Posts Tagged ‘Atheism Secularism Humanism’

The Paradox at the heart of the problem of natural evil.

Friday, February 8th, 2013

Should personal experience of natural evil such as a catastrophic earthquake turn folk away from belief in an all-powerful benevolent God? This fascinating study indicates exactly the opposite:


On 22 February 2011, Christchurch New Zealand (population 367,700) experienced a devastating earthquake, causing extensive damage and killing one hundred and eighty-five people. The earthquake and aftershocks occurred between the 2009 and 2011 waves of a longitudinal probability sample conducted in New Zealand, enabling us to examine how a natural disaster of this magnitude affected deeply held commitments and global ratings of personal health, depending on earthquake exposure. We first investigated whether the earthquake-affected were more likely to believe in God. Consistent with the Religious Comfort Hypothesis, religious faith increased among the earthquake-affected, despite an overall decline in religious faith elsewhere. This result offers the first population-level demonstration that secular people turn to religion at times of natural crisis. We then examined whether religious affiliation was associated with differences in subjective ratings of personal health. We found no evidence for superior buffering from having religious faith. Among those affected by the earthquake, however, a loss of faith was associated with significant subjective health declines. Those who lost faith elsewhere in the country did not experience similar health declines. Our findings suggest that religious conversion after a natural disaster is unlikely to improve subjective well-being, yet upholding faith might be an important step on the road to recovery.

The entire report is worth reading; however, if you would prefer a more concise synopsis then I recommend reading Connor Wood over on Patheos (Science on Religion) entitled simply: Does suffering drive us to religion? Yep.

Is the Internet really atheism’s greatest tool?

Thursday, January 10th, 2013

Guest post by Edmund Standing:

In July 2011, Campus Crusade for Christ International apologist Josh McDowell warned that the Internet poses a great threat to Christianity because:

The Internet has given atheists, agnostics, skeptics, the people who like to destroy everything that you and I believe, the almost equal access to your kids as your youth pastor and you have.

Meanwhile, from the atheist side, we find claims such as this:

Want proof that religion is dying? Look no further than the dominance of atheists on the Internet. We fucking own this place, and it’s only matter of time before we mock faith into non-existence.

So, is the Internet really leading to an explosion of atheism and will it really sound the death knell for Christianity?

Perhaps such questions can only be adequately answered in the future, given how relatively young the Internet still is, and given the extent to which the West still dominates the Internet, in terms both of users and content. However, I’m unconvinced that the bold claims about atheism taking over thanks to the Internet ring true.

The Internet is an incredibly fast moving and relatively ephemeral ‘place’. Social networking and video websites are amongst the most used sites on the Internet and both are based largely around superficial trends and fads that come – and more importantly go – at a speed unknown a few generations ago. Twitter, for example, is one of the leading social media websites, where topics and ideas fly around at great speed, rising for a short while as ‘trending’ topics, only to quickly disappear and be replaced by some new fascination. On the Internet, news, ideas, videos, and pictures quickly go ‘viral’, but very few hang around for long. Last year saw the explosion of the ‘KONY 2012′ viral video campaign (which was endorsed by various celebrities). Its popularity led President Obama to make comments about the campaign, yet now, in 2013, it has long since ceased to be a ‘trending topic‘. Then there were the supposed Mayan prophecies of the world ending in 2012, which caused a buzz online and have now – unsurprisingly – disappeared from view. A look at Google’s top searches of 2012 likewise reveals the extent of the superficiality of popular Internet usage.

Just as the Internet moves at a very fast pace, so does the ‘real world’. A few years ago, the world seemed to be going Da Vinci Code mad. People everywhere were talking about Jesus and his supposed relationship with Mary Magdalene. Articles appeared in the press, documentaries appeared on TV, and a feature film was released. But nowadays, who’s talking about any of that? A few years after that, it seemed atheism was everywhere, with a series of books being published (such as The God Delusion and God is not great) that propelled atheism into the media spotlight and led to the claim that this was a ‘new atheism’. The media hype around ‘new atheism’ has now died down, if not died out.

Neither books nor Internet content now seem able to truly hold the attention of the masses for very long, and while the ‘new atheism’ phenomenon has arguably led to atheism having a higher profile online, much of it is of a very superficial nature. Internet atheism seems to be predominantly a trend led by young Internet users, many of whom are not so much philosophical atheists but rather nihilistic youngsters looking for a new avenue for rebellion and a new target for their love of ‘trolling’ and the spreading of Internet ‘memes’. A certain type of Internet atheist seems to love pictures featuring supposedly ‘clever’ put-downs of religion, offering deliberately reductionist explanations of the (Abrahamic) religious worldview, the claim that the Bible contains nothing but ‘fairy tales‘, weak jokes about the Resurrection being nothing more than the story of a ‘Jewish Zombie‘, and claims that religious believers are ‘stupid‘ and that religion is a ‘mental illness‘. This kind of ‘jargonising‘ offers nothing of worth to serious discussions of religion.

