Andrew Brown can’t stop whingeing

August 3, 2009 • 7:07 am

If the word “faitheist” were in the dictionary, its illustration would be the smug mug of Andrew Brown, the goddycoddling columnist at The Guardian. As we’ve seen before (e.g., here and here), Brown likes to blame the “new atheists” for a lot of things, including the prevalence of creationism in the U.S. (sound familiar?).

In his latest column, Brown goes after Sam Harris for his New York Times op-ed piece questioning the wisdom of appointing Francis Collins as head of the NIH.  But before he misquotes Harris, Brown can’t resist taking a few gratuitous slaps at him, just to show that atheists are full of “intolerance and hatred”:

Shallow, narrow, and self-righteous, he [Harris] defends and embodies all of the traits that have made organised religion repulsive; and he does so in the name of atheism and rationality. He has, for example, defended torture, (“restraint in the use of torture cannot be reconciled with our willingness to wage war in the first place”) attacked religious toleration in ways that would make Pio Nono blush: “We can no more tolerate a diversity of religious beliefs than a diversity of beliefs about epidemiology and basic hygiene” ; he has claimed that there are some ideas so terrible that we may be justified in killing people just for believing them. Naturally, he also believes that the Nazis were really mere catspaws of the Christians. (“Knowingly or not, the Nazis were agents of religion”).

I suggest you read Harris on these issues; his positions are far more nuanced than Brown lets on.  For example, it is a thorny philosophical question whether torture can ever be justified to save the lives of others (Harris thinks that it might sometimes be ethical but perhaps never legal).

But Brown’s real beef is that Harris criticized Collins’s religion.  And here he completely mischaracterizes what Harris said:

But he [Collins] is, unashamedly, a Christian. He’s not a creationist, and he does science without expecting God to interfere. But he believes in God; he prays, and this is for Harris sufficient reason to exclude him from a job directing medical research.

Of course this is a fantastically illiberal and embryonically totalitarian position that goes against every possible notion of human rights and even the American constitution. If we follow Harris, government jobs are to be handed out on the basis of religious beliefs or lack thereof. But what is really astonishing and depressing is how little faith it shows in science itself.

ok, read what Harris said.  He did not say that Collins should be excluded from consideration.  Harris, like me, is simply worried about Collins using his status as NIH director to spread wacko religious ideas.  Harris has the additional concern (one that I don’t really share) that Collins might deflect research away from understanding the human brain and the behavior it engenders:

Dr. Collins has written that “science offers no answers to the most pressing questions of human existence” and that “the claims of atheistic materialism must be steadfastly resisted.”

One can only hope that these convictions will not affect his judgment at the institutes of health. After all, understanding human well-being at the level of the brain might very well offer some “answers to the most pressing questions of human existence” — questions like, Why do we suffer? Or, indeed, is it possible to love one’s neighbor as oneself? And wouldn’t any effort to explain human nature without reference to a soul, and to explain morality without reference to God, necessarily constitute “atheistic materialism”? Francis Collins is an accomplished scientist and a man who is sincere in his beliefs. And that is precisely what makes me so uncomfortable about his nomination. Must we really entrust the future of biomedical research in the United States to a man who sincerely believes that a scientific understanding of human nature is impossible?

Brown isn’t the first person to mischaracterize what Harris and his militant neo-fundamentalist atheist cronies said about Collins.  In a letter to the New York Times, Kenneth Miller did the same thing.  Distortion, demonization, and prissy accusations about “shrillness” seem to be the armamentarium of faitheists and religious people who are unable to engage the substantive arguments of new atheists.

Brown goes on to make some bad arguments about the relationship between science and faith. He gloats that no scientific discovery could ever shake Collins’s faith, “any more than science made Darwin an atheist.” (I’m not so sure about that one, actually.  Certain empirical observations might well have eroded Darwin’s faith: the death of his daughter Annie, for example, as well as his famous observations about the horrors of nature, like the ichneumon wasp, which to Darwin argued against the existence of a benevolent god.)  Thus, when Brown says that Collins need never abandon his faith because “all the best arguments against God are theological,” he’s just wrong.  The best arguments against God are empirical, most prominent among them the argument from evil.  As far as I can see — and yes, I’ve read theology — there has never been a better refutation of the idea of a loving and omnipotent god than the existence of horrible, god-preventable things happening to innocent people.  That’s an empirical observation, and the world didn’t have to be that way. Another, of course, is that prayer doesn’t work.  Yet another is the observation that God seems to heal some people, but sorely neglects those amputees (see Fig. 1).  Finally, the theistic God obstinately refuses to show himself to people, although he supposedly interacts with the world.

amputeese-10Figure 1.  Why does God hate amputees?

Brown finishes by again misstating Harris’s views:

. . .But militant atheism, of the sort that would deny people jobs for their religions beliefs, doesn’t actually believe in real science at all, any more than it believes in reason. Rather, it uses “science” and “reason” as tribal labels, and “religion” as a term for witchcraft. Any serious defence of the real, hard-won and easily lost enlightenment must start by rejecting that style of atheism entirely. What use is it to be right about God and wrong about everything else?

WRONG.  None of us “militant atheists” want to deny Collins his job because of his faith.  And it’s just dumb to say that we don’t believe in real science.  I do real science every day.  As for labeling religion as “witchcraft,” well, are the two forms of superstition really so different?

Brown’s overall complaint seems to be that Harris’s writings are so popular — that “hundreds of thousands of people bought the books, and perhaps the ideas in them.”  I suspect Brown’s books haven’t sold nearly as well, though (no suprise!) he won a Templeton Prize for religion journalism.  I do feel sorry for Brown, though:  it can’t be pleasant to write a Guardian column where most of your commenters rip your arguments to shreds.

128 thoughts on “Andrew Brown can’t stop whingeing

  1. “The best arguments against God are empirical, most prominent among them the argument from evil.”

    That is like saying that the best argument against light is the argument from darkness.

    Or that the best argument against one side of the coin is that their is another side of the coin.

    If you believe that your argument, in quotes above, is one against God, then I would submit that you have not “read theology”.

    Please read C.S. Lewis “the problem of pain”.

    1. Andrew, have you read C.S. Lewis’ “Problem” yourself???

      Lewis asserts that the vast, incessant suffering that we see in nature must simply be an illusion, because Christians know that it must be so.

      The book is pretty useless except a salve to sooth a bruised theist who accidently thought a bit too much.

      1. No, Mr. Moscow, he says that evil is a necessary condition of the free will that we have. If God made sure that every time I raised a fist against my neighbor, my muscles failed me, then we would have no free will.

