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Sunday, August 09, 2009

The Sunday Sermon: Free Will

The first thing in the morning that popped up on my computer this morning was an email with a link to the Quinn vs Dawkins mini-debate. Although it is obvious that I am - in most matters - on Dawkins's side of the divide, I cannot deny that he has more or less earned the wrath of the believers. And he enjoys it! A quick look at his [in]famous (but hilarious, as the audience's reaction testifies) response to fellow-atheist Tyson - at an all-Atheist conference - is proof enough. (Btw, RD - who has been caricatured as a warrior may not accept this but he has taken a bit of Tyson's advice to heart for I have begun to notice a great deal of mellowness in his tone in many recent debates, including this one. On the other hand it could just be age :-)

While a couple of Quinn's statements have a degree of validity and need to be thought about and discussed, his assertion (and one that is usual for believers to bring up) that atheism has been as responsible for deaths as religion in this century (citing Stalin, as one example) is - imnsho - basically flawed, if not intentionally deceitful. Of course, I have heard this argument from so many people who, otherwise, seemed to follow logic - at least one of them is a lawyer (and, so, one whom I hope never use as mine).

I am amazed that they cannot see the obvious difference between an atheist (or, in the case of the Sri Lankan tragedy, a bunch of atheists) killing for any cause — personal, political or otherwise, but NOT in the name of Atheism — and those who kill in a holy war under divine injunctions emanating from their deity via religious books. If you listen carefully, Quinn actually shows up this [manipulative?] approach in a sentence where he compares killings in the name of religion to killing by atheists. Hell, that's not an equation!

What specifically struck me, and which is the reason behind this post, was Quinn's speaking of his subscribing to the concept of Free Will - something that Dawkins thinks is of no great importance - as one of the bases for his beliefs. Whether or not it is an important issue in your life, is for you to decide - it is a matter that is even at the root of many internal debates among the religious.

The 2008 film, God on Trial, is one brilliant example of such a discourse, based on the events of the Holocaust. The film is unlikely to get a public viewing in Pakistan (and I am glad - for we could do without another riot) but it is available for purchase, for watching in private, via the Internet. You may even download it via torrent sites, if you are so inclined. Take a look at one brief scene that shook some of us - specially a young man with three tiny sons - when we watched it off my MacBook Pro at T2F one afternoon.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hitler was also an athiest and he killed many

09 August, 2009 16:27

Blogger Zakintosh said...

I am not sure if Hitler was an Atheist in his later life. In a speech in Berlin (in 1933) Hitler said: "We were convinced that the people need and require this faith. We have therefore undertaken the fight against the atheistic movement, and that not merely with a few theoretical declarations: we have stamped it out."

Even if he became one, later, I am not sure all of his close cronies were atheists. And, even if they were, the thousands of Germans who worked in those camps and killed millions were very probably Christians.

Should that tragedy, then, be considered a mass-murder of Jews by Christians … or blamed on Christianity? No! Because, despite the very strong possibility that the majority involved in the killing business was Christian, the Jews were NOT being killed 'in the name of' Christianity (though some people - see - think they were).

09 August, 2009 19:49

Blogger Vic said...

@Zak: [If you listen carefully, Quinn actually shows up this [manipulative?] approach in a sentence where he compares killings in the name of religion to killing by atheists. Hell, that's not an equation!]

Such an argument could, on the other hand, hold water had religionists generally followed the ancient and fundamental precept without exception: "Thou shalt not kill" (looks so much more meaningful when expressed in Olde English). Since this is not the case, and indeed, religionists (or, at least, those who profess to be religionists) kill quite often in the name of religion, one should eliminate the question of religion from discussions on the ethos of killing.

Equally, and perhaps more purposefully so, one should eliminate the question of killing from discussions on religion.

10 August, 2009 11:31

Blogger Zakintosh said...

