Every night of our lives, we dream, and our brain concocts visions which are, at least until we wake up, highly convincing. Most of us have had experiences which are verging on hallucination. It shows the power of the brain to knock up illusions.
The Bible should be taught, but emphatically not as reality. It is fiction, myth, poetry, anything but reality. As such it needs to be taught because it underlies so much of our literature and our culture.
We are a unique ape. We have language. Other animals have systems of communication that fall far short of that. They don't have the same ability to communicate complicated conditionals and what-ifs and talk about things that are not present.
It's a horrible idea that God, this paragon of wisdom and knowledge, power, couldn't think of a better way to forgive us our sins than to come down to Earth in his alter ego as his son and have himself hideously tortured and executed so that he could forgive himself.
Design can never be an ultimate explanation for anything. It can only be a proximate explanation. A plane or a car is explained by a designer but that's because the designer himself, the engineer, is explained by natural selection.
We frequently look into the future of mankind and see dangers. We see if we carry on doing what we are doing in 20 years' time there will be no rainforests left, just to use one example. Looking into the future may be one of the reasons that brains evolved in the first place.
I am one of those scientists who feels that it is no longer enough just to get on and do science. We have to devote a significant proportion of our time and resources to defending it from deliberate attack from organised ignorance.
Even if you believe a creator god invented the laws of physics, would you so insult him as to suggest that he might capriciously and arbitrarily violate them in order to walk on water, or turn water into wine as a cheap party trick at a wedding?
I was brought up in a family which valued natural history. Both my parents knew the names of all the British wildflowers, so as we went walking the country, I was constantly being exposed to a natural history sort of knowledge.
The obvious objections to the execution of Saddam Hussein are valid and well aired. His death will provoke violent strife between Sunni and Shia Muslims, and between Iraqis in general and the American occupation forces.
Of course, we would love to know more about the exact moment of Big Bang, but interposing an outside intelligence does nothing to add to that knowledge, as we still know nothing about the creation of that intelligence.
The very large brain that humans have, plus the things that go along with it - language, art, science - seemed to have evolved only once. The eye, by contrast, independently evolved 40 times. So, if you were to 'replay' evolution, the eye would almost certainly appear again, whereas the big brain probably wouldn't.
But perhaps the rest of us could have separate classes in science appreciation, the wonder of science, scientific ways of thinking, and the history of scientific ideas, rather than laboratory experience.
Science has taught us, against all intuition, that apparently solid things like crystals and rocks are really almost entirely composed of empty space. And the familiar illustration is the nucleus of an atom is a fly in the middle of a sports stadium, and the next atom is in the next sports stadium.
I think the written word is probably the best medium of communication because you have time to reflect, you have time to choose your words, to get your sentences exactly right. Whereas when you're being interviewed, say, you have to talk on the fly, you have to improvise, you can change sentences around, and they're not exactly right.
In the 1920s and 1930s, scientists from both the political left and right would not have found the idea of designer babies particularly dangerous - though, of course, they would not have used that phrase.
The psychologist Elizabeth Loftus has shown great courage, in the face of spiteful vested interests, in demonstrating how easy it is for people to concoct memories that are entirely false but which seem, to the victim, every bit as real as true memories.
I think there is a sort of box-ticking mentality. Not just in the teaching profession. You hear about it in medicine and nursing. It's a lawyer-driven insistence on meeting prescribed standards rather than just being a good doctor.
I suppose if you look back to your early childhood you accept everything people tell you, and that includes a heavy dose of irrationality - you're told about tooth fairies and Father Christmas and things.
The central dogma of the New Testament is that Jesus died as a scapegoat for the sin of Adam and the sins that all we unborn generations might have been contemplating in the future. Adam's sin is perhaps mitigated by the extenuating circumstance that he didn't exist.
I think that people in the Bible Belt are far less monolithically religious than many people imagine. There are lots and lots of people who are free-thinking, secularists, or atheists in the so-called Bible Belt.
My eyes are constantly wide open to the extraordinary fact of existence. Not just human existence, but the existence of life and how this breathtakingly powerful process, which is natural selection, has managed to take the very simple facts of physics and chemistry and build them up to redwood trees and humans.
An Internet meme is a hijacking of the original idea. Instead of mutating by random change and spreading by a form of Darwinian selection, Internet memes are altered deliberately by human creativity. There is no attempt at accuracy of copying, as with genes - and as with memes in their original version.
