large, as well as the natural laws that keep it in order. It has nothing to with the existence of a God. Arguing that the universe must have a creator and…

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    3. Richard Bodle

      business

      In reply to Gavin Moodie

      What I`m saying is that a culminative case (much like one might present in a court of Law) can be put forward that points to the existence of God.
      Evidence takes many forms. & is not just restricted to the biological as if one might be able to put the transcendant in a test tube or specimen.
      For one think of eyewitness testimony in regard to point 5.
      I

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    4. Richard Bodle

      business

      In reply to Mark Harrigan

      Not going to get in a debate here about your views on each argument or " proof". (btwI trhink your mistaken in your synopsis of a couple of them). They are complex questions and there is pllenty to say on each point and better apologists to say it. William Lane Craig of the best Christian apologists has debated many athiests, inclduing Hitchens and Dawkins (in panel form) on these points(see them on youtube) if one is interested in the detail.

      My point is that there is a case for God that has…

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    5. Richard Bodle

      business

      In reply to Gavin Moodie

      "Not accepted/rejected" & you are who ?

      Actually many great legal minds have looked at the NTest narrative and other supporting evidences and their conlusion is a compelling case could in fact be presented in a court of law given the rules of evidence. The Gospel accounts contain much that is claimed to be independently circulated & contemporaneous, with claims to direct testimony, some here say( btw being here say doesnt necessarily make inadmissible, it may just reduce its weight ) & other…

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    6. Mark Harrigan

      PhD Physicist

      In reply to Richard Bodle

      Richard - there is NO case based on evidence - certainly not one you have established. As is the situation with many theists your arguments are specious - and indeed your logic on here is about as solid as their arguments - which is to say vacuous.

      You seem to be appealing to a standard of "evidence/reason" that doesn't exist - you certianly haven't defined it in any way that is recognisable.

      So let's focus on your courtroom analogy

      1) In a court of law there are two things that matter…

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    7. Gavin Moodie
      Gavin Moodie is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Adjunct professor at RMIT University

      In reply to Richard Bodle

      There is a basic principle of common law accepted in the UK, US, Australia and other common law jurisdictions that courts accept only direct evidence of a fact. This is to allow the other side to test the strength of the eye witness account. Secondary evidence is rejected as hearsay.

      You have referred only to hearsay, which would be rejected by all common law courts. You need to provide an eye witness account or other direct evidence.

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    8. Richard Bodle

      business

      In reply to Mark Harrigan

      ?No case based on evidence"
      Of course there is.. On Christian theism God has provided the stupendous miracles of the creation of the universe ex nihilo and the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, for which events there is good contemporary scientific and historical evidence..—not to mention those based in natural theology which contrary to your opinion are useful in that at the least they demonstrate that theism is the more coherant worldview. As I have said a compelling case based in Science/History/deductive reason and logic can be built in suppport of Christian theism.
      Really it makes me laugh when the athiest are given all still manage to cry.."but there is no real evidence". What sort of evidence
      do you want. ?

      Btw I would argue that it is actually on Athiesm (the position that there is no God) that there is absolutely no evidence to support and little argumentation that can can stand.

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    9. Michael Block

      Idler

      In reply to Richard Bodle

      Richard, your 'eyewitness accounts' are generally accepted by Biblical scholars to have been written about 400 AC. Hardly 'eyewitness' nor hot news.

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    10. Richard Bodle

      business

      In reply to Gavin Moodie

      Not sure where you are getting your info from.

      Firstly the NT narratives are considered as a compilation of about 7 independently circulated historical source. Without going into too much detail, many are reported as eyewitness/direct testimony, some indirect and some hearsay. Then there is a raft of other supporting evidences that meld with the primary sources. Together Historians who using proper method and criteria (much like a police investigator) & are able to paint an accurate picture of the man Jesus of Nazareth.

      But back to your points.. I intimated in my previous posting..that there are are exceptions to the hearsay rule, so it actually can be admitted at times.
      Also not sure what you think "secondary" evidences are but it is a broad category and types of secondary evidences certainly can be admissible.

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    11. Gavin Moodie
      Gavin Moodie is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Adjunct professor at RMIT University

      In reply to Richard Bodle

      Even were the stories in the new testament by eye witnesses, which I reject for the reasons given by Michael Block above, they may have been accepted by a court 2,000 years ago. They wouldn't be accepted by a court today.

      The exceptions to the hearsay rule are limited and certainly would not admit any part of the new testament.

