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God’s existence, design, and human historical conflicts

Opening

Thank you for an extremely handsome, generous introduction, during which I began to feel like, as I surveyed the audience also, and having been listening to your music, a bit like a Daniel being introduced to a den of, I’m sure, very charming lion cubs. A different experience from my common one.

Let’s get straight to it because time presses.

There are, I suppose, three forms of the divine, and if you eliminate polytheism, which I think we may as well all do for today’s purposes, there are two ways of approaching it. One is the deistic, and one is the theistic. I hope I’m not telling you anything you don’t know, but if you don’t know it, it’s useful and it’s a very important opening distinction.

There are those, there have been those, among them were many of the founders of our great republic, in particular Mr. Thomas Jefferson, who were not Christians, but who were deists. They believed that the evidence of the universe and of nature showed a designer, seemed to imply it by its patterns and repetitions. A very, very common usage in those days was that of the watch, which later turns up in Mr. Paley’s Natural Theology, which for many, many years was the central Christian text in the argument for design.

He says very simply, “If you’re an aborigine and you’re walking along a beach and you find a pocket watch ticking away, you don’t know what it’s for.” You have no education that would enable you to judge its purpose, but you can tell it’s not a rock, and you can tell it’s not a vegetable, and you can tell it’s been made by someone for some purpose.

That much you must know, even if you know nothing else.

The metaphor of the watch was very much used by the deists.

And of course watches run down and break down, and it was believed by many of them that if an intelligence had begun the universe, begun the process, he took no further interest in it, didn’t intervene in human affairs, didn’t mind who won the war, didn’t mind which country was the leading one, watched with relative, well, or didn’t watch with indifference, plague, famine, war, and so forth.

That’s a very hard position to oppose, by the way. It’s very difficult, impossible actually to disprove. One can only say the evidence for it isn’t quite strong enough to be persuasive.

To be a theist, in other words, to occupy the position that many people here currently do, and my opponent does, to be a member of a monotheistic religion that believes that truth has been revealed, that God has intervened in human affairs, that he has a plan for us, each of us individually, as well as as a species, and that it shows, is a very, very much more difficult undertaking.

I’m going to show why I think it’s more or less impossible. There are usually three ways in which people try and demonstrate it. One is looking at the cosmos, the vault of heaven, the world beyond what we can quite see or apprehend. The second is human history and its development, and the third is ourselves, our own bodies, our make-up. Again, I’ll have to condense, I hope you’ll forgive me, but I’ll sketch in what I think the objections are.

Unless you don’t believe, I don’t know what they’ve been teaching you, unless you do not believe in the theory of what is conventionally called now the Big Bang, that our universe is billions of years old and began with a gigantic explosion, which is still going on, you are forced to be very, very, very modest about what it is you can know about anything.

What preoccupies most scientists now is not how much they know compared to 50 years ago, though that is enormous as a difference, but how little they know compared to what they’re finding out. All these conclusions are very tentative, but minimally they must involve this.

For a few milliseconds, really, of cosmic time, our species has lived on one very, very small rock in a very small solar system that’s part of a fantastically unimportant suburb in one of an uncountable number of galaxies, and that every second since the Big Bang, every single second, a star the size of our sun has blown up, gone to nothing, swelled up, shrunk into what’s called a dwarf and disappeared.

The matter of which we are made – cheer up, by the way, you are all made of stardust, which is a good way of thinking about yourself, but that’s the price of that stardust. And every second I’ve been speaking, another of those suns has gone out. And indeed, physicists now exist who can tell you the date, more or less the exact one, on which our sun will follow suit. So the old Christian revivalists who used to stand on the street corner with signs saying repent, the end of the world is at hand, were in their way right. We know when it’s coming to an end, we know how it will be.

But it’s – and we know something even more extraordinary, which is the rate of expansion of this explosion we’re living through is actually speeding up. Our universe is flying apart further and faster than we thought it was.

Now I don’t know about you, but I find it, and everyone who studies it professionally finds it impossible to reconcile this extraordinarily destructive, chaotic, self-destructive process to find in it the finger of God, to find in that the idea of a design.

And that’s not just because we know so little about it, it’s because what we know about it that’s essential doesn’t seem as if it’s the intended result brought about by a divine, benign creator who loves every single one of us living as we do on this tiny rock in this negligible suburb of the cosmos.

