Humans hunger for the sacred. Why can’t the new atheists understand that?

Look at life under communism, and you’ll see why religion will never die

31 May 2014

9:00 AM

31 May 2014

9:00 AM

Does the world have a purpose? The new atheists regard the question as absurd. Purposes emerge in the course of evolution, they tell us; to suppose that they could exist before any organism can gain a reproductive advantage from possessing them is to unlearn the lesson of Darwin. With the theory of evolution firmly established, therefore, there is no room in the scientific worldview for an original purpose, and therefore no room for God.

Today’s evangelical atheists go further, and tell us that history has shown religion to be so toxic that we should do our best to extinguish it. Such writers describe the loss of religion as a moral gain — even though, for most ordinary believers, it looks like the loss of all that they most seriously value.

But maybe the atheists have misunderstood their target.

The ‘god of the philosophers’ — serene, omniscient, and outside space and time — has appeal to those who think in abstract terms. But ordinary people don’t think in abstract terms. They don’t see God as the answer to a cosmological question, since they don’t have cosmological questions. But they do have the question of how to live, and in the effort to live with others they often stumble upon moments, places, relationships and experiences that have a numinous character — as though removed from this world and in some way casting judgment upon it.

Hence there is another question, that seems to be much nearer to the heart of what we, in the western world, are now going through: what is the sacred, and why do people cling to it? Sacred things, Émile Durkheim once wrote, are ‘set aside and forbidden’. To touch them with profane hands is to wipe away their aura, so that they flutter to earth and die. To those who respect them, however, sacred things are the ‘real presence’ of the supernatural, illuminated by a light that shines from the edge of the world.

How do we understand this experience, and what does it tell us? It is tempting to look for an evolutionary explanation. After all, sacred things seem to include all those events that really matter to our genes — falling in love, marriage, childbirth, death. The sacred place is the place where vows are made and renewed, where suffering is embraced and accepted, and where the life of the tribe is endowed with an eternal significance. Humans with the benefit of this resource must surely withstand the storms of misfortune rather better than the plain-thinking individualists who compete with them. Look at the facts in the round and it seems likely that humans without a sense of the sacred would have died out long ago. For that same reason, the hope of the new atheists for a world without religion is probably as vain as the hope for a society without aggression or a world without death.

I prefer to put evolutionary explanations to one side, however, so as to consider, not the benefit that sacredness confers on our genes, but the transformation it effects in our perceptions. A person with a sense of the sacred can lead a consecrated life, which is to say a life that is received and offered as a gift. An intimation of this is contained in our relations with those who are dear to us. There is a treasure-house of poetry devoted to the word ‘you’, and it records the human need to be absorbed by someone else, to see you as calling to me from beyond the sensory horizon. This experience is not accessible to scientific inquiry. It depends upon concepts, like freedom, responsibility and the self, that have no place in the language of science. The very idea of ‘you’ escapes the net of explanation.

Atheists dismiss that kind of argument. They tell us that the ‘self’ is an illusion, and that the human person is ‘nothing but’ the human animal, just as law is ‘nothing but’ relations of social power, sexual love ‘nothing but’ the procreative urge and the Mona Lisa ‘nothing but’ a spread of pigments on a canvas. Getting rid of what Mary Midgley calls ‘nothing buttery’ is, to my mind, the true goal of philosophy. And if we get rid of it when dealing with the small things — sex, pictures, people — we might get rid of it when dealing with the large things too: notably, when dealing with the world as a whole. And then we might conclude that it is just as absurd to say that the world is nothing but the order of nature, as physics describes it, as to say that the Mona Lisa is nothing but a smear of pigments. Drawing that conclusion is the first step towards understanding why and how we live in a world of sacred things.

Nothing brought this home to me more vividly than the experience of communism, in places where there was no other recourse against the surrounding inhumanity than the life of prayer. Communism made the scientific worldview into the foundation of social order: people were regarded as ‘nothing but’ the assembled mass of their instincts and needs. Its aim was to replace social life with a cold calculation for survival, so that people would live as competing atoms, in a condition of absolute enmity and distrust. Anything else would jeopardise the party’s control. In such circumstances people lived in a world of secrets, where it was dangerous to reveal things, and where every secret that was peeled away from the other person revealed another secret beneath it.

Nevertheless the victims of communism tried to hold on to the things that were sacred to them, and which spoke to them of the free and responsible life. The family was sacred; so too was religion, whether Christian or Jewish. So too was the underground store of knowledge — the forbidden knowledge of the nation’s history and its claim to their loyalty. Those were the things that people would not exchange or relinquish even when required by the party to betray them. They were the consecrated treasures, hidden below the desecrated cities, where they glowed more brightly in the dark. Thus there grew an underground world of freedom and truth, where it was no longer necessary, as Havel put it, ‘to live within the lie’.

Recently I assembled some of my impressions of that world, and the result is Notes from Underground, a novel set in Czechoslovakia in the mid-1980s, which explores love between two young people who stumble over each other in the catacombs, and who, in the ambient twilight, find the meaning that the system had tried to wipe away. We live today in the glare of affluence, and cannot easily discern sacred things, which glow more clearly in darkness. But we need the sacred as much as the young people of my story. One way to understand this is to look back at that place where truth and trust were crimes and love a reckless departure from routine calculation. I can observe it now from a position of safety, and am glad that those times of fear have gone. But I also regret that they are fading from our collective memory and that their lesson has still to be learned.

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  • JDale

    I hope The Spectator didn’t pay anything for this inane drivel.

    • manonthebus

      I think the writer is advertising his novel. More fool the Spectator!

  • Horace Baffy

    Brings into the open what is known in the depths. Excellent!

  • Caramel Abdul Jizzbar

    Just because humans want/need something doesn’t mean it’s good for them to have it. Often just the opposite. Religion is harmful to humanity.

    • You set out your thought as if it was a syllogism, but it isn’t and your final thought has no bearing on the first one.
      In a liberal view, wanting/needing something is enough. that’s why we haven’t banned alcohol or cigarettes, extreme sports or unprotected sex. All of these can be harmful to humanity to one degree or another, but that is beside the point. Some of them are only harmful, despite the apparent short-term benefits, some of them them are ok, but can be harmful. You final conclusion has no basis as a generalisation, since to many people not only is religion of benefit, it is not harmful in any way whatsoever, and may well encourage the ending of other harmful behaviours, such as smoking, drinking, and casual sex.
      i know that takes more time to write out, but thinking about something is like that. Sound bytes are lazy substitutes for discourse.

      • Caramel Abdul Jizzbar

        It’s not meant to be a syllogism. That’s probably why it isn’t one.

        Just because humans want to believe in the supernatural doesn’t make it a good idea. It’s an emotional security blanket for the stupid and the weak.

        Religion is harmful to humanity because it encourages wilfull ignorance of reality, never mind all of the misery, intolerance, violence it has engendered since the beginning of history. It’s a waste of human resources. We have plenty of real problems to deal with. People making decisions based not on evidence or facts or reality but rather what they think their Big Daddy wants of them is bad for all of us.

        • doctorseraphicus

          One could just as equally argue that atheism is an emotional security blanket for the stupid and weak. I am sure there are many among the people who identify themselves as atheists who draw comfort from the ideas that this is life all there is, we can have a bit of fun and not take ourselves too seriously, no facing up to any shortcomings in the afterlife, just live and let live, etc., etc. For every conscientious, serious-minded liberal humanist, there are ten self-indulgent hedonists just yoloing their little lives away.

