Sat 25th Oct 2014 | Last updated: Fri 24th Oct 2014 at 18:39pm

Facebook Logo Twitter Logo RSS Logo
Hot Topics

Latest News

Sir Anthony Hopkins: I couldn’t be an atheist

By on Friday, 11 February 2011

Anthony Hopkins stars as an exorcist in the forthcoming film The Rite (CNS photo/Warner Bros.)

Anthony Hopkins stars as an exorcist in the forthcoming film The Rite (CNS photo/Warner Bros.)

Sir Anthony Hopkins told the Catholic Herald this week that he “couldn’t live with” the certainty of being an atheist.

The actor, who was knighted in 1993, said: “Being an atheist must be like living in a closed cell with no windows”.

Sir Anthony said: “I’d hate to live like that, wouldn’t you? We see them, mind you, on television today, many brilliant people who are professional atheists who say they know for a fact that it’s insanity to have a God or to believe in religion. Well, OK, God bless them for feeling that way and I hope they’re happy.”

He added: “But I couldn’t live with that certainty, and I wonder about some of them: why are they protesting so much? How are they so sure of what is out there? And who am I to refute the beliefs of so many great philosophers and martyrs all the way down the years?”

Sir Anthony, who is most famous for playing the cannibal Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs, stars as Fr Lucas in The Rite, based on the experiences of American exorcist Fr Gary Thomas.

  • Rich

    Oh, this is such dangerous ground – effectively the bishops are right because they say they are right – what they say goes – we must humbly obey lest we suffer the same fate as Satan??! This is such a very dangerous argument.

    Perhaps we should talk about how the Holy Spirit inspires holiness on those he touches.

  • Guest

    Remarkable really! The time professional atheists spend and earn speaking about God and his non-existence.

  • Miki

    that is the reality

  • Miki

    mollysdad,one window? no, it is like living in a house WHERE THERE IS NO WINDOW AT ALL!!!!,full of suffocation and confussions,no oxygen!!!! to be an atheist is like to inhale and exhale carbondioxide!!!

  • Miki

    He is not human,and He doesnt think the way you do! YOU THINK HERE AND NOW,BUT OUR GOD IS OMNIPOTENT!!! HE KNOWS WHAT TO DO IN DUE TIME

  • kyriakos

    Read my comment properly before commenting.Moreover,I am answering an naive atheist on God where I am fored to use simple imagery.What actually I am saying is God cannot be found in the material universe beause he transcends it.By stuff I meant essence of God who ‘is not’ but is ‘isness’.He does not simply excists but is excistence.

  • Tom

    “Ergo, your decision to believe anything at all ultimately becomes an act of faith.”

    I agree and have never disagreed. Faith, when defined as making a decision without absolute knowledge, would make every decision made by every single person an act of faith. That definition is useless. A more appropriate definition for faith would be to make a decision without REASONABLE knowledge/evidence/information. Once reasonable knowledge has been obtatined then faith, in the usable sense, isn’t required. Do you agree?

  • Tom

    “And where do natural laws come from Tom – do they not have to be created?”

    Not necessarily. Some laws are simply properties of existence. Take the laws of triangles. The simplest form is that all triangles have three sides. The more complex versions involve the laws of sines and cosines. These laws are universal across reality. No one created the law that triangles have three sides or that there is a consistent relationship between the angles or sides of a triangle. They are simply properties of triangles that emerge because triangles exist. I’m not saying I know for sure that all natural laws are emergent properties (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emergence#Emergent_properties_and_processes). I’m only saying that since we know such laws exist we can not assume that natural laws must be created by a god figure.

  • Tom

    “as there are miracles that stand up to the rigors of current day public scrutiny and peer review – this isn’t fantasy.”
    Examples? I have done my own search and the only ones I can find are either scientifically explainable, or are inconclusive.

    “life is awesome. However, if you believe is God you get this and a whole lot more!”
    As nice as it would be to believe, and I can not reject the idea that it may make my life better, I care weather it is true or not. My favorite example is heroine. Heroine is great if you only care about perceived quality of life. You would live a short, but extremely happy life. However, if you care about having REAL substance to your life then heroine, as a lie, is awful.