So again, good luck if you want to, but if you’re looking for God in the first instance, those are the difficulties you’ll have to begin to encounter.

If you want to take human history as a vindication, again I’d urge great caution on you.

And I’ll take a non-Christian example if I may.

I think in all cases it’s a big mistake to think that your own cause or your own country or your own side has God in its corner. For one thing, it commits the sin of pride, which I know you’ve been warned against, what the Greeks call hubris. It is probably better, as Abraham Lincoln said, at a time when two sets of Christians were fighting over whether slavery was Christian or not, to decide the future of this union. Abraham Lincoln, who was also likewise not a Christian but a deist, if he was anything, said it might be more useful to find out if we are on God’s side than whether he’s on ours, but the temptation to enlist the cause of a good God is very strong.

Indeed, there are many people in the world today, they’re well known as jihadists, Muslim fundamentalists, people who want to kill, really do seriously want and intend to kill everyone in this room who get the energy they’ve got and are willing to give their lives because they are so sure that God is with them. So if you want to believe that God intervenes on one side or another and that God takes a hand in human history and human affairs, you have to grant it to them too.

I don’t know whether you’re ready to do that, or you’d have to say, “No, it’s only true when we say so,” which I think would be, wouldn’t it, a rather unsatisfying argument. I’ll take the Christians nor the Jews but the Muslims, excuse me, none of the Christians nor the Muslims but the Jews who say they have a covenant with God, whose testament we Christians, we Western civilisation Christians include in the holy book, those who claim to have met God or whose leader met God face to face in the Sinai Peninsula, to have received the law, to have had a direct revelation of morality from him, to have a special covenant.

Now let me just say briefly what the problem with that has been for the Jewish religious leadership.

About ten years before I was born, about 50 to 60% of the Jewish people of Europe were put to death in disgusting ways by mass murder, gassing, immolation. In Christian Europe in the middle of the 20th century. And many people wondered how God could permit this to a people who he had made a special relationship with. And many people left the synagogue as a result. They stopped going, the Jewish people are in their majority now post-religious, secular, very largely for this reason.

And some rabbis were bold enough to say, “No, there is a reason for this. You fell away from God and you forgot Israel, you forgot Jerusalem. It’s a punishment for exile, it’s a punishment for inattention to the covenant.” Many people who’d seen their children burned alive said, “I’m not listening to this, I’m leaving, I’m leaving the religion.” And many rabbis went quiet, thinking perhaps they shouldn’t come up with any too instant explanation for such a fantastic human disaster and human crime. And they waited and then the Israelis won a war in 1967 which got them back control of the holy places in Jerusalem.

And then the rabbis blew the ram’s horn again and said, “No, no, we should have waited. Now we see the finger of God.” It was all to drive us back to Palestine where we should always have been and to make us the owners of Jerusalem.

Now we see what the design was. Well, I dare say you read the papers and watch the news.

There isn’t a single Israeli now who isn’t wondering whether the victory in that war and the conquest of those holy places wasn’t a disaster, hasn’t led them into a terrible trap of endless war and confrontation in the Middle East where their own hubris, their own occupation of other people’s territory and holy places has led to a terrible impasse.

There. Food I hope at any rate for thought. Probably the most I can do today is sow a little doubt and suggest a bit of reading.

Then – our bodies. Well, again I don’t know what they’ve been telling you about Mr Darwin and about where we come from and our kinship with other animal species, but I consider it a fairly settled question that our resemblance to other primates isn’t exactly accidental. It’s now possible to measure, in fact, in chromosomes we are perhaps half a chromosome away from the chimpanzee, our nearest relative. All of you when you were being born, when you were within your mother’s womb, grew a coat of hair about four months in and then shed it again, you don’t need it anymore.

All of you have an appendix that isn’t needed any longer for the kind of digestion that you do. All of you have the same teeth, that’s why you have to work on your wisdom teeth so much and other things for the kind of diet other primates used to have to live on. All of you bear what Charles Darwin himself at the end of Origin of Species calls the unmistakable stamp of your, our lowly origin.

You’re a mammal, a primate.

Take heart, primates can do capable of very great things, but we are adapted to an environment, the African savannah, which we abandoned.

