Dropbox for comments to recent articles

I apologise that readers have had to comment on the previous post in order to respond to my opinion piece in the National Times. I appreciate that they have taken the time to respond to the ideas presented by that article, whether they agree or disagree, both here and on Twitter.

I do acknowledge that opportunistic individuals have made SRI problematic. I do not endorse what they do. However, I stand by my point that there is nothing to fear from allowing young people to ask questions — regardless where their questions lead them. If they must question religion, then they should be allowed to question atheism as well. The principle I go by is authenticity, one that leads to a decent, meaningful life.

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Categories: Miscellany

10 replies

  1. But if most rational christians dont believe a portion of the holy text to be the word of god, as it is purported by the Vatican, then why dont they remove it? Or make clear that it is a story and not a facsimile of events? And if Genesis isnt true, how does a Christian determine which sections of the bible are true and which are parable? Surely if the bible is literally the word of god, it must either all be true, or all be false. Whether or not you believe Genesis to be fact, my point was that given our understanding of evolution, one of the fundamental tenets of christianity, that is, the uniqueness, the holiness of man, surely cant be true. We are no different from an ape, but for a few hundred thousand years of genetic differentiation.

    • You ask very good questions, Jack.

      I’ll try to address them, but take note that I’m not a spokesperson for all Christians. My background is Catholic, and even within this community you’ll find a range of attitudes to Scripture. I’m not a Biblical scholar or theologian, so will have to tread carefully. When we say the Bible is the word of God, we mean that it as revelation. The stories paint a portrait of who God is (to be honest, I much prefer the New Testament picture). It is also part historical text; many individuals, places and events in it are real. So you are right in wondering how ordinary readers are meant to tell things apart. There’s no quick answer because as a text, it’s a compendium of many oral traditions written progressively over time by imperfect beings. It’s a demanding text.

      So ideally, one would take into account the historical context, which includes the culture and politics of the era. One also considers the genre in which the author writes and his intent. Then one looks for patterns in the narrative to derive meaning. Unfortunately, both fundamentalists and atheists skip these elements for their own ends. To be frank, they can stop banging on about Genesis. It’s a myth.

      As for what it presents or the truth it conveys, well I can already tell we’ll disagree. I think we *are* different from apes, much as I’m proud to share similar genes with them.

  2. I find it really hard to believe how someone like Collins might rationalise his understanding of the human genome with a christian philosophy. After all, the underlying evidence of the science indicates we are evolved of single cell organisms, yet to try to apply this knowledge to a belief system that states man was created from mud, woman from man, and all in 1 day, seems mind boggling. But its hard not to recognise the sense of communion in shared belief so while I dont understand the rationale, I understand the compulsion. SRI has taken an interesting twist this week with Fred Nile at his maddest, trying to ban Ethics classes for non religious students. I’m interested to know your take on the Nile’s line and what place ethical teaching has in our state schools.


    • Sorry for the delay in response, Jack, and welcome back. You would probably find that most (rational) Christians do not take Genesis literally. They understand that there is a historical context and purpose to the text. The meaning that they then construct from the text is where they part ways with non believers. I suppose you could say that of all narratives.

      It’s interesting that you mention Fred Nile as I’m expecting to have a piece published on Eureka Street this week on the matter. I don’t identify with Nile, of course, as I hope you can already tell from our conversation and my posts here. I personally don’t find ethics classes threatening and would encourage families to take up the option if they are not comfortable with the way SRE/SRI is being run. My position has always been that young people need to be equipped to lead authentic, compassionate, meaningful lives.

    • Isn’t it the case that people can have vastly different beliefs but still identify as “religious” or “Christians”? I wouldn’t go around reading too much into a scientist being “religious” until I understood what they meant by that. Science itself is directly apposite to Christianity and any other faith based organisation.

      The Dalai Lama says that if science proves a Buddhist belief to be wrong, then Buddhism must change. Can you see the pope saying the same thing? Can you see him changing his view on gay marriage because it’s proven to be genetic and a normal occurrence of nature? Of couse not. The whole premise behind Christianity is “faith” based and not evidence based. That is why a Christian believes in God when there is no logical or rational reason to support the notion apart from our inner desire and need to believe in something.

      Unfortunately, if an intelligent, educated and questioning person also believes in a faith based religion, you will also find that in the majority of cases they were indoctrinated at an early age (let’s call it what it is given that children are easily influenced by key role models and incapable of forming a considered view about the issue). Christians have long understood that hence the need to ingratiate into the education system and effect conversions. The Victorian organisation “Access Ministries” is walking proof of that and their leader made comments to that effect in a private forum.

      Ethics are important and valuable. But you don’t need a fictional book to tell you that. That’s why you Fatima can sort and distinguish the parts of the bible which are literal and those parts which are to be discarded and disregarded. The book doesn’t tell you, your experience and inner sense of morality does.

