Before reading or searching the diary below, I suggest digestion of the following

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  [John 1.1]
And the Word became flesh    [John 1.14] 
[ That's all of cosmology and evolution summarised in 2 lines ]

"Behold, a sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some fell by the wayside...
some fell on stony ground...and some fell among thorns....
But others fell on good ground and yielded a crop:
some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty" (Matt. 13:3-8).
[ Darwin's principle of Natural Selection summarised in four short lines ]

And when He was asked by the Pharisees, when the Kingdom of God should come, He answered them and said, The Kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the Kingdom of God is within you. Lk 17:20-21
[ That's the explanation of 'Life, the Universe and Everything' in 7 words ]

* * *

The God Story in Our Modern Age
Updated from time to time

Humphrys on God - see 17th Nov 06
The Judgment of Parris - April 24th 07
The barmy Cardinal - May 31st 07
The barmy Pope - December 6th 07
A scientist who talks sense - September 07 2009
Transubstantiation Dec 28 2009
Condoms approved by Pope Nov 2010
Then it gets more interesting...
AUGUST 21 2005
I have refrained hitherto from directly addressing the subject of Religion on this web site as I have no wish to disturb the harmless (and even beneficial) delusions that accompany (and even support) the worthy moral and ethical disposition of the followers of the world's major religions. [ Addendum inserted Jan 26th 2006: I should state here early on that I also intend to discredit Richard Dawkins' atheist condemnation of all religion as based on shallow science and religious illiteracy. Dawkins is paradoxically likely to cause more people to mistakenly think Intelligent Design Hypothesis should be taught as science by his failure to understand the proper development of religious understanding and interpretation of historic positions ] However, the time is now approaching when we have to seriously straighten out the confusion caused by the inability of some of those in 'religious authority' to understand their own provenance and the meaning of the faiths they maintain.

The current Pope has called for a return to the basic values of Christianity. I welcome this approach, but have not noticed that this has been the policy of previous pontiffs. Or is he talking about returning to the values of the Roman Catholic Church at specific dates?

What, in God's name, is the relevance of methods of contraception to Christian Theology?  I don't see the subject featuring much in the Gospels.  I would personally find the use of condoms so distasteful as to make sexual intercourse sufficiently unattractive to deter one from even attempting it; but  to tell those who wish to use them as either a contraceptive or a protection against unmanageable disease, death and spreading infection that their use is a reprehensible act that carries the condemnation not just of society but the laws of universal existence, is lunacy. To do this in the name of a religion based on the teachings of the greatest of all exemplary teachers is bordering on the criminal. [ See entry April 24th 2006 below ] and now see entry November 20th 2010 - it has taken 5 years, but it seems Pope Benedict has changed his mind and agrees. He says not, he is just clarifying the Church's teaching. OK, it still took 5 years for him to get round to it after first making it pretty clear in the reverse interpretation.

Ironically, the dissuasion of its followers by the Roman Catholic Church in the 1960s from adopting the female contraceptive pill as a mass means of birth control was beneficial. Dependency on such chemicals by hundreds of millions worldwide is something to be avoided. "The Pill" as we know it is not a healthy solution. People are often doing the right thing for the wrong reasons and when this happens there is nothing to be gained by making a fuss about it; but as I implied at the start, religious confusion is now reaching levels that threaten humanity's global wellbeing.

It is indeed time to go back to the roots of the world's religions and see how they arose and what are the truths they contain. The word Catholic means Universal. The Church of Rome has always claimed this Universality. It has developed some great theological insights, such as "The Trinity" (of which more in due course). But it has developed other doctrine and dogma from time to time which has been purely expeditious. I do not wish to criticise this unduly. Religious authority has always been a requirement in any society where religion has been the source of law and order and stability. Secular societies have found how difficult it is to replace religion with 'science'. People are always asking questions and official answers have to be found if authority is to be maintained.

There is no rule against starting a church that is based on ideas that include restrictions on contraception, but to call such a church Universal and Christian is not possible. So if the present Pope wishes to reduce and confine Roman Catholicism to those who adopt certain rules concerning sexual intercourse he is able to do it, due to the extraordinary and singular powers the organisation confers on him, but it cannot be done in the name of Christianity, any more than placing bombs in tube trains can be advocated in the name of Islam.

It is no good blaming and punishing growing numbers of confused and uniformed people who are misled by deluded (even if well meaning) religious leaders. The time has come to require them to justify the logic of their position, their aims, and how they propose to achieve them. The time has also come to make sure that the uninformed people are informed of the very valuable and essential truths that lie behind the religions they have inherited, and to interpret them in the context of the new millennium. The argument between Christians and Humanists has got to cease. Christians have got to understand Jesus was a Humanist, and Humanists have got to raise their sights from the horizons of second-rate science.

That's enough for the moment. I had to wait for Ratzinger to open his mouth first. I concur completely that the church should not seek popularity or follow public opinion. It should lead. But it should not make up rules based on the particular hangups of those who have taken literally teaching that has been made to suit the passing intellectual puzzles of previous centuries or even decades. We know that the Roman Catholic Church has been mistaken in its interpretation of reality most of the time, just as has been orthodox science, even though great and fundamental truths have been set out within each. Teilhard de Chardin, who took some noble if faltering steps towards better understanding, was given nothing but grief. It is time for some leadership. Morality is a matter of behaviour of humans toward each other, not of harmless methods of contraception or the defining as absolutes those things that are either relative or gradable. Absolutes may be defined as a matter of law, by common consent amongst informed societies, based on carefully evolving precedent.  But claiming theological status for absolutes in the name of a Universal Christian Church should be confined to what is either justified by an enlightened interpretation of the Gospels or revealed by overwhelming evidence.

AUGUST 29th 2005
Now it is time to discuss the matter of AUTHORITY. In the last paragraph I used the phrase 'an enlightened interpretation of the Gospels'. Anne Widdecombe has just given me an opportunity to demonstrate what I mean. Consider the text from
Matt 18:18, "Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." Miss Widdecombe (on TV yesterday evening) took this as a definitive text that gives authority to the Roman Catholic Church, and therefore to the Pope, to decide on social policy. That is not reasonable. A reasonable interpretation is that this was a very serious statement, designed to be memorable, and embodying a very important part of the teaching Jesus was intent on leaving behind. It concerns the responsibility of humans for the future of humanity and indeed of life.  It is important to remember that in the previous polytheistic religions and the developing monotheistic religions and in Buddhism, the responsibility of the human race for universal outcomes was minimal to say the least. The essence of the Christian message is to reverse this position. We are responsible, from the time we have this pointed out to us and from the time we understand it, as individuals and as societies. The problem with the Catholic literary dogmatists is that they underestimate the New Testament. It has much more to say than their personalised interpretation that they use to support their particular movement. It is the record of the most enlightened teacher, who appeared at the right time and place and did indeed fulfill the role in history that he rightly saw attended him. It is a bigger role than Miss Widdecombe and all those who seek for certainty or reassurance in images of existence that are fine for children but which should develop in adults to something a bit more challenging. The text from St Matthew is a statement to humanity, not an exclusive license to St Peter and his successors, nor a remote adjustment kit that affects dead people's hypothetical afterlives in Miss Widecombe's overstressed imagination. It is a statement that we now need to understand clearly, as on this understanding rests our participation in the universal enterprise.

The appellation "Fundamentalist" can be based on a variety of criteria. It can mean a reductionist approach to the essentials or it can mean the reliance on particular texts and the meaning attributed to them. The meaning attributed can be that defined by a specific community at a specific time, or on rare occasions can be the elaboration of the text by the author(s) under questioning and peer review. It can be a combination of the aforementioned. Fundamentalism arises because it is called in aid by those who feel the need to defend their position. The personal position of any individual is defined in terms of their authority and economic security unless they are fortunate enough to possess an inner security that enables them to ignore those parameters. But they may also have what they perceive to be wider responsibilities, wherein the defence of their authority is, in their own mind, carried out on behalf of their community. The position of those in public office is different to those in private life. The advantage of the secular society is that religion can be a private matter, even though it may, and should, influence an individual's morality and approach to politics. What is now becoming a danger is that fundamentalism based on uneducated, outdated and absurd interpretations of the world's great monotheistic religions is being used to form popular policy and sectarian conflict. I would welcome some fundamentalism if it was based on proper scholarship and multidisciplinarity.

NOVEMBER 7th 2005
It has been a bit of a wait but William Rees Mogg has provided the next cue for the development of this debate. In The Times of Monday Nov 7th 2005 his contribution is headlined "A pope for our times: why Darwin is back on the agenda at the Vatican".

He points out that St Augustine of Hippo taught a doctrine of evolution in the 5th century AD. In De Genesi ad Litteram, Augustine stated that God did not create an organised Universe as we see it now, but in the beginning created all the elements of the world in a 'nebulous' mass. In this mass were the mysterious seeds of the creatures that were to come into existence. Augustine's thought therefore contains the elements of a theory of evolution and even a genetic theory, but he does not have natural selection.

OK, let's stop there for a moment. If the word 'seeds' is taken metaphorically then, yes, it does have the elements of a genetic theory. However, Natural Selection enters the process before we get to what we know as genetics. The development of stellar systems is a process of natural selection, at a similar level to what could be called the genetics in Augustine's nebulous mass. But there is no need to expect Augustine to introduce Natural Selection as this has already been introduced with blinding clarity, along with the concept of seeds, by the founder of Augustine's religion, in the parable of The Sower.  It would seem that St Augustine of Hippo understood not only the rudiments of physics, chemistry and cosmology but also the Gospel according to St Luke.

Rees Mogg writes about this in the context of a recent address by Cardinal Paul Poupard to journalists, in which he said that the description in Genesis of the Creation was perfectly compatible with Darwin's theory of evolution, if the Bible were read properly. "Fundamentalists want to give scientific meaning to words that had no scientific aim. Science and theology act in different fields, each in ts own". Well bravo, mon vieux, after all these years. This is an acknowledgement of the validity of science. But Rees Mogg goes on to say "The teachings of the Church have never imposed a literal interpretation of the language of the Bible; that was a Protestant mistake. Nor did the Church condemn the theory of evolution, though it did and does reject neo-Darwinism when that is made specifically atheist".  Here we have some of the most confused writing and thinking on this subject. Let me untangle it.

By 'Church' in the preceding paragraph Rees Mogg means the Roman Catholic Church. By 'Bible' he means 'The Old Testament'. With those restrictions, what he says is correct.  It is true that the Protestant churches were more fundamentalist on the Old Testament. However Rees Mogg seems to have forgotten the treatment meted out by the Roman Catholic Church to Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. To say that the Roman Catholic Church in modern times has been teaching the compatibility of Darwinian theory with Christianity is simply not true.  When it comes to the New Testament, the Roman Catholic Church has not only imposed a literal interpretation of the language but built certain doctrine and dogma upon it. Worse still, it has in some instances based this on a misunderstanding even of the literal and of the context.

Between them, Protestants and Catholics have both made mistakes that have fixed the applicability of the faith to transient levels of understanding. Finally the admission that Cardinal Poupard and Rees Mogg seem to believe makes it all better and gets them off the hook for perpetuating this confusion, covering their retreat with "Science and Theology act in different fields, each in its own", is invalid too. Science and Theology act in exactly the same field, but they are different languages. If Poupard, Rees Mogg or the Pope were to understand either of them to a reasonable level, they would know this. There is ONE reality, and the truths are describable in any of the languages we can master. The problem is theologians of the calibre of St Augustine are few and far between, and confused scientists who lose patience with the popes of recent years are tempted to become atheists because of the Church's misinterpretation (Catholic and Protestant) of the Bible.

Rees Mogg ends up: "Cardinal Poupard's statement clarified the acceptance of Darwinism and rightly asserted that religious belief is compatible with the theory of evolution. He also gave a further indication that the mindset of Benedict XVI may be a good deal more modern than had been expected. One should have foreseen that with a German pope. The German church has a strong tradition of theological enquiry in which Benedict XVI has been educated."

Cardinal Poupard has made what he thinks is a clarification of the Catholic position on evolution. He was driven to this by the current arguments in the United States started by Protestant fundamentalists from which he wishes, wisely, the Catholic Church should be disassociated. However, he still has some way to go and Rees Mogg has not been honest in his cover-up of what is clearly a recantation on evolution, just as significant as that over Galileo. There were plenty of Jesuits around at the time who knew Galileo was right, and I assume the Pope did too, so the calling in aid of St Augustine does not get the Catholic Church off the hook. It was an argument about authority. However, Benedict XVI has been able to keep his powder dry and have Poupard test the field. "A pope for our times" ?  We shall have to see. I will let you know, here, if it turns out to be the case.

DECEMBER 5th 2005
Yesterday on BBC 1 TV we were treated to the first in a series presented by Professor Robert Winston entitled THE STORY OF GOD.  I would have approached this with dread had I not chanced to hear the professor talking about 'God' with Andrew Marr on Radio 4 where he made surprising sense, so I watched the programme with high hopes, which were rewarded. The introductions to Zoroastrianism, Hinduism and Buddhism, though minimal, were well done. The move to monotheism and the origin of the pastoral metaphor was well explained. There is a chance that the programme is preparing its audience for an appreciation of the distinction between two aspects of religion: the universal truths discovered by the founders, and the local and transient elements that relate to a circumstance, time or geographical environment and therefore should be classed as 'political'. It is only by getting an understanding of this that we can move forward. Every religion has required its followers to elaborate the insights of it founders. While some have needed no national hierarchy, they have still required the development of a library of philosophical work and contribution by scholars to sustain them. Any understanding of the human condition must draw heavily on the insights and emotional perceptions of all the great religions and at the same time be prepared to strip away those elements that, while they may have been vital to sustaining the religion and its universal truths over centuries, must now be disentangled if we are going to make the leap of understanding that can heal the useless clash of 'fundamentalists' that makes a nonsense out of millennia of wisdom. Of course it could all go badly wrong, and the professor may have a different agenda, but so far, so good.

