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← Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams criticizes popular atheist writers

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams criticizes popular atheist writers - Comments

shaunfletcher's Avatar Comment 1 by shaunfletcher

No Dr Williams, that sounds like exactly what they are talking about.

Sat, 13 Oct 2007 14:46:00 UTC | #74869

padster1976's Avatar Comment 2 by padster1976

"There are specific areas of mismatch between what Richard Dawkins may write about and what religious people think they are doing," Williams said

There's an understatement - 'what they think they are doing' - ties nicely with 'Christians would not recognize their religion as it is described by such critics'.

I'm reminded of Hitchins saying then that the 'believer' is not adhering correctly to their faith. He was talking about so-called fanaticism and was attacking 'moderates'.


So I think the jist was that 'god' is entirely personal. So how can they deem to 'know him' and then say he is unknowable and then deem to interpret his wishes into rules on behaviour. Rules that, oh! support certain interests in positions of authority.

Sat, 13 Oct 2007 14:52:00 UTC | #74870

Skeptic Pete's Avatar Comment 3 by Skeptic Pete

"When believers pick up Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens, we may feel as we turn the pages: 'This is not it. Whatever the religion being attacked here, it's not actually what I believe in,'" the archbishop said.
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So they don't believe in virgin births, resurrections, miracles and an intercessionary deity after all?






"The religious believer says that moral integrity, self-introspection, honesty and trust are styles of living that connect with the character of an eternal and free agency, the agency most religions call God."
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Hogwash.

Sat, 13 Oct 2007 14:54:00 UTC | #74871

alan_s's Avatar Comment 4 by alan_s

All I ever want to see one of these cult leaders asked to their face in front of millions - prove it.

Sat, 13 Oct 2007 14:55:00 UTC | #74872

black wolf's Avatar Comment 5 by black wolf

...belief in God comes with no conditions attached. For believers, he said, God is real and existed before the universe did.

and
Don't distract us from the real arguments by assuming that religion is an ... irrational form of explanation

and
the character of an eternal and free agency


Belief? Character???
Dear Bishop, do you realize your cognitive dissonance, or do you refuse to grasp rational thinking?
Please enlighten us, what ARE the 'real arguments'? Is it the business of the theologian to claim the high ground by explaining their position in most vaguely assertive terminology? For a different approach, I suggest addressing the concrete arguments instead of throwing out smokescreens and avoiding them altogether.

Keep your goalposts, we don't want them.

Sat, 13 Oct 2007 15:01:00 UTC | #74875

Teratornis's Avatar Comment 6 by Teratornis

Liberal faith-heads have to answer for fundamentalists just as atheists have to answer for mass-murdering Communist despots.

I don't believe it satisfies any person of faith when a secular humanist atheist dismisses questions about Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot with a "Well, that's not my style of atheism" or "No atheists I know actually promote show trials, gulags, and mass murder." Therefore, any faith-head who trots out that chestnut is no longer exempt from questions about promoting the style of thinking (faith) which reliably leads to fundamentalism in many people.

What's more, liberal faith-heads are still printing and distributing copies of ancient holy books which promote all the evils they claim not to believe in any more. At least secular humanist atheists are not printing and distributing books which promote violent Communist insurgency (I think). We actually edit our books to reflect our current thinking.

Sat, 13 Oct 2007 15:04:00 UTC | #74876

Richard Morgan's Avatar Comment 7 by Richard Morgan

Thanks for pushing up the book sales figures, Bish.
Beckham couldn't have done better!

Sat, 13 Oct 2007 15:17:00 UTC | #74879

Matt H.'s Avatar Comment 8 by Matt H.

You can hardly expect the de facto head of the Church of England to say anything else. It is his job to support religion. Actually, its time the Queen gave her title of Head of the Church of England over to him, and become a truly secular head of state.

Sat, 13 Oct 2007 15:18:00 UTC | #74880

Quine's Avatar Comment 9 by Quine

The common faithful do see Prof. Dawkins et al. attacking what they believe. I am waiting for them to turn to the theologians and ask the experts why they don't believe what the common faithful believe. (Not holding my breath while waiting, however.)

