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Just tonight I happened across the site of  The OUT Campaign.  This is an organisation which encourages and supports those atheists who wish to come out of the closet and publicly display their atheism.  The scarlet letter A is their symbol and it is now proudly displayed here at Talking Straight and has been incorporated into the new mast head.  Interestingly, when I tried to link through to the campaign’s home page my ISP’s parental control denied me access.  The reason for this according to my ISP?  The site promotes hate speech!  We have a long way to go it seems.  Check them out.

e·van·ge·lise

1. to preach the gospel to.

2. to convert to Christianity.

Gerry Thornley observed, after Ireland’s defeat by Wales recently, that Eddie O’Sullivan seemed offended that the Welsh had the cheek to score tries off Irish turnover ball, ‘as if this was somehow cheating’. This despite the fact that Ireland had scored a good couple of tries against Scotland a fortnight earlier from Scottish turnover ball.

John Gray, writing in the Irish Times yesterday, rails against what he terms ‘evangelical atheists’ and their campaigns against organised religion. Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Philip Pullman appear to be Gray’s least favourite of these campaigners with their hundreds of thousands selling books, The God Delusion, God is Not Great and Northern Lights, the latter made as a movie titled The Golden Compass.

Gray finds great offence in the fact that these and others are engaged in proletising for atheism as if this was somehow a bit of an underhand tactic. Organised churches would never resort to these black arts, surely.

We learned this week that the Archbishop of Dublin has decided that every home in the Archdiocese will receive a visit from representatives of the Catholic Church sometime next year as part of a programme of evangelisation.

(I’m thinking of those sneaky Welsh again.)

I suppose I should lay my own cards on the table.

I don’t believe in God. In fact, I am more certain that God does not exist than I am of anything else that I believe. God is a fiction, Santa Claus for grown-ups. God and Gods were invented in human ignorance to explain that which we did not and could not understand. The leaders of organised churches then usurped God as a source of fantastic power, a power which they have maintained to this day.

So, no misunderstandings there, then.

This week we also learned that weekly attendance at religious services in Ireland has dropped from a high of 91% in 1981 to less than 50% today. You might think that this would reflect a similar fall in levels of religious belief, however the same nine yearly survey shows that over 80% of Irish people do still believe in God and do still believe in heaven.

Why?

Why, when we live in such an enlightened age, an age in which we are now, slowly learning the secrets of the origins of the universe in which we live, do so many otherwise rational and intelligent people put such faith in something which so completely defies the known physical laws of the universe? Something for which they can see no proof of any kind. Something which they must surely know that they believe simply because it is what they have been told by people in authority since childhood. As I say in my bio page on this site, this is something that completely baffles me. I can fully understand how children can be inculcated into religious belief and how that belief will stay with them into and through their teenage years. If one pays even the slightest of attention to modern scientific thought then one can only conclude that the basis for most organised religions is completely preposterous.

People will say that Christianity is a wonderful way to live ones life, and they are quite correct. I have two small children, one of whom is making first holy communion next month, and they are being raised to know and respect what most of us would consider to be Christian values. Christian values are essentially very decent, human values. However, I will ensure that my children are also exposed to the truth that lies outside of religion, the truth which science has been revealing to us ever since Gallileo and Newton and Einstein and Hubble, the truth of Darwinian evolution, which reveals the unbelievable arrogance of mankind in believing ourselves to be special, the arrogance of believing in our status as the chosen ones. I said recently that socialism was a wonderful way to order human society but it didn’t and couldn’t work. I doubt that many readers of this page are clamouring for the establishment of a socialist republic along the lines of the USSR or the Peoples Republic of China. Similarly, while Christian values are a valuable tool in the ordering of society those of a zealous religious mind are I find often very intolerant of any opposing view and are therefore wholly unsuited to positions of authority and influence.

Yes there are many, many good and decent people within organised churches and they do many wonderful things, but the doing of good acts is not confined to those with faith, and without faith good people would still be good people and would still act for the betterment of human society. Human goodness does not stem from religious faith.

Islam, we are constantly told is a religion of peace, a religion where everyone is treated with decency and respect and yet wherever Islam is practised we find the most despicable intolerance and inequality and discrimination. The treatment of women within most Islamic societies is nothing short of barbaric. Being gay in most western societies is difficult enough but is a picnic compared to homosexuality in places like Iran or Saudi Arabia. When do the leaders of Islam ever deafen us with their condemnation and their disowning of those who commit unspeakable acts in the name of Islam? How deafening was the silence here in Ireland when Catholic priest were raping and buggering children in their care? The good and decent people in the church who knew of these acts were shamefully silent because of the power invested in the institution of the church by ordinary lay people. Even now the disgust at what was done by Michael Woods in protecting the assets of the church before considering the rights of victims is unseen and unheard.