In the original introduction to the word meme in the last chapter of 'The Selfish Gene,' I did actually use the metaphor of a 'virus.' So when anybody talks about something going viral on the Internet, that is exactly what a meme is, and it looks as though the word has been appropriated for a subset of that.
I think looking back to my own childhood, the fact that so many of the stories I read allowed the possibility of frogs turning into princes, whether that has a sort of insidious affect on rationality, I'm not sure. Perhaps it's something for research.
Even if 'going retrograde' or 'moving into Aquarius' were real phenomena, something that planets actually do, what influence could they possibly have on human events? A planet is so far away that its gravitational pull on a new-born baby would be swamped by the gravitational pull of the doctor's paunch.
I mean I think that when you've got a big brain, when you find yourself planted in a world with a brain big enough to understand quite a lot of what you see around you, but not everything, you naturally fall to thinking about the deep mysteries. Where do we come from? Where does the world come from? Where does the universe come from?
The reason we personify things like cars and computers is that just as monkeys live in an arboreal world and moles live in an underground world and water striders live in a surface tension-dominated flatland, we live in a social world.
Any teaching of falsehoods in science classes should certainly be identified and stopped by school inspectors. School inspectors should be looking at science teachings to make sure they are evidence-based science.
If you were to actually travel around schools and universities and listen in on lectures about evolution, you might find a fairly substantial fraction of young people, without knowing what it is they disapprove of, think they disapprove of it, because they've been brought up to.
There are quite a lot of YouTube clips of me that have gone viral. One that I think of is of a young woman at a lecture I was giving - she came from Liberty University, which is a ludicrous religious institution. She said, 'What if you are wrong?' and I answered that rather briefly, and that's gone viral.
I didn't know children were expected to have literary heroes, but I certainly had one, and I even identified with him at one time: Doctor Dolittle, whom I now half identify with the Charles Darwin of Beagle days.
We humans are an extremely important manifestation of the replication bomb, because it is through us - through our brains, our symbolic culture and our technology - that the explosion may proceed to the next stage and reverberate through deep space.
I'm fond of science fiction. But not all science fiction. I like science fiction where there's a scientific lesson, for example - when the science fiction book changes one thing but leaves the rest of science intact and explores the consequences of that. That's actually very valuable.
There are people who try to get atheists to form a sort of atheist church and have atheist community singsongs and things. I don't see the need for that, but if people want to do it, why shouldn't they?
When you make machines that are capable of obeying instructions slavishly, and among those instructions are 'duplicate me' instructions, then of course the system is wide open to exploitation by parasites.
It is interesting - you find in the United States, there is a kind of anti-education hostility. It's the sort of Sarah Palin constituency which does seem to actually be hostile to the New York, Boston, San Francisco educated elite. You know, 'We good plain folks from the middle of the country are just as good as you pointy-headed intellectuals.'
A universe with a God would look quite different from a universe without one. A physics, a biology where there is a God is bound to look different. So the most basic claims of religion are scientific. Religion is a scientific theory.
Secularism is categorically not saying that the religious may not speak out publicly or have a say in public life. It is about saying that religion alone should not confer a privileged say in public life, or greater influence on it. It really is as simple as that.
Show me a cultural relativist at 30,000 feet and I'll show you a hypocrite ... If you are flying to an international congress of anthropologists or literary critics, the reason you will probably get there - the reason you don't plummet into a ploughed field - is that a lot of Western scientifically trained engineers have got their sum right.
If the history-deniers who doubt the fact of evolution are ignorant of biology, those who think the world began less than ten thousand years ago are worse than ignorant, they are deluded to the point of perversity. They are denying not only the facts of biology but those of physics, geology, cosmology, archaeology, history and chemistry as well.
The Bible should be taught, but emphatically not as reality. It is fiction, myth, poetry, anything but reality. As such it needs to be taught because it underlies so much of our literature and our culture."
More poignant for us, at Laetoli in Tanzania are the companionable footprints of three real hominids, probably Australopithecus afarensis, walking together 3.6 million years ago in what was then fresh volcanic ash. Who does not wonder what these individuals were to each other, whether they held hands or even talked, and what forgotten errand they shared in a Pliocene dawn?"
