Alister McGrath’s Journey from Atheism to Christianity: a Critique

Alister McGrath’s Journey from Atheism to Christianity: a Critique May 9, 2016

Anglican priest and professor of theology Alister McGrath recently contrasted atheism and Christianity in an interview, “An Atheist’s Reasonable Journey to Faith: An Interview With Alister McGrath.” You may know him from his The Dawkins Delusion, which I read shortly after it came out in 2007.

Let’s see how reasonable the journey was and how well supported the adopted Christian position is.

1. Science has limitations, and other avenues may be more attractive. McGrath says that “science did not demand atheism” and that the other options “seemed to be more interesting.” Another limitation of science was that it didn’t answer life’s big questions such as the meaning of life. “I began to realize that human beings need existential answers about meaning, purpose and value, not just an understanding about how the universe works.”

Yes, science is limited. Scientists themselves are quick to make these limitations clear. It’s too bad we don’t see the same thing within Christianity. I wish Christianity was also self-critical and both admitted and made clear its limitations. As an example of Christianity’s hydra-headed blundering in many directions at once, consider John Hagee’s “four blood moons” humiliation. It’s been six months, and (while your mileage may vary) the feeling of schadenfreude is still strong for me.

McGrath next wonders about other options that are more interesting than science while doing nothing to convince us that they’re correct. Without this fundamental first step, who really cares whether they’re interesting?

I’ll grant that Christianity can tell you what the meaning of life is. So can Islam, Hinduism, or Buddhism. So can David Koresh, Jim Jones, or Sathya Sai Baba. So can Pastafarianism, Jediism, or Zuism. So can the drunk stranger at a party. But are any of these sources worth listening to?

2. We have Christianity to thank for nurturing science. “There has always been a strong religious motivation for the scientific study of nature. Religious writers like Thomas Aquinas have always insisted that the regularity and beauty of nature point to the wisdom and beauty of God.”

There have been Christian scientists for centuries, though that’s not saying much since pretty much everyone in Europe was Christian until recently. To give Christianity credit for the last 500 years of European science is to call attention to how little Europe progressed while Christianity was in charge (see also here).

McGrath admits that Christianity hasn’t always been science-positive: “Of course, there have been episodes when religious ideas or politics have got in the way of scientific advance.” To add to that, I’ve written about how apologists falsely claim the Bible anticipated modern science and how the Bible got science wrong. Also, about how apologists’ claims about Christianity building universities and hospitals are overblown.

3. Christianity makes sense of the world. Many think that religion is irrational, but don’t let that stop you. Consider how seemingly irrational are areas of science such as quantum physics.

C. S. Lewis said, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” McGrath added, “A theory is judged by how much sense it makes of our world.”

If Christianity untangles reality where no other worldview does, McGrath does nothing to argue for this claim. The most charitable interpretation of this is that McGrath has support for these claims but the interview simply didn’t allow him to express them. A less-charitable interpretation is that McGrath’s arguments are aimed only at his own community, and he doesn’t have much that would convince an atheist, despite his frequent contrasting of the two worldviews.

4. Science is “provisional and limited.” Science is provisional because it changes its mind. It’s limited because it can’t address the important areas of meaning, value, and beauty.

Yes, science is limited. Do you have an alternative? Surely you’re not thinking of Christianity. With 45,000 denominations and counting, it can’t even sort out its own beliefs.

Every year there is a “Top 10” list of scientific discoveries. Show me a similar list of things Christianity has given the world. If Christianity doesn’t dirty its hands with evidence and doesn’t care to make such advancements, then what good is it? If instead Christianity’s contributions to the world are in the past, then I wonder what he has in mind.

McGrath has good things to say about science and points out limitations that anyone would grant. But his vague praise about the Christian worldview make me want to set some ground rules. Can we at least agree that groundless certainty is bad? And that evidence is mandatory to support a belief? And that faith (that is, belief despite insufficient evidence) has no place in this conversation? If so, I wonder where Christianity is in all of this.

5. Science can’t prove whether God exists or not. “Science has been hijacked by ideological atheists, who have weaponized science in their battle against religion…. The epistemic dilemma of humanity is that we cannot prove the things that matter most to us. We can only prove shallow truths. It’s not a comfortable situation, but we have to get used to it, and not seek refuge in the illusory utopian world of the New Atheism, which holds that we can prove all our valid core beliefs.”

(I’ll remember Weaponized Science if I need a name for another blog. Or a band.)

McGrath frets about science’s “shallow truths,” but I wonder what truths these are. Perhaps truths like, “The earth orbits an ordinary star in an unimportant corner of a vast galaxy, just one of 200 billion”? Or, “This technique will increase crop yields so that billions can be fed”? Or, “This vaccine will immunize your child against smallpox”? Those sound like pretty important truths to me. Here’s another one: you don’t need to have someone give you the answers to life’s Big Questions®. You decide what the purpose of your life is. I appreciate that this is can be an intimidating challenge, but it’s also a thrilling opportunity.

As for science being unable to prove or disprove God, that’s true. All we can do is follow the evidence (and it’s not looking good for Christianity). I have no idea what he means by an “illusory utopian world of the New Atheism” in which we can prove all core beliefs. That certainly doesn’t describe my views.

6. Christianity helps science in two ways. First, it provides “a reassurance of the coherence of reality.” Our view of the world is imperfect, but we see a bigger picture that gives meaning to a world that would otherwise be “incoherent and pointless.”

Second, Christianity provides answers where science can’t to the big questions such as “the meaning of life, and our place in a greater scheme of things.” Science alone can’t be “the foundation of meaning and value.”

These are interesting claims, but I need evidence to back them up. Show me where Christianity has helped science. Yes, all the clues from science tell us that the universe is ultimately pointless, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t find meaning in life and provide a purpose for your existence. It doesn’t bother me that the universe has no ultimate purpose, but if it troubles you, remember that your wishing reality were different counts for nothing.

McGrath says that there is more to a full life than science. If he’s thinking of enjoying family and friends, finding satisfaction in a job well done, or helping the less fortunate, that falls outside of both science and Christianity.

McGrath’s approach can be adapted to justify lots of worldviews, but many of these are incompatible with Christianity. He has done nothing to make clear why Christianity is the only correct worldview or even why we should believe the supernatural of any sort exists.

Mystical explanations are considered deep.
The truth is that they are not even superficial.
— Friedrich Nietzsche

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  • David B. Appleton

    “Mystical explanations are considered deep. The truth is that they are not even superficial.”

    That reminded me of another quote: “On the surface it’s terribly deep, but way down underneath it’s awfully shallow.”

  • busterggi

    Seems to me that McGrath wants a teddy bear to give him reassurance and an excuse to never have to say, “I don’t know.”

    • The guy has 3 doctorates. Kinda crazy when all that intellectual horsepower doesn’t see how weak his comments are from the outside. But maybe he doesn’t care.

      • JustinL

        When it comes right down to it, I think all religious belief is emotionally driven and has little to do with intellect or logic. The emotional need comes first, the intellectual justification comes after.

        I think his problem is he’s conflating two different things: belief in religion being logical and the REASONS for belief in religion being logical. I think he is arguing the former, whereas he THINKS he’s arguing the latter. It makes perfect sense to me someone would believe, but the reasons for their belief are usually flawed. Case in point.

        • Agreed. The weird thing is when they say, “No, no–this is actually the path where the evidence points. If you’d just open your mind, you’d see. Here, let me show you.”

          But I suppose that’s necessary to keep up the pretense to their followers that this stuff is for real. If they’d just keep it to themselves and said “Look–I just believe, OK?” I’d have little to argue with.

        • Paul B. Lot

          “When it comes right down to it, I think all religious belief is emotionally driven “

          I agree with you, but I want to take it a step further: “when it comes right down to it, everything is emotionally driven.”

          Reason, logic, maths – what do they matter to the person who doesn’t derive positive emotional rewards from assenting to true things?

