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New Atheism has lost its reason

The standard of debate has declined rapidly since the age of Bertrand Russell. It’s up to Catholics to restore intelligence to the God debate

By on Friday, 30 March 2012

Is atheism on the increase, and if so, can we do anything about it? This was a question put to me the other day, and I am surprised it isn’t asked more often.

In 1965 Pope Paul VI asked the Jesuits to take on the task of combating atheism (you can read about that here). I remember being with some Jesuits once who mentioned this, and wondered just what this meant in practice. One Jesuit said modestly that he had done his bit already, having debated the existence of God with Bertrand Russell on the radio. That had been in 1947, and there is a transcript, which is well worth reading, here. 

The debate between Fr Coplestone and Russell is terribly old-fashioned by today’s standards in that it was immensely civilised. Whether atheism is on the increase is hard to measure, but one thing is sure: the terms of debate have changed.

Once upon a time, there used to be people called unbelievers with whom the Catholic Church sought dialogue. These sorts of people have faded from the scene to be replaced by a newer breed, people like Professor Dawkins; compare him to Russell, and you see how far we have come, and not in a good sense. There was a time when unbelievers made common cause with Catholics on certain social and moral issues – nuclear weapons for example – but that too seems a thing of the past.

What changed? The answer lies in the events of 9/11, which marked out religion as the enemy of modernity. Religion could from then on be identified as the root of all evil.

This is a huge oversimplification, though it does have a grain of truth in it. Fundamentalism is indeed the enemy of modernity, but not all religion is fundamentalist. Nevertheless, despite its long and distinguished intellectual history, there is a constant failure to make the distinction between Catholicism and fundamentalism.

And here is the problem: the Catholic faith requires a nuanced approach if it is to be properly understood; the sledgehammer assault from contemporary atheists is not interested in nuances, nor in rationality, nor in matters of the intellect. The sledgehammer assault chimes in well with our modern soundbite culture and makes sense to many who are quite ignorant – thanks in part to falling education standards – of the language of religion and religious culture.

The God Delusion is a ludicrous and laughable book. Terry Eagleton said: “Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology.”

One can read his excellent review of the book here. But the sad fact is that Eagleton is an intellectual, in a way that the general public, for whom Dawkins was writing, is not. While Eagleton represents the best counter-blast to Dawkins to date, nevertheless, it remains a fact that Dawkins (and Dan Brown for that matter) is the media superstar and Eagleton is not.

When the public turns their back on subtlety of argument, people, believers or not, ought to be worried.

So, what can be done? How can we oppose atheism today?

I have written about this before: what we need is to learn from the past, particularly the success of the Counter-Reformation. 

We need to make sure we are passing on the content of the faith, whole and entire. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is useful, but we also need some good course books for use in the classroom, adapted for local use. We must not flinch from being intellectually coherent. Now is not the time to lose faith in reason. More than this, we need to demonstrate the intrinsic worth of the Catholic brand in education, but also in art, in music, and the quality of our community life.

In the end Communism failed not because someone out argued the Hegelians, but because people saw where it led – the Gulag. The single biggest weapon in the armoury of modern anti-Catholicism is the child abuse scandal. We need a moral reformation in the Church, we need new saints, and we need to communicate our joy in being Catholic.

  • Acleron

    A child inventing imagery and exploring the world is much to be preferred to a child indoctrinated with irrational and indefensible ideas.

  • JabbaPapa

    The fundamental problem, again, in this position of Dawkins which IIRC you are paraphrasing accurately enough (thank you), is that it should be rejected at the very basic level of its premises and definitions !!

    1) there are three mutually conflicting but common definitions of God floating round

    This statement is factually wrong. First, there are far more than these three concepts, which are by the way derived essentially from deism (and atheism) rather than from any of the religions (apart from some of the whackier sects of Protestantism or Islam). Second, the description of them as “mutually conflicting” is inaccurate as a historical statement, a bald statement that is unsupported by evidence, and is ignorant of the actual processes of theological exegetics and hermeneutics — where different statements are very often defined as complementary rather than “conflicting”.

    The underlying fallacy is that God must obey the limitations of these sorts of human conceptions of Him.

    2) The Supernatural God – omniscient, omnipotent, who created the universe and miraculously intervenes in it.

