Re: Dawkins on Channel 4 tonight

From: Chris Taylor (
Date: Tue 17 Jan 2006 - 13:43:40 GMT

  • Next message: Kate Distin: "Religion and evidence"

    Good lord (no facetiousness intended)!

    I'd never have picked it. Not born again, but reborn eh -- and in such citical company. That deserves respect by the lorryload
    (I think I'd rather have done a Sun Dance). No wonder my release of steam was water off a duck's back! Now I get why you don't go for the faith = no proof thing. More of a god-of-the-israelites sort of thing...

    Nice cliffhanger btw -- you write thrillers on the side? I already programmed the recorder for the next episode...

    Anyway thanks for that, truly. I'll withhold the funny old world critique in anticipation of the plot's clinch.

    Yours, Whetted of Cambs. (ouch)

    Kate Distin wrote:
    > Chris Taylor wrote:
    >> Ahem (deep breath)...
    >> I'm interested in your perspective: The Dad thing (thanks btw) wasn't
    >> (I'd argue) actually formative for me in my religious rejection as it
    >> took a couple more years before I was aware enough of stuff to make a
    >> choice (I started Catholic through vertical transmission and went away
    >> from it just before I'd have been confirmed) and is some 27 years
    >> distant now; I do think though that I know roughly what my path to my
    >> own variant of screaming atheism was.
    >> It started with my being slightly alarmed by the text of the mass
    >> (once I stopped chanting and listened): Sort of like the icky feeling
    >> when one hears the root of most common nursery rhymes kids recite,
    >> which are mostly quite unpleasant (the rhymes not the kids).
    >> Narcissism (no other gods, and keep the praise coming) not that I knew
    >> the word at the time, vampirism and cannibalism (transubstantiated or
    >> not), the presence of an altar with its associations (how very OT).
    >> Then I was probably like most in that I saw a lot of 'evil' as I
    >> watched more news. The death knell came with things like the
    >> mistranslations in the bible, the range of qualitatively different
    >> faiths and of course science. Evolutionary biology (my thing once upon
    >> a time) has a history that starts with clerics and ends with loads of
    >> atheists :D
    >> Anyway I wonder what confirmed and sustains your faith in the face of
    >> what made me so very different in outlook? This is by definition
    >> probably quite personal but if you can sanitise it I'd feel privileged
    >> to hear it as you are clearly in possesion of well-developed critical
    >> faculties.
    >> Btw I didn't misunderstand I don't think, but I was already building
    >> up a nice head of steam and so wasn't so clear myself: I am genuinely
    >> intrigued by what gets under the wire as not absolute (objective
    >> scientific) proof in the sense of God on TV saying 'Chris start saying
    >> I rock or you're in for an eternity of fire boyo' but yet is more than
    >> gut conviction or a response to the possibility of god? I'm repeating
    >> the above request essentially.
    >> Cheers, Chris.
    > Ok - I don't know whether you'd classify what follows as "sanitised",
    > but this is my background.
    > [Note added later: this is a pretty long post. It really is just about
    > my history. Don't plough through it if you're looking for stuff about
    > religious evidence. I'll do a separate post after, about that.]
    > My Dad's an atheist and Mum not really anything. They never went to
    > church. We moved around a lot but always the village schools were
    > Church of England so I got the odd Harvest Festival and Bible story
    > thrown in; but that was about it, really.
    > Then I boarded in my late teens and had to go to church every Sunday I
    > was at school. I loathed it. There were bits of the Communion service
    > I could not bring myself to say (the bits about not being worthy to
    > gather up the crumbs under God's table, etc.) I took O level Religious
    > Education, which actually was mostly ethics with a few bits of Scripture
    > for decoration, and spent the entire course in fierce debate with the
    > school Chaplain, who taught it. I could not believe that someone as
    > bright and sensible as him could *really* believe this stuff. I felt
    > the same about my best friend at school, a devout Christian who ended up
    > at Oxford University and is now a barrister. How could people so
    > intelligent turn a blind eye to the facts in this way? At about this
    > time I first read The Selfish Gene, and was so embedded in my own
    > atheism that I didn't even notice it in Dawkins's writing.
    > At Cambridge I became even more embedded in my views. Christian Union
    > members didn't help, lurking around every corner in the hope of a
    > conversion. (That is seriously unfair, in retrospect, and frankly I
    > didn't bring much joy to their lives either. But it was how it felt at
    > the time.) Afterwards I ended up in the Philosophy Department at
    > Sheffield, doing an MA and then PhD, and as we all know Philosophy depts
    > are bastions of atheism. I felt very much at home.
    > Then, partway through my MA, I had a bit of a personal crisis. Other
    > people's crises are never as interesting as they think they are, so I'll
    > refrain from the gory details. The relevant bit to this story is that,
    > in a moment of sheer desperation, I prayed about it - to what, to whom,
    > I didn't know, but I was pretty desperate. (This may seem pretty
    > feeble, given how I've described my atheism; but desperate times call
    > for desperate and apparently even shameful measures.) And then, shock
    > horror, it *seemed* that my prayer was answered.
    > Now, shock horror really is how I felt. I was apalled. I admitted it
    > to nobody. But I had to admit to myself that something had happened
    > which, if I was really serious about being open-minded and seeking the
    > truth, I could not ignore. Tentatively, I prayed again - and again
    > there was either a huge coincidence of timing or the prayer was answered.
    > So I thought it was time to find out which it had been: coincidence or
    > answer. I'm not very good at doing things half-heartedly, so I began to
    > look into this Christianity thing in some detail. I talked to Christian
    > friends; read literature written by Christian writers including
    > scientists who are Christians; read John's Gospel for the first time. I
    > already knew the arguments *against* religion - you can't study
    > philosophy for any time and not! - but I realised that I just wasn't
    > familiar enough with what Christianity said to know about the arguments
    > in its favour. I also subsequently looked into lots of the other world
    > religions (I taught multi-faith RE for a while, after my PhD). I read
    > some bible study notes that encouraged the reader to pray at the end of
    > each reading. I tried a couple of church services, and talked to the
    > clergy afterwards (was that 'talked to' or 'interrogated'?).
    > Throughout this time I decided that I had to consider myself on the
    > fence, religiously speaking. I wasn't prepared to ditch my atheism on
    > the basis of one answered prayer/coincidence. I did the rational thing
    > and retained my faith in it, you might say, while I investigated this
    > new piece of evidence. I continued to read the anti-theist literature,
    > too; and to talk to other atheists - mostly philosophers, but some
    > scientists - about this stuff.
    > And then there came a day when I knew I had to get down off the fence.
    > It was a complete bloody nightmare. All these years I had been so
    > publicly, so definitively, so rabidly atheist. What would my Dad say?
    > My friends? Oohhh - groan - my fellow philosophers? But either God
    > exists or he doesn't. The claims of Christianity are true or they
    > aren't. I had to come to a conclusion at some point, and really by now
    > I knew what it was. So I made my decision. I came out about it. Peals
    > of laughter rang out around the Philosophy deparment. Life went on.
    > And the evidence that convinced me? I'll stick it in a separate post,
    > as I said above. This is much too long already.
    > Kate
    > ===============================================================
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