A diametrically opposed view from mine emerges from the offended brain of reviewer Thomas Sutcliffe, a classic modern quickfire thinker whose intellect skates over vast surfaces without ever suspecting their might be depths that are logically consistent with the dimensions he has mastered, which he has not explored. He could be right, and Winston may, as he fears, be about to deliver nothing more than a respectful compendium, with a few biological insights, leaving us to draw our own conclusions. But I am optimistic, and feel he will deliver more.

Although I did not know when this programme would arrive or who would be doing it, I was expecting it. This is the time, and, cometh the hour..... etc. The professor's attempts to enlighten Richard and Judy were such a failure I did not think then he was up to the task, but I could be wrong. Maybe that was mission impossible. I have therefore retitled this part of the web site THE GOD STORY in recognition of his efforts.

The second episode of Professor Winston's STORY OF GOD was up to the standard of the first. There was an opportunity missed, but possibly it was deliberately left for now, to come back to later. Having introduced Abraham as the origin of the monotheism of the Jewish, he makes the point that the God of Abraham and later Moses was not in the image of a person or animal or object. The historians of the Old Testament were very clear on this and the God they write about who made the covenant is obviously the only God who can make a deal with humanity. That God is what we know today as Nature. If humankind learns to work with Nature, it can survive. It was the same then as it is now. The 10 commandments are the basis for the survival of a society, working as a team. That is why it was so important to embed in the history the story of the Golden Calf. Winston goes to the trouble of pointing out the fact that in the story Moses' climb of Mt Sinai is not witnessed. He disappears into the mountain mist and comes back with a tablet. The historians are writing for all levels of reader and for educated adults they are saying he came back with 'one he prepared earlier', no doubt with his trusted lieutenants, but Winston does not even hint at this. As I said, perhaps he has wisely left this for later analysis. The slaughter of the idolaters that ensued when Moses and his followers decided not to compromise is also key to the deliberately written history. It was vital that later on the Temple was not a object of worship. This understanding of the Hebrew god is very important. This God is described as Alpha and Omega, the source of the Universe and its ultimate product. and also a God who speaks to us through indestructible Nature (the metaphor of the Burning Bush). It is very important not to underestimate the writers of the Old Testament. They mixed symbolic history and metaphor with great intelligence. They are making it clear that  the 'voice of God' was in men's heads, a development of the advancing and evolving human mind.

Before leaving the Old Testament Winston covers Job. Job is about the dialogue in the Hebrew mind that arises inevitably when the 'covenant' does not produce health, wealth and happiness for Job. I will not go into the details here except to say that I remember I discovered Job at the age of eight, in 1946, and it made an impression on me that was so profound that I wrote out by hand the text starting "Where shall wisdom be found, and where is the place of understanding..."   and ending  "...the fear of the Lord is  the beginning of Wisdom, and to depart from all Evil, that is understanding". The essence of the conclusion of Job is that the 'covenant' does not supply 'heaven on earth' in our lifetime. The covenant is just the condition of survival, and that means national rather than individual. People will get killed because humans have not yet learned to live in peace. People will face poverty as they will not always succeed in their enterprises. People may get sick, as they are part of a system that is far greater in scope than they can understand. Job has to face the fact that he was not around when space-time was created and the workings of the universe are just not that simple that, if he says his prayers and is nice to his family, life will be one long picnic. Admittedly in the case of Job the argument is made by 'reductio ad absurdum', but that was always the only alternative to infinite mathematical analysis.  Here again, Winston hints at all this but pulls his punches. Unless, that is, he has not understood this himself. We shall have to wait till the end to find that out.

But it looks as though he might. He introduces Christianity as the religion that addresses this problem. The God of Love who enters the world of men without any protection other than his wits. Not as Hercules, not as Superman, not as head of an army or a millionaire or a landowner. The creator experiencing the material creation. But here, Winston really does miss a vital trick. He jumps straight away to the later interpretation of Jesus' mission: that he, in the only and once-and-for-all time presence of God on earth, died to save humanity. This then becomes the source of very considerable dispute, as the professor quite rightly explains. Constantine, who has an empire to run, with Christianity by then recognised as the religion of the future, needs the bishops to rule on the divinity of Christ. They do. They come up with the Trinity and Jesus (singularly) as part of it. Not everyone agrees with that. Later, Muslims will not accept the divinity of any man, and others will not accept the uniqueness of Jesus. The key idea of life-after-death then gets tied to the exclusive knowledge of Jesus, leading to incredibly divisive logic that nobody except those baptised into the Christian church has any future. I hope the professor will come back to this in a later episode, because it is right here that everything has gone wrong.

Jesus is reported as saying "I am the way, the truth, the life. No one cometh to the father except by me". When combined with his other teaching "The kingdom of God is within you", to most people that would mean that his life and teaching showed the way for the future of humanity and for personal fulfillment. Obviously it was desirable to spread the gospel, and to do this in a way that could be understood by most people at the time. That meant the establishment of a church and its adoption by nations. But it seems to me that there has been a serious misunderstanding on all sides, by Christians in the case of Jesus, by Muslims in the case of the separation of Allah from Nature, and by orthodox Jews in their failure to understand St Paul's insistence that God was no longer a national god, and the covenant was open to all. The covenant is essentially a social contract amongst humans and an environmental contract between humans and the planet (and potentially beyond).

Just as the Bible is misunderstood by Christians ( Protestants and Catholics both misunderstand the OT and NT in different ways), the Koran seems to me to be misunderstood by some Muslims. Winston points out that with its single attributed author, Muhammad, supposedly relaying the words of Allah, the Koran is a much more rigid source than the Bible. It is not a history of religious development, it is a book of instructions in 70,000 words compiled in only 20 years. But we see that after Mohammad's death (he has to be said to have ascended into heaven of course) there is a dispute about who are the 'heirs of the prophet' and in this way Islam deteriorates in the same way as other religious sects, into an argument over inheritance, territory, authority and wealth or tribal influence. The basic meaning of the word Islam is submission, submission to the will of Allah, to destiny. Sharia law epitomizes the formality of submission in behaviour. Other Muslims put less emphasis on the overt expression of submission. Muslims do not demand 'justice' of Allah, we are told. There is a similarity here with Christianity and Judaism in that the justice of God is seen as beyond the comprehension of humanity.

The reaction of the early Christian church to the division into sects with different interpretations was to institute Papal Infallibility. That both solved the problem and created another - that in order to make sense the infallible Pope has to be able to change his mind in the face of new evidence - and Popes found that impossible as the Church was based on faith, not new evidence, and his flock can't understand how an infallible person can change their mind. The only way to sort this mess out is to go right back through the whole history and see what really happened, and why, in the light of modern knowledge. This is perfectly possible, in my view, and will not diminish the view we have of our existence or our religious histories. It could give us a new and greater vision.

Winston thinks monotheism has the power to unite. But there is absolutely no reason to suppose this at all unless we understand our relationship with God/Nature. I await his next episode with interest.

DECEMBER 19th 2005
Today we had Robert Winston's final chapter. He did his best, but to put the reader out of his/her misery now I have to tell that he failed to demolish the certainty in the minds of either Richard Dawkins (on the one hand) or American creationists on the other. This was in spite of the professor endeavouring to explain to Dawkins that he contested none of the scientific evidence, and to the American creationist that he found the book of Genesis an excellent symbolic description of the vital truths behind the creation of the Universe and only quarelled with the extraordinary interpretation of modern creationists - an interpretation that had been abandoned by the church in part soon after Galileo (ages before Darwin) and in part after Darwin.

Terrifying though the American situation is (45% of the population believe that Genesis is the literal truth), we can leave America's problems in this department to the Americans to sort out. They have to make sure their nukes are never in the sole hands of a bunch of these nuts of course, and when they fail we have to hope it's a small one and we are not standing in the wrong place. There will probably be a Murphy's law event but with luck humanity will survive. It is Winston's dialogue with Dawkins which is more important and more disappointing. Dawkins belittled Winston's approach as being pre-formed by reverence for cultural tradition, and the professor was too polite to defend himself robustly. Before dealing with that, a quick run through what was covered in today's episode, which was called The God Of The Gaps - a rather Donald Swanish title.

Considering the modern developments of the Abrahamic heritage, Winston noted the construction of the cathedrals of church and science as the buildings in which mankind sought to approach the mystery of creation. He noted that in the Protestant Reformation there had emerged a tendency to replace faith with conviction - i.e. certainty. That meant taking the Bible as a textbook of literal fact and instruction, just as scientists then sought the truth through current, as opposed to historical experience and built their own bibliography. What he could have said but did not was how, in the case of the Bible, the literal interpretation is sadly dismissive of the intelligence of the writers of the Old Testament texts. When highly intelligent academic leaders of a community write an allegory or even a historical compendium for use as a cultural guidebook, they know perfectly well what they are doing. They know that they do not understand the ultimate truth. They are philosophers who have assembled the knowledge and wisdom that has been passed on by their tribe, added their own interpretation from experience, assembled a committee, perhaps, and at a given moment decided to commit it to writing in a form to be presented to the community. The purpose being to set a standard just as today we set standards in order to ensure the functioning of everything from the legal system to the Internet. The writers of the Old Testament would be right now almost in despair that thousands of years later their brilliant writing had fallen into the hands of these brain-damaged Americans.

Moving to the cathedrals of science, Winston dabbles with a discussion on the CERN accelerator and rightly ridicules the relevance of the search for the Higgs Boson to the existence or not of God. Before moving on he manages unfortunately to confuse viewers by describing the Higgs 'particle' as being necessary to give matter 'substance'. Substance is (for all intelligible purposes) the quality we ascribe to matter that corresponds to our experience that we can only have one thing in a given place at a time. If my glass is full of water, it cannot at the same time be full of lead.The black and pink balls cannot occupy the same place on the snooker table. I cannot walk through the wall - because both the wall and I have substance. The Higgs Boson is associated, in the mathematics of particle theory, with another aspect of matter that we call MASS, and the property of mass is inertia. Just because a photon has no mass does not mean it can pass through any substance. If it is in the visible light range, that substance must be transparent (a crystal arrangement allowing passage of the radiation), and radiation of other wavelengths (radio, Xrays etc.) is limited in its penetration of dense substances. But let us agree with Winston that discovering evidence for the Higgs value as a component of disintegrating matter is not of concern to this debate (and in my view not actually enlightening in any way scientifically either).

Next we move to Lourdes, where the professor explains that of the many cures that people experience, hardly any are classified by the Roman Catholic Church as miracles. Less than 70 in all over the years. He quotes one cure from MS that was classified and, quite rightly, declares himself unconvinced. Indeed this whole classification business is entirely dependent on medical opinion, which is in turn dependent on unreliable records of the curability of similar states collected over the years in situations where the truth is impossible to establish beyond all doubt. What we know, and have known for years since the days of the contemporaneous Louis Pasteur and Mary Baker Eddy (the founder of Christian Science in case you had forgotten) is that the mechanisms of the body are controlled by the brain and the brain stem. Most people cannot control their subconscious and all the hormonal glands with their conscious mind which is just as well as they would make a complete horlicks of it, but it can be influenced by input from the environment. So providing we take with a condescending nod the classification of these cures as miracles or just remarkable cures, what happens at Lourdes does not 'fly in the face of science' (Winston's words). The only thing that flies in the face of science is the church's classification. Are we not brought face to face here with the very point Jesus made again and again about miracles, the classification of which would have filled him with as much despair as did the desire for them? Once again, the professor looks the truth straight in the face but fails to point it out to us. He is strong on pointing out the errors of fundamentalist science and fundamentalist Christianity, but has not spotted what I had hoped he would - the real message in the Gospels; or, if he has spotted it, he is playing a remarkable game of double bluff.

No, it seems that what Winston is after is to elevate the uncertainty theory of Blaise Pascal (and later Heisenberg) to a philosophy that should guide our approach to religion as a whole. This leaves him in a compatible position with the science of Dawkins and with the God of the Old Testament who was NOT described as the Divine Mastermind but was described as Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End, and whose only comment on his nature was I am what I am (or if you prefer: I will Be what I will Be). In this way, Winston includes Dawkins whether the latter likes it or not, while bypassing Dawkins anti-religious obsession, and revalues with magisterial dignity the scribes of the Hebrew testament. I am with him all the way as far as he goes, but I find he has missed two vistas of universal significance. Once concerns the proper understanding of uncertainty and probability at the different levels and dimensions of universal reality (OK, don't give up on me or think I am losing it, its for later), and the other, as I have hinted, concerns the proper understanding of the New Testament and the humanity of Christ. Winston is right on the button when he explains that Christianity took off down a certain line of interpretation due to the Roman language and later the Protestant Reformation, both leading to literal accuracy where there was a potential conflict with science. But he does not really admit that Galileo's public recantation was a calculated performance for public consumption when both he and the intellectual leaders in the church knew he was right but needed time to get their act together in public. Just look at what goes on in the House of Commons these days to see how the public and its demagogues/media will never allow authority to change its mind and keep it its public support. Its a tale as old as time. Galileo had to swallow his pride for the sake of consistent authority, that's all. Of course it was a big deal for him, but that's how it goes.

I hope I have put the reader in the picture here with respect to Professor Winston's respectable efforts to make some progress in a sensible analysis of historically developed positions. Now let us continue with him as he expounds on his personal views. He takes us through some amusing mathematics with a colleague (Stephen Unwin?) who has developed a formula for estimating the probability of the existence of God depending on how a given individual values certain criteria. This is not completely nonsensical, as what we are talking about here, after all, is human judgment. The scientific approach is therefore to ensure this judgment is as rational as possible. St Thomas Aquinas would approve. So Winston submits himself to the test, with Unwin's formula, to assess the likelihood of the existence of God based on his, Winston's, value judgments as a human being on the following:

1. The recognition of 'goodness' as a quality in life and human society
2. The countervailing argument concerning the existence of evil in humanity
3. The evidence of natural 'evil' or the indifference of nature to suffering
4. The evidence of natural 'miracles'
5. The evidence of unnatural miracles.
6. The evidence of religious experience
7. If there is a God, it wouldn't do to annoy him (I think this was included, though I found it ridiculous)

Winston put his 'values' on each of the above (sorry, can't remember what they were) and Unwin put them into the formula in his laptop. The answer came out something like 95% in favour of the existence of God - for Robert Winston that is. But certain things worried me. One was that, in the conversation with Unwin, Winston assumed that when we died we would know the answer to this question. I find that a completely unjustified assumption. It may be the biggest mistake that has ever been made in the history of human life so far. It may well be that it is in life as we know it that we can discover if, what, when, where and why God is. That may very well be the function of the material universe. It may be that what each of us knows as I, the Ego, is always present and evolving but is always in a position where its existence and actions are conditional, consequential, valuable, vulnerable, individually uncertain; and that these qualities enable us to contribute to the achievement of Nature of its continuing exploration and evolution and to draw from it the qualities that, in the world's great religions, we ascribe to God.

