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In God we doubt - Comments

petermun's Avatar Comment 1 by petermun

This reads like the final statement of someone about to announce he has been "born again" and ready to join the ranks of McGrath et al!

Sun, 02 Sep 2007 23:21:00 UTC | #63835

flashbaby's Avatar Comment 2 by flashbaby

I've spent time considering this article and have come to the opinion that I will need to write a long response. However I can't be bothered as it boils down to : what a fuckwit.

Sun, 02 Sep 2007 23:24:00 UTC | #63836

Clappers's Avatar Comment 3 by Clappers

I read the paper version and there is an interview by Bryan Appleyard, where John says that he lost his temper redaing books by militant atheists like Ricard Dawkins and Dan Dennett. Now I can understand saying militant about Christopher Hitchens or Sam Harris ( I agree with their views), but The God Delusion and even more Breaking the Spell are entirely reasonable books.

Why didn't John Humphreys have the courage to include Richard Dawkins or Jonathan Millar in his hour long interviews with the 3 religious leaders.

Very disappointed

Sun, 02 Sep 2007 23:34:00 UTC | #63838

Electric Monk's Avatar Comment 4 by Electric Monk

I thought that the article was really... um.... nice kind of went out of his way not to offend anyone whilst (importantly) missing the point almost entirely.

We keep on hearing about liberal or progressive ministers who accuse fundies of misinterpreting the bible and i always want to ask them on what basis they are claiming that the fundies are misreading it? What are their criteria for assessing the way that the bible is to be interpreted? - The fact is that "faith" is a warm cuddly blanket that can be used to justify whatever belief you happen to hold (regardless of whether you are liberal or conservative etc.) without having to subject your beliefs to any kind of criticism or argument - you just *know* that they're right. I don't claim to be more intelligent than some theologians, but i do claim that i am more inclined to question my beliefs - not just my beliefs about the world and how it works (which are dependant on evidence) but also my beliefs about what is ethical and moral, than most religious people. A large part of the reason for this is (i think) that my belief system is not based on faith.

P.S. Please stop saying that god is love - it makes no sense! - unless you are prepared to say that *love* is intelligent. Is faith like love? Yes, in some ways, but people sometimes love things that hurt themselves, or others. Just slapping the metaphor of love on faith does not justify it, legitimise it or render it "good".

Sun, 02 Sep 2007 23:40:00 UTC | #63839

roach's Avatar Comment 5 by roach

An army of strawmen. I really dislike it when the "New Atheists" are criticized for supposedly saying that "believers are mostly naive or stupid" when, in fact, they often refer to believers as " intelligent and well-meaing people".

Sun, 02 Sep 2007 23:42:00 UTC | #63840

Konradius's Avatar Comment 6 by Konradius

I got as far as the 2nd paragraph, then skipped to his 7 strawmen, saw they were moronic and skipped the rest.
If this guy is an agnostic (went back to check this, yes, he claims that) then he clearly believes in belief. And he should read The God Delusion in stead of at best skimming it.
This guy has no single clue about how to get answers to his questions. He would have after reading that book.

Sun, 02 Sep 2007 23:43:00 UTC | #63841

Corylus's Avatar Comment 7 by Corylus

I like John Humpries and I'm not going to be harsh on him. (I loved the quote about the IKEA manual). He is obviously a humane and intelligent man. I might even buy his book.

However, I do think he is being shortsighted here. The trouble is when hanging with sweet and funny Anglican vicars it is easy to get a false idea of the state of the world. This statement leapt out at me.

Of course the mad mullahs are dangerous and extreme Islamism is a threat to be taken seriously. But we've survived monotheist religion for 4,000 years or so, and I can think of one or two other things that are a greater threat to civilisation.

Not 4,000 years when monotheist religion is going nuclear we haven't. Please Mr Humpries look at Iran.

Even without this, I find that once you strip away all philosophical verbage over the nature of ultimate proof and understanding you are left with one simple question.

What's the point of having a mind if you can't make it up?

Sun, 02 Sep 2007 23:51:00 UTC | #63842

mikebreed's Avatar Comment 8 by mikebreed

I don't agree with Humphrys, but can we please have a bit more sense in these threads than "what a fuckwit", Flashbaby? Honestly, if you can't do better than that, why bother posting at all?

If I came to this page as an interested but unconvinced reader, I'd take from comments like this that atheists/secularists are as they are so often painted: arrogant, rude, simplistic.

Give it a rest, eh?

