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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.

  • Jpcogan

    Just one other comment on the article, since no one seems to have commented on this part yet: Communism failed in the end not because someone out-argued the Hegelians, nor because it led to the Gulag, but because economic reality trumps ideology in the end every time.

  • Jpcogan

    Again, rather than address the point, you’ve handwaved it away. *Why* is it a vacuous intellectual cliche? In what way?

  • Jpcogan

    I’d be the last to encourage it.

  • Jpcogan

    What sort of whisky would you like with your “No True Scotsman” fallacy? 

  • Jpcogan

    “The denial by some atheists that they have beliefs is a straightforwardly false claim.”
    What atheists make such a claim? That sounds like nihilism, not atheism.

  • Jpcogan

    “aah yes, you had so far forgotten to post that particular cliché from the usual collection…”Like

    I’m curious: is your generally patronizing and condescending tone regardless of whom you’re addressing an attempt to sound more authoritative, or is it a substitute for actual argument? This is far from the first time you’ve handwaved a point away without actually addressing it. That doesn’t make for a very productive discussion, I fear.

  • theroadmaster

    I mean that currently what we term the supernatural i.e the immaterial is part of the “natural” world, if we look beyond the materialistic limits of our vision e.g life, death, abstract qualities like love, the nature of the human soul/life-force.  This takes into the realm of the metaphysical which such disciplines as theology and philosophy are best to study it.  Perhaps it is not coherent to you, because you are stuck in a worldly, material milieu. 
    Complexity with an Intelligence behind it as evidenced in the mathematical and physical laws which guide the Universe, point to all-powerful, omniscient force as the best possible source for it’s creation.  2)  & 3) Something as vast as the Universe guided by mathematical principles with it’s constants and properties arranged in the most precise way to create and support life, cannot have happened by happenstance., as the odds against it are too astronomically great.  4) Christian and particularly Catholic theology, as it synthesizes in the best coherent and cogent manner the Divine nature of our Creator, the Cosmos and man’s place in it.

  • theroadmaster

    Sorry about any annoyance caused to you by my choice of words.  I was merely trying to false dichotomy caused by separating the “natural” i.e our physical realm from the “supernatural” or the “spiritual” immaterial aspect of our existence.

  • theroadmaster

    My point relates to the initial conditions which allowed matter to form, and hence our planets and the life-support system that evolved on our Earth(this is likely to be the same scenario for many other worlds in our galaxy and beyond).  If these conditions had not been so precise in their apportioned measurements, our galaxies, stars, asteroid belts, planets, and quasars just would not have happened.  The fact that potential disasters lurk in relation to Earth from wayward asteroids or comets, does not invalidate my main point

  • theroadmaster

    Sorry Jabba, I know the truth of the point you are making but “allowed” was rather an inopportune word to use.  Point well made.

  • theroadmaster

    Science is illuminated by the moral insights of Faith and cannot be divorced for it.  You have created a false dichotomy between Faith and Science as one depends on the other for a comprehensive understanding of ourselves and our universe.

  • buckingham88

     Dear Acleron,just got back to the board having attended a fifth funeral in three weeks.Enough to make you think about the foreward arrow of time, the accelerated expansion of the universe failure of entopy its heat death the disintigration of the proton and quark soup.Thanks for your link.
    Increasingly I am beginning to find that the discussion of God and cosmology are venturing into the same places,hence my thoughts about the hard questions.Earlier in this thread a correspondent was trying to prove that God does not answer prayer by the use of a presumably double blinded trial with out of contact controls.Again you could ask the hard questions?how do you know you excluded God from this trial?Are you really sure that the out of contact controls were also not being prayed for by someone else or themselves?How do you define the outcome as being good? Yesterdays funeral was of a lady with a burst bowel cancer,she was prayed for , she died really quickly after intensive treatment, a good outcome.Trying to prove God by empirical methods or to disprove god seems doomed to fail and wont convince anyone,’especially those that understand scientific method.
    I just want to share with you an insight I had on the trinity ,as I see from your comments you are a scientist.It is based on a book by Hoyle called The Cloud.In this a dark cloud approaches orbit between earth and the sun and threatens to wipe us out.It is found that the cloud is inhabited but it is not clear if it is one Beast, or thousands of them.Eventually it is found that the Cloud has sophisticated communication within and is intelligent.It is then concluded that if the Beasts are intelligent and have communication it does not matter, from our point of view,if there be a thousand because they act as one.So with the Trinity analogy there are three persons,or people,that act in total communication, love and harmony,and therefore are,one God.Íncidentally the idea of the Trinity rests upon the supposition that there are some things which we can never know about reality,especially the nature of God,and therefore we can only be told such things.Also that God,and the universe is good.I have atheist dna,my uncle was an athiest,and my father an agnostic.If you want to start the dance you have to know that reality is ultimately good and that we actually exist.Neither of these propositions are empirically proveable.