Alister McGrath has now written two books with my name in the title. The poet W. B. Yeats, when asked to say something about bad poets who made a living by parasitizing him, wrote the splendid line, 'was there ever dog that praised his fleas?"
To be fair, much of the Bible is not systematically evil but just plain weird, as you would expect of a chaotically cobbled-together anthology of disjointed documents, composed, revised, translated, distorted and 'improved' by hundreds of anonymous authors, editors and copyists, unknown to us and mostly unknown to each other, spanning nine centuries"
It is fashionable to wax apocalyptic about the threat to humanity posed by the AIDS virus, "mad cow" disease, and many others, but I think a case can be made that faith is one of the world's great evils, comparable to the smallpox virus but harder to eradicate.
If any remedy is tested under controlled scientific conditions and proved to be effective, it will cease to be alternative and will simply become medicine. So-called alternative medicine either hasn't been tested or it has failed its tests.
Let us try to teach generosity and altruism, because we are born selfish. Let us understand what our own selfish genes are up to, because we may then at least have the chance to upset their designs, something that no other species has ever aspired to do.
Isn't it a remarkable coincidence almost everyone has the same religion as their parents ? And it always just happens to be the right religion. Religions run in families. If we'd been brought up in ancient Greece we would all be worshiping Zeus and Apollo. If we had been born Vikings we would be worshiping Wotan and Thor. How does this come about ? Through childhood indoctrination.
To be fair, much of the Bible is not systematically evil but just plain weird, as you would expect of a chaotically cobbled-together anthology of disjointed documents, composed, revised, translated, distorted and 'improved' by hundreds of anonymous authors, editors and copyists, unknown to us and mostly unknown to each other, spanning nine centuries
And the beauty of the anthropic principle is that it tells us, against all intuition, that a chemical model need only predict that life will arise on one planet in a billion billion to give us a good and entirely satisfying explanation for the presence of life here.
I have found it an amusing strategy, when asked whether I am an atheist, to point out that the questioner is also an atheist when considering Zeus, Apollo, Amon Ra, Mithras, Baal, Thor, Wotan, the Golden Calf and the Flying Spaghetti Monster. I just go one god further.
Aquarius is a miscellaneous set of stars all at different distances from us, which have no connection with each other except that they constitute a (meaningless) pattern when seen from a certain (not particularly special) place in the galaxy (here).
The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.
Luke [the gospel writer] screws up his dating by tactlessly mentioning events that historians are capable of independently checking. There was indeed a census under Governor Quirinius - a local census, not one decreed by Caesar Augustus for the Empire as a whole - but it happened too late in 6 AD, long after Herod's death.
bad things, like good things don't happen any more often than they ought to by chance. the universe has no mind, no feelings, and no personality, so it doesn't do things in order to either hurt or please you. bad things happen because things happen.
I am very hostile to religion because it is enormously dominant, especially in American life. And I don't buy the argument that, well, it's harmless. I think it is harmful, partly because I care passionately about what's true.
I think the important thing to learn is that we can retain a sentimental loyalty to the cultural and literary traditions of, say, Judaism, Anglicanism or Islam, and even participate in religious rituals such as marriages and funerals, without buying into the supernatural beliefs that historically went along with those traditions. We can give up belief in God while not losing touch with a treasured heritage.
Nature is not cruel, only pitilessly indifferent. This is one of the hardest lessons for humans to learn. We cannot admit that things might be neither good nor evil, neither cruel nor kind, but simply callous-indifferent to all suffering, lacking all purpose.
An atheist is just somebody who feels about Yahweh the way any decent Christian feels about Thor or Baal or the golden calf. We are all atheists about most of the gods that humanity has ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further.
I believe that an orderly universe, one indifferent to human preoccupations, in which everything has an explanation even if we still have a long way to go before we find it, is a more beautiful, more wonderful place than a universe tricked out with capricious ad hoc magic.
Chaos theory, a more recent invention, is equally fertile ground for those with a bent for abusing sense. It is unfortunately named, for 'chaos' implies randomness. Chaos in the technical sense is not random at all. It is completely determined, but it depends hugely, in strangely hard-to-predict ways, on tiny differences in initial conditions.
Cheetah genes cooperate with cheetah genes but not with camel genes, and vice versa. This is not because cheetah genes, even in the most poetic sense, see any virtue in the preservation of the cheetah species. They are not working to save the cheetah from extinction like some molecular World Wildlife Fund.