Mon, 03 Sep 2007 00:02:00 UTC | #63843

roach's Avatar Comment 9 by roach

Well if an interested but unconvinced reader came to the site, saw a comment like "what a fuckwit" and came to the conclusion that atheists/secularists are "arrogant, rude, simplistic", then that person is making the terrible mistake of taking the impulsive action of an individual and applying it to the whole population.

It's no different than coming to the ridiculous conclusion that all women are not to be trusted simply because your first girlfriend cheated on you.

Mon, 03 Sep 2007 00:24:00 UTC | #63845

the_assayer's Avatar Comment 10 by the_assayer

Roach, but nobody's arguing that an impulsive judgement about atheism is RIGHT. Rather the question is, " Is it wise for us to lose that potential reader, just because we in advance are only interested in the sort of reader who is more patient and critical? " In other words, Should we be trying to engage as many as people of as many types as possible?

Mon, 03 Sep 2007 00:56:00 UTC | #63859

NJS's Avatar Comment 11 by NJS

Replies to his replies.

1 What inteligence do people use to dismiss Ra, Thor and Zeus but believe in God? - irrational at best.

2. Do alcoholics kill people over brand choice?

3. Beneath contempt.

4. A function of strength of brainwashing and weakness of character.

5. Naive at best - bullying/brainwashing works.

6. How many would have been killed in the crusades if nuclear weapons were available.

Mon, 03 Sep 2007 00:59:00 UTC | #63861

irate_atheist's Avatar Comment 12 by irate_atheist

The question we educated atheisits have to address, is what leads otherwise seemingly intelligent sane people like John Humphrys, to think like this.

To respond to his numbered points, briefy in turn:

1. - John, you're citing unscientific anecdotal evidence. Enough said

2. Given what many use the Bible for, it actually shows a lot about those who take it's contents seriously. That it contradicts history and science hardly lends it credibility either.

3. Well, at the very least it does show a degree of wishful thinking, John, to suppose that you surive your own death...

4. hmmm, John, have you never noticed how parent's and children's Religious affiliations have a certain degree of cross-correlation? Inculcation, deliberate lies and deceit, and emotional blackmail to follow parents religion - if not brainwashing then still not very reasonable, John. Even my parents try it on with me and I'm married with kids.

5. Bullied into believing? Well, really this is an extension of item 4. Unless you're refering to the Taliban, Witch Trials, The Inquisition etc etc etc etc. Many thanks for raising the point, a superb own goal John.

6. The fact we've just about survived 4,000 years of lunacy is not thanks to the lunatics. Well, John, perhaps you haven't noticed the recent acquisition of Nuclear weapons by these people. Pakistan, America and Israel to name but three of the states I am refering to.

7. OK John, perhaps I was conned by the whole Father Christmas thing when I was about four but I've grown up since then. You can believe as fervently as you like that there is some bearded bloke (or metaphysical equivalent, I don't care which) who started and rules it all. But it doesn't actually make it true.

John, I admire your journalistic work, I still will, but you've certainly gone downhill in my estimation by writing this utter drivel.

Mon, 03 Sep 2007 01:02:00 UTC | #63862

atp's Avatar Comment 13 by atp

There's way to much here to comment on. So I choose just one thing I think maybe not everyone has thought about.

If I say a religious person is naive or stupid, or that it is naive and stupid to believe in religion, I mean naive/stupid about this question. I don't mean the person is stupid in general.

All intelligent people are stupid now and then. So it is very possible for a highly intelligent person to act unintelligently when it comes to a question such as religion.

Mon, 03 Sep 2007 01:18:00 UTC | #63867

MartinSGill's Avatar Comment 14 by MartinSGill

I have to admit that I recognise a lot of myself in Humphrey's description of atheists.

Unfortunately he suffers, at least in my case, from the delusion that I treat ALL Christians that way. I have to admit, to start with I did, but then I looked at myself and decided I didn't like the person I was becoming. I was becoming the enemy. The irony is, that by not being fond of the way I was behaving, I'd actually won a victory against the religious loonies. I'd shown that morality and decency does not come from the bible, indeed my very distaste for the behaviour of those claiming that argument for themselves is why I disliked seeing it in myself.

I still think of many Christians in just those terms though, but I reserve my scorn for the biblical literalists, and the creationists who John himself buries in scorn and contempt. How then is he any different to me? Just which parts of his list don't apply to him when he thinks of creationists, evangelicals and insane, megalomaniac mullahs?

