Episode 16 The Big Questions

Episode 16

Nicky Campbell presents a special programme from Manor Church of England School in York, asking just one Big Question - is it more rational to believe in God?

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Today on The Big Questions, atheism.


Good morning. I am Nicky to The Big Questions. We are back at the Church


of England Academy in York. Is it rational to believe in God?


Welcome, everyone, to The Big Questions this morning. Pascal, the


physicist and inventor, became a Christian philosopher later in his


life. He combined the mathematics of probability with religious belief,


in his famous wager, arguing that as you can either prove or disprove


God's existence, you must wager that if God exists and you are a


believer, you gain everything. If God does not exist, you lose


nothing. So he reasoned that you should believe in God. So, would he


say the same today, when the faithful are often pilloried as


idiots and science continues to look for rational expeditions for the


mysteries of life. Is it more rational to believe in God? We have


a distinguished line-up of theologians, scientists, people of


faith and people that have lost faith. You can have your say on


Twitter, log onto the website where you will find links to continue the


discussion. Lots of contributions from our very lively audience. Is it


more rational to believe in God? There are people who say it is far


more rational to believe in God than not to. You will not be surprised to


hear they are sitting in the studio. What do you say to them? Well, I


think you have got to look at what is rational, you have to look at


what reasons give us reason to believe, on balance. I don't think


it's helpful to say religious believers are irrational, as though


they are just stupid. There is a balance of evidence and you have to


ask, where does Italy and most heavily? If you were to ask, what


would happen if some buddy came into this debate without prior knowledge,


without an upbringing in one particular religion or another? I


think if they look that the evidence they would conclude this is a


natural universe without any supernatural guidance. The religions


we have in this culture are eight product of different cultures, which


is why there are different religions in different societies. That is a


very broad brushed version of the Ottoman. Just on balance, that is


what seems to be where the reasoned points. There is no natural,


inherent... There is no God within us that means we have to believe in


God? Or we are led to believe in God? It seems to be a natural


instinct towards looking for purpose in the universe. It seems to be a


natural human instinct to try and find reasons for things happening


that are to do with motivations and desires. The fact that it is


something we have evolved to have does not tell us anything about


whether there is something they're doing that. The instinct is just an


instinct, which you could say evolved because we need to look to


how things work. We need to understand how things work and for


other people, it is helpful to see them as having motives. That general


instinct, when we apply it to the universe as a whole, is misapplied.


Because the universe is not another person, something we need to


understand the motivations of. So, that last point about how we have


evolved to seek patterns and explanations, Professor Alister


McGrath, we are basically primates, we are pattern seeking mammals? Of


course we seek an explanation and also we seek comfort? Of course we


are looking for explanations. That is what intelligent people do. It is


about trying to work out what is going on in the world. Julian is


also right to say that is part of who we are. But that does not deny


the validity of looking for meaning, and its many why we think something


does not invalidate the quest. I am a scientist, I began as an atheist


and became a Christian, one of the enormously exciting things about


discovering the Christian faith is not to be that it helped me be a


better scientist, it really opened up this question of meaning. Many


are watching this programme today precisely because of this question


of meaning, that it really matters. It is not something you can reel off


from just looking at the universe, it is about deep reflection. Maybe


it is about the deepest instincts in us. Was your life lacking in meaning


before? I think I had meaning, but it was a meaning I had just


constructed. Is there something there I am meant to be walking into?


A bigger picture that I could be part of? That seemed to me to be a


very important question to ask. A lot of people point to certain


precepts of religion and they see them as being irrational. Some


people say, how can it be rational to take your religion, to accept


that we are born sinful, that unless we get better we are threatened with


hell, that the God that created as created. You can CYP Bull might


think that is baloney? I can see why people would think that, with


respect I don't think that. Many of your faith do? Exactly. You have to


accept that Christianity is a rich religion and there are different


perspectives. To say it is baloney, I want to say that Christianity is


rich, exciting, enormously intellectually stimuli can. But it


is a broad church and I belong to a depth that I think is great. He is


exactly right, there are different forms of religion. Anybody that


tries to say that religion is a rational because of X, you are never


going to get to the bottom of it. We have this debate in these very


polite ways and talk about how, of course, you don't have to believe in


hell, when it comes down to it, it is true that the majority of


religious people will believe at least one thing which to an atheist,


to somebody that will take a purely scientific view, is kind of


outrageous. In terms of Christianity, the bottom line for a


lot of people is the resurrection. lot of people is the resurrection.