There is a discussion, toward the end, of the genetic components of the tendency to 'spirituality' amongst the population. There is no reason why varieties of a particular gene may not have a relationship to certain types of brain function. Spirituality seems to boil down to the propensity of certain individuals to what we call 'religious experience'. Here I have to admit to my own position, which is one where the very word spirituality is meaningless. I do not know what a religious experience is. I only have one kind of consciousness, it never changes, I can't see or feel anything that is not there. I can imagine anything you like, but there is no connection in my head between the imagination and reality, unless we create that reality using our imagination, or we imagine a reality that has yet to be discovered and observed. So for me, the Old and New Testaments make perfect sense providing they are intelligently interpreted, and that interpretation has to be personal to fit in with an individual's experience and type of consciousness.

There is no doubt that even today there are people who have 'visions' and 'hear' voices, just as these experiences are related in religious history. These are the way the brain functions in certain individuals rather than always in the way I am familiar with, which is confined to a conversation controlled by one part of the cortex. However, anyone who tries to exclude verifiable, peer-reviewed scientific evidence must in my opinion be in what we call 'denial' for some reason and therefore not likely to be a person to be relied on, certainly not one to be put in a position of authority which will affect the lives of others. I find the miraculous everywhere, but the nonsensical only in human heads. My understanding of these things has not changed since my very young days when the Bible and books on astronomy and biology were made available to me and, being able to read, I read them. The story of the flood was for me a brilliant tribal myth which was based in experience, as well as a tale with symbolic value, containing the truth that evolution had proceeded by periods of extinction as well as periods of steady development. Georges Cuvier was seen in quite recent times as an opponent to Darwinian theory. Now we know both men had valuable insights to contribute. The same will be found with religions and philosophies. The New Testament deserves serious study in the light of modern knowledge. It seems to me that in seeking to establish authoritative interpretations of the life and teaching of Jesus the main branches of the Catholic, Anglican and Orthodox churches may have both enhanced and limited our understanding very severely. Professor Winston has touched on the holes they have dug, but he has not yet pointed to the way out, onwards and upwards. We need to get it together, and not at the lowest common denominator.

This is a big day in the GOD STORY. So what do we get? On UK Channel 4 this evening we get a programme titled "The Tsunami - where was God?" Good grief. Our religion is based on the life of Jesus. The bullet points are the Nativity/Incarnation, the teachings as recorded ijn the Gospels, the Crucifixion and Death of Christ and his Resurrection - though apart form the strange story of St Thomas  the resurrection is carefully described as a transient affair so far as an earthly physical presence is concerned. Jesus is not recognised except in his behaviour, even by those who knew him best. Mary Magdalene thought he was the gardener? The Gospel writer is trying to tell us something here. So how can it be true that after 2,000 years people still do not uinderstand the real truth of the Christian message. God, on this planet, lives through humanity. Those who realise this can be his eyes, ears and feelings. He lives, loves and hurts with humanity. Why? Because its worth it. Because its the Way. Because that's what it takes. How do you think we get a life, have a life? How is there anything, let alone the amazing universe we discover and explore? Maybe this programme on TV this evening will answer the question posed in he title: "Where was God?" The answer is: "Right in the thick of it!" Will they give that answer? Let us see.

I can't answer the question in the previous line because sisters, cousins and nephews and children were watching Oliver Twist and I didn't have the nerve to ask them to swap channels. So instead I will take up a point raised by Caroline Moore in the Christmas Spectator where she rightly takes both C.S. Lewis and Philip Pullman to task for unabashed advocacy of their own prejudices and hangups, one as an avowed atheist and the other as a Christian Traditionalist. Though Ms Moore does not criticise Lewis much on these grounds, I shall.  I takes as text  her quote from Mere Christianity: "Either this man was, and is, the Son of God or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, spit at him and kill him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to". With respect, that is not so. Whether he intended those of the time in which he came to understand him in this way or another, humanity will understand him in the light of all we discover in the fullness of time. Jesus was a great human teacher. As the greatest, in the opinion of many, he holds a unique position. Son of God? He told us we all can be children of God. As the only perfect example, and one who lived his own theology,  that makes him the first and only in this category. He is the founder of the religion. He was the Messiah because that was the part he had to take. He did not get it wrong.

The understanding reached independently by most informed students is clear: Jesus of Nazareth was born at a time of critical evolution in the Jewish religion. He took it upon himself to be the Messiah, to both fulfill the scriptures and advance the next stage of understanding of the human condition and the relationship of humanity to its origin and destiny; of its relationship to the Alpha and Omega of Nature, the God of the Hebrews. This could not be fully explained in detail, so he did it the one way it could be done.  It is for those who learn about his life and the impression it made on his followers and all who joined them, to study and understand. Humanity which has symbolically eaten of the Tree of Knowledge is to learn the truth through experience. The Christian Message is that this knowledge is not confined to any particular racial root or ethnic culture. "Handsome is as handsome does" is the core.

Naturally those who administered the societies that derived their law from the new Christian religion were faced with a great number of definitions, doctrine and dogma that had to be defined. These matters are administrative, even if also theological in theory, and most of the time the Christian churches did a good job. Sometimes they made mistakes, and where and when Church and State became separated, for good administrative reasons, there were power struggles with some awful results. We proceed by trial and error. However, one error we really don't have to make is one that takes the C.S. Lewis position of either/or, when the truth is so obviously both at once. One error we do not have to make is to have Christians arguing with Humanists, when Christ was the first Humanist. One error we do not have to make is to have the Theory of Evolution pitted against the teachings of Jesus, when the Theory of Natural Selection was precisely what he taught (see "Darwin on Trial" on this web site). As to whether the genetic mutations on which Natural Selection acts are 'random' or not, don't start that one unless you are very sure of your grounds for believing your understanding of the significance of quantum theory, and the rest of cosmology, geometry and biology, is better than mine. Or I'll have you for breakfast, you'd better believe it.

DECEMBER 29th 2005
In a letter to the Sunday Telegraph 18th Dec 2005 Mr William Garrett, Middlesex, suggests that before believing in God we should have a look at some facts, and answer the following questions satisfactorily. If we can, then such a belief is intellectually justifiable. Here are his questions:

If a devout Christian in the US had been born in India he or she would be a devout Hindu, Muslim or Sikh. It seems that religious 'truth' is a function of where you are born. Explain.

Why is the Bible, the only conduit of an omnipotent God to Man, full of contradictions, fables, and cases of God killing innocent people?

Why did the omnipotent God equip mammals, that get eaten, with nervous systems that can experience pain? If God loved mankind why did He create pathogens that cause widespread suffering? Why did he design the body such that it was subject to hideous diseases such as motor neurone disease and cancer  in which people die in agony?

I think these are questions that merit answers, so here they are.

Religious 'truth', being the understanding of humankind's relationship with the universal existence (and therefore with God if God exists), is indeed dependent on into what family and culture one is born and the environment that surrounds it. We are born with an intrinsic ability to adapt to the environment we are conceived in, internal and external, and learn from it by experience and received teaching. All successful surviving societies have a history of a developing code of conduct which is based on that of previous generations. These codes, dating from the time from which written records began, were all based on the assumption that humans were not responsible for the creation of the earth on which we live or the celestial bodies we observe beyond it. The authority for these codes therefore quickly developed into an attempt to reach out to the assumed force that had created all of Nature and evidently sustained it. The world Religion means 're-binding'. Mankind observed its own power to create, to think, to reason. It sought to create God in its own image but, logically, infinitely more capable. Men knew how small they were compared to the world, let alone anything beyond. So although the character of the imagined God could have some attributes shown in symbolic human form (Strength, Age, Wisdom etc.) there was no serious Idea that anything physically like a human being had created the earth. The Greek Gods and Titans were symbolic, but how else to symbolise? They found Nature full of opposing forces, so their symbolic Gods were frequently at odds. Others, more reasonably, worshipped the Sun. On  physical level they were closest to the truth. Some worshipped their worldly ancestors. Taken back far enough that is the same as sun-worship. The Hebrews took it a lot further back, as I have explained previously, to Nature itself, speaking symbolically from a Burning Bush that was not consumed (Nature everlasting and self sustaining), to identify God as Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End. The Hebrews did advise that God created Man in his own image, but that just meant mankind reflected some of his attributes, on a human scale. Christ said (transposed to modern English): "You cannot see the beginning and the end, but God is present here and now in human form, and will be with you and in you when I am gone. You are his agents if you follow my teaching."  500 years later Mohammad said (Transposed again): "The Christian Church is now run by leaders who are no longer fully multicultural and, though they use our numerals, their alphabet and writing is Roman or Cyrillic, no use to the mass of our people and their cultural authority over us is inappropriate. I have received new instructions direct from Allah. Jesus was a great prophet but I have new instructions from Allah for us." 

All this time other nations and religions had existed, but there was a bit of a dust up between the Cross and the Crescent because both considered the Holy Land as holy to them. Hence the Crusades etc. For a look at the other religions, I suggest a Google of ancient religions like Hinduism. These are just different stages of philosophy and the symbolisation of nature and our relationship to it, to justify social codes prior to what we call modern science which is based on telescopes, microscopes and devices to weigh and measure. In this way we can put certain observations beyond dispute.  So, depending on where you are born and what you are taught, religious 'truth' may have different content. I think I have 'explained' why Mr Garrett's first premise is true and not surprising.

2. The Old Testament is full of contradictions and fables because life is like that, and the Bible relates to life. It contains some accurate history and some history that is more fable than fact. It is the family legend of the Israelites. It has a lot of 'what people thought at the time'. Christians have it as the first part of their Holy Book because it is the background to the founding moment of Christianity. It is the religious context, just as a history of the Greek and Roman Empires is the political context. There are not that many more fables and contradictions in it than today's tabloids, about which I would expect the same complaints in 5000 years time if anyone bothered to read them. As to whether 'God' killed innocent people, a point is made in the Old Testament that innocent people can get killed. More questionable is the way God in the Old Testament kills the guilty. If only life were so easy! I don't find Mr Garrett's question here well formulated at all, so this part does not need or deserve an answer.

3. This is where we get the important questions. Why are mammals so sensitive to pain?
Because it is important that they are for their own protection. It is part of their survival system. They are adapted to their environment so that in the place where they have come to exist, mammals enjoy a level of existence that is clearly capable of what we call enjoyment. The more advanced they are, the more sensitive they are and the more imaginative they may have to be to survive in a way they find acceptable. If it were otherwise, we would have the survival of the stupidest and the least imaginative. That would lead to a world where Mr Garrett, along with the rest of us, would not be here to complain about it.

Why did God create Pathogens that cause widespread suffering?
Nature produces pathogens which cause humanity suffering because we are not always managing our lives to the standard required for our own health, at the level of technology that we have achieved. Our decisions on everything lead to the results that follow, and our collective actions, sometimes beyond our personal control, can lead to painful results. 
In Exodus 20:5, in an introduction God gave Moses before handing down the Ten Commandments, we read "...I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon their children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me." This was quoted by Jesus according to the New Testament. What's it all about? It's about Nature, remember, the God that the Hebrews had the covenant with? Old "I will be what I will be"; alias Alpha and Omega who talks out of bushes. It was based on generations of observation, recorded by scribes in Egypt probably and collected by Moses, that certain diseases are inherited, that certain dispositions that lead to vulnerabililty to diseases are inherited. Moses also had the Egyptian data on the mismanagement of the environment that could lead to famine and pests or, if not mismanagement, failure to plan ahead. Motor Neurone Disease and Cancer? I don't know the reason for these but I don't think a body system as amazing as the human one could possibly be fail-safe. Most people do not have motor-neurone disease. Any animal with it would be killed instantly. Humans decide to keep humans with these things alive. That's our choice. If someone with motor-neurone disease wants to be kept alive, we in the UK do it, no matter what the cost. If they want to die, we don't help them, however easy. That's our choice, apparently. Personally I don't understand it but who am I to complain, I don't have it yet. Cancer? There are a great many causes, but as with most diseases the primary ones are wrong diet, wrong lifestyle, inherited vulnerability.  As for dying in agony, there is no need. Nature supplies all the herbs we need to die a painless death. Unfortunately we use these same herbs instead to make us seriously ill when we are well, and when doctors give them to us to achieve a painless death we charge them with murder. Isn't it odd that for thousands of years, while humanity went through ages of flood, famine, war, pestilence and death, nobody blamed God more than humanity. But now, when there are more people alive than ever, some of us living in totally inappropriate places, living damaging lives, God is not believed in because he doesn't do anything about it.

I think I have answered all Mr Garrett's questions. I think we are intellectually free to believe in God, if we can figure out what that means.

The Intelligent Design debate continues in the US, though the first court decision has gone against those who tried to teach it as science. It is not science. Although there may be other cases brought to court, the decisions will be the same. Intelligent design is speculation, opinion, faith. Science tells us that creation has led to intelligent designs, but the ID hypothesis is that these designs were not reached by evolution as currently understood. ID holds that each life form is the result of a preplanned design. But there are other objections to ID of a quite different nature. These have something in common with the objections to any belief in God as voiced by Mr Garrett in my entry of Dec 29th above. But these are not objections to the existence of God-the-designer but to his nature. They are exemplified in one of the 'Letters of the Year' selected by The Independent for their Year in Review 2005,  I reproduce it below:

'Intelligent design' - but what kind of designer?
Sir, Adherents to the idea of "intelligent design" in nature ought to consider the implications of the theory. Life on earth is, for most sentient beings, short and stressful, often painful, and involves a constant search for food. The majority of creatures suffer a painful and lonely death, usually at the hands of another desperate creature. The average English garden, full of nature's wonders, is a 24-hour hell-hole of kill-to-eat or be-killed-to-be-eaten. The next time you hear a baby lamb bleating for its mother as its eyes are being pecked out by a crow, or witness the horror of a fly being eaten alive in a spider's web, try and envisage what kind of intelligence contrived a world with such 'wonders' in it, And ask yourself "Do I really want to worship whoever thought this up?"

