Martin Young
Martin Young

Coffee with an atheist

Hey there! How you doing? I’m sorry you turned down my invitation to meet over coffee. It seems you’re really annoyed by me, when we’ve never met. I would like to understand why. It’s much easier to dislike someone when you know nothing about them.

Please be assured I have no intentions of arguing. I would far rather explain why I think the way I do, because I feel very deeply the atheist accusations that believers like me are “deluded, mentally ill, deranged” — just to name a few of the names I have been called.

I would like to try to show you that I am none of these things. My faith came first through a long, hard, cold-hearted look at the world as I know it and understand it, using all the scientific knowledge that I have, and fitting it to how I have come to understand the Bible. I have found far more agreement than disagreement. This is not to say that I understand it all, but the general trend is towards more and more compatibility. I really hope you could understand that, to see me and others like me not as blind sheep that have been led astray. And it works for me — it really does!

So when I learn that geneticists now know that every human being alive shares a common father in the past — ie a “genetic Adam” — I find it very exciting, seeing the Bible suggested something very similar. I revel in hearing nuclear physicists speak about infinite parallel universes — if that is true, there is one that is perfect in every respect, and another that is the worst of all places — heaven and hell. And perhaps another where the Flying Spaghetti Monster rules the skies and Dawkins is wrong.

I would like to apologise to you in person for the actions of “religious” people who take the principles of whatever religion they subscribe to and manipulate and adapt them towards their own ends. They ignore the tough commandments and follow the easy ones. The toughest commandment I know is “Love your neighbour as yourself”. It is an unconditional command, irrespective of who your neighbour is and what he or she believes. If we all followed that, there would be no need for armies, police forces, jails, traffic cops … or lawyers.

It’s much easier to take “Thou shalt not kill” and stand outside abortion clinics protesting and harassing, in some cases — oh, the irony — even killing! Believers should all take note that Jesus hated the religious with a passion — he reserved all his anger for those who inflicted their beliefs for their own ends on a world that suffered as a result.

I also apologise for the religious exceeding their mandate. Churches and religious groups are very good at doing this. You see, we don’t understand yet that the rules for “good Christian living” or “good Muslim living” that extend beyond common law should apply to Christians or Muslims alone. They don’t apply to those who are not a member of that religion. They are exempt from them. So the “rules” about sexuality and relationships don’t apply to those outside faith, and the “religious” have no right to demand that others live by them. It is not our mandate, neither should we judge those who live by their own societal rules. “Judge not, lest ye be judged” is so easily forgotten.

I understand that you are pissed off by the harm religion has done to the world. I can only agree. My perspective is that this is man’s innate tendency to mess up at work. That we as a species have progressed at all is dependent on relatively few exceptional individuals and leaders who have raised us all up beyond the general morass. Religion is unfortunately the same. I see just as you do terrible examples out there. But for every ten there is one who will define excellence even here. The challenge is in finding that one person and seeing his or her legacy dominate.

Are you a golfer? If I were to judge golf by the amount of time I spend in the rough or the mud looking for my ball, and by what it costs me, I would think it is a pretty terrible game. It’s the example of the exceptional golfers that define the sport for what it is. Especially when you consider that the perfect score for a round would be a hole-in-one on every hole, and that will never happen. Similarly I judge my faith by the object of my faith, not by my fellow followers. You have the right to be critical of believers who mess up, especially those in leadership. My hope is that you would rather judge them and me by our actions more than by our beliefs.

Unlike you, I cannot base my world view on reason and logic alone, when at the very essence of the world, the quantum level, reason and logic fall apart. Our universe began in a Big Bang that emphatically violates the laws of thermodynamics — I believe such a massive miracle (by definition) allows us to believe in smaller ones, and even the occasional huge one. The conclusion that this leads me to is that the world, the universe, our existence, our consciousness, and our future are mysterious beyond comparison to what we already know.

So I am willing to expand and explain my life, my consciousness and awareness way beyond what we “know we know, and know we don’t know” to the realm of what we “don’t know we don’t know”. Here is where my sense of wonder and faith lies.

So it would be good if we could have coffee together. You may like me, and I have a feeling I would like you. We could get along, and not let our differences separate us. So why not?

And I’m paying.

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    • Robin Grant

      Did you know that if you lived a full life, and became a master in a discipline, you could only really verify, at most, 5% of what you know as actual?
      Everything else you know, you know through faith and belief.
      Religion may reinforce the principals of faith and belief, and in many converts lives restore the mechanism, but it cannot claim that these fundamental principals reside solely within the religious domain.

    • GrahamJ

      The response to any ‘belief’ is Hitchens’ razor.

      “What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence. ”

    • Angus

      As much as Jesus was a wonderful philosopher and social commentator there is no evidence that he was the son of god. There is no evidence that god exists either.