Why did we abandon it? Because if we didn’t abandon it we were going to go extinct.

There was such a climate crisis in Africa all those thousands of years ago that the tiny tribe that was then us made the very smart decision to move north and out and away. It’s reckoned by the National Geographic, I recommend you look this up, that the human species was down to less than two or three thousand people at that point. And if it had not made this move, would have gone the way of, mark this figure, would have gone the way of 99.8%, 99.8% of all other species that have ever existed on this planet and gone extinct.

Now I’ll just rub that in once more.

99.8% of all the forms of life ever to appear on this terrestrial globe are gone, wiped out and it was nearly us.

And this doesn’t to me give the evidence of a design, of the finger of a god of any kind, let alone one who wishes us well. It rather suggests to me that nature and the world and human life are a struggle. You’ll tell me when I’ve got, won’t you sir, a minute or two, give me a wave?

Thank you, I felt I was getting close to trespassing on Dr Dembski’s time.

Now it’s really worth your time to write off to the National Geographic, they’ll send you back a kit, you scrub the inside of your cheeks, put it in a solution, send it back, they will show you a map of where your ancestors came from in Africa and at what time and what route they took to get to where you are now.

It will be very eye-opening, I strongly suggest you do it. While I have your attention, I also suggest on the matter of evolution that you read a book by Dr Francis Collins called The Language of God. Dr Collins, as you may know, ran the Human Genome Project which analysed our kinship with other animals and we now know the whole extent of our genetic code and ID, including the messy gaps in it that are Dr Dembski’s speciality, and brought this in ahead of time and under budget and is the greatest student of DNA and stem cells and all that go with it, who we have amongst us. I would say the greatest American living physician. I am prejudiced, he’s a great friend of mine, he’s also been a great help to me in my current illness.He’s a great American, he’s also a great Christian, that’s why I recommend him to you, a very strong and believing Christian.

And the chapters in his book, The Language of God, that tell you don’t waste your time not believing in evolution, don’t let anyone tell you it didn’t take place. Nice, simple, clear, brilliant chapter. It’s a chapter you are not educated if you have not read. I’ll close and say, because I’ve got only a minute, why wouldn’t I believe in this? Why might one not want to believe in it, even if it could be true? Because my view is that it’s not only not true, but it’s probably a good thing it isn’t.

Why is it not a good thing? Because I don’t think it’s healthy for people to want there to be a permanent, unalterable, irremovable authority over them. I don’t like the idea of a father who never goes away. And nor do you if you think about it. When you get closer to parenthood, you won’t say to your children, “Don’t worry, I’ll never die.You won’t be at my funeral, I’ll be at yours. I’ll be at your grandchildren’s funeral, you’ll never hear the end of me.

That’s actually not loving paternity. The idea of a king who cannot be deposed, very un-American idea as well as a very undemocratic one. The idea of a judge who doesn’t allow a lawyer or a jury or an appeal. This is an appeal to absolutism. It’s the part of ourselves that’s not so nice, that wants security, that wants certainty, that wants to be taken care of.

For hundreds and hundreds of years, the human struggle for freedom was against the worst kind of dictatorship of all, the theocracy, the one that claims it has God on its side, the divine right of kings, the feudal system, the monarchical one against which the American Revolution with its secular humanism took place.

I believe the totalitarian temptation has to be resisted and I believe this is one of its core and origin points.

And so what I’m inviting you to do is to consider emancipating yourself from the idea that you, selfishly, are the sole object of all the wonders of the cosmos and of nature, because that’s not a humble idea at all. It’s a very arrogant one and there’s no evidence for it. You do better to emancipate yourself from it and do some real study of genetics and biology and cosmology. And then, again, a second emancipation, to think of yourselves as free citizens who are not in thrall to any supernatural, eternal authority, which you will always find is interpreted for you by other mammals who claim to have access to this authority that gives them special power over you.

Don’t allow yourselves, don’t allow yourselves to have your lives run like that. I’ve exhausted my time. I’m really grateful for your attention. I can’t wait to be back.

Thank you.

Key Quotes

“To be a theist…to be a member of a monotheistic religion that believes that truth has been revealed, that God has intervened in human affairs…is a very, very much more difficult undertaking.”