They made out to certain things happened in the old Testament, but I


have yet to find... Very few Christians I meet will be prepared


to say, no, that boom was not empty because there was a resurrection of


Christ. That is a because there was a resurrection of


believe if you People do believe it. I'm not saying


are going against, I think, a scientific worldview in that


are going against, I think, a particular part. Vince, you want to


come in? It's a really good point. I think sometimes there is an


assumption that Christianity, or belief in God generally, is the more


extraordinary belief, it is the more miraculous belief. Therefore, it has


the burden of proof. I thought that for a long time. The more I reasoned


about it, I thought, what other possible big picture explanations


for the universe? There are only three primary ones. One might be


that God made it. I might just put my hand up and say that is pretty


extraordinary, it is remarkable. But if I look up the other two, the


universe just popped into existence from nothing with explanation, it's


a very odd option as well. Physical stuff normally doesn't pop in and


out of existence. If it does not now, why would it then? Or we say


that the universe has existed infinitely, stretching back in time.


And I think that pushes the oddness one step back. Or universes? If


there is a succession going back infinitely in time, still with no


explanation for why that is the case. I come to the conclusion that


we live in a miraculous world. If you are an atheist, theist or


agnostic, I don't think there is any getting around that fact. Once I


came to see that, I think I was more open to seeing that


came to see that, I think I was more could take place. But it's


impossible for us to conceptualise that stuff. 13.5 billion years, it


is no more likely we are going to do it and a raft is going to explain


what the London Underground is about? Whatever the truth is, it is


extraordinary. It is extraordinarily hard to fathom. But I don't think


anyone should think that the solution to come up with, whether


they are atheist or theist is the final account. There are the


mysteries that we don't understand, and there are deep mysteries for the


more scientifically inclined people. Many religious people are


scientifically inclined? Some of them are. A lot of them are. Some of


them are? A lot of them are? It is a question of which extraordinary


explanation fits the most. That is where I think the rationality points


to the natural one. There are fascinating areas in signs to


discuss. You touched on this, Julian, what about the cultural


reasons? Different religions in different parts of the world,


different cultural histories, different anthropological basis for


those. Dr Lois Lee, this is quite interesting, recent studies have


shown that societies with a stronger belief in heaven and hell have


higher crime rates? This multi-fact , as they say. Societies with a


welfare state, a big comfort blanket, lots of security for people


within, they have lower religious belief. What can we extrapolate, if


anything? And, goodness me, it is very compensated. It is. I think it


gets to... You said, if we leave the religious backgrounds at the door,


then we can work with evidence. That is a really big if. We can't leave


our backgrounds at the door. Most people we find that you are


religious or nonreligious according to the norm in your locale. It can


be as local as the borough that you live in, it can be as local as your


family, but it also works on the national level. When we are thinking


about rationality, weighing up the evidence, we are putting to one side


a big part of the picture, this cultural inclination towards one


belief or another. As you said, there are many factors. The larger


the welfare state, the less likely you are to be religious. The


religious history of a country as well? Absolutely. What we can find


is a general trend, the larger the welfare state and how relatively


affluent it is, that can allow us to predict how religious it is or how


atheist it is. Then we find we get pushed in different directions by


the cultural backgrounds. State atheism have a big impact, we saw a


big rise in atheism within that cultural context. So we have to


consider those cultural factors and not say, because there is a big


welfare state, therefore I can say that religion is all about comfort


and so on. There isn't going to be an easy explanation like that.


Certainly we need to take us into account. What about Sweden? Famously


cited as an example of quite an atheist, agnostic or not very


religious place. Are they a rational? Or are they very rational?


-- irrational. If you do focus exclusively on rationality in these


kinds of debates, you end up having to say the Swedish are more rational


than the Brits, that you may wish to say. We are 13th highest in terms of


the amount of atheism, in a shorter list. Are we the 13th most rational


or 13th most irrational? So we would have to accept that we are less


rational than the French, the Latvians, more rational than 27


other countries. It's like the Eurovision Song Contest, we are


never going to win anything! Is there a tipping point, perhaps,


where it becomes... A lot of people are feeling at the moment that they


think it is becoming unacceptable to express your religious belief. Is


there a tipping point where I had become socially more acceptable and


expected that you are not a believer? It's self-perpetuating, in


a sense? Absolutely. The creation of a new culture, in which it is normal


to be X or Y. That's important in terms of rational claims. You want


to see that they back it up by their action. You see a transformation of


rationality, which is very informed by these different cultural norms. I


think Britain is quite an interesting country because there is


a balance between religious cultures, Christian culture


especially, and atheists and nonreligious cultures. They are the


two, both sitting at 40% or 50%. It's an interesting space for


discussion. Discussion matters, because that is what creates the


cultures. The cultures influence what we then take on. There's no


reason to say we have a deterministic view and there is no


point even having the concession, but if we start to say someone is


being irrational, we have to accept that we are all pretty irrational


and accept that as a starting point. We are, I do this show a lot!


