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Margaret Coffey
Margaret Coffey
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Gary Bryson

Category: Belief

Closing thoughts from a heretic - March 29, 2010 by Chris Mulherin

Two weeks and many words ago, I first wrote as a guest blogger on this site. I was looking forward to participating in the Atheist Convention as an undercover heretic, a true believer in science but one who has the temerity to believe also in God. I haven’t been disappointed. I’ve been glad of the opportunities for dialogue and at times I’ve been surprised.

I’m glad that the Convention raised serious questions about ‘life, the universe, and everything’, including issues of prejudice and influence, in society and politics. I’m glad too for the challenges to the religious faithful to get their houses in order.

A surprise: despite opposing belief systems, as a Christian I found common ground with these committed ‘true non-believers’. Like me, the atheists have taken their stand. In a bizarre sort of way it was good to be amongst people who have no truck with relativism or with a postmodernism which turns truth into plasticine.

Another surprise: while religious groups feel marginalised at times by secularism, it was interesting to walk in the shoes of the atheist and hear of their angst at encountering religion at every turn of politics (Christian politicians), education (chaplains in schools) and law (tax exemptions for religious organisations).

In my first post I asked four questions. My answers below are tentative and personal. They arise from evidence which is largely anecdotal, from conversations with people at the Convention, and from some 800 comments on this blog.

1. Is the ‘new atheism’ a religion?

Of course not! Atheism rejects the ‘God hypothesis’. But wait… the irony of the so-called ‘New Atheism’, represented by Richard Dawkins, is that it is characterised by its antagonism to religion. With a few exceptions, this was the brand of atheism on show at the Convention. It is unapologetic about the battle to remove the influence of religion from the secular marketplace. So, try as the ‘New Atheists’ do to distance themselves from religion, there is a sense in which they are defined by it; by their anti-religious and anti-theist stance.

In the strident, and at times ridiculing atmosphere, I heard echoes of Alister McGrath’s suggestion that atheism in the West might be on the wane: “Once a worldview with a positive view of reality, it seems to have become a permanent pressure group, its defensive agenda dominated by concerns about limiting the growing political influence of religion.”

Melbourne philosopher, Tamas Pataki, opened his talk at the Convention saying he would likely be the least popular speaker. Why? Because he had no jokes and no inclination to incite ridicule of the religious. What’s more, he suggested that some of the prominent atheists were seriously mistaken, and he was concerned that organised atheism was taking on the marks of religion, with its priests, apostles and disciples.

This is a fundamentalism of sorts, mirroring the religious variety in its zeal bordering on bigotry, and its inability to understand how other thoughtful people can arrive at different conclusions.

But, as Pataki demonstrates, all atheists cannot be tarred with the same brush. Many do not share either the zealous non-faith or the political agenda of this ‘New’ brand of an old tradition. Many would not agree with Dawkins that “religion poisons your ability to use your brain.” For some, Dawkins is embarrassing. Atheist philosopher Jim Stone recognises that believers are often excellent philosophers and well respected by their atheist colleagues. He says: “The people I don’t like are the New Atheists, because they don’t seem to realize that the people with whom I must contend, even exist.”

2. What is the New Atheist’s psyche?

In my experience of the last two weeks I’ve come across a lot of cranky people. It seems that en masse, the ‘New Atheists’ are mad at religion and mad at religious meddling in society and politics. They are especially mad (with some justification) at Christianity; mostly its historical atrocities and its sexual norms and abuses.

So the question is:

3. Is conversation possible?

But perhaps there is a prior question: who wants to converse?

The creed of ‘intolerance to religion’ is a conversation stopper. Insofar as the rhetoric of the ‘New Atheism’ ends the dialogue, it finds itself out of place in an open and multi-cultural society. It paints a black and white picture of the evils of religion versus the abundant benefits of a religionless utopia. This polarity can only be bad for the atheist cause, as once again it mirrors its nemesis: just as religion is characterised and tainted by its extremists, so serious-thinking atheism runs the same risk. As a moderate Christian, orthodox in belief (yes, I believe Jesus rose from the dead) I, along with moderate atheists, do not want to be identified with extremists.