Leaving this kind of trivial material aside, it is of course the case that atheists have made very good use of the Internet, in terms of the vast amount of atheist and sceptical material that is now available to the curious searcher. However, one cannot help wondering what percentage of Internet users are willing to give up what spare time they have to trawling through large websites filled with long articles seeking to debunk faith. Religion may appear a minority interest in the dazzling new electronic world, but then atheism is too. There may be plenty who will be swayed to discard their faith having come across Internet atheist material, but it is arguably the case that such people were probably only nominally religious to begin with. The main demographic in the online atheist ‘convert’ community seems to be people who were brought up in some sort of fundamentalism and have now rejected that narrow faith in favour of an equally narrow and passionate atheism (or anti-theism). Such people are already very engaged in some sense with religion or religious ideas and will largely have specifically sought out atheist materials as a result. In order for atheism to truly triumph in the Internet context, it would have to grip a large proportion of people who have not actively sought it out. I’m unconvinced this is actually happening.

Arguably, if anything is triumphing on the Internet (aside from the kind of ephemeral online trends cited earlier) it is actually a kind of irrationalism which, far from being based on serious consideration of issues traditionally at the heart of philosophical discussion (the meaning of life, the existence or otherwise of God, ethics, and so on) leans instead towards conspiracy theories and a kind of ‘scepticism’ that is far from that advocated by atheists. Jonathan Kay, author of a recent book on conspiracism, has argued that the growth in Internet conspiracy theory materials has led to ‘nothing less than a rift in the fabric of consensual American reality’. Interestingly, when recounting his experiences of interviewing conspiracy believers, Kay argues that ‘they wouldn’t be doing this if they had some satisfying worldview that gave them the kind of intellectual and emotional stability they were looking for in their life’. Perhaps it is here that the Internet may actually lead to a revival of interest in Christianity. If Internet users start to desire something real, something that makes sense beyond the shifting electronic sands of the Web, something that anchors reality and truth in an age of speed and confusion, and something that brings rest from the chaotic nature of modern life, it may well be that beliefs that offer a connection between the past, the present, and the future will take on a new appeal. Atheism, in comparison, will never offer a satisfying worldview that provides the kind of intellectual and emotional stability so many crave.

Will the Internet really destroy Christianity?

I wouldn’t count on it!

Evangelicals do not necessarily embrace practical evangelism.

Friday, December 21st, 2012

I Want to kick off by making note of British Religion in Numbers (BRIN) new Twitter account: @BritRelNumbers. As regular readers will know BRIN are an indispensable resource, furnishing us with juicy stats pertaining to religion in Britain today. They’ve currently got just 6 followers on Twitter, so please do click the link and give them a follow and a boost.

Today BRIN have another excellent seasonal round-up and although I’m pilfering the stats relating specifically to Evangelicals and evangelism, please do hop over for: Global religious landscape, Membership of religious groups, Religion census in Wales, Andrew Brown on the census, Singing the gospel, and Christmas cards without Christ.

Here’s the section on Evangelicals and evangelism:

Notwithstanding, evangelicals do not necessarily embrace practical evangelism. They often stay within their religious comfort zone, 74% saying that all or most of their family or household members are Christians and 51% the same about their circle of friends; 43% accept that they do not come into contact with many non-Christians. Many (39%) lack the motivation to share their faith, 48% feel too scared to do so, and 60% acknowledge that they have missed an opportunity to speak to others about God during the past four months. These are acknowledged to be generic weaknesses, 87% recognizing that most Christians want the confidence to give testimony to their faith, and 76% that Christians do not pray enough for revival.

Of course, there are barriers on the other side, too, with 74% declaring that none of their non-Christian contacts seem interested in talking about spiritual things. The major hindrances to the advancement of faith among non-Christians are perceived by evangelicals to be: secular alternatives to Sunday worship (89%), the Church’s unattractive public image (87%), the Church’s middle class ethos (73%), an aversion to joining any kind of organization (68%), the Church’s narrow views on sex (62%), the inability of Christians to give meaningful answers to the problem of suffering (61%), popular knowledge of science (59%), and the attacks of atheists such as Richard Dawkins (51%).