The editors of The Independent have taken the letter cited above seriously so I guess I had better answer it.
The answer is YES. The reasoning is as follows. Life is NOT 'short' for sentient beings. It is the length that is appropriate and which allows the beings in question to survive as a species. The idea of stress is a human concept. Animals may experience it at certain moments but there is no reason to suppose it is not an important function that is entirely necessary. Many human societies, primitive or advanced, have managed to live lives where stress is well within bounds and is actively sought by all who indulge in sports. The search for food is the main occupation for some animals but others, including humans, have managed, by controlling their environments and their birth rate and organising cooperative action, to have time for recreation and creative activities. Even in primitive societies the search for food and its subsequent consumption is their greatest communal sport and shared satisfaction. I have studied English gardens for over 60 years and have noticed no natural elements that should be changed. A baby lamb may, exceptionally, have its eyes pecked out by a crow. This is unusual and the crow may well pick out a weak or slow witted lamb. This is the classic 'survival of the fittest' element of nature that some people find objectionable. But given the possibility of variablity in the species, should we prefer the survival of the least healthy? That would be cruel indeed and result in an appaling progression. It is through evolution that nature has become more sentient and developed the opportunity to manage its own affairs. Mr Burke may behave as he wishes. Nature has given us, progressively, the chance to adjust life to his our liking so far as stress and cruelty is concerned. There is no horror for a fly. A fly has the ability to struggle to escape, and an instinct to retain its freedom and survival. It has evolved to be what it desires to be. I do not believe Mr Burke could imagine a world in which there was any meaning or logic, let alone beauty, pleasure, and reward, by changing anything except the opinions and behaviour of human individuals. It is his failure to understand the design of nature, a failure that seems to be shared to some extent by the editor of The Independent (since he clearly thinks some readers might take the letter seriously) that lies behind the failure of mankind to manage its affairs better. No doubt he is amnogst those who would ban the hunting of foxes with horse and hound. In short, one of the ignorant yet opinionated that lie behind most human folly which causes the stress that he claims is forced upon us by the presumed designer.

JANUARY  04 2006
Now let's have a look at some opinions based on some more serious thinking.

You can't in any logical system I understand disprove the existence of God, or prove it for that matter... in the probablility calculus I use, He is very improbable.
Philip Anderson, Pronceton UniversityNobel Laureate.

In the above comment, one must assume that he refers to a Supernatural Creator God, outside nature, which he has created for his own purposes, and who corresponds to a literal rather than symbolic interpretation of ancient religious texts. I am not at all surprised by his estimate.

Our fear of provoking religious hatred has rendered us incapable of criticining ideas which are patently absurd and inncreasingly maladaptive. It has also obliged us to lie to ourselves about the compatibility begtween religious faith and scientific rationalty. In the spirit of religious tolerance most scientists keep silent when they should be blasting the hideous fantasies of a prior age with all the facts at their disposal
Sam Harris, University of Calif, Los Angelele

In the comment above we can appreciate the position of the writer, but it is clear that he has not been able to travel back in time in his imagination and appreciate the context in which traditional religious images and ideas were formed. Rather than ridicule he writers of Genesis for telling how creation took six days, the perceptive critic spots immediately that the truth they are conveying is that the formation of the world we know took time. It was not done in an instant of time-as-we-know-it. It started with a dark, impenerable chaotic state, which then was filled with, and transmitted, light. This is what today's cosmologists say too. The truth portrayed in genesis is that things came into being in a sequence. They writers were right. The rest of the Old Testament is a history of how the Hebrews understood the relationship of their people to 'God', made up of oral traditions written down and retrospective assembly and collation. The New Testament advances the perception of the relationship of humanity to what was still seen as a supernatural God. The Gospel of St John starts: "In the beginning was The Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God......and the Word became flesh. How more accurate and scientific can you get. We have tracked existence back to the emerrgence of space-time. St John starts there and agrees that is where we come from. Now, we can see that the message of Jesus was humanism. What Sam Harris rails against is those who he thinks lie to themselves about the compatibility of religious faith and scientific rationality, but in doing so he disrespects unnecessarily the best efforts of those of previous centuries who were not scientists, while failing himself to see the truth that wise men ahead of their time propounded for the limited understanding of the time, while leaving encoded in it the truths that modern science would reveal and explain. It was Jesus Christ who first taught Natural Selection as the basis for the evolution of life. The parable of The Sower was good for all time. Any detailed interpretation of it was temporal and would be adjusted to suit the audience and the questions they posed, but St John's description of the origin of life and humanity is the same as Jesus, Darwin and Dawkins. It is compatible with the God of Abraham. What makes no sense is the thinking of some modern scientists like Dawkins who have not studied the Bible through adult eyes. They learned their science too late, after they had a strange idea of religion. So mature Christians are currently plagued by th atheist sons of vicars (e.g. Pullman) and scientists rebelling against their early ideas of an anthropomorphic creation. Those who were taught Darwin and the Bible at the same age have no problem at all.

Richard Dawkins is now about to bore the pants off us all with a TV series begging us to give up all religion. What would be better would be for Dawkins to expand his mind and understand the evolution of religious understanding. It makes as much sense to ask us to disbelieve all history because the particpants did not truly understand the circumstances in which they acted or the meaning of the results. Fundamental religious truths have remained true, while scientific absolutes are continually revised, adjusted or overthrown. If an individual has a personal idea of 'heaven', it is meaningless for Dawkins to deny it. But he has every right to deplore the use of religion by religious authorities for the preservation of their power over societies and the prevention of scientific enquiry.
"Seek and ye shall find. Knock, and it shall be opened unto you". Is that not the fundamental principle behind scientific research? The teaching of the Gospels cannot possibly be the target for destruction by scientists unless they are suffering from some psychological problem.

The most important thing about environmental change is that it hurts people. The basis of our response should be human solidarity.The planet will take care of itself
Oliver Morton, Chief News and Feature editor of Nature

I have included the above here as it has relevance. Oliver Morton is being too simplistic. What we have to consider is the extent to which our 'human solidarity' is best employed in controlling the environment, rather than adapting our activities to survive in an environment where we have lost control. It is the proportions and timing of these alernatives and their combination which are critical. We will not be able to control events other than partially, so the best we can do is be aware.and, as Mr Morton says, human solidarity is the key. But he is also right in saying that it will hurt. Personally, as a complete wimp, I avoid pain at all cost whenever I can. I do not enjoy pain or witnessing anyone endure pain. But I have never for a moment doubted that the possibility of pain, both mental and of physical origin, is as vital as that of any other perception or experience if we have not learned how to avoid it.  The privilege of our existence, one in whch we can contribute to nature as we experience it cannot be painless. That is what our Christian religion teaches us. Any real scientist can come to the same conclusion.

JANUARY 09 2006
Today on BBC Radio 4 the afternoon play was "A Clown on God's Stage" by Judith French, a celebration of the life of 'Woodbine Willie', aka the Rev Geoffrey Anketell Studdert Kennedy. It was clearly a difficult piece to stage even in sound, but it contained some important truths. Christianity can be the socialist chaplain in the trenches just as it can be the Tory party at prayer. It gets a bit clearer when it is both at once and more besides.  Woodbine Willie, for all his great insight, was still convinced that God is engaged, in the material world, in a struggle with some great power of evil. That is indeed how anyone who has seen excesses of inhumanity and suffering could be tempted to see it. However, I hope to be able to show in due course that it is the achievement of conscious existence itself which is the prize for which Nature has striven and strives for. There was a moment of tremendous insight in the play where an imaginative listener could sense that Kennedy visualised the almost infinite number of failures that flash through the mind of God at the birth of time before our world can even be a possibility. The violence of creation is replaced by the beauty, but the plurality that permits self knowledge by definition carries the cost of errors in choice as autonomous parts of nature negotiate their interactive evolution. The concept of dialectical materialism is associated by most students of philosophy and politics with an atheist and communist reality. The next stage of enlightenment will be to see it as fundamental to the core of Christianity. Woodbine Willie's experience is part of the journey and his thinking part of the guide.

We must wait to see what David Starkey has to say in the series "Who Killed Christianity" starting tomorrow, Tuesday Jan 10th on Radio 4 at 9.30am. His first target is St Paul; yet in fact it is not St Paul but those who have used his writings later to prevent progress in our understanding who are to blame. St Paul did and said exactly what was right for his time and for the spreading of Christianity. We need to separate what are cultural absolutes from what are cultural mores that depend on the era and the environment. Charles Darwin would despair of some of his supporters today and so would Einstein. Had they been alive they would have moved on, using all the new knowledge now at our disposal, not to abandon their ideas but to show how they fit into a context more complex and with yet more potential. In the same way, Paul would not be impressed with the way his writings that were applicable to the time and place where he lived have been used by frightened and rigid thinkers to avoid the prime directive: "Seek and ye shall find, knock and it shall be opened".

In the meantime we have the first episode of THE ROOT OF ALL EVIL? (CHANNEL 4 TV) in which Richard Dawkins sets out to rubbish ALL RELIGION. Episode 1 is called THE GOD DELUSION/

Let me say right away that I sympathise with Dawkins to this extent: our religions have largely been hijacked, in their visible and public manfestations, by primitive fundamentalists of little brain. As Yeats prophesied, "The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity". But it is the best who are to blame. As Sam Harris (see entry of Jan 4th) has said: Our fear of provoking religious hatred has rendered us incapable of criticining ideas which are patently absurd and inncreasingly maladaptive.

Dawkins dodges all responsibility for this because, as he repeats from time to time, he considers the Bible and the Koran to be worthless 'ancient scriblings'. What he should have been doing is reading them first, as they contain the writings of very wise men who founded the laws on which the civilisations by which the science he worships was constructed. As Lord Winston has pointed out and David Starkey will probably emphasise soon, Christianity has been seriously damaged by thousands of years of rubbish sermons. It has been pointed out the Koran can be read as instructions for a healthy lifestyle. The emphasis on a curious type of martyrdom (where you murder as many as possible, not what most people think of as martyr behaviour) as the way to get great sex with virgins has little to do with Islam. The failure of recent years, notably the 20th Century, has been in the lack of scientific education of the clergy and the lack of religious education of some scientists.

Dawkins criticism of the crowds at Lourdes at first seems unanswerable. A benign herd supporting a backward belief system, which would be hamless except it stifles freedom of thought and genuine inquiry. They are more likely to pick up an infection through sharing the space and the water than to obtain a cure. But then he ruins his case with a dishonest use of statstics. Ninety thousand pilgrims a year, and only 66 miracles since the first vision? He rests his case. But that is to ignore the benefits of hundreds of thousands who have apparently been cured, even if it has been through the equivalent of the placebo effect, the exercise, or the raising of morale through sharing faith and good company. These are people that science had failed. He did not allow that factor into the statistics either, preferring to claim they would have got better anyway. While I share Dawkins' doubt about the supernatural, the human consciousness and collective subconscious surpasses current science in its functions, so his argument fails even in the natural world. Faith can, sometimes, beat medicine.

Dawkins next point is that science cannot live with faith, as faith demands a suspension of the critical faculty. Come on! This argument has been thrashed to death over the centuries. It is a matter of personal choice. Personally I would find a suspension of critical faculties a full-blooded step into insanity, Others who don't trust their critical faculties well do not feel that way. They have feelings, hunches, emotions. But if you are someone who values logic and critical faculties, any religion that ran counter to these would, I would think, give you a headache of considerable proportions.

So, Dawkins launches straight into the doctrine of the Assumption. This is a Roman Catholic belief, which states that the Virgin Mary, Jesus' mother, ascended into heaven directly when she died. This theory was dreamed up by the Pope 600 (yes, SIX HUNDRED) years after Jesus' death, so round about the time of Mohammed, in order to answer some theological problem. Of course it is nonsensical, and I understand Dawkins exasperation. But Popes were running churches and they and their flock were non-scientists. These days we can appreciate that it takes generations to overturn a dogma as silly as the Labour Party's Clause 4. Imagine, in a world without modern communications, how impossible it has been for the Catholic Church to start dumping dogma and doctrine on a selective basis. The Church cannot let down its faithful adherents. So unfortunately, in 1950, as the Catholic church was deciding which way to go after World War II, the doctrine of the Assumption was affirmed as official. Now, the only possible way forward to straighten up the whole mess is a 'nuclear option'. A religious revolution. We are coming to that. It coincides automatically with globalisation and the associated crisis.

Next, Dawkins goes to see an American fundamentalist evangelist called Ted Haggard. Haggard is a man of stunted intellect who obviously discovered at an early age that he had some physical and verbal abilities that enabled him to dominate by other means. He claims never to have heard of the Nuremburg Rallies (the techniques of which Dawkins suggested he specialised in) and it is possible he was telling the truth. He certainly had no knowledge of the theory of evolution which he was fighting so absurdly. Because Dawkins is equally ignorant of religion he was unable to win an argument with Haggard on Haggards own ground (which would have been child's play), and so they really could not connect at all in any scientific or religious discussion. Haggard contradictied himself sometimes twice in a single sentence. I don't think he presents much of a risk to the world, but he does frighten Dawkins, who thinks that the danger is that President Bush is of the same mould.
I think Bush has been taught a lesson and America has sorted this sort of thing out by elections or civil war. Let us not intrude on private grief.

Dawkins visit to the Holy Land was, on the other hand, more scary. Here he is right to detect the heart of darkness, the ultimate depth of misunderstanding on all sides, and the trigger of the religious catastrophe. This is why the religious revolution that must come will need to fulfil and reinterpret ALL the world's faiths, to the satisfaction of the adherents of each. Impossible you say? Far from it. What is impossible is the orthodox and conventional and fundamentalist  interpretation of all of these, which are nonsensical and the target of Dawkins diatribes. See also the entry for January 13th 2006.