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    12. Richard Bodle

      business

      In reply to Gavin Moodie

      Gavin not sure where you and Michael and gleaning your info from but to say that the NT sources date as late as 400AD is certainly not in keeping with what historical scholarship tell us.
      The Gospels/ Acts of the Apostles & letters of the epistles, are dated at between 60-62 AD for the Book of Acts a mere..30 + years after the life of Jesus and well within the lifetime of living witnesses. (btw some scholars even date Mark & 1st Thess to 50-52 AD only 20 odd years after the events)..through…

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    13. Richard Bodle

      business

      In reply to Gavin Moodie

      Gavin not sure where you and Michael and gleaning your info from but to say that the NT sources date as late as 400AD is certainly not in keeping with what historical scholarship tell us.
      The Gospels/ Acts of the Apostles & letters of the epistles, are dated at between 60-62 AD for the Book of Acts a mere..30 + years after the life of Jesus and well within the lifetime of living witnesses. (btw some scholars even date Mark & 1st Thess to 50-52 AD only 20 odd years after the events)..through to…

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    14. Peter Ormonde
      Peter Ormonde is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Farmer

      In reply to Richard Bodle

      Richard,

      I suspect that these dates regarding the New Testament are referring to the Great Cull of the Nicene ecumenical conference in 325 when the 146 books of the gospels were reduced to a far more manageable four. The rest were literally banned and stuck on the codex.

      I prefer my New Testament a bit more Byzantine myself ... one less king and a lot fewer popes.

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    15. Michael Block

      Idler

      In reply to Richard Bodle

      Even if your dating speculation is accurate, where is the original eyewitness account? Don't tell me that you are relying on generations of hand copied accounts, translated into multiple languages across multiple cultures, generations etc and still claim that every word is a literal exact translation of the original account that was first written down with total accuracy even 20 years after the events?

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    16. Michael Block

      Idler

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      Richard do you have any information on how the meeting at Nicene managed to determine which of the 146 books of the word of god were the true word of god?

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    17. Mark Harrigan

      PhD Physicist

      In reply to Richard Bodle

      Any evidence will do - so far you've offered none.

      That Jesus rose from the dead is a claim without substantiation.

      Your claim that theism is a "more coherent worldview" is just an assertion - you offer no evidence or arguments for it. Are you even aware of understand the evidence from evolutionary psychology which explains why theism (the assignation of an intelligent agency as a cause to unexplained events) was a beneficial survival mechanism before the rise of civilisation?

      You've also…

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    18. Richard Bodle

      business

      In reply to Michael Block

      Gavin just to reinterate..these datings arnt just my "speculations".
      This is what the experts/historical Scholarship tell us. This is reliable information. Check
      it out for yourself, but I suggest staying away from skeptical blog sites for your info as these are generally not
      objective and rarely refer to mainstream expert opinion.
      Really its quite sad to see all the misinformation out there in blog space. "No eyewitness accounts or contemperaneous accounts/NT accounts nothing but Chinese…

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    19. Richard Bodle

      business

      In reply to Gavin Moodie

      Gavin just to reinterate..these datings arnt just my "speculations".
      This is what the experts/historical Scholarship tell us. This is reliable information. Check
      it out for yourself, but I suggest staying away from skeptical blog sites for your info as these are generally not
      objective and rarely refer to mainstream expert opinion.
      Really its quite sad to see all the misinformation out there in blog space. "No eyewitness accounts or contemperaneous accounts/NT accounts nothing but Chinese…

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    20. Gavin Moodie
      Gavin Moodie is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Adjunct professor at RMIT University

      In reply to Richard Bodle

      You may find these accounts persuasive, but they wouldn't be accepted in a court, which was your initial claim. They are not affidavits and they do not fit any of the few exceptions to making the witness available for cross examination should the other side or court require. And even were the witnesses living and their testimony accepted, any cross examination would expose numerous inconsistencies and gaps in their evidence which would destroy their credibility.

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    21. Richard Bodle

      business

      In reply to Mark Harrigan

      "Offered none..Claims without substantiation"
      Well I offered a couple ..there is strong evidence offered in regard to to the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth/Gospel accounts (see my other post to Mark & Micheal) and other evidence based in science/cosmology which claim the creation of the universe Exnihilo/past finite universe, now supported by the latest in cosmology, see Big bang also Borde, Guth, and Vilenkin’s Past-Finite Universe theory. As Vilenkin states "cosmologists can no longer hide…

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    22. Mark Harrigan

      PhD Physicist

      In reply to Richard Bodle

      Richard - it's an interesting debate and I thank you for conducting it civilly - but I am now going to offer a comprehensive rebuttal.

