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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A Very Old Fashioned Atheist

I attended a disappointing debate tonight at Manchester University ... a face off between the atheist Professor Peter Atkins and the Christian apologist and philosopher, Dr. William Craig.  I say disappointing because Atkins proved to a very old fashioned atheist, not in any way a match for the erudition and sparkling brilliance of Craig. 

Atkins is one of the last of a dwindling breed of positivist atheists of the old school in whose company we might number Bertrand Russell and Freddie Ayer.  Atkins is a chemist so we should not be surprised that, without quoting him, he should venerate the great Laplace who famously declared concerning God: "I have no need of that hypothesis." 

For Atkins "God" is simply a ridiculous competing explanatory principle for the world that science and science alone must decode.  On this ground he was as equally excoriating of philosophy as theology.  So "God sneezes and the east wind doth blow."  This is very old hat "God-of-the-gaps-stuff."  Apart from a "Christians eat babies" type horror story at the end of the debate about a fundamentalist pastor instructing his faithful to throw away their pill bottles he had only one theme, and that belonged to Laplace.  Of course we also had some extraordinarily blind asides.  Consider Voltaire's "As long as people believe in absurdities they will continue to commit atrocities."  So, who exactly were the architects of the "Reign of Terror" then?  Be careful of that old lady who believes in faeries .... she may be prove to be an axe murdress! 

Anyway my main point is that there seems to be an intellectual deterioration in these atheists.  They have become irrational angry old men, somewhat disoriented by the fact that religion has not withered on the vine as they had once hoped.  Reduced to emotive rhetoric and unsubstantiated declarations on the folly of religion and the impossibility of miracles Atkins failed even to evoke sympathy in his hearers (judged by the length of the applause; unaccountably the floor was not allowed to speak). No wonder that Dawkins would not debate with Craig.  I doubt whether any of these popularising atheists (old or new) would have proved his match.  Bring it on!


David Milne said...

Voltaire's comment would also have included the people who perpetrated The Reign of Terror, so it is disengenuous of you to suggest that Peter Atkin's comment referred only to the religious as carrying out abominable acts. Being religious or non-religious is absolutely no guarantee of good behaviour (or bad, for that matter). However, one of religion's main claims is that it promotes love, peace and harmony whilst conveniently ignoring the bad stuff that goes on in it's name. Atkins was quite right to remind the audience of this. Consider too, that your God is a practicing racist, homophobe, misogynist, supporter of, and rule giver, for slavery, and a genocidal maniac who makes political alliances with mortal men and wipes out whole tribes of humans for his own sordid ends. A failure to deal with the reality of this monster is a major reason why the religious spend so much time making up excuses for such appalling behaviour by their leader and (saviour!). It's also the reason that so many horrors have been carried out in his name, both in the past and the present. An understandable cowardice on the part of the religious to criticise the imaginary entity on whose words and actions you would like the rest of us to live our lives! Surely this is a real example of irrationality, as opposed to that which you unfairly accused Peter Atkins of? Finally, you may recall that of the two speakers, it was only Atkins who rightly said that he had 'no evidence' for or against the existence of a God. No such honesty from William Lane Craig, though, who on at least two occasions, claimed to have provided 'scientific evidence' for the existence of God. Really? Let me give you one example of his fantasy: You may recall that when discussing evidence for the Resurrection, he said, and here I'm paraphrasing, that 'scholars have come to the conclusion that this (the resurrection)is the only possible answer to these events.' And that simplistic statement was meant to be 'scientific evidence,' was it? Save me from frauds and people who can't recognise them! I'm also looking forward to seeing the video, because there are other examples of his fast-talking flim flam that I shall take considerable delight in exposing. As you said, Gregory, 'bring it on!' See you tomorrow night. Regards, David.

Father Gregory said...

QUOTE: "Consider too, that your God is a practicing racist, homophobe, misogynist, supporter of, and rule giver, for slavery, and a genocidal maniac who makes political alliances with mortal men and wipes out whole tribes of humans for his own sordid ends."

Uhmmm ... this is the God is it of whom St. John said (He) "is Love"? Of whom Jesus Himself showed to be solicitous of even sparrows. Wake up David. It's people who sin, not God. You may be a naive fundamentalist / literalist in relation to Scripture, but I am not. Your response just goes to show how fundamentalism and atheism are joined at the hip. You deserve each other. But it's not my game. Play on the right pitch.

David Milne said...