“I find it impossible to reconcile this extraordinarily destructive, chaotic, self-destructive process to find in it the finger of God, to find in that the idea of a design.”

“I think in all cases it’s a big mistake to think that your own cause or your own country or your own side has God in its corner.”

“The human species was down to less than two or three thousand people at that point. And if it had not made this move, would have gone the way of, mark this figure, 99.8% of all other species that have ever existed on this planet and gone extinct.”

“I don’t think it’s healthy for people to want there to be a permanent, unalterable, irremovable authority over them.”

“The totalitarian temptation has to be resisted and I believe this is one of its core and origin points.”

“You do better to emancipate yourself from it and do some real study of genetics and biology and cosmology.”

Atheism, evolution, and religion’s conflict with science

Rebuttal

I’ll try to do as less as I can because I’d rather reserve time for questions if possible.

But yes, after all, I’ve been challenged on a number of fronts and that’s what I enjoy.

I was trying to think of something that I agreed with, but I found I had to disagree almost ab initio, as it were.

An atheist does not have to be an evolutionist. Atheism long predates the discoveries of Charles Darwin. There was a time when the word ‘scientist’ didn’t exist. Actually, the word ‘scientist’ is a late 19th century coinage that I sometimes feel we could do without. In the time of Sir Isaac Newton, for example, people who did the work of the sort that he did were called natural philosophers. And I think that it’s important to realise that science is not just the study of the material world or laboratories.

I mean, after all, Sir Isaac Newton may have been a very, very, very great scientist, but he maintained a furnace in his room in Cambridge at all times because he was also an alchemist and believed he would one day find out how to turn base metals into gold. He’s one of a long line of people who were genius crackpots. He believed, for example, that the Pope was the Antichrist. Maybe it’s true.

And if he could find the measurements of the old temple, that would be far more useful than knowing what the measurements of gravity were. But he was a natural scientist who knew absolutely nothing about evolution. The work of Spinoza, the work of Voltaire, the work of Lucretius, admittedly Lucretius did work out Democritus and Epicurus as well, that period, the Hellenistic period, they did work out the world was made of atoms, a very brilliant thing for them to have done at the time. The mystery to me is only this, because none of these things necessarily depend on one other, why it is that organised religion has always been so hostile to discoveries of this sort. Why should it take them so personally?

The work of Lucretius, De rerum naturum, established that we’re made of atoms and so is the rest of the system, was hated by the church for centuries. Only about one or two copies of it were allowed to survive. They didn’t want you to know this. As you know, the church didn’t want Galileo to look through a tube and see, make the disconcerting discovery that the sun doesn’t go round us, we go round the sun. I presume now no one is going to give me an argument about that today.

Why would anyone care which way it worked? Well because if we don’t go round, if the sun doesn’t go round us, we’re not the centre of the universe, which makes it, doesn’t it, fractionally less likely that we’re the objects of the whole thing. If we revolve around something else, it could be we’re not the sole object of a huge cosmic divine design. So what I’ve been trying to attack today, and given no reason to want to attack it less, is this reassuring idea that it’s all about us, this solipsistic, selfish, I think unscientific idea.

The work of Darwin and later of innumerable writers, many of whom are Christian, on evolution shows that there’s absolutely no necessity at all for an incompatibility between a private belief in God and a recognition that we arose out of natural selection and random mutation.

Let me just take the question of the ‘I’. I think Dr Dempsey said I was obsessed with it. That’s absolutely not true. It’s simply that Darwin himself doubted at first that the ‘I’ could have evolved, given its complexity, and because the ‘I’ is the example most commonly brought up, so I thought, ‘Okay, in my book I’ll take the most complex and the most difficult and the most well-known example.

And you can look at my book or you can look at a very brilliant chapter in Richard Dawkins’ book, ‘Climbing Mount Improbable’, beautiful short chapter on the 25 different evolutions of the ‘I’ and the different ways in which it’s taken place. I have contributed, because I’m not a scientist, only one small thing, but I’ll give it to you anyway. You may have seen, you should have seen, a wonderful series made by the British Broadcasting Corporation called ‘Planet Earth’. It’s the greatest photography of the natural world you’ll ever see. It’s absolutely extraordinary.