          • Roger Lambert

            Perhaps you could explain why atheists are underrepresented in the prison system by an order of magnitude? Or why the majority of scientists and nearly all Nobel science winners are atheists?

            And maybe you can offer an explanation for the inverse relationship between religiosity and quality of life, education, and standard of living throughout the world and the positive relationship between religiosity and teen pregnancy, misogyny, terrorism, child sexual abuse, and sectarian war?

            Oh, and perhaps just the tiniest small soupcon of a scintilla of evidence that this “afterlife” you feel is so important actually exists?

          • doctorseraphicus

            So many questions. As per the article (at least, the converse of the paragraph on Communism), people who self-identify as atheists tend to come from well-off, well-educated, comfortable societies. The kinds of people who know how to behave, work hard at school, go on to be scientists and don’t end up as habitual criminals. Yup – life’s great, who the hell needs God?

            Para #2. Too many variables. Most of the world, most of the time has been appalling. Most of the world, most of the time people have believed in some kind of God and have often used religion to vindicate their appallingness. So naturally there’s a big overlap and hence correlation between the two conditions. Most (but not all) of the world’s wealthiest and pleasant places to live seem to have been on the Protestant side of the reformation: Germany, Scandinavia, the Anglosphere. That neither proves nor disproves the truth of the articles of Protestantism but I put it out there.

            Para #3. What would constitute evidence which you would believe? Short of actual, hard, physical evidence – which we just are not going to get; any personal experience can easily be discounted as a mere hallucination or the workings of a febrile and deranged imagination; but even then: no, I have not been personally visited by angels or demons; nor whisked off to heaven or hell in the manner of Dante. I’m a 21st Century Westerner: I hardly know how to believe in God beyond the Magic-Car-Park-Space-Finder. So, for me the whole afterlife comes as an extrapolation from what I feel I can with reasonable confidence believe.

      • Warwick

        Do you equate religion with belief in God?
        In Mr Scruton’s article he was writing mostly about experiences that people have, not the beliefs they hold.

        Furthermore, experiences can be good but not very deep or they can be very profound. And even if one has an experience that relates to one’s spiritual and ontological depths, the matter of working out how one behaves morally and effectively towards one’s fellows, and the rest of the world, has still to be undertaken.

      • manonthebus

        I expect you thought it was sophisticated to write ‘sound bytes’.

  • Bonkim

    Religion is for the insecure and those that cannot think for themselves.

    • doctorseraphicus

      Well, that is hardly an astonishingly original thought is it? Did you think of that by yourself? Perhaps unknowingly you are just repeating an entirely orthodox world-view: for example,

      The view implicit in my education was that the basic narrative of
      Christianity had long been exposed as a myth, and that opinion was now
      divided as to whether its ethical teaching was of present value, a
      division in which the main weight went against it; religion was a hobby
      which some people professed and others did not; at the best it was
      slightly ornamental, at the worst it was the province of “complexes” and
      “inhibitions” — catchwords of the decade — and of the intolerance,
      hypocrisy, and sheer stupidity attributed to it for centuries. No one
      had ever suggested to me that these quaint observances expressed a
      coherent philosophic system and intransigent historical claims; nor had
      they done so, would I have been much interested.
      Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited (1945)

      • Ah, Charles!

      • Bonkim

        as a life-long atheist one learns to reason based on cause and effect and human thought processes. I am sure there is commonality in human thinking which is always influenced by the prevailing knowledge and history.

        Given that until the last century most humans on earth were illiterate and laws were formulated by their Kings or by their religious leaders – and they were expected to keep their heads down and do what they were told – little wonder religions prevailed and that ones religion, and ethnicity determined one’s nationality and allegiances.

        • doctorseraphicus

          OK, but you must concede that many believing types can reason based on cause and effect: in fact, it was religious men (Abelard, Duns Scotus, Lombard, William of Ockham, etc.) who built the beautiful constructions of mediaeval logic (upon Aristotle’s foundations) in order to defend the faith. But logic and dialectic only allow you to establish whether or not certain propositions are true based on your choice of axioms – the things which you hold to be true without the need for proof or because no such proof is possible. Theists and atheists choose one important axiom to be different: the one, that God exists (and, following that, has made himself known to creation); the other, that God doesn’t exist and therefore cannot possibly have made him/her/itself known to creation. I say axiom, but many believers, as per the article, use the evidence of their eyes, there personal experience and perhaps a voice of conscience and make a leap, if you like, to belief.

          Your second paragraph does not show that the claims of Christianity (at least) are not true. The fact that Christianity flourished in the face of persecution, that is the kings and religious leaders of the day were implacably opposed to it, suggests if nothing else an appeal which was stronger than the desire not to upset the powers-that-be.

          • Bonkim

            Go along with the logic part and all proof ultimately come down to accepting certain axioms which you don’t question – Then again every answer raises two or more question and we can go for ever.

            Regards Christianity or other religions/belief systems – if you believe in something strongly you do so not to please others and would continue against all opposition. People with conviction are always admired even if one does not necessarily accept the validity of their convictions.

        • Terry Field

          Your description of the past is absurd. Flat-headed and low browed.

          • global city

            You get the feeling that he only just managed to scrape into some 3rd rate PPE course at some lousy university through clearing.

            I like most of his points actually, but he ain’t as clever or as enlightened as he obviously thinks he is…. which always leads to condescension, that most readers then laugh at.

          • Bonkim

            It all depends on your knowledge and experience/exposure. No place for snobs who think they are high-brow – high and low are relative and since you don’t know my level, am not offended by your instant judgement. Your views are of no consequence.

      • roger

        That’s what Bonkim wrote without the flowery waffle.

    • Good grief, the standard of atheists these days. I blame the internet. Ready made crib sheets of answers to pop off everytime one is required. No thought required.
      In my day, you had to work at being an atheist. There were select bookshops to be found out, where you could buy certain books. You had to order stuff in from America, worrying about whether the Customs would confiscate it. You had to read stuff – they were called books – and find the diamonds in the tons of rock; I read 8 books by Nietzsche for instance. You had to imbibe the thought, work it through, make it your own, write articles and stuff that got printed in places like the Libertarian newsletters. Today’s atheists are just part timers strutting and posing like rap artists, but otherwise totally unaffected by the words that come out of their mouths. They’re amateurs.

      • Caramel Abdul Jizzbar

        You have a lot of time on your hands, writing so much guff without really making a point.

        • Sorry, I can’t write down to your level. always assumed atheists prided themselves on being able to think. I quite clearly made my point. You and Bonkim demonstrate that you don’t think, you just parrot lines from a crib manual, and Bonkim tries to dress it up in some pseudo-intellectual guff that would make the local guru blanche at its audacity. But there you go.

          • Roger Lambert

            Amazing – one reads the above essay by Scruton and then finds you asserting that it is the atheists who can’t think!

      • Bonkim

        You don’t get your inner beliefs by reading books but by observing relationship between human history, cultures and behaviour and linking cause and effect. Your belief system is your own and not something others impart although yes we are all conditioned by others in the wider world.

