Tag Archives: Atheism

Christopher Hitchens summed up his response to incredible religious claims with the following maxim: “What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.”

#68 – Notes on Pascal’s Wager

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In this edition of The Aidan Project, Aidan examines Pascal’s Wager. Blaise Pascal (1623–62) was a talented French mathematician, physicist, inventor and writer, but he is most famous for his theological work. Pascal’s famous wager argues that it is rational to believe in God, because the benefits of this belief being justified when you die are vast: Entry into heaven, avoidance of hell. By contrast, said Pascal, even if God does not exist, the costs of living as if God does exist are trivial. To not believe in God, therefore, is irrational. Whilst it also means you will never know that God does not exist if He, in fact, does not exist, you risk fiery damnation if He does exist. Your life is a bet, believed Pascal, and, on the balance of probability, there is only one way to place it – on belief.  In a mathematical sense, if we believe in God, and He exists, the rewards are infinite, and if we are wrong, the losses are hardly worth worrying about. If we do not believe in God, but we are wrong, the punishments are potentially infinite. Aidan examines the merits of Pascal’s Wager, and explores its common criticisms. Place your bets.

Further reading:

Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, (London: Transworld, 2006).

Christopher Hitchens, God Is Not Great, (New York: Twelve, 2007).

Paddy McQueen and Hilary McQueen, Key Concepts in Philosophy, (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2010).

Pascal’s Wager, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/pascal-wager/.

Bertrand Russell, What I Believe, (Abingdon: Routledge, 2004 [originally published 1925]).

The Quran, Chapter 29, Verse 46, https://quran.com/29/46-56.

 

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#64 – Notes on Jerusalem Syndrome

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The status of Jerusalem is a leading news story, following Donald Trump’s historic announcement that the United States will recognise the Holy City as the capital of Israel. Aidan looked at the contentious issue of Israel and Palestine back in episode five, The Demise of the Two State Solution. The ancient city of Jerusalem, well known for its importance to the Abrahamic religions, is also at the centre of a peculiar religious psychosis, called Jerusalem syndrome. On this edition of The Aidan Project, Aidan explores Jerusalem syndrome, a clinical psychiatric condition, defined as a temporary state of sudden and intense religious delusions, which manifest while visiting or living in Jerusalem. Examples of Jerusalem syndrome include that of a man from Austria, who became enraged at hotel staff who would not prepare for him a last supper, and a man from the United States Midwest, who was found wandering the city, dressed in a white robe, claiming to be the Apostle Paul. Indeed, many people have become intoxicated with religious devotion in Jerusalem, including Homer Simpson. In a 2010 episode of The Simpsons, the phenomena served as the key plot point, with Homer believing himself to be the Messiah. Aidan also looks at Christopher Hitchens’ verdict on Jerusalem syndrome, which was as unforgiving as one might expect.

References:

Christelle Evans and Jonathan Behar, ‘Jerusalem syndrome’, Student BMJ, 14, 2006. [Subscription required]

Yair Bar-El, Rimona Durst, Gregory Katz, Josef Zislin, Ziva Strauss, Haim Y. Knobler, ‘Jerusalem syndrome’, The British Journal of Psychiatry, 176, 1, 2000.

Homer Simpson isn’t the only would-be ‘Messiah’ in Jerusalem, CNN, 29 March 2010.

Jerusalem Syndrome: the madness that grips foreigners on the streets of the holy city, The Telegraph, 26 March 2016.

Trump Jerusalem move sparks Israeli-Palestinian clashes, BBC news, 7 December 2017.

Recommended reading:

Christopher Hitchens, God Is Not Great, (New York: Twelve Books, 2007).