        I mean, your characterization of his book is so grossly wrong that I have no idea what your motive or reasoning could be. Did you really read it and misinterpret it or were you hoping that I had not read it and would go along with your mis characterization.

        “…not even Omnipotence could create a society of free souls without at the same time creating a relatively independent and ‘inexorable’ Nature”; and “not all states of matter will be equally agreeable to the wishes of a given soul”;

        that souls, if they are free, may take advantage of the fixed laws of nature to hurt one another; that a “corrective” intervention by God in the laws of nature, which would remove the possibility — or the effect — of such abuse, while clearly imaginable, would eventually lead to a wholly meaningless universe, in which nothing important depended on man’s choices. “Try to exclude the possibility of suffering which the order of nature and the existence of free-wills involve, and you will find that you have excluded life itself”.

      2. Call me Ray.

        I don’t have my copy handy (if indeed I still have it), but this quote came to mind:

        “From the doctrine that God is good we may confidently deduce that the appearance of reckless Divine cruelty in the animal kingdom is an illusion” (p.133).

        Found by googling here:

        Lewis asserts that the seeming cruelty that we observe in nature is an illusion. Actually, he’s probably right, but not in the way he intended: the cruelty is actually just indifference, because there is no god to care about it.

        But if there were a god, he/she/it/they would be extremely cruel to allow such suffering.

        Such assertions render Lewis’ book useless.

    2. Well, if there were only darkness, or if there were only one side to the coin, I very well COULD argue against the existence of light and the other side of the coin.

      Aren’t you presupposing the existence of god by making these analogies? (A coin cannot exist without both sides, as much so as darkness cannot exist without light)

    3. The analogies are not just inane but they smack of heresy. Certainly, to say that good and evil are two sides of the coin is sailing mighty close to claiming that evil is the equal of good. Every good Christian should know, however, that evil is merely the absence of goodness. Otherwise, you might as well be a Manicheist! People used to get burned at the stake for lesser things.

      1. Yes, Konrad, I did leave out that nuance.

        Evil-good, light-darkness, hot-cold, all have that nuance. One of the elements in the equation is actually something, while the other element is simply the absence of the other element.

    4. Yes, of course! A young kid being sodomized repeatedly by an adult (say, a Catholic priest) surely is necessary in order to preserve “free will”. Oh yes, it makes perfect sense!

      And what about earth-quakes, tsunamis, diseases, and all the other kinds of suffering not caused directly by humans? Is that nature’s “free will”? Or are you going to invoke some of the other ludicrous excuses from apologetics to explain those?

      The “free will” excuse is nothing but an unintelligent cop-out similar to “He works in mysterious ways”. If there is a god, he is clearly not benevolent. In fact, he would appear to enjoy suffering like a true psychopath. How lucky that there is not a shred of evidence that any god exists.

      1. > How lucky that there is not a shred of evidence that any god exists.

        And this is something that Brown, as with most other faitheists, simply ignores in order to stumble on with his desperate, impotent attacks on the ‘New Atheists’.

      2. The argument that suffering is needed for Free Will to exist is utterly inane.

        It’s like saying: “I’m a superhero, and there’s this girl I wish would love me freely for who I am. So therefore I set up a situation where she can either choose to be with me, or have the living crap be beat out of her if she doesn’t.”

        There’s plenty of scope for the girl either loving the superhero, or someone else, or living peacefully on her own.

        So why is your supposed god so impotent that he can’t set up a situation where we either freely love him, or freely not, without the latter choice necessitating suffering?

      3. PieterN
        “why is your supposed god so impotent that he can’t set up a situation where we either freely love him, or freely not, without the latter choice necessitating suffering?”
        If we’re talking about C.S. Lewis, my impression was that his explanation was that hell was separation from God, i.e. that we are all to varying degrees connected with him, but at the end of the world that connection would be completely withdrawn leaving us by ourselves, incomplete. This would seem to imply that God was not omnipotent and/or omniscient (as would the mythos of fallen angels, etc. did he get the design wrong first time) and so unable to make us fully independent or cruel as asserted. Not sure how heretical this is. God could be the most powerful being in the universe, perhaps the most powerful there could be, without being omnipotent and omniscient.

  2. C.S. Lewis as an authority on the problem of evil, which gives all theologians night sweats?

    Is that supposed to be a joke?

  3. We can always count on Andrew Brown to provide the intellectual equivalent of Spinal Tap’s ‘Stone-Henge’, oblivious to the fact that his arguments are in danger of being crushed by a dwarf (or perhaps a midget?).
    The Guardian only employs him to make Madelaine Bunting appear thoughtful.

  4. C.S. Lewis was influenced by mythology and fantasy while taking long walks to the zoo with G.K. Chesterton and JRR Tolkien.

    Freud eviscerated him just like Darwin did Paley.

    Game over.

  5. Ray, I can see the logical fallacy in your argument just in your text.

    As you can see, Lewis’s quote qualifies the cruelty as “reckless Divine”, saying that cruelty that appears to flow from God’s recklessness is an illusion.

    This is very different from all of the cruelty in the world that you take it to mean.

    I am partially at fault here, because I started the quote-mining. I do think, however, that I did not misinterpret my quote.

    1. Andrew, much of Lewis’ book (as is common in the apologist gentre) tries to justify suffering with human “free will”. This doesn’t work on any level, and certanly not to explain the suffering of all the other species who were suffering for hundreds of millions of years before humans came along.

      Furthermore: God, who could supposedly do anything, could certainly create a world with both free will and no suffering — isn’t that what heaven is supposed to be?

      1. Well, Ray, we may have a disagreement on whether or not you can have free will and no suffering.

        However, as regards the trick where you say that if God can do anything, then why can’t he do X? Well, that is kind of like saying “If God can do anything, can he make a rock big enough even He can not move it?”

        Well, you see, Ray, “Nonsense remains nonsense even if we talk it about God.”

      2. The problem with the “free will” argument is that it does not explain natural disasters, especially completely unpredictable ones. It can explain human-against-human evil, but it cannot explain, for instance, Vesuvius exploding and destroying Pompeii (back when people did not have the necessary geological knowledge to understand volcanoes and understand the risks they were taking by living there). There was no free will, no decision, just a completely random and totally unpredictable event (based on the knowledge of the time) that wiped out tens of thousands of people.

      3. Actually, the ability for an entity to make an object so heavy that the entity cannot lift it is not nonsense. It is only when you add the quality of omnipotence to the entity that a contradiction arises. Hence, the source of the contradiction is omnipotence, and hence omnipotence is incoherent.

        This is how deductive disproofs by contradiction work. Assume the proposition in question obtains, and if doing so causes a contradiction to arise, then the proposition per se is false.