          Without a fundamental desire to “be right”, “know the answer”, “have respect”….no amount of argument will suffice.

        • smrnda

          People who don’t care about truth still might care about making money, winning, blowing their enemies up or having a better light bulb. All that might lead them to care about logic, maths, science, though just as a means to an end.

        • Paul B. Lot

          But isn’t that just a restatement of the point?

          If people don’t care about truth, but they care about making money -> caring about how to manipulate the capitalist system -> caring about *knowing* the system, so that it can be manipulated -> caring about *the truth* of knowing the system…..doesn’t that lead the person back to [caring about truth]?

          I didn’t mean to indicate that the fundamental level on which people are motivated is directed towards capital T “TRUTH”, if that’s what you’re pushing back against.

          Merely that no one is “rational” before having emotional reasons to WANT to be “rational”.

        • adam

          “When it comes right down to it, I think all religious belief is emotionally driven and has little to do with intellect or logic.”

          Of course, ‘faith’ IS an emotion.

        • Cygnus

          “Of course, ‘faith’ IS an emotion.”

          Yes, but Alister dismisses and denigrate science,when medicine diagnoses religious faith as emotional psychopathy.

          However, he’ll be willing to bless science if science considers faith as part of psychiatric treatment, that brings calm, peace, metaphysics links, meditations, reflection of God, etc. just don’t use “psychiatry”, it is not on the job description of a Doctor of Divinity

        • MNb

          “The emotional need comes first, the intellectual justification comes after.”
          Yeah, but I would expect from someone like McGrath to be brutally honest about it – like for instance Kierkegaard.

        • Pofarmer

          I still haven’t found where I read it. Maybe in “The True Believers.” But, it seems that we are a lot better rationalizing positions we already hold than coming to rational positions.

      • Cygnus

        His doctorates are in theology and history (I guess the religious one), as for “science” he seems to be a doctor that goes to treat God when he’s sick (Doctor of Divinity)

        Oh, and about “molecular biophysics”, what’s his published research? He cannot tell me more than the molecules are little tiny bytes of stuff. That almost all matter in the universe is made up of molecules with the exception of matter that is under mind. That molecules are sweet and are like chocolate ice-cream, in which the structure is chewy, little things full of other indivisible things called atoms, which are made up of indivisible things called quarks, which are made up of the fundamental unit of matter called sensus divinitatis, practically bullshit.

        • RichardSRussell

          Doctorate in theology, eh? Reminds me of Richard Dawkins’s take on the whole idea of theology: “The metaphorical God of the physicists is light-years away from the interventionist, miracle-wreaking, thought-reading, sin-punishing, prayer-answering God of the theist and of ordinary language. … If all the achievements of scientists were wiped out tomorrow, there would be no doctors but witch doctors, no transport faster than horses, no computers, no printed books, no agriculture beyond subsistence peasant farming. If all the achievements of theologians were wiped out tomorrow, would anyone notice the smallest difference?”

          —Richard Dawkins PhD, Free Inquiry, 2004 Feb./March. p. 11

          In later works, Dawkins contended that theology shouldn’t be considered an academic discipline at all.

        • Michael Neville

          Theology is guessing about what an imaginary being is thinking.

        • T-Paine

          Philosophy is like searching in a dark room for a black cat.
          Metaphysics is like searching in a dark room for a black cat that isn’t there.
          Theology is like searching in a dark room for a black cat that isn’t there – and claiming to have found it.
          Science is like searching in a dark room for a black cat by using a flashlight.

        • Since theologians claim to know fundamental truths but there is no consensus among them, that’s a clue that Dawkins was right with his suggestion that theology not be considered an academic discipline.

        • Cygnus

          Yet theology is a study, the study of imaginary friends, (from the Ancient Greek theo = “piss on pagans”, and ology, “something you can major in”) is a rational and systematic body of knowledge about the unknowable and nonexistent. A theologian is someone who studies theology, and is also someone who cannot distinguish what is true from what he would like to be true.

        • Susan

          theology shouldn’t be considered an academic discipline at all.

          I like Dan Barker’s point:

          Theology is a subject without an object.

        • Aaron

          My one nitpick is that he uses the light year as a unit of time. It’s a unit of distance, not time – you wouldn’t say that something is ‘miles ahead’ or ‘kilometers ahead’ of something else.

        • Ignorant Amos

          Nope. It is indeed being used as a distance of sorts, It’s all about the context.

          Let me attempt an explanation if I can.

          Such terms are used as an expression of superiority or ability.

          A common expression in the UK anyway.

          Idioms such as “streets ahead” also “miles ahead” and “light years ahead”. Replace the word ahead with apart if you like.

          So think of it as a metaphor for the distance between say yourself and the competition.

          If you are light years ahead of others, you are a long way in front of them in terms of development, success, etc.

          http://www.usingenglish.com/reference/idioms/light+years+ahead.html

          Using light years is to emphasis the gap as astronomical.

        • Aaron

          Ah, that makes sense. I had never heard a unit of distance (e.g. miles) used to compare things in the same way that units of time are (e.g. ‘years ahead of X’).

        • Ignorant Amos

          A geographical thing I guess. Years ahead is familiar to me also.

        • TheNuszAbides

          you wouldn’t say that something is ‘miles ahead’ or ‘kilometers ahead’ of something else.

          sure i would. context helps, of course.

        • TheNuszAbides

          i’d like to see him and Chris Hedges discuss the validity of ‘business schools’.

        • RichardSRussell

          “Wandering in a vast forest at night, I have only a faint light to guide me. A stranger appears and says to me: ‘My friend, you should blow out your candle in order to find your way more clearly.’ This stranger is a theologian.”

          —Denis Diderot (1713-1784), French encyclopedist and philosopher

        • As much as I like that quote, the theologian’s advice is probably correct there, since the candle would prevent your eyes adjusting to the dark conditions.

        • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

          My thought, too….

  • Myna A.

    And that’s just it. Again, I would argue that even IF one were to consider a conscious force behind the universe, this gives absolutely no credence to the storied god of Christianity or any other religion man has ever conjured up to bludgeon the populace with. Simply because McGrath is, or Lewis was, compelled to go with the story, doesn’t mean shite. Ultimately, the man-god story is self worship. It just puts a regal spin on it to make it all look (and feel) separate. The fear of science is the fear of unveiling the truth behind fabled construction and underlies the old adage that knowledge is the enemy of faith.

    If science can be said to be the student of the Natura Sophia, then nature, itself, is the god. It certainly is the greater force and ultimately has the final word. The wisdom is contained in the respect, not the worship. No matter how one attempts to dress up the bloody skeleton of Christianity in modern attire, it still rattles in the cupboard and given an ounce of political room would resume its doctrinal oppression in a heartbeat. Religion is all about power.

    On a side note, Anglicanism, like Islam with Sufism, has an unspoken tolerance for Spiritualism. I was raised on it, so know from experience the underlying acceptance for mystery, mysticism and assorted witcheries (sic) that the institution hopes people will generally ignore. These things go beyond the church doctrine while giving some measure of lip-service to that doctrine. Kind of like the Cult of Mary with Catholics, I suppose…except a bit quieter.

  • M Milligan

    “Consider how seemingly irrational are areas of science such as quantum physics.”

    Except that quantum physics isn’t irrational. It may not be intuitive, but it’s not irrational. Subatomic particles, working at subatomic distances, can do things that atoms, molecules, and big rocks can’t. Scale matters. An ant can do things in its environment that a blue whale couldn’t, simply by virtue of its size. The whale is miraculously nimble relative to, say, a glacier.

    I may have to work to understand quantum physics well enough for it to be as intuitive (to me) as Newtonian physics, but religion wouldn’t help or change that.

    • He said, “Everyone knows that some standard scientific ideas — especially those relating to quantum theory — seem irrational, simply because they are so counterintuitive.”

      He wasn’t saying that QM was irrational, only that it seemed so.

      • Susan

        He wasn’t saying that QM was irrational, only that it seemed so.