And in one very fascinating case, they go to Indonesia, which has the largest caves we know underground on earth, which have a whole series of life forms inside them, many of them not fully understood or explored yet, including a large number of life forms that we do already understand that fell in to those caves when they were formed and ceased to live on the earth’s surface and in the sunlight and started to make their lives underground.

They are more or less exactly the same as they would be if they had remained where they were, but I noticed the salamander, the beautiful Indonesian lizard, everyone’s seen one in a zoo. There it was, it had been living for, David Attenborough told us in the programme, X millions of years away from the sunlight in a cave. It had eyes. No it didn’t. It had perfectly eye-shaped indentations, exactly where the eyes used to be, like a little sketch or outline of an eye, but no socket. The socket had gone, the eye itself had gone, all you could see was the vestigial. It had adapted, it had decided to lose its eye. Most of our studies are about how people got hold of eyes.

Dawkins’s is the best one, whatever Dr Dembsky may say, of the different ways in which different creatures got different eyes.

But no one until your humble servant, because I wrote off to my friends and my enemies and said, “Has anyone noticed this before?” had thought, “Now how do animals lose their eyes?” The same way they got them, by not needing them anymore, by adapting away. If you live underground in the wet, in the dark, it’s a big hazard to your survival to have a wet, useless spot that can’t receive any light, two of them on your face. It can pick up infection, it can make you vulnerable, you lose it. It takes millions of years, but you’ll lose it. That’s what we’re talking about, adaptability.

Wrongly it’s said that Darwin talked of the survival of the fittest. People draw often cruel and inhuman conclusions from this and attribute it to Darwin. Didn’t say anything of the sort. What he said is adaptability is what helps survival. If I told you that in parts of Africa where elephants are shot for their tusks, elephants are growing shorter tusks in reaction, you would, I’m sure, laugh. How would the elephant know how to do that? Elephant sees hunter, works out hunter wants tusk, is an ivory hunter, shrinks tusks to minimise chance of being shot. Don’t be ridiculous.

Well, no, that isn’t of course what happens.

What happens is the ones with long tusks get shot, quite a lot. And the ones with shorter or no tusks have therefore greatly enhanced opportunities of being the ones who survive and breed. And their descendants actually have shorter or no tusks. That’s what adaptability is. That’s what evolution is. It’s not some kind of trick.

In the time I’ve got, that’s the best I can do on those points, on that point, because I want to come in what remains to me to the allegations made about my theology. Well, the archaeologists of the State of Israel, after the 1967 war, when Israel became for many years the possessor of the Sinai Peninsula, it’s now given it back, and of the West Bank, Judea and Samaria, the biblical territories, had an unprecedented opportunity to show that the Bible story was archaeologically provable.

And they were told by the founding leader of the State of Israel, David Ben-Gurion, go out, dig, find, he said, dig up the title deeds of our state. They had the strongest motive and the greatest opportunity any archaeologists have ever had. And the standard of Israeli archaeology is already extremely high, as you can tell from their national museums and the work of many great archaeologists such as Professor Finkelstein. And they had many years to do it.

They couldn’t find a single trace of anything that was remotely compatible with the story of the Exodus, the wandering, and the conquest of Canaan. Not one trace. On the other hand, what they could find, with the help of Egyptian archaeologists, was enormous evidence in the opposite direction. Digging up history is the book. It’s very easy to get, very easy to read.

It’s a very impressive demonstration of what I call, and this is what to look for when you’re looking for intellectual honesty in life, evidence against interest.

In other words, people will say, “I really wished, I really hoped I could find this. This was my ambition. Here is how. It wasn’t compatible. It wasn’t doable in the light of the facts.” I regard that as a very impressive piece of objective work on the part of Israeli scholarship.

If you think that Jesus isn’t a historical figure, it really only matters to you. What do I mean by that?

For me, the most important thinker is Socrates, and the most important source of morality and philosophical comfort, by far. There’s no evidence that Socrates existed either. It’s not conclusive. That’s to say, we only have, as we have in the case of Jesus, second-hand eyewitness reports of him. They’re pretty persuasive, but they’re not conclusive. He never wrote anything down, neither did Jesus. The stories about him are much more compatible than the ones of Jesus. The four Gospels contradict each other about everything from his birth, the circumstances of it, the flight into Egypt, very crucially, in all four cases, on the crucifixion and the resurrection. Just read them for yourselves. I’m sure you must have read them by now. The discrepancies are extraordinary.