Professor Alister McGrath, you are a very great scientist, but that is


nothing to do with your religion, great scientist, great academic,


highly respected. You are an evolutionary theist, you accept


that. You said Adam and Eve were symbolic. We come into the science


later on. You have already hinted at this, you can understand very well


how some people point out aspects of religion and belief and think that


is, if you'll pardon the expression, bonkers. The other accusation to you


would be that you have moulded religion to fit into your


rationality? And that is all you have done? Everyone who thinks about


these questions has to say, do I buy into something that is already


there? Do I think this through in a freethinking way? This is what I


believe to be right. I would want to affirm the importance of


rationality. The real problem we are facing is that only shallow truths


can be proved. All of us are in a situation where there are deep


questions like what is life all about? Is rape wrong? What has that


got to do with it? In many ways we have to realise we are in a


situation where to answer the big question is, we have to go beyond


what reason is able to say. It is not a problem but it is an emphasis


on the need to try to understand each other and allow these


discussions to take place. I think that is what is missing at the


moment. I have no problem with Julian but there are other atheists


who are downright nasty. Religion doesn't have a clean record. Of


course it doesn't. We will have a situation where we need to have a


good conversation. Ridiculing, whether you ridicule faith or


non-faith, makes things worse. We need to have an intelligent


conversation, I think that is what we are having now.


APPLAUSE Ollie Killingback is a former vicar,


he is not one any more. There has to be discussion and balance and


generosity. It seems to me, sitting among us, we have a group of


rational people with widely different opinions. Those opinions


are motivated by something. It seems he was on to something when he said


the reason can only be the slave of the emotions. It seems religion is


about an emotional commitment. I for one had reached the end of


intellectual belief, long before I could make the actual move out of


the church. It took me 20 years to get to the position where


emotionally I was ready. What was the mindset when you were in the


church? When you are a believer? I wish it was as clear as that but it


is not. I started asking questions about my family's religious beliefs


when I was five or six. The whole thing followed through through


college and so on, there were always more questions than there were good


answers. There were answers but often not good enough. I was on the


way out not long after I was ordained, intellectual. People were


saying that religion is a man-made phenomenon. Nonetheless, it is a


good thing. I bought that. I lived hard with


good thing. I bought that. I lived good thing. Those two don't sit


together very well. good thing. Those two don't sit


odd years to make the break and say, I can now take off this dirty


garment and walk away from it. APPLAUSE


garment and walk away from it. Julian on what Alistair has said


about the big question is, to address the big question is, the


profound questions about, why is rape wrong, I think that was how you


put it. We somehow need to be religious beings.


put it. We somehow need to be that... I didn't make my point,


put it. We somehow need to be was saying we had to go beyond pure


reason. You may raise religious questions along the way. It is that


term pure reason. It is an important one. I think sometimes people on the


atheist side of the debates overstate the extent how far


rationality can take us. They think if you just follow reason and


rationality, you can make sense of everything and nothing us is needed.


Even great philosophers were not that optimistic about rationality.


The point about rationality is pushing it as far as you can, being


as rational as possible, applying as much reason as can be applied both


but it is never pure and who claims that it is is onto a hiding to


nothing and they will be guilty of that accusation, that rationality


leaves lots of things undecided. You can always push rationales and


justifications and as much as possible, and you only then have to


put the other things in when those things have to fill a gap. You don't


bring in rationality in before it is necessary.


David Hume is one of the greatest of before suffers, gets mentioned in


every book written by atheists against religion. This quote gets


mentioned. To paraphrase, he asks, which is more likely, the


supernatural explanation or people believing we supernatural


explanation are mistaken? He comes up with that although the time. That


is a good example. You can't prove one way or another. It is more


likely people are mistaken? That is always more likely. There are


possible circumstances where the evidence was so overwhelming,


something could happen in front of the cameras so miraculous that we


had to believe it was a genuine miracle and there was not a natural


explanation. We haven't seen anything so far end history that was


so commencing. -- in history that was so convincing. It is a question


worth asking, would we believe it is a miracle or would we explain it


away in some way? It depends what it was. If we saw a vision. For


instance. Some of us might explain it away. It can be a matter of where


your emotions are, where your heart is, how we perceive different


situations. I think it is interesting, we talk about miracles.