But there is no logical or necessary impediment to conversation. The words of Stephen Jay Gould, renowned evolutionary biologist (and not a religious believer), are worth repeating:

To say it for all my colleagues and for the umpteenth million time: science simply cannot adjudicate the issue of God’s possible superintendence of nature. We neither affirm nor deny it; we simply can’t comment  on it as scientists. … Science can work only with naturalistic explanations… Either half my colleagues are enormously stupid, or else the science of Darwinism is fully compatible with conventional religious beliefs—and equally compatible with atheism.

For those who wish to converse, the challenge is to distance themselves from the fringe. Some suggestions (in case anyone were thinking of asking):

- drop the rhetoric of superiority and the intellectual high ground of being ‘brights’ and ‘freethinkers’;

- leave ad hominem arguments aside;

- do not equate the limits of science with the more encompassing scope of reason;

- accept the language of belief, recognising that any truth claim is a claim to believe something (including that God does not exist);

- desist from equating intellectually robust theism, with dragons in the garage, spaghetti monsters overhead or fairies at the bottom of the garden;

- accept that science is not an objective, impersonal method resulting in guaranteed truth;

- pay attention to the manners and customs of civil conversation, especially when commenting on blogs written by sensitive souls such as myself.

4. Where will it all end?

Is a new wave of culture wars inevitable, premised on the idea that only a univocal secularism will bring harmony? No… so long as the extreme agenda and rhetoric of the ‘New Atheism’ does not become that of the moderate majority of atheists. In an increasingly secular West, harmony depends on mutual tolerance, not uniformity. The conversation can only continue when all parties accept the limitations imposed by an impartial democratic state.

The human condition is an intractable mystery that will not be solved by science alone. There are few serious contenders in the stakes for a comprehensive worldview. Atheistic naturalism, which proclaims the ‘death of God’, is one. My own Christian tradition, which ‘preaches Christ crucified’, is another. There are three or four more. In the end, truth will out, but in the interim — the centuries or millenia until then — the task is one of simply getting along. That will be made easier if we recognise that things are not so simple as the fundamentalist — atheist or religious — would like to make out.

Chris Mulherin has degrees in Engineering, Philosophy and Theology and is currently writing a doctorate on scientific and religious knowledge. He is an Anglican minister and lives in Melbourne.

Reading Scripture 1 - March 23, 2010 by admin

In many comments on blog posts and in some talks at the Convention, scriptures of various religious traditions were criticised.  Melanie Landau reflects on some of the criticisms:

Critics of God and religion sometimes use the dynamics of interpretation as evidence of the bankruptcy of scripture. The argument goes something like this: that honesty requires scripture to be read literally and that any kind of interpretation and symbolic reading is an attempt to whitewash scriptural problems and evade the ‘truth’. However, I think that we do not need to defend any problems in scripture in a debate about whether God exists. God’s existence or lack of is not contingent on a morally or otherwise perfect scripture (or world for that matter).

To deny readers of scripture the capacity of good faith interpretation is to rob a canon of its capacity for ongoing dynamism and validity throughout the passage of time. I think humans need to take responsibility for the way we read scripture, reading it as an open gateway rather than a closed passage. When there are things that we don’t like we can use this as an impetus to act in the world against those things. We can be in dialogue with scripture so that it opens us to the world as we want it to be, or so that it narrows the world and eats in on itself, without any space for incorporating new realities as they unfold. As the rabbis say, it can be an elixir of life, or a drug of death.