        Yes, without ever noting the distinction. The overwhelming evidence for QM models. No one argues for QM because “meaning”.

        God, I hate their ridiculous, inadequate, repetitive analogies.

  • MNb

    “I began to realize that human beings need existential answers about meaning, purpose and value.”
    Agreed – but why assume that christianity or any other religion can provide the answers?

    “other options that are more interesting than science.”
    Again agreed. I think chess, Deep Purple Mark II and Mussorgsky more interesting than many parts of science. I just don’t think that they tell me something about reality.

    “Christianity makes sense of the world.”
    The more I learn and think about christianity the less sense of the world it makes. Indeed, given QM that’s not exactly a conclusive rebuttal – but QM is confirmed by observation and experiment, christianity not.

    “Christianity provides answers where science can’t to the big questions.”
    Can’t McGrath think of anything better than repeating this shallow point?

    How does christianity “help” science with the “big questions” if science is not interested in those big questions?

  • Cygnus

    Journey from atheism to a religion? It doesn’t make sense.

    Atheism is basically the rejection of religion or disbelief in theistic claims, so what makes sense is to say :”The journey from a religion to disbelieving said religion, then back believing the same or another religion”

    Alister goes gaga over science… What science has to do with theism or atheism? Atheism developed as a stronger expression of disbelief in theistic claims, disbelief that is more substantiated than ever due to scientific discoveries. Science is not atheistic or theistic in itself, those are the result of science that one uses to substantiate disbelief in theistic claims, NOT that science is atheistic or theistic in nature.

    Of course Christians fail to observe that because they have seen science as an enemy to their theistic claims, but now because they can’t beat science they have to “join” their shredded religion with science, throwing religious “blessing” at it with the sole purpose of trying to corrupt science, as they did with perverting philosophy thru that Catholic priest Tommaso d’Aquino.

  • RichardSRussell

    It can hardly be a “reasonable” journey if the ultimate destination is faith, the diametric opposite of reason. That’s like whitewater rafting to the middle of the Sahara.

  • Michael Neville

    McGrath says that “science did not demand atheism”

    Science also does not demand theism. Science is silent on the subject.

    When asked about the role of God in his science, Pierre-Simon Laplace answered: Je n’avais pas besoin de cette hypothèse-là. (“I had no need of that hypothesis.”)

  • Michael Neville

    “Christianity provides answers where science can’t to the big questions.”

    But are those answers correct? I think there’s more meaning to life than making a narcissistic megalomaniac happy.

    • T-Paine

      Judaism Zoroastrianism Baha’i-ism Mormonism Yazidism Islam Buddhism Hinduism Sikhism Jainism Taoism Any ignorant fool that pretends to know thingsism Christianity provides answers where science can’t to the big questions, he says?

      Well, only science can tell you the actual answer to any question.

      • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

        Including “we don’t know, yet”

  • Clover and Boxer

    Wishful thinking can certainly make you feel good.

    • Michael Neville

      Yes but the happiness can go away if the wishes are nowhere near being fulfilled.

      • Clover and Boxer

        Pfffft. All you have to do is trick yourself into thinking that they ARE being fulfilled in some way you can’t see! Or you accept tget aren’t fulfilled and just explain it away by thinking those wishes weren’t what was intended or good for you!

        You see? Iron-clad worldview right there.

        • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

          Anecdotally, my mother was a Lutheran, and as years went by, she gave up on religion, without being cranky.

          And with her health problems she had PLENTY of reason to be cranky…

      • adam

        “Yes but the happiness can go away if the wishes are nowhere near being fulfilled.”

        Which explains why so many older christians are so cranky and unhappy.

  • KarlUdy

    Bob, if you want to critique Alister McGrath’s journey from atheism to Christianity then it would probably be a good idea to critique what he actually believes.

    It seems that you have misunderstood him, particularly by assuming that he is making criticisms of science where the criticisms are actually aimed alsewhere

    Firstly, he says that Christianity seemed more interesting to him than atheism, not more interesting than science.

    Secondly, when he says that we can only prove shallow truths, he is not talking about science at all. The sort of truths that can be proved without any doubt are things like basic mathematical or logical proofs. All of science would be classified as those non-shallow truths that cannot be proved beyond any doubt.

    I know it suits your narrative to think that he is a Christian who attacks science, but your assumed conflation of science and atheism has caused you to misunderstand his points.

    • MNb

      “The sort of truths that can be proved without any doubt are things like basic mathematical or logical proofs.”
      This is still shallow, as such proofs are always based upon unproven axiomata, assumptions, presuppositions or whatever you prefer the call them. When I show my pupils Pythagoras’ Theorem my proof is very convincing. It’s just as easy to show that it’s incorrect; I only need to change one of Euclides’ axiomata.
      So mathematical and logical proofs are not beyond any doubt either. Maybe you are the one who misunderstood McGrath, maybe not, but this quote is an elementary error unworthy of a philosopher.

      • martin_exp(pi*sqrt(163))

        or it’s incorrect to call a theorem about the side lengths of a euclidean right triangles (“pythagoras’ theorem” isn’t just “a^2+b^2=c^2”, it’s a statement in euclidean geometry) incorrect after you try it in spherical or hyperbolic geometry. i also wouldn’t call it incorrect just because it doesn’t apply to all (euclidean) triangles, for that you’d use the law cosines, a generalization. also, you can find “versions” of the pythagorean theorem in hyperbolic and spherical geometry, also using cosine and the hyperbolic cosine, say.

        • MNb

          If this rambling has a point I missed it.

        • martin_exp(pi*sqrt(163))

          in short: you’re incorrect to call the pythagorean theorem incorrect. if you actually teach it as some kind of universal truth, then you are in error, not the theorem (which correctly says when it’s supposed to be true).

        • MNb

          Eehhhh – the point of my comment is exactly that Pythagoras’ Theorem is not a universal truth but a shallow truth. It’s McGrath (according to KarlU – I still find it hard to believe that he makes such an elementary error) who commits it. I wrote explicitely that the correctness of the Theorem depends on the axiomata we accept or not accept.
          So that was some quite superfluous rambling of yours.

        • martin_exp(pi*sqrt(163))

          i wouldn’t call the pythagorean theorem (or equivalently, the parallel postulate in so called absolute geometry) shallow. indirectly it, and his proofs in euclid’s elements, influenced thousands of years of mathematics. and again: your “I only need to change one of Euclides’ axiomata.” has nothing to do with doubting proofs or theorems. to the contrary: it led to better and more general understanding of those proofs. in a somewhat similar manner: i don’t doubt the fundamental theorem of arithmetic by producing an example of a ring where this statement is not true, or call it “shallow” just because it’s a comparatively elementary result.

        • MNb

          “i wouldn’t call …..”
          No, but as neither KarlU’s nor my reaction was written for or against you that’s irrelevant. My reaction was directed to

          “when he says that we can only prove shallow truths, he is not talking about science at all. The sort of truths that can be proved without any doubt are things like basic mathematical or logical proofs.”
          Ie McGrath’ terminology according to KarlU, not mine – I just took it over to make my reaction clearer. And the point of my reaction was not doubting the proof but doubting the axiomata the proof is based upon.
          So you’re pissing against the wrong tree. I guess that’s an improvement because at least you now produce relevant piss.

        • martin_exp(pi*sqrt(163))

          well, you said “So mathematical and logical proofs are not beyond any doubt either.” maybe you should change it to “So mathematical and logical proofs are not beyond any unjustified doubt either.” i’m not impressed or surprised that you’re able to trick your pupils. use fake proofs of 0=1, or something like the missing square puzzle, where you don’t play with axioms as if it’s nothing.

        • MNb

          “well, you said ”
          I also wrote

          “such proofs are always based upon unproven axiomata, assumptions, presuppositions or whatever you prefer the call them….. I only need to change one of Euclides’ axiomata.”
          If you prefer to neglect that it’s your problem, not mine; I don’t need to read your comment any further. Few things are boring as discussions about “you wrote this and I maintain that it means that.”
          You better find yourself another tree.