      1st lets deal with your "rebuttal"of the absence of evidence argument - well it doesn't rebut the mathematical argument at all (though likewise I thank you for the link - 'twas interesting).

      The fact is - as the maths shows - absence of evidence for the existence of god IS evidence of absence - it is proven by the Bayesian probability logic in the link I provided…

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    23. Richard Bodle

      business

      In reply to Gavin Moodie

      Agree to disagree..but again Gavin..it does not matter a skerrick if I find the accounts persuasive. What matters is that the overwhelming majority of mainstream Historical Scholarship..you know those experts who are trained in assessing all the evidences and have those available to them..who are trained to assessment using Historic analysis & most importantly, their findings are peer reviewed...that they find the accounts persuasive. As I said they can tell us with certainty much about Jesus life/deeds…

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    24. Gavin Moodie
      Gavin Moodie is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Adjunct professor at RMIT University

      In reply to Richard Bodle

      You initially claimed that the existence of a christian god is established to a legal standard of proof, which is clearly not the case.

      As to the historical standard, it establishes that a jewish reformer with messianic tendencies was active in in Roman Judaea around 30 of the common era, but not that he is part of a trinity of gods. Apart from anything else, there are numerous muslim and jewish historians who do not accept the christian position.

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    25. Richard Bodle

      business

      In reply to Gavin Moodie

      "You initially claimed that the existence of a christian god is established to a legal standard of proof, which is clearly not the case"

      Gavin sorry for any confusion that I might of caused but this this is not what I have said. I certainly do not think that this is the case.
      What I said was that a culminative case can be put forward that "points" to the existence of God as revealed in scripture...& part of this case would be establishing the "historicity" (not the divinity.. which is a theological question) of the man Jesus of Nazareth.. Really I`m not asking the earth at this point.

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    26. Chris Mulherin

      Postgrad, tutor, lecturer at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Richard Bodle

      Sorry: I just posted this in reply to another string. It was meant to go here.
      -----------------------
      Further to the grounding of morality: NYT has links to a couple of ABC articles on the subject. I quote below from the NYT (at http://j.mp/IwHEyQ ) with links to the two ABC articles.

      Cheers,
      Chris

      QUOTE:

      At the Religion and Ethics section of The Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s website, two philosophers use the quote, “If there is no God, everything is permitted,” commonly attributed…

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    27. Richard Bodle

      business

      In reply to Mark Harrigan

      "our epistemic situation does not permit us to think that, if God existed then we would expect to have evidence sufficient to know that he does...circular Logic"

      Not sure If he is sayin this Mark ..Craig says , I quote "The Evidence Expectation Criterion — which you will recall said that if an object O existed, then we would expect there to be evidence for it — is not always satisfied by our epistemic situation concerning knowing whether God exists.

      To be honest ..there are so many things…

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    28. Richard Bodle

      business

      In reply to Gavin Moodie

      Sorry might of been clearer. What I had in mind when I said that was in regard to a court setting was in regard to the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth specifically, ie bringing forward all the NTest and associated evidences that are available ..then allowing reasoned conclusions to be made about what actually occurred.. taking all the evidences into account.. much like what might occur at a Coroners inquest for example..

      Now this would just form part of a culmative case or argumentation for the existence of God, which might include other arguments Science/Cosmology/Philosophy/ Logic and reason.

      Now all these cannot prove God to a "legal standard of proof" (I never said this btw)..but I believe such a case would bring foward points that beg the question.

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    29. Mark Harrigan

      PhD Physicist

      In reply to Richard Bodle

      Richard - as others have noted - all you do is keep reframing your statements in order to avoid admitting error (or perhaps to avoid the cognitive dissonance associated with the lack of logic in your arguments). I find all your statements to be inconsistent and circular.

      I also wonder WHY it is so important to you to establish that there IS Evidence for God's existence when time and again your arguments have shown to be circular or illogical (or you have shifted ground). I asked this of you…

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    30. Richard Bodle

      business

      In reply to Mark Harrigan

      "You've still totally failed to address the issue with Jesus - more hand waving doesn't cut it - to establish his divinity you need evidence for divine acts - and hearsay doesn't cut it - "

      Cmon Mark..I cant be clearer. Firstly Im not trying to establish his "divinity," All I`ve done is present the facts as outlined by historical enquiry, then asked the objective enquirer to let them lead where they may...with the possibility of opening the door to a transcendant explantion. When looking at the…

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  14. Jeff Poole

    logged in via Facebook

    Sad theists
    The ones who cling to belief because they can't cope with loneliness or some other negative aspect of humanity.