    This conception of God is, again, deist — and it is also a spectacularly reductionist one !! God as defined in mainstream Islamic theology would not obey that definition, for starters, because they consider God as being perfectly immaterial in nature, and as being inherently hostile to the impurities of material existence. And I won’t even detail the definitions of God in Buddhism, or Graeco-Roman paganism, nor etc — except to say that there is a plethora of definitions of God that would be fundamentally incompatible with such a definition.

    Going from this definition leads ineluctably to : false premise > false conclusion.

    3) The Unfalsifiable God, who may have created the universe, but either does not intervene in it, or only intervenes in ways that are so subtle that we cannot detect the interventions.

    Also known as “the strawman god”.

    Also, more deism.

    4) The Symbolic God, who doesn’t actually exist but can be taken as a metaphor for good things.

    Another extremely reductionist definition — understanding God symbolically, allegorically, or metaphorically does NOT in fact require any a priori position of belief, disbelief, doubt, nor any other epistemic position relative to the question at hand.

    Basically this is another strawman, because it has no relevance to the question, but is simply being set up by Dawkins as a concept to be shot down, thereby “proving” his positions…

    5) As for the Supernatural God, if he does work miracles, then in principle it ought to be possible for some of those miracles to occur when scientists are pointing their instruments in the right direction.

    Provided of course that we accept Dawkins rather HEFTY assumption that God must obey the principles of positivist materialism — despite Dawkins having spent exactly NIL effort to support this conception.

    Also provided that we accept the definition of a miracle as being something that is foreign to the laws of nature, whereas these are the very laws that God will have established in the first place for the governance of the Universe (it was Aquinas, I believe, who proposed that God does not disobey His own Law).

    And so on …

    It is not possible to construct a successful argument on the basis of such a shoddy collection of ill-conceived and half-baked preconceptions.

    False premise > false conclusion does not require that the logical processes represented by “>” must be faulty ones, but the sheer incompleteness of the premises presented by Dawkins does suggest that faults of logic occurred during his construction of them.

  • Acleron

    Not at all. Eagleton’s argument, partially, is that Dawkin’s hasn’t studied theology and therefore must not comment about the existence or non-existence of a god. We have pointed out that this is not necessary and given equivalent examples where in depth knowledge is not required to explain the existence or non-existence of fairies, invisible clothes or astrology. No cogent argument has been made to explain why Dawkin’s argument is incorrect and Eagleton’s is correct. No part of this vast documentation carefully recorded by theologians has been produced that is essential for the god hypothesis. Vague statements that Dawkin’s and we are wrong, insults have been made, bare assertion has been used as an argument. But certainly no nuanced and reasoned argument so boastfully claimed for theists. 

    But I’ll add another example that uses the irrelevant knowledge fallacy which is current. Homeopaths often claim that skeptics have no right to comment on the efficacy of homeopathic products because they haven’t spent the years studying the subject. But this special information that is claimed is not necessary, skeptics can call on clinical trials that show that these products are indistinguishable from placebo.

    So show us how a god hypothesis differs from these examples or produce a counter example that disproves the argument. Again, apart from argument ad insultum, nothing has yet been produced.

  • JabbaPapa

    a child indoctrinated with irrational and indefensible ideas.

    Who is this supposed to be ? Yourself ?

    I myself was certainly subjected to no indoctrination whatsoever during my childhood.

    Anyway, you carry on there with your unsupported and contrafactual assertions !! The law of averages requires that you’ll hit the target eventually !!

  • Jonathan West

    You’re engaging in the argument from bare Assertion again. For instance, you claim that there are more than the three categories I’ve described, but you don’t offer any additional ones.

    By the way, I think that if you check your definitions of deism and theism I think you’ll find that theism refers to the intervening god, while deism refers to the non-intervening god.  So, to put it into very short words especially for you, the three categories I described refer to theism, deism and atheism respectively.

    When you say “The underlying fallacy is that God must obey the limitations of these sorts of human conceptions of Him.”  I would agree that this is a fallacy – but I haven’t committed it.  Our understanding of God however is limited to our human conceptions of him, and anything that is beyond what we can conceive is by definition beyond our understanding. Therefore neither you nor I nor anybody else is in a position to say anything at all about it. As Julian Baggini quipped last week “if you are going to insist that something is ineffable, then effing well shut up about it”.

    The rest of your comment is based on these false premises, and therefore the conclusions are unreliable and need not be addressed.

  • JabbaPapa

    So, I guess then that you will NOT in fact be providing us with some kind of whizz-bang scientific methodology that could definitively establish one way or the other that proposition of yours ?