Cloning may be good and it may be bad. Probably it's a bit of both. The question must not be greeted with reflex hysteria but decided quietly, soberly and on its own merits. We need less emotion and more thought.
Thus the creationist's favourite question "What is the use of half an eye?" Actually, this is a lightweight question, a doddle to answer. Half an eye is just 1 per cent better than 49 per cent of an eye.
I think by the age of about nine I recognized that there were a lot of different religions, and it was an accident I happened to be born into one of them. If I had been born somewhere else, I would have had a different one. Which is a pretty good lesson, actually. Everyone should learn that.
Scientists disagree among themselves but they never fight over their disagreements. They argue about evidence or go out and seek new evidence. Much the same is true of philosophers, historians and literary critics.
Explaining is a difficult art. You can explain something so that your reader understands the words; and you can explain something so that the reader feels it in the marrow of his bones. To do the latter, it sometimes isn't enough to lay the evidence before the reader in a dispassionate way. You have to become an advocate and use the tricks of the advocate's trade.
Indeed, organizing atheists has been compared to herding cats, because they tend to think independently and will not conform to authority. But a good first step would be to build up a critical mass of those willing to 'come out,' thereby encouraging others to do so. Even if they can't be herded, cats in sufficient numbers can make a lot of noise and they cannot be ignored.
[The Internet] is by far the most important innovation in the media in my lifetime. It's like having a huge encyclopedia permanently available. There's a tremendous amount of rubbish on the world wide web, but retrieval of what you want to so rapid that it doesn't really matter
Most people, I believe, think that you need a God to explain the existence of the world, and especially the existence of life. They are wrong, but our education system is such that many people don't know it.
The take-home message is that we should blame religion itself, not religious extremism - as though that were some kind of terrible perversion of real, decent religion. Voltaire got it right long ago: 'Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.' So did Bertrand Russell: 'Many people would sooner die than think. In fact they do.
It is an absurd law [Section 295A of the Indian penal code] but also extremely dangerous because it gives fanatics, whether they are Hindus, Catholics or Muslims, a licence to be offended. It also allows people who are in dispute with you to make up false accusations of blasphemy.
Bertrand Russell used a hypothetical teapot in orbit about Mars for the same didactic purpose. You have to be agnostic about the teapot, but that doesn't mean you treat the likelihood of its existence as being on all fours with its non-existence.
They are in you and me; they created us, body and mind; and their preservation is the ultimate rationale for our existence. They have come a long way, those replicators. Now they go by the name of genes, and we are their survival machines.
In true natural selection, if a body has what it takes to survive, its genes automatically survive because they are inside it. So the genes that survive tend to be, automatically, those genes that confer on bodies the qualities that assist them to survive.
The present Luddism over genetic engineering may die a natural death as the computer-illiterate generation is superseded.... I fear that, if the green movement's high-amplitude warnings over GMOs turn out to be empty, people will be dangerously disinclined to listen to other and more serious warnings.
I like to think 'The God Delusion' is a humorous book. I think, actually, it's full of laughs. And people who describe it as a polarizing book or as an aggressive book, it's just that very often they haven't read it.
I need to learn not to bend over backwards to be nice to faith-heads. Give these people an inch and they take a league. I think, as I did when I wrote The God Delusion, that the Roman Catholic Church is a disgusting institution, the second most evil religion in the world.
There is no reason for believing that any sort of gods exist, and quite good reasons for believing that they do not exist and never have. It has all been a gigantic waste of time and a waste of life. It would be a joke of cosmic proportions if it weren't so tragic.
In other words Luke's story is historically impossible and internally inconsistent. He lied to fudge the fulfillment of Micah's prophesy and to provide a villain to play off Jesus in his fictitious drama. Matter flows from place to place and momentarily comes together to be you. Some people find that thought disturbing. I find the reality thrilling.
My last vestige of 'hands off religion' respect disappeared in the smoke and choking dust of September 11th 2001, followed by the 'National Day of Prayer,' when prelates and pastors did their tremulous Martin Luther King impersonations and urged people of mutually incompatible faiths to hold hands, united in homage to the very force that caused the problem in the first place.