So, my Easter message to you this weekend is this. If you live in Dublin, when the man from the church calls to your door in 2009, take him gently by the hand, offer him a cup of tea and do some evangelising of your own. Give him a copy of Professor Dawkins’ The Ancestor’s Tale or The Blind Watchmaker; read him a few passages from The Fabric Of The Cosmos, by Brian Greene; tell him about the reaction of the church authorities in medieval Italy when Copernicus presented his helio-centric view of the world, probably the most significant scientific discovery in human history, and then ask him to come back in 2010 so you can see if he is still a Christian. If he is then he is an idiot.

Happy Easter.

PS. None of the above precludes me from believing that a large bunny rabbit is going to leave a delicious chocolate egg at the end of my bed tonight. In our house he comes down the chimney, just like Santa Claus.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Albert Einstein published his general theory of relativity in 1905. As I write this, 102 years later, Einstein’s theory is still just that, a theory.On July 5th 1687 Sir Isaac Newton published Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica, part of which outlined the law of universal gravity.

Why is Newton’s idea a law when Einstein’s is just a theory?

Quite simply, because science has proved Newton’s idea to be correct. They are, however, still working on relativity. Indeed I read recently that it is only now, over one hundred years after Einstein published his idea, that serious work is being done to test his great theory. Until now we did not possess computers capable of carrying out the incredibly complex calculations required – calculations which Einstein performed using only a pen and paper and the most remarkable mind!

So, what can relativity do for you?

Well to be honest, not much for you or me personally. By the time mankind gets around to understanding relativity and all that will come from it, such as an understanding of quantum theory and many more ideas as yet undreamed of, (undreamable, even.) both you and I will long have passed from this world. Oh, and I nearly forgot. It will also lead us to an understanding of where the universe came from, how it came to be, probably why it came to be and possibly where it’s all going.

The most important words in that last sentence are ‘why’ and ‘how’.

For several millennia we have been asking ourselves the same question. Why? Why are we here? Why is the sky blue? Why does it get dark at night?

The question we should be asking, the question science is continually asking is, how?
How are we here? How is the sky blue? How does it get dark at night?

Isaac Newton saw an apple fall from a tree and asked why the apple fell. However, he than asked a far more important question. How did the apple fall? Several questions later we had the law of gravity. Magic.

If Newton had followed the religious teaching of the time he would simply have accepted that the apple fell to the ground because that is the way God designed the world. Centuries earlier St Augustine implored scientists to simply accept the limit of human knowledge and to stop trying to discover things which we, mere men, were not supposed to know. If God wanted us to know where it all came from he would have given us that knowledge when he created us.

So where did the universe come from?

One answer is that it was created by God. The proof for this is to be found…….. well, nowhere.

Another answer is that the universe was created in the big bang. The proof for this is to be found…….. well, nowhere either.

That is why the big bang theory is still just a theory. We have not yet published definitive proof of its veracity but we have enough evidence for many people, me included, to accept that the big bang is most likely what happened at the birth of the universe.

In the census of the Irish population undertaken in 2006 over 3.9 million people clamed to belong to one religious faith or another. Only 175,252 people admitted to having no religious faith. So out of a total population of 4.1 million only 175,252 believe that the universe and everything in it was not created by God. 3.9 million Irish residents believe that God (any God) made the universe, presumably out of nothing at all. Some of them will believe absolutely the bible story of Genesis which tells us that God made the world in six days. The proof for this is not to be found anywhere except in the minds of believers and between the covers of their holy books. Church hierarchy tells us that it is so and we must simply believe. Religion offers no proof of anything, yet it asks us to believe the most fantastic things on faith alone. (‘Duh, there’s a reason it’s called faith stupid.’ I hear you, now shut up and listen.)

Science also asks us to believe the most fantastic things. Science however offers up theories and laws to help us to accept what we are being told.

When scientists see something which they don’t understand they go in search of an answer. When they think they have found it they offer up a theory, and then other scientists set out to prove them wrong. If they do prove them wrong the first to congratulate them will be those that have been proven to be wrong.

When religious see something which they don’t understand they simply make something up. Magic!