    Either put one up, or stop complaining about people not contributing anything of meaning to this “debate”.

    Oh and by the way — I have *never* claimed that “atheists are illogical and without data“, I claimed that *you* personally have these features.

    But then, you’re an habitué of the “all men are bald” style of false syllogism, aren’t you…

  • Acleron

    Or perhaps from the Argument from Repeated Serial Equivalence. :)

  • TreenonPoet

     Haha! Nice try with the picture, but the units of measurement are missing. If 1 foot equals 12 inches, that does not imply that 1 equals 12.

    (A) Evidence that religious faith in general is valid (as a contribution to an argument), and

    (B) evidence that the object of a particular religious faith is substantiated

    are two different concepts.

    The moment that evidence is presented that substantiates something that previously had only been an object of religious faith, the belief in that object becomes rational and no longer religious. Before that moment, the evidence is lacking; after that moment, the religious aspect has dissappeared, so one could say that there is never a time when there is religious faith in an object and simultaneous evidence for that object. That aspect of concept (B) applies whatever the faith is, so one can say that, for religious faiths in general, there is no evidence for the objects of those faiths. This conclusion is the evidence for my assertion that religious faith is not valid as a contribution to an argument.

  • Barry Lyons

    There is only the natural world and no other. A “super” natural world exists only in the minds of believers.

  • Acleron

    You got the bald men wrong by not actually reading what was written. I suspect that you are applying the same scholarship with ‘The God Delusion’.

    The fact that you wriggle, insult, and are contradictory about types of god shows that you may actually have a slight glimmering of the flaws in your and Eagleton’s argument.

    But unfortunately, as you have demonstrated the normal debating skills of a theist, you will not be able to take that slight glimmering and allow it to expand into full brilliance.

  • JabbaPapa

    Internet Explorer killed my original response to the above … grrr

    ————

    You’re engaging in the argument from bare Assertion again. For instance, you claim that there are more than the three categories I’ve described, but you don’t offer any additional ones.

    I suppose that you just blithely skipped over my description of the mainstream Islamic conception of God, or otherwise failed to appreciate how radically incompatible it actually is with your “Supernatural God” description ?

    By the way, I think that if you check your definitions of deism and theism I think you’ll find that theism refers to the intervening god, while deism refers to the non-intervening god.

    Nope.

    Deism is a belief in a god (or whatever) with a corresponding disbelief in religion. The question of intervention or non-intervention is a non-definitional characteristic.

    As for “theism”, it is a very dodgy pseudo-category devised by atheists. It falsely assumes that non-atheists (+ non-agnostics) have several basic shared philosophies in common, it implicitly assumes that religions necessarily require divinities of some sort, and it lumps together a bewildering array of fundamentally incompatible philosophies as if they were all the same. Furthermore, the question of intervention or non-intervention is a non-definitional characteristic of non-atheism generally.

    So, to put it into very short words especially for you, the three categories I described refer to theism, deism and atheism respectively.

    har har har (three short words)

    If this is the sort of category you had in mind, should I add agnosticism, dialectical materialism, apatheism, shamanic spiritism, belief in space aliens, and so on ?

    When you say “The underlying fallacy is that God must obey the limitations of these sorts of human conceptions of Him.”  I would agree that this is a fallacy – but I haven’t committed it.

    I thought we were talking about Dawkins.

    Have you changed the subject ?

    Our understanding of God however is limited to our human conceptions of him, and anything that is beyond what we can conceive is by definition beyond our understanding.

    God’s attribute of omnipotence includes the ability to provide knowledge that transcends these human limitations.

    Our understanding can therefore incorporate knowledge that is beyond our individual and collective abilities and limitations.

    Therefore neither you nor I nor anybody else is in a position to say anything at all about it. As Julian Baggini quipped last week “if you are going to insist that something is ineffable, then effing well shut up about it”.

    Well, at last you’ve posted something I can actually agree with.

    The rest of your comment is based on these false premises, and therefore the conclusions are unreliable and need not be addressed.

    Pointing out that you have posted some false premises and some bad definitions, paraphrasing (accurately, IIRC) those used by Dawkins in his book, does not in itself constitute a false premise — particularly after you have supported those false premises with some supplementary bad definitions.