  • Jonathan West

    Again you could ask the hard questions?how do you know you excluded God from this trial?
    The approach which science has used over and again with great success is to work on the principle that you don’t assume the existence of a cause unless and until you have evidence of an effect.

    In a clinical trial (testing anything, not just prayer) you can’t absolutely rule out that the possibility that the absence of any apparent effect is because of some confounding factor and that what you are looking for is there really.

    But unless and until you see the effect, in circumstances where you can rule out known confounding factors (such as placebo effect, regression to the mean, and cognitive illusions which suggest the existence of causes where there is just randomness), all you can say is that there is no evidence of the cause you are testing for.

    Remember that science (unlike mathematics) doesn’t prove things. Scientific theories are descriptions of how the universe is observed to work and predictions of how it will be observed to work in future. As such, scientific theories are always to some extent provisional and subject to change in the event that new and conflicting evidence appears.

    That said, some scientific theories are pretty well-established. Archimedes has been right for a couple of thousand years about why things float. Newton will forever be right about the behaviour of snooker balls. Benjamin Franklin is never going to be contradicted about how lightning is an electrical phenomenon and why lightning conductors work. It is vanishingly unlikely that Darwin will ever be found to be wrong about natural selection as the mechanism for speciation, and Watson and Crick’s discovery of the structure of DNA and its role in genetics and heredity is not going to be overturned.

  • Jonathan West

    You’re committing a basic logical error of calling something ineffable and then claiming that you can eff it anyway.

  • Jonathan West

    Alexander Lucie-Smith is an atheist with respect to Allah, Jove, Zeus, Thor, Ra, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, the Invisible Pink Unicorn and fairies at the bottom of the garden. In all those things I am sure that he and I are of one mind, for what I suspect are quite similar reasons. I just extend those reasons to be an atheist with respect to God as well.

  • JabbaPapa

    Here, seemingly, is the reason for the currently ongoing insults against the Eucharist that have been posted with tedious repetition in this thread :

    At the March 24 “Reason Rally” in Washington, D.C., an estimated 20,000 atheists and agnostics heard author and activist Richard Dawkins encourage mockery of Catholic beliefs and those of other religions.

    “Don’t fall for the convention that we’re all ‘too polite’ to talk about religion,” Dawkins said, before urging rally attendees to ridicule Catholics’ faith in the Eucharist.

    “Religion makes specific claims about the universe which need to be substantiated, and need to be challenged – and if necessary, need to be ridiculed with contempt,” he told the cheering crowd on the National Mall.

    “For example, if they say they’re Catholic: Do you really believe, that when a priest blesses a wafer, it turns into the body of Christ? Are you seriously telling me you believe that? Are you seriously saying that wine turns into blood?”

    If the answer is yes, Dawkins suggested atheists should show contempt for believers instead of ignoring the issue or feigning respect.

    “Mock them,” he told the crowd. “Ridicule them! In public!”

    Not only is this exhortation utterly despicable — but it could be accurately described as being satanic, as being anti-scientific in the **extreme**, and as being straightforwardly criminal, by virtue of deliberately and publicly inciting religious hatred.

    Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006 UK (excerpt)

    Hatred against persons on religious grounds

    In the Public Order Act 1986 (c. 64), after Part 3 insert—
    “Part 3A
    Hatred against persons on religious grounds

    Meaning of “religious hatred”

    29A – Meaning of “religious hatred”

    In this Part “religious hatred” means hatred against a group of persons defined by reference to religious belief or lack of religious belief.

    Acts intended to stir up religious hatred

    29B – Use of words or behaviour or display of written material

    (1) A person who uses threatening words or behaviour, or displays any written material which is threatening, is guilty of an offence if he intends thereby to stir up religious hatred.


    Naturally, this despicable individual ensured that his hate speech was protected by the US 4th Amendment.

  • JabbaPapa

     Faith and reason are antithetical. Their combination is intellectually toxic, not indomitable.

    This remains, several days onwards, probably the least intelligent thing that anybody has posted in this thread.

  • JabbaPapa

    It must be so lovely to live in a world where Stalinism, Nazism, Pol Pot, systematic Chinese religious persecution never happened !!!

  • JabbaPapa

    Fair enough, except that from the point of view of *general* theology and comparative religions and general philosophy, that is not a false dichotomy.

    Catholicism specifically doesn’t have a strong or precise position concerning this question, instead defining it as being an ultimately unknowable aspect of the Trinitarian Mystery.

  • JabbaPapa

     The 90% figure comes from concordant statistics as reported in the official analyses of the Irish, US, and Belgian abuses scandal, as well as the internal analyses of the Holy See, and French statistical analyses of the extremely low rate of clerical child abuse cases in that country.

    (my own analysis of the variable rates of child abuse cases in the general population, including among clergy reveals that the primary cause of greater prevalence of child abuse cases in these territories compared to those is when denouncing child abuse is not itself defined as a crime by the civil laws. The single most important contributing factor towards the wide extent the Irish cover-ups for instance was that not only were the Irish Bishops under no legal obligation whatsoever under Irish Law to provide any reports to the Police, but the Police themselves were hampered by some grossly insufficient child protection laws, that they generally failed to act upon anyway. If so many child abusers throughout Irish society were able to get away with so many crimes in the post WW2 period, it is because the Irish Police were simultaneously unwilling and unable to do their jobs properly)

    Yes, there *were* glaring insufficiencies in the Canon Laws and other systems concerning these specific questions — in the 20th century.

    Cardinal Egan is, given that it appears to have *entirely* escaped your notice, defending HIMSELF from these accusations, as an INDIVIDUAL.

  • JabbaPapa

     Because of its combination of obvious stupidity and systematic heavy misuse by people such as yourself.

  • Jonathan West

    What is an appropriate use of the Invisible Pink Unicorn comparison?

  • Jonathan West

    By the way, at Ealing Abbey, there were known criminal abuses happening as recently as 2007. Father David Pearce had been known by the Abbey authorities to be an abuser at least since 1992 when he “retired” as Junior School Headmaster of St Benedict’s School.

  • buckingham88

     In any empirical trial you have to be sure that the controls are out of contact.If you are hunting for the effect of a supernatural being you are unlikely to be able to do that.This flattens the test because that being may not want to play by your rules.It may want to act independently of your criteria for success of outcome.In biological experiments involving an analysis of variance usually the conditions are very exact if God exists you wont be able to control that.
    Not that I think it would tell us anything about God but may I share with you some thoughts about trialling.At the moment there is a longditudinal trial going on with some four thousand human subjects over a period of ten years.The drug is an osteoarthritis modifying one.If you want to be serious about trialling,that is how it can be done.
    One of the problems with a lot of this type of debate is that by discussing such a weakly designed trial in the light of the the scientific findings of the age, it just puts science into disrepute.With no disrespect to you Jonathan,I am hoping that Acerlon will drop by.