  6. The problem of pain as an element of free-will presupposes the opportunity for Christ’s “Salvation.” All of the fear, pain, natural disasters and evidences of sloppy “Design” existed long before Jesus’ purported resurrection; and Lewis’ theology is a very self-centered one based on that. It totally ignores that the problems are widespread in humans, even among those who have never rejected The Gospel.

    As for Andrew Brown’s complete re-write of what Harris wrote, it is beneath contempt.

  7. Well, Ray, Heaven is a place with no suffering and free will, but it is populated by those have accepted salvation from their sins. They have been perfected, so they have free will.

    I agree that Christian theology is full of nuance and paradox, but that is because it explains the whole world.

    “The whole secret of mysticism is that a person can understand everything with the help of what he does not understand. The logician seeks to make everything clear, and only succeeds in making everything mysterious. The mystic allows a few things to remain mysterious, and everything else becomes clear.”

    1. Oh, and does it have cotton candy too? Is my dead dog there as a puppy?

      Hey another inane quote:

      “The whole secret of mysticism is that…”

      I need to go contemplate my belly button, My chant is “innie, outie, innie, outie…”

      1. The bottom line is that if a place of free will and no suffering can exist, why not just create everything like that IN THE FIRST PLACE and skip the middle man? Hell would never need to exist under such a scenario. Why this elaborate soul-filtering mechanism called planet Earth?

        The religious don’t have a satisfactory answer for things like that, because their beliefs are so obviously human-contrived and contradictory.

      2. The veracity of the four gospels is tenuous at best. I might as easily ask how you can accept the veracity of the gospels!

        Accepted sholarly analysis establishes at the very least that these books are not what they claim to be on the surface. They were not actually written by contemporaneous witnesses but date from MANY decades to centuries later than the period described.

        They also contain mutually contradictory accounts of the same events (like the two ‘geneologies’ of Jesus that are radically different in the number of generations between J and Adam)

        They make claims about major historical events which are not supported by other historical sources (like a major census requiring jews to return to their ancestral homes for counting – or a mass resurrection of corpses in and around Jerusalem.)

        Finally, they make radical supernatural claims that place their entire credibility in doubt. And even if some level of historicity for some PARTS of the gospels could be established, this would be a ludicrous reason to argue that we must accept ALL claims in these writings and by extension any claims made by those who have used these writings as a jumping off point.

        Really this is a very silly thing to posit as ‘evidence’ of anything.

    2. “The whole secret of mysticism is that a person can understand everything with the help of what he does not understand. The logician seeks to make everything clear, and only succeeds in making everything mysterious. The mystic allows a few things to remain mysterious, and everything else becomes clear.”

      Using the unknown to make unfalsified assertions about the unknown. Brilliant.

      Grab your life jacket because we’re about to go white water rafting in a river of white noise.

    3. > …Christian theology is full of nuance and paradox…

      Christian theology is full of Bronze Age bollocks that mires people in a make-believe world, where responsibility is handed off to Invisible Sky Daddy and where justification can be made for any deed depending on the prevailing individual interpretation of the afflicted.

      Don’t like doctors performing abortions? No worries! God wants ’em dead – as clearly shown by this bit of “nuanced” scripture that I’ve interpreted for myself.

      When you produce a shred of evidence for your Invisible Sky Daddy, you can then start constructing your gold-fringed frippery on top of that. Until then, it’s all fantasy and wish fulfilment.

      1. I’m curious as to what evidence that you will accept. Surely, you would want to strike the whole historical human experience from the record.

      2. Which part of the “whole historical human experience” are you going to hold up as evidence for your god? Burning ‘witches’ in Africa today? WWII? Malaria? The tape worm? Assorted barbarity over the millennia? Our near-extinction before we migrated out of Africa ~200,000 years ago? The fun times we had before we moved out of the trees and started hunting on the savannah of Africa a couple of million years ago?

        Or are you going for the old: “Behold the eye! A child’s smile! A waterfall! A sunset! The hand of our Lord and Creator is evident for all to see!”

        Really, we moved on from that tedious ignorance long ago. You need to update your script.

      3. P.S. You’re the one making the extraordinary claims, so you’re the one that needs to produce the extraordinary evidence. Don’t ask for my help in proving your fantasy a reality.

      4. You know David, all you asked for was a shred of evidence. I simply pointed out that their is a shred of evidence in our historical human experience. I mean, you set the bar very low, so when I step over it, do not try to raise the bar when I am in mid stride.

        You can define the parameters of the conversation, but do not change them during.

      5. As per usual you type words and say nothing.

        It was a relatively simple question: which part of the “whole historical human experience” are you holding up as evidence for your god?

        Or are you just waving your hand at all of it? If so, your concept of evidence is somewhat lacking.

      6. “Every honest historian believes in the historical Jesus. Boom! Shred!”

        Even if that is true, and even if argument from authority was evidence, that would only be evidence that there was a preacher in the middle east in the first half the first century AD. It can in no way be considered evidence for the existence of God, not even a shred.

      7. > Every honest historian believes in the historical Jesus.

        So, only dishonest historians question the historicity of a man for which there is not a single piece of contemporary evidence, only hearsay – and much of that interpolated – from decades later? Your intellectual rigour and integrity cannot grub low enough, can it?

        And that’s your idea of ‘evidence’ – that an alleged bloke, called Jesus was wandering around ~2000 years ago, causing trouble for the local occupying nation? Again: your concept of ‘evidence’ is somewhat lacking. In fact, it’s detached from any meaningful definition of the word.

        With all due respect, Mr Bown – you are an idiot. A sneaky, cherry-picking, quote-mining, misrepresenting idiot – but an idiot nonetheless.

      8. Um….

        1) That is not true, the existence or non existence of any historical figure corresponding to the Jesus of the bibles is actively disputed among historians. Many honest and reputable historians find the hypothesis doubtful as the evidence for any such historical figure is far from conclusive.

        2) By what twisted, demented form of logic to you extract evidence for the existence of ‘god’ from any number of historians positing a historical Jesus? There may have been a historical Vlad the Impaler, but that is not evidence in support of the truth of Bram Stoker’s Dracula!

      9. Andrew, give up on historical evidence for Jesus. Historical scholarship isn’t *real* (read: scientific) scholarship, thus we can dismiss it out of hand. Besides, historians are all biased theists anyways…


      10. Okay, first of all, I am not the Mr. Brown who Dr. Coyne is referring to in his post.

        Secondly, you should know that book publishing was not as easy then as it is now. Most stories were passed on orally.

        Also, I am curious to hear your reasoning as to how you can dismiss the veracity of the four Gospels.