  • Barry Lyons

    What’s “gross” or “rhetorical” about saying, for example, that the wafer business is all religious imagination and has nothing to do with science? Is there a machine out there that can detect the exact moment when flour and water becomes flesh and then, presto!, it’s flour and water again? My question is not unreasonable.

    Again, how does one tell the difference between a vial of ordinary water and a vial of “holy” water? You’re the believer (presumably). You should have that answer at your fingertips. That you don’t means that science wins — again! Hooray!

  • JabbaPapa

    Oh *please* !!!

    Is there a machine out there that can detect the exact moment when flour and water becomes flesh and then, presto!, it’s flour and water again? My question is not unreasonable.

    Your question is ludicrous, and it is based on ignorance of the nature of the Eucharist.

    I dunno — read some catechism or other on the question.

    Again, how does one tell the difference between a vial of ordinary water and a vial of “holy” water?

    There is no discernible physical difference between the two.

    And ?

    So what ?

  • JabbaPapa

    You are of course perfectly entitled to have your own religious and philosophical beliefs.

  • Jpcogan

    If Lewis was simply writing for children, you might have a point, but Narnia was only a small part of his output. Many people, Catholics in particular, find his serious theological writings quite impressive. I disagree, nor do I find those of Aquinas any more impressive.

  • JabbaPapa

    cripes

    The so-called “God of Gaps” was extensively rubbished between the 16th and 19th centuries as being an ultimately fallacious and inherently unreliable approach of any questions of the relationship between God, religion, and knowledge.

    Mainly because of its implicit circularity, and its characteristics of self-fulfillment — though another vastly important reason was that both Descartes and Newton, who are the real founders of modern scientific methodology, decisively trashed any notion that God could somehow be defined by either existing knowledge about physical reality, or by gaps in that knowledge.

    The study of physical reality does not discover facts about God ; statements about God are neither falsifiable nor verifiable in laboratory conditions, and therefore do not satisfy the basic preconditions to constitute scientific theories as such.

  • Jonathan West

    JabbaPappa

    Descartes and Newton, who are the real founders of modern scientific methodology, decisively trashed any notion that God could somehow be defined by either existing knowledge about physical reality, or by gaps in that knowledge.

    Does God have any effect on what you call “physical reality”?

    If so, how do you discern what those effects are?

  • JabbaPapa

    I did not wish to imply that C.S. Lewis were a poor writer, so that my overemphasis was wrongful.

    It’s nevertheless true that Aquinas is of a far greater importance for the development of Western thought than Lewis.

  • JabbaPapa

    cripes

    Sorry for not sharing your holy awe for Dawkins’ vacuous twitterings…

  • Jpcogan

    Such as?

  • Jpcogan

    So you don’t know whether any given room you’re in contains an elephant? 

  • JabbaPapa

    Does God have any effect on what you call “physical reality”?

    The exact nature of God’s relationship with physical reality is beyond what little knowledge I have of Him.

    Yes, though.

    Just don’t expect me to explain how, because God is VASTLY beyond my comprehension.

    If so, how do you discern what those effects are?

    That’s *my* question, simply throwing it back at me doesn’t answer it for me.

    *You’re* the one claiming that God would be detectable in laboratory conditions ; it’s therefore *your* job to answer this question.

    If you can.

    Which I most seriously doubt by the way…

  • Jonathan West

    Or perhaps whether it contains an Invisible Pink Unicorn?

    After all, belief in the Invisible Pink Unicorn is based on both faith and reason. We assert as a matter of faith that it is Pink, and we know through reason that it is Invisible, by virtue of the fact that we cannot see it.

    So, how might JabbaPappa know whether it is there or not?

  • Jpcogan

    An undetectable deity sounds extremely similar to a non-existent one.

  • Jpcogan

    Between certain varieties of Christianity and science, perhaps. Come over to this side of the pond, and I’ll be happy to show you any number of self-professed Christians who hold as a matter of dogma that the Earth is c.6000 years old, which is wildly in opposition to science.

  • Jonathan West

    A simple “yes” is good enough to establish the principle that you believe there are detectable effects.

    Now, as to how to go about detecting them. You’re the person who claims that there are detectable effects, so it is incumbent on you to explain how they might be detected. After all, if you can’t think of a way that they might be detected (in the laboratory or otherwise) then you’re not making the claim from a position of knowledge, but rather making it up. 

    But clearly you’re not up to the job, so I suppose I’ll have to suggest something for you.