In a famous rabbinic story, the Oven of Akhnai, the rabbis used a biblical verse about deciding according to the majority to actually ban God from interfering in rabbinic disputes, and to disallow the rabbis from bringing supernatural proofs to the argument. The irony here is that the rabbis used their interpretation of the Bible to ensconce their own authority against God.  Similarly a Talmudic story recounts a time travel episode with biblical Moses sitting in the classroom of Rabbi Akiva. Rabbi Akiva is recounting laws and Moses doesn’t have a clue what he is talking about. But at the end Rabbi Akiva says that the laws are from Moses at Sinai, and in the rabbinic text, it says that after Moses heard this he was relieved. This shows the rabbis’ self-consciousness of the radical interpretive nature of their enterprise. They are interpreting Bible but Moses, whose signature is the bible, doesn’t recognise what they are talking about. Valid interpretation can take us that far from the original source that it becomes unrecognisable. At the same time it is still attributed back to its source and maintains its connection in that way.

The goal of calling scripture accountable to philosophical and scientific truth is not solely the domain of atheists; it is also something integral to many religious thinkers.  Medieval Maimonides tried to reconcile his belief in the truth of scripture with his commitment to philosophical truth and it was this process that gave birth to metaphorical readings that allowed scripture to continue to ring true as new knowledge was brought to bear upon it.  The truth of scripture can also be understood from a more humanistic perspective, in terms of the meaning and authority invested in it by communities of meaning, who often attributed their meaning because of suppositions about the divine inspiration of the text. But evidence of ‘faulty scriptures’ doesn’t ‘disprove’ God. In fact there wouldn’t be a rabbinic tradition without these faults, whose lines spark the creation of midrash. We just use our problem with scripture as part of our social action in the world, whether we are religious, or not.

My observance of Jewish ritual and, even more so, my learning of traditional sources is not invested in any attachment to God’s existence. Even relating to God is more about a sense of directionality towards infinity more than an address to something fixed.  I often suggest that students bracket the question of God because it can be a distraction. (Personally I don’t think ‘believe’ is the right verb for God, but that’s another story.) Although the tradition may self-reflectively attribute God as the locus of authority and intention, this attribution has been perpetuated by different communities of interpretation in different ways throughout time and can often be a tiny fraction of the deeply human factors motivating learning and ritual.

Melanie Malka Landau is Lecturer, Australian Centre for Jewish Civilisation, Faculty of Arts, Monash University. She also facilitates individual and group processes around relationships, healing and rites of passage.

Unscientific beliefs - March 21, 2010 by Chris Mulherin

This is a simple little post, as I ponder a frequent refrain of the ‘New Atheism.’ I call it the ‘only science’ claim and it goes like this: “we only believe the evidence of science.” Of course this raises questions about which version of ‘science’ we are talking about. We might also ask about ‘evidence’. Yes, also about ‘believe’. And the nitpicker might want to ask about the definition of ‘we’ and ‘only’ and even of ‘the’ and ‘of’.

But even at a common sense understanding  of science, it seems to me that this extreme ‘only science’ view, which is not held by all atheists, denies some obvious non-scientific convictions that such people hold. In fact, science must assume some truths to get it off the ground, which means that the person who believes ‘only science,’ is saying that science is more certain than the things it is based on.

Five things that atheists (and others) believe that cannot be shown by the evidence of science:

1. The universe is governed by the law of cause and effect.

2. We can normally trust human rationality and the evidence of our senses.

3. The axioms of mathematics and the laws of logic are true.

4. Moral language makes sense and cannot be reduced to personal preferences. Racism, paedophilia, destroying the planet and chauvinism are wrong in a more binding sense than “I/we don’t like those things.”

5. Humans have freewill and are not totally determined by the laws of science. In order to live, converse, decide what I will put on my sandwich, or whether I will attend an atheist convention, I must have the freedom (within limits) to make decisions.

There is more to be said, and the debate can be complicated, but the gist of the idea is that science must take some things as given before it can start its work. Most atheists take the above truths as givens, despite the fact that none of them can be derived scientifically.

Chris Mulherin has degrees in Engineering, Philosophy and Theology and is currently writing a doctorate on scientific and religious knowledge. He is an Anglican minister and lives in Melbourne.