        • martin_exp(pi*sqrt(163))

          again: i’m not impressed or surprised that you’re able to trick your pupils
          (that’s no reason why i’d “doubt the axiomata”. why should i doubt one
          axiomatic system just because you use another one?).

          i still don’t agree with your use of “shallow truths” and “doubting axiomata” in this odd way. i also disagree with mcgrath’s “shallow truths”, especially in his flippant disregard of math and its truths. in one of his lectures he said:

          “What can be proved tends to be rather shallow truths, not truth by which we can live. To construct the values and meanings that give society its moral compass and compassion, we have to stray beyond the austere realm of logic.”

          mathematicians themselves talk about beauty and meaning. for them is math not just worrying about “axiomata” (most don’t, not in latin anyway), or pushing around symbols, maybe that’s what he means by “we have to stray beyond the austere realm of logic” (mathematicians do that all the time, and go back to it if necessary). beyond that has math a long history, which includes people from vastly different times and cultures. this may not be a “moral compass”, but it’s a pretty impressive “compass” in its own right, accumulating and rediscovering this supposedly “shallow truths” over thousands of year. this kind of outlook might even influence your empathy and compassion.

      • KarlUdy

        This is still shallow

        This is McGrath’s point. The things we can prove absolutely, turn out not to be particularly life-changing

        • adam

          “The things we can prove absolutely, turn out not to be particularly life-changing”

          And yet the things we can demonstrate, like disease and illness caused not by ‘spirits’ and ‘demons’ but germs and viri ARE life changing.

        • MNb

          We cannot prove anything absolutely, something McGrath and you apparently refuse to recognize. So whether it’s life-changing or not is totally irrelevant.

        • KarlUdy

          Are you sure?

          Is it possible to prove that a man cannot marry his widow?
          Or the internal angles of a triangle on a Euclidean plane add to 180 degrees?
          Or that if all cats are mammals, and all mammals are animals then all cats are animals?

        • MNb

          Not only are you an idiot, also you are dishonest. Now you’re suddenly lowering your standard. You wrote

          “things we can prove absolutely.
          All your three examples can be proven, none of them absolutely.

        • Is it possible to prove that a man cannot marry his widow?

          Was Lazarus married?

        • Paul B. Lot

          Is it possible to prove that a man cannot marry his widow?
          Or the internal angles of a triangle on a Euclidean plane add to 180 degrees?
          Or that if all cats are mammals, and all mammals are animals then all cats are animals?

          “Prove”? “Prove” meaning what?

          Do you mean “possible to arrive at these conclusions with the feeling of 100% certainty”?

          Plenty of people are 100% certain of faleshoods.

          Do you mean something “possible to arrive at these conclusions with the feeling of 100% certainty AND have no one possibly disagree with you”?

          Or something like “a feeling of 100% certainty which is objectively true”?

          How do you answer Descartes’ demon?

          What if every time you see the numeral “5”, Satan changes the atoms and chemicals and electrical signals in your brain such that you think of the number six instead?

          What if you’ve never though of the integer between 4 and 5? What if one exists, but that demon is constantly rearranging your brain like the control panel of an elevator? What if every time you are about to think of this hypothetical integer, you just skip it, like the 13th floor in hotels?

          There is only 1 thought which is absolutely ironclad and undeniable, afaik; “the experience of having this thought exists.”

        • Ignorant Amos

          Is it possible to prove that a man cannot marry his widow?

          Necrogamy? Stranger things have happened…

          Posthumous marriage (or necrogamy) is a marriage in which one of the participating members is deceased. It is legal in France and similar forms are practiced in Sudan[citation needed] and China. Since World War I, France has had hundreds of requests each year, of which many have been accepted.

          After a posthumous marriage the living spouse inherently becomes a widow or widower.

          …even in the U.S. ya know?

          In 2009 a posthumous wedding ceremony was held in Batavia, Illinois, for Annie Hopkins, who had died of spinal muscular atrophy. Annie Hopkins had said that she wanted a wedding celebration instead of a funeral. The wedding celebration was open to the public and was a fundraiser for the Annie Hopkins Foundation Scholarship Fund, named after her. Since there was no apparent groom in this marriage, it is better classified as a wedding-themed funeral than a posthumous marriage.

          On March 10, 1987, a man from Miami named Isaac Woginiak died of a heart attack, without marrying his alleged fiancée. Two weeks later, Circuit Judge George Orr ordered the court clerk to sign a marriage license on behalf of Woginiak.

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Posthumous_marriage#United_States

    • he says that Christianity seemed more interesting to him than atheism, not more interesting than science.

      Yes. I misread that. Thanks.

      when he says that we can only prove shallow truths, he is not talking about science at all. The sort of truths that can be proved without any doubt are things like basic mathematical or logical proofs.

      I agree that math/logic are the only things that are proven, but I didn’t take that as his meaning. I’m sure he realizes that science doesn’t prove things, but I assumed that he was talking about science here. In the next sentence, he talks about the “utopian world of the New Atheism, which holds that we can prove all our valid core beliefs.” In the first place, I have no idea what utopian world he’s talking about or who he thinks believes it. This sounds like absolutely nothing that I think about or have read about.

      Now, back to your point: do these foolish utopian New Atheists propose to use science to prove these core beliefs? I’d have thought so. Math/logic won’t take you very far.

      I know it suits your narrative to think that he is a Christian who attacks science

      Uh, yeah. Comrade Dawkins has declared so. Comrade Dawkins is always correct.

      • KarlUdy

        Yes. I misread that. Thanks.

        You’re welcome

        … but I assumed that he was talking about science here. In the next sentence, he talks about the “utopian world of the New Atheism, which holds that we can prove all our valid core beliefs.” In the first place, I have no idea what utopian world he’s talking about or who he thinks believes it. This sounds like absolutely nothing that I think about or have read about.

        What he is talking about is the idea, which seems common in New Atheist circles, that the core beliefs of atheism can be proven.

        Now, back to your point: do these foolish utopian New Atheists propose to use science to prove these core beliefs? I’d have thought so. Math/logic won’t take you very far.

        And right on cue … science won’t prove any of those beliefs. And the things within maths or logic that can be proven won’t get you very far. This was his point.

        Uh, yeah. Comrade Dawkins has declared so. Comrade Dawkins is always correct.

        You laugh, but it sure seems that way from an outsider point of view. Perhaps if people like you wrote articles critiquing Dawkins, Krauss or your other New Atheist apostles the impression wouldn’t be quite so overwhelmingly strong.

        • What he is talking about is the idea, which seems common in New Atheist circles, that the core beliefs of atheism can be proven.

          Common? I’ve never heard of this. Point me to something.

          And right on cue … science won’t prove any of those beliefs.

          And given this, not even the idiotic New Atheists would think that they could prove much of anything useful with only math and logic. Therefore, McGrath must assume that these boneheads include science in their toolkit.

          You laugh, but it sure seems that way from an outsider point of view.

          Tell me more. I’ve seen Catholics cite the pope (or Thomas Aquinas or other scholars from the dark past) in reverent tones. Someone might quote Dawkins, and I’ve done that myself. I think he’s made a good contribution to the discussion. But that’s it. If there’s some sort of unwarranted reverence, I’ve never seen it any more than localized comments.

          Perhaps if people like you wrote articles critiquing Dawkins, Krauss or your other New Atheist apostles the impression wouldn’ t be quite so overwhelmingly strong.

          What’s overwhelmingly strong? Again, I need evidence. It sounds like you inhabit a world very different from mine … which is strange since you’re critiquing my world.

          Show me something interesting that they’ve written that needs criticizing and I’ll consider it.

          If you’re looking for critiques of atheists by atheists, I’ve seen it in exuberant, obnoxious abundance. Some atheists seem to delight in nothing so much as leveling a charge (usually sexual misconduct or some other moral transgression) against atheists. For example, Freethought Blogs had some great stuff, but that element drove me away.

