Sam Harris, Steven Pinker, Simon Blackburn (a philosopher) and Lawrence Krauss discuss what is moral and what science can tell us about human values.
Concerning the terrible history of tyrants and demagogues in history I think it best to do away with man worship as well as God worship for the same reason. It asks you to ignore certain unpleasant realities and focus on simplistic answers. To worship men or their claims for their particular God construct would be a call to slavishness, servility and credulity. No master men. No master God. If God or men are known you would neither fear, hate, or worship them. Only the mysterious can be worshiped and that is why ambitious men desire to keep a mysterious divide between them and their followers. If God is mysterious then it is an unknown God...the known Gods are not be feared or revered for they come from the frail minds of men.
"Man was born, with the power of thought, the knowledge of good and evil, and the cruel thirst for worship. And Man saw that all is passing in this mad, monstrous world, that all is struggling to snatch, at any cost, a few brief moments of life before Death's inexorable decree. "
"The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honorable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish."
— Albert Einstein, letter to philosopher Eric Gutkind, 1/3/1954
I cannot imagine a God who rewards and punishes the objects of his creation, whose purposes are modeled after our own — a God, in short, who is but a reflection of human frailty. Neither can I believe that the individual survives the death of his body, although feeble souls harbor such thoughts through fear or ridiculous egotisms."
— Albert Einstein (1879-1955), German-born American theoretical physicist, quoted in The New York Times obituary, April 19, 1955
"It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it."
— Albert Einstein, 1954, from Albert Einstein: The Human Side
"I see only with deep regret that God punishes so many of His children for their numerous stupidities, for which only He Himself can be held responsible; in my opinion, only His nonexistence could excuse Him."
— Albert Einstein, letter to Edgar Meyer, 1/2/1915
"A general problem with much of Western theology in my view is that the god portrayed is too small. It is a god of a tiny world and not a god of a galaxy much less of a universe."
The gods of the human primate from this little blue planet in the universe seem to be too small, too human and too petty to be the ultimate force in this giant cosmos.
The created gods of the human mind are too small and petty for the grandeur of the stars and universe. Human gods do not even cover the scale of the earth and its history much less the universe.
"A universe in which everything is known would be static and dull, as boring as the heaven of some weak-minded theologians ."
You sometimes hear the name Giordano Bruno (1548–1600) invoked as a prequel to the life of Galileo Galilei (1564–1642). These two natural philosophers, countrymen of the Italian peninsula, stood ready to shove the Earth from its ancient resting place and set it in orbit around the Sun. Though a rotating, revolving Earth challenged common sense and flew in the face of received wisdom, still they both embraced the idea—at their peril. The difference is that Bruno died for his beliefs (tied to a stake and set on fire in a public square in Rome), while Galileo recanted before the Inquisition and lived to advanced old age under house arrest.
Galileo Galilei is a seminal figure in the history of science. Both Stephen Hawking and Albert Einstein credit him as the first modern scientist. His 1633 trial before the Holy Office of the Inquisition is the prime drama in the history of the conflict between science and religion. In Galileo’s day, Rome was the capital of a sovereign theocratic power, which in 1600 had executed Giordano Bruno on similar charges and reserved the right to torture Galileo.
Galileo was then sixty-nine years old and the most venerated scientist in Italy. Although subscribing to an anti-literalist view of the Bible, as per Saint Augustine, Galileo considered himself a believing Catholic.
(The Publishers Weekly)
The New Atheism Axe & Dogmatic Ice Sheets (Sometimes it takes the Axe and sometimes it takes intellectual warmth)
I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us. If the book we are reading doesn't wake us up with a blow on the head, what are we reading it for? ...we need the books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us.
Live to the point of tears.
I never work better than when I am inspired by anger; for when I am angry, I can write, pray, and preach well, for then my whole temperament is quickened, my understanding sharpened, and all mundane vexations and temptations depart.