Sat, 13 Oct 2007 15:19:00 UTC | #74881

Ben Hope's Avatar Comment 10 by Ben Hope

Comment #78568 by Teratornis

With respect I wouldn't use the "Well, that's not my style of atheism" argument to counter accusations about Stalin et al. No the fallacy with such accusations lies in the implication that their crimes were directly to do with, or followed logically from, atheism (or specifically a-yahwehism) when in fact this is merely a *lack* of some specific belief. Instead one can only blame their positive dogmatic beliefs in communism, fascism etc. After all, these regimes were also aunicornistic, afairyistic, aPoseidonistic, aThoristic, and so on ad infinitum, but one would never dream of blaming Stalin's lack of belief in fairies.

Sat, 13 Oct 2007 15:21:00 UTC | #74882

Cartomancer's Avatar Comment 11 by Cartomancer

Rowan Williams is a wonderful Archbishop of Canterbury. Ticks all the boxes - big beard, soothing authoritative voice, so woolly and liberal that pinning him down on an issue is harder than nailing an ocean to the wall... If all faith-heads were genuinely nice, dotty old avuncular figures like him then I'd have no trouble living in a world full of them.

I'm just waiting to see him in the grand final of the world eyebrow jousting championships against Sir Bernard Ingham...

Sat, 13 Oct 2007 15:23:00 UTC | #74883

Titchfield's Avatar Comment 12 by Titchfield

How very patronising. Please note, he's still not offered any evidence for the existence of his god. Also, I'd expect the Archbishop to sack any Bishop who proclaimed that he didn't know how bad child abuse was in 1990 because it was a different time back then. But he didn't do that either. From my point of view, he's a monster.

As for the Queen, I don't think she can just give over the title, constitutionally speaking. I do however think it's totally unreasonable for the government to continue to force the reigning monarch to cowtow to one religion or another, particularly when they don't have to (anymore).

Sat, 13 Oct 2007 15:28:00 UTC | #74885

A.Lex's Avatar Comment 13 by A.Lex

A-bishop Williams urges atheist writers to better understand religion.
RD responds: "Do you have to read up on leprechology to disbelieve?"

Sat, 13 Oct 2007 15:29:00 UTC | #74886

Cartomancer's Avatar Comment 14 by Cartomancer

Oh, and last time I checked Swansea was in Wales, not England...

Sat, 13 Oct 2007 15:31:00 UTC | #74887

GBG's Avatar Comment 15 by GBG

Article in short: Rowan Williams stamped his feet and said "mummy, make the man stop saying horrible things about my invisible friend".

Sat, 13 Oct 2007 15:33:00 UTC | #74888

Richard Morgan's Avatar Comment 16 by Richard Morgan

He urged atheist writers to better understand religion.
OK. As long as you don't mind my starting with Catharism and the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
Are you ok with that, Bish?

Sat, 13 Oct 2007 15:35:00 UTC | #74889

Paul Creber's Avatar Comment 17 by Paul Creber

Cartomancer 11 Rowan Williams is a wonderful Archbishop of Canterbury. Ticks all the boxes - big beard, soothing authoritative voice, so woolly and liberal that pinning him down on an issue is harder than nailing an ocean to the wall... If all faith-heads were genuinely nice, dotty old avuncular figures like him then I'd have no trouble living in a world full of them. I'm just waiting to see him in the grand final of the world eyebrow jousting championships against Sir Bernard Ingham....


Brilliant. You just hit the nail on the ... ocean.

Sat, 13 Oct 2007 15:38:00 UTC | #74890

Cartomancer's Avatar Comment 18 by Cartomancer

Catharism eh? Funnily enough I'm writing a paper at the moment on certain thirteenth century English theologians' responses to dualist heresies (one of whom, John Blund, was actually Archbishop of Canterbury in 1232) and the tone adopted by some of them reminds me of nothing other than our very own Richard Dawkins's The God Delusion...

Sat, 13 Oct 2007 15:41:00 UTC | #74891

Teratornis's Avatar Comment 19 by Teratornis

In reply to comment #78573 by Quine:

The common faithful do see Prof. Dawkins et. at. attacking what they believe. I am waiting for them to turn to the theologians and ask the experts why they don't believe what the common faithful believe. (Not holding my breath while waiting, however.)