      11. Oops. I appear to have posted a response to Andrew’s curious question about accepting the Gospels on the previous response thread instead of this one. Sorry.

      12. > …I am not the Mr. Brown who Dr. Coyne is referring to in his post.

        [chuckle] You had me fooled, but my sentiments apply equally to you both.

        > …I am curious to hear your reasoning as to how you can dismiss the veracity of the four Gospels.

        Do you think L. Ron Hubbard’s Xenu was really an alien ruler of the Galactic Confederacy and that we’re all inhabited by the ‘souls’ of alien beings?

        I think your fairy tale is as much nonsense as L. Ron Hubbard’s.

      13. David,

        I will humbly postulate that you lack a little bit of common sense.

        Are you seriously unable to distinguish between the story of Jesus and the story of Xenu?

        In financial markets, we talk about the Three I’s. In any new endeavor, lets take securitizatio for example, you have the Innovators, the Imitators, and then the Idiots.

        In our story, the Gospels represent the Innovators, the Koran could represent the Imitators,and the church of scientology represents the Idiots.

      14. Upon what basis do you assert that the gospels should be accepted as ‘common sense’ while Hubbard’s writings should be ridiculed. Why is it ‘common sense’ that different standards should be applied to the same sort of analysis? Hubbard’s claims are to be scrutinized with the maximum skepticism while those of the gospel writers are to be given deference and the benefit of all doubt? Why?

        Age? there are far older religious writings than the gospels (in fact most of the major events and teachings from the life of Jesus were around for centuries in the stories of earlier Gods and mythical figures of many cultures – So much for the gospels being ‘initiators’- Why not give precedence then to Egyptian or Greek or Sumerian Gods?)

        Number of adherents? Is that what makes the gospels ‘common sense? If so, I think the Buddhist or Hindu texts or even the Quran – which you casually dismiss – have as great a claim on us for blind acceptance.

        Devotion or sincerity of belief among the proponents of a text? Sorry, but I think many Scientologists trump a lot of Christians in that respect.

        Or perhaps we should apply equal scepticism to the claims of all texts? If so, I’m afraid – if you are honest and willing to begin without bias – you will find little reason to credit the gospel writers’ claims more highly than Mr. Hubbard’s.

      15. I think that most rationalists would accept the same sort of evidence that would get you to believe that fairies are true or Scientology. And why shouldn’t we require exactly that much evidence.

        There’s tons of beliefs, but only a singular truth, afterall.

      16. In real life, the Gospels represent the fabricators AKA story tellers AKA liars, the Koran represent the malicious AKA deceivers AKA criminals,and the church of Scientology represents the mentally challenged.

      17. Once again, even if there was a historical Jesus that does not mean the gospels are true accounts of his life, nor does it even hint that God exists. There were lots of Messianic preachers in the area at the time, contemporary historical accounts confirm that much, and lots of similar religions scattered across the Mediterranean at the time as well.

    4. If God is omniscient and the creator of everything and has a divine plan, free will gets flushed down the toilet.

      The concept of free will simply becomes reality playing itself out according to God’s plan, with God punishing people for doing precisely what he planned for them to do. Mysterious ways indeed.

      You can’t have free will and an all knowing creator God. You have to sacrifice it being all knowing (It can’t know the future, and therefor prophecy is bunk) or it being the creator.

      And as to the problem of suffering, there is more to it – what about suffering that is supposed to either be inflicted by God or as a direct result of God’s will? What about the problem of hell? Can your “free will” argument stand up against suffering caused by God himself?

      1. “therefor prophecy is bunk”
        Not necessarily. One interpretation is that God has a plan for how he’d like things to go but people don’t follow it. If enough things fall into place and enough people to choose to follow his will, then he can pass on confident predictions.

        I guess this argument works the other way, too. The prophet states God’s will: then sooner or later, depending on how much people choose to collaborate, it happens.

      2. You know, I don’t really get free will. It’s one of those semantic things that never really made sense to me.

        My guess is that the idea was invented when people thought the universe was deterministic. That would be around the 15th or 16th century and coincide with Calvinists and also a large number of Catholics who sympathized with them.

        The thing is, the universe, at least on a quantum scale, is NOT deterministic, and least not in any way WE can decipher–Mr. Einstein’s deeply held feelings to the contrary–and it turns out our own brains operate in part on a quantum level, generating a sort of “ordered chaos”. (I’ve seen the brain described as a strange attractor, which means you can describe a probabilistic terrain but you don’t know which neuron in particular is going to fire, and the shape is fractal. IIRC.)

        So you can’t necessarily predict how any human being is going to react in a certain situation, although I believe you can definitely lay bets, and the more you know about that person, the more refined those bets are going to be. But, like the weather, you’ll always have an error factor.

        But is this the philosopher’s free will? Au contraire! The fact that neuron A or neuron D may go off singly or together by utter chance, thus leading to a different decision down the line does not smack of the measured choice of a all-controlling ego. I’ve been told that the quantum brain is not free will at all. I’ve been told if that our minds are really just the aggregation of the firings of physical neurons then consciousness is an illusion (true) and free will is posh.

        So I leave it to the philosophers… I personally think free will is just a semantic game, unless you are talking about free will in some sort of legal sense. This doesn’t deny that we think and go through a decision-making process, but free will as some sort of imaginary escape valve from a deterministic universe (which isn’t even true) is a completely unnecessary and incoherent idea.

  8. You know, I actually have a lot of sympathy for someone like PZ to get a little more explicit than would perhaps be suitable at table, what with so many, excuse my French, fuckwits who just don’t give a shit how many people they misrepresent as long as it furthers their own agenda.

    And these are exactly the people, along with all those creationist clowns, who need to be called out on their game. That’s why PZ and Richard Dawkins are so desperately needed, because they will stand up and lead by example. Two cheers for them, I say.

  9. Epicurus disposed of the problem of evil quite easily. And Epicurus believed both in the existence of Gods and in the existence of the human soul.

    Probably the best statement of the Epicurean response to the “problem of evil” is to be found in the first book of Cicero’s De Finibus. Cicero himself was an Academic (Platonic sceptic), but he is considered an honest broker when presenting the views of other schools. But please do not take my word for it:

    The so-called “problem of evil” simply boils down to whingeing on a cosmic scale. Life is good and the universe is a good place to live. Anyone who doesn’t think so can easily end their own misery if they really wish to.

    1. Indeed, but the problem of evil is quite a bit more complex than that. After all, the Christian god is supposed to be omnipotent, omnibenevolent, and omniscient. The three attributes are irreconcilable with the existence of evil, so, at best, he can only have two of them.