  • Tom

    “However, not all my hope is in things which can be taken away in a flash, friends, my life, my freedoms could all be taken away in an instant. I have a hope which endures”

    You are right. I would probably be happier if I believed that my hopes could not be taken away. I wouldn’t have any reason to cry at a funeral if I believed that my family was simply moving to a better place. The problem is that it would be a lie. If I don’t care about the truth then I could believe whatever makes me happy, but I do care. I want to believe things because they are true not because they make me happy. Life may not be perfect, but there is enough hope, beauty, love, and happiness to make it worth living. I can understand the need for the lie in cases of people with lives without enough hope, but there’s no excuse for the rest of us.

  • Tom

    “The trouble is all I see is clean brush strokes”

    Then you’re ignoring the imperfections. At least 50% of human DNA is simply repeated sections of the genome that could have been left out. The percentage of junk DNA may be as high as 98% considering that only 2% of the genome contains the genes that actually code for things. The brain, while marvelous in its ability and complexity is notoriously incompetent at storing memories. Even the cosmos is imperfect considering a huge majority(i don’t know the figure) is “empty” space. These are just a tiny few examples of “brush strokes” that one would would expect from a natural process. You would expect the opposite from an intelligent process. A good designer would create a clean genome, a brain capable of storing memories with great fidelity, and a cosmos that his creations would be capable of exploring.

  • Tom

    From my experiences.

  • Tom

    I have studied physics and I see no need for a creator. As for metaphysics, if you define it as the study of fundamental principals, it seems the evidence either way is inconclusive as it is all in the realm of philosophy. Though don’t get me wrong, it is a fascinating and very useful subject. If you define it as the study of the immaterial (beyond physics/outside this universe) then imagine me rolling my eyes because something immaterial has the same properties as something that doesn’t exist. Nevertheless, if you are aware of evidence that points towards believing in a supreme being then please provide me your BEST one.

  • Tom

    Thank you Rich. I carefully considered the words I used when I chose my definition. It does please me to know I was on the right track.

  • Tom

    Of course not. However, I am confident enough, based on evidence, to believe that no god exists.

  • Tom

    I don’t doubt that there is some historical facts contained within the bible. I’m sure that if I go through the Harry Potter series that I could find some historically accurate information too. However, the important parts, such as creation, the garden, the fall, the flood, Jesus’s birth; deeds; miracles; torture; execution; resurrection, etc… all lack any evidence and are fantastic(in the sense that they are like a fantasy). This is no different from Harry Potter.

  • Tom

    How about A Million Little Pieces by James Frey? No one even knows who the authors of were much less if they claimed their work to be non-fiction. Besides, the claims of the original author are irrelevant. People lie.

  • Tom

    “I am not sure that a good scientist should have the mindset that something is “irrefutable”. ”
    Of course. I admit that “irrefutable” is a slight exaggeration. Perhaps a better phrase would be, “accurate/true with a high degree of confidence.”

    “Also let’s try and refrain from patronising comments like “Go back to school” and “Do some research””
    Fair enough, such comments are uncalled for. I will make an effort to avoid them.

    “We have believed what we believe to be trustworthy sources – little different to accepting the witness of the Apostles and the disciples.”
    Actually, it is very different. It is reasonable to trust the word of science, with caution. The primary reason is in the fact that science is reproducible. It is not reasonable to accept the claims of one experiment. However, as more and more scientists achieve the same result then one grows more and more confident. Although the point is different for everyone, at a point the confidence reaches a level that it is reasonable to accept the claim without conducting a personal experiment. With the bible we only have the word of the witnesses. This is a huge and deciding difference.

  • Tom

    “where committees of objective doctors have studied these cases
    over periods of time …and concluded that no medical explanation for these exist”

    We’re not just looking for cases in which there is no scientific explanation. We are looking for cases where the scientific evidence points to a supernatural god entity as being the cause. This needs to be affirmative evidence for the god not negative evidence against other theories.