I'm sure most of the common faithful are too heavily mired in the style over substance fallacy to save your life if you should decide to hold your breath.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Style_over_substance

Anyone who lacks the critical thinking skills to grasp Prof. Dawkins' arguments will probably think somewhat animalistically like this:

1. Prof. Dawkins is questioning my ideas.
2. When someone questions my ideas, I feel offended, and automatically reject what he says (at least until the crushing weight of overwhelming reality forces me to entertain the possibility that I could be wrong, farfetched as that may seem).
3. The Archbishop is standing up to Prof. Dawkins.
4. Therefore, Dawkins bad, Archbishop good.

Of course the chain of "reasoning" won't be in so many words. That's more of a narrative describing the magma of emotions swirling through the subconscious.

However, while I still don't advise holding your breath, I think there is much value in the long run from having Prof. Dawkins and the other "new atheists" exposing the disconnect between the beliefs of the rank and file vs. the professionals they pay to represent them. If nothing else, it might at least raise awareness of the charade that has gone on since around the Enlightenment, as religious intellectuals began evolving away from piety in the sense still understood by hoi polloi.

A central enabling principle of religion is to train people not to question. That's one reason why the most dogmatic faiths regularly churn out such spectacularly scandal-ridden characters who turn out to be exactly the opposite of what they claimed to be. Of course the hucksters were able to fool masses of people who have been trained not to ask tough questions, and instead to trust religious men at their word.

If the new atheist books get people in the pews to start asking questions such as:

1. What do I really believe?
2. What do my leaders really believe?
3. How do we know we are right, and the new atheists are wrong?

it's going to make faith feel increasingly less comfortable to any believer with an IQ much above 100.

Sat, 13 Oct 2007 15:46:00 UTC | #74893

Johnny O's Avatar Comment 20 by Johnny O

the Taliesin Arts Center in Swansea, a port city in southwestern England.

Last time I looked Swansea was in Wales...
because belief in God comes with no conditions attached

What?? So the whole, "Do what I say or you'll go to Hell" isn't a condition?
Williams said, adding: "If God was there before the Big Bang, he must be complex."
Which, (if he had read TGD properly he would see), is the very reason that He almost certainly does not exist.

Talk about preaching to the choir, this is a sad attack on Atheist books and seems to be based on reviews of them, rather than actually addressing points made in them.

Sat, 13 Oct 2007 16:19:00 UTC | #74898

Teratornis's Avatar Comment 21 by Teratornis

In reply to comment #78574 by Ben Hope:


With respect I wouldn't use the "Well, that's not my style of atheism" argument to counter accusations about Stalin et al. No the fallacy with such accusations lies in the implication that their crimes were directly to do with, or followed logically from, atheism (or specifically a-yahwehism) when in fact this is merely a *lack* of some specific belief. Instead one can only blame their positive dogmatic beliefs in communism, fascism etc. After all, these regimes were also aunicornistic, afairyistic, aPoseidonistic, aThoristic, and so on ad infinitum, but one would never dream of blaming Stalin's lack of belief in fairies.


Well, I think the religious person's view is that Christianity specifically discourages mass murder, and for the past several centuries that has arguably been the case, that is if we ignore the atrocities done to the Native Americans, African slaves, and Tasmanians, and the mass bombing of civilians by all sides during World War II, etc., actions which weren't usually done in the name of religion but were certainly compatible with it. If belief in fairies could have prevented Pol Pot from seizing power, or made him into a nicer person when he reached the top, then fairies would be germane to the argument. I would imagine the Christian doesn't buy the fairy argument here because the Christian doesn't see fairy beliefs having the power to transform evil men into good men like Christianity does (or so they believe).

I'm not sure what sort of argument we can make which will put a dent in that belief. Mere logic isn't going to cut it.

Of course the argument has nothing to do with the correctness of the belief system which might happen to restrain dictators. It may be worth pointing out that Germany was probably a majority Christian nation throughout the Third Reich, and that did not restrain Hitler very much. Actually there were substantial objections to the eugenics policies of the Nazis from Roman Catholic Germans, at least when the victims were the defective relatives of good German Catholics. When the victims became the Jews, and the pretense of "eugenics" lost any logical basis it might have had (European Jews were by objective measures generally superior on average to the people who killed them, in terms of average education level, lower propensity to criminality, testable IQ, etc.), then the complaints from German Catholics declined to a manageable level.

