Richard Dawkins VS William Lane Craig – who cares?

October 21, 2011

Lots of people, probably. Dawkins recently admitted the reason he won’t debate the guy and it has to do with the apparent condoning of child massacre in the bible. Lane Craig claims it’s because God had the right to do it simply because he was God. QED. This blog out of the Guardian shits all over Dawkins, calling him “either a fool or a coward” over his unwillingness to debate the guy using theological arguments.

We are left with two possible conclusions from Richard Dawkin’s flimsy sick note. The first is that he doesn’t understand Christian apologetics, which is why he unintentionally misrepresents Craig’s piece [regarding the deaths of Caananite children and conflicts with that morality then and how we think today]. The most frustrating thing about the New Atheism is that it rarely debates theology on theology’s own terms.

The second is where the cowardice comes into play. Dawkins is just plain scared of going to battle against someone that intelligent and well spoken. He’d rather spend his time mocking the stupid ones… The last part is possibly true, but the first part?

William Lane Craig makes appearances in Saskatoon once in a while. One of our Freethinker members debated him at the University of Saskatchewan in January and it was fun to watch, but brutal to watch at the same time. George did what he could against the guy but Lane Craig makes his living off apologetics and all its bizarre arguments to justify God’s existence and behaviour. It’s hard for an ordinary philosophy professor to compete with that. That’s hardly been his area of focus. Plus, it wouldn’t matter what kind of theological arguments George might know and could have brought to the stage because he’s aware that theological arguments have no basis in reality. They’re just thought experiments and there are far better ways to use one’s brain than contemplating what a god might do and why.

That’s why I think Tim Stanley missed the point with his post. Dawkins has a good reason to skip debating a guy like Lane Craig. You can’t get anywhere doing it. Lane Craig could never best him in a science debate about biology and evolution because that’s not where he’s focused his education and career – except in terms of what he can point at and claim God had a hand in. (Usually with a smarmy smile on his face while he does it.) Debating him accomplishes nothing. I wish everyone would turn him down, frankly. Of course, he’d likely count them all as debates he won by default, but what can you do.

For one thing, you can put the time into battles that have a better chance at being won for real. Keeping science in schools. Teaching critical thinking skills and encouraging skepticism. Stopping teachers from overtly preaching in public schools via prayers or posters. Stop employers from employing similar tactics. Making waves when people want to put up monuments that are meant to speak for all but only seem to apply to a specific religious group. Seriously questioning politicians about their belief systems and what those beliefs might mean for the climate change debate, gay marriage or women’s rights to abortion.

Put the emphasis on the things that matter most in this world and fuck William Lane Craig.


Coming soon to Canada: Rate your Pastor

September 13, 2011

Sometime in the spring there may be a site available for Canadians to have a say in how well or poor their pastors are doing. Germany is ahead on this with their “Hirten Barometer — Shepherd Barometer, in English” and according to the Toronto Star:

It’s much like sites that let people rate their teachers or doctors. But this one gets to the spiritual heart of the matter, rating priests for their services, credibility, how much their finger is on the pulse of their community and how they work with seniors and youth.

“We think it’s positive thing for both sides,” Fabian Ringwald, the site’s CEO and co-creator told the Star. He says the site is moderated to prevent abusive comments from making it online.

“Potential community members can get a first impression on what to expect when attending a service by a priest. And since congregation members don’t often speak up about their priests, the priests can now get feedback about their work.”

The Pope’s got a poor rating: 3.84 out of a possible 6. John Paul II rates marginally better.

The group that runs this thing doesn’t want to push an agenda; their aim is just to “give churchgoers a voice,” and I think that’s awesome. If a pastor or priest is doing a terrific job in a community and being incredibly positive and supportive then he should get props for that. Maybe knowing this site is around will vastly improve the ministering done by the rest who may have been slacking off and getting selfish with their time and commitment levels.