      You’re allowed to believe in fairy tales if you want; life is scary and death even worse. But don’t expect any respect for your beliefs from rational thinkers. The postulation of god has retarded humanity’s development by centuries and is the cause of ages of subjection, strife and death.

      The world should get over god and care about people.

    • Terence

      A most interesting, and in the context of Thoughtleader, original post! For what it’s worth, I am a believing, church-going Christian…

      Here’s a point to ponder: does one have to be religious to be opposed to abortion? It seems to me that a complete non-believer could hold such a view provided he/she believed two axioms: that taking (human, or innocent human) life is inherently wrong and unethical; and that life begins at conception. Once those points are accepted, abortion then becomes wrong, whether or not God exists. In fact, I once met an atheist who felt that way.(Conversely, I guess that if one is religious but does not accept that life begins at conception or if one believes that the circumstances around an abortion justify killing, then it is not unethical.) I’d be interested in other opinions about this.

    • Stephen Browne

      “You see, we don’t understand yet that the rules for “good Christian living” or “good Muslim living” that extend beyond common law should apply to Christians or Muslims alone.”

      What a lovely sentiment! Let me email the thousands slaughtered in the name of Yaweh (recorded in lively detail in your infallible, untouchable, all-knowing, un-changing Bible) and get back to you. God never changes right? Just need to tell my gay friends to run like hell before they are stoned, well a large portion already are, but who’s judging.

      This sort of why-can’t-we-all-get-along drivel annoys me, and I’m not an atheist. I grew up with parents who dragged every grim instruction from the Holy Book into reality (with occasional good results to be fair). Unflinching resolve to actually read the Bible with some honesty (as opposed to the watery, selective manner which keeps people from straying too far into logic) has some interesting results.

    • OneFlew

      South Africa seems to have a high concentration of militant atheists in the Dawkins mould. And a high concentration of quite religious people. It all seems quite charged, but the debates often seem impoverished.

      In at least some other places there seem to be fewer people in the militant atheist camp (though there may be more unbelievers) and fewer religious people too, but the debate seems much better.

      Accept that you will not persuade each other.

      There are nonetheless really interesting areas of exploration. If one accepts (for the sake of the argument, Martin) there may be no god, what then does the existence of religion in all its manifestations tell us about human nature?

      The answer is that it tells us very much more than that people may be susceptible to beliefs for which there is insufficient evidence.

      Religions have long been our repositories of moral reasoning, codes for living, artistic and aesthetic endeavour.

      What now provides and sustains our moral frameworks? (Hint: it’s neither the law nor the market.)

      I suggest that you read a book. Say ‘Religion for Atheists’ by Alain de Botton. And then engage with some of the militant atheists not on the question of whether there is a god, but what purpose religion serves absent such a god. I suspect that you will agree on much. And that your belief/non-belief will not loom as such a large dividing chasm once you have explored this question.

    • Momma Cyndi

      I have no problem with religion or those who believe in a deity. My problem is when the religion is used for hatred, bigotry and patronising others. To base hatred on something written in a book that has been revised, re-written and re-interpreted so many times, is illogical. To then try and shove it down my throat is just unnecessary.

      All of the mainstream religions say one thing – ‘play nice’. Maybe if the followers would take that advice, they wouldn’t get so much flak.

    • Alan Dean Foster

      Because there is no completely viable scientific explanation for the physics of the Big Bang does not mean one does not exist: only that it has not been identified yet. Demonstrating a cell phone in the year 1500 would probably have gotten you burned as a witch.

      Science continually forges ahead, step by arduous step, in finding explanations for the previously unexplainable. I find this a better system for understanding the universe than the ramblings of a book of fanciful tales (pick your religion and your book) from one or two thousand years ago.

      Reason and logic do not fall apart at the quantum level: our math and means of demonstrative experimentation are simply not up to the task of explaining everything (yet). Consider the past two thousand years. Now imagine a world two thousand years from now, and the new explanations that will have become commonplace.

      I’d be happy to have coffee with you, but distance precludes.

    • Pieter Malan

      I have indeed been looking forward to find a believer to have an intelligent debate with and enjoy a cup of coffee with. And your invitation is accepted with a promise of respect. So here goes.
      A few years of in depth reading and studying, for me, the debate seems only to boil down to a few unresolved questions. Why are there so many religions? More than 4000 some say. They certainly cannot be all correct. What makes your belief the only one?
      Who wrote the Bible and the Quran and other “holy” books? Why is there not a single word written by God, Jesus, Allah, Krishna, Jehovah, Yahweh etc. This would have really helped a lot. And the question is; who prays to whom and which prayers make it to which god?
      The days when evolution was a theory is long gone. Wonderful science confirmed by research, fossils, biology, plate tectonics, archaeology and palaeontology reveals some of the mysteries of our existence. So the next question is; Was the ark for real? With more than 40 million species (of which 99% are already extinct) how can the ark be explained? Oh yes, and the dinosaurs. Which God will take the responsibility for putting them on the earth, long before humans, and then wipe them out. And then waits 60 million years before humans appear.
      Enough for now. Let’s pour another cup of coffee.
      I am listening with an opened mind.