Credo - March 15, 2010 by Chris Mulherin

While some of the rhetoric sounds like atheists and theists are diametrically opposed on just about everything, the Atheist Convention left me thinking we have much in common.

More than once we heard that there is only one thing that atheists themselves have in common: their non-belief in God or the gods. But the mood of the Convention revealed a broader consensus. People shared more than simply that distinctive “non-belief.” In fact, at times some speakers seemed to want to move from a minimalist agreement to a broad platform for world change.

So, what are the cords that bind this particular orthodox Christian to many of those present at the convention? I acknowledge that, firstly, this is my personal view, not representative of all Christians, and secondly, I refer to many but not all atheists. What is our common creed?

1. We believe that we live in a wonderful and ordered world, where the law of cause and effect is the norm and where human rationality is, in some extraordinary way, able to comprehend much of its amazing complexity.

2. We believe that science is the major source of truth about the physical universe in which we find ourselves, from the microscopic to the macroscopic level. More than that, we put our trust in the consensus of scientific experts in their respective fields, recognising that while they might be proven wrong in one way or another, we would be foolish not to believe them.

3. We believe in the old-fashioned and common sense concept of truth. When it comes to factual claims about the world or about God, we agree that we can’t all be right. In such matters we are frustrated with a so-called postmodern relativism that talks of tolerance as an excuse not to deal with the issues.

4. We believe that, because of 2. and 3. above, these issues matter. Climate change won’t go away. It is not just “another metanarrative.” It is not “true for me but not for you.”

5. We believe human beings need to activate their little grey cells (please say that with the accent of Monsieur Hercule Poirot.) We have been created with brains; we ought to use them.

6. We believe in the problem of evil. Appalling things happen in our world. All is not good. Something must be done about it.

7. We believe in the problem of evil. No, I am not repeating myself: this time the issue is the theological problem of evil. For both of us, the question of how a good God could allow evil demands an answer.

8. We believe that atheism can be a rational and internally coherent worldview.

9. We believe that intolerant fundamentalism is a bad thing.

10. We believe that Monty Python is funny and that Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy was ground-breaking science fiction.

On these beliefs we stand united.

Chris Mulherin has degrees in Engineering, Philosophy and Theology and is currently writing a doctorate on scientific and religious knowledge. He is an Anglican minister and lives in Melbourne.

Science and the supernatural - March 15, 2010 by admin

Rachel WoodlockGuest blogger, Rachel Woodlock, takes up a theme of many comments posted on this blog:

As a convert from one faith-group to another (Baha’i to Islam for those interested), I have spent many years grappling with judging competing truth claims. I’ve been humoured by religious, agnostic and atheist family members and friends so that I could pick their brains over the ontological and epistemological niceties of what is true and how can we know it is true.

Al-Ghazali had a go at it nearly nine hundred years ago, developing a process of methodical doubt that went: 1) Sense-perception is unreliable as an arbiter of truth, because rationality can disprove sense-perception (a dinar coin looks bigger when held up to the sun, but the intellect disproves the senses and knows that the sun is the larger of the two objects). 2) Thus, it cannot be discounted that a supra-intellect might falsify the intellect, and rationality alone cannot be the final arbiter of truth. (Did I mention that al-Ghazali wasn’t keen on the Mu’talizah?) Upon realising this, al-Ghazali fell into a profound depression and although he doesn’t explicitly say it, I suspect he became atheist for a time as he wrote: “I was a sceptic in fact though not in theory nor in outward expression” (The Faith and Practice of Al-Ghazālī, p.24).

Al-Ghazali’s intellectual scepticism was resolved in favour of experiential Sufism, after quitting his home and undertaking a quest as did so many great spiritual figures before him, whether Moses in the wilderness, Lao Tzu in his hermitage, the Buddha under the Bo-tree, Jesus in the desert, or Muhammad in the cave on the Mountain of Light. (Unlike these days, it seems scholars could afford to take luxuriously long sabbaticals. Al-Ghazali writes of Baghdad: “Nowhere in the world have I seen better financial arrangements to assist a scholar to provide for his children.”)