Read all

The summary of the findings, 21st Century Evangelicals: A Snapshot of the Beliefs and Habits of Evangelical Christians in the UK, Winter 2012 – Confidently Sharing the Gospel? is available at:

84% of the global population are religious

Wednesday, December 19th, 2012

The Pew Research Forum has released a new report on the size and distribution of the world’s major religious groups as of 2010.

Worldwide, more than eight-in-ten people identify with a religious group. A comprehensive demographic study of more than 230 countries and territories conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life estimates that there are 5.8 billion religiously affiliated adults and children around the globe, representing 84% of the 2010 world population of 6.9 billion.

The demographic study – based on analysis of more than 2,500 censuses, surveys and population registers – finds 2.2 billion Christians (32% of the world’s population), 1.6 billion Muslims (23%), 1 billion Hindus (15%), nearly 500 million Buddhists (7%) and 14 million Jews (0.2%) around the world as of 2010. In addition, more than 400 million people (6%) practice various folk or traditional religions, including African traditional religions, Chinese folk religions, Native American religions and Australian aboriginal religions. An estimated 58 million people – slightly less than 1% of the global population – belong to other religions, including the Baha’i faith, Jainism, Sikhism, Shintoism, Taoism, Tenrikyo, Wicca and Zoroastrianism, to mention just a few.

At the same time, the new study by the Pew Forum also finds that roughly one-in-six people around the globe (1.1 billion, or 16%) have no religious affiliation. This makes the unaffiliated the third-largest religious group worldwide, behind Christians and Muslims, and about equal in size to the world’s Catholic population. Surveys indicate that many of the unaffiliated hold some religious or spiritual beliefs (such as belief in God or a universal spirit) even though they do not identify with a particular faith.

You can access the Executive Summary and further links here.

UK Census 2011 religious statistics released today #census2011

Tuesday, December 11th, 2012

OK, the big day has finally arrived.

The UK Census data on religion has just been released and I’m following initial reactions on Twitter.

The statistical bulletin can be found here.

I’m going to pop off and have a good look and I will be updating here with links and analysis. In the meantime, the predominate Tweet in reaction to the data is:

Number of people identifying as Christian down from 72% to 59% number with ‘no religion’ up from 15% to 25%

Unsurprisingly, the British Humanists are first out of the blocks to comment and you can feel the glee..

Following is a video from the ONS on the religious data (Hat-tip Connexion)

Theos have issued a release entitled: Britain is neither Christian nor secular, but religiously plural

Opinionated Vicar blogs on the ‘Religion Question’.

More glee, this time from the National Secular Society.

Damian Thompson over on the Telegraph: Christianity is fading away in Britain as Islam surges and agnosticism spreads.

Francis Sedgemore comments: Irreligion emerges from the shadows.

Tom Chivers (Telegraph) with an interesting comment:

It’s tempting, as an atheist and rationalist, to crow about these figures: to shout something about the slow death of magical thinking, or the rise of reason. But it’s probably worth someone in the non-God camp to point out that it’s not a universally good thing, that as with almost everything it’s a complex picture.


Church of England respond and you have to love the concluding paragraph:

Doubtless, campaigning atheist organisations will attempt to minimise the significance of the majority figures for faith and Christianity. In fact, these figures draw attention to the free ride that had been given to these bodies whose total membership would barely fill half of Old Trafford. For instance there are an estimated 28,000 members of British Humanist Association – the same membership as Union of Catholic Mothers, whilst the National Secular Society has an estimated 5,000 – the same as the British Sausage Appreciation Society.

Law and Religion UK with an intriguing comment from Frank Cranmer:

As in the 2001 Census I declared myself as “other” on the grounds that it was the description that best fitted me as a Quaker of the Unitarian/Universalist tendency. I guess not everyone is as literal-minded as I am: but it does raise the question about definitions and what the labels actually mean.

I don’t see how someone like me, who firmly rejects the doctrine of the Trinity as a solution still seeking a problem, can describe himself or herself as a “Christian”: equally, I’m sure that a lot of those who did so would be barely able to distinguish Shrove Tuesday from Sheffield Wednesday.

Fr. Dwight Longenecker on the decline of the Church in Britain.

Ian Birrell – Evening standardWe have nothing to fear from our Muslim citizens.

News Thump (Satirical): Countdown underway till first religious leader blames country’s ills on fall in Christianity

Cristina Odone (Telegraph): 2011 census shock revelation: Christianity is still the majority religion, and Britain is still a God-fearing country

Catholic Church in England and Wales rather brief response.

Guardian looks at ‘other religions’: Census 2011: how many Jedi Knights are there in England & Wales?

Nelson Jones – NewStatesman: No longer the default religion: is being a Christian now a political statement?