    2. Epicurus was dealing with a pantheon of gods who didn’t always agree on everything and were considered on balance to be good.

      Christianity proposes a single God who is omnipotent, omnibenevolent, and omniscient. Epicurus works if you are arguing gods, but not if you are arguing God.

    3. “Life is good and the universe is a good place to live.”
      There’s some real estate on Venus I’m sure someone will be willing to sell you.

      1. Better yet, just die and come back as a woman.

        In an “Islamic paradise”.

        With a disfiguring condition like cleft palate or clubfoot.

        How’s about them apples?

  10. Brown: “Shallow, narrow, and self-righteous, he [Harris] defends and embodies all of the traits that have made organized religion repulsive.”

    Uh, no. If Brown thinks those are ALL the traits that make organized religion repulsive than he simply hasn’t understood the main points made by recent atheists like Harris. One such claim is that religions make unsupported claims and encourage people to adopt a useless epistemology like faith that has no means of differentiating between true and false claims, or good and bad ideas.

    “But [Collins] believes in God; he prays, and this is for Harris sufficient reason to exclude him from a job directing medical research.”

    No it is not. Did Brown even read Harris’ essay? How could anyone possibly conclude that Harris was criticizing Collins purely because he believes in God and prays?

    Brown must be willfully distorting Harris. I suggest a new name for the subset of faitheist, who relies on misrepresentation and lies. How about a Deceitheist?

    1. “Brown must be willfully distorting Harris. I suggest a new name for the subset of faitheist, who relies on misrepresentation and lies. How about a Deceitheist?”

      Oh, surely we can just call him a Militant Fundamentalist Faitheist. It’s not like “militant” and “fundamentalist” have any real content any more. Thanks to the faitheists, they’re just all-purpose negative adjectives for atheists you don’t like.

      1. (by “you” I mean the faitheist or theist).

        People tend to lover mockery of religion and superstition, until you start messing with the one someone has learned to feel defensive about.

  11. Why don’t those filthy nazi pigs, the New Atheists, learn just how hateful their fascist lies are?

    That was the plea for tolerance from Expelled and, apparently, Andrew Brown.

    I hope that such measured tolerance for others will receive some serious consideration from the New Atheists. After all, if Stein and Brown can be such paragons of fairness and tolerance, why can’t Coyne and Harris do likewise?

    Glen Davidson

  12. “And here he completely mischaracterizes what Harris said”

    And that (as people have already pointed out) is so typical of atheist-bashers that it would be surprising if an atheist-basher ever did characterize an atheist accurately. It’s as if they’ve all taken a Vow of Sloppiness.

    Yet somehow the onus is on atheists. Be Nicer. Be Nicer and all the believers will love science, be Nicer and all the atheist-bashers will stop telling whoppers, be Nicer and we will answer your importunate questions.

    But what we’re told to be Nicer than is precisely this inaccurate picture – so how can we even calibrate how Nice to be, much less be confident that the bashers will honor their commitments? We’re not being Nice enough now so that they will give an accurate account of our degree of Niceness – so how much farther out on the scale do we have to go before they will give an accurate account? My suspicion is that they will just keep sliding the indicator forever – that we will never be found to be Nice enough.

    So we might as well not try.

    1. I agree that atheists will probably never be seen as nice enough, but I disagree that we might as well not try. That is just giving up.

      When civil, reasonable criticism is misrepresented by people like Brown, we should point out the error. But I don’t think we should start getting mean. That just gives them what they want: an easy reason to dismiss the content.

      1. Can’t you perhaps see that there needs to be various and targeted responses?

        Depending on audience and circumstance, it might pay to answer unfair charges by merely showing how they’re wrong. At other times and places, people might think that you’re unsure of yourself and lack really compelling answers if you didn’t evince (or even affect) emotions when unfairly attacked.

        Even Ken Miller recently wrote this:

        Similarly, the blunt tactics of such folks are no reason to reject the “new atheists” as advocates for science, as Unscientific America seems to do, and as others have explicitly suggested. Scientific rationality is too important a cause to limit participation in its defense. We need each and every voice in our society to speak up for science, no exceptions.

        One could speculate on the whys behind Miller’s statement (covering his own behind, possibly? Or, indeed, not?), but I think it’s quite correct, and seems to show understanding of the value of different voices/responses.

        The truth is that we can’t be either doormats nor constantly belligerent. Some attacks don’t even provide an opening to a reasoned response, and should be called irrational nonsense. Some people, by contrats, might respond emotionally at first, but will be capable of re-thinking what they’ve stated.

        The simply moronic and dishonest should be called the simply moronic and dishonest, if in differing ways.

        Glen Davidson

      2. “I don’t think we should start getting mean.”

        Define “mean” …

        “That just gives them what they want: an easy reason to dismiss the content.”

        They don’t seem to need a reason as it is. Why would “not being mean”{ cause them to suddenly start arguing in good faith?

      3. Glen, I have tried here to call them “simply moronic and dishonest” or call an attack “irrational nonsense” but that does not work. I get called simple and then have to refute their idiot points one by one for the thirtieth time this month.

      4. Sure, NEBob, but I think it works better for bloggers.

        Sometimes you can refute some godawful lie of theirs, point out that they’re lies and/or idiots to spout that ancient BS, call them morons and dishonest, and more or less state that this is the end of it, that there’s no reason to discuss anything further with anyone that stupid and/or dishonest.

        They probably come back with more useless tripe, but I’m not reading any more, or, even if I am, it looks like they’re doing what they are doing, flailing.

        IOW, I’ve gotten better at leaving when anyone reasonable would have to realize that they’re idiots. I have to, since I can’t pour my time into raging ignorance like I have done on occasion.

        Here, well, I don’t know, it seems that Coyne doesn’t like us calling apparent morons “morons,” but he seems okay with essentially calling them liars. I have no idea why, since it seems evident to me that people who can’t think (due to native stupidity, or to studied idiocy, I barely care which) do lie, and since they’re so used to dishonesty that they remain stupid even if they could learn.

        Glen Davidson

    2. Yes, it’s pointless trying to argue ideas to someone without offending them if the ideas themselves are offensive to the person.

      This means arguing about religion just like you’d argue anything passionately, which is how the new atheists present their arguments, can help show up the ridiculous amount of special treatment religious ideas get.

    3. I think the faitheist ought to worry more about what we think of them than what they think of us.

      When you are nicer to people than they are to you, they tend to feel “entitled” to that niceness and think of you as unworthy of mutual respect.