The great modern-day scholar of religion, Huston Smith, also discounts limiting existence to that which is merely empirically observable and describes science as the most wonderful and useful tool that is absolutely appropriate for explaining natural phenomena but completely useless for ‘proving’ or ‘disproving’ the existence of a non-material realm. It is not the tool designed for the job. Teacups floating around a planet and the Flying Spaghetti Monster are both examples of beings that by definition would have corporeal existence, and hence fall into the realm of scientific hypothesis. Because they would conceptually be empirically observable, and we have not observed them, we can say they are non-existent.

Smith explains that science can only accurately describe that which is lesser than us.  It’s the reason why amoebae are much easier to understand, and thoroughly more predictable, in comparison to the human psyche. If we attempt to conceive of beings greater than ourselves, how could we scientifically study them? “If such beings exist, science–the science that can prove its propositions through controlled experiments–will never bring them to view for the sufficient reason that if they exist, it is they who dance circles around us, not we them” (Why Religion Matters, p196). Smith likens the scientific method to a flashlight that is entirely useful for illuminating a path in the dark (the realm of natural world), partially useful when pointed towards the horizon (the realm of human experience) and completely useless for illuminating the heavens (the spiritual realm).

At this point whether one asserts the existence or non-existence of a supernatural realm (e.g. what was ‘there’ before the Big Bang, the unseen realm of the soul, the existence of God), both positions require intellectual leaps of faith.  Although I am not a rational choice theorist, Iannaccone and Berman use Pascal’s Wager to make a good argument for the rationality of positing the existence of the supernatural realm: “Rational individuals will seek to understand and influence the supernatural to the extent that they remain uncertain of its non-existence” (“Religious Extremism: The Good, the Bad, and the Deadly” p.113, their emphasis).

But the question then becomes, how to choose between mutually exclusive truth-claims about the supernatural realm, upon which the fate of the soul rests, which is the great problem facing religious pluralists.

Rachel Woodlock is a doctoral candidate and researcher at the Centre for Islam and the Modern World, Monash University

Conversing with James – from Chris Mulherin - March 15, 2010 by Chris Mulherin

My conversation with James Sharpe at the Convention dinner prompted an interview. James is an artist who works on video games.

So what brings you to the Atheist Convention James?

I guess one of the biggest reasons is the quest for community. We’re all very similar genetically and there is a need for people of no faith to have the same level of community that people of faith have. In the secular world we haven’t created a good alternative to the communities that people of faith have.

I think that one of the things I find is that the secular world is not as good at talking about emotional stuff. There’s definitely a need for that sense that you can open up to people and talk about things that trouble you. My view of the church and religious organisations is that they create the environment where people can walk in off the street and talk about what is going on in their life. In the secular world it can be very lonely if you don’t have the right kinds of friends.

I think the next thing the secular community needs to address, which is far more important than taking on religion, is looking after our emotional needs and creating that support base.

So is this a spiritual quest?

Yes. Atheism is part of a spiritual quest, not the end but just a step along the way. And perhaps not the most important step. It’s about coming to terms with ourselves as emotional creatures. You don’t have to be an atheist to do that… I think I am most interested in keeping the question open: atheism is more about accepting you don’t know.

Hold on: wouldn’t a lot of people here at the convention disagree with that?

Possibly, but I think it is important to have meaningful definitions of your beliefs. I don’t call myself an agnostic because I am agnostic about everything and for me that means that agnosticism has no meaning. If I am to choose a label then it needs to communicate my behaviour and values, so I am an atheist because my actions are based on the assumption that a God does not exist.

I think that there is a certain sense of insecurity and frustration within the atheist community, perhaps because we don’t have a solid support structure. We don’t express ourselves emotionally in a healthy manner so there’s a danger of us becoming passive aggressive. If we are angry we need to say so, to be honest about how we feel and work out how we deal with that.

Are you angry?

