Sunday, October 29, 2006

Starting to read The God Delusion

Starting to read The God Delusion - it's an unbelievably bad book. Dawkins preens like some Colonel Blimp, dropping personal anecdotes, mockingly quoting some theologians and Pope JPII and saying "Can't understand this ... must be rubbish." His attitude to Quantum Mechanics (p365) is an interesting contrast "mysterious ...paradoxical...preposterous" but of course it's Science so even Dawkins concedes that "it has got to be true in some sense". Doesn't seem to have dawned on him that, if QM is like that, the deepest nature of the Universe might be like that as well.

At last after 73pp of such drivel, we get to "Arguments for God's existence". At last, I thought, something to get my teeth into. He gives the first 3 of Aquinas' "proofs" (Unmoved Mover, Uncasued Cause, Cosmological Argument) and then simply says that "they make the entirely unwarranted assumption that God himself is immune from this regress" and that even if the regress terminates "there is absolutely no reason to endow that terminator with any of the properties normally ascribed to God".

On starting The God Delusion

Well I've started reading The God Delusion. So far it is an unbelievably bad book. Dawkins wanders around like a dyspeptic Colonel Blimp. He quotes random bits from theologians and Pope JPII with an amused "I can't understand this. it must be rubbish!" What he'd make of Quantum Physics is anyone's guess - actually it does get a whole page (p365) "mysterious ... preposterous ... shatteringly paradoxical" But of course because it's Science it must be OK. Doesn't seem to occur to Dawkins that anything that puports to account for everthing there is including QM might share some of these characteristics!

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Dawkins - facing facts

Dawkins says "I suspect there are not many atheists in prison". But the data on this for England and Wales for 2000 was published in 2001. "Prisoners with No religion were the fastest growing group of the prison population. This group more than doubled in size, growing by 181% between 1993 and 2000; the prison population as a whole grew by 55% over the same period." The data are: Christian 59%, No Religion 32%, Muslim 7%, Other 2%. By comparison the 2001 Census figures for Great Britain were Christian 72%, No Religion 15%, Muslim 3%, Other 2.5% and not stated 8%. So atheists are actually twice as likely to be in prison*. These data were available but Dawkins the "scientist" chooses not to cite them - simply saying "I suspect".

* In fairness to do this properly you should match the age cohorts and this would reduce the over-representation of atheists and Muslims. But the point remains: the data are there, Dawkins doesn't use them because they don't support his "argument"

Friday, October 27, 2006

Faith symbols, faith schools and abortion

The Archbishop of Canterbury in The Times is quite right to say that the state should not try to regulate the wearing of religious symbols. The atheist minority (who are highly influential in the media and PC politics) has been trying to push religion in general and Christianity in particular away to the margins of society for the last decade, but the track record of officially atheist regimes (Stalin, Mao etc..) is a dismal reminder of where this leads.

The BBC very upset that the government has backed down on forcing faith schools to take 25% of their pupils from other/non-faiths. Of course the main reasons are (a) BBC is v anti-religion and (b) most BBC people live in London where almost the only chance of a decent-ish free education is from a faith school.

It also emerges that there is now clear evidence of a link between abortion and mental illness - so leading medics are calling for the guidelines to be revised. Though I wonder how much of this is explianed by the fact that Christians are much less likely to have abortions, and much less likely to be mentally ill.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Dawkins, Wikipedia and Burleigh

Tried to edit the Dawkins Article in Wikipedia to make the points that:
  • In addition to comparison with Huxley he can be compared to Russell and Haeckel
  • The more nuanced view of genes-eye evolution as one of the ways to think about evolution is an improvement on the "lumbering robots" approach of The Selfish Gene criticised well by Dennis Noble.
  • The evolution of Altruism is still a very hot research topic and not well understood.
A clique of Dawkins fans wouldn't have any of it, kept reverting the changes with no rationale and then had me blocked. Ah well.

Utterly scathing review by Terry Eagleton (a leading Marxist) of The God Delusion in the LRB. Margaret Cook in the New Statesman also clearly finds it embarrassing ("Maniacal dance ... hurriedly formulated ...personal vendetta, complete with elitist undertones and some uncomfortably dictatorial passages...negligible insight into the way humans behave.") He fares no better in the New York Times. ("scattershot reasoning...Shirking the intellectual hard...failure to appreciate just how hard philosophical questions about religion can be makes reading it an intellectually frustrating experience"). And these are all from atheists/agnostics!