If we are going to say miracles don't happen, we are speaking


against the vast majority of people throughout history, and globally


still today. That doesn't prove that miracles do happen, but I do think


we should be wary of being quick to say the vast majority historically


and globally have been wrong. I think majorities in this case are


not necessarily always right. APPLAUSE


The other thing which is important is that once you force a crack in


the laws of nature, once you say that for a moment the Earth is not


going around the sun, relativity doesn't apply, Gravity doesn't


apply, once you say that, you open up the entire universe to


intervention. That is the important thing, that there is strong evidence


on the other side. If we were on a grain -- game show and did not know


the answer, I might poll the audience. If 98% said one thing and


I went with another, people would say I was not rational, unless I had


strong evidence. You raise this idea of the God of the gaps and


intervention. Is it rational for you, Margaret, to have your belief?


Yes, I think so. To believe in God seems entirely rational. If you will


only believe what science has proven, whatever discovery is made,


the same thing applied the day before it was made. Isn't it


irrational to think that because you can't prove the existence of God,


you either -- he therefore can't exist. Which is your God, the old


Testament, the new Testament, Jesus? Jesus, yes. I have been researching


a mystic called Julian who lived in the 14th century. He had a series of


visions of the crucifixion. The image of God which he presents is


totally in contrast to what we think of as the old Testament God. The God


who went out smiting every day. Julian's theology which is very


benign, he says God looks upon us in pity, not with blame and he doesn't


condemn us for any wrong doing, and all wrongdoing has been forgiven,


even before we ask for forgiveness. This is from somebody's visions.


This is your point, if somebody had visions like that now, we would be


extremely sceptical. The thing about Julian, she is accepted by the


church, she is a blessing which means she is being beatified, she is


on the way to being a saint. She is accepted as a great theologian. Are


we accepting she really did have visions? Oh, yes, she wrote a book


about it and she is accepted as a great theologian. The great Catholic


20 century writer and mystic Thomas Merton describes as a true


theologian in that she has the true image of God, this benign, loving


image who never condemns us and is full of only compassionate love for


us. Another idea of God. Moving on from the visions. This might even


play to what Lois Lee was saying, of different cultures. This may even


compromise the whole nation of the debate that we are having. We have a


saying that reason and devotion are two wings of the same bird. And that


both of them have a place. We also have an understanding that for some


people, their attitude is such that pure rational explanation is what


satisfies and gives them a sense of tranquillity. And for others, a


divine experience or devoted worshipper gives them a sense of


tranquillity. Our approach is that it seems to be a sense of


tranquillity gives a person and experience which the mystics have


always tried to communicate in some sort of a deficient blend which. Our


focus is on -- deficient language. Our focus is how do you become


eternally tranquil? In that state, there are no beliefs. I would even


suggest that having a belief is unreasonable. I think that is right,


there is a space for the rational... Everyone is agreeing


beyond the rational. There is a slightly false dichotomy between


rationality and religion that we therefore think atheists are all


about rationality, which is not what we are trying to say. I interview


atheists about their day-to-day lives and so on. I have a strong


sense of the meaning systems, the aesthetics, the opportunities for


devotion, if not the divine, full communion with out to tranquillity


and so on, which not every atheist is interested in, in the same way


that religious people are not all about those spaces. There are


relaxed list religious cultures as well as .


If you take it to a lot go conclusion, having a belief in the


existence of some god figure, I would say is equally as irrational


as having a belief in the nonexistence. Because they are both


beliefs. APPLAUSE


I absolutely agree. People have belief systems, mindsets, ways of


getting through the night, basically. As a Muslim, you have had


a bit of flak recently. You took part in a music video, showing... It


wasn't my bad dancing. It was the tune, Happy. Showing Muslims being


happy and dancing. You have had a lot of flak. People point to things


like that, some people will believe you are wrong to do that, they are


entitled to have that belief. It is about the rules and red delicious,


what sort of God is this question I I think many rudest people do a


disservice to religion. -- many religious people do a disservice. It


does not represent the actual faith itself. Going back to Ollie's point


about believing in God is based on emotion, I think that statement is


based on emotion. There are volumes of books in the British library,


King 's College library, discussing religious philosophy, using


philosophy, argument, logic. There are books like that on both sides.