  • JabbaPapa

    This is not bad as a Thomist exploration of the questions involved — but transsubstantiation involves the whole of the Eucharist, and it is the consumed Host that is transubsstantiated per se. Transubsstantiation involves the whole person of the Communicant, body, mind, and soul, and does not occur in the physical matter of the bread nor the wine.

    Transsubstantiation is also specifically described as not occurring if the Communion, for any reason, is invalid ; so that physical examination of consecrated bread or wine in laboratory conditions would be logically incapable of detecting a transubsstantiation in the first place, the consecration of the essences having been violated by the examination itself.

    Having said that, it is certainly true that no physical transformation of the consecrated species occurs.

    Dawkins has just been spouting out his typically crass ignorance of the Catholic teachings on this question, as he has done on so MANY other questions in the past…

    The ritual requirements of proper behaviour towards the consecrated essences are not that radically different in nature to any ritual requirements of proper behaviour in any other formal or ceremonial circumstances — including the basic formalities and ceremonies of our daily lives, such as those governing our behaviour towards fellow customers, shopkeepers, shop employees, and other strangers or acquaintances or friends or family during shopping trips.

    Religious rituals are partly (but certainly not only) a form of meditation on the ritual propriety of all moral behaviour. This is just one aspect of the veneration that is due to the consecrated essences, and whilst it is one of the more spiritually superficial ones, as well as being neither specifically Catholic nor even specifically Christian, its very superficiality and generality means that it can provide an illustration of the actual non-material changes that the Act of consecration provides.

    ie — NOT magic tricks nor alchemy nor any other of the fantasy rubbish that the atheists in here have been harping on about so ignorantly.

  • JabbaPapa

     Wow! That’s a really disrespectful way to treat divine revelation!

    How would you know ? You have obviously never had a divine revelation.

    You are discussing things that you are entirely ignorant of, in other words.

  • JabbaPapa

     It’s an expression of scorn towards that particular member’s repeated and blatant failures to comprehend the pertinence of several counterpoints that several other members have made against his comments.

    As well as an expression of sheer and utter boredom with the shallowness of the “arguments” that he provides, given that they are absolutely identical to “arguments” provided by ~99% of online militant atheists in my experience. I have seen these arguments a thousand times before, as well as seeing that ~99% of online militant atheists are so blinkeredly convinced of their so-called “pertinence” that they are incapable of even *imagining* that they might be wrong.

    I therefore interpret the nature of these “arguments” as being dogmatic, rather than actively rational.

    As an extra hint as to what I think about this sort of indoctrinated activism : the word “sect” properly refers a particular well-defined set of broadly philosophical beliefs, regardless of whether those beliefs are religious in nature or not. For the objective purposes of a comparative analysis, NuAtheism is a sect. My opinion is that several people posting in here are heavily indoctrinated members of that sect.

  • Jonathan West

    Have you had a divine revelation?

  • Jonathan West

    If the arguments are so familiar, you should have no difficulty in answering them. Why don’t you believe in the Invisible Pink Unicorn?

  • Jonathan West

    Yes, shame on those scientists for wanting to find out what might save people’s lives and improve their health. Shame on them for trying to find out whether prayer is any help.

  • Jonathan West

    I thought the Catholic CHurch dealt in eternal truths. You mean to say that God varies so much from year to your that the Catholic Encyclopdia’s description of God is out of date?
    Well I never!

  • Lazarus

    I think we’re coming from slightly different theological/philosophical backgrounds on this so I’m sure there’d be elements of each of our arguments the other would want to question. But I think we’d both agree that this simply shows that Catholicism is able to engage in critical reflection both internally and externally: there is most certainly the possibility of respectful and helpful debate both within the Church and with atheists etc who’ve taken the trouble to do their homework. (And J J C Smart in his dialogue with John Haldane in the volume ‘Atheism and Theism’ I’ve mentioned in another comment is a good example of this.) But Dawkins’s tossing off ‘thorts wot I hav thunk’ in complete ignorance of what he is critiquing is not a good model for atheism to follow.