    • Jackthesmilingblack

      And that mythical glorious afterlife is a cruel fiction for the weak-minded that can`t handle mortality.
      Jack, Japan Alps

    • global city

      being a non-believer myself I know that you are wrong.

      • Bonkim

        Being a believer in free speech I am sure you have a right to comment on the report – however not sure if you are competent to judge who is right and who is wrong.

        • global city

          I was responding to your comment that only the stupid (basically) have or need faith.

          I mentioned the fact that I am not a God botherer so that you would not think I was merely defending my own emotional position.

          Religion takes all sorts.

  • lookout

    The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

    • Jackthesmilingblack

      Compelled to love someone you also fear. The origin of sadomasochism.
      Lookout, lookout the sky pilots are about.

      • tolpuddle1

        As we sow, so shall we reap. A very reasonable fear. Only an imbecile would ignore it.

        • Jackthesmilingblack

          You brainwashed Muppet.

        • Jackthesmilingblack

          You brainwashed Muppet.

          • tolpuddle1

            Can you atheists argue, as opposed to merely hurling insults ?

          • Tim Reed

            …says the person who labelled everyone who doesn’t share his worldview ‘imbeciles’.

          • tolpuddle1

            “As you sow, you shall ye reap” is a statement of scientific fact, not of worldview or religious belief.

          • Tim Reed

            There’s nothing scientific about that assertion.

        • rtj1211

          Go tell that to Tony Blair. Go tell that to Wall Street billionaires. Go tell that to innocents killed by US drones. Go tell that to all the innocent Japanese wiped out in Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

          None of those innocent sowed what they reaped. None of those guilty reaped what they sowed.

          That expression is one to make 8 year old children do what mummy tells them to.

  • Hubward

    I think some Atheists like to caricature the idea of God as some form of Sunday School figure, forgetting or ignoring that this is deliberately simplified, rather than consider a God capable of bringing the universe into being in all its glory (which science reveals to us endlessly). I don’t see much difference in that to those believers who dispute scientific theory on the simplistic basis that it was not set out thus in the book.
    As the article says there are experiences in life which tug at us pointing towards the sacred, or the divine, however it is phrased. Francis Spufford writes about this exellently in his book ‘Unapologetic’. Most people have had such moments, some see the divine in them some choose not to. Belief in God and belief in no God are both rational positions, but if you believe in a God that defined the universe, then that is a God that cannot be disproved by science.

  • Cooper1992

    There is a presumption amongst people when we are talking about atheism, that atheism itself is ‘rising’, that is it becoming ‘more popular’. This is simply not true. Atheism is actually dying across the world, and for better or for worse religion is becoming increasingly popular.

    1. Despite atheism becoming dominant in Northern Europe, Christianity is holding up remarkably well in Western, Southern and Eastern Europe. Even if it is just C-W-F Christianity.

    2. Russia is re-emerging as a hotbed of Christianity as a hotbed of Christianity after the USSR years.

    3. The Catholic Church still has huge power across South America which from what I’ve heard is not waning.

    4. Africa is the missionaries paradise. Whilst Enlightened Europe will go from 740m people in 2010 (~10% immigrants) to 709m in 2050 (~33% immigrants). Religious Africa will go from 1 billion in 2010 to 2.4 billion in 2050. This increase will also see an increase in Northern Muslims and Southern Christians.

    5. Islam is becoming even stronger in the Middle East, it is starting to provide a (frightening) philosophy to combat Modern Western Culture. It is these areas too where population will explode.

    6. The rest of Asia is seeing a religious revival too. China will soon be home to the second largest number of Christians in the world. Many in China are turning back to Buddhism and Taoism too. The numbers of atheists in South East Asia is not increasing. Whilst India is still as religious as always, Japan and South Korea have seen increases in atheist numbers.

    7. Whilst in Canada and the United States there has been increases in atheists, Christianity is still a core tenet in the US. Many men of power are Christians and I read somewhere too that in the US Christian mothers have more children than atheist women.

    The world is becoming more religious not less. In 2050 our planet will have a population of 10,000,000,000 and there will be a lorra lorra lorra religion there!

    • JDale

      Whilst the general thrust of most of what you say is correct, I don’t think Christianity is holding up in Southern Europe quite as much as you think (and I’m led to believe they are facing an even more dramatic demographic timebomb than the UK) and as far as I understand it Catholicism is being seriously challenged by Evangelical Protestantism in South and Central America.

      • Catholicism is being challenged, in part due to its affiliation with former regimes. However, Protestantism, which is mostly of the pentecostal variety, is being challenged in turn by the heresies that usually follow in its wake, such as health’n’wealth teachings.

    • Caramel Abdul Jizzbar

      I wonder what an overlay of poor education levels would look like in the places you cite. I imagine they’d line up perfectly.

      As long as there are uneducated people with no hope in the world, the disease of religion will spread.

      • tolpuddle1

        I’m baffled by your assumption that the West will always be prosperous; it’s in rapid decline because the disease of secularism has spread. Western Europe is falling like a stone.

        And the West’s indigenous populations, being secular, are dying out.

        • Caramel Abdul Jizzbar

          How exactly have I assumed that? All empires fall, no matter how great.

          Secularism … I’m not sure what you mean by that … but I would never associate embracing or seeking reality as a disease.

          The Western world is hardly dying out. It controls everything still and will for some time. The religious masses certainly do not. A primitive lot.

          You too should join the real world and put aside your childish fantasies. Grow up.

          • tolpuddle1

            You link religion with poverty and poor education, but ignore the obvious – that the West is rapidly losing its money and thus its power – not next century, but as of now.

            God is the only reality – all else is a by-product of His mind. Thus to embrace secularism is to embrace unreality.

            “The Western world….controls everything still.” Well, not Putin, not China, not the Moslem world – not very much in fact; and as new, fertile populations pour into the West from elsewhere and replace its sterile, decadent secular peoples, the West is ceasing to be Western, obviously. This process of the West’s losing power and money and its secular character, is very rapid, and accelerating.

            When you grow up and emerge from your illusory Western cocoon, you’ll be able to study history – which teaches one thing above all; what Edward Gibbon called “the triumph of barbarism and religion”; that the barbarians always defeat the prosperous and that the religious believers always defeat the sophisticated and “freethinking.”

          • Albert Tatlock

            the barbarians always defeat the prosperous and that the religious believers always defeat the sophisticated and “freethinking.”

            Yes, if history has shown us nothing else, it has shown us that the barbarians and the thought-control merchants always triumph over civilisation

          • tolpuddle1

            I can think of no civilisation that hasn’t been built on religion.

            Classical civilisation collapsed when people no longer believed in the gods and goddesses of Olympus.

        • rtj1211

          You have zero proof that secularism is the cause of decline.


          It fits your prejudice but in reality has to do with the most powerful families on earth shuffling their financial investments to those places where they will make ever more money.

          • tolpuddle1

            I’m not defending the greedy financial elite, but I think our manifest decline goes deeper than that.

            And is inevitable – any secular belief claims that Death is the end and is thus a cause of despair and futility and the selfish habits caused by these.

          • Richard Wood

            I don’t buy this ‘Death is is final and makes me despiar’ argument. I shall die with a smile on my face owing money

  • GordonHide

    “Look at life under communism, and you’ll see why religion will never die” — Look at life under Scandinavian social democracy and you’ll see why religion is dying in the best of the first world. Religion is, essentially, becoming a third world phenomenon.