        • KarlUdy

          Common? I’ve never heard of this. Point me to something.

          I don’t think you need to be taught how to google …
          but to clarify, many (most?) New Atheists seem to be positivists of one stripe or another. You yourself have used positivist arguments many times. Any positivist argument for atheism is an example of such thinking.

          Therefore, McGrath must assume that these boneheads include science in their toolkit.

          McGrath’s point is that science doesn’t prove what the New Atheists claim it does.

          If you’re looking for critiques of atheists by atheists, I’ve seen it in exuberant, obnoxious abundance.

          What about critiques of atheist aguments? I’d much more easily believe that you don’t simply toe the party line if you were to write a post titled something like “Three things Dawkins get wrong”, “10 New Atheist arguments you shouldn’t use”, etc. I’ve never seen anything like that from you. And if you’re concerned about the tone where other atheists have critiqued atheists – you have complete control over the tone of what you write.

        • MNb

          “McGrath’s point is that science doesn’t prove what the New Atheists claim it does.”
          combined with

          “I don’t think you need to be taught how to google”
          is a sign you can’t provide the evidence BobS asked, but pulled it from the lower end of your digestive system. This is confirmed by your attempt to distract attention with your “clarification”, which is totally superfluous and specifically not what BobS asked.
          It looks like you’re fucking a strawman, making you feel good. This is confirmed by

          “I’d much more easily believe that you don’t simply toe the party line.”
          What you’d believe much more or less easily means nothing.

        • Paul B. Lot

          Common? I’ve never heard of this. Point me to something.
          I don’t think you need to be taught how to google …but to clarify, many (most?) New Atheists seem to be positivists of one stripe or another. You yourself have used positivist arguments many times. Any positivist argument for atheism is an example of such thinking.”

          In other words; you don’t have to present evidence to back up your assertions.

          Merely stating your assertions, and then giving hand-wavy anecdotes, is all that you require to make your case stronk.

          Bravo, Karl.

        • Susan

          I don’t think you need to be taught how to google.

          That is a weaselly response.

          “The idea common among New Atheists that the core beliefs of atheism can be proven” is a silly sentence. When asked to support it, you dodge.

          I’ll repeat the request. Give us an example.

          McGrath’s point is that science doesn’t prove what the New Atheists claim it does.

          McGrath is attacking a strawman rather than supporting his Yahwehjesus claim.

          And you are doing the same.

        • KarlUdy

          I’m accused of a weaselly response?

          You may not remember Bob posting this: http://crossexaminedblog.com/2012/06/21/god-is-nonexistent/ or the comments that followed which critiqued his adherence to logical positivism.

          But if Bob will say he has never heard of a line of argument that he himself has used, then I don’t the person who tells him to go look for the evidence that such arguments are used by atheists is the one being weaselly.

        • Paul B. Lot

          KU:What he is talking about is the idea, which seems common in New Atheist circles, that the core beliefs of atheism can be proven.

          BS:Common? I’ve never heard of this. Point me to something.

          KU:I don’t think you need to be taught how to google …but to clarify, many (most?) New Atheists seem to be positivists of one stripe or another. You yourself have used positivist arguments many times. Any positivist argument for atheism is an example of such thinking.

          S:That is a weaselly response.

          KU:You may not remember Bob posting this: http://crossexaminedblog.com/2012/06/21/god-is-nonexistent/ … or the comments that followed which critiqued his adherence to logical positivism. But if Bob will say he has never heard of a line of argument that he himself has used…

          What arguments did Bob “himself” actually use?

          BS:Proving that God doesn’t exist—or, more generally, that no supernatural beings exist—is impossible as far as I can tell….Can we say that anything doesn’t exist? With certainty, probably not. But with the confidence that we can say that anything doesn’t exist—leprechauns, fairies, or Merlin the wizard—we can say that God doesn’t.

          How big a fool are you?

          How big a fool do you take all of the readers to be?

          Step 1: You asserted that “New Atheists” commonly claim to be able to prove the absence of (G)god(s).

          Step 2: Bob, justifiably surprised, asked you where you’ve seen this behavior.

          Step 3: With wholly misplaced condescension, given the relative levels of understanding on exhibit, you simply re-asserted your contention, claiming that Atheists often give what you call “positivist” arguments, that Bob had too, and that these “positivist” arguments === the “claim to be able to prove” from Step 1.

          You fail to give actual sources which back up your assertion. Again.

          Step 4: Susan calls you out for your snark and your non-answer.

          Step 5: You finally respond with “evidence.”

          Your “evidence” that Atheists commonly assert that “the core beliefs of atheism can be proven”…..is a post within which Bob states “Proving that God doesn’t exist…is impossible as far as I can tell….Can we say that anything doesn’t exist? With certainty, probably not.”

          You are an idiot, Karl.

        • KarlUdy

          Paul B. Lot, did you actually read the comments where Bob’s logical positivism was critiqued?

          It certainly looks like you didn’t.

        • Paul B. Lot

          Why are you talking to me about “the comments” when you claimed that Bob himself claimed to be able to prove that [(G)god(s) does not exist]?

          Does he make that claim in the comments of his post you linked to?

          If so:

          where?

        • Paul B. Lot

          Another follow-up question: where does Bob espouse “logical positivism”?

          log·i·cal pos·i·tiv·ism

          noun

          a form of positivism, developed by members of the Vienna Circle, that considers that the only meaningful philosophical problems are those that can be solved by logical analysis.

          Where has Bob claimed that the philosophical concept of “(G)god(s)” is incoherent due to the inability to submit it to “logical analysis”?

          ETA:

          From the wiki –

          “In this theory of knowledge, only statements verifiable either logically or empirically would be cognitively meaningful.”

        • KarlUdy

          Anyone who argues that their beliefs/worldview is based on evidence as opposed to faith is using exactly such argumentation

        • Paul B. Lot

          You really are a fucking idiot, aren’t you Karl?

          No, not everyone “who argues that their beliefs/worldview is based on evidence as opposed to faith is using exactly such argumentation”.

          This is false.

          “Logical Positivists” are a very specific delineation of philosophical thinkers – they specifically believe that if a statement is not verifiable either logically or empirically, then it is not cognitively meaningful.

          Bob did not say that “God” or “leprechauns” or “fairies” or “Merlin the wizard” are not cognitively meaningful – he said that they all have equivalent levels of evidence for their existence.

          Not only did he not claim that they, as concepts, were unintelligible/not cognitively meaningful….he didn’t even claim that they don’t exist.

          Rather he merely claimed that they all have equivalent levels of evidence for their existence.

          To recap:

          You’re wrong about the definition/meaning of “logical positivist”.

          Therefore you’re wrong about Bob’s being a logical positivist.

          Even IF you were right on both of the above points, and you’re not, you’d STILL be wrong in your claim that Bob says he can prove “(G)god(s)” doesn’t exist.

          He doesn’t.

          He merely says that IF “(G)god(s)” exists, that existence is supported by the same level of evidence which supports tons of other beings and concepts which we discount for practical reasons.

          My goodness, Karl, but you really are a fucking idiot.

        • Susan

          My goodness, Karl, but you really are a fucking idiot.

          Upvoted for the main body of your comment.

          Again for the record, I disagree that Karl is an idiot.

        • Paul B. Lot

          “Upvoted for the main body of your comment.”

          🙂

          “Again for the record, I disagree that Karl is an idiot.”

          It wouldn’t be the first time you’ve seen me be wrong, chances are slim that it’ll be the last!

        • Susan

          It wouldn’t be the first time you’ve seen me be wrong, chances are slim that it’ll be the last!

          I haven’t shown yet that you are wrong, just saying that so far I disagree. Not like you to back down like that. 🙂

          Anyway, I’m as likely wrong as you are. It wouldn’t be the first or last time.