Of course, I am not saying atheism is irrational but I would say that


the overwhelming evidence, especially now, is on the side of


God. The last 40 or 50 years, when scientists examined the universe, we


are pretty much convinced that the explanation of the universe is not


contained within the universe will stop it points to outside or beyond


the universe. To categorise believing in God is emotional is


rather juvenile. It is very outdated. It is very much


enlightenment, outdated claptrap. There is a lot of outdated claptrap


in religion, which you haven't acknowledged. We are comparing


atheism to the irrationality of religion, let's say. There are


irrational aspects within religion. That is a false comparison. Even if


religion is false, it would not prove that atheism is true. God can


still exist even if religion is false. There is a false comparison


so far. If we look at the evidence on the side of God and atheism, the


overwhelming evidence is on the side of God. One thing we can talk about


is the extent to which people who have religious belief, if any


bonuses on them at to show their belief is rational. There is an onus


to show that your belief is not contrary to what we know about


science, but there is a long tradition in religion of actually


thinking that the basis of faith is not a deductive argument, it is not


rationality, it is an encounter with the divine, an emotional thing.


Doubting Thomas is held up as a counterexample. He says, I'm going


to give belief when I see that wound. The people praised those ones


that make the leap of faith beforehand. There can be too much


wanting to claim rationality. I think you are redefining my


position. My position is that I believe in God on a rational basis.


It's all very well saying that the leap of faith is what religious


people should be involved in, but that is a convenient redefining of


Mike position. I wasn't talking about your position personally, I


was talking generally. The majority of religious people don't believe


because they think it is and emotional position, it's because


they think it makes sense to believe in God, especially in a world where


we are discovering more about the origin of the universe. People would


say we have evolved because of that fine June in. -- shooting. --


tuning. Bbc.co.uk/thebigquestions would you say you are an emotional


atheist? Let us say we have two professors of biology at our great


universities. Both of them, leading scientists. One, from what he sees


in biology, says he is convinced that religion cannot be the case.


The other one comes to exactly the opposite conclusion, that the


evidence, their reason, each one's individual rationality leads them to


their own opinion. What drives that opinion is the inclinations they


were born with, the education they have had, the emotional experiences


they have had. The whole personalities. That is what forms


at. The crux of the demented as this. Shall we believe that the


entire argument to leg universe can come from nothing? Let's talk about


where the entire universe came from. We mentioned it earlier on, the


whole idea of the scientists, the God of the gaps. Where there is an


apparent gap in scientific knowledge, historically, there has


been an explanation that God did it. And the gaps are, it is said by


some people, the habitat is shrinking. When there are stunned,


we know that God is not angry. -- thunder. We know how rainbows are


made. Is that a problem for religious people? I think the God of


the gaps argument is an interesting one. I would actually say that it is


probably quite poor theology to revert to the God of the gaps. What


you're doing his inserting a into day-to-day phenomena. Here's a


hostage to science explaining something? I would explain the point


in terms of the validity of truth. I will never stand outside of this


universe. I think we need to recognise that that kind of meta-


causal process, we will potentially never know. Science will never fill


that gap? Then we cannot claim that God does not exist. The reverse of


that claim also has to be the case. I entirely agree. But we have people


on the side of the atheist saying that God doesn't exist. Not all


atheists. We say that atheist 's experience God not existing in the


same way that the rest is experienced the divine. How can you


experience thing that is not there? I thought we have the irrationality!


Let's put Julian into the gap. Keen to fill the gaps. Some gaps will


never be filled. Let's talk about that first cause, has raised by


Adam. This is where the brain started to hurt. What caused it?


What caused the cause of the first cause? It is infinite regression.


Does that not make you think, hang on a minute, something is going on?


Bbc.co.uk/thebigquestions it is extreme the puzzling. It's true. But


what you come up with is an answer on a very abstract level. This is


the point. Even if, by rationality and reason, you are convinced, which


most philosophers are, that there must have been an original first


cause, and uncaused first cause. That gives you a general concept.


People who are religious do not believe in an abstract concept like


that. They believe in a specific God, created in the shape of the


particular religion, whatever it might be. So if you are going to


talk about trying to build things on reason alone, I think the problem


with that is that you're going to be left with a very abstract idea,


which does not have a lot of connection with the very ritually


rounded, often personality driven gods of religion. I am interested in


this uncaused first cause. No proper reputable scientist thinks that God


created like Walt Disney designing mice. Let's go back to the Big Bang.


If you think God was responsible for the Big Bang, is it a credible


argument to say, was there a cause of the first cause, all was the


first cause, necessarily, uncaused? Supposing we had been meeting here a


century ago, we would not be having this conversation. At that time,


science thought that the universe had always been here. One thing that


we make absolutely clear is that science is on a journey, it changes


its mind. These massive, exciting discussions we are having... Because


it knows more and more? Absolutely. I agree what was said about the God


of the gaps, I think it is silly, really. What is much more


interesting is why we explain things at all, why does science raise these


wonderful questions it can't actually answer? For me, it is not


looking at gaps, it is standing back and trying to say, is there a big


picture of things that makes sense of what we see, fits things in,


brings meaning and joy to life. That is a much more interesting question.