I have got Sacred Causes and it's brilliant so far. For example:
  • There are encouraging signs that the Churches ... are ready to make certain non-negotiable positions clear rather than to mouth the platitudes of a discredited multiculturalism that only exists in the Left university and within local government, neither of them at the cutting edge of European thinking.
  • How many atheistic liberals run soup kitchens for homeless drug addicts? Is the culture of guns and gansta rap, which thrills progressive commentators, a better alternative to the thriving black pentecostal churches?

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The evolutionary advantages of belief

Updated the Wikipedia article on Dawkins to point out that:
  • Although the successor of Thomas Huxley and Bertrand Russell in the public imagination, his predecessors were unquestionably intellects of the first rank, and Dawkins is much more like Ernst Haeckel.
  • The evolution of altruism is currently a very hot topic in biology, and by no means fully understood.[14]
  • This is contrary to his unfortunate assertion that we are nothing but "lumbering robots" to propagate our genes which has taken hold in some parts of the popular imagination.
One of Dawkins' defenders quickly removed these changes - so I have re-instated them and we'll see. Although his silly book is on the "best-seller" lists it is greatly outsold by books by comedians (well people who know they are comedians). And I have just read a very equivocal review of The God Delusion in Nature by a Dawkins fan who nevertheless complains "I wish that Dawkins...had continued to play to his strengths... this book is... a sermon. I just have no idea who his intended parishioners might be."

Excellent article in Prospect about the demographic advantages of believers - confirms much of what I have long asserted. And if religion is good for the survival of your genes, in what sense can Dawkins and Dennett claim that it is harmful. Dawkins has has 3 wives and only one child - I am the other way round. On my view this has little to do with the validity of my views, but Dawkins' genes are dying out.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Sailing. Dawkins, Wright, Burleigh

Back from delightful sailing holiday in Bodrum. Excellent family atmosphere with young couples delighted with the childcare/kids clubs and relaxing in each others company. The confraternity of sailing gives it some of the feel of an extended family. In some ways redolent of how a good Church should be.

Finishing reading Tom Wright’s masterly Simply Christian. He talks about how, “as a newborn baby breathes and cries, so the signs of life in a new born Christian are faith and repentance, inhaling the love of God and exhaling an initial cry of distress. And at that point what God provides, exactly as for a newborn infant, is the comfort, protection and nurturing promise of a mother” He likes the Church to “a family business” and stresses the importance of “groups of a dozen or so who will meet to pray, study scripture, and build one another up in the faith”

He is also superb on the authority of scripture: “the authority of a love story in which we are invited to take part”

Reflecting a bit on the Dawkins issue. Tempted to buy the book to help refute it, but this would undermine my principle of not putting money into the hands of authors like Dawkins and Pullman (purveyors of atheistic propaganda to the semi-intelligentsia). I wonder if some real scientists could co-author The Dawkins Delusion?

It seems to me that philosophically the definition of God is “the Ultimate Creator” It is (probably) logically possible that there is no Ultimate Creator but it is simply nonsense to ask “who created the Ultimate Creator”, so to ask “who created God” simply shows that you don’t understand the concept. In which case you should not be taken seriously when you write a book about it. Of course the mere existence of an UC leads to nothing very much but Christianity is “Jesus is Lord” ie, philosophically, that the UC is uniquely identified with the Jesus of the New Testament. And from this ‘simple’ statement (J=UC) a huge variety of life-changing consequences flow. Not least that, in the light of Christ, the Universe makes sense.

Another of Dawkins silly non-arguments is that, because God is more complex than the Universe, God explains nothing. But, although the reality of God is of course infinitely complex, the concept of God is very simple. And it is a concept that provides philosophical or scientific explanations. The quantum vacuum would be a scientific analogy. And the implications of the Einstein equations are of immense complexity, even though their formulation is relatively simple.

Michael Burleigh has written another book – sounds splendid from the review I have read. Must get it.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Polkinghorne and Lemaitre

Quite a flurry of Polkinghorne Q&A. Sadly new IT system has led to a delay in posting them on the website. One e-correspondent didn't get why "you shouldn't believe anything that is not scientifically proven" was self-refuting: had to explain (is that statement scientifically proven?) At a Society of Authors do last night found a chap who was entirely taken in by The Selfish Gene - it really has taken hold in popular culture.