  • JabbaPapa

    My original (lengthy) reply to this was destroyed by my browser.

    I’m being sincere here: the opening of your closing paragraph is
    excellent and right on target: “Belief is a human necessity for normal
    rational functioning.” Yes, absolutely. I don’t disagree. I’m not
    pulling your leg. I’m totally on board with your remark.

    hmmm, actual progress ?

    I’m really not sure about that — albeit that it is **extremely** unusual for an atheist to accept a point like that — and I mean specifically “atheist” ; agnostics seem not to have any trouble with it generally.

    The point being though, that the obvious conclusion from there onwards is that the primary atheist objection to religious faith as a mental function must necessarily collapse under examination from this specific basis.

    There is no qualitative difference between the functioning of a mind holding religious beliefs and a mind holding no religious beliefs, any particular individual variations notwithstanding.

    There is nothing functionally wrong with saying that you disbelieve whichever statement of a religious belief because that statement does not convince you ; there are on the other hand *several* things that are wrong about claiming that the minds of those holding religious beliefs are somehow “delusional” or whichever other grossly offensive claims by Dawkins or his acolytes and apprentices.

    Thing is, though: what kind of belief(s) are you talking about?

    Materially observable qualitative flaws in mental contents can only be said to occur in medically demonstrable cases of lesions, chemical imbalances, some forms of mutations or disabilities of the brain or of the other cognitive apparatus, some specific forms of severe mental illnesses, and so on…

    Otherwise — I’m talking about beliefs in general.

    I insist that, in a properly functioning world (…) people don’t simply
    believe things just because they want to believe them (…); instead, they believe things that they
    know to be accurate statements about how the world exists and operates, accurate in the sense that repeated occurrences and observations verify
    the validity of whatever belief.

    NOT “in a properly functioning world (…) people” —- “properly functioning rational individuals”

    NOT “they know to be accurate statements” —- “they have accepted as being accurate statements”

    My second correction is to correct an objective inaccuracy in your statement.

    My first objection is more profound — first, your link between the world and the individual is ignorant of the fact that our perception of the world occurs via the prisms of perception, cognition, and interpretation. Most human __abstract__ thought occurs in relationship to the specific contents of memory, But human communication has a transcendental capability, whereby material objects (in the philosophical sense of “object”) can themselves become a part of that communication. Rationality develops within the framework of this complex interweaved matrix of memory, reality, and communication between separate minds. It is not and cannot be solely dependant on the nature of material reality itself, given that our perception of that reality is radically warped by the imperfection of our own material nature.

    More generally, you seem to be implying that the atheist mind functions in this manner, and that the religious mind does not.

    Any such implication would be scientifically, philosophically, and theologically inaccurate. There is in fact no difference of objective quality between the mental processes of a properly functioning rational atheist and those of a properly functioning rational religious, notwithstanding the differences of contents, analysis, and opinion that may occur.

    Some of these beliefs can be stated even in the absence of direct personal experience. I’ve never been to England but I believe gravity is a functioning force there.

    This comparison is flawed — you have a direct personal experience of gravity as a universal force ; if you didn’t, you would not exist as a physical object, and would have been unable to use your computer to type these things out. Similarly, England would not exist as a physical object if gravity did not exist there.

    This is a category error of the first order if you think that this comment is relevant to the discussion at hand.

    Dawkins falsely assumes that God must necessarily be some sort of physical object following the same general rules as England, or yourself.

    He has made no effective demonstration of the validity of such a claim.

    So define truth? Well, there are several ways to go about it, but for our purposes here, one is to say that truth is a realization of a constancy in the world when it comes to perceiving the natural,
    experential world. Need I give more examples beyond the two I mentioned above?

    No more examples are necesary — but your definition is wrong.

    Truth could be better defined as a form of consistency between memory, perception, analysis/thought, and views shared with others. The Linguistics professor we had at the Sorbonne put it like this : La vérité est une certaine forme de pertinence énonciative.