    We could take some aspect of God which the Bible tells us is true, for instance that God answers prayers. We can take a group of people in need of prayers – for example people who are ill. We perhaps could standardise the test better by choosing people with some specific serious but relatively common illness, such as patients recovering from heart bypass operations. We randomly divide the group into two, and have some people pray for the recovery of patients in one of the subgroups only. After a suitable period of time, we add up the results and see whether either subgroup has done better than the other on average.

    Even if some people in the control group (i.e. those not receiving the extra prayers) got prayed for by friends and relatives, surely at least some of the control group would not have received prayers. So if God answers prayers, there ought to be a statistically discernible difference in outcomes. If the “God answers prayers” hypothesis is correct, then the prayed-for group ought on average to recover better than the control group.

    Do you think that a test like that could be set up?

  • Jonathan West

    I have previously shown how Dawkins’ definition of God is quite similar to that included in the Catholic Encyclopedia. Dawkins even quotes from the Catholic Encyclopedia in his book.

  • Jason

    If we really want to combat atheism and other forms of secularism we need only really do one thing – pass on the Catholic faith properly. Until we have a generation of Catholics who know the teaching of the Church and have faith in both God and His Church we wont really be properly armed to respond to those who do not know Christ.

    We also need to remember that yesterday we prayed for those who do not believe in Christ and those who do not believe in the Mass. Prayer does work. God does answer prayer. He does it in His time however not based upon our demand for instant gratification.

    It is God who gives the grace of faith. We need to have faith in Him and pray for him to deliver our brothers and sisters from the lies of the devil.

  • Barry Lyons

    It is not a  belief. There is no evidence for a supernatural realm. That’s the sticking point — and fact.

  • Barry Lyons

    “So what?” If there is no discernible difference between ordinary water and “holy” water then it means that “holy” water does not exist. Question: why do YOU believe that “holy” water exists?

    And there was nothing ludicrous about my question regarding the “flesh cracker” (my coinage — copyright!). If something is NOT merely flour and water, well, how do we know? It’s not an unreasonable question.

  • JabbaPapa

    It is not a  belief. There is no evidence for a supernatural realm. That’s the sticking point — and fact.

    Get thee behind me …

    “So what?” If there is no discernible difference between ordinary water and “holy” water then it means that “holy” water does not exist.

    Balderdash !!

    Holy water is simply ordinary water that has been blessed by a priest for some particular ritual uses.

    It’s not some kind of enchanted substance from a fantasy novel that can perform magic tricks for you.

    Question: why do YOU believe that “holy” water exists?

    Because I have seen it with my own eyes and touched it with my own fingers — it’s wet, by the way.

    And there was nothing ludicrous about my question regarding the “flesh cracker” (my coinage — copyright!).

    Isn’t it lovely of you to come in here and insult the Catholic Faith ?

    No, actually — it’s a fairly horrible, petty, and selfish thing to do, isn’t it…

    If something is NOT merely flour and water, well, how do we know? It’s not an unreasonable question.

    Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven.

    But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.

  • JabbaPapa

    Or perhaps whether it contains an Invisible Pink Unicorn?

    Have you decided to make a firework display in here of every single vacuous cliché that you have ever found on the internets ?

  • Jonathan West

    What vacuous cliche?

    If you’ll tell me why you don’t believe in the Invisible Pink Unicorn, I’ll tell you why I don’t believe in God. Deal?

  • Jonathan West

    Ah, I think we are getting to the issue that JabbaPapa is concerned with. At least among a great many of those who have abandoned religion, atheism isn’t a faith position, it is a conclusion based on evidence.

    By the way, if I were to give you two identical containers of water, one of which was plain ordinary water, and one of which had been blessed by a priest in the approved manner, is there any conceivable test that could be carried out on the water so that you could  distinguish the holy water from ordinary water?

  • TreenonPoet

     That other commenter provided a fairly good summary of my assessment of the text that I took it you referred me to. I will try to elucidate, but I had no intention of doing so unnecessarily.

    To take the first reply to the first objection in the text that I linked to:
    To know that God exists in a general and confused way is implanted in us by nature, inasmuch as God is man’s beatitude. For man naturally desires happiness, and what is naturally desired by man must be naturally known to him. This, however, is not to know absolutely that God exists; just as to know that someone is approaching is not the same as to know that Peter is approaching, even though it is Peter who is approaching; for many there are who imagine that man’s perfect good which is happiness, consists in riches, and others in pleasures, and others in something else.