  • Tom

    “You can’t say something comes from nothing because the conditions are such, that’s a category error.”
    Please, forgive my ignorance. What do you mean by “category error”?

    “Secondly his nothing isn’t a nothing we understand it as. His nothing has specific properties.”
    I think that is the point. The point in a VERY simplistic sense is that there is no such thing as nothingness as we normally understand it. “Nothing” in reality has properties which allows for the creation of the universe. I anticipate that this topic will soon go over my head and I would not be skilled enough in Hawking’s theories to argue much further. In fact I suspect that no one but a select few people would be skilled enough to understand the physics of “nothing” to argue much further. I feel obligated to state the fact that we don’t understand is not evidence for god. It merely represents the limits of our current understanding.

  • Tom

    I am not skilled enough to answer your question, but it would be wrong to simply insert “god did it” into that knowledge gap. The true and honest answer is “we don’t know”. There is nothing wrong with “i don’t know”.

  • Anonymous

    Did Anubis demand his followers worship him, RIch? Did Anubis ask that Egyptians convert other people to his faith and spread his gospel? Has Anubis faith continued? Does Anubis even care if his message has spread to others? Do I have a choice to follow Anubis? Think a little more rationally Rich and you’ll see that the selection of gods isn’t that great. EVEN if ANUBIS is TRUE, he does not want me, so I am damned already.

  • Anonymous

    Tom you’re confusing the genres. The NT gospels were written as though they are a historical account – most scholars (even atheists) agree. That does not mean what it says was true for the people in it could have lied or been mistaken, but it wasn’t written as a myth or work or fiction. So you have to believe they were either mistaken or lying but you can’t assume that it was mythology. Mythology is written as myth by the people who write it. The Creation and Garden stories are not in the NT and said to be allegorical and not historic.

  • Anonymous

    Tom if nothingness has such properties that something springs out from it, then you still haven’t explained why the nothingness has such properties. Why is the nothingness such that nothing springs from it?

    Hawking no matter how good at physics is using philosophy here. He is not a philosopher.

  • Anonymous

    Wallace of all the wars only 7% were religious. That’s scholarly research there. Few people were actually killed in the name of God. Most people were killed in the name of secular political motivations and God may or may not have been used a pretext or motivator, not even a primary motivator. Why do people kill for God yet cannot stay celibate or faithful or not lie, steal or cheat for God?

    I have no ‘cognitive dissonance’ I assure you. I’m just a realist and see peoples’ motivations for what they are.

    Oh and even if God killed billions, which He didn’t, but even if He did, why should that be a problem for me? He never said I should kill for Him? Nor should anyone else. That’s a nice little atheist non sequitur.

  • Anonymous

    Sorry mistake.

  • Anonymous

    OK, apologies then. :)

  • Rich Wilson

    All faiths continue until they don’t.

    But ok, keeping to the vengeful one holding the carrot and the stick…

    do you worship the Catholic way, the Baptist way, the Muslim way, the Mormon way, the Jewish way…
    If you’re a betting man, then the odds are sadly long.

  • Rich

    Tom, “reasonable” covers a wide spectrum. It would be safer to say if you know something to be true, if there’s certainty, you no longer need believe through faith.

  • Rich

    Of …
    Someone walks down a street and kills a man – how do you know its wrong?

  • Rich

    Good point. The world might well be imperfect, but equally we can never have a complete understanding of it. Our knowledge of DNA for example is relatively recent, and its arguable that junk DNA might well have another purpose. A brian, a perfect brain, might competent at storing memories, and in fact our brains may be capable of significantly more than we currently know. And a cosmos, full empty space that his creations can’t explore – we’ve only just managed to get ourselves to the moon, so how about we give it another 1k years or so?

    All this, I know, you will tell me is a bit of a cop-out. But I guess that’s the problem – we’re trying to understand something massive based in present day knowledge. In the last decade our knowledge has increased exponentially, so its fair to assume that even in 10 years hence we won’t have learnt everything. There’s still scope to develop a perfect understanding of God.

  • Rich

    Heroine, a good example. And I applaude your search for truth, we’re in complete agreement.