    • Martin Young

      Angus, the world and universe is anything but rational. Being rational is no longer enough – we know too much to expect that we can know everything.

    • Jan Swart

      The toughest commandment (Love your neighbour as yourself) is also the ultimate gun to the head. It is am impossible commandment – no-one can love anyone else as they love themselves; it is against nature’s survival instinct. So: it is the one commandment at which we are guaranteed to fail, leading to us having to beg for forgiveness, only to fail again, having to beg for forgiveness. The eternal sinner, then, eternally in need of redemption. Thanks, but no, thanks.

    • Dawid

      The average atheist or agnostic just want you(religious folks) to leave him/her alone. Don’t try and force your religion on us, and if you don’t have any friends you should perhaps try some of the people you go to church with. It is exactly that same desire you folks have to convert us into paying members at your church that puts us off. Can’t you just have a normal conversation about something else?

    • Rod MacKenzie

      Sigh. I wish you wouldn’t write these.

    • Angus

      @Robin: Are you saying that my knowledge of the existence of an atomic particle such as an electron is similar to someone’s belief in god? If so you are mistaken as to how scientific progress has developed. A discovery is made, it is then tested by others and if the postulation holds true then it is accepted and we move on. At any time one can retest the theory, and sometimes this is necessary because it might be wrong or there is new technology that can provide greater proof of the theory – the theory of relativity continues to be tested – however an individual scientist doesn’t have enough time in their life to test everything that has come before them to ever consider something new. Faith in god is based on someone’s testimony and there is NO available test to prove this true.
      @Terrence: I’m an atheist and I feel that life begins at conception and I am opposed to abortion. I however don’t believe I have the right over someone else’s body so I thus begrudgingly pro-choice.

    • FullFrontal Cortex

      This is just Christian bullying, the dulcet tone of claims you make about your personal understanding of Christianity do not do anything to exacerbate the disgusting way Christian and churches behave. toward women and homosexuals. While organisations like the Christian church continue to espouse anachronistic dictates from and immoral tome, fraught with murder and abuse of any who do not accept the nonsense contained it, it will continue to be necessary for any good person to make sure that you understand the doctrine of hate and prejudice is unacceptable. No amount of spurious, sophism will work in your favour with anyone who is free of fear and able to think for themselves. Opposition to the Christianity is not about what you believe, is about the way you treat others because of what you believe. This article is blatant misdirection and you are not going to escape criticism for it, the Christian church is a repugnant organisation and deserving of the recriminations it is facing.

    • oblever

      To conclude whether or not Jesus Christ is who he claimed to be, the son of God and even God incarnate three accepted principles need to be honestly applied:
      1. Historicity:The forensic science of examining extant documents, both internal and external, concerning his life and teachings and the events surrounding his and later times.
      2. Literary criticism and textual transmission over the years. Accuracy of texts etc.
      3. Archaeological evidence.

      Some key previous atheists have tried to disprove the claims of Christ and after applying the above principles in thorough and disciplined research have found undeniable evidence that the claims are in fact true and they subsequently have turned to full belief. People like Lee Strobel and Frank Morrisen as just two examples whose books you can find on Google.

    • Cyberdog

      Just to clear something up: “about infinite parallel universes — if that is true, there is one that is perfect in every respect, and another that is the worst of all places — heaven and hell. And perhaps another where the Flying Spaghetti Monster rules the skies and Dawkins is wrong” … Are you saying that god is less than everything ? Contradiction much? And you are saying that we magically swap universes when we die… Yeah.. O.K.
      “I would like to apologise to you in person for the actions of “religious” people who take the principles of whatever religion they subscribe to and manipulate and adapt them towards their own ends.” Is this not exactly what you are doing in the above example? Trying to fit the god paradigm and the nonsensical bible into the universes theory. Do you honestly want to tell me that it was not possible for the supposedly greatest intelligence in the universe to write a book that was more precise or detailed. All the freaking power in existence, yet not able to write a single book that is non contradictory, or that does not allow other “fake” rip-off books to undermine it. Or that becomes so outdated in 2000 years that it is laughable. Or that does not give us any actual useful scientific information. Seriously? It is not that I do not want to debate, when you are gullible, then keep trying to defend your faith with your crutch it becomes a routine circular discussion with no bases, and no resolution. I can think of much better things to…

    • Cyberdog

      Oh, and thank you for the flame bait.

    • Angus

      Dear Martin Young,

      The world and the universe are strange, wonderful and chaotic however there is order in entropy.