Indeed, how is Giles Fraser any different to me? He also has "scorn (if not contempt) for the more traditional approach". As do I. The "traditional" approach leads to fundamentalism, the crusades, inquisitions, the oppression of science, the abuse of women and the mess in the middle east.

In many ways I see Fraser as no different to Sam Harris. Sam sees himself as a spiritual person and appreciates Jainism, Fraser is exactly the same, but instead of Jainism, he's chosen to label his spirituality Christianity.

The irony is that a couple of "traditional" Christians I know refuse to consider what Fraser believes to be Christian at all. They want nothing to do with the Anglican church, they hold it in contempt because it's not really Christian any more. Anyone who doesn't believe the resurrection really happened cannot be a Christian.

The problem with Humphrey is that he focuses too much on the British religious, epitomised by the Anglican church. A form of Christianity that is so watered down, and mostly harmless, that it's all but impotent; the very reason many "Christians" reject it and seek faith along more "traditional" lines.

Does Humphrey consider Ayaan Hirsi Ali an atheist militant? The woman who quite correctly points out the in the middle east millions of women live the lives of slaves or cattle at the hand of "traditional" religion, and all she wants is freedom for herself and her gender that the impotent Christians already have? And she wants those people to be vary of becoming more like her "traditional" former countrymen.

Humphrey may have spoken to many religious people, but he doesn't seem to have spoken to any of the evangelicals and the "undoubtedly stupid (witness the creationists)". Yet it those "undoubtedly stupid" people that the atheists he mislabels as "militant" are opposed to.

People like Giles Fraser, the man Humphrey seems to hold up as the argument against the atheists, are pretty much the vision of a religious man that these "militant" atheists are striving to achieve. People that believe, but believe intelligently, and sensibly.

Over 50% of Americans believe God created the Earth and humans fully formed in a matter of days; they are the "undoubtedly stupid" as Humphrey calls them. They are the target of atheist arguments and opposition and indeed fear.

It's a shame that Humphrey's exploration of the religious seems to be limited to those he's comfortable with, instead of focusing on those he, like the atheist "militants", holds in contempt.

Mon, 03 Sep 2007 01:40:00 UTC | #63876

devolved's Avatar Comment 15 by devolved

Well if an interested but unconvinced reader came to the site, saw a comment like "what a fuckwit" and came to the conclusion that atheists/secularists are "arrogant, rude, simplistic", then that person is making the terrible mistake of taking the impulsive action of an individual and applying it to the whole population.

It's no different than coming to the ridiculous conclusion that all women are not to be trusted simply because your first girlfriend cheated on you.

And not really that much different from saying that all religions are evil because extremists use them as power bases to bomb and murder.

Foul language is not a rare occurence on this website, its endemic. I'm surprised Richard Dawkins doesn't complain.

Mon, 03 Sep 2007 01:46:00 UTC | #63877

epeeist's Avatar Comment 16 by epeeist

Comment #67286 by devolved

Foul language is not a rare occurence on this website, its endemic.

So is the cut and run technique of creationists who visit this site.

Nice to see you back devolved - you still owe us some answers on "The Flood". Would you care to answer these before you attempt to set any more hares running? You know, like where did the water come from and go to, how did Noah get hundreds of thousands of species of beetle on board the ark, what did the Koalas eat and how did they get to Australia?

Apologies to everyone else - devolved has a nasty habit of coming and attempting to stir up mischief, then disappearing once he is challenged and has to produce some evidence of his assertions.

Mon, 03 Sep 2007 01:55:00 UTC | #63882

BAEOZ's Avatar Comment 18 by BAEOZ

Seems like a reasonable guy, whose desperate to justify faith and tell off those nasty atheists. Sigh.
I'd like devolved to tell me how Koalas and similar got over here to OZ from Turkey too. They only eat a small selection of Eucalyptus leaves, very picky. How'd they get them on the way?

Mon, 03 Sep 2007 02:25:00 UTC | #63896

Duff's Avatar Comment 17 by Duff

That is because devolved is one of the "stupid fuckwits" spoken of in these passages. Why would anyone expect anything intellectually founded to come from such people?

Mon, 03 Sep 2007 02:25:00 UTC | #63895

icanus's Avatar Comment 19 by icanus

6. If we don't wipe out religious belief by next Thursday week, civilisation as we know it is doomed.

6. Of course the mad mullahs are dangerous and extreme Islamism is a threat to be taken seriously. But we've survived monotheist religion for 4,000 years or so, and I can think of one or two other things that are a greater threat to civilisation.