Probably at some level but it doesn’t dominate me because I’ve put effort into expressing myself in a healthy manner. It’s more frustration than anger, not necessarily specific. It’s about how confusing life is and how hard it is to sort out the good information from the bad and to work out the correct course of action. The overwhelmingness of the consequences of our decisions… I feel sometimes we are in a world of the blind leading the blind, you follow someone for a way then realise they don’t know where they are going either. No one really knows what’s going on. You’ve got to question the traditions and the uncertainties of life… to accept that no one really knows the answers.

Surely that’s not the tone of this convention? Are you amongst friends here on that score?

I’m sure we all disagree about a great many things. This is a coming together of people who have formed a conclusion about a single topic: at the very least most people here would agree that there is not sufficient evidence to justify a belief that there is a God. Or at least they have not been presented with sufficient evidence.

My reading so far is that the mood here is not nearly so questioning as you seem to be. Don’t you hear a more definite and strident tone?

Absolutely. I think there are a lot of people here who have a stronger stance than I do. But I understand their position. The same way people of faith believe so strongly in their beliefs, there is a pressure to have strong convictions about our lack of beliefs. There are people here who would say not only that they lack a belief in God but that they believe there is no god. That would be me.

The dismissal by people here of the idea of a God might be out of frustration: there are a lot of theologians out there who offer poor arguments for their beliefs and you might be seeing a frustration or a rolling of the eyes because people won’t realise they do not have evidence based beliefs. The most successful theologians are those who say ‘I believe this because it feels true to me but I don’t know why.’ That position doesn’t require you to make up a ridiculous argument. But I know many would disagree with me: the feelings and intuitions can be deceived but at the same time we do trust our intuitions.

So if Christians want to convince people, should they drop the logical, philosophical, apologetic approach and talk more about feelings and intuitions?

I’m not sure you can convince people about religion without evidence. Until there is objective evidence then religion can only ever be a personal thing. You can’t convince someone to be religious.

What about relativism? One thing that strikes me here is that atheists and believers such as myself are agreed on an idea of truth that doesn’t allow the sort of “what’s true for you is not necessarily true for me” response. Rather, we agree that either the atheist or the theist is right but not both.

I’m very against the sort of post-modernist philosophical relativism. An example: if a meteor hits this building right now my non-belief in meteors will not protect me. That thought experiment throws the idea of epistemological relativism out the window. There is one truth but it is hard to know.

For me the most interesting part of the conference has been to talk to people who have a position that is not similar to my own. That is how we learn: by taking the ideas of others that conflict with our own. That way our own ideas become more refined and we can have a better faith in our own judgment. All people, whatever they believe, are advantaged by talking to people who disagree with them. The truth is best served by talking with people we disagree with.

There’s more coming …. - March 14, 2010 by Margaret Coffey

There’s more coming on the 2010 Global Atheism Convention … lots to report yet.  But we’re taking a break this evening, post the Convention’s closing.  Back shortly.

Some Sunday morning thoughts - March 14, 2010 by Gary Bryson

Reflecting on the convention this morning (and on this blog), I have to say that I found yesterday’s sessions to come close to what I hoped and expected. Just to reiterate, in my first post I said, “I’m hoping to find contributions which grapple with belief, morality and meaning from an atheist perspective, and which present both a coherent view of the physical world and a respectful critique of the theological. In particular, I’m hoping to find an atheism which can transcend militancy and ridicule in its dealings with those who choose to take a path of faith.”

Well yes, there has been ridicule, there has been militancy of a diluted, ‘let’s get political’ sort, (and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that); but yesterday’s mix of philosophers, commentators and feisty atheist women did the trick for me. I felt the exhilaration of an idea being probed and prodded, subjected to close examination, the weighing up of differing viewpoints and positions. It was intellectually and emotionally stimulating, and if I have a criticism thus far, it’s only that the lack of sympathy for organised religion spills over all to easily to an attack on ordinary human beings and on their personal faith. In a secular world, atheist or not, people surely have a right to their beliefs, as long as they cause no harm to others.