  13. “The way to deal with superstition is not to be polite to it, but to tackle it with all arms, and so rout it, cripple it, and make it forever infamous and ridiculous. Is it, perchance, cherished by persons who should know better? Then their folly should be brought out into the light of day, and exhibited there in all its hideousness until they flee from it, hiding their heads in shame.
    True enough, even a superstitious man has certain inalienable rights. He has a right to harbor and indulge his imbecilities as long as he pleases, provided only he does not try to inflict them upon other men by force. He has a right to argue for them as eloquently as he can, in season and out of season. He has a right to teach them to his children. But certainly he has no right to be protected against the free criticism of those who do not hold them. He has no right to demand that they be treated as sacred. He has no right to preach them without challenge.”

    — H L Mencken, “Aftermath” (coverage of the Scopes Trial) The Baltimore Evening Sun, (September 14, 1925)

  14. This is not the first time someone has reduced the thoughtful details and nuance in Harris’s book and writings to sound bytes and scornful jabs.

  15. Why do the Liars for God whine so shrilly as they lie and accuse others of exhibiting all the worst traits of the goddy liars? We know they’ve been doing that for at least 2000 years; will they ever stop?

  16. “neo-strident fundamentalist rationalist neo-humanistic secular militant atheism”

    (From the comments section at Brown’s hapless blog. Yeah, that seems to sum the lot of us up best. Or so I’m told.)

  17. I am sorry that some of you have a hard time with the notion of free will, and its attendant annoyance, suffering. Some of you are even debating that their were supposedly better ways for God to set things up.

    I do not even know if it is possible for humans to talk about “setting up a different world”. We do not have the machinery to deal with those questions. As soon as we talk about different worlds that could be set up, we are using the reason that this world has given us to pass a judgement on another world that we do not inhabit. Who is to say that our perspective would be totally different from this other perspective?

    1. Okay, let’s leave off setting up the world in the first place. Let’s look at the reboot known as The Flood. An omnipotent being could have targeted humans only instead of all plants and animals. That’s a whole mess of suffering and collateral damage for the supposed sins of humans. An omniscient deity would have seen this coming and prevented it in the first place. Both of these look like pretty simple improvements on what this particular god is supposed to have done. Either this god was incompetent and cruel or has been woefully misrepresented by what so many claim is this god’s “word.”

      Or perhaps you do not believe in a literal flod as outlined in Genesis. That’s good, but then why believe anything coming from these books at all? How do you pick and choose?

    2. Err, Andrew, you still haven’t told us why free will brings about all suffering, especially in the light of natural disasters, a point which has been raised several times.

      You do not get to wave around a trite term like “free will” and expect that to settle the argument.

      And you’re definitely pushing your luck when you imply that everyone else is too stupid to understand the argument that you have yet to make!

      One less polite than I might suggest that you are debating in bad “faith”, if you’ll pardon the pun.

      1. Stuart,

        Free will really has nothing to do with ALL suffering, just the suffering propagated by objects we believe to have agency.

        I do not want to shirk the question, and will assume that you are asking why does suffering happen that is not related to agency, things like illness and natural disasters.

        Christian theology is very clear on the fact that this world is imperfect. To expect that the world should produce no suffering independent of agency actions would contradict much of our theology. We believe in the Fall.

        You see, our rationalization of suffering is not an attempt to say that suffering does not exist or that evil is an illusion. We accept the suffering and evil(or lack of good).

      2. There is no basis for all your beliefs, Andrew. All fairy tale nonsense. The “Fall” is just a really dumb idea used to control people by the clergy. That is why it is fabricated.

      3. you know, new england bob, if you follow the conversation, you will see that I am not defending the veracity of my beliefs in that response, i am just explaining how my beliefs explain the world.

      4. “…my beliefs explain the world.”

        Yeah, good job your prime reference did explaining the shape, to begin with. That would have been a revelation, but it isn’t there, for starts.

      5. The only field that explains the objective world is science. The information science uncovers is the same for everyone no matter what they’ve been indoctrinated to believe. The scientific method is the only proven method for understanding our natural world.

        The earth was round and went around the sun long before humans existed or understood this. It was the scientific method that revealed these facts to humanity… religion has never revealed anything that can be verified. It pretends to answer questions, but, instead, it causes people to stop seeking real answers.

      6. Andrew,

        Free will really has nothing to do with ALL suffering, just the suffering propagated by objects we believe to have agency…. things like illness and natural disasters.

        I do believe that a majority of Christian theologians would disagree with you on this claim.

        Christian theology is very clear on the fact that this world is imperfect. To expect that the world should produce no suffering independent of agency actions would contradict much of our theology. We believe in the Fall.

        Ah yes, the Fall.

        So suffer the innocent child who gets dragged away in a tsunami, or lay wasting away from terminal Leukemia, just because Adam and Eve couldn’t control their urges for a all-powerful magical apple. THAT is the best Christian theological explanation for the existence of agency-free suffering??? (Note, this is not a rhetorical question)

        Of course, Adam and Eve shouldn’t accept 100% of the blame, afterall God made them with the potential to seek knowledge, so He must accept some of part that blame. Right?

        That is ignoring the claim that He engineered an Eden that can so easily revert to a place full of agency-free suffering. Thus, He must have had a hand in causing these suffering on us. Right?

        And of course, surely no one is expecting a world that is perfect, to be made by a loving perfect being? That would be pure distilled illogic.

        I mean, by this evidence alone, this would make Him (a) not perfect (b) malevolent (c) indifferent (d) all of the above.

        (may I add another option (e) non-existent?)

        You see, our rationalization of suffering is not an attempt to say that suffering does not exist or that evil is an illusion. We accept the suffering and evil(or lack of good).

        Your rationalization of suffering seems to be that: suffering exist; and your God is responsible for this suffering.


      7. Andrew,

        sorry, I think I misquoted you…

        your full quote should be:

        Free will really has nothing to do with ALL suffering, just the suffering propagated by objects we believe to have agency.


  18. Andrew spews: “If God made sure that every time I raised a fist against my neighbor, my muscles failed me, then we would have no free will.”

    Are you prepared to argue that your neighbor freely wills you to raise your fist against him? Otherwise, should your imaginary friend refuse to cause your muscles to fail, he has removed your neighbor’s free will to remain unharmed by your evil in order to allow you your free will to commit evil.

    So much for that idiotic argument.

  19. No, Andrew…
    Christian theology is not clear on ANY facts.

    That’s why you all sound as crazy to a non-believer as Scientology theology sounds to you.

    1. Articulate, Science can explain nothing. If I baked a cake, it could not give an explanation for the cake. It could DESCRIBE the cake, but it cannot explain the cake.

      Many of the posters here have simply substituted science for religion, yet they are different things.

      Religion explains life, and gives purpose and meaning.

      Science simply categorizes and describes life.