- Martin Luther (1483-1546)
Need one go through the problems in the world due to lack of critical and free inquiry? I defend the New Atheism on the basis that it goes where others will not due to polite society (Neo Victorianism) and gives some people the chance to break free from religious dogma and the tyrannies of the mind.
Let me paint a picture for you. Religious dogma is a thick sheet of ice and the person is trapped underneath it. To use a quote from Kafka it sometimes takes an Axe to break the frozen sea. I see the New Atheism as an Axe that for some it is the only instrument to break the sheet of ice and allow them some fresh air of reason and scientific wonder. For those individuals the New Atheism was a necessary good. I think religious liberals feel that their thin ice of religion is being attacked by that Axe and it seems superfluous. I think that is the misunderstanding. The New Atheism is most beneficial for the thick ice not the thin ice.
For some people they don’t even realize there is a world beyond the ice sheet and for those people I see the New Atheism as a benefit. Now that does not mean it is completely without fault. There could be problems with the style and delivery that turn people off or make them go deeper into dogma. Perhaps a more indirect approach of wonder and skepticism is better to thaw the ice instead of break it with a blunt instrument. A warmth of intellectual stimulation would be better to thaw out the ice of dogma for some. For me the writings of Ernest Becker and Gerry Spence were important in thawing out my ice sheets of the mind. But I also understand that the Axe can be necessary for breaking the frozen sea within some of us. And when I think of Spence and Becker's writings they are quite blunt with powerful imagery in their use of syntax.
There has been a critique of the Dawkins and Hitchens Atheism as too aggressive, militant, angry, and simple. This New Atheism is uncultured, unsophisticated and lacks theological and philosophical nuances. Ironically this critique comes from the far right religious fundamentalists along with the academic left. Strange bedfellows but they are both invested in protecting the status quo. Some on the Academic left (for example Karen Armstrong) see religion as an ornament of culture and it should be studied and appreciated as part of the human fabric. Academically speaking this is something reasonable to consider –to be dispassionate, apolitical and passive with the subject you are studying. Unfortunately most people do not have the access to all that Academia offers to take part in a grand study of religion. Not only do they not have the access to an opportunity of research but - this is important - they do not even have the disposition to study something from afar because the religion owns everything they see. When one is under the thumb of dogma it is impossible to rise to the heights of freethought.
Religion is a real force in parts of society and the impact is real in the lives of people. It is not benign and the attacks on science education, sex education and free inquiry are very real. There is a growing culture of anti-intellectualism and it should not be taken lightly by anyone who prizes a liberal education. I know there is good reason for the suspicions of Western Imperialism & Colonialism but somehow this suspicion has been widened to the New Atheism which is looked at as a form of the previous hubris(Possibly because of Hitchens politics on War). And this is where I think Karen Armstrong and others like her see religion as a part of culture and therefore should be protected to a certain extent from aggressive atheism. It is out to destroy culture and the status quo. Parts of the academic left see no distinction between religion and culture, the religious right sees it as the only culture worth protecting, and the New Atheism is a destructive and blunt object of a movement to both. For me the status quo is not something to protect but to be challenged. Not to make the world a utopia but to allow for free inquiry and expression. Nothing should be beyond the right to question.
For a large number of people in the world religion is a real influence in life that takes on many forms that are not always soft or benign. Religion often gets in the way of a child’s full potential to education and greater vision. For this reason alone I cannot view religion as something to behold in passive appreciation. There are other foes to contend with such as racism, nationalism, ethnocentrism, fascism and many other isms so it should be acknowledged that there are many variables to the problems in the world and humans with or without religion have a will to power that needs to be checked by the persistent voice of reason.