    • tolpuddle1

      Swedish social democracy is funded by Sweden’s (rather ruthless) industries, notably Armaments; and Denmark’s by its battery pigs.

      Perhaps religion is better – especially as the cracks in the Scandinavian Dream are widening.

      • GordonHide

        A Danish pig probably leads a life of a lot less suffering than an average Afghan woman.
        Religion has had several thousand years to get its act together. It’s clear it’s not going to come up with the goods. Now it’s time for a new paradigm.

        • tolpuddle1

          Since Pashtun women prop up the Taliban, perhaps you’d better tell them to “throw off their shackles” and become Westernised women – i.e. slappers, abortionistas and similar dreck.

          And obviously, most religion is less extreme than the Afghan model.

          BTW there isn’t an alternative paradigm to religion, and never can be.

          • GordonHide

            “BTW there isn’t an alternative paradigm to religion, and never can be.” — Well thank goodness for that. Fortunately I had in mind better quality government. Read This:


            And Pashtun women wouldn’t be the first to be indoctrinated to act against their own best interests.

          • tolpuddle1

            Like all aggressively secular people, you are horrified to discover that religious people see things differently from yourself, that they are as horrified by secular beliefs as you are by traditional religious beliefs.

            You then resort to patronising woffle about “brainwashing” or “indoctrination.”

            As for better government or a better society, like many I believe that Western governments and societies have on the whole got very much worse since, say, 1960 and that this decline is a direct consequence of Western Christianity’s decline and the rise of other religions in the West – notably money, sex and status.

          • GordonHide

            You will allow me to decide what horrifies me if you don’t mind. I venture that you disapprove of modern society because it has discarded many of the outdated tenets of the Christian religion.

            I thoroughly approve of the way society has moved and is continuing to move. I see better average education, better health care, more affluence, less racism, better food standards, better technology, less authoritarianism, less corporal punishment, the abandonment of capital punishment, less sexual repression, longer life, more humane working conditions. A better balance between capital and labour with less friction, more equality for women, more acceptance of homosexuality and many, many more improvements.

            Your disapproval of the way society is moving is merely a confirmation of my original contention that religion is dying in first world societies.

          • tolpuddle1

            Look at the other side of the coin – NHS scandals, increasing ruthlessness and greed in the upper reaches of the public sector, a globalised UK where a large section of the population is heading for real poverty and the middle-class for extinction, a world economy on the edge of a cliff, increasing ethnic and racial tension throughout Britain and the world, a cascade of gizmos (and the abolition of millions of jobs by machines), more sexual crime, more desperately lonely old people (and from other age groups), more workplace bullying, more brutality against women and children, more hardline Islam.

            Many of the improvements there have been – such as the NHS – were inspired by the “Christian civilisation” that Churchill (though not a believer) said Britain was fighting for, and are now falling down in a post-Christian Britain.

            Above all, no Christianity, no West.

          • GordonHide

            I suggest you are far too pessimistic about the future. I’ll deal with a few of your complaints:

            The apparent increase in sex crimes, workplace bullying and domestic violence is almost certainly due to an increase in reporting of these things. Our society has in fact become less tolerant of violence towards the person and there were no employment tribunals fifty years ago. We have had a marked increase in immigration from countries where the rule of law does not necessarily hold. Government policy has encouraged these immigrants and their descendants to maintain aspects of their culture without realizing that some of these practices are antithetical to the rule of law and good governance.

            Your comments about greed in high places are nothing new. In the 19th century the income gap between the rich and poor was far greater than it is now and yet the economy grew far faster than it ever has before or since. This income gap was mostly alleviated, insofar as it was alleviated, by government action and the rise of trade unionism. Now the income gap is serving as a brake on
            economic growth in my view but it can again be addressed by changes in government policy.

            Globalisation and “gizmos” – If there had been no foreign cheap labour the British unskilled or semi-skilled worker would still have lost his job. He merely would have lost
            it to an accelerated rate of automation. The advance of technology is, as ever, speeding up. Although this creates much structural unemployment in the end new technology creates more jobs than existed before. Britain is already responding to the need for a better educated workforce and the British education “industry” already brings in seven billion pounds of foreign currency a year. This is not
            a new problem. Remember the Luddites.

          • rtj1211

            I don’t think they are horrified, what they do is throw back in your face your totalitarian religious attitudes, whilst decrying all totalitarian political systems.

            Disagreeing strongly with you has nothing to do with horror, more to do with standing up for what you believe in.

          • tolpuddle1

            When the West becomes Moslem – thanks largely to opponents of Christianity like yourself – you will discover the real meaning of “totalitarian religious attitudes.”

          • roger

            After reading John Masters story about Pashtun women murdering prisoners (drowning by pissing) i have utter contempt for them.

          • GordonHide

            If you were a determinist like me you would condemn Pashtun women less because you would realise that there but for fortune go you or I. (With apologies to Joan Baez).

          • jankel

            Religions, once they conquer a full power are mostly authoritarian an totalir-tarian ways of thinking. All of them.
            Even Judaism had its stoning “lapidations” times too…!

          • tolpuddle1

            An excellent reason for separating God and Caesar, religion and politics. Religion should be driven by faith, not power.

            Pope Francis is now digging out the Catholic Church from under the ruins of the powerful Western Church built by Catholic prelates in alliance with Constantine (and his successors through to Adenauer and De Gaulle).

        • roger

          Afghanistan doesn’t have much of a pig industry (sorry).
          The destruction of the giant Afghan Buddhas tells us all we need to know about religious tolerance. Buddhism being a religion that puts mankind in the centre and isn’t centered on ‘god’.

          • GordonHide

            You are right to be appalled by this act of wanton vandalism and religious intolerance but mind you don’t fall victim to the same disease by tarring all the religious with the same brush.

      • Damon

        “… and Denmark’s by its battery pigs.”
        Indeed, or by its insufferable prigs. The Scandinavian model is deeply alluring to all those who haven’t spent extensive time there. No wonder they’re all offing themselves like lemmings.

        On the broader drift of your posts here, I agree with you entirely.

      • Randy McDonald

        The Swedish arms industry isn’t all that. The Danish pig industry might be important, but cruelty to animals has a long tradition in thoroughly Christian countries.

    • jankel

      a salvation for psychotic structured believers and weak personalities.

    • TM

      You should read Peter Berger. If religion is a third world phenomenon, how do you account for Pentecostal evangelicalism?

      • GordonHide

        You should read Peter Berger more carefully. Even in his revised view he accepts that religion is declining in the best of the West.

        This is despite all the Pentecostal evangelicals can do.

  • stag

    Yes, the new atheists all seem to suffer from a chronic lack of insight into the human condition.

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    “Humans hunger for the sacred. Why can’t the new atheists understand that?”
    Daw, it`s just that you`ve been brainwashed since birth.

    • tolpuddle1

      Almost as badly as the victims of the UK’s hyper-secular education system, you mean ?

  • roger

    A clear study of cosmology can give someone as much ‘sacred’ as they can get, get your head around a billion billion stars. New Genesis :”,, and man created god..”