“Quite a few priests are huge fans of the site. They like it and see the value of it, how it has the potential to improve their daily work by giving them feedback they’d otherwise never get,” he explained. “And then we have high-level bishops that tend to be more concerned that it might lead to witch hunts, that the quality of the feedback isn’t sufficient enough for a priest to actually benefit.”

I say give it time. People aren’t used to publicly reviewing the quality of sermons and community outreach. A lot of people are shit at explaining themselves, too, or simply have a poor grasp of the notion of constructive criticism. Sure, there are liable to be people who’ll give a priest a bad score due to some personal vendetta but I’m sure more aim to use the site as it was intended to be used – to help leaders become better leaders by pointing out the weak spots. Are they doing enough to help the hungry or homeless? Are they improving the lives of the youth at risk for joining gangs or getting into drugs? What services do they offer the elderly and housebound? Is the church atmosphere comfortable and welcoming to strangers or insular and anti-social? What sort of long-term goals are they working on that will benefit their congregations and parishes on the whole? Is the pastor someone people do feel they can talk to about important issues? What’s his or her stance on homosexual rights or contraceptives? That might matter to someone looking for a church to call home. How forward thinking? How backwards?

Father Thomas Rosica, CEO of Toronto’s Salt and Light TV network, is no fan.

“Public polls and mechanisms like that are not the way that we evaluate the life of the Church or the effectiveness of ministry,” said Rosica, former papal appointee as media attaché to the Synod of Bishops at the Vatican.

“We’re talking about saving souls, about very deep things that aren’t often obvious. So while this may sound enticing and exciting, that’s not how we rate things at all.

“The real question is whether pastoral ministers are bringing people closer to God. Only God knows that.

I’d disagree with that last statement. I think the person brought closer to god by a minister knows as well, and, even as an atheist, I’d argue that anyone who believes his pastor’s ministry has changed him for the better should have the opportunity to praise that pastor publicly. Commend him or her for a job well done. I’m sure there probably are pastors who sit after a service and wonder if their words had any real impact on the audience. Seeing their rating on a site like this might improve their own confidence in their work and role in the world at large. Seeing a bad rating would hopefully encourage them to improve themselves. They do themselves and their church and their faith a disservice if they choose to disregard and ignore what’s said there, especially if the intent was to help, not pastor-bash.

“Priests must be accountable for their preaching, but we don’t evaluate that by blogs. Preaching and church and liturgy are not entertainment reviews. It’s about living, breathing communities of faith.”

Father Peter Watters, recently retired from Oakville’s St. Andrew Catholic Church, agrees.

“I think it could lead to significant amount of abuse . . . people who will blame the priest forever and ever because of some little thing that has happened to them in the past,” he says. “It might not even be the same priest, they just feel that way about clergy in general.”

Some people have trouble getting over things so priests should forever be immune from public criticism? That’s flawed logic and a bad idea all around. Priests and pastors should be held accountable. They’re the public faces for these belief systems that believers hold near and dear to their hearts. They are the public voices of these beliefs and if they are doing a shit job of upholding the beliefs that are tantamount to living wholly by that faith in God and Jesus then believers need a place where they can call them on it, without risking ejection from their churches or losing their families and friends on account of those opinions.

Leaders have to care about how people view their leadership, otherwise there’s no real incentive to be good role models. If they’re not going to give a damn about what people think of them, then why should anyone choose to follow them? If the people aren’t going to be allowed a voice, then the people will have no ability to enact useful change and improve their situation. That’s a bad arrangement and not one I’d willingly sit quiet by and put up with. No one should.


What is the purpose of church? Depends who you ask

February 10, 2011

I found a new opinion piece put together by Leon Fontaine at the Winnipeg Sun. I wrote a reply to something else he published recently regarding faith and I’m game for another go.

We live in a world where many don’t belong to a church.

Statistics tell us that church attendance has been in steady decline for the last five decades. However another survey reveals that many people don’t go to church simply because they’ve never been invited.