They don’t amount to a historical figure in the same way as we know from coinage, from building, from parchments – not parchments, but from documents, tablets, things – that Alexander the Great, for example, was a historical figure. But to me, if Socrates didn’t exist, it wouldn’t matter, because we have his method, we have his teaching, and he teaches us what – this is, I loop back now to Dr Dembski’s first element of his critique – to having to know that to be educated is to understand how little you know, and how little you understand.

Dr Dembski seems to think he’s laid some kind of gigantic egg that’s about to hatch a huge squawking chicken, when he points out that among evolutionists and among physicists and others, there are huge differences and disagreements. That’s true. It’s also going to get much, much more intense.

If you want to see a really strong argument take place, go and talk to Richard Dawkins and ask him about his view of Stephen Jay Gould’s – another great paleontologist – arguments on punctuated evolution.

There are tremendous differences within our school. There’s a huge amount yet to be known or explained. But we don’t take anything on faith. There’s no dogma. There are no tablets. We go where the evidence leads us.

And for example, when the last outbreak of flu virus occurred, because we have now, we know something about the genetic things we have in common with bacteria and viruses, and we were able to sequence the DNA of the last such virus in 1919, didn’t take us very long to get a vaccine that could prevent the last flu from being as bad as the previous one.

It works.

It works.

You can make sound medical predictions based on it. Medicine’s impossible without. The work of evolution and genetics. And you should be grateful for it. But it doesn’t mean there’s no God. It just means that we have what we think are better explanations for our human nature.

I think that runs me out perfectly. And again, thank you for your attention.

Key Quotes

“An atheist does not have to be an evolutionist. Atheism long predates the discoveries of Charles Darwin.”

“Why it is that organised religion has always been so hostile to discoveries of this sort. Why should it take them so personally?”

“The work of Darwin and later of innumerable writers, many of whom are Christian, on evolution shows that there’s absolutely no necessity at all for an incompatibility between a private belief in God and a recognition that we arose out of natural selection and random mutation.”

“What happens is the ones with long tusks get shot, quite a lot. And the ones with shorter or no tusks have therefore greatly enhanced opportunities of being the ones who survive and breed. That’s what adaptability is. That’s what evolution is.”

“They couldn’t find a single trace of anything that was remotely compatible with the story of the Exodus, the wandering, and the conquest of Canaan. Not one trace.”

“It’s a very impressive demonstration of what I call, and this is what to look for when you’re looking for intellectual honesty in life, evidence against interest.”

“For me, the most important thinker is Socrates, and the most important source of morality and philosophical comfort, by far. There’s no evidence that Socrates existed either. It’s not conclusive.”

“We don’t take anything on faith. There’s no dogma. There are no tablets. We go where the evidence leads us.”

God’s existence, morality from a secular viewpoint

Closing

OK.

Five minutes on the goodness of God. Okay.

Never one to refuse a challenge.

I don’t really know what it’s like being a Christian, but it seems to me that if I was one, there are reasons I would want to object to the Demske view. First, I think, this attempt to prove the existence of God by what we would normally call something like scientific evidence, which is a restless need that the religious have, I think partly because we keep taunting them with not ever coming up with enough conclusive evidence, so they keep coming up with more.

After all, the Big Bang was actually originally thought of by a Catholic priest in holy orders at the University of Louvain in Belgium, and he took it to the Pope, Pope Leo, I think it was, who said, “Well, if you like, I’ll make it official dogma. I’ll say that Christians have to believe it.” And the professor said, “Well, no, Your Holiness, that’s not quite what I mean.

But very often when, not in this case, but when something marvelous and various and awe-inspiring, like the theory of evolution or the theory of the Big Bang, is finally accepted by most, if not all, people, Christians simply say, “Well, that just proves God is even more ingenious than we thought. He must be responsible for all that, too.

Please always beware of an argument that appears to explain everything. It’s very likely to explain nothing.