"Few people have the imagination for reality." -Goethe
"Belief in the supernatural reflects a failure of the imagination." - Edward Abbey
"I always have to think too of a little boy sitting on the banks of a river in west Africa who has a worm boring through his eyeball, turning him blind before he's five years old. And I reply and say, "Well, presumably the God you speak about created the worm as well," and now, I find that baffling to credit a merciful God with that action." David Attenborough
The immense time of the evolution of life and the Cosmos is overwhelming to our evolved brains on Planet Earth. If we can combine imagination and science that is Einsteinian nobility. Religious stories are easier for the human mind to process because the stories revolve around the human and its limited history. The Scientific story is overwhelming because it challenges human solipsism and demands a more expansive perspective on the long and diverse history of natural and cosmic evolution.
Montaigne believed animals had something to teach humans and along that line I too think that animals past and present have something to teach in terms of theology.
Sir Francis Bacon stated, "A little philosophy inclineth man's mind to atheism, but depth in philosophy bringeth man's minds about to religion."
But in the light of modern science( the size and age of the Universe, and the age and evolutionary drama of planet earth) I would like to counter that quote. Now it is a problem of coping with what we have found out in the scope of geological time. A little imagination leads one to religion but when one really thinks and imagines with depth the Universe and Earth's evolutionary drama surely any typical religious concept of god becomes exposed as petty, provincial and limited.
One of the most resourceful and lasting species has been crocodiles and sharks and one thinks of the millions of years of their survival and how much depends on a vicious cycle of consumption. I knew a boy years ago who was taken down by a crocodile in front of his father. In a world such as this that existed before the evolution of modern humans one wonders what pleasure the christian god got out of the elemental evolutionary drama. A God who watches the sparrow fall has no problem overseeing this blood sport. His eye is on T-Rex and I know he is watching me? Not so comforting a thought is it.
In the light of geological time the christian god makes no sense. It did not make sense even in the blink of an eye of human written history much less in evolutionary time.
The created gods of the human mind are too small and petty for the grandeur of the stars and universe. Human gods do not even cover the scale of the earth and its history much less the universe.
It used to be said that a little philosophy would lead to atheism but much philosophy would lead to religion. Again in the the light of modern science and natural history I would counter by saying a little knowledge and imagination leads to religion but greater knowledge and greater imagination leads to wonder and skepticism.
"A general problem with much of Western theology in my view is that the god portrayed is too small. It is a god of a tiny world and not a god of a galaxy much less of a universe." - Carl Sagan
"That there is much suffering in the world no one disputes. Which is more likely, that pain and evil are the result of an all-powerful and good God, or the product of uncaring natural forces? The presence of much suffering agrees well with the view that all organic beings have been developed through variation and natural selection." Charles Darwin
A Christian Apologist like William Lane Craig does not study Science or philosophy because he wants to understand and know more for the sake of curiosity but instead he uses knowledge as a will to ideological power. A means of intimidation and manipulation. Craig is the Christian Orientalist and Colonialist in the manner of the critique of Edward Said. Edward Said noted that Western Colonial powers studied a culture not to genuinely understand it but rather to dominate and control it. Craig uses science and philosophy when it is convenient to his ideology. Craig uses knowledge instead of truly seeking knowledge. William Lane Craig for that reason is a corrupt philosopher. Knowledge as a will to power not as a will to truth. He seeks to win not to be wise.
There is a high degree of smugness with William Lane Craig. Ernest Becker noted that dogma gives the human the ability to be smug about death and terror. Voltaire stated that doubt is uncomfortable but certainty ridiculous.
Craig's ability to be smug when he believes in Biblical miracles is surely a sign the Enlightenment never really took to American Society. William Lane Craig's apologetic presentations may be organized and disciplined in his delivery but it lacks the meat and weight of the burden of the philosopher. Craig is a suppressed philosopher who has never wrestled with despair and never allowed for the release of the Titans in his mind. Michel de Montaigne said that "Philosophy is Doubt" but for WLC it is his faith. Faith in his credentials even more than his God.