Fontaine doesn’t elaborate on where or how he found this information. I found a Canadian piece about declining numbers and it splits the stats up between weekly attendance, monthly and yearly. The question asked there is not why people leave the church but why they’ve reduced the number of times they sit in it. They suggest it could be a lack of commitment but are willing to concede changes in community and culture might also play a role.

Christianity Today has the UK survey information from 2007. Three million people apparently stated they’d go to church if someone asked them to attend. It says nothing about whether they’d make a habit of it, mind you. They’d just go “if they were given the right invitation.”

Jesus’ church is to be a place of hope and encouragement, a place where people’s can grow and have their destinies altered for all eternity by coming into relationship with Him. It’s a place where people can feel accepted and unconditionally loved as together they commit their lives to becoming more and more like Him. When you consider the true purpose of church, you can’t help but feel that its decline is very unfortunate.

I think people also like to use church as a community center where they can meet up with their friends regularly, get involved with fund raising and do some nice things for the less fortunate. But church isn’t the only way to get involved with one’s community. There are so many kinds of groups people can join that will provide the same chances to alter destiny .. assuming you buy into the idea of destiny in the first place, obviously.

Governments and community organizations do many great things, but nothing takes the place of a life-changing church. It’s where people learn to become leaders with honesty and integrity.

Any group can promote and encourage the growth of leadership potential. The church doesn’t hold any monopoly on honesty and integrity; as I reported earlier today, billions of dollars worth of church money gets siphoned out of the church coffers by dirty leaders every year (see here).

It is a rescue for those in trouble, a refuge for those in grief, and a place of love, laughter and discovering a higher purpose. Most important, church is about falling deeper in love with God, learning about the good news of Jesus Christ, and growing in a relationship with Him.

I don’t think the Jesus Christ stuff is at all necessary to achieve that. Won’t a Jewish temples can’t offer the same rescue and refuge? Don’t Muslim temples inspire people to find higher purposes? Judging by what’s most likely to get reported, it’s hard to approve of what they might consider a “higher purpose”, but it’s also a major fallacy to assume everyone who practices Islam will become an expert in terrorist tactics in the process. Can’t a Buddhist also know love? He probably thinks an atheist can’t at all, but he’s clueless.

Church should never be a place where you feel judged or condemned. It is meant to inspire you to do good works, to become a better person, discover unbelievable joy and develop faith in God. Where else in society can families learn to grow together, married couples find skills to work through problems and discover a higher level of intimacy, and where men and women find exciting purpose and meaning in their lives?

Psychologists and self-help gurus have to earn a living somehow.

Not very marriage counselor is going to take a biblical tact for dealing with relationship issues, either. Marriage counselors have gotten into hot water by doing that, actually.

If you’ve found a great church, you owe it to yourself to get involved. Volunteering is one of the most rewarding things you can do. It will enrich your life tremendously. You also have the great privilege of growing the church. Make it your mission to share your faith and invite others. Look around at the people in your life. Do they know where you attend church? Have you ever asked them to join you? If not, what are you waiting for? Ask someone new to join you on Sunday morning. You never know, it may change someone’s life—and their destiny—forever.

But keep in mind that the people you ask have a right to say no without feeling guilty about it. The people you ask have a right to live their lives the way they want without your interference or assumed need for intervention. They have a right to believe what they want, think what they want, do what they want, even if it all runs contrary to what you think is God’s plan for their lives. If they want him, they can seek him out anytime. They can seek you out any time and ask for Jesus. Pray for them if you feel you must but it’s none of your business what they do if they don’t.

Maybe they’ve already joined a local chapter of Freethinkers or Humanists and will never want what you’re offering.


1minion pretends to debate an atheist ad complainer

December 18, 2010

Pretending obviously because the column itself was written long before I woke up this morning. It’s by someone named Michael Coren, who also has a blog, but not one I’ve ever read before. So, onto the Toronto Sun article and my lengthy rebuttal… Read the rest of this entry »


Quotable letter to the editor

September 10, 2010

I don’t tend to read our local paper, but the other night at the atheism lecture, someone from the audience mentioned a letter that had been printed by the Saskatoon Star Phoenix that was sure to get seen and talked about. It’s about the new cathedral being built in town but doesn’t stop there.