      1. Andrew’s comments get stupider by the day. That first paragraph is a collection of complete and utter stupid nonsense. He gets her name wrong. He makes a stupid statement with no evidence. His analogy is meaningless.

        The second paragraph is idiotic. It has no meaning and no value, even as an English sentence.

        The third paragraph is woo dogma, again with absolutely nothing to back it up.

        The fourth paragraph – he finally got something right! Yahoo. There is a thought in that brain!

        What a waste. Pathetic.

      2. If you can not understand that science can describe a cake, yet can not explain it, this is not my problem.

        I will acknowledge, though, that I could communicate it better. I will think about how I should.

      3. Andrew,

        Thanks for the cake analogy, Andrew, but you did not even attempt address this simple claim: Theology does converge on any claims… null, nada, bupkis.

        Even the simple question of existence of Hell is not answered by any theologian to any remote degree. What is Theology good for if it can’t get this easy stuff down?

        On the other hand, you made a demonstrably false claim by saying:

        Science can explain nothing.

        Really? Nothing? Please reconsider this statemnet very carefully.


      4. Really? Science cannot explain a cake. So if I do this thing where I watch 100 Andrews cake-baking and 100 Sheilas not cake-baking, and then get a paper published describing a causal link between cake-baking and cakes, this will be bad science … how, exactly?

        Sure, causality is a dodgy concept, but in practice, we use it all the time. It’s kind of like solipcism: you just have to kick the rock and move on. So moving right along, I think I can establish on fairly firm grounds a causal link between cake-baking and cake. Heck, I could go bake a cake right now. It’s a very repeatable experiment. (Like my friend who used to throw out his dead oocytes from his potassium channel experiments, I think I will throw out collapsed centers and baking soda disasters from my results and my kitchen.)

        Where were we?

  20. Andrew,

    “Okay….a shred of evidence….

    Every honest historian believes in the historical Jesus.”

    If Christianity is true because there once was someone called Jesus, then Star Wars is true because I have a friend called Luke.

  21. Religion explains life, and gives purpose and meaning.

    Rot. Religion explains nothing; it’s just something humans invented to try and explain something they didn’t understand – hence why the supernatural was cited for things like thunder and lightning and earthquakes.

    Science showed no gods were needed for these natural phenomena, just as it can explain everything else.

    What you ‘feel’ about a cake is the way your brain reacts to the cake, and is nothing more than – to put it simply – neurochemistry. If you can show that humans can experience or ‘feel’ things without the use of their brains then present the evidence.

    Similarly, if your statement were true, those who live without religion would not have purpose and their lives wouldn’t have meaning.

    Got any evidence to back up that claim?

    1. Wowbagger, when you say religion explains nothing, you are missing an implied qualifier. What you meant to say is that religion, in your opinion, does not explain anything in a satisfactory way. Religion explains life, you just say that it is the wrong explanation.

      If I said that Grandma baked the cake because it was her grandson’s birthday, that would be an explanation. It could be that it was for her grandaughter, but it is still an explanation.

      Science has shown nothing about the supernatural. Once again, science can describe a cake, but the description of the cake does not negate the need for a baker. I mean really guys, this is a very simple analogy, we are talking about baking!

      Do I have any evidence to back up my claim that without religion, their is no purpose and meaning? Well, I define religion as the set of beliefs that give purpose and meaning, and that is pretty close to the actual webster’s definition. So, if you accept my definition then you pretty much accept that without religion their is no meaning or purpose.

      1. Here is your qualifier:

        Religion explains ABSOLUTELY nothing whatsoever.

        Science has shown nothing about the supernatural because it does not exist. It also has shown nothing about pink unicorns or orbiting teapots or Zeus or Santa Claus or any of the other imaginary gods.

        Your definition of religion to have meaning is stupid and meaningless and pathetic. Just because you say so, does not even remotely make it true.

      2. Andrew,

        You piped in with:

        Science has shown nothing about the supernatural.

        Do you know what we call supernatural concepts that can be explained by science?

        Are you ready?… It is called… the… Natural world.

        Earthquakes, diseases, viruses, chemical elements, the Earth, the oceans, the sun, the weather, the moon, morality, etc.

        All of these things once were of various supernatural origins. And now thanks to science, we have very coherent and importantly convergent explanations to all of them without using any gods and deities.

        Are you sure you want to say that “science can explain nothing”???


      3. Andrew,

        Any respect I have for you is slowly eroded by claims of cakes and bakers and then you hit me with this:

        I define religion as the set of beliefs that give purpose and meaning, and that is pretty close to the actual webster’s definition.

        please see Webster’s definition of religion:

        Lo and behold, nothing remotely about purpose or meaning… *sigh*

        Now, even if I allow your definition to stand that religion = “the set of concepts that gives us purpose and meaning”, this would mean that anything, and I mean anything, can be a religion, if just one person says that something gives them purpose and meaning.

        You are playing a game of “let’s re-define this word to fit my objective”, and you are doing it so transparently that I am, really, embarassed on behalf of you.


      4. Andrew, I can see that religion makes Tom Cruise feel his life has meaning and purpose,

        but to an outsider looking in it appears that the meaning and purpose is all in the head of the believer.

        Religion might be super duper at telling you what imaginary cake tastes like, but if I want to know anything about real cake, I’ll stick with empirical information–physical evidence. The same goes for the real world. I don’t care about the “purpose” of “imaginary cake” or how messianic your imaginary cake makes you feel.

        I would like one religionist to tell me why they think they are more coherent or why they think I should take them more seriously than Tom Cruise in this clip. Whenever woo-ists start talking about the woo they think is true, they all sound crazy to me. Andrew, I suspect you sound as crazy to most of us as Tom Cruise sounds to you in this clip. And as impenetrable– for the same reasons.

        Why oh why are woo-ists able to see the “crazy” in others, while being so blind to it in themselves? Anosognosia, I suppose. All the most virulent meme viruses cause anosognosia in the afflicted.

        I wonder if there’s any way out for one so deeply brainwashed?

        Say, Andrew, aren’t you the person who supposedly came to this Jerry’s blog beacuse you were “dying to be convinced that macroevolution was true” or have I confused you with another woo? Have you gotten your wish or were you lying from the get go?

      5. Andrew,

        Any respect I have for you is slowly eroded by claims of cakes and bakers and then you …

        What took you so long to understand, GW?

        Andrew has been spewing nonsense since his very first post.

        There is no need to be embarrassed for him. He gets his head bashed in by everyone here, every single day and everything he spews has been easily disproved and shown to be wrong. He either likes being thoroughly embarrassed or he is too ignorant to see it. Either way, just laugh at this troll.