More poignant for us, at Laetoli in Tanzania are the companionable footprints of three real hominids, probably Australopithecus afarensis, walking together 3.6 million years ago in what was then fresh volcanic ash. Who does not wonder what these individuals were to each other, whether they held hands or even talked, and what forgotten errand they shared in a Pliocene dawn?
Anybody who objects to cloning on principle has to answer to all the identical twins in the world who might be insulted by the thought that there is something offensive about their very existence. Clones are simply identical twins.
What lies at the heart of every living thing is not a fire, not warm breath, not a 'spark of life.' It is information, words, instructions... If you want to understand life, don't think about vibrant, throbbing gels and oozes, think about information technology.
Isaac Asimov's remark about the infantilism of pseudoscience is just as applicable to religion: 'Inspect every piece of pseudoscience and you will find a security blanket, a thumb to suck, a skirt to hold.' It is astonishing, moreover, how many people are unable to understand that 'X is comforting' does not imply 'X is true'.
Or why it is acceptable to train fast runners and high jumpers but not to breed them. I can think of some answers, and they are good ones, which would probably end up persuading me. But hasn't the time come when we should stop being frightened even to put the question?
Evolution is a fact, as securely established as any in science, and he who denies it betrays woeful ignorance and lack of education, which likely extends to other fields as well. Evolution is not some recondite backwater of science, ignorance of which would be pardonable. It is the stunningly simple but elegant explanation of our very existence and the existence of every living creature on the planet.
The Virgin Birth, the Resurrection, the raising of Lazarus, even the Old Testament miracles, all are freely used for religious propaganda, and they are very effective with an audience of unsophisticates and children
Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper, distinctly heard the voice of Jesus telling him to kill women, and he was locked up for life. George W. Bush says that God told him to invade Iraq (a pity God didn't vouchsafe him a revelation that there were no weapons of mass destruction).
Just because science can't in practice explain things like the love that motivates a poet to write a sonnet, that doesn't mean that religion can. It's a simple and logical fallacy to say, 'If science can't do something therefore religion can.'
Evolution has no long-term goal. There is no long-distance target, no final perfection to serve as a criterion for selection, although human vanity cherishes the absurd notion that our species is the final goal of evolution.
It is time to stop the mealy-mouthed euphemisms: 'Nationalists', 'Loyalists', 'Communities', 'Ethnic Groups', 'Cultures', 'Civilizations'. Religions is the word you need. Religions is the word you are struggling hypocritially to avoid.
What has 'theology' ever said that is of the smallest use to anybody? When has 'theology' ever said anything that is demonstrably true and is not obvious? What makes you think that 'theology' is a subject at all?
The trouble with conspiracies, even those that are to everybody's advantage in the long run, is that they are open to abuse. If manipulators really had the powers claimed, they could win the lottery every week. I prefer to point out that they could also win a Nobel Prize for discovering fundamental physical forces hitherto unknown to science
It is immoral to brand children with religion. 'This is a Catholic child.' 'That is a Muslim child.' I want everyone to flinch when they hear such a phrase, just as they would if they heard, 'That is a Marxist child.'
When you plant a fertile meme in my mind you literally parasitize my brain, turning it into a vehicle for the meme's propagation in just the way that a virus may parasitize the genetic mechanism of a host cell.
I became a little alarmed at the number of my readers who took the meme more positively as a theory of human culture in its own right - either to criticize it (unfairly, given my original modest intention) or to carry it far beyond the limits of what I then thought justified. This was why I may have seemed to backtrack.
Time and again, my sociobiological colleagues have upbraided me as a turncoat, because I will not agree with them that the ultimate criterion for the success of a meme must be its contribution to Darwinian "fitness". At bottom, they insist, a "good meme" spreads because brains are receptive to it, and the receptiveness of brains is ultimately shaped by (genetic) natural selection.
The machine code of the genes is uncannily computer-like. Apart from differences in jargon, the pages of a molecular biology journal might be interchanged with those of a computer engineering journal.
The mob hysteria over pedophiles has reached epidemic proportions and driven parents to panic. Today's Just Williams, today's Huck Finns, today's Swallows and Amazons are deprived of the freedom to roam that was one of the delights of childhood in earlier times (when the actual, as opposed to the perceived, risk of molestation was probably no less).
The word 'mundane' has come to mean 'boring' and 'dull', and it really shouldn't - it should mean the opposite. Because it comes from the latin mundus, meaning 'the world'. And the world is anything but dull: The world is wonderful. There's real poetry in the real world. Science is the poetry of reality.