British Religion in Numbers (BRIN): Religious Census 2011 – England and Wales

BRINReligious Census 2011 – Initial Responses

BRIN: Religious Census 2011 – What happened to the Christians?

University of Oxford Project to tackle teaching of Christianity in the classroom

Thursday, December 6th, 2012

I’ve been holding off on this one in the hope that the full data from the survey conducted by YouGov and commissioned by Oxford University’s Department of Education would be publicly published.

Sadly, despite requests and a swathe of media coverage, as far as I’m aware the full data has not yet been published.

And so all I can offer on this rather important topic is the Oxford University press release followed by some media comments:

A YouGov poll commissioned by Oxford University’s Department of Education has found widespread support in England for the teaching of Christianity as part of Religious Education. The survey was undertaken as the initial part of a national intervention project by Oxford researchers to support teachers tackling the subject of Christianity in schools.

In the poll of a random sample of 1,832 adults in England, 64 per cent agreed that children need to learn about Christianity in order to understand English history; 57 per cent agreed it was needed to understand the English culture and way of life; and 44 per cent said they thought that more attention should be given to such teaching. Areas of Christianity that people regarded as particularly important for children to learn about in RE were the history of Christianity (58 per cent), major Christian events and festivals (56 per cent), and how Christianity distinguishes right from wrong (51 per cent).

The project is being launched by a research team of educationalists and practitioners at Oxford University, as part of their wider work on religion in education. The project follows concerns raised by Ofsted inspectors and others about how Christianity is taught. One problem identified in research literature is that teachers are sometimes nervous about tackling issues related to Christianity because they are worried that it could be considered as evangelizing.

The Oxford team is producing a web-based introductory package aimed at trainee primary teachers, which will be free and is expected to be available by September 2013. The project will explore ways of helping all classroom teachers in primary schools, as well as non-specialists teaching RE in secondary schools. The online materials provide a basic background on RE generally, but focus on the teaching of Christianity. They also touch on issues of personal faith and how this sits with teaching about Christianity, as well as other world faiths. Further online materials for teachers exploring other faiths are anticipated in the longer term.

The online materials for trainee primary teachers are being produced with £100,000 funding from the Jerusalem and Culham St Gabriel’s Trusts, charitable trusts that support school-based RE.  A further donation of £48,500 from the Jerusalem Trust will enable first stage work on a package for all primary teachers already in schools.Lead researcher Dr Nigel Fancourt, a lecturer on the RE programme based at the University’s Department of Education, within one of the UK’s leading PGCE courses, said: ‘Christianity statutorily receives more attention than other religions or worldviews, so it will probably be the only religion that pupils study throughout their schooling.

‘It is treated in the same way as other religions, but studied more frequently.  While this is challenging and vibrant in some schools, the fact that the basics are often already vaguely familiar to some teachers and pupils means it can present problems. For instance, the presentation of Christianity can be incoherent, lacking in intellectual development, or too stereotypical.

Also involved in the project is Dr Liam Gearon, who has authored a forthcoming book entitled MasterClass in Religious Education. He holds the University Lectureship in Religious Education at the Oxford University Department of Education in association with a Senior Research Fellowship at Harris Manchester College.

Commenting on the aims of the project, he said: ‘The teaching of Christianity in English schools is part of Christianity’s decisive shaping of English history. It  has been a philosophically rich and politically contested history. The academic study of Christianity, including the challenges it continues to face, is a source of often unrealised intellectual engagement. But, for all its institutional faults, past and present, Christian tradition also opens for young people a source of lifelong spiritual enrichment, and a reminder that Christianity has a place in history while looking beyond it.’

Dr Fancourt added: ‘The subject is often conceived as “faith development”‘, particularly in some church schools, or “moral development”. This is not to ignore these elements, but to argue that all types of schools need to refocus on understanding whatever else is considered important too. Teaching about Christianity should therefore engage pupils with the depth and breadth of the Christian tradition, present the subtlety of diversity, and provide an academic challenge.’

The BBC picked up on this with the headline: Teaching of Christianity ‘lacks intellectual development’, whilst the Telegraph went with: Schools ‘struggling to teach about Christianity in RE’. And it goes without saying The Christian Institute also opted for the negative slant.

Cristina Odone (Telegraph) headlined: Ordinary Britons are comfortable with Christianity. Teachers and government aren’t, though, and the Express with: Children ‘Must be taught Christianity’.

Christian Concern have produced a video on the back of these findings:

Obviously the National Secular Society picked up on this survey and noted the following:

But a closer look at the sponsors of this research shows it has received £48,500 funding from a strongly evangelical organisation, the Jerusalem Trust which is underpinned by money from the Sainsbury family.

