Here's his comment:
Some thoughts, which ended up being a little more vehement than I'd intended, the further I got through Stein's rant:
* Atheists don't like getting pushed around for being atheists either. Is it right to force atheist or agnostic children to swear allegiance to 'one nation under God', to pray, or to read the Bible? It seems to me that this would be about as reasonable as forcing Jewish children to attend Holy Communion, or forcing Christian children to pray to Allah five times a day.
* The terrible human disaster (the deaths, the homelessness, the disease, the poverty) of Hurricane Katrina could have been largely averted, or at least greatly reduced if the politicians had listened to the experts, strengthening the flood defences and starting the evacuations sooner, rather than pretending the whole thing wasn't going to happen, and then leaving everyone to fend for themselves when it did. To paint the disaster as a judgement from God, rather than the result of gross governmental incompetence, is to demonstrate the same level of almost criminal wrongheadedness that was responsible for the disaster in the first place.
* To judge all atheists on the example of Madalyn Murray O'Hair is roughly analogous to judging all Christians on the example of the Spanish Inquisition. She happened to have a valid point that children should not be subjected to religious indoctrination in publicly-funded schools, but her methods and rhetoric went so far beyond what
mainstream atheists and agnostics believe and consider reasonable that she made Richard Dawkins look like a new-age, tree-hugging, crystal-therapist. At the time of her murder, her American Atheists organisation consisted of a handful of people - she'd been deserted and disowned by everyone else who doesn't believe in God, not to mention most of her family and former friends.
* To lay the blame for terrorist attacks and school shootings at the door of atheism is so ridiculous that it's almost not worthy of response. Does the writer of this screed honestly believe in a God who would kill innocent people in a fit of pique at a number of other people who don't happen to believe in Him? The dreadful terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 were a response to decades of US
foreign policy, not the removal of mandatory prayer from primary schools. The terrible spate of school shootings, similarly, can be far more rationally explained by non-supernatural means.
* I'm not sure what relevance Dr Benjamin Spock's son's suicide has to the rest of the argument, so I won't comment any further on that except to note that it's not actually true: Spock had two sons,
Michael and John, both of whom are still alive. His grandson Peter did commit suicide, but I think we can probably attribute that to the severe schizophrenia he suffered from (and was hospitalised for), rather than God being angry at America.
* This article, full as it is of logical fallacies, shoddy reasoning, and biased and inaccurate reporting, is exactly why these people, George W Bush's 'faith-based community', should be kept away from government (and, for that matter, scissors and other sharp implements). I've got nothing against rational, intelligent Christians, indeed I'm pleased to say that I'm friends with many such people (yourself included), I just have a problem with credulous idiots.
* I'd not heard of Stein before, but it turns out he's a leading light of
the creationist movement. He recently cowrote an 'intelligent design' propaganda film (which has the rather apt title of 'Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed') which amongst other things attempts (with some extremely shaky reasoning) to draw links between the theory of evolution and the rise of Nazism.
Summary: To borrow Jeremy Bentham's excellent phrase, it's not just nonsense, it's nonsense upon stilts.
I posted this article because it does make folk think. It will certainly generate some reaction - that's good! However, we do need to think about these issues with due care and scrutiny, and perhaps on some level, that is what Stein is trying to make us do.
To reply to each of Nick's points:
- I don't want anyone to be pushed around by anyone. Both Judaism and Christianity are founded on the issue that true love generates freedom from oppression. If the gospel is that of a proper love for all human beings, then the beloved must be free to make their own choice.
- This all depends on what is meant by "judgment from God". If I say, "don't put your hand in the fire" and you do and get burned then I am allowed to make the judgement that a) you don't trust me and b) you have no understanding of fire. As Stein says (quoting the Bible), we reap what we sow, and that is the judgement of God - a predetermined law on which God has established the universe. In some sense, that very judgement has always been there.
We do things and we have no idea what the consequences will be. If God says no, and we fail to listen and come a cropper, then perhaps we ought to look and see if that was the very reason why God said no in the first place.
- Synecdoche is a brilliant poetic device, but a very dangerous method of argument, so I cannot rwally defend Stein’s methods. Remember, he is going for effect in the short amount of time allotted to him in his broadcast. The point he is raising is that people are confusing secularism and humanism. I live a secular life in that I am not always in Church, or in the company of my fellow believers. While I do have aspirations to the monastery, I am at the moment called to live a life outside the cloister. That’s good, and I have to be respectful of everyone’s beliefs without being forced to adopt them.