The alternative which I favor is to renounce all euphemisms and grasp the nettle of the word atheism itself, precisely because it is a taboo word carrying frissons of hysterical phobia. Critical mass may be harder to achieve than with some non-confrontational euphemism, but if we did achieve it with the dread word atheist, the political impact would be all the greater.
The odd thing about tradition is, the longer it's been going, the more people seem to take it seriously - as though sheer passage of time makes something which to begin with was just made up, turns it into what people believe as a fact.
We admit that we are like apes, but we seldom realise that we are apes. Our common ancestor with the chimpanzees and gorillas is much more recent than their common ancestor with the Asian apes--the gibbons and orangutans. There is no natural category that includes chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans but excludes humans.
The popularity of the paranormal, oddly enough, might even be grounds for encouragement. I think that the appetite for mystery, the enthusiasm for that which we do not understand, is healthy and to be fostered. It is the same appetite which drives the best of true science, and it is an appetite which true science is best qualified to satisfy.
It really comes down to parsimony, economy of explanation. It is possible that your car engine is driven by psychokinetic energy, but if it looks like a petrol engine, smells like a petrol engine and performs exactly as well as a petrol engine, the sensible working hypothesis is that it is a petrol engine.
If you don't understand how something works, never mind: just give up and say God did it. You don't know how the nerve impulse works? Good! You don't understand how memories are laid down in the brain? Excellent! Is photosynthesis a bafflingly complex process? Wonderful! Please don't go to work on the problem, just give up, and appeal to God.
As my colleague, the physical chemist Peter Atkins, puts it, we must be equally agnostic about the theory that there is a teapot in orbrit around the planet Pluto. We can't disprove it. But that doesn't mean the theory that there is a teapot is on level terms with the theory that there isn't.
You could give Aristotle a tutorial and you could thrill him to the core of his being. Aristotle was an encyclopedic polymath, an all time intellect, yet not only can you know more than him about the world, you also can have a deeper understanding of how everything works. Such is the privilege of living after Newton, Darwin, Einstein, Planck, Watson, Crick and their colleagues.
I think that a new kind of replicator has recently emerged on this very planet. It is staring us in the face. It is still in its infancy, still drfiting clumsily about in its primeval soup, but already it is achieving evolutionary change at a rate which leaves the old gene panting far behind.
Saddam Hussein's mind would have been a unique resource for historical, political and psychological research: a resource that is now forever unavailable to scholars... In a small way his execution represents a wanton and vandalistic destruction of important research data.
Science may be weird and incomprehensible--more weird and less comprehensible than any theology--but science works. It gets results. It can fly you to Saturn, slingshotting you around Venus and Jupiter on the way. We may not understand quantum theory (heaven knows, I don't), but a theory that predicts the real world to ten decimal places cannot in any straightforward sense be wrong.
My objection to supernatural beliefs is precisely that they miserably fail to do justice to the sublime grandeur of the real world. They represent a narrowing-down from reality, an impoverishment of what the real world has to offer.
If it's really true, that the museum at Liberty University has dinosaur fossils which are labelled as being 3000 years old, then that is an educational disgrace. It is debauching the whole idea of a university, and I would strongly encourage any members of Liberty University who may be here... to leave and go to a proper university.
[R]eductionism' is one of those things, like sin, that is only mentioned by people who are against it. To call oneself a reductionist will sound, in some circles, a bit like admitting to eating babies. But, just as nobody actually eats babies, so nobody is really a reductionist in any sense worth being against.
Religious faith, is a state of mind, that leads people to believe in something, it doesn't matter what, without a whisper of doubt, or a whiff of evidence, and believe so strongly in some cases, that they are prepare to kill and die for it, without the need for further justification.
It is interesting to ask whether there's any general reason why being religious might make you do nice things or indeed nasty things. It's possible that people do nice things because they're religious. One reason might be they're hoping for a reward in Heaven, which is not a very noble reason.
One of the possible reasons why we might be good is that we're frightened, frightened of God. We want the reward in Heaven, we don't want to go to Hell. That would be an ignoble, ignominious reason for being good, and I think that if anybody was good to you just because they hoped for a heavenly reward, you wouldn't respect them, you'd probably give them a wide berth.