      • “I wouldn’t go around reading too much into a scientist being ‘religious’ until I understood what they meant by that.” — Then I suggest that you do read their work on the matter (e.g. Dr Francis Collins’ The Language of God, Dr John Polkinghorne’s Questions of Truth). I don’t understand why atheists are so dismissive of the fact that many people manage to be intelligent and have faith. Wouldn’t it suggest that the the divide between science and religion is false?

        Of course, we will always disagree on what evidence is appropriate for determining the existence of God. I’ll leave that alone, apart from saying that we choose the absurdity we want to live with. You find it absurd to believe that we are created. I find it absurd to think that we are not. The evidence presented by the near improbability of life taking off on our planet, much less evolving as we have, along with how ordered the universe is, down to the smallest sub-particles — these must speak to me in a different way to you.

        I understand your point about ‘indoctrination’ – but I think it’s unfair. People do examine their faith. If they arrive back where they started despite many detours, then that should be respected, not derided. It’s as genuine a choice as you have made to not believe. As for ethics, that’s a tricky one to pin on whether or not people believe. There are odious people in both groups. In any case, I don’t distinguish between the good that believers and non believers do. The true test for any moral or ethical belief is in the way we treat others.

  3. Interesting article in the National Times although I have to challenge you on one small point. In the article you specifically conflate secularist with atheist, in what looks an attempt to redefine the terms. The World English dictionary defines secular as
    “not concerned with or related to religion” which does not in itself demand that there is no god. Therefore a secular education system doesnt deny the existance of a god, it is simply not concerned with the question. Whereas an atheistic system of education would deny the existence of a god. What your article fails to ask, and I think a question that needs be asked, is: what is the function of our education system? I believe it is to teach students to ration, reason, and function in society. I agree we should teach religion but as a sociological phenomenon, not as a rational system of thought, because it is not. How can we teach children in one classroom that they should be able to defend all their arguments with reasonable evidence, then in the next encourage a blind faith in transubstantiation, virgin births and other mythical phenomenon? If you want your children to learn these things they are allowed to be taught it at home, at church, in community organisations, or private school if you choose. The purpose of our public schools however is fundamentally corrupted by allowing an archaic, and undemocratic institution to proselytise childen.

    • Hi. Thanks for providing that definition. That bracket in my piece seems to have gotten some attention, though I appreciate that people insist on shared meaning. You provide an excellent definition of the role of education: “to teach students to ration, reason, and function in society.” But I don’t see how blanket omission of a significant aspect of human experience can lead to this goal. I respect that you see faith as blind but it’s not fair to dismiss all believers as unthinking. Many eminent scientists throughout history identified with a religion and find no conflict. Theology is actually one of the first systematic bodies of knowledge that applied logic rather than superstition.

      Also, I suggest that outrage against certain elements of Christianity be not unfairly applied to religion as a whole (Buddhism does not have a god as such, for example). I actually have sympathy for parts of this outrage. There is a stream of Christianity that I would not at all endorse. But I do not take the parts as the sum of the whole. I accept that SRI is flawed, however, I still think students even in public schools would benefit from a solid understanding of religion — especially if you would rather have them reject it. Otherwise, they’d be just as blind as you accuse believers to be.

      • I don’t think the last poster was suggesting a “blanket omission of a significant aspect of human existence” as you summarized it. I believe he was suggesting teaching it as a sociological phenomenon. I agree with this post. The points you raise in favour of religion are debunked fallacies. That is, eminent scientists believed in religion (you’ll notice that it had nothing to do with any successfully proven theories of substance and was more a sign of the times) and religion is a school of logic (parts of it may not directly offend logic but the most critical parts are directly offensive to rational thought – ie the holy trinity). Take a read of Dawkins’ God Delusion for a thorough analysis of these points and many more. I’m yet to hear a Christian provide a retort with any legs. I take your point re Buddhism though which is more of a philosophy than a religion.

        I’ve only started reading your blog but am enjoying your discussion. Keep up the good work.

      • Thanks for taking time to comment. I suppose even for believers, an examination of religion as a ‘sociological phenomenon’ is worthwhile. I certainly don’t find it threatening.

        There still *are* eminent scientists who adhere to a religion. Atheists have largely dismissed them, which I think closes an important strand in the debate. Dr Francis Collins, the former head of the Human Genome Project, is a believer. I’ve also interviewed a couple of Jesuit astronomers who find no internal conflict. Such men are highly respected in their field despite their belief, and their work has in fact contributed significantly. I know Dawkins, though haven’t read him. He’s increasingly becoming a divisive figure even among atheists, isn’t he?

        I hope to bump into you here again. Engagement with ideas always welcome!

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