    As for examples, I’m no doctor but how about the recovery of Jack Sullivan from spinal injury? (If this is scientifically explainable we’d better tell the Catholic Church urgently before they mistakenly make Cardinal Newman a saint.)

  • Rich

    Good answer.

  • Rich

    Der Wolfanwalt, Tom’s appraisal is accurate:

    “If you consider belief despite the lack of absolute knowledge faith then so be it.”

  • Rich

    Nice one Tom. No one can be certain, we’re just at different ends of the spectrum. Its just that we’re at the right end :)

  • Anonymous

    Rich if Anubis is the creator of the universe and he wants me to be in his religion surely 1. It would exist. 2. He would tell his followers to convert people – which apparently he didn’t do. Even if Anubis is the god then he’s excluded me. His faith would surely continue if he was the one. :-)

    Carrot and the stick? No. I just see more good in religion besides that. This carrot and stick stuff is just extra stuff. You know we trust that God is merciful and kind and we Catholics think that those other people may also end up in heaven, but yes I’m hoping for a merciful yet just God. It’s more about love and not fear although they say fear is the beginning of the love. The Catholic Church says that we were found by Jesus on Peter. The other Churches moved away but God still loves those other people.

    Odds are not as long as you think. Besides the other alternative may lead to damnation although God may forgive some atheists too, the ones who are not at fault for not believing (you know the ones who were raped by a priest and became atheist, or have a hatred for incense etc).

  • Tom

    “”reasonable” covers a wide spectrum.”
    Of course. What one considers “reasonable” varies depending on the person and many other situations. A nut might consider the voices in his head to be reasonable evidence while a cynic would require absolute proof to consider it reasonable. However, once that evidence reaches the point of being reasonable then faith(trust) is replaced by confidence. For example, take a couple driving. The wife has faith that the husband will drive with their safety in mind despite the fact that he is a speeder with terrible road rage. The past evidence(crashes) has not reached a level for the wife to be reasonably sure, but she has faith/trusts him. The husband on the other hand is confident that the wife is going to drive with safety in mind because her past driving has made him reasonably sure. At this point he doesn’t need to have faith/trust her.

  • Tom

    “how about the recovery of Jack Sullivan from spinal injury?”
    This case would fall under the inconclusive category. While I don’t doubt that the recovery was amazing and not yet explained by science I don’t see satisfactory evidence that this was the work of a god figure. The only evidence is his claim that he prayed to the cardinal immediately before the amazing healing. The evidence could become conclusive if this experience was reproducible. For example, I would be more convinced if other people were able to pray to this cardinal and become healed in the same way. I find it very telling that this has not happened.

  • Tom

    This is so true. We know that our understanding is limited so we can almost be certain that there is more to things then what we currently know. However, it would be wrong to simply insert a god into that realm of what we don’t understand. We must make decisions based on what we do know, acknowledge what we don’t know, and try to fix it. For example all evidence points to junk DNA as being benign, yet useless, snippets of DNA caused by random mutations. It would be wrong to assume otherwise until evidence is found.

  • Tom

    Based on my experiences I know that I have a desire to be happy and free from suffering and I also know that other people probably feel the same therefore it is better for people to be happy and free from suffering. Killing a man causes suffering therefore, all things being equal, it is wrong. I think this is the simplest explanation I can give. The issue of morality is extremely complex and is full of conflicts.

  • Tom

    “but it wasn’t written as a myth or work or fiction.”
    Is it wrong for me to assume that writings about magical acts and fantastical creatures are works of fiction?

  • Tom

    “then you still haven’t explained why the nothingness has such properties.”
    This is true. We are limited in our understanding and have yet to develop an explanation for the properties themselves. However, we know the properties are real because we can measure them. This is enough to conclude that the god entity is not required because the properties themselves provide an explanation for creation of the universe.