Such is the breathtaking speciesism of our Christian-inspired attitudes, the abortion of a single human zygote can arouse more moral solicitude and righteous indignation than the vivasection of any number of intelligent adult chimpanzees! The only reason we can be comfortable with such a double standard is that the intermediates between humans and chimps are all dead.
The Roman Catholic Church is an institution for whose gains the phrase "ill-gotten" might have been specially invented. And of all its money-making rip-offs, the selling of indulgences must surely rank among the greatest con tricks in history, the medieval equivalent of the Nigerian Internet scam but far more successful.
That scientifically savvy philosopher Daniel Dennett pointed out that evolution counters one of the oldest ideas we have: 'the idea that it takes a big fancy smart thing to make a lesser thing. I call that the trickle-down theory of creation.
Why would an all-powerful creator decide to plant his carefully crafted species on islands and continents in exactly the appropriate pattern to suggest, irresistibly, that they had evolved and dispersed from the site of their evolution?
Despite the Great Chain of Being's traditional ranking of humans between animals and angels, there is no evolutionary justification for the common assumption that evolution is somehow 'aimed' at humans, or that humans are 'evolution's last word'.
All life, all intelligence, all creativity and all 'design' anywhere in the universe, is the direct or indirect product of Darwinian natural selection. It follows that design comes late in the universe, after a period of Darwinian evolution. Design cannot precede evolution and therefore cannot underlie the universe.
Evolutionary psychologists suggest that, just as the eye is an evolved organ for seeing, and the wing an evolved organ for flying, so the brain is a collection of organs (or 'modules') for dealing with a set of specialist data-processing needs.
Creationists eagerly seek a gap in present-day knowledge or understanding. If an apparent gap is found, it is assumed that God, by default, must fill it. What worries thoughtful theologians such as Bonhoeffer is that gaps shrink as science advances, and God is threatened with eventually having nothing to do and nowhere to hide.
We are talking about a bet, remember, and Pascal wasn't claiming that his wager enjoyed anything but very long odds. Would you bet on God's valuing dishonestly faked belief (or even honest belief) over honest scepticism?
The true scientific understanding of the nature of existence is so utterly fascinating; how could you not want people to share it? Carl Sagan, I think, said 'when you're in love, you want to tell the world.' And who, on understanding a scientific view of reality, would not, as it were, fall in love and want to tell the world.
By all means let's be open-minded, but not so open-minded that our brains drop out. -this quote is actually found in Carl Sagan's book The Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, where he attributes it to engineer James Oberg, who says he stole it from someone else.
If the universe were just electrons and selfish genes, meaningless tragedies ... are exactly what we should expect, along with equally meaningless good fortune. Such a universe would be neither evil nor good in intention ... The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.
What you cannot have is a gene that sacrifices itself for the benefit of other genes. What you can have is a gene that makes organisms sacrifice themselves for other organisms under the influence of selfish genes.
Everybody is an atheist in saying that there is a god - from Ra to Shiva - in which he does not believe. All that the serious and objective atheist does is to take the next step and to say that there is just one more god to disbelieve in.
There is economics in biology, nothing is free, everything has to be paid for, there are costs as well as benefits to everything in life, for example, there was never sufficient natural selection pressure to develop better eyes, individuals could earn other things like smiley smiles rather than waste energy & time on better eyes ...
The fact that life evolved out of nearly nothing, some 10 billion years after the universe evolved out of literally nothing, is a fact so staggering that I would be mad to attempt words to do it justice.
Leaders who forbid their followers to use effective contraceptive methods ... express a preference for "natural" methods of population limitation, and a natural method is exactly what they are going to get. It is called starvation.
It's known that stress gives rise to disease. It's also known that many diseases, especially stress-related diseases, can be cured by placebos - pills that have no medicinal effect, but people think they do, and so they do.
My untidy habits drive me to follow the slash-and-burn principle. Work on a virgin table until the mess becomes unbearable, then move on to a clean table in a clean room - or, on a beautiful summer day like this, one of the five tables dotted around the garden. Trash that table and move on again.
Gould carried the art of bending over backward to positively supine lengths. Why shouldn't we comment on God, as scientists? ... A universe with a creative superintendent would be a very different kind of universe from one without. Why is that not a scientific matter?