It's not about digging around for gaps, it is saying, there is a big


picture here, let's figure out what it is and whether we are part of it.


An experience I had when I was a young clergyman, simply asked me


outside the church on a Sunday morning, why it was that I believed


in God. I trotted out the answer I had given before, it seems to me


that the universe reflects the kind of thing is that Christianity says


are at the basis of everything. The warmth, for example, that Julian


talks about. I heard myself saying my head, you know what, that isn't


true. The universe is not warm, it is not forgiving, it is a cold,


empty, nasty place. Which we could not survive in. For me, that was a


turning point. For some people it is exactly how you would expect it to


be if it had exactly how you would expect it to


from nowhere. For other people, it exactly as you would expect if


had been a creator. We had some had been a creator. We had some


hands up. Three guys at the back? Glasses, first of all. The point has


made that science is changing over time, but religion is as well. But


it's never held to the same account. For example, religion was opposed to


evolution, now they are slowly accepting that maybe


evolution, now they are slowly churches preach we are the only


evolution, now they are slowly planet with life on it because we


are God's chosen people. I think when we discover life on


are God's chosen people. I think planet, maybe, religion


are God's chosen people. I think its spots, but will never be held to


the same account as a scientist would be if he had disagreed with


that. I was good to say the same thing. I was going to develop on


that. It becomes an issue of falsification. If you say God did


it, there is no way an atheist can disprove you. Then the fact that


science keeps developing, and that religion is very stoic in its


approach, it's... I think religion does change. Surely religion has


approach, it's... I think religion changed to accommodate itself to


scientific discovery? Is rather saying, let's see if we have


interpreted these text is right. John Paul II, one of the things he


did during his papacy was say that actually, Darwin was right. Was that


not a case of the church changing actually, Darwin was right. Was that


because of inescapable evidence? No, if you look at Catholics over the


last century, if you look at Augustus saying that the universe


came to be in an instant and then developed over a long period of


time. I think it was great for the discussion the other day, you know,


maybe science and religion need each other. Science is rightly saying,


maybe science and religion need each why do you think that is right? Very


good question. Religion is saying, what is the deeper meaning of


things? These things can go together to give a full view of things. I


just wanted to come back on the point about evolution and religion


being in a kind of clash. We have to be very careful with the history


here. It's not as clearly defined as was just implied by that question.


That clash does not necessarily exist in the publication of The


Origin Of The Species onwards. It's quite recent, it's a political and


ideological construction and a product of the 20th century. One of


the things that we have to recognise is that the majority of people do


not necessarily see there being a necessary conflict between science


and religion. We have to really, really step away from communicating


science and atheism as one thing. There are a couple of points where


we have been doing that, where we have conflated science and atheism


together and they are two very different things. You have tried


Mormonism, you tried Islam. Now you have tried atheism. How is it going?


Well, I'm not really keen on the personal account type of approach.


But I did want to pick up on... I forgot your name? Professor Alister


McGrath. About the meaning of religion. If we take religion to be


a general theory of how the world works, perhaps we can also is


deliberately think that the have developed in response to what is


going wrong in the world. I think this is missed by militant atheists


who criticise people for being religious. They don't recognise and


understand the great comfort that religion brings to people. The


explanations of the world. That is one of the reason why I am


completely against... They are at liberty to say, as Christopher


Hitchens did, that it is a false consolation, that is a perfectly


valid argument? One of the things this concession is showing us that


there can be reasons on both sides of debate. I think we all agree,


words like track quality and peace were used earlier, we can all agree


that those are valuable things. From a Christian perspective, the place


where I find peace is in knowing that you are loved, unconditionally,


by someone that will never forsake you, by somebody that would even


suffer for you, give his life for you. Given that, rationally, we can


think about these questions and say... It's comforting? We had to


ask the question, is it the mind that keeps us from belief in God or


something else? Father? I have sinned! Albert Einstein, who was


once asked, did he ever think we would come up with an explanation


for the origin of the universe. He said, no, but when he thought the


answer would be found will be two things, beautiful and simple. My


faith is not about understanding how the world works or anything like


that. What I hope my faith is is a lifelong exploration of truth and


beauty, which I hope is what good science and philosophy is as well.


Serenity? Well, that is the product of finding the truth and the beauty.


I find that in the Christian message and I've got to try and deepen my


understanding and faith in that. The last point I would want to make is


that faith, actually, I just want to say in this context, the context of


this argument, certainty, in a sense, is the opposite of faith.