      Firstly there is no one in the scientific community who believes that we know everything. It is the whole premise of the scientific method to question the theories that we presently hold true.

      The physical universe is rational and well predicted by the natural sciences. However the more unknown variables that are included into a system the less accurate it becomes. This is why the margin for error for something like climate change is so large because of the many unknown variables.

      A human individual might act irrationally but if you aggregate their actions we can predict very certainly how groups behave. Social science research has come along a great deal in the past 30 years.

      That science seeks to answer the questions of existence really shouldn’t take away the magnificence of life. Do you have any idea the odds of life existing? But when you consider the number of potential planets in the universe it had to happen somewhere.

    • Jan Swart

      There is not a single contemporary historical mention of Jesus Christ. Not one, Strobel and Morrison and talking snakes notwithstanding. Not by Romans, Jews, believers or unbelievers. Not during his entire lifetime. Granted, this does not disprove the existence of Jesus, but it must cast serious doubts on it Someone who is reputed to have made a significant impact on the world would have been noticed. (But some of us know how lax the historians of the time were, don’t we? Exhibit A: nobody thought to ask any of the risen dead who reputedly walked the streets immediately after the crucifixion what happened after death, how it was on the other side, or indeed where the ‘other side’ was). Perhaps it wasn’t important. Miracles like that were quite commonplace back then, although they seem to have mysteriously dried up since the invention of the camera.

    • Grant

      An even tempered, well meaning, conciliatory article. Unfortunately, in this debate, one side is wrong. Either there is a god, heaven, hell, afterlife, judgement in some combination OR there is not. So far there is no way to test this but what we can test are the assertions made in the bible and other holy books. These assertions are weak and made without any evidence. They may be true but it is highly unlikely. Any rational thinking person must therefore deduce that on balance, it is MORE likely that a god in the biblical sense does not exist. That does not mean that we know everything and it does not mean that we are right and it does not mean that some other form of benevolence or malice might be behind what we perceive to be reality. What it does mean is that to ‘believe’ in the bible takes an awful lot of massaging of data to get it to fit a world view which it simply does not. This is getting more and more difficult as mankind learns more about the universe.

      I would also warn against the use of pseudoscience to prop up this massaging. Tossing in “Quantum theory” has been the life blood of those trying to take refuge from classical physic’s onslaught of religion. Reason does break down at quantum level, classical physics breaks down. The Big Bang does not necessarily violate the laws of thermodynamics because we don’t know whether these laws would in fact apply at those temperatures and pressures. Parallel universes negate the need for precise creation.

    • Occams Razor

      Reading this I could easily accept that you are a Deist or a Pantheist…But it’s much more than that for you isn’t it Martin? Because on top of the respect for science you desperately want to tack on a lot of other baggage…Things like “sin” “life after death” “Heaven/ Hell” Probably “angels” and “blood sacrifice” as well….Stop high-jacking science to bolster what you believe in…Show us your real agenda Martin…

      and oh, you said “Our universe began in a Big Bang that emphatically violates the laws of thermodynamics ” Emphatically? Really? Since when is the law of thermodynamics some “META” law? Prove it…As far as I know the laws of nature are contingent upon the universe, there is nothing outside the universe…anything…absolutely ANYTHING could have emerged from the Big Bang…Something did, clearly, and the law of Thermodynamics is part of that package…it does not stand alone in some Platonic meta space.

    • Martin Young

      Thanks all for your responses – many of which are the type I expected.

      To be honest I’m glad I haven’t had any from the fundamentalist religious right wing, because they are far more terrifying than any other lobby.

      My agenda, Occams Razor – (why anonymous? – is your world view not worth backing with your real name?) – is to ask both sides to play the ball and not the person. As Momma Cyndi says – “Play nice.”

      Why is ones belief system open game, whereas ones sexuality, gender or colour is not, in a politically correct society anyway? I’m making a call for respect from both sides.

      Some of these comments have a tone behind them of anger, of being threatened, of sarcasm and ridicule? Where does this come from? Fear? Of what? Of being wrong?

      I am absolutely convinced that debate or argument about issues of faith never change any person’s inherent beliefs. This is something which is entirely personal. Every person will come to a crossroads at some point in their lives and make a decision one way or another.

      As for ‘evidence’, I would hope that those who say there is ‘no evidence’ have examined all the information for themselves, and not relied on hearsay. My experience of ‘evidence’ is that it is open to interpretation, and that is why we have lawyers and why blatantly guilty people often win court case

    • Martin Young

      Hi Pieter (Malan)

      All the issues you raise are ones that I have had to reconcile. My view is that all religion taps into another sphere, realm, universe, whatever you decide to call it, and that all ‘work’ within that same realm. If you have so many, one has to be better than another, and one the best. My choice is made because it is the one in a sense that chose me, and is the easiest (howls of rage expected in the comments to follow.) It makes the most sense to me.