Related episode:

The Demise of the Two State Solution

#54 – Afterword on Atheism, Hitler and Nazism: Broken Glass

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Kristallnacht, or ‘Night of Broken Glass’, was a notorious pogrom against German Jews throughout Nazi Germany on 9–10 November 1938. In this edition of the podcast, Aidan expands on the arguments presented in episode 49, ‘Notes on Atheism, Hitler and Nazism’, to provide a comprehensive afterword. In the original podcast, Aidan explored the classic argument of the faithful against atheism when discussing human history. This argument – especially prevalent whenever the issue of violence or hatred is discussed – is that Adolf Hitler was an atheist. The inferred claim is that this godlessness demonstrates the danger of turning away from the moral teachings of the church. Another aspect of the argument which is often thrown in as an addendum is a charge that the Third Reich was a secular movement. Aidan revisits these arguments, with particular attention to the Night of Broken Glass, to provide further insight and analysis. Aidan is on Twitter @AidanXCoughlan.

Bibliography:

Christopher J. Probst, Demonizing the Jews: Luther and the Protestant Church in Nazi Germany, (Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2012).

Richard Steigmann-Gall, The Holy Reich: Nazi Conceptions of Christianity, 1919-1945, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003).

John Toland, Adolf Hitler, (New York: Doubleday, 1976).

Volker Ullrich (Author), Jefferson Chase (Translator), Hitler: Ascent 1889-1939, (London: Bodley Head, 2016).

Paul Weber, Becoming Hitler: The Making of a Nazi (unreleased, due November 2017).

Further listening

Sam Harris, ‘Episode 96: The Nature of Consciousness A Conversation with Thomas Metzinger‘, The Waking Up Podcast

The Aidan Project archive on Atheism

#49 – Notes on Atheism, Hitler and Nazism

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Also available: #54 – Afterword on Atheism, Hitler and Nazism: Broken Glass

The faithful are playing with reference to a different set of rules when arguing for the merits of religion based on faith alone. Faith, by definition, requires no tangible evidence. But claims from the faithful about human history can be countered by the inquisitive atheist. We all have access to a plethora of terrestrial historical accounts which were not gleaned from divine revelation. In this edition of the podcast, Aidan explores the classic argument of the faithful against atheism when discussing human history. This argument – especially prevalent whenever the issue of violence or hatred is discussed – is that Adolf Hitler was an atheist. The inferred claim is that this godlessness demonstrates the danger of turning away from the moral teachings of the church. Another aspect of the argument which is often thrown in as an addendum is a charge that the Third Reich was a secular movement. How much merit is there in these claims? Did Hitler reject God, and if he did, did this make a difference to human history? And how secular was Hitler’s Nazi regime? Aidan delves into the argument to provide grounded insight and analysis. Indeed, as with the claims of the holy books, the introduction of earthly evidence is crucial when one desires to separate fact from fiction.

Selected bibliography:

J. Cornwell, Hitler’s Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII
A. Hitler (ed. N. Baynes), The Speeches of Adolf Hitler
A. Hitler, Mein Kampf
C. Hitchens, God Is Not Great
G. Orwell, Literature and Totalitarianism

Additional Aidan Project content on related persons:

Adolf Hitler (podcast)
Christopher Hitchens (article)
George Orwell (podcast)

For more ways to listen, to subscribe to the podcast or to sign-up for e-mail updates when new content is available, please click here.

#45 – De-Platformed: Challenging Bad Ideas

On July 21, the noted evolutionary biologist and author, Richard Dawkins, was de-platformed by a ‘progressive’ radio station in California because of comments he had previously made about Islam. This decision – powered by the moral confusion that maliciously designates fair criticism of religion as hate speech – is yet another example of the left’s deeply dishonest, nonsensical, virtue-signalling and outlandish apologising whenever Islam is discussed. In this episode, Aidan is joined by Sadia Hameed, spokesperson for the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain, for an honest conversation on the challenging issues of appraising Islam, leaving the faith, the media’s obsession with ‘Islamophobia’, the widespread cultural relativism and obscurantism espoused on the left, the conflation of peaceful Muslims and archaic Islamists by the right, and much more, including the de-platforming of Dawkins. This is an important conversation regarding the interactions of the ideas of Islam and the world. For more information on the Council, visit their web site at https://www.ex-muslim.org.uk/.