I hope nobody is seriously suggesting that we get our morals from scripture because if we did we'd be stoning people for working on the Sabbath or switching on a light on the Sabbath. So the point is that you can find good bits of the Bible but you have to cherry-pick, you have reject the nasty bits and pick the nice bits.
Part of the appeal was that Medawar was not only a Nobel Laureate, but he seemed like a Nobel Laureate; he was everything one thought a Nobel Laureate ought to be. If you have ever wondered why scientists like Popper, try Medawar's exposition. Actually most Popperian scientists have probably never tried reading anything but Medawar's exposition.
The human psyche has two great sicknesses: the urge to carry vendetta across generations, and the tendency to fasten group labels on people rather than see them as individuals. Abrahamic religion gives strong sanction to both-and mixes explosively with both. Only the willfully blind could fail to implicate the divisive force of religion in most, if not all, of the violent enmities in the world today.
It's a flaw in our argument, for sure. By any reading of evolutionary theory, creationists ought to have died out ages ago. They serve no function in the planet's ecosystem, and no other species has survived so long while in such fundamental disagreement with observable reality. If I wasn't such an ardent believer in secular materialism, I'd wager this is really troubling Darwin in the afterlife.
Certainly I see the scientific view of the world as incompatible with religion, but that is not what is interesting about it. It is also incompatible with magic, but that also is not worth stressing. What is interesting about the scientific world view is that it is true, inspiring, remarkable and that it unites a whole lot of phenomena under a single heading.
Alister McGrath has now written two books with my name in the title. The poet W. B. Yeats, when asked to say something about bad poets who made a living by parasitizing him, wrote the splendid line, 'was there ever dog that praised his fleas?
How any government could promote the Vardy academies in the North-East of England is absolutely beyond me. Tony Blair defends them on grounds of diversity, but it should be unthinkable in the 21st century to have a school whose head of science believes the world is less than 10,000 years old.
What Darwinian theory shows us is that all human races are extremely close to each other. None of them is in any sense ancestral to any other; none of them is more primitive than any other. We are all modern races of exactly equal status, evolutionarily speaking.
I would like to find a way in which people in Saudi Arabia could learn that they can be something other than a Muslim. Some people may not realize this. Of course, there is the problem that you can get in trouble or get stoned.
If children understand that beliefs should be substantiated with evidence, as opposed to tradition, authority, revelation or faith, they will automatically work out for themselves that they are atheists.
The population of the U.S. is nearly 300 million, including many of the best educated, most talented, most resourceful, humane people on earth. By almost any measure of civilised attainment, from Nobel prize-counts on down, the U.S. leads the world by miles.
A guided missile corrects its trajectory as it flies, homing in, say, on the heat of a jet plane's exhaust. A great improvement on a simple ballistic shell, it still cannot discriminate particular targets. It could not zero in on a designated New York skyscraper if launched from as far away as Boston.
I certainly would absolutely never do what some of my American colleagues do and object to religious symbols being used, putting crosses up in the public square and things like that. I don't fret about that at all; I'm quite happy about that.
If we are too friendly to nice, decent bishops, we run the risk of buying into the fiction that there's something virtuous about believing things because of faith rather than because of evidence. We run the risk of betraying scientific enlightenment.
The interesting question would be whether there's a Darwinian process, a kind of selection process whereby some memes are more likely to spread than others, because people like them, because they're popular, because they're catchy or whatever it might be.
I live in a post-Christian world in Oxford; it is quite rare to meet somebody who is religious in academic life now, and there is absolutely no tendency for rioting and mayhem, and it is extremely civilised.
If you set out in a spaceship to find the one planet in the galaxy that has life, the odds against your finding it would be so great that the task would be indistinguishable, in practice, from impossible.
There does seem to be a sense in which physics has gone beyond what human intuition can understand. We shouldn't be too surprised about that because we're evolved to understand things that move at a medium pace at a medium scale. We can't cope with the very tiny scale of quantum physics or the very large scale of relativity.
The earliest books in the New Testament to be written were the Epistles, not the Gospels. It's almost as though Saint Paul and others who wrote the Epistles weren't that interested in whether Jesus was real.
I don't do formal debates, because formal debates where you have two people up on a stage in equal status, and each of them is given 20 minutes to give their point of view, and then 10 minutes for a rebuttal, or whatever, that creates the illusion that you really do have here two equal points of view of equal scientific standing.