Speaking of causing harm to others, little has been said here about Taslima Nasrin, possibly because – in my opinion – nothing much more could be said. She left us speechless with her courageous and inspirational talk which pointed out all that’s wrong with a religion – in her case Islam – that can’t handle doubt and criticism, and that seeks to control people’s lives from cradle to grave. “No country becomes civilised without criticising the doctrines its religions”, she said.

I couldn’t agree more, and I’m sure there are many Muslims around the world who are appalled by Taslima Nasrin’s story, and who would echo my agreement.

Listen to Taslima Nasrin [Dur:43.24;Size: 39.7 MB]

Islam gets a guernsey - March 13, 2010 by Margaret Coffey

Today Islam got a guernsey at the Convention.  Not much mention of Islam had been made last night.  But for Max Wallace, although Islam had differed from other religions in its relationship with money, the results were similar.

Then John Perkins essayed the problems Islam presents to the procuring of the ‘necessities of civilisation’,  as ‘evidenced in a failed state such as Somalia’.  He took it, as it were, step by step.  ‘In a certain period most reserves of fossil fuel will be in Muslim countries… to avoid international conflict we will need to deal with global issues rationally and equitably… we will need to hold fast to the tenets that make civilisation possible, we won’t be able to afford to be living in a world with delusional ideologies…’

John Perkins is an economist, but he canvassed nevertheless the archaeological evidence for Abraham before returning to religion as delusion: ‘mass delusion is really the only way to describe it.’  But using the word delusion was ‘not intended to be spiteful’.  It was ‘motivated by humanitarian concern’.   ‘Religions may be consoling and charitable but the costs they impose far outweigh their benefits and if people are aware of their susceptibility they may be better able to overcome it.’  Then he began to consider the Palestinian question (because ‘it is inconceivable that this has not had some effect on inflaming Muslims.’):  ‘belief in a religion does not give entitlement to someone’s else’s land … there is no chosen land only ancient myth…I’m against beliefs that cause good people to do bad things.’ (Applause)

Segue to essential Islam. Many Muslim societies are dysfunctional.  In Mr Perkins mind, Islam is the cause of this. He advanced his reasons.  Quranic inerrancy, the warring model presented by Muhammad, the ‘innovation of jihad’.  He identified three specific deficits in Islam, concerning women, freedom and knowledge. No other religion he said preserves pre-modern customs, expects other religions to comply with its taboos, or calls theologians jurists, or has its own version of so-called human rights, or implements its own financial system, or has a global political agenda. A formidable list, he said.

And then Mr Perkins canvassed the necessity of dealing with religion including Islam – and the need therefore ‘to develop language sensitivities’.

For, ‘the greatest counter-terrorism weapon is the power of reason but it has yet to be deployed … reason and evidence are not a threat, they are the solution.’

A question from a university student (‘I agree with John about Islam wholeheartedly’): how important was it to acknowledge the impact of colonialism?   Colonialism was a long time ago.

It was after John Perkins that Taslima Nasrin spoke.

( It’s been a long day so this is it– and there’ll be reflection of the rest of the day’s program tomorrow: Taslima Nasrin and AC Grayling and PZ Myers.)

Listen to John Perkins on “The cost of Religious Delusion: Islam and Terrorism”

Spruiking - March 10, 2010 by Margaret Coffey

Talking about spruiking their latest book, ABC Radio National’s Big Ideas will tomorrow night feature Richard Dawkins speaking about his newest, in a speech delivered last week in Brisbane.  He speaks “in defence of evolution and takes aim at creationists ” and ‘intelligent design’ adherents.  Interestingly, the Parliament of the World’s Religions ran two sessions (here and here) in which scientists and theologians critiqued creationism and intelligent design arguments.

For anyone interested in amplifying their sense of how Darwin’s Anniversary Year has led to the distinctive ways “evolution” has been framed for discussion, read this excellent – and entertaining – piece in the London Review of Books.