For more ways to listen, to subscribe to the podcast or to sign-up for e-mail updates when new content is available, please click here.

#37 – Dogmatic Silence: Abuse in the Church

In this edition of the podcast, Aidan talks to David Greenwood, Chairman of Stop Church Child Abuse. The Catholic Church has a history of cover-ups and scandal, a history of secret Catholic Courts, and a history of unscrupulously moving priests between countries once abuse has taken place. What are the current attitudes emanating out of the Catholic Church in respect of child sex abuse? Furthermore, the Church of England has its own shameful story to tell, or rather, a story that requires activists such as David to tell, for the Church will not seek to do it itself. ‘Abuse Of Faith’ was an independent Church of England review, published in June 2017, which looked at Peter Ball, a former Bishop of Lewes, who was jailed in 2015 after admitting a number of sex offences between 1977 and 1992. How much of a landmark moment is this review? In this Pope-Truth world, Aidan and David discuss the dogmatic silence of church leaders and the institutionalized resistance to transparency. Stop Church Child Abuse is an alliance of clergy sexual abuse survivors, charities that support survivors, specialist lawyers and interested individuals working in the field of child safeguarding. The organisation seeks to investigate and highlight the serious safeguarding failures of church institutions, from 1954 to the present. This episode highlights the serious failings of the Church of England and looks at the campaign to urge the UK Government to set up an Independent Commission of Inquiry into child sexual abuse perpetrated by clergy, religious and other church officials. You can read “Abuse of Faith” at https://www.churchofengland.org/media/3999908/report-of-the-peter-ball-review-210617.pdf. If you were affected by any of the issues raised in this episode, you can visit http://macsas.org.uk/, e-mail helpline@macsas.org.uk, or call 08088 01 03 40.

For more ways to listen, to subscribe to the podcast or to sign-up for e-mail updates when new content is available, please click here.

Extraordinarily Bad Ideas

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A scene from the religious satire, Monty Python’s Life of Brian, 1979, directed by Terry Jones.

My latest podcast, Notes on Belief, in which I argue that beliefs matter and are open to reasonable scrutiny.

The phrase, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” was famously offered by Carl Sagan as a response to beliefs formed despite a lack of tangible certification. Christopher Hitchens, likewise, stated that, “What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.”

These quotes typify my approach to unsubstantiated claims and superstitious beliefs. I released a podcast on June 15, Notes on Belief, which was well-received by the majority of those who heard it (and listened to the argument carefully). As I was so grateful to receive such positive feedback, I have decided – in case you missed them – to point out a selection of other Aidan Project podcasts in which irrational religious beliefs are rightly challenged. I am quite sure that more such episodes will follow, as there are no shortage of theocratic outrages deserving criticism, in the past, in the present and, inevitably, in the future.

It is imperative that society tackles the issues surrounding belief honestly. No free pass for religion, ever. My mission is to speak candidly and to challenge abhorrent ideas.

Liberalism does not mean rolling over for fear of causing offence. Liberalism means standing up for decency and veracity in pursuit of a just world, not apologising for the obscenities of others. I want to do something during my fleeting existence that, even in the most minute way, pushes society towards a brighter future. It is a rather modest, microscopic, contribution amongst such a vast array of discourse, but it is my own.

Thank you for your support,
Aidan

t: @theaidanproject
f: facebook.com/theaidanprojectblog
e: theaidanprojectblog@gmail.com

All of the following show links open in a new web browser tab, or you can find all of my previous episodes on iTunes or YouTube.

Notes on Manchester – My thoughts on militant Islam.

Western Downfall: Why Trump Won – In a wide-ranging episode, the issue of belief – both secular and religious – is addressed.

The Art of Terror – How do you win a battle against a theocratic enemy that values death more than the West values life?

Left to Die: Whilst Liberals Slept – The regrettable issue of liberals apologising for obscene religious beliefs and turning on would-be reformers.