    The first sentence defines God as man’s beatitude. (Immediately, this conflicts with the definition of ‘God’ used in Aquinas’ arguments for the existence of God referred to in The God Delusion.) In other words, God is a feeling. We come to “This, however, is not to know absolutely that God exists“. Isn’t it? He states that this feeling must be naturally known to man, and now he is saying that man does not know it absolutely! It seems that the original statement about God being man’s beatitude was not telling the whole story, yet he claims that we know that God exists in a general and confused way based on beatitude. If God is more than beatitude, then man cannot know that God exists, even in a general and confused way, purely from beatitude.

    A common trick is to change definitions mid-paragraph.

    Need I go on?

  • Acleron

    Oh I leave the holy awe business to people who are easily impressed, like yourself for example. But you still haven’t come up with any cogent rebuttal of Dawkin’s point that Eagleton is incorrect in believing that a complete knowledge of theistic lore is necessary before you can argue about the existence of a god. 

    You yourself, unwittingly, have supplied a convincing example why Dawkins is correct. While all gods can be divided into those which have an effect in the real world and those which do not, you produced a list of religious descriptions as if this mattered in the slightest. Each of your examples will reside in either of the two categories, the individual minutiae ascribed to by religions, to which I bow to your inferior knowledge, is totally irrelevant.

  • Acleron


    Isn’t it lovely of you to come in here and insult the Catholic Faith ?’ Did you even read the title of the article ibid?

  • Barry Lyons

    [Stay with me: there's a contest that I've announced at the end of this comment]

    To JabbaPapa (and other believers):

    Here’s what JP wrote (scroll down to find it) in response to my question about what makes “holy” water different from all other water: “There is no discernible physical difference between the two.”

    Really? You will admit to that? Why would you, as a Catholic?

    Look, if I say this is a glass of milk and that is a glass of chocolate milk, I’m asserting there’s a difference between the two. If I say this is a glass of tap water and that is a glass of carbonated water, I’m saying there’s a difference between the two.

    Likewise, to say that a vial contains “holy” water is to say that it is somehow different from ordinary water, otherwise the very notion of “holy” water wouldn’t exist — and I say that unlike my milk/carbonated water examples above there is no difference between the two. Water is water is water — and JabbaPapa agrees with me. The notion that water is suddenly “holy” because a person speaks certain words in front of it is pure fiction. It’s make-believe, nothing more. I wish it were straight out of Tolkein, but, alas, unfortunately it is not. And yet SOMEthing is achieved when a vial of water is declared and designated as being “holy”; otherwise, you wouldn’t go out of your way to make the distinction. What is it? And how is this distinction objectively determined and understood?

    A friend of my mother’s comes over to Thanksgiving with some bread that he said was “blessed” by a Catholic priest. Here we go again. What does that mean? How am I to know, if I have two pieces of bread before me, that one piece is “blessed” but the other is unblessed? Don’t come at me and say this is semantics or that I’m splitting hairs. It’s YOU Catholics that engage in these ideas of holy/not holy, blessed/unblessed. Water splashed on a baby’s forehead is just that: water splashed on a baby’s forehead. Nothing more. It does not “mean” anything.

    More evidence that you guys live in a world of pure abstraction: ashes on a forehead in the shape of a smudged cross is just that: ashes on the forehead in the shape of a smudged cross. The ashes don’t “mean” anything in exactly the same way that garden soil doesn’t mean anything. Soil is soil, feces are feces, and ash is ash no matter where any of these things exist or reside. Get out of this business already of attaching “meaning” to things that are inherently meaningless (beyond, of course, their utilitarian usefulness: soil is necessary to grow plants, and so on). I love Beethoven’s music, but it doesn’t “mean” anything. “No, Barry. The ashes serve as a sign of mourning and repentance to God.” There you go. That proves my point: this “meaning” is just a pure abstraction and nothing more.

    Wow, the torturous mental contortions you Catholics go through to believe what you believe!  Amazing. In the meantime, I’m thirsty. I think I’ll have a glass of water.

    Okay, here’s the contest: everyone reading this post is an atheist. Yep, I mean everybody, and that includes YOU, Alexander Lucie-Smith. YOU are an atheist — of a kind. Ah, there it is: that “of a kind” almost gives it away. What could I possibly be up to? The first person who figures out why I say everyone reading this comment is an atheist will win a free copy of my book, “Letter to a Prohibitionist” (nice reviews at the American arm of Amazon — Amazon.com; no reviews yet at Amazon.co.uk). E-mail me with your answer at: lettertoaprohibitionist[at]gmail.com. The first person to do so gets the book. Let the fun begin!