He attacked Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins for being philosophical lightweights compared to his credentials and yet most of the Christian community he swims in are full of people much less educated than Christopher Hitchens or Dawkins. And what about his own weaknesses including his lack of credentials in Biology or Astronomy? Dr. Craig speaks of Richard Dawkins and the New Atheists lack of command of philosophy and theology and yet I wonder if his lack of scientific specialization ever gives him any pause? WLC lacks the education Dawkins has in Biology. Should WLC get a doctorate in Biology before he discusses anything to do with Science?
WLC does not chastise the lack of scholarly knowledge in the faith community that he swims in as long as they agree to his vision of God. For William Lane Craig it is not the pursuit of knowledge that matters but instead that you submit to his ideology. Craig does not want people to study more he wants an Amen from the credulous crowd. For Craig there is no pressing need for Christians to study more just trust in his scholarship and pay him to go up against those troublesome skeptics. If there was a true scholarly revolution in the American Church there would be less faith and more doubts in the fundamentalism that Craig champions. If more Christians were sophisticated Bible Scholars there would be more Crossans, Borgs and Ehrmans and less fundamentalism like Craigs brand. Craig does not give good reasons for faith in Jesus but he gives good reasons for faith in himself! Craig gives believers less educated than Hitchens reasons to feel good about themselves being credulous. If an educated man like Craig is a believer than I am ok. Craig shows contempt for the layman and yet he expects the layman to follow him without question. Again this points to his desire for the layman to submit more to his scholarship not to study more for themselves.
WLC lacks humility and imagination. Wisdom requires some humility. Knowledge requires curiosity and compassionate people need imagination to be empathetic. Craig lacks on all three fronts except in knowledge as a will to power. In his debate with Victor Stenger the topic of Christianity coming late in evolution and human history was brought up. Craig actually got into the numbers game of how many humans suffered and died before Jesus showed up in human history. Something Adolf Eichmann would surely appreciate. The lack of empathy and imagination is there to see-(it was only millions of Jews who perished in the holocaust not billions?) what empathy! -if this is where Christian Apologists want to make their stand there is no amount of shame possible to get them to be people of compassion.
Mary Jo Sharp has a blog called “Confident Christianity” with the type of followers of William Lane Craig it should be called “Cocky Christianity.” WLC followers are so enamored with his presentation, organization and discipline that they forget what really matters is if he is speaking for the truth or not. What matters to them is that he gets his God concept off on a theological technicality instead of caring for the reality of whether God does exist or whether Jesus is God. What matters to them is that he wins a point or two in debate tactic comparisons versus the unadulterated truth. This insecure juvenile reaction of cocky Christianity lacks the humility of the Nazarene and the faith of the early Christians. It is American Christianity with an emphasis on winning a game instead of sincere faith in the man of sorrow in early Christianity. Christian apologetics as entertainment value not a way to wrestle with knowledge and God. No matter how many philosophical cliffs WLC takes you to he still has no bridge to build to his Christian God. In the end it takes a leap of faith. But the prideful Craig has a hard time admitting that leap.
Mark 10:15 (New King James Version)
" Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it."
For William Lane Craig it takes a scholar and a scholar who agrees with him completely! Where does reason end and faith begin for Craig? If it is not faith is it Christianity? Is it faith in himself? What is the genuine anchor for Craig -Faith or Reason?
1 Corinthians 1:20- Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?
Jeremiah 9: 23
This is what the LORD says: "Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches,but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight," declares the LORD.
Where is the humility, kindness, justice and genuine faith in William Lane Craig's Christian Apologetics? It lacks these but it has plenty of pride, sophistry, smugness and indifference.
"Now we see a blurred image in a mirror. Then we will see very clearly. Now my knowledge is incomplete." -The Apostle Paul
William Lane Craig is a human mortal with all the limitation, baggage and bias that we all carry. His knowledge is incomplete. He needs faith to get to the Christian God. Can he even admit what the Apostle Paul stated? Or is he so invested in protecting his pride and his tribe that he fails to see his own weakness and fragility?
William Lane Craig Critiques Christopher Hitchens Debate