      6. NEBob,

        What took you so long to understand, GW?

        Andrew has been spewing nonsense since his very first post.

        I think he deserves some sliver of benefit of doubt to begin with.

        As far as trolls go, he is largely non-annoying, at least he is not copying and pasting large swathe of Harum Yahya. We can give him that much credit 😉


      7. Guh… okay, the cake is an ANALOGY?


        So, this is all it comes down to: science is useless because science can’t create universes? What if science told you exactly how to create a new universe, but you needed 1000 young pulsars to complete the recipe? Does that change the analogy?

        We have incredible powers to manipulate our universe, including the power to create new elements–but you’re only satisfied with Q powers? Even better, you think Q is a god? This ought to make it clear to everyone what a silly idea a “god” is.

        Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

  22. What the hell does religion explain about the cake? What the hell does religion explain about anything? Why are there so many different religions and explanations? How can any explanation be verified.

    Religion just seems to make people incredibly confused about facts versus everything else (opinion, beliefs, feelings, mottoes, parables, myths, notions, etc.)

    Facts are the things that are the same for everybody no matter what they believe. The history of the earth is such a thing. Religion pretends to explain such things, but religions do not agree with each other. I tell my students that when they actually want to understand an objective truth (for example, the age of the earth) then scientific evidence is the way to go. You can also learn what various religions have to say about the age of the earth, but there are many different stories, none of them supported by actual evidence.

    Religion has no access to any verifiable truths. It continually makes claims that are as suspect as those of conflicting religions with no method for determining truth or correcting errors of faith.

  23. Andrew,

    Does it not resonate with you that all non-Africans came out of Africa over the past 60-or-so Kyrs or so, in three radiations that can be traced through DNA evidence? Does that not make you feel a closer kinship to everyone on the planet than to accept that you are allied with the Tribe of Abraham (or another), to the exclusion of other Tribes? Do you not find that the sooner this concept AND THE EVIDENCE FOR IT could be gotten into the heads of everyone on the planet that we would have a greater chance for world peace?

    On the one hand we live in a glorious period, basking in the knowledge (with vast supporting evidence) that the age of the earth can be counted in billions of years, of the processes that have formed it, of the creatures that have preceded us in a progression fanning out in all directions to result in the diversity of flora and fauna now present, ourselves among them, and that in this briefest of moments relative to that continuum are able to have a sense of how it all came together.

    On the other hand we still have a large percentage of our conspecifics who want to base their life entirely on literature written 1000-2000yrs ago*, many of whom believe that said literature commands them to produce as many offspring as possible – in the face of evidence from every possible angle that says that we have passed the point of having an entirely sufficient number of us on the planet. A smaller but still considerable number of the above group would/will kill members of opposite tribes for that reason alone if/when given the chance.

    One path leads to order, the other to chaos.

    When I go camping, I try to leave the campsite in better shape than when I got there. Similarly when I depart the planet, I’d like to feel that it’s in better shape than when I got here. Certainly, race relations have greatly improved in my lifetime. But the incessant drumbeat of the religious fundamentalists gives me little encouragement that a greater catastrophe isn’t waiting.

    *Some of these taking said literature as the authority that the planet is anything but maybe 5x that old, to boot.

    1. Andrew is a young earth creationist… and in my book that makes him as crazy as Scientologists whose literature teaches that the universe is over 65 trillion years old.

      (Engage such people for entertainment purposes only.)

  24. If I said that Grandma baked the cake because it was her grandson’s birthday, that would be an explanation. It could be that it was for her grandaughter, but it is still an explanation.

    What allowed you to say it was Grandma? Your brain, your mouth and everything in between.

    Again, it’s simple – show that you can take the brain out of the equation and still get Grandma then your point is valid.

    Until then you – as they say – got nothin’.

  25. “why is it that 50% of all the commenters here also comment on”
    Science cannot answer this question. Any theologians want to give it a crack?

    1. someone,

      “Science cannot answer this question. Any theologians want to give it a crack?”

      I think Theologians are having enough trouble with the existence of lucifer and the nature of god and other such wankery, to answer anything else.


  26. I posted this on Dawkins’ Web site, but I guess I should share it here too.

    I have not read Brown’s stuff before, but I automatically deduct credibility points from anyone who talks about “new,” “fundamentalist” (Huh!!!!) or “militant” atheists. It’s a product of either ignorance or merely an attack on one’s target being trying to smear them with whatever your target is attacking. (“Opposing slavery is the same as defending slavery, you militant abolitionist!”)

    He has a lot of trash there, but I will focus on one bit of nonsense. He mocks Harris for supposedly claiming: “Naturally, he also believes that the Nazis were really mere catspaws of the Christians. (“Knowingly or not, the Nazis were agents of religion”).”

    In fact, the connections between Nazism and Christianity are well-established, and they’re both broad and deep. Hitler and most of his supporters were Christians. Although Hitler was a Roman Catholic, the Nazis were mostly Protestants, with a sizable Catholic minority. Much of the alleged frictions between the Ns and Cs was actually Protestant hostility toward Catholicism. But the Vatican Concordat put the Church and its members officially on Hitler’s side and made it Theologically Correct for Catholics to be Hitler supporters, in or out of the party. Likewise, across Europe, the groups and leaders who supported Germany in WWII were overwhelmingly devout Christians. It was native Christians, not the Nazis, who rounded up and killed or deported Jews in Hungary, Romania, Serbia, Croatia, etc.

    Further, Christianity’s history and theology offer ample precedent for many things Nazis believed, or formed the background to those beliefs. (For many Aryanists, Aryan and Christian were synonymous, a belief rooted in certain aspects of Christianity. And the treatment of Jews was based upon historical Christian treatment of Jews. The yellow Star of David insignia was inspired by the consequences of the 4th Lateran Council in 1215.)

    The driving force behind the actions of rightwing authoritarian governments in Europe in the 1930s-40s (call them fascist or not, it’s irrelevant) was at least partly if not substantially on the basis of the belief that one had to be a Christian in order to be a good citizen of Hungary, Austria, Romania, Serbia, Germany, etc.

    In sum, you cannot separate Christianity from Nazism and other rightwing authoritarian movements in pre-WWII Europe because the secular and Christian beliefs/attitudes are so deeply entwined. If Brown knew the history here, he would be writing about how Hitler, Nazis and other rightwing Europeans hated atheism and vowed to exterminate it (as they defined atheism then – including church-state separation, liberalism, communism, freethinking, and, above all, those people who denied the divinity of and killed Jesus, the Jews!) Using Brown’s logic, I could make the case that he is promoting Nazism by denying its Christian and virulently anti-atheist background.

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