    Hey, early on in my book I give a nice shout-out to Jesus. I really do. Believe it.

  • JabbaPapa

    A simple “yes” is good enough to establish the principle that you believe there are detectable effects.
     
    cripes, you really *don’t* read what people write do you !!
     
    And then you’ve the nerve to accuse others of this failure.
     
    Which part, exactly, of “Just don’t expect me to explain how, because God is VASTLY beyond my comprehension” did you fail to understand ?
     
    In other words, I have said nothing at all along the lines of your interpretation — and you’re pure and simple posting the exact opposite of what I think, as if the opposite of my thinking somehow represented my beliefs.
     
    Now, as to how to go about detecting them. You’re the person who claims that there are detectable effects, so it is incumbent on you to explain how they might be detected. After all, if you can’t think of a way that they might be detected (in the laboratory or otherwise) then you’re not making the claim from a position of knowledge, but rather making it up. 
     
    You really do take the cake, don’t you …
     
    First YOU claim that God would be detectable — I provide this notion with the scorn and ridicule that it deserves — and then you twist what I have written so far out of shape as to become its exact opposite, and then dare to claim that *I* have been making this rubbish claim and that it’s up to me to defend it ?
     
    This is just another example of the typical online hypocrisy and double standards that I have come to expect from the online militant atheists brigade.
     
    NO my friend — this is YOUR claim — YOU get to defend it !!
     
    It has nothing to do with me.
     
    We could take some aspect of God which the Bible tells us is true, for instance that God answers prayers. We can take a group of people in need of prayers – for example people who are ill. We perhaps could standardise the test better by choosing people with some specific serious but relatively common illness, such as patients recovering from heart bypass operations. We randomly divide the group into two, and have some people pray for the recovery of patients in one of the subgroups only. After a suitable period of time, we add up the results and see whether either subgroup has done better than the other on average.
     
    You’re just parroting Dawkins, and it’s just as ludicrous in a second helping as it was the first time around.
     
    Such a test would prove exactly — nothing. Obviously.
     
    Let us suppose that prayer is efficacious — how exactly would you be able to ensure beyond any shadow of a doubt that nobody, anywhere, has said any number of prayers for people in the subgroup that you have declared that no prayers are to be given for ?
     
    How could you ensure that the members of this group are not praying for themselves and for each other ?
     
    How could you ensure that God would receive prayers for one group only, and not the other group ? Do you have some sort of whizz-bang method to penetrate the secrets of each soul’s relationship with God ?
     
    Honestly, you’re spouting some extremely ridiculous nonsense in your fanatical desire to spread your atheistic beliefs, aren’t you !!
     
    So if God answers prayers, there ought to be a statistically discernible difference in outcomes.
     
    Always of course **assuming** that God obeyed the rules of positivist materialism, which you have STILL not demonstrated to be true.
     
    Do you think that a test like that could be set up?
     
    Not without deeply offending the religious sensibilities of the participants no — unless they were all atheists of course, but then their “prayers” would be rather flawed, wouldn’t they…
     
    It is of course conceivable that somebody wishing to create the conditions of a good confirmation bias for their own atheism might want to have a crack at it.
     
    It would *still* prove exactly nothing.
     
    —-
     
    I am getting rather tired of talking with you, as you clearly have no interest at all in what I’m actually saying, and instead you are filling in the bits that you don’t like with stuff out of your own head.
     
    I have better things to do with my energy than waste it on addressing every little detail of your tiresomely predictable scribblings.

  • TreenonPoet

     I assume your comment got posted in the wrong place as it is not relevant to mine. (Ever since the number of comments in this thread exceeded 100, my computer has not been showing them in the correct order.)

  • JabbaPapa

    *that* vacuous cliché

  • Jpcogan

    The IPU is no more a vacuous cliche than is “Credo in unum Deum”. Try addressing the point rather than handwaving it away.

  • JabbaPapa

    Really? You will admit to that? Why would you, as a Catholic?

    Probably by virtue of living in the real world, instead of whichever strange fantasy one that you have invented for Catholics out of your imagination.

  • JabbaPapa

    So what — have you decided then to come here en masse to demonstrate the truth of that title ?