I consider myself a fairly hard-line atheist, as far as that goes (i.e. not very far, at elast wehn compared to a hard-line religionist), but I don;t want to wipe out religion. What goes on in someone's head is their own business - it's only when it spills out into public policy and the treament of others that it becomes a potential cause for concern.

For 3,500 of those 4,000 years of monotheistic religion the most destructive weapon at the disposal of fanatics has been some variant of the pointed stick (and even with this limited arsenal, they seem to have managed to do plenty of damage). Since then we've moved on to guns, and in the last sixty years, nuclear weapons.

Given what the Inquisition accomplished with just a pair of pliers and a red hot poker, I'd rather not see what their modern day counterparts could do with an ICBM.

Mon, 03 Sep 2007 02:26:00 UTC | #63897

Richard Morgan's Avatar Comment 20 by Richard Morgan

Humphrys - OK? Can we at least get the spelling right?
When I read this kind of stuff I am left with several feelings. The first one is "What a lovely chap he probably is, at his kitchen table, in the pub, wherever." The kind of person I'd be proud to have in my garden.
Another feeling here is that his brand of silliness is so desperately sad.
Why doesn't he rejoice in the fact that it is godless science that could have given the Buchanans their longed-for baby, whereas their beliefs/church could only console them in their bitter frustration and privation?
But the real heaviness of heart was brought on by :

there are countless ordinary, decent people who believe in their own version of a benevolent God and wish no harm to anyone. Many of them regard it as their duty to try to make the world a better place.
Make the world a better place? Well, isn't that why Richard Dawkins wrote "The God Delusion"? Isn't that what atheism and rational thought are ALL ABOUT? Of course they are! I often wonder why this aspect of RD's work is barely ever mentioned.
Theists try to make the world a better place by invoking sky entities, and jollying us all along in the hopes of a better world AFTER this one.

Richard Dawkins is genuinely concerned with making this world a better place.
So am I.
Aren't you?

Mon, 03 Sep 2007 02:28:00 UTC | #63901

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 21 by Steve Zara

And not really that much different from saying that all religions are evil because extremists use them as power bases to bomb and murder.

Are you really dumb enough to post such nonsense after having read all the detailed explanations about what objections to religion really are? Are are you just trolling? I am afraid I suspect the latter.

Mon, 03 Sep 2007 02:35:00 UTC | #63903

Quetzalcoatl's Avatar Comment 22 by Quetzalcoatl


Swearing is hardly endemic on this site. I'm sure you are well aware that most posters on the site are courteous and polite to a fault, and many of the others (among whom I count myself) have only the occasional lapse into rudeness.

A great deal of the swearing and rudeness is born out of frustration towards those who come onto the site to make ill-advised and judgemental statements, and who do not have the courtesy to respond to questions raised by others.


the koalas had eucalyptus leaves air-dropped by passing angels.

Mon, 03 Sep 2007 02:42:00 UTC | #63905

NMcC's Avatar Comment 23 by NMcC



I read the Sunday Times version of this yesterday and I am still seething over it.

There are more false statements and non sequiturs in this article than any I have read for many a long year.

How to respond?

Richard Dawkins should demand the right to reply at equal length.

What's the point of sending a letter to the editor when the most that might get printed is a couple of truncated paragraphs?

Mon, 03 Sep 2007 02:44:00 UTC | #63906

Ian's Avatar Comment 24 by Ian

Well, that was... long.

Being an atheist, I'm bound to have missed some crucial point (or at least some religious type will claim so), but I think Humphrys is saying that people want some emotional connection with the universe and this is the source of religious feeling.

For those people who live in hunter-gatherer or agricultural communities, it must be easy to see spirits in things: trees that want to grow toward the sun, animals who want to hunt or graze etc. That is how they understand things.

For those in cold, hard, impersonal cities...

...but wait: why do we say cities are impersonal, when there are more people there than anywhere else?

Our instinct betrays us and there is the crux of the whole thing.

I think this poor majority of wandering doubters want to be able to live on the instincts we've all evolved with. Instincts which dealt with their environment by projecting intentions into it and that is still how all humans understand things for the most part.

As humans began to understand and unify phenomena in terms of impersonal forces and processes, many small gods gave way to one big one; that is how most people dealt with growing knowledge. But now, our knowledge is outstripping this tactic and people vary in how well they handle this change. Some like us, will handle the transition easily, but for others this projection of intentionality is a blind ally and thier crisis will only deepen - hence the depth of emotion.