  • Retired Nurse

    Wim Distelmans – the failed scientist who runs Belgium’s’ euthanasia organisation Lief, is THE leading light of the Atheist circuit. Having been in charge of the Euthanasia program for 10 years, he’s also in charge of the only complaints board, and has not upheld a single complaint about himself for all that time! Passing judgement on yourself would be too ‘religious’ it seems. Distelmans told a chap called Tom Mortier [whose depressed,but not physically unwell mother he euthanased – in clear breach of even Belgian regulations] that the only reason he was upset stemmed from his Catholic upbringing, which rendered him incapable of empathising with her suffering. He then snatched her corpse for 2 years of ‘medical research’, and sent Mr.M a bill for the ‘bereavement counselling’ session. http://alexschadenberg.blogspot.co.uk/2014/02/dr-tom-mortiers-mother-was-killed-by.html. He couldn’t see anything sub-human about that.
    Distelmans announced earlier this week that he’s holding a seminar on euthanasia at Auschwitz, to counter increasing claims that his entire life’s work has been inspired by the Nazi’s ‘Aktion T4’ program http://www.thejc.com/news/world-news/118806/doctor-plans-inspiring%E2%80%99-auschwitz-tour-talk-about-euthanasia – I find this beyond ‘Atheism’, and simply psychopathic.

    But I imagine at a ‘counseling session’ my ‘issues’ would probably be attributed to religious brainwashing in childhood.

  • Shamuz Alonzo
  • mikewaller

    This piece is pitched at the same intellectual level as John O-Hara’s remark about Gershwin: “They tell me George Gershwin is dead, but I don’t have to believe it if I don’t want to”. Quite touching in the context of the death of a great artist, but pathetic coming from someone who purports to be a philosopher. There is no aspect of the human condition to which modern evolutionary theory cannot provide the best explanation currently available. For example, love: a hormone-induced state of great adaptive value where the survival of young depends on the long-term maintenance of a pair bond; the sense of self: a crucial requirement for any species that plies its trade by finding novel ways of exploiting any given set of circumstances as in “What can I get out of this?; etc. etc.

    Faced with this, one would understand religious leaders or dictators saying something like “This is dangerous stuff that should be suppressed because it is deeply antipathetic to the account of life we need to propagate if we are to maintain our position”, but for a “philosopher” to say much the same thing as in “I prefer to put evolutionary explanations to one side” is shameful. The best advice I think he can be given is a modified version of Harry Truman’s famous dictum: If you can’t stand the intellectual heat, get out of the kitchen!

    • stag

      Even you don’t believe that bunk, Mike. If that’s your definition of human love, then your life is officially rubber-stamped as meaningless. Enjoy!

      • Kaine

        Why? Does knowledge of the bio-chemical background make the feeling any less intense? Does knowing how honey is made make it any less sweet?

        • stag

          Love is not principally a ‘feeling’.

          • Richard Wood

            Love must be god then, or god is love – I’m sure I read that in a book somewhere …

      • mikewaller

        “Had I but time and space” I could fully explain to you the evolutionary reasons why you and Master Scruton are configured to think as you do. In essence it is that from a cosmic perspective human life is literally meaningless and to fill this void, very big-brained creatures such as ourselves invent God(s) and an assortment of self-declared “mysteries of life” which, in almost certain fact, are nothing of the sort.

        You, could of course, say “So what? If it makes life tolerable for us, what right have you and your like to horn in?” To which my answer would be that the great scientific enterprise admits to no “no-go” areas. So if you and Scruton what to cling on to your quaint beliefs, be my guest; but don’t mix it with those whom only only hard truth will satisfy.

        Just to give you a second bite at the cherry, I reproduce below a poem on the subject I wrote some years ago. Sadly, my guess is that it is the final stanza that will speak to you.

        The Evolution of Love or Knowing more than’s good for you.

        The modern heirs of Darwin, who never stop for play,
        Have now thought up a new idea which blows my mind away.
        It concerns the early humans who shared parental cares
        By traipsing round the open veldt in tightly bonded pairs.
        When it came to picking partners, it was clear to all the rest,
        It’s a basic law of nature that “the better gets the best”.
        No matter how they yearned for her, the fairest naked ape,
        If she got a better offer, that’s the one she’d take.
        In terms of evolution this could cause a lot of grief
        ‘Cos pairings made with second best are very often brief.
        Before the days of equal pay this proved much more than sad
        As a single mother’s prospects were almost always bad.
        Then, up there popped a little gene, a very clever chap,
        Who specified the blue-print for that oh so tender trap.
        We still peruse the talent with a very steely eye,
        And still we note, regretfully, that some are ranked too high.
        But once we have made our choice, we forget all those above
        By letting rip the hormones that will make us fall in love.
        So though its many mysteries are very widely sung,
        Love is just a clever trick which helps us raise our young.

        But this then brings up the question: even if it
        is true, is this the kind of finding that you want revealed to you?
        Perhaps we should tell those guys that, if they are very smart,
        They’ll poke and pry some other place and leave alone the heart.

        Mike Waller

        • stag

          Blah blah blah. Heard it all before, and it doesn’t grow more convincing with repetition. As I said, Mike, enjoy your deeply meaningful life.

          And thanks for the poem. Can’t say I enjoyed it, for obvious reasons, but thanks anyway.

  • QED

    Why does no-one think it to be important that all religions are wildly improbable? You can’t logically prove them false when they posit invisible omnipotent beings beyond our senses or understanding, but this is a trivial point. The magnitude of the improbablility of any one of these gods existing is huge, and they cannot all exist since they are mutually incompatible. Teapots in orbit around Mars would seem to be a good deal more probable.

  • LouisM

    Roger Scruton’s condescension for ‘ordinary people’ is evident in his notion that they ‘don’t have cosmological questions’. He writes with no less extraordinary condescension as though the feelings engendered by love, vows, birth, death, acceptance of suffering, ‘numinous moments’ of wonder, joy, beauty, compassion, dread, are unknown to atheists. Of course they are not; they are part of common human experience. It is only that religious believers and non-believers assign different meanings and explanations to them (if they assign any), or use different words – with different implications about the nature of the cosmos – to describe what they do not attempt to explain. There are plenty of ‘sacred’ things outside self-defined religious belief – any political principle or belief that is held ‘inviolable’ by a political orthodoxy has an aspect of sacredness, and it is in this way that so-called ‘atheistic’ totalitarian ideologies, which religious commentators typically contrast with their own religious perspectives, should be more illuminatingly understood as varieties of organised religion, not of freethought. Roger Scruton appears to be arguing, not for the ‘sacredness’ of anything in particular (such as the authenticity of a scripture as a literal word of God, or the presence of divine spirit in an effigy of a God in a temple), but for the necessity of SOMETHING being sacred, no matter what it is – a symbol, a book, a cow, a statue, a cup of wine or oil, a drop of water, a sanctuary, a rock, a bog where human sacrifices are impaled in the peat. As anyone can see, one believer’s ‘sacred’ is another believer’s ‘blasphemy’ or ‘idolatry’, so even for believers, there can surely be no intrinsic merit in undifferentiated sacredness by contrast with something ‘not-sacred’ (‘ordinary’ water, rock, oil, wine, peatbog, etc). I suspect the discussion with Professor Scruton would not have to go far before it would be clearer that his argument is not really for ‘Sacredness’ per se, but for ‘true’ sacredness against ‘false sacredness’, which brings the whole question back to the issue of what is, or isn’t, true. Which of course religious believers bicker and war about among themselves far more bloodily than believers and non-believers do. Both believers and non believers can experience ‘numinous moments’, but believers interpret them as evidence that a prior purpose – a deity – exists. Atheists don’t. Their opinions differ. On that point, at least, Roger Scruton understands atheism correctly.