      I believe in evolution as many liberal Christians do. My personal view is that DNA was, in the words of Francis Collins – human genome guy – the ‘Language of God.’ I believe God is outside time and not limited in any way by it, so a flick of his fingers could encompass the whole of life’s development in an instant.

      I believe also that scientific discovery could come to a point that ‘explains’ all our theology in a sense. At that time there would be no need for faith – it would be ‘proof.’

      As a former skeptic, I pinch myself daily, and ask is this real? But I see results and have had experiences that suggest it is very much so. I realise that argument won’t necessarily satisfy anyone else however.

      An explanation therefore is highly personal. I don’t want to be victimised for my beliefs any more than for my colour or for my sexuality, and the purpose of my blog is to suggest that that should work both ways.

      Yeah, coffee, or a beer or decent red wine together would be good:)

    • Charlotte

      Well said, Angus: … “The world should get over god and care about people.”
      You should also have added: ‘and animals and the planet we inhabit.’

      I only need to go into my garden to be astounded by daily miracles. … How does the Camellia bush know that now is the time to start showing off its magnificent blooms? How is the Oak programmed to lose its leaves in Autumn? And green leaves are already appearing in preparation for Spring?
      It has now been found that in a forest of trees, each tree has a separate DNA? – and that each leaf from that particular tree carries the same DNA as the parent plant?
      Who designed this? How did it come about? – and that is without going in to the miracle of birth and growth and all the forces such as magnetism, electricity, sound waves etc. that we cannot see; but now know are there?

      We cannot ‘know’ what our affinity is to this energy that some call ‘God’. It is way beyond our comprehension.
      But how can we not be conscious of an ‘indefinable intelligence or connection’ (for want of a better description)? If nothing else, we have to be aware.

      Having said that, as far as the word ‘religion’ itself is concerned, substitute the word ‘indoctrination’ – and there you have it: put in the right perspective.

    • Grant

      Martin – DNA could quite easily also be the language of science and evolution. Why god? How can you know this? You simply can’t. We have an explanation for its existence without a god. We only put a god there because we want to not because we need to. And even if it was god, what manner of god, why yours?

      People often cite their experiences as proof of religion or a god. What they conveniently forget is that experience is inherently biased and flawed. The earth appears flat to the experienced observer but we know this to be false. It takes reason and logic to remove yourself from your flawed experience to that which holds water and is repeatable and verifiable. Your personal experience is not proof. You do not have the tools to determine truth based solely on experience. It might feel nice and true, to you, but it is not. You are entitled to your own opinions but not to your own facts as they say.

      We did not put man in space on what we felt might be right and faith. We put him there by finally realising the limits of the human mind and experience and working around them. We put him there through endless trial and error, testing, double checking and working out mathematically what our minds could not grasp in terms of our daily experience like the perfect trajectory to the moon. You do that on faith and you miss every time. In fact it is an insult to man’s ingenuity to give a god credit.

    • Stephen Browne

      This about Jesus: “… he reserved all his anger for those who inflicted their beliefs for their own ends on a world that suffered as a result.”

      Jesus is the Son of God, in fact he IS god (or something like that, 18 years of careful study never quite got me around this), and he ordered the deaths of countless people for a variety of sins ranging from adultery to disobeying their parents. Do you deny this? On what basis are you making the above statement?

      Stop trying to church up church, it’s insulting for those who actually bothered to read the bible in it’s entirety. I would make a moderate bet that 100 years from now the bible will no longer contain large portions of the old testament, it’s simply not compatible with Martinesque christianity.

      And yes, these sorts of discussions have an ice cube’s chance in hell of going somewhere positive, but I just hope that some deceived teenager i.e. myself not so long ago reads this and starts asking questions before any more time is wasted.

    • Garg Unzola

      Logic and reason don’t fall apart at the quantum level, and if it did, it’s no reason to suppose the existence of supernatural beings. It just means an incomplete understanding of the natural world – no god of the gaps is necessary.

      The main problem with religion is not being victimised for beliefs, but that faith is a semantic stopsign. Of course it’s not only the faithful who are prone to these, with examples like phlogiston theory and pangenesis from science that fall prey to sacrificing scepticism far too soon.

      Both of those eventually made way for materialistic explanations.

      Coffee is more important than religion though.

    • Charlie

      “Why is ones belief system open game, whereas ones sexuality, gender or colour is not, in a politically correct society anyway?”

      The reason is that your sexuality, gender and colour are something you are born with whereas religion is a choice. Surly a person’s choice on something is “open game” how else do we find out if we have made the correct choice.

