The new Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan is a Christian – so what?

Nicky MorganWorking in an educational establishment and knowing a fair few teachers elsewhere, I saw some ecstatic people yesterday when the news of Michael Gove’s departure from the Department of Education was announced. It’s been incredible witnessing the levels of joy some have expressed at seeing him go. It’s no secret that when education secretaries push through reforms they tend to upset the teaching profession. Gove pushed through a great deal during his four years in charge and also managed to do it in a way that put  a lot of people’s backs up.

Without wanting to turn this post into a full-blown discussion on the pros and cons of what Michael Gove achieved, from the viewpoint of someone who has now been teaching for over a decade, change has desperately been needed in schools. We have had children leaving education with their hands stuffed full of qualifications that suited the schools because they were easy to gain good results in and looked good in the league tables, but meant little to universities and employers. Students have become expert hoop-jumpers learning the art of crafting the ‘perfect’ answer in exams.  However, as a consequence of the nature of syllabuses imposed upon schools, children have come away with limited knowledge bases and a lack of ability to think for themselves. Gove has tackled this head on, but in doing so, many teachers have seen their workloads and stress increase.

Part of the issue is that the fruits – both good and bad – of educational reform can take years if not decades to be fully seen. The implementation of Gove’s policies have caused headaches often without immediate reward or obvious benefit and there are still more in the pipeline waiting to be introduced. Whatever our opinion of Michael Gove, I suspect in ten or fifteen years time we will be talking about the legacy of his time in office differently to how it is being perceived right now.

Anyway, the Secretary is dead (sort of), long live the Secretary! Only we don’t really know who the new Education Secretary is. It was easy to see that the newspapers had very little idea yesterday after Nicky Morgan’s name had been announced.  Trawls through Google produced headlines such as ‘Who is Nicky Morgan? 9 things you need to know’.

Although I’ve never met Nicky Morgan, I’ve been aware that she is a Christian and also involved with Christians in Parliament and the Conservative Christian Fellowship as a trustee. Being pleased to see a fellow Christian, who is well respected by people I know, promoted to a senior position in government, I posted this tweet a few minutes after the announcement:

Within a minute the National Secular Society (NSS) had retweeted it and then for the next half hour or so, my Twitter account produced a steady stream of notifications as I received all sorts of ridicule and disparaging comment. According to those kind enough to reply to my tweet, a Christian Conservative is an oxymoron, this was anything but good news and we should be very afraid that such an extreme fundamentalist should be  placed in such a position.

The fact that Nicky Morgan has been quite open about her faith, was enough to get the NSS worked up. After a few more tweets drawing attention to her beliefs they published a news article on their website which implicitly gave a number of reasons why they didn’t like her followed a quote from Stephen Evans, their campaigns manager, effectively saying that they didn’t believe that she was capable of doing the job well.

In the meantime the papers had focused in on her decision to vote against same-sex marriage in 2013.  Her reason had been that:

“I think that was one of the issues people, especially those who asked me to vote against, found hardest to accept and it also tied in with my own Christian faith too. I totally support civil partnerships and that same-sex relationships are recognised in law. But marriage, to me, is between a man and a woman.”

She had also backed Nadine Dorries’ 2011 amendment to the Health and Social Care Bill, to require independent advice be made available to women requesting an abortion. Given that both of these were free votes, it would seem perfectly reasonable for Mrs Morgan to have voted in these ways, but apparently according to some commentators helpfully listed in an Independent article, there are now major doubts about whether she is the sort of person to be Education Secretary and also Minister for Women which she retains having taken it on earlier this year when Maria Miller resigned over her parliamentary expenses.

If all of this is to be believed, Nicky Morgan is a terrible choice to be Education Secretary because (a) She is an active Christian with strong religious convictions and (b) she allegedly has a problem with gay people.

Clearly this would mean that she will want to use her position to promote her personal penchant for Christianity and allow homophobic discrimination to be encouraged in schools.

She has only been in place for less than a day and already the character-assassination knives are out and what looks like a subtle campaign to discredit her has begun simply because she is a Christian who voted against same-sex marriage. So much for tolerance and respect towards those you disagree with then…

Almost nothing has been made of the skills she brings to the role. You don’t rise from a parliamentary newbie to senior government minister in four years unless you are extremely competent and the Prime Minister trusts you and your abilities to do the job well, especially with the election looming. It is almost inevitable that teachers and their unions will like her more than Michael Gove bearing in mind the animosity felt towards him, but some would have her out because of her perfectly legitimate views and beliefs that she shares with millions of others in this country. But some have decided that is not good enough even before she takes on her role.

I actually feel sorry for Nicky Morgan. Up until very recently if you mentioned that you were a Christian in politics, no one would have thought anything of it. Is it not better to be open and honest about your beliefs when you are in a position of authority rather than suppressing them and leaving others guessing what motivates you? The public are crying out for more genuine politicians. Having the likes of the NSS attacking you just because you aren’t a fully committed liberal secularist is not going to encourage politicians to display their true colours.