As for Humphrys' attitude to us, well he should understand that for centuries, the religious have poured contempt upon us: saying that we lack something, that there are no atheists in foxholes and other casual calumnies. Our attitude is only a reflection of their own and will stop when they address their own poor behaviour.

So please religious people, look to your own sins.

Mon, 03 Sep 2007 02:50:00 UTC | #63907

Roll's Avatar Comment 25 by Roll

It looks to me like the next phase of the public debate has just taken off.
People like Humphrys and Alibhai-Brown that have so far held themselves to be outside the religion/atheist debate. They have a much more balanced and nuanced view of the world than these warring extreme factions, as they see them. It is interesting to see where this will go. It seems, this disenfranchised group in the childhood of defining its own position in the world, feels itself set-upon by both the dogmatic religiously defined God and unfeeling scientific reductionism.

There is I think, affecting an awful lot of people of the same mindset, a growing dislike of cold-hearted, out of control science, globalisation, climate change, destruction of the planet, wars, religious or otherwise all lumped into one threatening bundle. A wish to return to better simpler times when we could just all get alongÂ…

We must accept that there are a huge number of people that have no interest in science or reason, are quite happy to live there lives not knowing (like most of us to one degree or another) and find happiness in this way. These authors do not really believe in God, but they see something not described by science or religion, that really happens to them.

These people are not to be loathed because they see the world in a different way. In fact all we lack is a common language to describe the world we see about us.

Do these authors really think that an atheist, does not, can not, see beauty in the reflection of a full moon over the sea? Do they imagine that we observe these physical events in terms of photons, atmospheric conditions and Newtonian physics? I really think they must.

Mon, 03 Sep 2007 03:01:00 UTC | #63911

pholt's Avatar Comment 26 by pholt

He may have many useful and persuasive things to say but there is something deeply mistaken about thinking love is simply reducible to the chemistry of the brain.

Why do these people never feel the need to back up assertions like this with evidence.

Then he gets truly bizarre. First he attributes this opinion to the 'militant atheists'

2. The few clever ones are pathetic because they need a crutch to get them through life.

Then, a bit further down, he says the following on his own behalf. I don't see how this differs materially from the previous quote.

I suspect that on the most primitive level it is not all that different from the little scrap of blanket that so many small children rely on. They need it whenever they get tired or life looks a bit threatening.

Perhaps it's supposed to be ruder to call something a crutch than to call it a security blanket. I get the feeling Humphreys doesn't really know what he thinks. He just knows that you should be nice to believers in case you hurt their feelings.

Mon, 03 Sep 2007 03:07:00 UTC | #63912

Yorker's Avatar Comment 27 by Yorker

Like others, I too like John Humphrys' work as a TV journalist but I'm disappointed by this performance, he seems internally torn and unable to bring his thoughts to a conclusion he seems to fear.

There are those who occasionally use what Devolved calls "foul language" and some who never do. But to make an appeal to RD about it shows he's a mere skimmer of the material here, clearly unaware the word "fuck" has been used by RD himself! Personally, I'm a follower of the Stephen Fry school of thought on this, using profanity occasionally is the mark of an intelligent person, one of those little extras that make life interesting. It is NOT a sign of poor education or a lack of vocabulary.

Mon, 03 Sep 2007 03:12:00 UTC | #63914

irate_atheist's Avatar Comment 28 by irate_atheist

"Foul language is not a rare occurence on this website, its endemic. I'm surprised Richard Dawkins doesn't complain."

Perhaps he prefers free speach to censorship?

Richard, it's over to you.

Mon, 03 Sep 2007 03:28:00 UTC | #63918

monoape's Avatar Comment 29 by monoape

Oh dear, my estimation of Mr Humphrys just plummeted.

I almost gave up at the first hackneyed "militant atheists", but managed to wade through about half of it before succumbing to exhaustion.

Isn't this just an example of someone whose intellect is clearly leading them in one direction, but their childhood indoctrination stops them taking the decisive step?

As I read (over at Pharyngula?) recently: "he's baking lots of mental pretzels to maintain his beliefs".

Mon, 03 Sep 2007 03:43:00 UTC | #63925

hungarianelephant's Avatar Comment 30 by hungarianelephant

Does anyone else get the impression that the phrase "militant atheist" is the product of a focus group? It tries to convey either jackboots or hirstute, shrill wimmin, but has the merit of having no meaning at all, which means you can't argue with it.

Mon, 03 Sep 2007 03:56:00 UTC | #63930