    Doing a good job so far !!

  • JabbaPapa

    At least among a great many of those who have abandoned religion, atheism isn’t a faith position, it is a conclusion based on evidence.

    There is no discernable difference in nature between concepts held in the brain as the result of religious belief, or beliefs derived from other sources.

    What you believe about the nature of the universe constitutes a matrix of individual beliefs that you hold in your brain as memories, and they cannot be empirically demonstrated to have any better or more qualitative link with the referends than those that are held i the nervous systems of any other individual.

    Psycholinguistically, there is no actual difference whatsoever between knowledge and belief, but there is only a sociolinguistic difference.

    Empirically speaking, everything that you conceive of as being true is by definition a belief.

    Claiming the opposite is just bad science.

  • Barry Lyons

    You’re still dodging the central question: to say that water has been blessed is to say something has HAPPENED. What has happened? Like I said, if nothing has happened then no person anywhere would use the terms “holy” and “blessed” to designate the difference from that which is not holy or not blessed.

    By the way, I haven’t invented anything. I was raised by Catholic parents, I’m sorry to say, and so I know whereof I speak. And as I type these words, my mother has a vial of “holy” water in the dining room cabinet. “Mom, HOW (not why) is this not ordinary water?” See that? “How” is they key word in that question.

    And how is “flesh cracker” an insult? It’s just plain words that reveal the truth obscured by religious lingo. It’s like the military’s “collateral damage”, which really means “civilian casualties”.

    As for Matthew, he’s just another deluded sad sack. Poor guy.

    So are you going to figure out how I know you’re an atheist (of a kind)? If you’re no fan of the War on Drugs (not a requirement for the contest) and can answer the question, the book is yours. You will slap yourself silly when you figure out how I know you’re an atheist — of a kind. Just don’t hurt yourself.  

  • Jpcogan

    Feel free to provide a single example of a valid faith-based argument. Until then, I’ll regard them as having the same existential likelihood as unicorns, leprechauns, and deities.

  • John Byrne

    AMDG

    Fr Lucie-Smith writes: “The single biggest weapon in the armoury of modern anti-Catholicism is the child abuse scandal.”

    Would that it were !
    The biggest such weapon, currently employed, is writing such as his own. It may satisfy the red-blooded, cradle-Catholics of the holy-pictures brigade, but it would be viewed as a laughing-stock, not only by atheists, but by very many progressive and well-educated (real world) Catholics. 

    Russell was a logician and philosopher of broader perspective. Dawkins is an evolutionary  biologist. They were/are talking of rather different matters, focussed on a common theme. 

    In my opinion Egleton’s views on The God Delusion are a bit silly and a little hollow (and also written in not-very-good English). I suggest that the confused read both – and if still confused, reflect and do a full re-read.

    The rapidly disappearing Catholic Church will not save itself, during the following few generations, by laying-on the detritus, with which it is infected, with a larger trowel than normal, as Fr Lucie-Smith seems to think. This will only be achieved by biting the bullet, and coming to terms with reality. There are many hopeful signs that this will happen – but all depends on the nature of the next 2 or 3 Popes.

    If these hopes are not realised, then the Church will enter a Dark Age of dismissal by rational Man – doubtless to eventually recover, after wisdom has returned.

    LDS

  • Barry Lyons

    True and false things can be said about the world and the universe. To say there’s only a difference of belief due to linguistic differences is fatuous.

    I believe that no matter where I go on the planet, gravity prevails. I believe that no matter where I go on the planet where green, land-plant life exists, photosynthesis occurs. How do I know these things even though I’ve never been to the Bahamas or California? That I know these things to be true has nothing do with how they are processed in my brain.

    You write that “empirically speaking, everything that [I] conceive of as being true is by definition a belief.” But there are good beliefs and bad beliefs.

    It’s been written that corpses once walked the earth (there’s more than one walker in That Book). Is this a good belief or a bad belief?

    I could just as easily say that there’s a rich, gooey gob of chocolate at the center of the moon. Is this a good belief or a bad belief?

  • Acleron

    Oh no, I leave the honour of that remark to yourself. So far you have denied through an argument of ignorance all logical points and issued insults to all and sundry. Your dismissive remarks about Dawkin’s book belies the heavy uninformed criticism of it from theists. You won’t dissuade atheists who have intensely examined his arguments so presumably you are trying to bolster your own beliefs.