  • cromwell

    Humans hunger for justice, why can’t tories understand that?

  • I regard the perspective on life modes could be the sacred from the profane.
    Umberto Boccioni (Italian, 1882-1916), Visioni simultanee (Simultanvisionen), ca. 1911-1912, Oil on canvas, 60,5×60,5 cm, Von der Heydt-Museum. (Guter Wille to Geist on history)
    “Mankind, which in Homer’s time was an object of contemplation for the Olympian gods, now is one for itself. Communism responds by politicizing art.”
    Walter Benjamin,『Das Kunstwerk im Zeitalter Seiner Technischen Reproduzierbarkeit』(1936) des l’art pour l’art Die Menschheit
    Charles Baudelaire, L’Albatros and Umberto Boccioni on Kritik der Urteilskraft and Walter Benjamin des l’art pour l’art Die Menschheit
    Tomás Hiepes (Spanish, 1610-74), Umberto Boccioni (Italian, 1882-1916), Visioni simultanee

    And I tried to make a comment on
    Can Morality Survive Darwin? Conservatism and the Nature of Freedom Roger Scruton and Ad fontes on Ren

    I regard a moral orientation in relations not to harm others for the sake is grounded perspective in the subject matter. Ethos in community has been played and with it the affinity socially organized in attachment could be barred. For diversion, ‘Re’n 仁 on the Confucian virtue is a kind of love disposition from socially given relations as broadened as differentiated from the core sphere of life.
    W. W. Meissner thought religious symbols not from it’s material characters but from a means of expressing significances and worths confer the meaning to the object material. Likewise, it’s cultural heritage and culturalisation on a certain given norms or principles control the impulse or directionality of detachment in human mind inclination for good on Subject as subject moves and motivates ours.
    I suggest that’s the line on the standards and culturally inherited about the order including aesthetic and religious sensibilities for general common good hopes the worlds. And it’s becoming a way of life intention on finite possibilities for the infinite wills and communes. I believe in the self controls and circumscribes consciousness as well as the surroundings to be acutely active. Evolution about the human abilities are regulated the primary agents and this gives brain state A/B or the brain in a/the vat. as a key concept the humanities have narratives for neuroscience.
    Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836-1912), Flora, Spring in the Gardens of the Villa Borghese, 1877, watercolor, private collection.
    Ad fontes “back to wellsprings!”
    Ad fontes to prof. Chulhyun Bae (배철현)

  • Terry Field

    Logical rational materialism is attractive to the poor and the culturally isolated, – you know, the sort who gravitate to socialism, – but it soon becomes a bit like being wrapped in a wet towel, cold, constricting, nasty.
    The only thing to do then is to rediscover what we know to be the truth.
    Tough sh1t, Dawkins. You failed.

    • Kaine

      How can it be truth when it isn’t true?

      • Terry Field

        What is not true.Also, whatever you say is mot true , please prove it. do not just state the denial, PROVE it! Whatever you are going to deny.

        • Kaine

          OK. The God of the Bible does not exist. This is definitive, because the God of the Bible, as well as being internally inconsistent, has attributed to him things which we know did not happen. There was no global flood which covered the mountain tops. There is no evidence of a significant Hebrew slave population in Egypt, nor that they escaped from one of the most meticulous record-keeping cultures. There was no census that would have sent Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem.

          Whether a prime mover exists or not, the Bible is so wrong, about so much, that it certainly cannot have been authored by that prime mover. Yahweh, the Semitic sky deity, has no greater claim than Odin, Jesus no greater claim than Perseus. You after all are an atheist about thousands of gods and goddesses, I just happen to be about yours.

          • Bonkim

            People of faith do not ask silly questions such as you appear to be doing.

          • Pangur Ban the Cat

            Thank You Kaine for stating it so clearly. I appreciate it as I am certain so do many others.

        • Tim Reed

          Very difficult, nay impossible, to prove a negative.

          Anyway – the burden of proof rests with those who make extraordinary claims.

          You claim it’s true – you prove it.

          • Terry Field

            Thanks for your note.
            If I were proclaiming a ‘belief’ to the world, and were I also on the business of trying to persuade you of its veracity, I would of course be required to provide ‘proof’.
            I am not doing that
            The whole point of my notes is to suggest that a personal disposition to consider that a creative force to the universe and to life exists is just that; a personal opinion.
            Not a socially imposed ‘belief’ via the agency of an institution of power and consequent authority such as a church,that affects the lives of others.
            I have nothing to ‘prove’. I hold a view.
            If atheists hold a view that there is no God, then that is fine. It is the didactic statement that there is no God, and all those who are inclined to accept the likelyhood of the existence of God are deluded, or in some way primitive and deranged that becomes offensive.
            There is no ‘proof’ to be had either way.

  • Kaine

    Utterly dishonest as an article, from the straw-man atheist, to the exhortation that belief was more important than the truth, to the patronising assertion that the little people don’t think about the eternal. The little bit about religion in the Soviet Union mentioning Jews as oppressed, but not Muslims who made up far more of the USSR’s citizenship, was particularly telling. It has to be the right religion after all.

  • roger

    Read comments but beware, there are a lot of Trolls around.

    • Ed Adams

      by trolls you mean christer jeebusites, right?

  • Randy McDonald

    It’s interesting to note that, in formerly Communist countries where religion didn’t play a major role in resisting Communism–in East Germany, in the Czech Republic, and other places–religion hasn’t made a major comeback. Many post-Communist societies remain highly secularized.

    • Bonkim

      You can be brainwashed by religion as much as by political ideologies. The social and cultural environment you are surrounded by moulds your beliefs and prejudices.

  • rtj1211

    SOME humans hunger for the sacred.

    One of the more interesting discussions is what the sacred actually is.

    Is the ‘sacred’ the one in a trillion perfect tomato plant or the 999 billion and change tomato plants with ‘imperfections’?

    Is the sacred, in fact, the unbelievable complexity which makes each day unique, never to be repeated again although perhaps to be approximated to at some stage in the indeterminate future??

    I don’t see what the connection between communism and the sacred is supposed to be. One is a political system for daily life and the other is an unattainable impossibility whose worship makes many find the reality of daily life impossible. Just because some are motivated by it doesn’t make it a better system for all, just for some.

    Christiainity is every bit as bad as Communism, historically, in imposing its strictures on all in a totalitarian way.

    It will never make a mainstream comeback as a result.

    It can be a niche for those whom it benefits, but that is all.

    Communism will be similarly niche.

    I’d like you to ask whether political centrists, believing in a mixed economy, a series of checks and balances to wealth, power, influence and control etc etc need religion.

    Saying religion is better than a failed political system doesn’t, after all, say much about its competitive value, does it??

    For religion must compete with successful systems, not with failed ones, mustn’t it??

  • FrankieThompson

    This is a true story.

    I was lucky enough to visit the wonderful Leonardo exhibition at the National Gallery in London a couple of years ago.

    In the room with the two Virgin of the Rocks at either end, I was standing in the crowd looking at one of them close up.

    I overheard this conversation.

