Daily Archives: August 19, 2008

God goes up for debate, believe it or not – National –

Well, you will be pleased to know that the church-related St James Ethics Centre is going to solve this one once and for all in Sydney tonight: God goes up for debate, believe it or not. Subsequently a whole lot of blogs, including possibly this one, will be made redundant! You may get a foretaste by reading John Lennox: Why not every scientist worships at Darwin’s feet and Vic Stenger: Science demands that seeing is believing.  In fact the initial headline somewhat misinterprets the proposition, on closer examination, which is:


So the question of God won’t be settled after all…

I am all in favour of the pretension to infallibility of any religion, religious organisation, or book being questioned. In that respect I am determinedly Buddhist: they are all human products, they are all just fingers pointing at the moon. The Bible, for example, is quite clearly fallible. Loyal followers of this blog won’t be shocked by my saying that, as it has been my position here from Day One.

Sadly, too, this debate will not add one iota to the solution of the world’s real problems…


Camden/Campbelltown is having another attack of NIMBY on the religious front: Buddhists battle residents over temple development.

And even more tragic, the truly sacred things of our highest culture, such as GPS Rugby, are being white-anted by the dread hand  — or should that be mouth or feelers or mandibles — of social change. What is this world coming to? Surely the apocalypse must be at hand! I saw the signs yesterday when I asked a coachee, who attends a GPS school, if he had heard the (then) rumour, which I had meant to but failed to check when I visited The Mine last Friday. His reply was: “I don’t know; I don’t follow Rugby.” Oh the shame of it! The young! The young! Things fall apart, my masters! 2008 is not 1908! OMG!

SEQUELS 20 August

1. The debate

Debate poses one hell of a question by Erik Jensen — no relation to Sydney’s Anglican Jensens as far as I know — reports:

RELIGION is either the basis of moral teaching or a chimera that frees its practitioners from responsibility, depending on which side of last night’s Intelligence2 debate one believes.

The former leader of the Australian Democrats, Lyn Allison, began proceedings with an argument for democracy in place of religion – the first affirmative in a case for the world being better without religion.

The Bible was a cruel text in her reading, dependent on complex and outdated myths, a fosterer of cults that had protected pederasts. Church teaching had fuelled AIDS and repressed women, she argued. Global warming was an Armageddon ignored by leaders including Cardinal George Pell, the Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, but one which would need more than an Ark to be avoided.

“Organised religion still bears no responsibility for its extremism and the problems its dictators have created,” Ms Allison said. “Religion absolves people from blame or the need to fix anything.”

But Suzanne Rutland, the chairwoman of the department of Hebrew, biblical and Jewish studies at the University of Sydney, defended religion on the basis of the Ten Commandments.

“The inadequacy is not in the religious message but is in inadequacy of us as people.”

She pointed to Alcoholics Anonymous as proof of the need for religion. “You need to believe in something higher, in the awe we have spoken about,” she said.

Awe also featured in the speech from Ian Plimer, an emeritus professor of earth sciences at the University of Melbourne and a speaker for the negative: a technical argument that environmentalism is religion, “fundamentalist religion with a fear of nature,” and that you could not argue for atheism and climate consciousness at the same time.

The argument was attacked by both Richard Ackland – a journalist and lawyer – and Vic Stenger on the affirmative, each speculating on the purpose of religion if there is no proof of God’s existence.

“At least believing in the tooth fairy is worth a quarter under the pillow,” said Professor Stenger, an emeritus professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Hawaii

Which all probably shows that the school debating format is very limited, and that Plimer, at least, is now quite batty… I don’t think the endless blog ranting on the subject has been superseded, and Muslim poet Omar Khayyam may have duly noted:

Myself when young did eagerly frequent

Doctor and saint, and heard great argument

About it and about: but evermore came out

By the same door as in I went.

While the polling of the debate audience was as I report in a comment below, this morning’s Herald poll — which has little relationship I would say to the actual debate last night — runs thus after about 9,000 votes:

Would the world be better off without religion?

Yes – 81%  No – 19%

2. For lovers of irony

Speaking yesterday to a fifteen-year-old (Chinese) Rugby player from The Mine, I gather the story in yesterday’s Herald is not entirely accurate. I await official confirmation.

** The official story may be read here. It has been in part a health and safety issue.