There cannot be a designer God, says Dawkins, because who would design the designer. Er, that's what's going on old fruit, amongst other things, and that's what has been understood by some of the people you deride as ancient scribblers. Its a struggle at times. But do try to stretch your mind just a tad. Christian Soldiers marching AS to war, dear Richard, not TO war. But thank you for your programme. It was important and necessary, part of the process. Your timing is immaculate.

Rather than wait for part 2 of Dawkins ROOT OF ALL EVIL, and as I cannot find out when it is to be broadcast because the Channel 4 website is not intelligently constructed, I will reprint here the summary of Part 2 which they have actually put on the web, without teling us when we can watch it. DOH!

The Root of All Evil?| Episode 2: The Virus of Faith  [my comments in text like this]

How is it, asks Richard Dawkins, that despite science having exposed old religious myths, militant faith is back on the march? The mechanism for perpetuating beliefs that Dawkins describes as leading to murderous intolerance, is by imposing religion on children who are too inexperienced to judge it for themselves.
I agree. Religion should not be imposed, good behaviour and morals should be taught. However most parents and schools would seek an authority to back them up. They are likely to turn to inspirational texts from the generations that built the society that has brought their family into existence. What is needed is to have texts that are consistent with current knowledge. There are plenty available and as I have shown already, the Bible and Book of Commion Prayer are full of them if properly understood. No doubt the Koran is also. What has gone wrong is these sources are being imposed by mentally deficient, or deluded, or ignorant people.

We wouldn't categorise children according to their parents' political stance, says Dawkins, since they are too young to make up their minds about such matters. But we segregate them in sectarian religious schools, where they are taught superstitions drawn from ancient scriptures of dubious origin, which promote a 'contradictory and poisonous system of morals'.
I agree. The religious texts that are used need to be explained by people who understand them. This is not happening.

From generation to generation

Dawkins compares this to a virus, which infects the young and is passed down the generations. Visiting an ultra-orthodox Jewish school, he describes the British-born headteacher Rabbi Gluck's Yiddish accent as testament to the isolation of his community. Gluck says that it's important for members of minorities to have the space to express their own beliefs and traditions. He describes science as one tradition, and Judaism as another. His students are taught about evolution and if only a minority end up believing in it, he says, this is not out of ignorance.
Gluck's position is ridiculous, of course. The understanding and perspective of previous generations can be respected and admired without pretending that it does not have to be expanded and interpreted in the light of later evidence. If half his students believe one thing and half another, with no possible rational  co-existence, we have basic societal incoherence, not healthy variety in studies.

The number of faith schools is increasing. More than half the Government's proposed City Academies will be run by religious organisations and there's a growing number of private evangelical Christian schools. ACE – Accelerated Christian Education – has developed a curriculum which includes a mention of God or Jesus on every page of its science text book. The head of a school which uses this material argues that if there were no lawgiver, there would be no reason to see rape and murder as wrong.
I went to boarding schools where we went to a Christian service frequently. We sang great hymns, intoned great prayers, and never for a moment doubted that the way our religion was understood by each individual was a personal affair. As a born scientist who studied evolution and physics as soon as I could read and assumed the 'Big Bang' theory was a correct visualisation of the devlopment of space-time, I never had the slightest problem with respecting the Biblical texts and understanding how they related to current cosmological and biological perceptions. I never imagined anyone else did either. It is only now that I find myself having to live in a world where morons are taken seriously and allowed access to powerful means of public expression that I realise that unless we straighten this mess out immediately we could be in for some painful times.

Hellfire and damnation

Transmitting such a 'warped reality' to young people, says Dawkins, amounts to indoctrination. Children are uniquely vulnerable and if they fail to question and shake off such superstition, they remain in a state of perpetual infancy. He talks to a woman brought up in a strict Christian sect who describes the terror of eternal damnation, which dominated her childhood, as a form of abuse.
Here I have to agree 100% with Dawkins. But hell-fire and damnation arrives regularly on this planet when we muck up. People of limited education need to ascribe this to an authority greater than their local or national government so 'God' gets lumbered with it. Insurance companies use the same tactic so don't be too dismissive of this cop-out.

Hellhouse movies are a new growth industry in the USA today. Graphically filmed, they demonise abortion and homosexuality with the explicit aim of scaring the viewers. Pastor Keenan Roberts explains that the aim is 'to leave an indelible impression on their lives that sin destroys … and Jesus saves'. The result, says Dawkins, is a mindset which can justify the murder of a doctor who carries out abortions on the grounds that he is destroying a being created in God's image!
Again I am 100% with Dawkins. Abortion is something to be avoided, but carried out if pregnancy is unwanted and for some reason not avoided. Hellhouse movies are rubbish. Homosexuality has been a natural development, it appears, maybe a form of population control. What offends some people is not its existence but crass public sexual behaviour which homosexuals, for some reason, seem to enjoy.

Innate morality

Physicist and Nobel prizewinner Stephen Weinberg describes religion as an insult to human dignity. 'Without it,' he says, 'you'd have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, it takes religion.' Dawkins agrees. It is more moral, he says, to do good for its own sake than out of fear. Morality, he says, is older than religion, and kindness and generosity are innate in human beings, as they are in other social animals. The irony is that science recognises the majesty and complexity of the universe while religions lead to easy, closed answers.

Is there no more than just this life? asks Richard Dawkins. How much more do you want? We are lucky to be here, he says, and we should make the most of our time on this world.

First of all, let us get rid of the.major problem with Weinberg's statement. Religion has inspired a great number of people to do very good things, which atheist or agnostics would not have bothered with. Being decent to your friends or neutrals is easy for any well adjusted atheist. For significant or advanced altruism, it takes religion. It has been the very source of civilisation of that there is no doubt. It was once the science of its time, evidence based. Well paid middle class academics have little idea of the innate savagery that is to be found in humans whose environment is dangerous and competitive. Morality is NOT older than religion. Morality beyond that shown by animals is almost the definition of religion, as it is based on the concept of a natural law that is above the individual. Of course there have been religious wars, the appalling Spanish Inquisition, the wars to defend historical sites, the invokation of religion by leaders of sectarian movements to gain dominance over land or positions of power. But what is at issue now is not history but the future. There is nothing but verity in the realisation that science is knowledge based on evidence, and that science has revealed the majesty and complexity of the universe. Any religion that denies the evidence is a religion that has got into the wrong hands. It is also in the case of Christianity a religion that has been totally misunderstood. Here is a religion that was founded to clear away superstition. So if what Weinberg wants to dump is the muddle in the heads of those who have a religion that is based on superstition and denies science, then he is to be supported.

Second let me deal with Dawkins final sentence. "Is there no more than just this life?" he asks. This is a strange question. It is rather as if a single brain cell group, if it could speak (and a single brain cell group is complex) said to itself - "is there no more than just this life?" To which the answer is yes, there certainly is. There is more in every way. Yet Dawkins is also right when he says "How much more do you want?".Life for a human is as much as he or she can cope with. However, there is life after death. Every life is one after death. There is no need to get into complex theories of reincarnation to work out that nature achieves consciousness in living beings. We bring with us the innate experince gained over all of time. There is only one universal question which God or Nature had to answer, Shakespeare put it in the mouth of Hamlet, but it is the question to which the asnwer to Life, the Universe and Everything applies. It is this: To Be, or Not To Be. It has been answered in the affirmative, and therefore the truth which Dawkins is trying to express is also the answer that many, particularly when they find themselves in extremis, come up with: "We're here because we're here because we're here, because we're here". This is a much more profound statement that you may realise. And the plea by Weinberg to do good for its own sake is entirely correct. What neither he, nor Dawkins seem to understand is that their ideas of Heaven and Hell are as hopelessly inadequate as the very religionists they are trying to banish. If they were not, they would understand the New Testament.

David Starkey's criticism of St Paul (
"Who Killed Christianity", Radio 4) was predictable and, as I suggested yesterday, should really be adressed to those who read his correspondence many years later. Even if we accept that it was not private correspondence, it was addressed to the Romans, Corinthians etc in a bygone age and not to us. We therefore need to separate what was good advice for the time, directed at those who were to be leaders of the church, and what should apply to all humanity for centuries to come. Starkey's blame should be reserved for the church in its later days, and even then he should be much more understanding. To give him credit he allowed his intelligent and well informed interlocutors to debate without interrupting them and they answered most if not all of his challenges. Paul asked for ethical discipline amongst the church leaders and he did ask for sexual discipline too. This was probably a very good idea at the time.  Paul thought the world might end in a short time. We should not deride his thinking. For each of us the world ends in our own lifetime, and from a scientific point of view the destruction of the planet is inevitable even if we do not expect it imminently. Neither of these events are necessarily cause for distress and the latter may be avoidable for millions of years. It could depend on us and our behaviour, scientists tell us. The old fashioned term for that subject is morality or ethics. Verdict: St Paul certainly did not kill Christianity - he spread and internationalised it - but those who used his writings to protect some of the fossilised thinking of the next 2 millennia are at risk of killing it now, or would be if it was not immortal in its true interpretation.The next man in Starkey's sight is Emperor Constantine, next week.

SO, there is time for an intermission while we consider the ravings (sorry, musings) of the current President of the Royal Society. I am not sure Richard Dawkins would approve of his musings, but amongst Lord Rees of Ludlow (Martin to his friends)'s more sensible ideas are that there is a 50/50 chance that human civilisation will survive in its current form to the end of the century, an environmental collapse being just as likely. That's not too controversial. On the other hand the proposition that our observable universe is just one of zillions, each with its own physical laws, has emerged only from his failure to resolve the means by which the universe we observe has come about. That is not good enough, in my book, to be worthy of a scientific theory. There are others who share his psychological problem; I do not admire them. Their personal problems are not problems of science. Then we have his proposition that our universe may be a compter simulation built by a race of super-intelligent beings. Yes, dear reader, you will have spotted it too: this is the identical proposition to that in the book of Genesis. The Lord of Ludlow has brought us back to the ideas of Genesis taken literally. Of course the language is modern, but the relative realities are the same. Martin Rees needs a super-intelligent God but needs him PLURAL, because as a scientist he can only accept objective reality as something subject to peer revue. Ironically, that is why existence is plural and the universe is self observing. So his premise is right but his conclusion wrong.

Martin Rees shows once again how unable humans are to cope with their own existence without blaming it on something other than themselves. How they cannot accept the world as it is as being at once imperfect and yet not either random, one of infinite possibilities, or the product of a pitiless design. The concept of immanence appears to be alien to many. Indeed if we consult The Catholic Encyclopaedia on Immanence we see in the second paragraph (Historical Sketch) that Immanence 'falls back before the preaching of Christianity'. Here then is a clue as to what, rather than who, killed or is killing Christianity. The man whose life was to prove immanence has his life's work hijacked by its opponents, due to lack of scientific study and knowledge.

But that's enough bashing of the President of the Royal Society. He's very sound on everything we need him for. "We have to decide which doors to open and which to leave closed", he says. Unfortunately people will open all doors if anyone pays, so what he has to do is to help us decide which door-opening gets funding. This means we have to keep at the cutting edge even of things we do not wish to exploit, if others are doing it and it could be a threat. International agreements can mitigate this of course, so the EU, NATO and the UN, the WTO etc are all vital organisations whose authority should be nurtured and respected. This means they must be well run and saved from corruption, not abandoned by Little Englanders in a sulk because some decisions are taken at international level at meetings which are not held in London.

We have strayed from the subject, which was IMMANENCE, which I hope you may have looked at briefly in the encyclopaedia. Now you can see why the Catholic Church is in confusion by looking at where you will find a page headed The Nature and Attributes of God. Have a look at the headings, all listed at the top. You may notice something missing. Search for "Trinity" on that page. Yes, embarrassing or what? There is a quick passing reference. A new understanding of Christianity will entail a new understanding of the Trinity if we are to reconcile science and religion. Dawkins says they are irreconcilable. Logic tells us that unless they are, each is up the spout. I can say with some certainty the President of the Royal Society is up the spout with his Matrix theory science, and many of our religious authorities, particularly those we call today the fundamentalists, and probably the Pope (though he is keeping his powder dry) are up the spout with their religion. It is time to call time on all of them.

Here is why Richard Dawkins has a justified complaint against religion as practised today. Reason tells us that the following is not surprising in any way.

At least 345 pilgrims killed in Saudi haj crush

  Thursday January 12, 09:30 PM

MENA, Saudi Arabia (Reuters) - At least 345 Muslim pilgrims were crushed to death on Thursday during a stoning ritual on the last day of the haj, the worst tragedy to beset the sacred event in more than a decade.

Saudi officials said the pilgrims were crushed at the eastern entrance of Mena's disaster-prone Jamarat Bridge as they jostled to perform the stoning between noon and sunset in Mena, a narrow valley near the holy city of Mecca.

"So far, the number of confirmed deaths is 345 and the number of injured in hospital is 289," Health Minister Hamad al-Manei told Saudi state television, adding that many had been discharged.

Some 2.5 million Muslims are performing the haj this year, and the death toll was the worst since 1,426 people were killed in a stampede in a tunnel in Mecca in 1990.

"It was like the road of death there," one pilgrim said, describing women fainting and people elbowing and pushing to get closer to the wall where pilgrims direct their stones.

Thursday's crush, which occurred after noon prayers, intensified after many pilgrims scrambled to pick up belongings lost in the heavy crowds, the Interior Ministry said. "Pilgrims fell over and crushed each other at the eastern entrance to the Jamarat," it said in a statement.

Many pilgrims insist on following Prophet Mohammad's example of stoning after noon prayers instead of staggering the ritual throughout the day as some clerics recommend.

Bodies covered in white shrouds littered the Jamarat area, as medics tended to the injured on stretchers. The bodies were driven away in ambulances and refrigerated trucks.

"The people who died were trying to get onto the bridge to do their stoning. But a wave of people came from the (other) direction trying to get off the bridge. That's when people died," said Egyptian Amr Gad.


Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Sultan blamed the crush on pilgrims who insisted on carrying bulky baggage during the stoning ritual despite officials' warnings.

But he defended the kingdom's organisation of the haj, saying: "The state can't stop God's will, its impossible to think that any human can stop God's will."

The crush was the second disaster to hit this year's pilgrimage. Last week, 76 people were killed when a hostel in Mecca collapsed in a narrow street.

Saudi security forces set up a tight cordon around the Jamarat Bridge to control the crowds, as many pilgrims thronged to carry on stoning three walls in a symbolic casting out of the devil and rejection of temptation.

The haj is a duty for every able-bodied Muslim at least once in a lifetime. Many pilgrims transport their belongings from site to site, hampering the flow of pilgrims.

"There was crowding and pushing, of course. It's so sad to hear about the people who died," said Fawaz Zahrani, a Saudi.

The pilgrimage has been marred by stampedes in the past, and some of the worst have occurred in Mena. In 2004, some 250 pilgrims were crushed to death at Jamarat Bridge. A decade earlier, 270 were killed in a similar stampede.

Saudi Arabia has revamped the Jamarat area by expanding the stoning targets and provided unprecedented security including 60,000 security men to control the huge crowd and avert possible attacks by Islamist militants.

After this year's haj, the Jamarat Bridge will be replaced with a more elaborate bridge involving a four-level system of entrances and exits to the three walls, including a subway, and costing 4.2 billion riyals (645 million pounds).

Pilgrims, in white robes meant to eradicate differences in race and class between Muslims, perform a third day of stoning on Thursday and make a final visit to the Grand Mosque in Mecca, according to rules laid out by Prophet Mohammad 1,400 years ago.

(Additional reporting by Yara Bayoumy in Dubai and Andrew Hammond in Riyadh)

I have added to the entry of January 9th in order to keep my review of Dawkins' ROOT OF ALL EVIL contiguous. However, now that I have seen part 2, I understand Dawkins objections to religion more clearly. The Jews and Christians he spoke to were, in my way of thinking, not only mentally deranged but extremely unpleasant. I thought I had met most representative types, even of these, but Dawkins seems to have found some really appalling nut cases. The purpose of my writing here was to explain the proper understanding of the world's religions to people who had perhaps not had time to study them, and were concerned about the confused basis of current law and morality and their relation to scientific evidence. Now that I have seen Dawkins part II, I appreciate that the madness of some Jewish and Christian fundamentalists is every bit as great as that of Islamic fundamentalists. They are just as fanatical, and some are just as violent. The killing of a doctor who has carried out an abortion was actually condoned by a Christian pastor (interviewed by Dawkins) who valued a collection of cells, of a category that spontanelously abort in their billions all the time, as much as a husband and father. But what depresses me about Dawkins is that he does not understand the New Testament at all either. He is just as off-beam as the nutters he criticises, but in another direction. In Dawkins defence, even the wise and moderate leaders of the Church of England do not understand their own religion, and that is why Dawkins is baffled by their defence of it. Dawkins finally states that Nature itself will produce altruism in life forms as these develop up the scale. Cooperation, working in a team, is what wins out. This was the central thesis of State Of The Art which I commenced in 1984. It was also what the New Testament teaches. But the New Testament also teaches that evolution is sometimes going to hurt. Of course we who are going to die have the incredible privilege of having lived; I find myself in complete agreement here with Dawkins, but baffled as to why his understanding of the Bible is different to mine. What he calls Atheism, I call Christianity. His idea of 'eternal life', which he rejects, is a misunderstanding of it.

When Douglas Adams' supercomputer in HHGG came up with the answer to the riddle of Life, the Universe and Everything as 42, nobody could remember the question. Strange, that. The question is To Be, or Not To Be. As it happens, in order to 'BE' in any sense that we can think of it, an almost infinite number of mathematical possibilities have to be tried and rejected before there can be a materal universe that produces plural matter/energy configurations with life-producing surfaces. In such a universe, the angle of reflection/refraction of light defelcted by a globular drop of water, which decides the elevation of a rainbow relative to the sun, is 42. Light, water and stars are the absolute necessities in a universe that becomes conscious of its own existence. So Douglas is accidentally right. That 42 is fundamental to the maths of the self-conscious universe, and for it to be, all the other constants have to be as they are.

David Starkey
named his second accused today in the Who Killed Christianity series: Emperor Constantine. Starkey's approach is enlightening, with valid historical detail, and he has gone to the trouble to make sure he debates with worthy and qualified advocates for the defence. Starkey made good points, but they were very thoroughly and knowledgeably answered. There was virtually no dispute as to the facts. There was no dispute over actions. There was only a limited dispute over motives. What Starkey's basic gripe with Constantine is that his actions were not 'Christian', and that the powerful state-church that he founded was th reverse of what Jesus had started. Finally, Starkey points out that Constantine's Empire collapsed. The advocates for the defence pointed out that Starkey missed the point. Constantine was exactly what Christianity needed at the time. The survival of the Roman Empire was not a Christian article of faith  Jesus was quite clear on the respect that was due to the civil authority that maintained the peace and the economy; the remarkable fact about Constantine is that he dumped the pretension of his predecessors that he was a God and submitted himself and his empire to the moral authority of Christianity. Unlike his predecessors, Constantine died peacefully and in accordance with the Christian rites of the time,  Once again we see that blaming others in the past for destroying Christianity is just an excuse for the failure of mankind in the 20th century to update their understanding of history and their religious texts and doctrine.

Both Dawkins and (if I understand him correctly) Starkey claim that we cannot 'cherry-pick' passages of the Bible. That either we treat it as the word of God, or that it has no authority at all. This is where they make their monumentally great mistake. The Bible is the work of many writers. It is up to us readers, to whom these texts are handed, to make of them what we will. Most sensible people will see in the Bible the development of religious understanding amongst the early civilisation from which European and American society developed. I will save the obvious interpretation of the Old and New Testaments, which diminishes neither, until we have finished with Starkey's complete series.

Prompted by a perfectly timed episode of Melvyn Bragg's In Our Time, it is the moment to discuss RELATIVISM. First of all let me quote as a summary the introduction from the Radio 4 Website:


"Today, a particularly insidious obstacle to the task of educating is the massive presence in our society and culture of that relativism which, recognizing nothing as definitive, leaves as the ultimate criterion only the self with its desires. And under the semblance of freedom it becomes a prison for each one, for it separates people from one another, locking each person into his or her own "ego"." Pope Benedict XVI, in a speech given last June, showed that the issue of relativism is as contentious today as it was in Ancient Greece, when Plato took on the relativist stance of Protagoras.

Relativism is a school of philosophical thought which holds to the idea that there are no absolute truths. Instead, truth is situated within different frameworks of understanding that are governed by our history, culture and critical perspective.

Why has relativism so radically divided scholars and moral custodians over the centuries? How have its supporters answered to criticisms that it is inherently unethical? And if there are universal standards such as human rights, how do relativists defend culturally specific practices such as honour killings or female infanticide?

Let me answer that question right away. Relativism divides scholars because of their relative points of view. It is tautological, probably the only tautology to still validate its own truth. A splendid paradox indeed. Because of these different points of view, scholars are not even discussing the same idea. So while proving its own truth, Relativism  tautologically, it does not disprove Absolutism as concept. As Barry Smith pointed out, a point of view can only exist if their is a view which can be seen from a personal view-point. A room looks different from the perspective of those set about it, but there has to be a room for this privilege to be available. To know the absolute truth about a room, one would have to experience it from every angle and from every distance. One would have to appreciate its size relative to the building, the planet, the galaxy and the universe. One would have to know how it appeared to a mouse, to a louse, to any sentient being that could interact. One would have to know who designed it, who built it, what materials were used, how much energy was used and how long it took. Modern science develops methods of relative examination and these can be assembled. The methods and the examinations are subject to international peer review. With these we can get an absolute truth so far as our time and location on planet Earth is concerned.

Relativism in morality is to do with the behaviour of individuals and groups who have developed what we call a conscience. Some philosophers claimed that moral relativism meant 'anything goes', but experience shows the passage of time itself sorts out the probable, the practical, the possible, the successful. We have developed our morality. Wild animals developed behaviour for survival that allowed coexistence, though it took time. Nowadays we expect domestic animals to behave according to their training.  They have been conditioned genetically (by selective breeding) and environmentally by training of their handlers. A dog that turns on its handler without cause is deemed bad. There is a moral judgment there, which some would claim is invalid because we are imposing human thought processes on an animal, but that is a perfect example of a grey area where relativism is accepted. When it comes to humans, absolutists claim there are definitions of Right and Wrong which can be applied to certain actions regardless of the context. "Eating People is Wrong" (Flanders and Swan) was used by those excellent and erudite entertainers to point to a paradox. If we investigate and solve the paradox we will be enlightened. Flanders and Swan had an anti-war message, but if we examine the logic it backfires on absolutism and therefore pacifism. Eating people is to our way of thinking wrong because we know better, we know it is not the best survival strategy and we have an alternative. If, in a given context, it is a survival strategy and there is no alternative, it is not wrong.
If Pope Benedict XVI was stranded on a desert island with a young colleague and only one of them could possibly survive till help arrived, by eating the other, the Christian thing to do would be for him to die first and tell the colleague to eat him.The same goes for any other behaviour. The only sensible definition of evil is when humans who know better do something they know to be wrong and which they know to be harmful to others, deliberately.  Popes over the centuries were always engaged in wars, so fighting, in their eyes, was not wrong. So what do we make of Pope Benedict's remark which Melvyn quotes in the introduction?

I said on November 7th (see above)
Benedict XVI has been able to keep his powder dry and have Poupard test the field. "A pope for our times" ?  We shall have to see. I will let you know, here, if it turns out to be the case.

Well, now we have a provisional answer. He is not a Pope for our times, he is not a man of even the 20th century, let alone the 21st. Nor does he understand the religion for which he claims his church to be the universal  authority. What is right and wrong is relative to the situation. As humanity evolves, higher standards are set because, with the passage of time, learning through experience, we know better. Eating people was not wrong for cannibals, but it is wrong for the readers of this text. What Benedict XVI has reason to complain about is not moral relativism but moral recidivism. We now know better than to eat people for food or amusement, so those who do that are not living up to the standards we should set at this place and time.

Now we come to the real McCoy.
There is indeed a moral absolute, and it is made clear enough in the New Testament. It is absolutely wrong to do what you believe to be wrong. So we shall have to put up with Benedict XVI because he believes he is doing the right thing, but I do hope those who would be better off ignoring his advice because they are not yet able to handle the alternatives, do not take him too seriously. It is not wrong for the Roman Catholic Church to advise NOT using a particular, or any method of artificial contraception. What is wrong is to think this is an imperative command from God, mandatory for all people in all places, and to think that the Roman Catholic Church is the fount of all knowledge and wisdom.

The In Our Time debate was of extremely high quality. It covered evolving ideas of moral relativism through Nietzsche, Hegel, Marx, Foucault and others. It touched on the value given to contradictory relative viewpoints. We now appreciate in international politics that we resolve these through negotiation. We have seen that 'anyhing goes' in morality will lead to catastrophe. Karl Marx, taking a basic idea from Hegel, realised that the universe of relationships consists of an endless succession of simultaneous negotiations, a dialectic. Applying this to society, Marx decided that the most privileged viewpoint was that of the least privileged in society. The working proletariat, the builders and craftsmen, the ordinary soldiers, the hewers of wood and tillers of the soil, followed historically by the factory workers, had a viewpoint that gave them an insight into reality. The rich capitalist would not have such a privileged relative viewpoint. That, according to Marx, was why the moral position of the capitalist in all negotiation was inferior. He held power but could not see the value of the point of view of the working people. Marx and his later followers then made the incredible error of taking an absolutist position on their philosophy, hence the rise and fall of Communism.  The New Testament metaphor of the camel and the eye of the needle is relevant here. It makes the same point that appreciation of reality is not necessarily easy for those born into wealth. It does not necessarily bring wisdom or happiness but, more important it is not a privileged relative position from which to understand reality.  On the other hand it is not impossible.

In summary, on the question of Relativism, science admits to relativism in all its discovered truths, but builds an objective reality through compatible addition of results from multiple viewpoints, peer review, prediction and repeatability. Revision based on these is always possible. Over time, truths are discovered and universal constants are defined. Moral Relativism is also a developing concept which is refined by experience. Just as with science, there are moments of revolution and breakthrough, and as civilisations mature they set higher standards. Unfortunately a tendency to stick to outdated historical texts, which apply to particular social circumstances, has caused immense confusion as far as religion is concerned. This confusion is experienced by leaders and followers alike.

Today we had David Starkey's next episode of Who Killed Christianity. The accused: Martin Luther; though even Starkey admits he did not kill it but split it seriously and violently, with violent consequences. The truth is that while the violent consequences were indeed terrible, the split was very necessary. There was no way the whole of northern Europe could have accepted the interpretation or management of the Roman Catholic church, so although the Protestant and Catholic churches were opposed in their views, the Christian church as a whole was saved. That is not to say Luther had a monopoly of truth. As Starkey explains he was a nit-picker and a literalist. He was absolutely right to go back to the sources of the testaments, but,
by not seeing the testaments in their historical context, started a symmetrical error to that which the Catholic church fell into. There was another aspect to the symmetry of errors. Luther objected to the Catholic corruption of good works as the means of salvation and went to the other extreme: salvation only by faith. This diminishes the powerful humanist message of Jesus and also risks an individual linking faith to belief in e.g. the virgin birth as a fundamental. So with Luther we are faced with a paradox - his valid opposition to Papal indulgences (the selling of salvation for money etc) and his founding of a powerful branch of the church which would become a home for many who would otherwise have abandoned Christianity are great plus points. Much of the rest of his opinions and actions are questionable and some hard to support. We must look at him as an important part of history which will make sense when we have developed a new understanding of the whole story and what it really means.