This article mentions some of these ideas, as well as Steven Pinker's comments:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eugenics#Slippery_slope

I should add that Communist despots did to atheism something like what Hitler did to eugenics: made it almost impossible for anyone to think logically about the topics thereafter. Imagine trying to justify "classical" eugenics today based on purely logical arguments (for example, try suggesting compulsory sterilization for the mentally retarded, which used to be accepted in many modern nations as a matter of course), and that is something like what atheism is up against in the minds of the faithful who have been trained to associate atheism with Communist despots. I'm not sure what kind of argument it takes to cut through that association, whether the association is spurious or not.

Sat, 13 Oct 2007 16:20:00 UTC | #74899

Quine's Avatar Comment 22 by Quine

Teratornis 19 Of course the chain of "reasoning" won't be in so many words. That's more of a narrative describing the magma of emotions swirling through the subconscious.


Last night a friend told me that people trying to recover from substance abuse had to find a "higher power" to succeed. I tried (unsuccessfully ) to explain that that "higher power" was the unconscious mind.

Sat, 13 Oct 2007 16:23:00 UTC | #74900

Theocrapcy's Avatar Comment 23 by Theocrapcy

BISHOP IN ATHEIST CRITICISM SHOCKER

Sat, 13 Oct 2007 16:37:00 UTC | #74903

edwaltthespisactor's Avatar Comment 24 by edwaltthespisactor

Tut tut tut. Archbishop, how noble of you to take the moral high ground and not give a rise to the various debates of atheism. How paternal for you to gently shake your head and say:

"they misunderstand religious beliefs "
and
"atheist writers [should strive to] better understand religion."

As clearly the detail and breadth of the arguments by the popular atheist writers is insufficient held up against your own superlative consciousness around the ins and outs of the current debate.

Your comments on the origin of the universe, game theory, and the of course the 'real arguments' belie your flagrant laziness in exploring the atheist position, even to the degree of simple self defence. Even Kent Hovind appears more switched on to the debate and its verious topics than your reverend self.

Furthermore, what is this supposed to connote, suicide atheist bombers???:

"militant, atheist writers such as Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, "

I have yet to see Hitchens or the Prof with a gun in their hands. The only WMD's on this side of the fence are the elegant and stirring Words of Messiah Disproval.

Best to avoid praise before a but:
"wonderfully lively and attractive writer,"
Because it makes you sound like a used faith salesman - Younger model, only 2000 on the clock, strong appreciation, retains value well over a 3 day rest-ascension period, runs on water as comes with catalytic converter as standard. Why am I selling, well...no longer fits my lifestyle.

Sat, 13 Oct 2007 17:13:00 UTC | #74909

Teratornis's Avatar Comment 25 by Teratornis

In reply to comment #78592 by Quine:


Last night a friend told me that people trying to recover from substance abuse had to find a "higher power" to succeed. I tried (unsuccessfully :sad:) to explain that that "higher power" was the unconscious mind.


You might not have been immediately successful, but I am pudding proof that the seeds of such seditious ideas can take root even in a faith-shackled mind, and eventually blossom into a verdant forest of doubt, with every bough sagging under the bounteous fruit of mixed metaphors.

For me, one of the questions that got my doubt groove going was one that was originally intended to generate more piety. Some preacher or someone had asked, rhetorically, something like:

"If the Holy Spirit withdrew from the world today, how many church programs and activities would continue as if nothing had changed?"

I think the point of that question was to get Christians to examine their activities and root out worldliness or something, but I remember thinking about that for a long time. Each time I observed the Christians around me doing things, I evaluated what I observed against that test: how much of what I was seeing could have occurred without any sort of divine input? And the answer, eventually, turned out to be "All of it." The more I thought about it, the more I increased my estimate, 80%, 90%, 95%, eventually 100%.

I kept trying to see God in anything I observed at church, and I could not. Everything appeared to have perfectly plausible natural explanations. There was never anything remotely miraculous that I saw, and nothing that any of my fellow Christians could document even to a preliminary degree that would have justified a more serious investigation.