    “I’m not really sure if I like that.”

    “I know what you’re saying.”

    “I mean, it’s very Catholic isn’t it?”

  • David Moran

    Complete and utter tosh from start to finish. Thinking in abstract terms is code for make-believe when it comes to the nonsense that is religion.

  • Paddy S

    Who gave the world the gulags, concentration camps, genocide, atom bomb, racial justifications for mass murder, chemical warfare, biological warfare, poison gas, guillotine, scientific crackpot theories on race and war, class warfare, abortion on demand, euthanasia as policy for elderly or disabled…. Reasonable rational people who used science and sought a new God free man, if memory serves me…. Not the Vatican.

  • “Humans hunger for the sacred.”

    Says a condescending atheist/agnostic! Humans know the divine exists, always did and always will. It is atheists who have wobbled minds that fail to note the obvious existence of God.

    • Pangur Ban the Cat

      “…obvious existence of god.” ???

      Which one exactly?

      “Before modern science, man discerned via his environment that all things
      around him had beginnings, therefore he logically deduced the existence of the supreme god”

      You are of course talking about the nomadic superstitious people who
      collected their food from the environment because they hadn’t yet deduced that you could grow your own food and raise livestock? You are talking about their supreme ability to deduce using logic? LOL. LOL. ROFLMAO. LOL.

      These same tribes who wrote the Judaic beginnings of all three Abrahamic traditions had actually emerged from the Sumerians who had developed farming, agriculture and the use of livestock, but these folk chose to continue wandering around collecting food where they could find it growing in the wild often starving in the process.

      “Knowing that the universe must have been created”

      You mean these superstitious nomadic people unable to use let alone know what logic was who were completely unaware that a universe existed knew that it must have been created?

      “Knowing that it was the supreme god outside of space and time who created the physical universe; matter, which has no cognition, can’t create itself”

      You are referring again to these superstitious nomadic people who couldn’t
      conceive of space and time let alone where the next nut or berry would come from as they moved around from grove to grove hoping to find some as they jumped in nervousness at the next lightning strike creating pantheons of gods to try to explain natural phenomena?

      “It is atheists who have wobbled minds that fail to note the obvious existence of God.”

      And believing otherwise somehow makes atheists wobble headed?

  • evad666
  • Bert3000

    Do you not pay journalists? Are freelancers refusing to work for you? That’s the only possible explanation I can come up with for scraping the barrel desperately enough to publish the rantings of the ridiculous Scrotum.

  • freddiethegreat

    I think there is a need to clarify ‘religion’. It’s not just the obvious like Christianity, buddhism or whatever. Feed-the-face materialism could be regarded as a religion, as could communism itself (sometimes called a Christian heresy) and even atheism could be religion. Many people hold to it tenaciously in spite of all evidence, such as this article, and the touching faith of Richard Dawkins requires a special mention. Is religion ‘dying out’ (only in some places) or is it just changing faces?

    • Pangur Ban the Cat

      Atheism is a religion the
      same way not collecting stamps is a hobby

  • ohforheavensake

    Aaaahh. I see. You’ve written a book. Why not just tell us this is a plug?

  • EcoHustler

    If you enjoyed this excellent article you may be interested this proposal that nothing is random as the radical reductionist scientists suggest.

    Proof of Purpose?


  • ImmaculateVoid

    ” even though, for most ordinary believers, it looks like the loss of all that they most seriously value.”

    This is true, but it it true only because they have been deceived. Most ordinary believers have been conned into thinking that everything of value flows from religion. If you accept this con, which most believers do, of course they will be dismayed to think of the loss of religion, because to them this means the loss of all good things. Who wouldn’t be dismayed to be told that they must live in a world without love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, beauty, awe, wonder, and so on? Religion claims that it gave us all these good things, but this is a lie. These things are the common inheritance of mankind and we no more need religion to have them than the Tin Man needs The Wizard to have a heart.

  • Jon Jermey

    I learnt why Marxism is a religion in my first year of philosophy at uni. Maybe Scruton missed that class.

  • Wise words …

    Exercise your right to arm yourself with knowledge: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0094KY878

  • jankel

    Not Hunger for Sacred but just fear of death and inability to assume the Real and the Being’s death frustration. It is a way of Defense of psychic and mental weakness. Some atheists and Life lovers show that it can be different…

  • jimbo

    Posted: 06 Jun 2014 03:15 PM PDT
    Chimpanzee choice rates in competitive games match equilibrium game theory predictions : Scientific Reports : Nature Publishing Group

    It must be so difficult being a creationist these days.

    Hard though it might be to accept, especially for creationists, chimpanzees outsmart humans when it comes to working out the best strategy in a competitive game based on game theory, as a team from the Department of Brain and Behavioral Sciences, Primate Research Institute, Kyoto University, Japan, show in a paper published in Scientific Reports this week.

    The capacity for strategic thinking about the payoff-relevant actions of conspecifics is not well understood across species. We use game theory to make predictions about choices and temporal dynamics in three abstract competitive situations with chimpanzee participants. Frequencies of chimpanzee choices are extremely close to equilibrium (accurate-guessing) predictions, and shift as payoffs change, just as equilibrium theory predicts. The chimpanzee choices are also closer to the equilibrium prediction, and more responsive to past history and payoff changes, than two samples of human choices from experiments in which humans were also initially uninformed about opponent payoffs and could not communicate verbally. The results are consistent with a tentative interpretation of game theory as explaining evolved behavior, with the additional hypothesis that chimpanzees may retain or practice a specialized capacity to adjust strategy choice during competition to perform at least as well as, or better than, humans have.

    Christopher Flynn Martin, Rahul Bhui, Peter Bossaerts, Tetsuro Matsuzawa & Colin Camerer;
    Chimpanzee choice rates in competitive games match equilibrium game theory predictions; Scientific Reports 4, Article number: 5182 doi:10.1038/srep05182

    According to Game Theory, there is a limit to the number of games that can be won by any player. This is known as the Nash Equilibrium. This was shown to be a limit by Nobel Laureate mathematician, John Forbes Nash Jr. When tested against university undergraduates and West African villagers, the chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) learned the game more quickly and reached the Nash Equilibrium sooner than their human opponents.

    The authors suggest that this could be related to the superior cognitive speed and short-term memory of chimpanzees. When given ‘memory masking’ test chimpanzees not only perform better but faster than humans. In this test, when the lowest numerical image is touched on a computer screen, the other eight randomised images are masked with white squares. They then have to be touched in a ascending order. Chimpanzees both identify the lowest value more quickly than humans but are also more accurate in memorising the order of the masked images. In a similar test, when a set of five non-consecutive numerals are briefly shown before being masked, chimpanzees will also memorise the sequence more accurately and more quickly than humans.

    The authors suggest that these superior abilities may be due to chimpanzees being generally more competitive than humans whilst humans are more cooperative. It is also suggested that humans may have lost some of this speed of cognition which we may once have shared with our closest relatives as parts of our brains were co-opted for speech, which gave us greater advantage than speed of learning.

    So, even the discovery that chimpanzees are better than us at cognition, short-term memory and strategic thinking lends support to the idea that these are evolved abilities.

    It must be so difficult being a creationist these days.

    ‘via Blog this’

    If you’ve enjoyed my blog please show your appreciation by giving to a great cause – Oxfam
    Be Humankind. Feed the world.