While the faithful bask in the glory of the new Roman Catholic cathedral, they see hope, comfort and a deep and personal connection to God.

What I see is yet another monument to a 1,500-year-old criminal organization.

In 1962 the church issued Crimen sollicitationis.

In case your Latin is as bad as mine, that means the crime of soliciting.

Catholics should ask themselves how they feel knowing that a portion of their donations went to ensure the relocation and sanctuary of child rapists for the past 50 years, or to silence or compensate the victims (the ones who weren’t excommunicated)?

How do they accept the fact that the Pope lies to an entire continent, telling them that use of condoms increase the chances of getting AIDS? How do they feel when their infallible moral leader says that ordaining women is “grave” a sin as sex abuse?

I think it’s called “compartmentalizing” and everybody does it to some extent. At that philosophy lecture it got mentioned that munitions workers who are making stuff that will eventually blow up a lot of innocent people, including children, can still go home and make love to their wives and hug their kids. They manage to separate those parts of themselves so work never interferes with the home zone and vice-versa. I think Catholics are probably adept at doing the same thing. They won’t believe in zombies but they’ll accept the risen Christ, after all. They may protest against unfair treatment of women in other venues, but under god’s roof, god’s word is still law for those who believe strongly. They can ignore the paradox of that, I guess, where the rest of us wind up shaking our heads.

The hierarchy of the Catholic Church acts like a band of misogynist, homophobic, sexually repressed adolescents. The fallacy that they provide any form of moral guidance is laughably absurd. This organization has proved repeatedly that it has no moral authority.

It could easily be argued that nobody should have been looking at institutionalized religions as moral compasses in the first place, but it’s been a habit to do so hundreds of years, allowing them to have so power over states and laws and humanity. It’s a hard habit to kick, too, even though it needs kicking. One good quote I copied off the presentation the other night was one from Voltaire: “Anyone who has the power to make you believe absurdities has the power to make you commit injustices.” Clearly the Catholic church has that power.

When will there be enough palaces? This thing will cost $28 million? Build a small non-faith school, build a homeless shelter, or expand the size of the food bank.

That’s a good point. Weblocal lists 200 churches for Saskatoon and it might even be missing some. There are all kinds of places of worship already available. Why do we need another when there are so many better ways that money could have been spent to improve social conditions in this city? Are there really so many Catholics in this city and area that they’ll even manage to fill every pew? And then what happens to all the other Catholic churches in town if most of their congregations migrate to this monstrosity?

Many of us are tired of having all this faith on display in our open, multicultural, multi-faith society.You can worship God from home.

Brent Pollard

People can worship their gods at home but I don’t begrudge them their desire for community connection while they do that instead. They may as well be in the churches than let them all sit empty and ripe for vandalism. I don’t care about the fact that there are churches. I don’t care if people want to spend their days and nights and weekends worshiping in churches. I only start to care when those same people try to make everyone do it or try to influence governments into catering to their whims like they are somehow more worthy of money or dominance or rights than any other group. That is why the push for a secular society is so important. It is more fair to everyone and a good compromise in a multicultural, multi-faith city like this one. Nobody should be above anyone else in terms of what ideologies are most worthy.


Yes, I must tackle the “pressing challenges” of faith groups…

August 3, 2010

How can I not!? This is brilliant! Praise be to the Flying Spaghetti Monster, blessed be his noodly internet appendages which have pulled me in the direction of this article! It’s quite the pile of blog fodder! Ramen, my brothers and sisters of the Holy Meatballs! Rejoice in his tasty glory, for he is the one true God!

Here it starts:

There are many challenges facing Christians in the 21st century. Rather than giving you a list, I’ll highlight one of the most pressing problems of all.