Doubt is not the opposite of faith. That is where I see the coming


together of faith and reason. It's an explanation. This century, we


have become good at throwing stones at each other. We have always been


very good at throwing stones. Adam, what is the biggest problem that


science poses for religion? If you were an atheist and were saying that


science had blown it out of the argument, what is the best argument


that they have? Against God? I don't figured would be a scientific


argument, it would be a philosophical and moral argument,


the problem of evil. That is one of the biggest contention is that exist


against theism. It has generally Billy Bragg wrote genuinely just


occurred to me, God knows everything that is going to happen. If he knows


everything that is going to happen, what is the point? What is the point


of converting? Does that not invalidate three will? There is


salacious reasoning. Just because knows -- just because God knows


something, it does not cause him to act. Does the Christian God in


everything that is going to happen? Yes, I believe so. If I watch my


goddaughter from across the room, I know how she is going to act before


she does so. If it is true that God knows every hair on our heads, if he


knows are so much more than I know my goddaughter, it is not surprising


he would note how we might act. It doesn't mean he is causing it or


controlling it. Julian, do you have a view? I don't think it is a


problem. Why isn't God's foreknowledge a problem? Because you


can know what somebody wants to do of their own free will. The fact you


can see it in advance doesn't mean it wasn't their own free will that


caused it. I really don't think it is a problem. Coming in on this


notion of free will, this isn't just a problem for theological discourse,


it is a problem for atheist discourse as well. We risk losing an


atheist conception of free will, which ties us back into the play to


call, ideological... It is a side step too far? If we believe in a


naturalistic world, a material world, the self is lost. We lose


personal identity, we lose what makes us human. OK... It is


overstating it. There are challenges, there is a kind of


strand of overconfident atheism which thinks science will lead us to


the promised land. But it certainly does raise questions about our


inherent ability to even know the truth, our ability to have free will


and so forth. I don't think these things blow it out of the water,


they are not unanswerable, I don't think it makes the self and illusion


but I think honest atheism needs to accept that the scientific world


view is not entirely comfortable for everything that atheists believe


either. Satish Sharma, is the Hindu conception of a greater power more


in your mind compatible with science? It is a completely


integrated experience. It is of no consolation to me to be convinced


that yes, God exists intellectually. That is of no value


to me whatsoever. They believe changes from moment to moment as you


learn things. The only consolation, the only thing that would satisfy


would satisfy would-be and experience. If you take the mystics


out of the picture, the whole God argument becomes intellectual


cogitation. The mystics had experiences. Our approach is what we


do to recreate our experience in our awareness. The teaching is that when


that experience happens, suddenly there is an expanded connectivity


with all of life and all of creation. It becomes a knowing


rather than a computational deduction. There are some hands in


the audience. We have touched a few times on evidence. Don't we go a lot


on things that we simply know? How do you know that your nearest and


terraced love you? It is because you do know it, you can't put that in a


test tube and you can't intellectualise that. To a certain


extent, we can expect behaviour but it is a knowing. That is what people


of faith have. I don't think it makes any difference whether you are


Hindu or must limp or Christian, it is that knowing, that intimacy, that


knowledge of God. You simply can't intellectualise it. We could argue


all day and it would never make any difference. I actually don't believe


in miracles. I went to Lourdes and I found it ever so depressing. I do


have a fate and I believe part of having a faith is leaving. I don't


believe, with respect, atheism, so I feel that faith is very important.


Is atheism a belief system as much as any? Going back to our earlier


discussion, I would argue that atheism is a belief system. I am an


atheist, a lifelong atheist, I grew up in a scientific household.


Atheism and science are not linked, necessarily. Touche! I say that


because I work on communicating evolutionary science I have to be


quite careful. I am concerned about what agendas I have. The point I


would like to make about whether or not we need religion is, there are a


couple of ways we can cut this up. We could argue there is an


evolutionary reason for having religious beliefs. There are two


ways way could look at it. We could think of religion as a by-product of


other processes. As there is an evolutionary reason for love. It is


for breeding and security... What Julian was referring to is religion


as an evolutionary by-product, it could be an adaptive advantage,


being able to work in social groups. It doesn't tell us anything about


whether God exists or not. All it tells us is that there is religion


in society which has existed for quite a long time. That is the fact


we deal with. From when? Did the Neanderthals have a God


consciousness? There is evidence of early prehistory, miso payer


we know it has played a part of human society from early human


history, all the way through recorded history. The other thing we


know is that it is one of the defining categories of worldview for


most people on the planet now. We have to deal with that, whether we


are atheists or not. We have to accept we live in a world of


difference, a pluralistic society and we have defined ways to engage


with each other so we can communicate with an open dialogue.


