Sunday, 2 August 2009

Is atheism an intolerant belief?

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.


maybemaybenot said...

Mike, you know I love your blog and admire you greatly. But I can't let something you said go by: "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."

I would hope no one would label me as evil because I can not see God's goodness and do not see sense in the crucifixion. I honestly can not see any element of evil in my life or heart. Shortcomings, yes. Imperfections, certainly. Evil, I don't think so. But I guess none of us think we are evil, do we?

Mike's 4 Tea said...


I would call evil anyone who called you evil :)

Most everyone I know isn't evil in my judgement. They have faults but there are also extenuating circumstances. They do wrong but who doesn't and we are all human, weak. To quote Hamlet, "If we treat everyone as they deserve who would 'scape whipping?"

The trouble is not what I think of you or what we think of ourselves which, as you rightly say, is rather biased. We may say, "I am as good as the next person", but God says, "Have you taken a good look at the next person?"

This is about what we look like from God's perspective and if we were standing where God is there would be no extenuating circumstances, no excuses, just horror at how bad humanity has got. If only God would see it from our perspective as I look at you, and you - I hope - look at me.

That is what Jesus is. God seeing it from our perspective. Sympathising with our weakness (Heb.5:2) and offering sacrifice for our sins (Heb.5:1), the sacrifice of his own life (Jn.3:16)

Now God sees our sin and judges us and, in Jesus, sees our weakness, suffers with us and for us, and offers us salvation - which is the point Joe was making at the end of his piece.

As to how you currently see it, well lets see if we can continue to do something about it.

Seth R. said...

My typical response whenever an atheist claims that a bit of hard undisputed evidence would be enough to get them to worship God is:

"boy, you sell-out pretty cheap."

What does evidence have to do with it ultimately anyway? Even if you can prove there is a God, that doesn't automatically mean he's going to get my vote.

What if you prove there's a God and he turns out to be a big jerk? Why worship him?

Mike's 4 Tea said...

I don't undervalue the worth of evidences. They are important in the Bible from Moses to the resurrection but I do agree with you that evidences are insufficient and, yes, Atheists ado sell themselves cheap when they look to 'scientific evidences' when 'there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in [their] philosophy.'

Joe Blogs said...

Hi folks, esp. Jennifer!
Coupla Bible verses for your consideration.
"If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him" (Jesus in Matthew 7:11).
Jesus is a very, very nice man (the nicest). And he is a very, very perceptive man (the perceptivist). Yet he says we are evil. That settles it for me. If we think different, maybe it's because we're too evil to see the evil:
"An oracle is within my heart concerning the sinfulness of the wicked: There is no fear of God before his eyes. For in his own eyes he flatters himself too much to detect or hate his sin" (David in Psalm 36:1,2).
(Btw, it was my post! Don't blame Mike!)

maybemaybenot said...


Yes, I saw that it was your post after I wrote my comment. My apologies. So, I guess I need to yell at you for calling me evil. :) Yeah, I suppose it all depends on the definition of evil but, either way, I've actually been called worse, so, no worries. But, with all due respect, these scriptures just don't scare me or move me in any way. If I am evil, wicked, sinful, etc, then we really must keep relativity in mind.

Oh, and Seth, you are still true to your antagonistic self - I have yet to meet an atheist who says he will worship God upon evidence. Just atheists who have said they will acknowledge a God if there is sufficient evidence. Quite a difference.

Mike, I am in receipt of your kind e-mail and have pondered it's substance. As always, thank you for your sincerity and non-judgmental attitude. I look forward to our continued dialogue.

Goodnight all.

Mike's 4 Tea said...

On the specific subject of evil I suppose most Christians I know wouldn't want to call anyone evil but speak of evil as it is from a Bible perspective, as God judges it. I can see how this can make Christians sound judgemental (and of course some are unfortunately) but that is not the intention.

Something came up in the local press here that illustrates perhaps what the original post was addressing. Someone had written about the historical evidence for the resurrection, citing the book "Who Moved the Stone?" as an example of how evidence turned a convinced Atheist into a believer. It is a true story and inspiring for Christians.

In reply an Atheist wrote about the Bible stories being nonsense, containing no historical facts and comparable with Greek myths, that Jesus "may or may not have lived", that believers were irrational people promoting a book of childish stories. There was more than a hint of Dawkinesque waspishness in the remarks.

What was especially rich was that, having packed in as much invective as a letters column will allow he goes on to say that he is "offended" by Bible stories.