    “Hawking no matter how good at physics is using philosophy here. He is not a philosopher. ”
    How is he using philosophy? Gods are not restricted to the realm of philosophy. The god that Hawking dismisses is one that has a physical effect on the universe(he created it). That makes the god theory a scientifically testable theory. The only philosophical statement that the author of your article mentions is where Hawking says, “Philosophy is dead. It has not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly in physics. As a result scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge.” That statement is a matter of opinion and is debatable, but is unrelated to his theories on creation. Saying something comes from ‘nothing’ is not philosophy especially if you have data to back it up.

  • Rich Wilson

    Everyone seems to construct a god to their liking. Yours is rather different from Fred Phelps’s. And going beyond “God may forgive some atheists too, the ones who are not at fault for not believing”, there are some that would argue that an omnipotent loving god would also forgive the likes of Gandhi, who didn’t have an excuse for rejecting Christianity, other than that he was raised a Hindu and felt it was a perfectly good religion for him.

    It’s always seemed kind of odd that God would let one get away with ‘believing’ just to hedge the bet. Either you believe or you don’t, and if you don’t really, but just go through the motions to appease a god who would send people to hell for working on the Sabbath (say, as a firefighter), then you’re not going to be fooling Him, and you’ll be going to hell anyways. It’s like Pascal’s wager is a reason given be people who believe anyways, but surely doesn’t convince anyone who isn’t already a believer.

  • Rich

    Fair point

  • Rich

    Agreed. But I’m sure you’ll also agree that given our imperfect and ever-advancing knowledge we can’t rule out a use for that junk DNA? Is it fair to say there’s more to life than we currently know?

  • Rich

    Um, almost, I’d suggest. Confidence is good, but there will always an element of doubt until you know for certain. The husband may well have confidence in his wife’s driving ability, but he will still need to have faith / trust in her until they arrive at their destination.

  • Rich

    You’re more Catholic than you think, the Church also needs two miracles to prove conclusively but in the Church’s case its to prove Newman is a saint. As we’re looking to prove the existance of God rather than that Newman’s a saint, will another miracle do or does it need to have the same heritage?

  • Anonymous

    You can’t say something comes from nothing when that something is not really nothing but something with certain properties.

  • Toby

    Tom, these laws of gemoetry that you describe are essentially a human construct used to accurately describe and predict the world that we see around us. It is possible to have other non-Euclidean geometries that still work but are different laws. The laws are correct within their own limitations, however, do they exist as such outside of their own instantations? You’re into questions of whether you are a Platonist or an Aristotelian here. However, what fascinates me about these laws is that they seem to point towards an intelligent mind behind creation. I think it far less likely that reason should be the product of unreason than of reason. Einstein remarked that one of things that he found most incredible was that the Universe was intelligible.

    Also I’m not quite sure how your statement above gets us away from the need for a first uncaused cause. Nothing that Hawking argues for deals adquately with this issue either. Picking up on our earlier thread and your comments with TaxExempt; it is really apparent when you read Hawking and the arguments of most of the New Atheists, like Dawkins, how weak both their philosophy is and their knowledge of the religions that they seek to deconstruct. They do not seem to understand that even a proof in science relies on certain philosophical assumptions about the reasonableness or otherwise of that proof, and they make bizarre claims that they do not need to understand something in order to rebut it. So Dawkins makes no apologies for his theological and philosophical ignorance in his attacks on theological and philosophical positions, however, if the situation was reversed he would pour scorn (with some justification) on the person who dismissed his meme theory without adeqaute knowledge of it (for the record, I’m not saying this of you, there is clearly a far greater intellectual honesty and integrity in you). Part of the problem of today’s society is the narrowness of the Western Mind. Our world is full of specialists pontificating on areas outside their specialism. They make the errors that the Church has done in the past on matters such as astronomy. Our university system forces people to go too narrow too soon, there is no concept of a general liberal arts education before moving on to specialism.

  • Toby

    Tom,

    Obviously we can agree that our beliefs differ, and I would never suggest that you live without integrity to what you believe to be true. However, if you think that religious adherents in the main follow their beliefs because they think it would make them happier then that is quite patronising. Religion is a search for truth. Christ said, “I am the way, the truth and the light”. Now I believe him, you don’t. I may be deluded; so may you, but the inference that I believe out of a sense of despair is insulting.