    It is meanwhile physically impossible that the contents of our heads should constitute an accurate representation of material reality. This is *why* your definition is wrong. We can only perceive consistencies in our understandings of the world ; but not in the world itself.

    So to sum up, the problem with religious belief is that they are beliefs that have no real-world referents.

    This is not true — the referends of religious beliefs are called Revelation (in Christian theology – and other words in other theologies) ; whether it be personal, scriptural, or educational — it is a part of reality. Whether or not you personally believe any of it is, hrm, immaterial (literally, no pun is intended here).

    There is no way to tackle the belief
    or to examine it.

    This is very blatantly untrue — given that this is a very precise summary of all of your activity in this thread !!! This is something that you have been doing yourself, right here !!! (no matter how inexpertly)

    Instead, we’re supposed to take such a belief on
    “faith”. But why?

    Are we ? I certainly didn’t.

    I envy those who can, they have a far better sort of Faith than my own…

    I was an agnostic, and I actually needed some form of an objective proof. I did not reject that proof when it was provided to me.

    What we are *supposed* to be is to use our faculties as they actually are, not try to warp those faculties into shapes that other people might want them to have !! But if you close your mind to the sorts of evidence and reality that actually do exist, then how can you expect any of that evidence to be accepted by your mind in the first place ? The decision to reject that evidence has already been made — by you, in your own mind.

    If you close your eyes, you cannot see. Similarly, if you close your mind to the possibility that you might be wrong, there is nothing in the world that can convince you that you could be.

    But “this is a consecrated wafer” is a statement that’s empty of meaning
    because there is no way to differentiate the two, that is, to note the
    difference between a consecrated wafer and an unconsecrated wafer. As
    I’ve said a few times before, a wafer is a wafer is a wafer. To think
    that a wafer is now suddenly a different kind of wafer simply because a
    person spoke words in front of it is a kind of… well, I can’t think of
    a better word for it: madness.

    And, tellingly, here we are again, sliding down the slippery slope of your preconceptions down to the predictable destination.

    Madness ???!!!??? Really ????!!!???

    Quite apart from the fact that you’re just following Dawkins’ exhortations to mock and ridicule the Eucharist in public, which is a perfectly despicable thing for him to have suggested by the way, but no moreso than how despicable it is that those such as yourself should seek to carry out those hatemongering instructions — you are arguing from a position of sheer ignorance about the religious nature of transubsstantiation and the Eucharist.

    The consecration of the essences is very simply NOT as you are describing it.

    Go and read some descriptions of what their meanings are that have not been written either by atheists, or for the catechesis of five-year-olds.

    Finally :


    Logic, after all, constrains our thinking. We must obey its mandates.

    This is not accurately descriptive of the ordinary functioning of the human mind. Various logical strands exist within the structures of the mind, but it is false to claim them as being cohesively structured according to any overriding principle — well, unless you’re autistic or something.

    The underlying processes either governing or participating in decisions concerning this evening’s entertainment are separate from processes governing or participating in decisions concerning abstract analyses of the theory of Relativity for example.

    The hard fact is that reason is a restriction on freedom. We really are
    required to believe only what is true and to reason validly.

    And this is blatantly false. The opposite is true — our beliefs (provided initially by unanalytical perception) determine the procedures whereby we analyse our perceptions, from which we derive linguistically predetermined rules and methods to organise those methods as logic, and reason.

    Reason is the direct result of our intellectual and spiritual freedom — certainly NOT its very opposite !!!!

  • JabbaPapa

    I can’t help it if you have failed to either read or comprehend the large quantities of descriptions that exist of why Dawkins’ definition of God is flawed, including great numbers of them that have been posted in this very thread.

    You’re obviously not listening — why should I bother trying to talk to you ?

  • JabbaPapa

    The inanity of this extremely clichéd suggestion is self-evident to anyone with even a basic grasp of logic.

    It involves twisting the word “atheist” about, to mean something other than its dictionary definition.