However, the false assumption peddled by the atheists is that secular society must also be humanist, i.e. cannot reference belief in any religious system for fear of upsetting others. I am not in the least bit offended by Stein’s Judaism (and Creationism), by a Moslem’s following of Islam, or an Evangelical’s following of Christianity. Being a Catholic, I believe that they are wrong, some being more wrong than others. I also believe in another’s right to make a mistake, and if different faiths are to live together then they too must respect this right.
A humanist society says that my faith cannot be used to make important decisions, such as how I am to raise my children or how I am to vote, and gives no worth to what I say because it is religious in its nature despite the fact that it has practical value. If there were no organised religion, then the question of abortion would still be raised because of the question: is a foetus a human being? Yet if I object to abortion on religious grounds (and I am not sure that it is possible to remove the religious argument from the abortion issue), the humanist society fails to hear me because I am a Catholic. See also the furore over adoption by homosexual couples.
Where Stein and I agree is that our religious belief should not disqualify our remarks, nor should it absolve us of the duty to speak out on issues of moral concern. We speak out because our faith bids us do so, and too many "religious" people do not do so on the grounds that they will look like idiots rather than stand up for something that they believe in.
- I don't think that Stein is actually saying that Atheism is responsible for terrorist attacks. If he is, then he's wrong. As G.K. Chesterton said in a short letter to a newspaper : "Dear Sir: Regarding your article 'What's Wrong with the World?' I am. Yours truly, G. K. Chesterton."
What does appear to be a contributing factor to those attacks is the complacency of the West to what was happening in the Middle East. I do not even blame Islam for the terrorist attacks. I blame whatever power is putting the idea into people's heads that terrorism is a good mathod of political statement and negotiation.
- With regard to Dr Spock’s grandson’s suicide, I think we are agreed. Authors ought to check facts first before publishing. Clearly as a blogger, it seems that I am not free from stain in that one.
- Whatever we read, we should ask, “what is the text doing?” This was a broadcast message, designed for people to hear in an age when they are bombarded with lots of information, most of which is more appealing to listen to, so I have sympathy for Stein’s case. Shortly, I shall have 10 minutes to speak to 120 sixth-formers on how Evolution does not prevent me from being a Christian. I doubt if my arguments will be any better than Stein’s.
The fact is that I am biased and prejudiced: I have a religious faith and a personal relationship with God, so naturally my argument will mention Him a lot and in support of my belief. We all have a bias somewhere, and it's important that we realise that. It’s difficult to be accurate about the application of theory to reality, since by nature of theory there already inaccuracies, and I am far from perfect. You may have noticed that.
What does concern me more are Governments who seek some form of purity in their composition. There are princes, presidents, popes and patriarchs that have tried to force people around to their belief system with disastrous results. The ideal for this country always used to be that Parliament, Church and Crown would regulate each other. Now of course, we appear to be regulated by a parliament who cannot be held to account. There is no perfect system of government, though some forms are clearly better than others.
A major reality of this World is: "people disagree with us." Each government has to deal with the issue: “how do we deal with the folk who have voted against us?” Suppression, dismissal, restrictive practice and “squeezing out” are not acceptable, yet occur in each governmental system to some level.
- I suppose, technically, Nick has made an ad hominem argument here. I know that in debate, one ought to refrain from these, and rather concentrate on what is being said. However, they do bring an extra dimension into the debate if (and only if) the ad hominem statements are accurate and factual.
As a Christian I believe that God created the Earth – that’s one of the tenets of the creed to which I subscribe. However, the Bible doesn’t answer the question “how?”, it rather gives an explanation for why we exist. For me, answering the “how?” question is the fun bit of science that God allows us to do. However, Creationism goes further than just believing that God created the universe. I don’t object to people holding Creationist beliefs, after all, Bertrand Russell did demonstrate that it was philosophically coherent to believe that the universe came into existence five minutes ago together with the appearance of having the past of millions of years. Yet, given the circumstances and the laws that nature appears to follow and I observe, both Russell’s hypothesis and, subsequently, Creationist belief seem contrary to what I observe, though I cannot prove that it is false.
To comment on Nick's summary: much of what Stein has written may be nonsense, but I cannot dismiss all of what Stein says as nonsense. Perhaps what is more dangerous than the “credulous idiots” are the intelligent Christians who prefer to live their lives without thinking about the consequences of their actions and what they are affirming, and not putting their intelligence to good use. Now there are plenty of those about particularly in the Episcopal Church of the USA and the C of E.