David Starkey again, this time with Newton as the accused assassin; but D.S. admits at the start that this is a weak charge. Newton had no effect on Christianity except to proclaim the Universe as a rational creation, running according to laws that made sense. The Christian God of Love was therefore a God of logic, not arbitrary or random by nature. Newton's own views on religion are not of any great significance. His mathematics and science, however, were further solid support for the Church of England's rational approach to phenomena. Newton himself thought he had worked out that the Earth was formed in about 5000 BC, which indicates he had not understood the allegorical nature of the genesis story and tried to find science to fit the literal biblical interpretation. It only goes to show how wrong geniuses can be!

FEBRUARY 03 2006
In view of the fracas this week caused by cartoons of Mohammed, it is a good moment to insert a summary of this man and his role in history and why there is this prohibition on pictures, as set out in an excellent article in The Independent by Paul Vallely. You will notice something strange, however. In the penultimate paragraph, Vallely writes: "
Muslims across the globe feel alienated, threatened and routinely despised by the world's great powers." Yet in the UK Muslims have never been so flattered and accommodated. The heir to the throne has been extolling their religion for decades. They have been allowed a preferential banking system with different laws. They have been allowed to build mosques almost anywhere. The UK and NATO went to war in Yugoslavia to defend Muslims from so-called Christians. We went to war in Iraq to release Muslims from the tyranny of Saddam Hussein. So what on earth is going on in the minds of these people!

Mohamed: the messenger of Allah

By Paul Vallely

Published: 03 February 2006

Images of the Prophet Mohamed have long been discouraged in Islam. The West has little understanding of why this should be so - nor of the intensity of the feelings aroused by non-believers' attitudes to the founder of Islam.

To historians, Mohamed was a prophet and religious reformer who united the scattered Arabian tribes in the 7th century, founding what went on to become one of the world's five great religions. To Muslims, he was the last in a line of figures which included Abraham, Moses and Jesus, but which found its supreme fulfilment in Mohamed.

They believe that he was visited by the Angel Gabriel who commanded him to memorise and recite the verses sent by God which became the Koran - and that he completed and perfected the teaching of God throughout history.

Because Muslims believe that Mohamed was the messenger of Allah, they extrapolate that all his actions were willed by God. A singular love and veneration thus attaches to the person of Mohamed himself. When speaking or writing, his name is always preceded by the title "Prophet" and followed by the phrase: "Peace be upon him", often abbreviated in English as PBUH.

Attempts to depict him in illustration were therefore an attempt to depict the sublime - and so forbidden.

More than that, to reject and criticise Mohamed is to reject and criticise Allah himself. Criticism of the Prophet is therefore equated with blasphemy, which is punishable by death in some Muslim states. When Salman Rushdie, in his novel The Satanic Verses, depicted Mohamed as a cynical schemer and his wives as prostitutes, the outcome was - to those with any understanding of Islam - predictable.

But understanding of Islam is sorely lacking in the West. The culture gap has its roots in the fact that Christianity - like Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism - is essentially an iconographic religion. In its early years, the Christian world took the statues of the old gods and goddesses of Greece and morphed them into images of the Virgin Mary and the saints, which were venerated in all the churches. Muslims, like Jews, take a polar opposite view. Islam and Judaism are religions of the word, not the image.

Islam has traditionally prohibited images of humans and animals altogether - which is why much Islamic art is made up of decorative calligraphy or abstract arabesque patterns.Throughout history Muslims have cast out, destroyed or denounced all images, whether carved or painted, as idolatry. Despite that prohibition, hundreds of images of Mohamed have been created over the centuries. Medieval Christian artists created paintings and illuminated manuscripts depicting Mohamed, usually with his face in full view. Muslim artists from the same era depicted Mohamed too, but usually left his face blank or veiled.

Sixteenth-century Persian and Ottoman art frequently represented the Prophet, albeit with his face either veiled, or emanating radiance. One 16th-century Turkish painting, in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, shows Mohamed in very long sleeves so as to avoid showing even his hands.

The ban is not absolute. Today, iconic pictures of Mohamed are sold openly on the street in Iran. The creation, sale or owning of such images is illegal, but the regime turns a blind eye (Muslims in Iran are Shia not Sunni).

Two things are different today. The cartoons published first in Denmark and now more widely across Europe set out not to depict but to ridicule the Prophet. And they do so in a climate in which Muslims across the globe feel alienated, threatened and routinely despised by the world's great powers.

The combination of this with Islam's traditional unhappiness at depictions of any human form, let alone of their most venerated one, was bound to be explosive. The affair is an example of Western ignorance and arrogance combined. We have lit a fire and the wind could take it a long way.


FEBRUARY 5th 2006
Lets have a look at Taoism. To most people there seems to be little conflict between the teaching of Jesus in the New Testament and Lao - Tzu, the supposed author of Taoism, as far as the consequent instructions for how to behave during life are concerned. There are also parallels with Buddhism which equally obvious. If one takes a look at the cosmogeny of Taoism, according to  Yin Hsi (a famous Taoist) "It is a kind of cosmogony which contains all the fundamental tenets of Esoteric Cosmogenesis. Thus he says that in the beginning there was naught but limitless and boundless Space. All that lives and is, was born in it, from the 'Principle which exists by Itself, developing Itself from Itself'". Scientifically this is not quite as good as St John, who does not assume that space-time existed beforehand but emerged from a singularity. But let us not quibble, there is absolutely no case for Taoists and Christians and Bhuddists to disagree about how to behave, providing we don't get bogged down in cultural minutiae developed by fundamentalists and the various sects and denominations that developed during the 2 millennia since Jesus lived. Here are some links for Taoism.

FEBRUARY 7th 2006

Today we have Prof David Starkey's last programme in his "Who Killed Christianity" series. He targets Karl Woytila (spelling to be corrected when I find out what it is) Pope John Paul. He gives JP his due as a key player in the winding up of the Cold War but rightly takes him to task for turning the clock back to a sex-obsessed period and an Aristotelian rather than a Christian interpretation of sexual morality. John Paul was right to extol behavioural change as the key to improvements in e.g. Africa. There is no doubt that the abuse of women and the male dominance of the cultures has to be tackled if there is to be control of AIDs. There is everything to be said for 'old fashioned' values in marriage. But to get this confused with fundamental opinions on the use of condoms in absurd.

Starkey comes to the defence of the first page with which I opened this GOD STORY, prompted as I was, not primarily by the madness of Muslim fundamentalist fanaticism, or the emptiness of unimaginative atheism based on shallow and partial science, but by the truly appalling failure of the fount of Christianity to have the courage to show that its real roots, the life and teaching of Jesus, is compatible in every way with the most modern scientific knowledge. Jesus fulfilled the role of Jewish Messiah because that was what was needed. But he was also the first Humanist.The Virgin Birth was part of the legend - we do not need it now. He did not heal the sick - he showed them how to heal themselves through faith. We tend to forget that Christian Science was born in the same time as bacteriology, and tests in the last 25 years of the 'placebo effect' have proved the mind can control not only the experience of pain but the immune and other bodily systems. Jesus taught the Kingdom of God is within us. That feeding 5,000 or 5 Billion is possible if we share. That death is not the end because the spirit of life lives on and "We", "I", "You" will always be here as the eyes, the hands of God. In the beginning was The Word, and The Word Became Flesh, is the story of evolution. The parable of The Sower is the teaching of Natural Selection. Seek and Ye Shall Find is a key instruction. Love thy neighbour is another, and thy neighbour is not defined by race, colour, or even creed. He also prepared us for some very tough times ahead.

This morning I have to listen to John Mortimer talking to Dominic Lawson saying "How can you believe in God when you have The Holocaust". Sometimes one wonders how someone with an intellect as inadequate as that can make a living as a lawyer. Mind you, it could not have helped when Cardinal Hume, in answer to his question, told him "God is the Shakespeare of the universe - he has to have his villains..."  No wonder we are in a mess when the head of the Catholic Church in the UK did not understand the meaning of the crucifixion or of the humanity of Christ.

Well done Archbishop of Canterbury! We could be on the road to recovery. Dr Williams has clarified the Intelligent Design muddle and, even though the coverage of his media interview in the Guardian almost confused it again (headline writers are the bane of information dispensers and editors next on the list), it looks like the C of E will get it straight. Five separate links here to the Guardian. As I am sure you will guess, at no time did he say "I am comic vicar to the nation."
(Archbishop: stop teaching creationism, March 21),,1736264,00.html
21.03.2006: 'I am comic vicar to the nation'
21.03.2006: Transcript: Rowan Williams interview
21.03.2006: Audio extracts: Archbishop of Canterbury's interview

MARCH 24 2006
Now we have Richard Dawkins addressing an audience at the Oxford festival
on the Selfish Gene 30th anniversary and his new book. A summary of his position on the BBC 6pm evening news: "Richard Dawkins does not believe in life after death". There are different conceptions of 'life after death'. One is that we, as individuals, wake up as ourselves in another place. I am not sure at what stage of our lives we are supposed wake up, at the age of our choice? And then what? Would we start at that state and it would alter with experience again, or not? Would we meet people we knew in their previous life? What if those people did not wish to meet us? I do not think any intelligent person, certainly not St Paul for example, has really thought that this sort of life after death was likely. But if anyone is happy with that as their idea of what happens when they die, what's the harm in it? The second conception is that they are reborn as someone or something else.  OK, in that case they are something or someone else. In many ways this is true. The physical body is transformed in different ways depending on cremation or burial or any number of other possibilities that may occur by choice or by accident. That is not an individual experience of life after death. A third conception is that of reincarnation as a human here on earth. I have yet hear of anyone who brings with them a memory of their previous life. There are those who under hypnosis etc relate details of a previous life, but there is absolutely no proof it was they who lived it as the person they now are. It is evident that their subconscious has the details in it, but no evidence that the data has been acquired by them personally. There are various ways it can be explained by very advanced theories of physics and biology which have not yet established themselves as an orthodox science. 

A fourth conception is that our experience and personality as formed over a lifetime rejoins a sort of central source of energy, life and creation in which we share. Of this we cannot say much, but we can speculate this: that the nature of the universe as we have revealed it so far through investigation and science, leaves scope for existence other than that we experience. The universe is multidimensional, our human experience of time is applicable to our lives, which as indivduals have a start and an end, but there can be more types of existence of which we are a part. In a very important way we know there is life after death. All life is life after death and has only occurred as the result of death. All Richard Dawkins will do, in my view, is upset some simple souls who do not need to be troubled, in order to push his own ideas which are usually very obvious and been thought through already. It is quite probable that the universe is capable of satisfying both Dawkins and those he thinks are up the creek, including all the religions of the world. To quote an old phrase: "This thing is bigger than both of us".

APRIL 08 2006

According to the Independent

Yesterday, a 62-page codex, written from the point of view of the man who betrayed Christ and said to date from the 3rd or 4th century, was unveiled in Washington. A seismic moment for the Christian church? Paul Vallely and Andrew Buncombe report

Published: 07 April 2006

It will "shake Christianity to its foundations". Or so the pre-publicity suggested.

Of course the authors quite correctly explain that it does no such thing. All it will shake in my view is those who did not realise that without Judas there would have been no crucifixion and no cathartic fulfilment of the task Jesus had set himself - to move the religious perception of the time on to a better understanding of the way forward for humanity. He expected Judas to do the job and had clearly spoken to him about it. A reading of the New Testament we already know, with a level head, makes that clear. Jesus knew what he had to do, Judas knew what he had to do, and they got it right. Every year of the 2 millennia that followed proves them right, When this is properly understood in the coming decade they will be shown to have been even righter.

Whether the contents of the codex are true is, however, quite another thing.

APRIL 24th 2006
It is 8 months since I pointed out that the contraceptive and protective roles of condoms, being different, it is illogical to condemn their use in one role because of their function in another, and when the world is not short of children and certainly does not need them to be born infected in an environment that is neither supportive nor supportable, it is doubly illogical to condemn their use. It now seems that wisdom is prevailing in the Roman Catholic Church guided by its new Pontiff. By admitting that the protective role might not be a crime against nature, the contraceptive argument is bypassed to a considerable extent.

MAY 7th
There will now be a pause, I imagine, on pronouncements on condoms by eminent Vatican spokespersons until it has been decided how to declassify the use of condoms in a protective role as a sin without appearing to recommend their use as a protection when it is known that their performance is not 100% reliable. We have here a classic example of how the obsession of many human religions with abstract theories related to imaginings of supernatural phenomena for which there is not the slightest evidence beyond the over-exercised human imagination, impinge upon rational judgment of moral behaviour. Jesus recommended, of all teachers and theories: "by their fruits ye shall know them." Why not take his advice and stop mixing religion with medical advice. There is no doubt that intelligent behaviour is the best route to good health, pills and prophylactics are for emergencies and corrective treatment.

On the religious side there remains then the proposition: "Family planning is a logical human duty." That is the question. Most educated people have decided that it is. There is a certain logic to it.

NOVEMBER 17th 2006        John Humphrys interviews God's ambassadors and stumps them

I started off in despair at the thought of Humphrys and what I saw as his trivial questions about 'God'. But at the end I took my hat off to him.

His interviewees were on the other hand incapable of imparting anything but the conviction of their own faith.
It is quite obvious that none of them got close to fully explaining even their own religion.

I sympathise totally with Humphrys view on 'religious experience'. Who needs it! Well, it seems some do, as a sort of cathartic correction to a lopsided view of life.

To take just ONE example, the problem some (including Humphrys) have with God and a world with pain and suffering. You need to work this out when young, or you may (it seems) get stuck later.

No scientist can envisage or imagine a world where pain and suffering are impossible. The moral problem for Humphrys and others is to reconcile this world with God because they cannot imagine God other than in terms of an external, paternal wizard. The whole message of  Christianity (which for some reason the Archbishop has never twigged) is that God is immanent. The third person of the Trinity is Humanity, emergent and imperfect. JC showed The Way, and was thus correctly, rationally, spiritually and symbolically and mystically, viewed as the Son of God. Evolution is part of what we call God in the process of regeneration. It can be painful! And there can be what we call local dysfunction, just as there is local dysfunction in the human body. Existence, Creation, Recreation is the ultimate. Our world is a tiny part of it. But size or the lack of it is not related to importance. What Christians refer to as The Second Coming is simply the time when humanity understands all or most of this. At the present rate of striking it does not look imminent, when neither a reputed rationalist or three top preachers seem to have the foggiest clue - but we might have our minds concentrated in the coming century!