    Here — let’s redefine “seven” so that it means “two” — ooh look, 2=7 — what bollocks !!!

  • JabbaPapa

    No I’m not — I’m saying that people like you CAN’T. This does not mean that people like me can.

    The Universe as a whole is ineffable — this does not prevent us from trying to understand it anyway.

    Partial understandings and misunderstandings of vastly incomprehensible realities are humanly possible, this is self-evident.

  • Jonathan West

    You might care to consider the following from Dawkins.

    This is as good a moment as any to forestall an inevitable retort to the book, one that would otherwise – as sure as night follows day – turn up in a review: ‘The God that Dawkins doesn’t believe in is a God that I don’t believe in either. I don’t believe in an old man in the sky with a long white beard.’ That old man is an irrelevant distraction and his beard is as tedious as it is long. Indeed, the distraction is worse than irrelevant. Its very silliness is calculated to distract attention from the fact that what the speaker really believes is not a whole lot less silly. I know you don’t believe in an old bearded man sitting on a cloud, so let’s not waste any more time on that. I am not attacking any particular version of God or gods. I am attacking God, all gods, anything and everything supernatural, wherever and whenever they have been or will be invented.

  • JabbaPapa


  • JabbaPapa

    I think we’re coming from slightly different theological/philosophical backgrounds on this so I’m sure there’d be elements of each of our arguments the other would want to question.

    Certainly !!

    I’m definitely NOT questioning the validity of the Thomist position, just pointing out that it is not the only valid position. :-)

    But I think we’d both agree that this simply shows that Catholicism is able to engage in critical reflection both internally and externally: there is most certainly the possibility of respectful and helpful debate both within the Church and with atheists etc who’ve taken the trouble
    to do their homework.


    But Dawkins’s tossing off ‘thorts wot I hav thunk’ in complete ignorance of what he is critiquing is not a good model for atheism to follow.

    Emphatically !!

  • JabbaPapa


    Otherwise, I’d still be an agnostic.

  • JabbaPapa

    Please don’t imagine that someone who is aware of this stupid rhetorical trick might actually fall for it.

  • JabbaPapa

     I already have. Remember — I read the damn book, contrary to some ridiculous claims otherwise.

  • JabbaPapa

     First — language is not a constant, so that the expression of a truth in the language of 19th century may come to mean something other than the truth when interpreted by the average 21st century reader using 21st century language.

    Second, Catholic doctrine does actually evolve, yes. Some teachings are eternal, other teachings are transient.

    Third, it is out of date because in the interim, a majour Full Council of the Church was held : Vatican II.

    Fourth the understanding of the truth evolves naturally over the course of the centuries, so that some descriptions derived from 19th century doctrines may require changes on the basis of subsequent analyses and subsequent teachings or clarifications.

  • JabbaPapa

     Do you think that *anybody* (apart from other paedophiles) thinks of any such cases as otherwise than “awful” ?

    And are you aware that the hands-down most likely environment where child abuse might occur is the family environment ?

  • Jpcogan

    And again, you give a non-answer.

  • Jpcogan

    Why not? And please be specific this time, instead of a sweeping dismissal.

  • Jpcogan

    Your ability to deliberately miss the point is truly impressive. Jonathan West was pointing out that of the thousands of deities postulated by mankind, he simply believes in one less than you do, and that his reasons for rejecting yours are the same as his reasons for rejecting the others, followed by a suggestion that you might try the same. Rejecting this as self-evidently inane, rather than addressing the argument, tends to indicate that as with your other numerous instances of handwaving, you don’t actually have a valid reply.

  • Jpcogan

    I certainly don’t imagine at this point that you’ll ever give a straight answer.

  • Jpcogan

    The Nazis were not atheists, and the others you mentioned committed their atrocities in the name of a political ideology, not atheism.

  • Jpcogan

    I think you mean the First Amendment, one of the nicer features of the US: we don’t censor points of view because someone may find them offensive. You also seem to confuse mockery with threatening behavior: if your position is sound, mockery should not be a threat.