Well, it's all there in the Bible, Gregory, and sometimes in the first person too! And yes, of course I know it's people who do bad things. My point is that the appalling behaviour of God in the Bible is used to justify appalling behaviour by humans. Surely you can acknowledge that simple fact? And, if you would claim that 'God is love,' it demonstrates the very blindness of the religious to their own writings, which of course was my original point. This means that if somebody believes in the Fall (such a lovely term!) and the Resurrection, but ignores the horrors perpetrated by God, then that person would be 'cherry-picking' from the Bible to suit their own version of what they think God should be! In addition, this would demonstrate that that person, a mere mortal, was in effect claiming to 'know what God actually meant.' Hmm. My eyes are open, Gregory, and you may want to pretend that we are both playing on a 'different pitch' - but frankly I've heard that one before, and it invariably means that the utterer is on weak ground.

Father Gregory said...

What you are not getting David is that you are interpreting theism from a fundamentalist perspective. Take for example Abraham's call (apparently from God) to sacrifice Isaac. How monstrous! Indeed. Yet child sacrifice was utterly unknown amongst the Jews .... but very common in the Chaldean society from which Abraham hailed. A fundamentalist / literalist interpretation of the text has God actually wanting Abraham to murder his only son. A contextual interpretation makes it clear that although Abraham's loyalty is established the actual command of God that overrides Abraham's received notion (that this is what the one true God must want) is precisely the opposite. The child is not to be harmed and the substitute ram is discovered caught in the thicket. From that point onwards, animal sacrifices are established in Judaism as opposed to child sacrifices. When Christ sacrificed himself on the cross those animal sacrifices came to an end. Revelation is not a once for all done deal in which all human actions have divine sanction. There is progression as humans get a better understanding of God. Without this contextual understanding of religious texts fundamentalism and atheism continue to have a happy marriage. Your problem is that you can only establish your atheism on a parody of religion. The fact that some believers themselves live out this parody is hardly surprising. Welcome to the human race.

Father Gregory said...

For the benefit of other readers ... I have offered to meet David for dialogue. He lives locally. He knows that I would prefer to debate with him face to face as stand offs between atheists and theists on the internet generate usually more heat than light. I will therefore continue my conversation with him in person but not here.

David Milne said...

Thanks, Gregory, I'm more than happy to meet face to face, as you suggest.
Although I do think you were perhaps being a little harsh on us both when you suggested that such discussions held online 'generate more heat than light' - I'd actually thought we were having quite a decent conversation...None the less, I shall abide by your request and I look forward to meeting you this evening. David.

Anonymous said...

Bless father, I wish you would have continued to argue with David here as well as there. More light than heat at the moment. I hope I could be a fly on the wall where you meet face to face. lol

David Milne said...

Dear hartleyd,

I'd be very happy to continue the online discussion with Fr. Gregory, and would welcome any imput from his congregation (of which I'm assuming you are a member?) during the discussion. If Fr. Gregory is unwilling to continue in this format, perhaps he and I could have a discussion / debate somewhere convenient for the congregation to gather and ask questions?
Anyway, glad you seem to have been enjoying what has already been said.
best wishes, David.

Old English Church said...

Dear Mr Milne, I come under the authority of Father Gregory and I am in communion with the Orthodox Church, the Church that Christ set up when He was on the earth (

I am a simple man, not a priest or a scholastic theologian and I hold no relevant secular religious qualifications, so there is nothing that I can say or do to help you with your unbelief, lack of faith or misunderstanding of scripture (See: Anyone who thinks that they can or will ever understand the mind, essence, energies or reasoning of God is, in my opinion, clearly delusional and should seek help.

During my search I wanted to find the truth and I found it in Orthodoxy. The decision that you need to make is:

Should I:
a) wait until I die in the condition of the fallen 1st Adam or
b) remain by the pool, drifting in and out of Grace
c) purify my soul to receive the Bridegroom today while I still have time or
d) just say, 'it's all too much, I will wait for Judgement'.

Should you make the right choice, you will then come to learn the true fear of God, which is to have found the Bridegroom and attained this union with Him and then any thought of life without this union is terrifying...

In Christ, His unworthy servant,

Constantine Georgiades

Katerina said...

Did you meet, Father and David?

The point I missed along the way, David, was allowing God to BE.
Faith is not an intellectual experience or understanding, but a flame of warmth that gently, yet sometimes violently, brings change.
The next thing He gave me to understand was that He does not take me through or to things that He himself has not experienced.
It says in scripture somewhere "it is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God" but then you find that, actually, it's ok, because there are the holes to fall through and he stands you by His side, and takes you home.
Peace be with you.

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