There are some hands up. The microphone is coming. In relation to


the freedom of will, God in the Koran mentioned that people liked


the atheists would come out and say things, let them prove it. This has


been predicted, that people will come, very clever. The other thing,


the revelation of the Koran will challenge science. That is in the


Koran, 1400 years ago. The miraculous birth of Christ will


believe it and also the Koran, it is the Graces miracle throughout


history and atheists cannot challenge that because they can't


discuss it in Arabic -- it is the greatest miracle. Game over, let's


go home. It is the God of the gaps again. It is. This is what we need


to be careful about. In my field of interest around evolutionary theory,


we have to recognise it is not often a conversation about science but a


conversation about theological debates, literalist interpretations


of texts. It is nothing to do would be science. I don't have to talk


about evidence to do with evolutionary theory because your


conversation is intra to your own faith perspective. Other people from


your own faith perspective would probably challenge or stance. The


gentleman at the edge. A lot of the discussion that has taken religious


group or context but the gentleman said you don't have to belong to a


religious group to believe in God. The thought system from the


Enlightenment didn't necessarily block to Christianity, Islam


Judaism, it acknowledged the fact that God is an entity. I believe in


God but I'd don't... I am a Christian but I see the two as


separate and I think that is a big heart of the debate. We need to take


the idea of God away from... I thought you were going to say I am a


Christian but I don't believe in God. New Church of England people


got not being serious! -- you Church of England people got not being


in terms of practice, I am not very religious. The fact that we are


alighting believing in God and religion, we need to keep it at some


distance. It makes a much better discussion. We are the 13th most


atheistic out of 40 countries in the world, what is driving people, what


does drive people to atheism? Is it the examples of religion that you


would describe as extreme? I think the rise of religious fundamentalism


is the biggest driver of atheism in the world. I want to put my hand up


and say maybe I'm contributing to that. You're not a religious


fundamentalist. We need to think carefully and saying in effect, we


are causing this problem. Secondly, there is also the question of the


cultural authority of science which we have talked about quite a lot. I


think scientists do need to make it clear that science is neutral. I


don't say it is anti-religious but it is science. Science is science,


it is great. When it starts behaving as if it has answers on religious


things, it actually damages its self. I think that needs to be said.


We need to purify science and rescue it from being used as a weapon from


either religious or religious fundamentalists. Thomas Huxley made


the point. He said science commits suicide once it adopts a creed. I am


asking, can we purify science and get back to what we used to be? Can


you purify religion of these ideological elements, people say it


is ridiculous, the world was not created in... The ideological


element 's most people are worried about is the propensity towards


violence. That is a big one we have to face up to. My old theology


teacher started out with something which echoed what you said. She


began her first lecture by saying, if we believe that God is truth,


theology is a journey into truth and it is -- there is no for no question


which cannot be asked, no difficult question which may be ducked. I


followed that teaching and it led me away from the church. She wouldn't


like where I have gone to but she would approve the methods. That


journey into light and truth is the way to go. Do you think it is a


genuine threat to religions of mainstream views? Speaking as a


Muslim I have seen my own faith, Islam, being hijacked by


extremists. I don't know if it justifies Muslims becoming atheist,


but certainly they contribute in becoming apostates. The abandonment


of faith? Yes, and in some cases they are justified. They are not


rejecting Islam but a perverted version of Islam. Very much so, I


would agree that religious people, extremists, are contributing to


anti-religious sentiments and atheists. What I would also say, I


would support religious front -- what supports religious


fundamentalism is extreme militant atheism. That is a problem as well.


You have made a very balanced point, we have to leave it there,


thank you for watching, we will see you next ample stock thank you all


for taking part. -- see you next time. Thank you all for taking part.


Does anybody know exactly what they're eating?


Nicky Campbell presents a pre-recorded special from Manor Church of England School in York, asking just one Big Question - is it more rational to believe in God? Guests include the philosopher, Julian Baggini, Oxford professor of science and religion, Alister McGrath, Dr Lois Lee, founder of the Non-religion & Secularity Research Network, Dr Vince Vitali from the Oxford Centre for Apologetics, Dr Fern Elsdon-Baker, Centre for Social Relations, Coventry University, Muslim apologetic, Adam Deen, author and broadcaster, Margaret Coles, former clergyman now atheist, Ollie Killingback, Satish Sharma of the National Council of Hindu Temples and former Mormon and Muslim turned atheist, Clare Solomon.

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