The Rabbi's remark about Judaism being better than Christianity through 'cutting out the middle-man' must be the worst Jewish joke of all time. God is also the Middle Man. Humphrys handed the Rabbi a gift with his question "Where was God at Auschwitz?" Sachs was pleased with his reply, but failed to deliver the punch line "in there being stripped naked and gassed". He backed off, as it would have led to a proper understanding and acceptance of Christianity. The Hebrew development of religion was magnificent and it is sad that we now end up with this denial by a Rabbi and a total failure by the Archbishop, though both are totally sincere, nice guys.

Humphrys was quite right to be unmoved. They were incapable of rational explanation of their own convictions. But that is fine for them, they don't need to understand, they have faith. If Humphrys learned science, he could understand AND have faith that was not a suspension of science. If he wanted a rational explanation then he should have done the work. But he certainly showed up the preacher-men.

NOVEMBER 26th 2006
Well, here's some good news from India, anyway. I am relieved. There is no religion I know of that defines God in any different way. However the Christian religion defines God not only as observer but participant. 80 percent of Indians thought God had a human form. Obviously not when creating the world, so that leads then straight into the same positions as Christians and toward a theory of Trinity.

India sees God as creator, not controller - report

Reuters Sunday November 26, 06:52 AM

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Most Indians perceive God as a macro-manager responsible for controlling things like the earth's rotation, rather than being in charge of the actions of humans on a day-to-day basis, a survey said on Saturday.

According to a poll conducted for the Times of India newspaper across 10 cities with 1,007 respondents -- which included people of Hindu, Muslim, Christian and Sikh faiths -- Indians were not convinced that God controlled our daily lives.

"(God) is seen as the Creator -- 91 percent feel God controls macro-affairs like the rotation of the earth or the cycle of life and death," the newspaper reported.

"A significant 46 percent said (God) was an observer, not a controller."

Predominately Hindu India is seen as being a deeply religious country where idol worship and superstitious beliefs are widely adhered to, but the poll found that only one third of Indians sensed the presence of God in idols.

While 80 percent of Indians questioned thought God had a human form, 23 percent felt God was male and 11 percent believed God was female. Forty-nine percent thought God took both a female and male form.

The poll, conducted by market research firm TNS for the daily newspaper, also found 54 percent of Indians believed God answered their prayers and 56 percent thought God was never unjust.

The newspaper said that while India is often perceived as a land of God-fearing people, God is seen by many as more a source of energy than someone to be feared.

DECEMBER 4th 2006
The article below looked encouraging at first glance, but the comments by BBC readers are, with a few exceptions, not showing much insight.

Science, the Hebrew religion of the Old Testament, many priciples of Islam and the teaching of Jesus Christ are all perfectly compatible if properly read and understood. What has gone wrong is due to the unfortunate perceived necessity to have religious establishments run by authorities who lay down the interpretations of the Bible and the Koran and are unable to update them in the light of new knowledge.

These historical documents contain a great deal of wisdom gathered over the years and distilled at the moment they were collected and archived. They must be understood in that context.

The New Testament is quite obviously the testament of the followers and subsequent advocates of the first man to fully realise that God is Nature, that humanity is the 'child' of Nature, that the human mind has a growing ability to relate to Nature and take part in the guiding of its evolution. He realised that he expected Messaiah was not a Warrior King but a new revelation of the relationship of humanity to Creation. His teaching makes it clear that our covenant with Nature is not confined to any given race; that we do not need and should not expect miracles, as Nature is already miraculous; that we must do away with superstition; that evolution proceeds through natural selection (parable of the sower); that mismanagement in one generation can cause problems that will be inherited by later generations; that the power of the mind can affect the workings of the body; that an excess of affluence can render it difficult* to appreciate the wonders of Nature; that pain and suffering cannot be eliminated in the material, temporal, evolving world, even for one who understands and teaches all this; even for Him.

The Lord's Prayer needs no revision, and the revisions made from the authorised version are misleading. However there are some mistranslations in the Gospels - *it was a not a camel that it was difficult to thread through the eye of a needle but a mooring rope.
The doctrine of the Virgin Birth was a formula that had to be adopted at the time if Christianity was to flourish and draw on the strengths of the Old Testament. Now that it has survived, all that is needed is for the modern world to understand it, starting with the Pope, Cardinals and Bishops of the Anglican Church.

God. Who knows?
With religion increasingly polarised, is there any benefit in not knowing if there is a higher power? Mark Vernon - an ex-vicar - explains why agnosticism is his creed.

We are in a period of intense debate about religion. It seems there are believers, secularists and atheists - in their manifold varieties - arguing over their various concerns. Veils. Intelligent design v evolution. Ordaining gays and women. Contraception and Aids.

But there is one voice that is squeezed out, partly because it can equivocate, partly because it tires of the tit-for-tat that the debate is so often reduced to. That is the agnostic.

Philosophical view that truth of claims like the existence of gods is unknown or unknowable
Word from Greek a , meaning without, and gnosis , meaning knowledge
Noted agnostics include Francis Crick, Sir David Attenborough, Carl Sagan and Warren Buffet

It is a position that interests me because I used to be a priest in the Church of England. Then, to cut a long story short, I left - and I left a confirmed atheist. After a while, I found unbelief as dissatisfying as full-blown Christianity. It seems to entail a kind of puritanism, as if certain areas of human experience must be put off-limits, for fear that they smack of religion. So I became an agnostic.

Now, many atheists and believers alike think agnosticism weak. Atheists would bundle us in with them; liberal believers likewise. But this does us a disservice. In fact, I have become really quite evangelical about the need for a passionate, committed agnosticism.

Why? How else to deal with something that lies at the heart of the human condition: uncertainty. Thus, a corresponding "lust for certainty" characterises many of the debates currently doing the rounds. In religion, fundamentalism is the obvious case in point.

A similar lust for certainty also increasingly characterises mainstream religion, such as the crisis about homosexuality in the Church of England. For conservative evangelicals, what you think about gay love-making is a test of what you think about the truth of the Bible. To be for one is to be against the other.

When it comes to the scientific worldview, a lust for certainty is manifest in different ways. Think of the way that some atheists go on at great length about the need to throw off superstitious belief and don the freedom and reason of the Enlightenment.

What they will not accept is what the inventor of the word "agnostic" sought to highlight. TH Huxley meant his neologism as a rebuke to all who peddle their opinions as facts - notably their opinion, scientific or religious, about God. For whether or not God exists is neither proven nor, he thought, provable. God just isn't that kind of concept.

Einstein, another agnostic, looked at the universe and saw the workings of a "spirit" beyond our understanding, an intuition the atheist would stumble over.

Fear of unknown

The lust for certainty spills over into other walks of modern life too. Take the so-called politics of fear - the constant reference to risks, from hoodies on the street corner to international terrorism.

Whatever the truth of these risks and the best ways of dealing with them, the politics of fear plays on an assumption that people cannot bear the uncertainties associated with them. Politics then becomes a question of who can better deliver an illusion of control.

Being agnostic can amount to little more than a shrug of the shoulders. But can it be a weighty way of life? It can, because it has great traditions to draw on - no lesser traditions than those of philosophy, religion and science. At their richest, all three are riven through and through with an agnostic spirit.

Take philosophy. Socrates was a genius because he realised that the key to wisdom is not how much you know, but how well you understand how little you know. That is why he irritated so many powerful people in ancient Athens; his philosophy burst the bubble of their misplaced confidence.

Similarly, Saint Augustine of Hippo (354-430) said that to be human is to be "between beasts and angels". He meant that we are not ignorant like the animals. But we are also far from wise. Faith for Augustine was about deepening the capacity to enter this cloud of unknowing, rather than opting for the shallow certainties that religion can deliver.

Everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the Universe - a spirit vastly superior to that of man
Albert Einstein

Finally, in science, the best sort - in the sense of the most humanly enriching - is that which answers questions by opening up more questions, and in particular links to questions that are beyond science alone answer.

This is the spirit that you see in cosmology. On one level, cosmologists understand an extraordinary amount about the universe. But simultaneously, this only deepens the sense of the universe's tremendousness. The science keeps pointing to the big question of why we here at all.

The revival of a committed, passionate agnosticism in philosophy, religion and science is vital for our age. Without it religion will become more extreme; science will become more triumphalist; and our politics increasingly based on fear.

Mark Vernon is the author of Science, Religion and the Meaning of Life, published by Palgrave Macmillan.

Add your comments on this story, using the form below.

Agnostic, atheist, Hindu, vegan, Man Utd supporter... seems mankind is genetically pre-disposed to want to be categorised as one thing or another. Pigeon-holed into rigid belief systems when, in reality, our views are probably more inconsistent and contradictory. From an atheist with Sheikh leanings that enjoys the Morning Service on Radio 4.
LH Kirby, London, UK

As an atheist turned Christian, I'm convinced that we can't have certainty about God or anything connected with him. What we may have is faith - a very different matter. I believe in God because I've had spiritual experiences that I interpret as being in touch with God; I believe in the Christian Gospel because it helps to make sense of humanity. I'll pray for Mark.
Robert, Reading, England

In my opinion we atheists are passionate and vocal about our (lack of) belief because we see the harm which centuries of allowing religion to overrule thought has done. Religion would be a fine thing if we could let each man or woman decide his or her own belief; however that would mean no family pressure, no Sunday school, no faith schools, no baptism and no teaching of any religion until of an age to understand.
Geoff Winkless, Leicestershire, UK

I empathise with the frustration over being considered a fence-sitter. At one point I started using the term "epistemological nihilist" (as I have an inkling that humans are incapable of knowing everything), but that term just sounds pompous to the people I'm likely to be debating with. As for agnosticism in general, I find it bemusing that it's not the preferred way of thinking. Data gets filtered through the senses into the brain and then filtered out via human language - how can we be sure we are ever on the same page enough to consider our ideas true knowledge? Surely that realization should instil enough humility to temper the extremes of fundamentalism, atheism, nihilism, etc. Ah well, humans must need the strife on some level.
Lanna, Kirkcaldy

How about other religions? If Christianity hasn't provided you with the answer, then how about Islam. As a Muslim, I found my religion to honestly provide answers to the multitude and creator behind existence.
Yemeth Nabel, Dudley, West Midlands

Not knowing and admitting it takes courage, but it is a healthy attitude in times of fanatic struggles around religion. Michel de Monteigne did so when French Catholics and Protestants were killing each other in order to prove that one or another variety of Christianity was the true one. He answered the question "which is the true religion?" by saying "que sais-je ?" I think this took about as much courage as any of the other options. I think we have the right to wonder, to ask questions, to talk about our doubts. Even if I am religious (I am a Jew).
Eva Bucur, Arad, Romania

What is God? It seems to mean different things to different people. I think a lot of the debate is semantics. I don't believe in an omnipresent being micromanaging our lives. So I'm atheist. But what caused the universe to come into existence? What determined the rules (of nature/physics etc) that took the universe on from the big bang to what we now know and love? In order for something to have the powers to do that, it must be so alien to our way of thinking that we probably could never understand it; does this view make me an agnostic? Personally I think what is relevant is whether we believe in a heaven and hell, an afterlife, spirit, etc.
Joe Grey, Folkestone, Kent

Einstein was not referring to the Gods of the 3 main religions when he referred to a spirit beyond our understanding. He was referring to "mother nature", a set of forces we may never completely understand, but that need not be attributed to some higher conscious godlike power just in the same way we would not attribute the mysteries of the universe to a giant teapot orbiting in the sky.
Joel, London

If a Church of England vicar becomes an atheist before becoming an agnostic hasn't he really ended up where he started?
Greg, Glasgow

I think the way he writes suggests he is using a scientific mindset to judge faith, which is like using the rules of cricket to run a football match. Nevertheless he is right to say that the search for certainty is unlikely to be successful. Faith is by definition something that must include doubt. This is where Dawkins is more fundamentalist than his religious opponents in that he seems to be certain that God does not exist. Keep searching, Mark - you may find your way home soon.
Derek, Keighley, West Yorkshire

I believe if any English word can be used to describe the powers that be, it's "nature".
Scott Tyrrell, Grimsby, UK

perhaps this individual should be looking into God's word the Bible rather than the human traditions of the church
Gillian Laurie, Warrington, Cheshire

With regard to Gillian Laurie's statement regarding "God's word - the Bible", there is no proof that the Bible is actually the Word of God. It was written by uncounted different people over the space of 1,000 years; it is based on peoples' opinions and views of many centuries ago, and isn't really current to base one's life and beliefs on in this day and age.
Peter, Birmingham

Francis Crick, Sir David Attenborough and Carl Sagan were/are not agnostic. They were unsure of the origins of the universe itself, and could not truly rule out the existence of some higher power. However (and this is very, very important), when it comes to the nature of this higher power they were certain it was not the Abrahamic God of the major world religions. They were no more agnostic regarding this God than they were agnostic that a flying spaghetti monster created the world. Regarding Christianity, Judaism and Islam these men were/are atheists. And you can add Albert Einstein, Thomas Jefferson and Douglas Adams to the list.
Andrew, Belfast

I agree strongly on the merits of agnosticism, and am endlessly frustrated by the flawed, sniping attempts to "prove" or "disprove" the existence of God. I consider myself a monotheist agnostic; I think this is a consistent position, and it reconciles my attitudes to science and religion.
Chris, London, UK

You don't have to be agnostic to question some of the core assumptions of religion, or to question some of the biases of anti-religious scientism. It seems he is trying to make a belief-system out of something which, by definition, cannot be systemised in such a way.
SC, Deal, Kent

About damned time that someone wrote a clear and meaningful article on agnosticism. Those of us who identify as such have been consistently written off as being fence-sitters. Glad to see there still exists some common sense (and greater sense) in this "modern" world. It's been terrifying to see the fear-mongers stirring everyone into greater depths of hatred. Perhaps there is hope.
Shadow Morton, San Francisco