The Big Questions, Sunday 2 August 2009, third question.A growing number of Britons say they are certain there is no God - but how do they know? Professor John Adams of the North Yorkshire Humanist Association begins by asking theists what evidence they have for their beliefs. Paul Woolley of Theos continues by pointing out Richard Dawkins description of faith as a 'virus', and the appalling track record of atheism in the 20th Century, as spearheaded by Pol Pot and Stalin. Chloe Clifford-Frith of the Humanist and Secular Students Society contends that Stalin did not do the things he did because he was an atheist, but because he was evil. Paul Woolley rejoins that atheists are trying to have it both ways when they claim that religion is the cause of evil, but refuse to acknowledge the ideological impetus of atheism when it comes to many evil acts. Mao and Stalin both replaced God with the State - a 'religious' manoeuvre.
Rev Alistair Rycroft of St Michael Le Belfrey Church says he is as certain that there is a God that an atheist is certain there isn't. He expresses his unhappiness that atheism is viewed as a a neutral, measured opinion, without emotional or philosophical bias.
Back to Prof Adams, who begins to trot out the hackneyed Dawkinsian line - "Just give me evidence." Which of course is somewhat redundant because what the atheist means is "Just give me evidence that will satisfy me on my terms." Richard Craig of Camp Quest UK, the atheist summer camps, says that he is certain that there is no God because of lack of evidence. He speaks next about two invisible unicorns around the camp. The children are challenged to disprove the unicorns' existence. Nobody has won this year, and Craig is happy with this because he wants to show that you cannot disprove a negative (such as 'God does not exist'). Zulfi Bukhari, of the Muslim Public Affairs Committee, unhelpfully, I feel, steps in saying that "You don't have to prove faith; you just have to have faith." This, in my view, perpetuates the shallow definition of faith, which is 'what we do when we've run out of evidence'.
Lesbian crime writer Val McDermid complains that institutionalised homophobia always comes from religion.
James O'Brien, talk show host, says now that "he happens to believe in God despite the evidence to the contrary," but says that it is more uncomfortable to be told that you're going to hell than to be told your beliefs are bananas. Theist Paul Woolley lives up to his surname (in my opinion) when he rubbishes 6-day creation as being a view not held by any Old Testament academic in Britain.
The discussion then moves on to whether one can be certain on a scale of 1-7 as to God's existence (Dawkins is a 6, with 7 meaning absolute atheistical certainty), and whether one can have a moral basis for living without religion. Again, Woolley is true to his etymology by saying that the truth in many of these debates must lie somewhere in the middle.
Tony Goodall, atheist Quaker, quotes George Fox in saying we should "walk cheerfully over the world seeing God in everyone." He also speaks of Quakerism's support for gay marriage.
A member of the audience speaks about the financial drive between much of religion, calling churches 'shops'.
Rev. Rycroft speaks of how there is an intolerance of religion in the public sphere, as it is often dismissed as irrational and not worthy of proper consideration. John Adams points out that all faiths are clamouring to be heard, and that no faith should be given special treatment, seemingly oblivious to the fact that it is the Judeao-Christian heritage of Britain which has given people freedoms of speech and religion which are still unavailable in scores of countries which have never had that heritage.
As it is, we have a remarkably patient God who takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but would rather that man turns from his sins and lives (Ezekiel 33:11). But God is not tolerant of evil, including the evil of denying His goodness in creation and denying the death of His Son for our sins, and will bring all of us to book. On that day, there will be no tolerance of dissent or differing opinions. Every mouth will be silenced, and God's word will be the final say for all our destinies.