But there’s another reason why I think I would be a little uneasy at arguments of this kind that try and wrench evidence into theological shape. Where, this is my question for you to ponder, where’s the need for faith in that case? If it can be proved in the same way as a proposition of mine has to be proved or has to fall, what need for faith? What need for the suffering, the struggle to achieve faith and maintain it? There’d be no need for faith if there really was evidence, would there? I don’t see, I’d love to know how you bridge this gap.

Perhaps someone in the question period will supply me with a thought there.

And then another reason why I would steer very clear of this idea of making God responsible, not just for our existence but for our behaviour and for what happens to us, is it dooms you to have to keep on pestering him with plaintive questions that don’t have an answer.

Finally, I have found a complete point of agreement with Dr Dembski, it’s absolutely true if I was a Christian I would not think that God owed me an explanation. There’d be something disproportionate, surely, about that, something conceited. But people do find themselves asking, if there’s a God and if he’s good, where is all this evil from? This is a strictly time-wasting question.

Things like war and pestilence come because we are not very highly evolved animals who live on a rather climatically unstable planet and don’t know very much yet about our circumstances. The way that we behave to each other is recognisable from the way that other animals behave to each other, unfortunately, but we have one very clear idea, and it’s fortunately one that it’s almost impossible for us to get rid of, that if we don’t act responsibly to one another, whether for altruistic reasons or not, the motives don’t necessarily have to be pure, but if we didn’t have a social dimension, a bonding one, we wouldn’t survive, we’d have gone by now, we wouldn’t have made it out of Africa. The question, in a sense, answers itself.

Now you can call this morality if you want, and there certainly are some individuals who act in what appears to us to be a self-sacrificing way, and they’ve always got tremendous honour in all tribes, in all societies, and at all times, but it’s only really necessary to recognise that we have a kinship and a solidarity and that without it we’re gone.

Morality cannot be dictated to us. It doesn’t come in tablet form that can be swallowed. It comes from the Socratic method of moral suasion, long reflection.

Why should this be called wrong? Why would this be a dishonour?

Otherwise, why do the Ten Commandments say nothing about slavery, nothing about genocide, nothing about child abuse, nothing about innumerable other things that preoccupy us and make us think, of which we think us evil, and about four instructions on how to worship a very jealous, capricious and ill-tempered God? How come?

If you based your morality on these tablets, you’d be missing an enormous amount of what we think of as morally urgent.

Now again, I happen to be a secular humanist. I have politics of my own, fairly accurately described by Dr Demski. That doesn’t go to the question of whether there’s a God or not. You can be a supporter of Ayn Rand, I’m sure some of you have read The Fountainhead or The Virtue of Selfishness, one of her best essays actually, though I don’t agree with it, or Atlas Shrugged.

Had complete contempt for religion, but politics completely different from me. You can be an atheist and a sadist, you can be an atheist and a fascist. Most fascists actually were Roman Catholics, doesn’t matter. You can be an atheist, a fascist. Mussolini I think was an atheist, quite rare. To be a communist, a Stalinist, it’s almost a necessity to be an atheist. There are as many choices as you like.

All we say is there’s no supernatural dimension, there’s no rescue coming to us from the unseen, there’s no such thing as salvation, and we are as alone as other species are in this struggle.

Sorry, looking at the clock and realising I’ve run it out.I just then have you view that as a prod to the question period. I’d be very grateful if you’d be that generous.

Thank you.

“Please always beware of an argument that appears to explain everything. It’s very likely to explain nothing.”

“There’d be no need for faith if there really was evidence, would there?”

“Things like war and pestilence come because we are not very highly evolved animals who live on a rather climatically unstable planet and don’t know very much yet about our circumstances.”

“Morality cannot be dictated to us. It doesn’t come in tablet form that can be swallowed. It comes from the Socratic method of moral suasion, long reflection.”

“Why should this be called wrong? Otherwise, why do the Ten Commandments say nothing about slavery, nothing about genocide, nothing about child abuse, nothing about innumerable other things that preoccupy us and make us think, of which we think of as evil.”

“There’s no supernatural dimension, there’s no rescue coming to us from the unseen, there’s no such thing as salvation, and we are as alone as other species are in this struggle.”

“You can be a supporter of Ayn Rand… you can be an atheist and a sadist, you can be an atheist and a fascist. Most fascists actually were Roman Catholics, doesn’t matter. You can be an atheist, a fascist.”

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