Among the Jerusalem Trust’s stated aims are: “to advance the Christian religion” and “Evangelism and Christian mission in the UK: Trustees are particularly interested in Christian projects that develop new ways of working with children and young people.”

The University received a further £100,000 from Culham and St Gabriel’s Trust, a Christian organisation with links to the Church of England, which runs an organisation called RE Today whose sole purpose is to advance the strength and prominence of religious education in schools.

The Oxford Study also produced an opinion poll that showed two thirds of the population in favour of religious education and the importance of Christianity, although the poll has not been published, so it is difficult to know what questions were asked and how they were framed in order to get these results.

The NSS is indeed right to note the difficulty in assessing the methodology without the poll being published.

BRIN were among those contacting Oxford University’s Department of Education to see whether they can make this available.

BRIN also linked to a related recent publication from the Oxford Department:


It is available at:

Teaching Christianity and other religions is vital within the educational setting, as religious literacy is paramount in an increasingly religious world.

However, I would draw the distinction between teaching about faiths, and transmitting the faith. The latter is not the remit of an arm of government, but a job for families and the Church.

A few good links

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012

A few links I found interesting for one reason or another:

A Reluctant Sinner - By setting up a Twitter account the Pope is like a general leading from the front — The virtual world is a battleground

Independent (Owen Jones) - Tragic deaths that demand a better response than I witnessed

Bishop Nick Baines – Cutting Edge

Seattle Times - Russia wrestles with hysteria over end-of-the-world prophecy

BRIN - Faith of the Faithless

Fr Stephen Smuts -An Archdiocese of the Internet?

Law and Religion UK - Opinion polls on assisted dying

Thomas Creedy - Postmodernism, Evangelism, Apologetics and the Future of the Church

The biblical World - Evangelism in a Globalized World: 1 Thess 1:4-8

The Emotionally Sensitive Person - Looking at Loneliness: Survey Results Feature Revd David Patterson Atheist Church of England Vicar

Thursday, November 22nd, 2012


David Patterson has been a Vicar in the Church of England for forty years, yet throughout that time he has never believed in the existence of God or in an afterlife. David wants Christians to learn from Atheists to reject the idea of a supernatural deity beyond our universe, and instead focus on living the best lives we can in the here and now.

You can watch his pearls of wisdom here.

Can’t really say it better than these Tweets:

Roman Catholic beliefs produce characteristic neural responses to moral dilemmas.

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012

Although I only have access to the abstract and the sample is small, I thought it interesting to note potential evidence of neurological differences between Atheists and Catholics in processing moral issues:

This study provides exploratory evidence about how behavioral and neural responses to standard moral dilemmas are influenced by religious belief. Eleven Catholics and thirteen Atheists (all female) judged 48 moral dilemmas. Differential neural activity between the two groups was found in precuneus and in prefrontal, frontal and temporal regions. Furthermore, a double dissociation showed that Catholics recruited different areas for deontological (precuneus; temporoparietal junction [TPJ]) and utilitarian moral judgments (dorsolateral prefrontal cortex [DLPFC]; temporal poles [TP]), whereas Atheists did not (superior parietal gyrus [SPG] for both types of judgment). Finally, we tested how both groups responded to personal and impersonal moral dilemmas: Catholics showed enhanced activity in DLPFC and posterior cingulate cortex [PCC] during utilitarian moral judgments to impersonal moral dilemmas, and enhanced responses in anterior cingulate cortex [ACC] and superior temporal sulcus [STS] during deontological moral judgments to personal moral dilemmas. Our results indicate that moral judgment can be influenced by an acquired set of norms and conventions transmitted through religious indoctrination and practice. Catholic individuals may hold enhanced awareness of the incommensurability between two unequivocal doctrines of the Catholic belief set, triggered explicitly in a moral dilemma: help and care in all circumstances – but thou shalt not kill.


A few good links

Tuesday, November 20th, 2012

A few links I found interesting for one reason or another:

First up two posts on Prisons Week: GodandPolitics and Opinionated Vicar

Accepting Abundance - Explaining Reason: Atheism or Christianity?

Everyday Theology - Inflatable People: The Holy Spirit and Creation

Terry Mattingly – Commandments for believers who blog

ReligionDispatches - Denzel’s Profane Preaching: A Religious Movie for the Rest of Us

Beyond Blue - What Doesn’t Kill You … Well, It Still Really Sucks

What’s Wrong With The World - Drunk with reverence

A hearty congratulations to Mental Health Cop

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