      “Our universe began in a Big Bang that emphatically violates the laws of thermodynamics”

      I’d love to know where you get this from. As far as I know this is not the case, if it was then you would not have a Big Bang Theory. I think that you might misunderstand the terms order, disorder, chaos and random or you don’t understand the BBT.

    • Chris Lombard

      Logic and reason leaves us with only two possible options, both of which are illogical and unreasonable. Either something came from nothing, or something has been here forever. The first is self evidently illogical and unreasonable, the second less apparently so until you scrutinize it’s implications.

    • Martin Young

      The arguments presented in many of these comments are just more examples of opinions presented as facts.

      Richard Feynman said “If you think you understand quantum theory, then you don’t.” Is there a better person to argue that point with, or do we defer to those with better qualifications?

      Why should there not be a materialistic explanation for what we assume at the moment to be supernatural? I would welcome and embrace that. And why would God not work in a materialistic manner?

      DNA fulfils every criteria of being a unique language or software code. If so, who wrote it? You have to spin through hoops to counter that argument.

      I reiterate: I can embrace the world in all its beauty, marvel at the science behind it, and at the same time read the Bible (I have several times front to back in several versions) and UNDERSTAND it, and find no serious conflict.

      I think the opposition in its narrow mindedness doth protest too much.

    • Stephen Browne

      You still fail to answer how an unchanging God can order punishments which you (in the 21st century) would call ‘over-zealous’ at best, ‘genocidal’ at worst. Or at least I hope you think killing non-believers to carve out land for believers is a bit of a no-no? Stop waffling around quantum theory and deal with the simple laymen such as myself on a level we can understand.

      This isn’t an opinion: there are lengthy passages in the old testament describing atrocious acts of homophobia, genocide, misogyny, to name a few, all committed in the name of the god you worship (unless I am much mistaken?)

      Is this God still alive and well, or have you revised him for your modern, forward-thinking, church?

    • Martin Young

      Ah Stephen – you have come to the crux of it, and one that is usually misunderstood by many. It’s the same God, but with a second and better plan of action. There was an Old Covenant, described by the Old Testament and all the messy business contained therein, and a New Covenant introduced by the person and actions of Jesus – the New Testament gives the story.

      The two are entirely different arrangements and if you don’t understand the difference you know nothing about Christianity. In the first, man had to abide by an impossible set of rules to become closer to God, and God’s interest was limited to one small group of people. In the second, God removed those rules and obligations with only one condition, that people believe in him via Jesus. This promise is open to the whole world and every people. The price and the cost was paid by God himself.

      So the Old Testament gives a history in a sense of man’s messy relationship with God. The New Testament, New Covenant, or New Contract is the better and finished contract, and God has done all the work. The context is completely different. Where God intervened on behalf of his people the Israelites beforehand, that intervention stopped, and the Jews as a nation disappeared for nearly 2000 years.

      This is what is sets Christianity apart from all other religions – God has done all the work, and there is only one condition – believe in his son. All other religions expect man to change or to do stuff first. Not this one.

    • Stephen Browne

      Don’t worry, I’ve heard this all before, explained by some leading christian figures you probably respect. My main gripe is that morality has changed – what happened to God’s immutable character which defines what humans SHOULD be like? Make it sound as welcoming and loving as you like, no sane person can say that morality hasn’t changed. One of the core elements of christianity is that humans are created in God’s image, and are thus a known factor – they always were, and always will be, subject to his laws. His laws have changed, he’s shifted the goalposts, whatever you want to call it!

      It’s similar to our underage sex laws – 300 years ago, marrying and impregnating a 14-year old girl would be something christians could do. Now it’ll land you in jail (also courtesy of christians largely speaking.) Slavery, women’s rights, abortion, drug use, I could go on. People’s concept of right and wrong swing dramatically from one age to the next, and it seems very much like christianity (or any other religion) is simply adapted to suit whoever is holding the blunt object.

      Right now, it suits you to have a religion that is entirely introverted (except, of course, if a terrified 16-year old wants to end an unwanted pregnancy) and accepting of all other creeds. That’s great, much better than the other options. Just do me the favour and admit that nailing anything down as unchanging is laughable.

    • Pieter Malan

      A glass of wine it is. I come in peace.
      Scepticism and calculated reasoning makes for great debate. I agree with your truth that religion chose us. It confirms man’s inherent desire to believe that there is “outside time” supreme deity who will guide him and care for him/her throughout his life and even thereafter. Hence your assumption that all religion “tap into another sphere” This is not necessarily a bad thing. From this can instigate morality (although not exclusive) and good actions to care about fellow humans. At this point it probably makes sense to most of us.
      Then comes the part that make atheists and non-believers alike prowl to destroy. Religion in the hands of any manipulator thrives on gullibility and encourages bad behavior. Misguided Kings and priests over the ages conspired to rule the ever growing masses to “behave in a manner” supportive to their cause. They will not settle for your or anybody’s apology. But this militant atheism is not good for our debate. Their anger is maybe justified when priests and holy men trample and abuse their fellow man with female inequality, degradation, oppression & suppression, mutilation; child molestation and human sacrifice etc. One has to admit that these issues cause anger and apprehension amongst non-believers when the underlying religious behavior is apparent. (i.e. It does not help that the Pope refuses condoms for Catholics thus blessing an Africa HIV disaster….. )
      Taking another sip….