          I don’t come to these places so people will tell me I’m right. Neither do you.

        • Paul B. Lot

          “Neither do you.”

          😛

        • Susan

          :P!!

        • Michael Neville

          Children, play nice or there will be no cookies later.

        • Ignorant Amos

          Depends on definition and context…everyone is an idiot on something or other I suspect.

          David Dunning of Dunning-Kruger fame writes in an interesting essay…

          Because it’s so easy to judge the idiocy of others, it may be sorely tempting to think this doesn’t apply to you. But the problem of unrecognized ignorance is one that visits us all. And over the years, I’ve become convinced of one key, overarching fact about the ignorant mind. One should not think of it as uninformed. Rather, one should think of it as misinformed.

          An ignorant mind is precisely not a spotless, empty vessel, but one that’s filled with the clutter of irrelevant or misleading life experiences, theories, facts, intuitions, strategies, algorithms, heuristics, metaphors, and hunches that regrettably have the look and feel of useful and accurate knowledge. This clutter is an unfortunate by-product of one of our greatest strengths as a species. We are unbridled pattern recognizers and profligate theorizers. Often, our theories are good enough to get us through the day, or at least to an age when we can procreate. But our genius for creative storytelling, combined with our inability to detect our own ignorance, can sometimes lead to situations that are embarrassing, unfortunate, or downright dangerous — especially in a technologically advanced, complex democratic society that occasionally invests mistaken popular beliefs with immense destructive power (See: crisis, financial; war, Iraq). As the humorist Josh Billings once put it, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” (Ironically, one thing many people “know” about this quote is that it was first uttered by Mark Twain or Will Rogers — which just ain’t so.)

          https://psmag.com/we-are-all-confident-idiots-56a60eb7febc#.8v4myoh37

        • TheNuszAbides

          thanks for that! great to get a deeper (broader?) assessment from someone who’s obviously and officially taken a long hard look at the problem(s).

        • MNb

          For once I have to disagree with Susan above.
          You’re an idiot indeed for all the reasons PBL points out.

        • Ignorant Amos

          I find it very uncomfortable to be in disagreement with Susan. I find myself, checking, double checking, then checking again, before hitting the post button.

          Susan making errors in judgement is as rare as hens teeth when it comes to her observations. But I think in this instance, yer man is indeed being asinine.

        • Susan

          I find it very uncomfortable to be in disagreement with Susan.

          How DARE you question my final word?

          Susan making errors in judgement is as rare as hen’s teeth when it comes to her observations.

          I wish. But thanks. 🙂

          I think in this instance, yer man is indeed being asinine.

          I agree he’s being asinine. I just don’t think he’s an idiot. That is, he’s not stupid.

        • I’m starting to think that the problems with Christian apologetics are shown most clearly by the fact that any attempt to assess the integrity of its proponents tends to evolve into a discussion of the difference between deliberate and accidental stupidity.

        • Susan

          Anyone who argues that their beliefs/worldview is based on evidence as opposed to faith is using exactly such argumentation

          No.

        • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

          Try again.

          Requiring evidence doesn’t presuppose the ability to prove *everything*, or that questions that aren’t amenable to evidence-based analysis are useless.

          It’s just withholding belief until such evidence is provided… you know, the Null Hypothesis?

        • Susan

          You are an idiot, Karl.

          I disagree that Karl is an idiot.

          I do think his approach has been dishonest.

          I find that more annoying.

        • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

          Thank you for researching and stitching that together!!!

        • Susan

          I’m accused of a weaselly response?

          Yes. I was very specific about which response was weaselly. See my comment, the one to which you just responded.

          You made an unjustified statement. Bob politely asked you to point him to something to support it and you responded with “I don’t think you need to be taught how to google”.

          I blockquoted that sentence and said that it was a weaselly response. It certainly was.

          Now, you have provided a proper link that you think supports your position. Much less weaselly. Why not do that in the first place? I don’t agree with your claim but at least you’ve finally addressed Bob’s honest question.

          Now, tell us what you mean by logical positivism.

          That’s a second step. The first step was that you provided a disqus link to what you think supports your assertion, something random Googling would not provide.

          That doesn’t mean you’re off the hook for typing this so far silly sentence: “The idea among New Atheists that the core beliefs of atheism can be proven.”

          You will have to explain what you mean by:

          1) New Atheists, as opposed to you know, just atheists.

          That is, people who don’t believe you when you claim an immaterial agent exists without a coherent model or evidence, and not just any immaterial agent in your case, but one who created everything out of metaphysical nothingness and decided it was necessary to become human for the briefest blink in natural history but left no evidence except the supernatural stories passed down by humans that in no way seem more believable than other supernatural stories passed down by humans that don’t match your story at all.

          2) That not believing your supernatural story is connected to “core beliefs”.

          3) That people who don’t believe your story commonly assert that they have core beliefs that can be “proven”.

          You and McGrath could be making a case for your claims. If you had one, you would. Instead, you malign the people who point out that you can’t make a case.

        • So then you can’t defend, “the idea, which seems common in New Atheist circles, that the core beliefs of atheism can be proven”? In that case, I suggest you retract it or qualify it so that it’s defensible.

        • Michael Neville

          What distinguishes New Atheists from Old Atheists or any other kind of atheists?

          I don’t think you need to be taught how to google …

          You apparently need to be taught to give an answer to a question.

          McGrath’s point is that science doesn’t prove what the New Atheists claim it does.

          I’ve never seen any atheists claim that gods can be disproved. I’ve seen reasonable arguments against specific gods, i.e. the problem of evil argues against an omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent god like Yahweh or Allah, but I’ve never seen an argument against all possible gods.

          What about critiques of atheist aguments?

          What about them? Just because you’d like to see them because you don’t think Bob should toe some party line that only you appear to see doesn’t mean he needs to write them.

        • MNb

          “What distinguishes New Atheists from Old Atheists or any other kind of atheists?”
          This is exactly why I entertain the idea of translating a Dutch article from 1923 called (in translation) The Misery of Religion.

        • Susan

          This is exactly why I entertain the idea of translating a Dutch article from 1923 called (in translation) The Misery of Religion

          I hope you find time to do it. You’re certainly capable.

          I’ve been studying Spanish like crazy for the last few months but it will be a long before I get to Dutch. So many thinkers whose ideas I cannot access because of my limited language capabilities.

          (The good side is that I am protected from idiotic ideas from thinkers in other languages too. So far, I only have to respond to idiots who speak English.)

        • Michael Neville

          I’m fluent in French because I lived in Quebec for several years. From my experience, there’s as many idiotic ideas expressed in French as there are in English. Sometimes the idiocy is in different subjects but the quantity seems fixed.

        • MNb

          The time won’t be the problem; the problem will be the permission.

        • Just “quote” it at length, in a sarcastic font. Then it counts as parody, and therefore fair use. (I’m pretty sure that’s how the law works. Disclaimer: I know nothing about law.)

          Why does anybody bother writing in Dutch anyway? We all know that all Dutch people speak fluent English. I’m pretty sure you just do it to be awkward, like when people speak in Welsh.

        • TheNuszAbides

          What about critiques of atheist aguments?

          What about them?

          if he genuinely wants to get his eyes dirty he should have been paying more attention to Carrier. Whingers in practically every camp go on and on about what a meanie he is, but that fucker at least does not shirk any critique out of some misguided sense of alliance. (not to imply that any particular blogger does, either …)

        • I don’t think you need to be taught how to google …

          And that’s my point. I live in an atheist environment, but if I must google to find this, then I guess we agree that at least one atheist environment (mine) doesn’t have it. How common can this be?

          many (most?) New Atheists seem to be positivists of one stripe or another. You yourself have used positivist arguments many times.

          What does that have to do with, “the core beliefs of atheism can be proven”?

          What about critiques of atheist aguments? I’d much more easily believe that you don’t simply toe the party line if you were to write a post titled something like “Three things Dawkins get wrong”, “10 New Atheist arguments you shouldn’t use”, etc. I’ve never seen anything like that from you.