    Glad theists
    Happy clappy churchgoers who have no idea their 'tithe' is being used to torture queer folk in 'exgay' ministries.

    Mad theists
    The kind who believe the literal truth of their holy book discounting all objective reality that our planet is more than 6k years old as shown by geology, astrophysics, biology.

    Bad theists
    The church leaders who, despite knowing that their faith is a lie, continue to mentally torture their flocks with promises of 'healing and wholeness'.

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    1. Andrew

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Jeff Poole

      One more that I've seen:

      Manipulative theists

      Laity who, like their "Bad theist" cousins, lie, cheat, and mentally torture their friends, family, and neighbors into believing in fairy tales.

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  15. Gavin Moodie
    Gavin Moodie is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Adjunct professor at RMIT University

    It is useful to distinguish between a religion and its institutionalisation in a church. Thus, while it is fair to blame various churches for burning witches, the Inquisition, the crusades, the 30 years war, etc, the Quakers and even christianity before 400 CE demonstrate that these evils aren't necessary features of christianity.

    While religious beliefs are delusional, I don't think it is kind or constructive to attack people for their religion. It is far better to direct one's energies against the harmful practices and prejudices which are cultural and institutional accretions on the core doctrine. Thus, one should criticise christian churches' homophobia rather than their adherents' belief in Jesus' resurrection.

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    1. Judith Olney

      Ms

      In reply to Gavin Moodie

      Organised religion seeks to legitimise discrimination and oppression, if religion was simply a matter of personal religious belief, there would be no organised religion as we know it today. Individuals that believed in discrimination and oppression of others, based on religious belief, would never have gained the power to harm others, the only way that the power of the individual can be used against others, is to form a group of like minded people, and use their collective power to oppress and control others.

      If you identify as part of a religious group, you tacitly agree with the discrimination and oppression of others, by that group.

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  16. Michael Shand

    Software Tester

    Are there 3 types of femminist? 3 types of homosexuals? 3 types of religious believers?

    Fail, massive Fail but nice try. Honestly the Article in The Age did better than you guys here and that is shocking

    Might I suggest viewing new atheism as a social movement much like the LGBT and the Black rights movement. That would probably be more accurate and helpful.

    Question; Can we put all humans into these three groups?

    Sad, Glad and Mad? If not then why do this specifically for atheism? If so then why single atheists out in this example?

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    1. Judith Olney

      Ms

      In reply to Chris Mulherin

      We humans just love taxonomy :)

      I have a system of classification based on the levels of desire for power over other human beings. This system can be applied equally to many areas of human life.

      Nominal- those that don't like to look too deeply at what they claim to believe, or advocate. They don't desire power over others, to any great degree, and don't want to think too much. They pretty much go along with the majority view, and tend to only seek information that confirms their nominally…

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    2. Michael Block

      Idler

      In reply to Judith Olney

      I think that there's another group - the activists, who are motivated by ideals. Some of these can appear tyrannical if they try to work from outside the group to bring about change. Others try to bring about change from within. Power is a means to an end with this group, not the end in itself. Many people within church organisations would fall in this group

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    3. Judith Olney

      Ms

      In reply to Michael Block

      Good point Michael, my classification system can certainly be expanded to include activists. Subversion has a long history of keeping the worst excesses of tyrants in check.

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  17. Christine Harris

    student

    And what about agnostics, those of us who believe that human's don't have the capacity to know if there is or isn't a god? In fact Richard Dawkins himself says that any decent scientist has to acknowledge that they can't disprove there is a god. So why does he continually call himself an atheist? I find the whole idea of atheism as fundamental as many religious zealots.

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  18. Colin MacGillivray

    Architect, retired, Sarawak

    Belief in god is a defect in the human brain.
    In time MRI and other scientific methods will be able to identify where it resides and remove it.
    Problem solved, no more discussion.
    Which is a pity because this Conversation is excellent.

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  19. Fred Pribac

    logged in via email @internode.on.net

    I don't like the term "atheist" (without-deity) for one very simple reason.

    It defines a group of people not for a proclivity to evidence based thinking but by an absence of belief in hypothetical metaphysical entities.

    It places the hypothetical metaphysical entities at the centre of the debate rather than issues of rationality!

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    1. Fred Pribac

      logged in via email @internode.on.net

      In reply to Gavin Moodie

      I haven't come up with anything that doesn't sound lame! Any ideas?