    • Pieter Malan

      The “flick of the fingers” argument is frivolous and leads to questions that are unanswerable. (i.e. the time it took to create the universe and the regular major natural disasters that followed) [taking another sip here..]
      I was also chosen by Christianity and only in my early 50’s recognised that I still have another choice. Finding the truth and taking an interest in science and being a sceptic. You mentioned Liberal Christian? But can we be half a Jew or Christian or half a Muslim? Selectively underwriting one faith or another is not credible. Having a “sense of wonder and faith” could be temporarily satisfying but lacks the quest to find truth. As a Secular Humanist I am now at ease with what we do not know. But most of all I am relieved by a truthful explanation of what was previously mythical and mysterious. Most believers try to use the Bible like a hammer, and then everything looks like a nail.
      My glass is almost empty… and so here cometh the challenge. Is evolution and religious compatible? I will argue for NO. And if you go for YES, you will have to use the only tool you’ve got; The Bible.
      Cheers !

    • Grant

      Martin, you are then essentially saying god is shifty character that was quite happy to be homicidal and genocidal and then decided one day to send his son to be smashed up onto a cross and murdered in some signing of a new contract with mankind. Are you telling me that the guy who suppposedly created the universe, the lord of all we can see and surmise, the guy who can and weirdly wants to simultaneously be in all of our heads in some controlling totalitarian nightmare could not come up with something better than that? Why would such a being need or want our belief/faith. Why would it care?

      The truth here is that the bible could have been written by primitive man, could have nothing to do with any god and that is why it is such a contradictory mess with the moral code of a barbarian horde. That curve bets fits our points. It advocates slavery and stoning and corrective rape. It is a shocker and that describes why. It is not the word of god, it is the controlling word of primitive man and it has modern peddlars of faith bending themselves and their arguments into prezel shaped loops trying to reconcile how the author of this nightmare somehow loves us and is relevant today.

      It is not relevant today. Man has moved on. Loads of real people have died for great causes and they did not come back. That makes Jesus look like a con artist. What kind of sacrifice comes back? That is not a sacrifice, it is a joke compared to the man who takes a bullet for his family.

    • Grant

      There is a much simpler end to this argument which is in fact never an argument. The end is this:

      We have science to explain how our universe works, what we are and how we came to be. There are holes in this explanation. There used to be much bigger holes but they were closed by science. Those holes include the ‘why’ question for some although it may not even be a relevant question to ask since why is a human construct. There are other unanswered questions.

      From here we seem to split into two types of people that never see eye to eye:

      1. The religious person who chooses to lump a god into those ever shrinking holes and pronounce QED. God did it, god knows, god is the reason. They have no evidence for this and every time it turns out there is a rational explanation and god is not required, their entire argument needs rework but they will never back down on this god that they just know exists because some old text tells them it does.

      2. The non-religious person who is happy and in fact proud to say we just don’t know. They say it is too early to put a god into the holes because everything else we rely on in life requires evidence and there is simply no evidence for this. That is why we have so many gods. Every big leader for the last few thousand years put a different god into those holes and it is a big clumsy mess.

      Faith by definition requires that you don’t question and science by definition requires that you endlessly question.

      That is why this is…

    • Grant

      …not a debate. It is the endless prattle of two opposing and mutually exclusive views and to paraphrase Feynmann, anyone who thinks both are true has not understood the problem.

    • Garg Unzola

      I don’t see the need for religion. Many people swear by it, the same way people swear by Neoliberalism and Marxism: With lots of ad hoc hypothesising, shifting goal posts and rationalising to deal with cognitive dissonance.

      Maybe there’s something to a hypothesis that keeps changing, but then how much of it is truly unambiguously Biblical? Or perhaps it’s just not true?

    • John

      Martin – I am an atheist and I would be very happy to have coffee with you. Two things though that might mitigate against you keeping your invitation open. Mostly, I am concerned that I probably don’t qualify as the ‘you’ repeatedly refer to in your article. Your view of atheists is very narrow indeed. I think most religious people are thoroughly nice, good people – especially Mormons, less so Muslims (if I may, as you do, make sweeping generalizations). You might want to apologise for the more radical/evangelistic religious people but I don’t think they would thank you for that.