          I’ve seen articles of the “10 atheist arguments you shouldn’t use” sort. I haven’t noticed much in this category, but I’d be happy to write about them if I did. Point out such arguments when they come to you.

          But then that’s just what someone toeing the party line would say, isn’t it?

        • TheNuszAbides

          “But then that’s just what someone toeing the party line would say, isn’t it?”

          should we pre-empt ‘reclaiming’ your ceremonial title of Underking Weasel?

        • I’d better register the domain name quickly.

        • Pofarmer

          Perhaps if people like you wrote articles critiquing Dawkins, Krauss or
          your other New Atheist apostles the impression wouldn’ t be quite so
          overwhelmingly strong.

          Ya know what’s funny about that? People like Dawkins and Krauss have routinely submitted peer reviewed papers where they ask to be critiqued and criticized. I don’t think they expect any less of their “work” as atheists.

        • MNb

          “the idea, which seems common in New Atheist circles, that the core beliefs of atheism can be proven.”
          Plural? Atheism is in the end just one statement – there is no god. Depending on what you mean with “proof”, yes, it can be proven. Just not by science, but science doesn’t prove anything anyway.

          “it sure seems that way from an outsider point of view.”
          You (and apparently McGrath) need to get out a little more. Dawkins is heavily criticized on Pharyngula, the blog of a quite prominent atheist. He isn’t exactly a hero here either; we largely neglect him.
          McGrath has one good reason to focus on Dawkins: they are friends.

        • KarlUdy

          He isn’t exactly a hero here either; we largely neglect him.

          Funny. Someone in the comments here felt the need to quote him. So much for being neglected.

        • MNb

          Funny.
          You’re a native English speaker and don’t seem to know what the word “largely” means. Hint: it’s not a synonym of “totally”.

        • Yep, I quote him in every other comment.

        • Greg G.

          Every other reply I make is a pun because I like rye sandwiches.

        • There’s a 12-step program for that. Not a complaint, just sayin’.

        • Ignorant Amos

          Dawkins is heavily criticized on Pharyngula, the blog of a quite prominent atheist.

          And the blog owner, P.Z. Myers was a one time good friend of Dawkins also. No one is beyond criticism by anyone else.

    • Susan

      Richard Dawkins’s argument assumes that science disproves the existence of God, and thus excludes belief in God as a legitimate option for scientists.

      When he uses the concept of “proof” in that sentence, then he is alluding to something other than mathematical or logical proofs. Either he is being dishonest about Dawkins’s position or he is talking about something other than mathematical and logical proofs.

      We often have to make decisions on the basis of a less than total understanding of the situation. That’s just the way things are. The epistemic dilemma of humanity is that we cannot prove the things that matter most to us. We can only prove shallow truths.

      He is completely unclear about what he means there. The allusion based on his criticism of “New Atheists” and Dawkins’s position is that he is talking about something else.

      It’s not a comfortable situation, but we have to get used to it, and not seek refuge in the illusory utopian world of the New Atheism, which holds that we can prove all our valid core beliefs.

      You’re worried about Bob’s response to McGrath’s allusions but not even slightly concerned about that ridiculous strawman?

      I know it suits your narrative to think that he is a Christian who attacks science

      McGrath is vague and beating the stuffing out of a strawman. It suits his narrative to do so.

    • Otto

      I find Greek Mythology more interesting than Christianity…that does not make Greek Mythology more true.

    • Herald Newman

      > “Firstly, he says that Christianity seemed more interesting to him than atheism, not more interesting than science.”

      So what? I’m not an atheist because it gives me comfort, or because it’s rich in history, and culture. I’m an atheist because I don’t believe there are any gods, and think that gods are pretty damned unlikely!

      It’s actually a rather scary thought that when you die, that’s the end, but I’ve yet to find any compelling reason to believe any f the nonsense most religions peddle.

  • Aram

    A few years back I read McGrath’s book, ‘The Twilight of Atheism’. The walls of childhood indoctrination had finally more fully fallen down, but still I thought I should check out what the latest apologists were saying, just to be fair. In ‘The Twilight of Atheism’ McGrath starts strong, setting up all sorts of arguments with an implied promise that the second half of the book would prove them correct. No such thing occurred. Rather, the second half of the book amounted to ‘Christianity is correct because it gives me the feels’. The end.
    Needless to say I did not rejoin the fold.

    • Dys

      Sadly, pretty much every attempt to “prove” Christianity that I’ve read devolves into “Christianity for the feels”. And hey, if they’re of the more liberal persuasion and don’t annoy other people with it, fine. But they have an incredibly misplaced sense of self-assurance with nothing to back it up.

      • Aram

        Like my friend saying I shouldn’t trust evolution because we don’t know life’s abiogenesis. Uh huh, and somehow saying God did it is a complete answer? Obtuse doesn’t begin to describe it.

    • His Dawkins Delusion was also uninspiring. It’s fascinating how smart people can trot out such weak arguments. I felt the same way listening to John Lennox, also an Oxford guy, originally from Ireland, with 3 doctorates.

      • Aram

        I watched a bit of John Lennox on youtube (I think because you mentioned him on here, but can’t remember), and yeah, definitely drivel when you get right down to it. There seems to be some sort of genetic/epigenetic predisposition to this shit in a lot of people. I suppose it makes sense when you look at evolution as a whole.

        • Pofarmer

          “There seems to be some sort of genetic/epigenetic predisposition to this shit in a lot of people”

          To a certain extent, I think it’s been selected. Think about it, for thousands of years the most religious were given preferential treatment. Unbelievers were harried, ostracized, and/or killed outright. How doesn’t that put selection pressure on a trait like religiosity?

        • Aram

          That’s an interesting point.

        • You top off an illustrious career at Oxford by becoming an evangelist? I realize that Lennox gets lots of praise for it, but to an outsider, it’s just kind of … sad.

        • Aram

          What is it with the Northern Irish, hey. C. S. Lewis had the same odd affliction. As does McGrath. Otherwise intelligent but just can’t get through life without imagining God watching their ass. Strange.

        • Ignorant Amos

          Steady on there tiger! Enough with the generalisation already. }8O)~

        • Aram

          I hear ya. I suppose I should have put a winky face 😉

        • MNb
        • I’ll take a look, thanks.

      • MNb

        As I thought God Delusion equally uninspiring it seemed to me that it was an appropriate answer.

        • Pofarmer

          See, I liked The God Delusion, but I was dealing with a shitload of it at the time. I also liked “Religion Poisons Everything.”

        • MNb

          If I get permission (you know, copyrights – I don’t even know who has them) I’ll ask BobS if he’ll post a translation of Anton Constandse’s De Ellende van de Religie (The Misery of Religion) as a guest post. I’m pretty sure you’ll like it. If you like to practice your Dutch:

          http://www.tijdschrift-de-as.nl/documenten/de_AS_172.pdf

          Page 3 and further.

        • Aram

          I thought it was all right, but much preferred ‘god Is Not Great’.

        • Ignorant Amos

          Probably because you were already a seasoned atheist well versed in the arguments prior to The God Delusion.

          Until I read The God Delusion I was an atheist in name only. I never really bought the religious belief nonsense even though I went through all the motions. Dawkins book gave me a lot of understanding of my position. It also gave me the confidence to wear my lack of belief. It also gave me the impetus to go and look for other answers to a lot of questions from other sources.

          So I’m grateful to the book for all that. Also, it give me a taste for Dawkins style, I wasn’t a big book reader. I’ve now read quite a number of his other works which increased my knowledge on allied subjects in science. Unweaving the Rainbow is one of a few books I’ve read a number of times.

        • MNb

          No, I wasn’t well versed in the arguments yet. I thought it not a sincere investigation but full of cheap rhetoric and propaganda. The same for the Dawkins Delusion, which I read immediately after it. My feeling was that there must be better stuff; I was only partly right, because I still have to meet decent apologetics.