The challenge is getting Christians to develop an eternal perspective, an outlook that sees earthly life in light of eternity. Paul had this viewpoint when he wrote: “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18).

Paul certainly had his head up his ass, didn’t he? Why didn’t he preach about enjoying the fleeting life we’re given? Why such a push toward heaven’s great reward for putting up with this fleeting life we’re given? Why can’t the desire be put into making the most of the time here on Earth?

I have to quote some poetry now, sorry. It’s a piece I’ve loved since university and totally worth sharing, written by Robert Herrick in 1648:

To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, Old Time is still a-flying: And this same flower that smiles to-day To-morrow will be dying. The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun, The higher he's a-getting, The sooner will his race be run, And nearer he's to setting. That age is best which is the first, When youth and blood are warmer; But being spent, the worse, and worst Times still succeed the former. Then be not coy, but use your time, And while ye may, go marry: For having lost but once your prime, You may for ever tarry.

I most certainly prefer the carpe diem attitude of this to anything Paul might have thought. Gather the rosebuds, dammit. Enjoy your time here as much as you are able. And it’s not just these marry virgins – any age you are, enjoy your life as well as you are able!

But sadly, I go back to Reverend Rick Reed:

Without an eternal perspective, Christians become near-sighted. We live for the here and now. We get focused on accumulating earthly treasures, which wind up eaten by moths or stolen by thieves (Matthew 6:19-21). What’s worse, we lose our passion to help others get ready to meet their Maker. We block out the looming reality of God’s coming judgment

The fuck!? I don’t want to be groomed for any fucking maker while I’m trying to enjoy here and now, getting my treasures sorted out into pretty colours and killing every moth with a hearty spray of soap and water. Thieves haven’t been much of a problem for me so far either as I’ve got squat worth stealing, nor have I felt the desire to take what isn’t mine to begin with. That’s why I make money, you dick. And even then, there’s credit!

We lose the urgency to pass on the good news Jesus announced when He said: “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes Him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned” (John 5:24).

Some may worry an eternal perspective will make Christians so heavenly minded they’ll be of no earthly good. Actually, it works the opposite way. C.S. Lewis observed that the “Christians who did most for the present world, were those who thought the most about the next … Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you will get neither.”

C.S. Lewis can kiss my ass, too. The man may have claimed he tried being an atheist for a while but I don’t think he ever really was one. I think he doubted his faith, but like Anne Rice and her silly business, he just went back and manipulated it into something he could live with. Not that I’d begrudge him that experience – it’s what lead to his publishing of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and all the rest. He dove into mythology and the occult while he was on the fence with God and the literary world is better for it.

I think it’s pretty clear that atheists and believers are not really on the same page when it’s time to deal with some issues. How many believers think like Reed anyway? How can we possibly convince these kinds of people to love the earth and treat it decent while we’re on it when they’re already so damned eager to get the hell off?


Quotable open mind

July 28, 2010

I quote from this:

I know many Christians who learn to defend their faith by reading the works of Christian philosophers. Personally, I prefer to read the works of committed atheists such as Ayn Rand (who offers some of the most scathing criticisms of religion I have ever read). After all, isn’t the human immune system most strengthened by actual exposure to disease?

So from a person of faith, to people of faith: give thanks to ridicule and criticism of your religion. Remember that what doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger. An unchallenged belief is a weak belief – I prefer my opinions be somewhat battle-hardened.

Which reminds me, I put a hold on Ray Comfort’s comfortably bad book entitled, You Can Lead and Atheist to Evidence But You Can’t Make Him Think. While I’m sad my library spent money on the thing, at least it means I can enjoy laughing my way through it without putting my own money toward the opportunity. I’d rather save what I make for worthwhile things, you know? Expect a post of mostly quotes and typed out guffaws at some point in the future.

I also have to work through “O” God: a dialogue on truth and Oprah’s spirituality by Josh McDowell and Dave Sterretts that has been published like a work of fiction. That one’s pretty short so maybe I’ll get it read yet this week and have something prepped for that too.


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