'Thou shalt not kill' is quoted without the fine print: "Except under Subsection 3 Clause 8 Line 14" which Christians believe allows holy wars, unholy wars, and every war in between.

The Qürãn states "Fight in the way of Allah those who fight you and if they desist, you desist ... for Allah loves not the transgressors" in which Muslims now interpret 'those who fight you' to extend to situations where preemptive strikes are considered ok. Dr Israr, considered a major 'scholar' in Pakistan,supports such an interpretation and believes that preemptive strikes are quite ok. In fact, he thinks that Bush was practicing what Muslims could, if only Muslims *sigh* had the power … (To which I could only say "thank Gawd for little mercies).

10 August, 2009 23:26

Anonymous iateozone said...

So an atheist that kills people on the basis that they hold "a" belief is just an atheist killing for a cause that is personal, political or "otherwise"? In other words, the suppression of religion on the basis of a belief that all religion is bad has nothing to do with atheism - funny that.

12 August, 2009 18:22

Anonymous iateozone said...

"'Thou shalt not kill' is quoted without the fine print: "Except under Subsection 3 Clause 8 Line 14" which Christians believe allows holy wars, unholy wars, and every war in between."

Thank you for telling us what the Christians believe. I fully concur that Christians, generally, are up for all types of war - after all Jesus was very much into his rivalry with the Romans.

12 August, 2009 18:44

Blogger Vic said...

@iateozone: "Jesus was very much into his rivalry with the Romans"

Eh? On the contrary, the Gospels would have us believe that he preferred not to get involved with political questions: "Give unto Caesar..." was his remark on taxes. On death, of course, he probably preferred to think about life everlasting.

Incidentally, there really isn't any strong (Biblical, that is) reason to believe that he thought religion was a good thing. In fact, while he wasn't born a Christian*, he is said to have actually railed against the trappings of religion ("whitened sepulchres" is one of the more pithy descriptions ascribed to him). He also attacked a place of 'worship', mainly because it so patently wasn't fulfilling that function. The response to that attack was ultimately quite fatal, which I find ironic. Even today, defenders of 'the faith' react rather strongly to such perceived attacks, although, perhaps fortunately, without each such violent reaction spawning a new religion.

*Very few prophets can be said to be born into the religions that grew out of their teachings, since, at least in this Universe, time seems to flow in only one direction. Humans, in general, seem to place a great deal of importance in the virtues of being born into one religion or another, although the permanent dichotomy in terms of the founder of the religion never seems to strike the mind, which may be one reason that opponents of the notion are often called rationalists.

17 August, 2009 23:32

Anonymous iateozone said...

Vic - it is not entirely obvious but the statement (and sentence) that you quote is meant to convey sarcasm.

19 August, 2009 09:01

Anonymous iateozone said...

Vic - indeed there would be a contradiction in terms if a prophet were born into the religion that he/she is "sent" to propagate (you say, very few - would be interested to know the names of those that did).

I would be hesitant to draw conclusions on whether or not humans place a lot of importance into the "virtues" (I find the use of this word quite odd in your sentence) of being born into a religion for there are many that would say that the greatest virtue (and therefore, of greater importance) is in accepting a religion you were not born into.

19 August, 2009 09:13

Blogger Emad Says said...

I think the point made by Quinn on how matter came to existence is a very usual one made by the moderates. As carl sagan once said that if we are willing to say that God created the universe then why not courageously move a step further and ask who created God. I believe that the question of God cannot be a scientific one. Fine you can entertain yourself and exercise your mind uselessly in philosophy, but this reality (explained to us by science) is the only reality we know and can possibly know. If God really wanted us to acknowledge him and recognize him then He should have done a better job in creating our senses, cuz the current 5 we have are not enough.

I am also amazed at how ridiculously the comparison is made between the killing because one is an atheist and that in the name of religion. Its simple logic: religion -> scripture -> orders -> kill other religious ppl. :P :P

Anyways I enjoyed your post

30 August, 2009 23:17


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