A freind of my elder daughter's was going to be at the Cambridge Union last night where Dawkins was giving a lecture to promote his latest rant, and emailed whether it was true that Big Bang was proposed by Christians, and opposed by atheists on quasi-religious grounds. Yes - indeed the proposer was a Georges-Henri Lemaitre, a Catholic Priest who was also a considerable scientist (literally applauded by Einstien who apparently said "This is the most beautiful and satisfactory explanation of creation to which I have ever listened.") Will be interesting to hear how it went.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

CofE bubbling along

A fine editorial yesterday in the Telegraph from (sadly atheist) Patience Wheatcroft saying that the UK is a tolerant Christian country not "multifaith secular" and people should accept this. She famously did a column against Church Schools in The Times which was followed by a letter to the Editor "If Patience Wheatcroft is so against church schools, why does she send our sons to a school with two chaplains and compulsory chapel..." signed by her husband!

Today a story that "Terry Waite has abandoned the CofE" in favour of the Quakers, because of trendy vicars. But firstly, it seems that he hasn't abandoned the CofE, merely that he sometimes pefers to attend Quaker meetings. Secondly, on balance the informal Evangelical services are bringing in far more people: the Diocese of London is growing consistently. It is a glory of the CofE that there is a diversity of styles, but one Spirit.

Met some fascinating and encouraging people on a course last night, including an amazing story from a former model and drug user who is now ... a CofE curate!

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Enns, Veil, faithfreedom.org

Lots of work. Manged to pop up last night to see grandchildren - utterly delightful. Daughter popped back on Weds and I was late for a business dinner, it is such fun talking to her.

Really inspiring sermon at SPH on Sunday and very interesting first evening of Welcome Course: so much encouraging work being done.

Reading more of Peter Enns Interpretation and Incarnation: he is talking about how the OT is interpreted in the NT, making the point that although these interpretations are often not what the original human authors must have intended, these are what the scriptures meant because everything should be interpreted in the light of Christ's coming.

Very interesting how the Muslim Veil debate is shaping up. Came across a very vituperative site by an ex-Muslim which he promises to remove if proven wrong. This gives many worrying verses in the Koran and Hadith. I wonder.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Notes from Cornwall

Been down in Cornwall to help celebrate mother's 75th. Uncle and Aunt also down. Went last night to concert in mangificent Newquay Parish Church celebrating 10th anniversary of its rebuilding after it was burned down. Brilliant Tenor Anthony Mee, who lives locally, was star attraction, together with his wife (Heather Anthony) - my Sister was playing Volin and Recorder. Tony should give masterclasses, he is a consummate performer. Sings a lot in Germany eg for Mehta (Bardolfo in Falstaff). Bishop of Truro was there, charming chap. Talked about John Polkinghorne, Richard Dawkins, Tom Wright and Rowan Williams (whom he greatly admires and likes). Has the CofE ever had such an outstandingly able top 4 as Williams, Sentamu, Chartes and Wright? I doubt it.

Ran along the cliffs yesterday and then surfed with my mother. But it's too windy today for either.

Glanced at The Way the Wind Blows - autobiography of Alec Douglas-Home, the most deeply obscure PM of my lifetime (and last OE). Nice self-deprecating sense of humour, eg him to BBC make-up lady:
Q. Can you not make me look better than I do on television?
A. No.
Q. Why not?
A. Because you have a head like a skull.
Q. Does not everyone have a head like a skull?
A. No.

He also deplored the fact that "A habit of Tweedledee-Tweedledum politics had grown up in which, whenever the PM spoke, whether sense or nonsense, the Leader of the Opposition was expected to knock him on the head, and vice-versa."

Interestingly the book, written in 1976, has no index entry for Thatcher.

His book concludes with the story of a man who was walking along the street when he was intercepted by a zealous lady who asked, "Sir, are you saved?". He answered "Yes." and tried to walk on. But she persisted. "Why then are you not dancing in the streets and crying alound praises to God". "Because Madam," he said, "I consider it to be so narrow a squeak that I had better keep quiet about it."