      Secondly, I cannot believe I would sit and just listen to your reasons without questioning them. I hope if I did you would understand that it is because I love debate, discussion and inquiry and not that I am attacking ‘you’. I often do this on all sorts of subjects and I’m not offended by people strongly disagreeing with me although I’m often left perplexed that, for example, some people just cannot see that Pele was clearly better than either Best or Messi. It is rare to leap from thinking someone wrong in their opinion to delusional which is of course a medical condition. Across the population I think that most atheists are more moral than most religious groups (again, I think we’re beaten out by Mormons). I think we could easily disagree & discuss this without either of us being offended by the other (?) and without the necessity of making ‘delusional’ accusations – at least I…

    • Grant

      I would also point out that Feynmann is horribly misquoted here. We understand a great deal about quantum theory, more than when Feynmann was at his best and just because things operate very differently when they are very small does not mean that a god is somehow involved. Quantum theory is strange but predictably strange. We have designed technologies using quantum theory. In fact the transister, the building block of the computer revolution, the cornerstone of what allows us to be communicating like this operates in the quantum realm. Not only do we understand this perfectly, we used it to change the world. I am basically harnessing quantum effects to post this.

    • Martin Young

      Ah Pieter

      I think it is compatible, yes. I have my own explanations, and they depend on not taking the Bible at face value and making assumptions over what it is and isn’t.

      The issue however is very much small print. The beauty of Christianity is that you can settle the whole debate over one event – the resurrection.

      If it can be shown to have occurred, then Jesus did what he said he would do. So the reality of God and everything else arguably depends on that single event. Get this sorted in your head and everything else falls into place, or crashes to the ground depending on your conclusions.

      Whether one is persuaded by the available evidence, which is abundant and if given equal weight to other literature on which we accept ancient history is overwhelming, depends on what you chose to believe. The absence of compelling evidence, or the smoking gun, I believe is intentional, because it would make no difference whatsoever. People would still behave as they chose to do so.

      The truth you describe is very difficult to define – it comes down ultimately to opinion and personal preference influenced by a multitude of other things.

    • Martin Young


      I could present to you the opposite side of the story in the same manner you have, presenting all the counter arguments in the same tone, but then I would be resorting to ridicule and sarcasm, and those are beneath me.

      So I won’t.

    • Garg Unzola

      I’m not sure how zombies validate Biblical texts?

    • Pieter Malan

      Hi Martin
      The Resurrection; The single event for some religions that makes all sins forgiven. Other religions depend on the words of their originator; Mohammed, Joseph Smith, Ron L Hubbard, Siddharta Gautama (Buddhism) Chuang-Tzu, Mary Baker Eddy etc. None of them died for the sins of their followers.
      But I will give you something else to ponder on;
      The comparison between lives of Jesus and Horus (the only son of the Egyptian God Osirus and Isis ) shows that the same crucifixion, resurrection, occurred thousands of years before Jesus. They shared the same birth detail, walked on water, resurrected the dead, cast out demons, healed the sick, same number of disciples, uncannily both were baptised at age 30 AND both baptisers were beheaded!! So this ancient Egyptian fable appears to be copied by Jesus and his disciples.
      Biblical Researchers confirm that in Roman times there were many rival pagan groups canvassing followers among the poor and oppressed. (Some things never change) And Jesus apparently was a common name. The Resurrection was described in 4 gospels 70 to 150 years AFTER the event. No eyewitness accounts. This makes the resurrection debatable don’t you think? I cannot get this sorted in my head.
      How do you feel about miracles? …… as a doctor? Feel free to blend the muti and rituals of Sangomas into your debate.

    • Martin Young

      Hi Pieter

      The crucifixion of Jesus really was a non-event in Roman history – as you say it was an event like thousands of others in a troublesome part of the world. One would have expected Jesus’ followers to melt away, discredited and abandoned after his execution.

      But they didn’t. Something highly dramatic happened that they themselves were prepared to die for, and that suggests to me that Jesus kept his promises and returned. And we have Christianity as the biggest religion in the world as a result.

      It appears Mark was an eyewitness. John was an eyewitness – so there were eyewitness accounts. Secondly Paul knew the apostles intimately, and would have had immediate knowledge of their accounts. Luke (Acts) was a medical doctor, a man concerned with evidence and getting the story right – even if it was a highly unusual one.

      As a doctor I cannot discount miracles of healing. Am I skeptical of some of the claims made? Yes, of course. The biggest question for a believer is why prayer for healing does not work on every occasion. I ask what would the consequences be if it did? The theology gets very complicated and is still not resolved.

      You can’t buy into Christianity and the good side without acknowledging the dark side, and I grudgingly have to accept a dark world that has power. Do sangomas tap into this power? I don’t know. I wouldn’t see one.

      Or is it just placebo – itself a very powerful and mysterious force – we have no explanation for it…

    • Shelton Bockskopf

      To find one’s own way in life is the most important. These Rules made C. Jung.