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    2. jamie jardine

      Acupuncturist

      In reply to Gavin Moodie

      Well there you go, it's a nice all inclusive term. Something we can all agree on :)

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  20. Metta Bhavana

    logged in via Facebook

    I declare first that I am a Theravada Buddhist - one of the groups sadly, but not madly, or gladly - missing, often deliberately excluded, from the current debate. I can only quote a Buddhist monk from Sri Lanka, who was attending a religious "conference" in Malaysia - you know, one of those get togethers where groups of people, who via their own scriptures and evidenced by their brutal history, consider each other the enemy, but put aside the animosity and the burning torches just long enough to…

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  21. Peter Ormonde
    Peter Ormonde is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Farmer

    OK let's take this religion stuff with the weight it deserves.

    Here's a thorny theological issue:

    Your hindus - who know heaps about gods having about 220,000 of them at best count - have a bit of an issue.

    One of these aforementioned deities - Shitala - is the god of smallpox. Now with this pox being eradicated by western science Shitala now finds herself rather redundant.

    Now what does a redundant deity actually do? How do they fill in their eternal time? Is there an option of religious retraining? Perhaps reassignment to a more modern malady?

    My only problem with Dawkins - other than the Selfish Gene which was plain silly - is that he takes religion and superstition far far too seriously. He gets upset and annoyed when should laugh at them - like god would if he could.

    But as for argument and discussion, I'd rather argue with my dog. He worships a hard yellow ball. But then it does give him the odd treat.

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  22. Mark Harrigan

    PhD Physicist

    I'm the type of atheist that is prepared to acknowledge that Jesus Christ may well be one of the greatest moral philosophers (I use the term loosely) who ever lived.

    But not a deity.

    Not perfect either - and one where many of his followers (not all) alas have perverted, twisted and subverted his guidance to enable them to wear a cloack of ignorance, bigotry and intolerance and yet claim a special status they don't deserve. This is readily apparent in the religous institutions that are founded in the name of their supposed "god".

    Let faith be a personal guiding light. No more and no less. Then it would indeed be a force probably for good rather than for evil as it so readily becomes.

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  23. Rose Meriel

    Senior analyst

    Whatever else you can say about religion, you can't really say it's reasonable. It's beyond reason, reason has nothing to do with it. For me as an atheist that's probably not a good thing, for you as a non-atheist I guess it is, but still, surely it's incontrovertible.

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  24. Metta Bhavana

    logged in via Facebook

    From a "declared" Theravada Buddhist position, Buddhists have no interest in Gods, except for a view that they do feature as social talismans, as a way humans use to release stress and suffering. It is the stress and suffering and what to do about it that is the point, not whether or not Gods are involved.The current Anglo-European debate over God is therefore viewed as a redundant one but an old one, and very familiar. In the present conversation, it is a culturally and historically centred notion…

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    1. Peter Ormonde
      Peter Ormonde is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Farmer

      In reply to Metta Bhavana

      Yes Metta the philosophy and practice of meditation and buddhism has much to recommend it - and it certainly cannot be called a religion when practised as prescribed.

      However, this is often not the case and rather than becoming a source of liberation and transcendence institutionalised Buddhist monasticism of the sort practised in Tibet and even in Thailand seem to have all the trappings and superstition of a god bothering religion complete with ceremonial chanting at every possible public opportunity…

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    2. Metta Bhavana

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      Yes, you are right Peter, the public view of some aspects of ritualism implicit in the latter day Tibetan Mahayana beliefs are a little outside the original Buddhist teachings. Theravada Buddhism and the Suttas where the Buddha himself discusses such things, clearly indicates it is false to read reincarnation the way the Tibetans do. Pursuing rites and rituals falsely hoping this will lead to enlightenment are also seen as hindrances to clarity of mind. In cultural terms there are no actual institutions…

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    3. Metta Bhavana

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Metta Bhavana

      Thanks Peter, that reference on warlike Buddhists is a reminder of the socially and historically conditioned nature of the debate, which really isn't about Buddhism, but about the human characteristics of greed, ill-will and delusion. Historical examples of people acting badly don't change the central, personal need - opportunity - we have to explore experiences of hate and animosity and clouded thinking that may arise. What builds conflict from apparently little provocation? What hardens beings…

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  25. Shirley Birney

    retiree

    Up to and beyond mid 20th century, the Christian God was an angry, threatening “fire and brimstone” deity. So what divine miracle occurred for the Christian God to become “all-loving?” Do Christians "in the know" have an exaggerated feeling of self-importance?

    I take issue with Christians who view the intelligence of other species as insignificant. Humans, after all, are special only to themselves.

    “As for the children of men, it is God’s way of testing them and showing that they are in…

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