I had also noticed a suspicious correlation between the miraculousness of any miraculous claims, and their distance in terms of time and space. God allegedly was doing or had done mighty works, but always in times or places I could not check. As if God was like the mythical "Hide-behind," the creature that always runs behind the back of your head, no matter how quickly you turn to look. (Although you could try to outwit the Hide-behind with mirrors, I suppose.)

It took me years to get to that realization that God played no apparent role in anything I could observe in the faithful. I could not have absorbed that point on the first hearing. So be patient with your friend, and just keep applying the steady pressure which gradually effects change, like the earthworms which can slowly bury boulders by steadily undermining the soil beneath them. It may be easier for your friend to grasp the non-miraculous nature of what other people around him or her are doing, as we tend to be less mystified by others in some ways than by ourselves (standing awestruck over our own introspective abyss).

Sat, 13 Oct 2007 17:17:00 UTC | #74910

Quine's Avatar Comment 26 by Quine

From comment #78602 by Teratornis

... eventually blossom into a verdant forest of doubt, with every bough sagging under the bounteous fruit of mixed metaphors.

Wordslinger, heal thyself ...

Actually, I enjoyed your comment very much, and encourage you to expand it and submit it to the deconversion section.

Sat, 13 Oct 2007 17:31:00 UTC | #74911

JackR's Avatar Comment 27 by JackR

"Don't distract us from the real arguments by assuming that religion is an eccentric survival strategy or irrational form of explanation,"

Okay, now you're going to explain what the "real arguments" are, and how your religion is not an "irrational form of explanation", right, Williams? Can't wait.

*Wind howls across a dustblown prairie*

"When believers pick up Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens, we may feel as we turn the pages: 'This is not it. Whatever the religion being attacked here, it's not actually what I believe in,'"

Okay, now you're going to explain what "it" is; what you actually believe in, right, Williams?

*A distant bell tolls mournfully*

"He urged atheist writers to better understand religion."

Okay, and now you're going to explain it better to us, so that we may better understand, right, Williams?

*Tumbleweed rolls*

You've got nothing, Williams. You, Eagleton, the whole pathetic lot of you. You whine and whine that your beliefs are misunderstood and misrepresented but never - NOT ONCE - do any of you take the time to explain carefully and precisely what they are. Because you've got nothing. You know damned well that the second you tried to do that we'd tear whatever it is you defined right down along with the invisible sky pixie God, the Judeo-Christian Old testament God, Allah, Ganesh and the rest. The truth is you either look silly by explaining your belief or you look silly by refusing to explain your belief; by falling back on the obvious cowardly device of grandly declaring that your god is, and must remain, beyond clear apprehension.

Williams, you and your ilk are contemptible spiritual weaklings. Go pray to your shapeshifting fuzzy cloud of a deity, you silly old fool. Come back if you ever manage to find the guts to define your god and hold it up for examination.

Sat, 13 Oct 2007 17:51:00 UTC | #74913

Agrajag's Avatar Comment 28 by Agrajag

Oh, shoot. I thought it said "Rowan Atkinson". I was expecting something like this:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fTzXJMU1sLc
Sigh.
Steve

Sat, 13 Oct 2007 18:44:00 UTC | #74917

keith's Avatar Comment 29 by keith

Teratornis,
Very good comments. At first I was confused as to why you hadn't used the argument espoused by Ben Hope (a disbelief in fairies) and Richard Dawkins (the moustaches of Hitler and Stalin) as factors in explaining away the mass murders of atheists. But you are right, in the minds of the faithful these don't have the power to transform bad men into good, as does a belief in god. However, it does seem unfair that we atheists should have to claim 20th century mass murderers as our own. Do you have a way out of this? I suppose just say that their actions weren't motivated by their atheism, unlike jihadis.
If you're interested in music, I recommend Where you're eyes don't go by 'They Might Be Giants', a song about the Hide-Behind.

Sat, 13 Oct 2007 18:51:00 UTC | #74918

keith's Avatar Comment 30 by keith

Wow Jack, you sound a little angry..

Sat, 13 Oct 2007 18:54:00 UTC | #74919