Now we live in a world where people are robbed, raped, molested and murdered; where women are afraid to walk the streets after dark; where (in my country this week) mosques are under siege from fascist extremists (is that a tautology?); where children will go to bed tonight hungry - again and where Christians are being martyred for their faith at a rate of 300 a day. And an Atheist is offended because I have the temerity to be a Christian?

I know Atheists who are not like this but I am also aware that the public face of Atheism, influenced by the likes of Dawkins, Hitchens et al, is becoming increasingly intolerant, militant and dangerous to those who have a faith. Moderate and sensible Atheists should perhaps be more concerned about what is being done in their name.

Jennifer you are welcome and I too look forward to further discussion. I am finding it educational myself.

Seth R. said...

My impression was that many thoughtful atheists today are utterly embarrassed by Dawkins and Hitchens.

If you want a takedown of Hitchen's book, Mormon scholar Dan Peterson gave one a while back which you can view here:

(start at 3:00)

Mike's 4 Tea said...


I am rejecting your last comment. I think you know why.

Seth R. said...

Which one?

You can just email me quickly if you want.

Mike's 4 Tea said...


The comment I deleted was the one in which you expressed your lack of interest in whether Athesist BELIEVED in God or not. The language, you must surely see, was colourful to say the least and, while we are not afraid of controversy here, there was too much heat. I am sure someone as intelligent and expressive as you could find a way to rewrite it in a more charitable way.

I for one am very concerned about whether Atheists believe there is a God because the first step towards worship is the knowledge that he is there to be worshipped.

Seth R. said...

Oh, I see. Got it.

Have you heard of Terry Eagleton's book Reason Faith and Revolution?

See here:

You might want to check out the first few pages next time you're browsing at the bookstore. He's a somewhat "liberal" Christian, so I don't know if you'd see eye-to-eye with him on everything, but his takedown of Dawkins and Hitchens was rather well-played.

maybemaybenot said...


You're a great man. Fair and discernable. Thank you.

maybemaybenot said...

Ha! Well that should have said "fair and DISCERNING". That's what you get when you try to post a comment while carrying on a conversation with your 9 year old daughter.

:) It's a beautiful day out there...

Mike's 4 Tea said...


Oscar Wilde observed that there is only one thing worse than being talked about and that is not being talked about.

I was just pleased to know I was discernible.

maybemaybenot said...


Please come here and meet us! I like you so much I can't stand it. We'd have such a great time. You and your family are welcome here anytime! Even though we're heretic and pagan friends!

Goodnight dear friend. I would love to meet you.

Very Sincerely,


Mike's 4 Tea said...


I almost didn't publish that last one from you for modesty's sake but modesty and I have strangely fallen out whilst pride is a good chum and leading me astray.

I have some very good friends who are heretics and pagans. I also know some nice Christians. Isn't it great that friendship doesn't have to be based on judgementalism?

Thanks for the invitation. Who knows, maybe one day.

Mike's 4 Tea said...


I checked out Terry Eagleton's book on Amazon and from the preview allowed I found I liked his style. I was disappointed that he rose to the bait and called Dawkins and Hitchens "Dichkens", although I see the humour in it of course. I suppose it is an example of "the biter bit", or of Dawkins and Hitchens being "hoist by their own patard".

However, the problem with Dawkins in particular is that he does descend into name-calling at the drop of a creed and it might be better if critics would avoid the obvious response, instead demonsting how reasonable criticism might be presented.

Dawkins' latest book, "The Greatest Show on Earth", is very good at explaining the wonders of evolution theory and might win over the undecided while causing the diehards to think again if only he would avoid labelling and dismissing them.

I hadn't got through the first few pages before he wound me up, stating that more than 40 per cent of the American population believe the age of the earth can be measured in thousands of years and that men walked with dinosaurs, going on to write, "I shall from time to time refer to these history deniers as the '40-percenters.'"

Now, of course it is rather foolish that people deny the age of the earth and the evidences of science that he goes on to demonstrate. However, not only does he label and dismiss people with the term '40-percenters' he piles insult on derision by comparing these 'history deniers' with holocaust deniers!

It is such a great shame because his writing is excellent and his gift for cmmunicating his subject unquestionably good. His weakness is laid bare in his book "The God Delusion" where he shows himself to be hopelessly out of his depth in dealing with issues of philosophy and theology and people who specialise in these things have torn his critique of religion to pieces.

Unfortunately, he thinks he makes sense even in these areas where he has no expertise whatsoever because he has come to believe his own publicity which characterises him as a genius and "one of the greatest minds of the twentieth century". No doubt he is where he knows what he is talking about but the term 'genius' does not make him a demi-god.

Now there is an interesting question. If he was a demi-god would he not believe in himself?

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