    Why Science Works And Religion Doesn’t
    Posted: 06 Jun 2014 08:10 AM PDT
    How Did the Moon Really Form?

    The great thing about science is that, unlike religions, it has real, hard evidence. In fact, it’s all about evidence. It doesn’t matter what clever hypotheses scientists come up with, until they are supported by evidence, they remain just hypotheses. And even when evidence is found it is never assumed to have proved the hypothesis beyond doubt, placing it in some realm of certainty never to be questioned again.

    The only certainty in science is that there are no certainties.

    Take for example the hypothesis that was devised to explain why Earth has an axis of rotation which is tilted in relation to those of other planets and in relation to the surface of the Sun, and also why Earth has such a large moon relative to its size, compared to what we normally see for other planets like Mars or Jupiter.

    The hypothesis that explained this – the so-called ‘giant impact hypothesis’ – was that the Earth and Moon were formed early in the life of the Solar System from the remains of an impact between the earlier, smaller Earth and another even smaller, Mars-sized planet, which has been named ‘Theia’, that had drifted out of orbit. The impact tilted the axis of rotation of Earth. Some of the debris from this impact, mostly from Theia which broke up on impact, but some of it from Earth, fell back to Earth and became merged into it, while the remainder formed an accretion disk around the now larger Earth which coalesced into the Moon. The Moon formed by this process would have been hot, driving off the lighter elements and water which, with the low lunar gravity, would have been lost into space, leaving the arid landscape with no atmosphere that the Moon has today.

    However, this hypothesis, although explaining what we can observe in terms of Earth’s axis of rotation and large Moon, not only suffered from a lack of hard evidence but the evidence available appeared to contradict it. As Daniel Clery explains in an article in Science this week:

    But one bit of evidence just doesn’t fit: the composition of moon rocks. Researchers have found that rocks from different parts of the solar system (brought to Earth as meteorites) have subtle differences in their composition. Oxygen, for example, comes in different varieties, called isotopes. Oxygen-16 (O-16) is the most common type, followed by oxygen-17 (O-17)—which has one extra neutron in its nucleus—and oxygen-18, with two extra neutrons. Meteorites from different parts of the solar system have different proportions of these isotopes. So a rock from Mars would have a markedly different ratio of O-17 compared with O-16 than, say, a piece of an asteroid or a rock from Earth. These ratios are so reliable that researchers use them to identify where meteorites come from.

    Here’s the puzzle: The giant impact hypothesis predicts that the moon should be made of about 70% to 90% material from the impactor, so its isotope ratios should be different from Earth’s. But ever since researchers got hold of Apollo moon rocks for analysis, they have failed to find any significant difference in isotope ratios on Earth and the moon. Studies of the isotopes of oxygen, titanium, calcium, silicon, and tungsten have all drawn a blank.

    Daniel Clery, How Did the Moon Really Form?, Science, June 5, 2014

    It was getting to the stage where some people were suggesting that the collision had not taken place.

    Dr Daniel Herwartz
    University of Cologne, Germany
    So, the question for science was, is this apparently contradictory evidence sufficient to destroy the hypothesis or does it’s explanatory power for other observed phenomena still make it a viable hypothesis?

    For the hypothesis was the fact that both Earth’s axis of rotation and the size of the Moon are not really in doubt while the ratios of the different isotopes of oxygen and other elements could have another explanation – it is only an assumption that Theia should have had very different ratios, we don’t have any way of knowing for sure what they would have been.

    Against the hypothesis was the argument that these difference should have been detected by now so it’s beginning to look suspiciously like a prediction made by the hypothesis is being falsified.

    The problem was, as I have pointed out above, without knowing exactly what that prediction is in the absence of any information about Theia’s oxygen isotope ratios, we can’t even say with any degree of confidence that it has been falsified.

    It is a relief that a [disparity in ratios] has been found, since the total absence of difference between Earth and moon would be hard to explain.

    David Stevenson, planetary scientist
    California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, USA
    (e-mail to Science quoted in the above article.
    Now, however, a team of scientists led by Daniel Herwartz of the University of Cologne, Germany, seem to solved the mystery. The problem may have been that the Moon rock samples previously used were meteorites collected from Earth and so had been subjected to the effects of weathering. This may have skewed the results. When they compared samples brought back by Apollo Missions 11, 12 and 16 with samples from Earth’s mantle, they found that the Moon has an O-16 to O-17 ratio 12 parts per million higher than those of Earth rock. The results suggest the Moon may be composed of about equal proportions of Earth and Theia, so strongly supporting the big impact hypothesis.

    The Moon was probably formed by a catastrophic collision of the proto-Earth with a planetesimal named Theia. Most numerical models of this collision imply a higher portion of Theia in the Moon than in Earth. Because of the isotope heterogeneity among solar system bodies, the isotopic composition of Earth and the Moon should thus be distinct. So far, however, all attempts to identify the isotopic component of Theia in lunar rocks have failed. Our triple oxygen isotope data reveal a 12 ± 3 parts per million difference in Δ17O between Earth and the Moon, which supports the giant impact hypothesis of Moon formation. We also show that enstatite chondrites and Earth have different Δ17O values, and we speculate on an enstatite chondrite–like composition of Theia. The observed small compositional difference could alternatively be explained by a carbonaceous chondrite–dominated late veneer.

    Herwartz, D., et al., Identification of the giant impactor Theia in lunar rocks; Science 6 June 2014: 344 (6188): 1146-1150
    DOI: 10.1126/science.1251117

    Now that a difference has been found, many will work to confirm or deny it and do battle over what it means… The possible significance of enstatite chondrites is interesting, but at present we are stuck with speculating about the bodies that went into making Earth, since they are no longer around.

    David Stevenson, op. cit.
    So, does that settle the issue once and for all? Can science now claim to be certain that the Earth/Moon system was created by the ‘big impact’ in the early life of the solar system? Of course not. It is always possible that this team’s findings might be shown to be wrong, or some unexpected evidence might be found which would cause the entire thing to be revised and discarded. The team themselves point out that Earth may have been bombarded by material with a different oxygen isotope ratio after the impact.

    Imagine religious dogma being subjected to this sort of constant review and revision with nothing sacred at all in terms of firm conclusions. What little scraps of evidence they have, no matter how tenuous, like the Turin Shroud, are carefully guarded against too much independent scientific scrutiny and when they are, as is the case with the Turin Shroud where three independant teams all concluded that the shroud is made from linen made fron flax which grew in the 14th-century, the results are dismissed or ignored.

    Religion has developed a whole edifice of beliefs and dogmas based on nothing more substantial than myths and fantasies and a dogmatic assumption that, for no other reason than wishful thinking and clerical necessity, these myths and fantasies must be true. None of this would be needed if they had any real evidence either for the existence of gods, or the nature of those gods. They then have to defend those dogmas against all arguments by developing apologetics invariably based on circular reasoning and the presupposition that the dogmas are right in the first place.

  • Mike Rosoft

    People are likely to remain unsatisfied with a vast civilization that neither satisfies our instincts nor appears to have predictable order.

  • Robert Morris

    Here’s a brief introduction to the war against Christians perpetrated by Obama’s criminal regime: http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2014/03/03/team-obama-wins-fight-to-have-christian-home-school-family-deported/