  • Rudy R

    Seems his argument for theism boils down to is, science does not have the answers to life’s big questions and Christianity does, therefore Christianity is true. Wonder why someone proclaiming to be a thinking man doesn’t recognize that non sequitur.

    • Aram

      They all seem to do it. I’ve shown the linked video (fascinating to watch) to otherwise intelligent friends who are also Christians. And they’ve literally and unashamedly retorted with, ‘The difference is my emotions come from God, whereas the others are being deceived by Satan/demons.’
      Human psychology is a crazy thing.
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UJMSU8Qj6Go

      • And these people are able to do calculus or cross a busy street as skillfully as anyone. Compartmentalization, I guess.

        • Myna A.

          Compartmentalization is a fascinating thing. It has to be a survival mechanism to keep the brain from imploding on itself.

        • Aram

          I agree. Life is such a trip knowing it’ll end, I do think compartmentalization evolved in sync with self-awareness (of all its varying degrees in humans). I imagine we’d all go nuts and/or suicidal without it. The key is to recognize the mechanism is there and respond accordingly i.e. no gods needed.

        • Pofarmer

          Yeah, the problem is that ain’t as easy as it sounds.

        • Aram

          True that. And those that need it the most are the least likely to see that they need it. Classic catch-22.

        • Aram

          Oh, definitely compartmentalization. And we all do it to some extent. But the religious woo types take it to extremes; and not just with God, but with idiotic shit like homeopathy.
          Have you come across Bob Altemeyer’s The Authoritarians? Definitely worth the read.
          http://members.shaw.ca/jeanaltemeyer/drbob/TheAuthoritarians.pdf

        • I’ve not read that book. Thanks for the link.

        • TheNuszAbides

          Compartmentalization, I guess.

          seems like this is the basic answer to most “how can the same person ___________ but also ___________?” questions.

      • Myna A.

        They are like butterflies in a garden of illusions. So, the butterfly alights on a flower, a sort of trompe l’oeil, and declares this one to have the sweetest nectar. The underlying theme seems to be “I, I, I” and “Me, me, me”, which clusters into a grand spiritual narcissism, hence, the others are deceived. It’s almost surreal. The Wiccans are colorful, though. I will give them points for that.

        • Aram

          That’s some nice imagery right there 🙂

        • Myna A.

          It was the first image that popped into my head. The people in the video all look so…enchanted.

    • I keep wanting to give these scholars more credit than they deserve. Their arguments are truly empty. The best they’ve got is when they burrow under a pile of obtuse jargon and ideas and demand that you try to dig them out. So much for “Since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen.”

      • Steve Gray

        In my extensive research into Christian claims, many made by supposedly smart, educated theologians and apologists, I have found that virtually none of the claims are coherent or convincing. The apologists keep their commitment because they are emotionally wed to it. Logic takes a second position for them.

        • Greg G.

          But ex-Christians tend to be logically divorced from their religious beliefs. Christians don’t seem to get this when they ask what hurt them that made them lose their faith.

        • Steve Gray

          For many people the emotional part of their brain weighs 20 kg and the logical part weighs about a milligram

      • Greg G.

        I keep wanting to give these scholars more credit than they deserve. Their arguments are truly empty. The best they’ve got is when they burrow under a pile of obtuse jargon and ideas and demand that you try to dig them out.

        Buncha ten dollar words to express a dime a dozen argument.

        • Steve Gray

          “Obtuse” means stupid. I think you meant “obscure.”

        • Cygnus

          I think Bob meant “obtuse” as in “ignorant”. While “stupid” seems a harsh, yet applicable characterization of their arguments, “ignorant” is the most polite way to describe religious, theological and apologist jargon and ideas religionists try to support their arguments in theology, religious studies, philosophy of religion, etc.

          “Obscure” may give some hopes that something may be uncovered or made clear, but theologians and apologists scholars didn’t make anything clearer about what exactly theology is studying since that “discipline” started focusing on that fishy resurrection of a Jesus.

          Theology translates into English from the Greek theologia (θεολογία) which derived from Τheos (Θεός), meaning “God,” and -logia (-λογία) -something pertaining to biblical criticism, NOT pertaining to logic. So, by definition, theology is and will remain obtuse for that study is based on ignorance that a faith requires.

          Bob is right when he describes that all you get, when trying to “translate” God into knowledge, logic and reality, is a pile of obtuse jargon and ideas. Of course not a pile of stupid jargon and ideas, it would offend those who demand you to dig into that “obscure”_____ (fill in the blanks)

        • TheNuszAbides

          if we pile on oblique and obscurantist, i think we have all bases covered.

      • T-Paine

        If they say that, then faith goes out the window.

        • I’ve heard one justification for their aversion to facts, evidence, arguments and all that silly stuff: suppose they say, “I believe because science has no answer to what caused the Big Bang” or whatever. Then when science does provide an answer (and those danged scientists keep doing that), then what?

          Rest it in faith, and you’re good. Of course, you look like an idiot to the rest of us, but you’ve pleased God with your deep faith. I suppose God is pleased with someone like the White Queen (“Sometimes I’ve believed as many as 6 impossible things before breakfast”).

        • Rudy R

          When it comes universally accepted that a creator was not required to start the Big Bang or life on Earth, theists will cling to some other unanswerable question that science can’t answer. They’re a stubborn lot.

  • Steve Gray

    Another fine post by Bob. Bob, be careful. We will come to expect more posts of this excellent quality. Can you maintain the pace?

    • Quit horsing around! You know that every post of mine is full of savage and life-changing clarity, and the back catalog is a thermonuclear arsenal of insight.

      Party on!

      • Steve Gray

        OK, but my skeptical energy is greater than a ton of matter colliding with a ton of antimatter.

  • Doubting Thomas

    Christianity has all the answers a person will ever need just so long as the person doesn’t need the answers to be true.

  • candide

    McGrath’s faith proves only that you can find fools in all places.

  • Alister McGrath is an expert in the art of answering a question in such a lengthy and tangential way that by the time he finishes, you’ve forgotten what the question was. He seems to be doing that here. He goes on and on and on about tangentially related issues like the limitations of science, and thus avoids having to give any reasons for thinking that God actually exists.

  • candide

    I know many accomplished, even brilliant scholars whose personal insecurities lead them to religious beliefs which in others they would quickly reject. There are fools and knaves all around. Some deserve pity, some do not.

  • Argus

    Not convinced by his fallacious arguments….Nexxxxt.

    Also this:

    “[Science is] limited because it can’t address the important areas of meaning, value, and beauty.”

    Correct me if I am wrong but wasn’t his quote taken from an online news link?

    You know….an invention of limited science?

    Does not the application of this “limited science” allow him to “address the important areas of meaning, value, and beauty” to a global audience.

    Weird..init?

    Also…science can and does address all these issues more and more..it’s called neuroscience.

    • I guess the smarter you are, the more clever or convoluted your justifications for your poorly reasoned beliefs.

      • Argus

        Wait…how did you respond to my comment so quickly and from so great a distance? Oh yeaaaah…LIMITED SCIENCE.

        And yes, the apologia used by learned theologians does not differ much from the huffing and puffing pentecostal preacher…except in verbiage.

        They all boil down to this..if the apologists were honest…”I believe this to be true because believing makes me feel better than not believing.”

  • TheNuszAbides

    “Science has been hijacked by ideological atheists, who have weaponized science in their battle against religion….”

    as oh-so-pointedly distinguished from those stolid, vaguely pious medieval denizens who weaponized gunpowder.

  • JustAnotherAtheist2

    First, it provides “a reassurance of the coherence of reality.”

    This might be my favorite cake and eat it too tactic in apologetics. Even ignoring the obviously faulty assumption that chaos is the default, aren’t miracles supposed to be a sign of god’s handiwork? So, when weird shit happens, that’s a sign of god, and when weird shit doesn’t happen, that’s also a sign of god? Gotcha, makes total sense.