Nicky Morgan has described her role in Parliament as not only to serve her constituents, but “to remember the Word of God and serve the Lord.” I say good on her. Now can we please grow up a bit and judge her on what she does rather than stirring up trouble and taking cynical pot shots simply because we don’t like her face.

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67 replies

  1. Oh dear, how could Cameron be so stupid as to appoint a wishy washy to be in charge of educating our children ? Sounds like this is a case for 38 Degrees supporters to become involved in.

  2. Just to elaborate a little further – to be a ‘christian’, not only has this woman to accept there is some invisible creature in the sky somewhere (that has ‘always’ been there), she also has to accept this thing planted its offspring on terra firma, which the gullible have called Jesus, but she also has to accept women are a mans slave ( God’s word …must obey) and if she refuses will be stoned to death.

    And if I remember correctly, this is all ‘gods’ word, so presumably anybody who dares to argue will be a doubting Thomas and deserves to be stoned to death also.

    Obviously, Cameron hopes to put a stop to Islamic extremism entering British schools, but he is going about it the wrong way – he should ban ALL religious teaching completely.

    • Neil: …he should ban ALL religious teaching completely.

      How would that good way of preparing children for adult life when they will meet people who do believe in God? I’m not aware that schools generally *require* children to have a particular set of religious beliefs by the time they finish their education.

    • Neil – you seem to be of the brigade, most of whom got very worked up yesterday, who think all Christians should be immediately debarred from public office. Perhaps we should also force all Christians to live in a specific part of any city they dwell in and wear badges on their clothing so that all truly intelligent people can point and jeer at them for believing in God – oh, sorry, the ‘Magic Sky Fairy’ as atheists seem to delight in calling HIm.

      • Sadly, as I have already alluded to in a previous thread, Neil does appear to be of the opinion that the only good person of faith is one who is treated like a leper, but with more contempt and less care. Also, sadly, he seems to be incapable of posting any responses to such assertions. Either he feels no need to say anything, as we have already shown we understand him perfectly, or he can find no way of arguing that this is not in fact what he has said or believes.

    • Banning all religious teaching is advocating ignorance above knowledge and understanding. That will do nothing to ease religious tensions and misunderstandings.

    • So you find believing in a being beyond our understanding creating the universe to be far more believable than believing that in a universe where the laws of science are constant that they were ignored so that something could come from nothing? Whether TBB or the multiverse theory, they still need to come from somewhere at the start, and yet to do so would mean that something came from nothing.
      Hmm, something from nothing or eternal being. Which do you find the more impossible to believe in?

    • Doubting Thomas, far from being stoned to death, was confronted by Jesus with love and came to be one of the most prominent of the Christian saints. But hey, lets not let even basic literacy about what people think get in the way of a nice slice of prejudice. You really are a prat.

  3. Having two people in my life who work in schools (one is a teacher, the other the school business manager), I am well aware that Michael Gove is universally hated by the teaching profession.

    Nicky Morgan, for me and for a lot of people I suspect, is very much an unknown quantity. For that reason, I will not comment on her either as a person nor as a government minister. But there is always a danger that a committed Christian will try to bring more to the table than teaching kids about the real world. If Nicky Morgan is prepared to put aside her own religious views and concentrate on making sure kids get a the best education possible, she should be judged on that.

    I disagree with Neil that all religious teaching should be banned. For good or bad (usually the latter, it must be said), religion has been a major influence on history and society. As long as religion is taught in context, and children are taught what people believe rather than being told what to believe, it’s cool.

  4. Lets see how she performs before passing judgement. Be interestiong to see is she can keep her faith seperate from her job!!!!

  5. Reblogged this on and commented:
    I hadn’t heard of Nicky Morgan before it was announced that she’d be replacing Michael Gove.
    When I heard the news about Gove it’s fair to say that I, like most people, was very pleased.
    How did this man manage to hold the title of Education Secretary for so long?
    At last that chapter is over now though.

    As I said, I hadn’t heard of Nicky Morgan before the anouncement but I will certainly be keeping my eyes and ears open to see what she brings to the table.
    She’s already receiving bad press for being being a Christian and it hasn’t even been a week!
    Nobody knows what she’s capable of and what she’ll bring to the table but because of her beliefs, she’s already being marked down.
    Yes, I know that most people want a secular society but to completely discard religion and the people who practice it is simply stupid.
    Everybody in parliament has a belief of some kind so why should Nicky Morgan be marked because of her Christian faith?!

    “Almost nothing has been made of the skills she brings to the role. You don’t rise from a parliamentary newbie to senior government minister in four years unless you are extremely competent and the Prime Minister trusts you and your abilities to do the job well, especially with the election looming.”
    – I too think it’s a shame that her character is being torn apart because of her faith. She hasn’t even shown what she’s capabale of and already she’s been deemed unfit.
    “It is almost inevitable that teachers and their unions will like her more than Michael Gove bearing in mind the animosity felt towards him, but some would have her out because of her perfectly legitimate views and beliefs that she shares with millions of others in this country. But some have decided that is not good enough even before she takes on her role… Up until very recently if you mentioned that you were a Christian in politics, no one would have thought anything of it. Is it not better to be open and honest about your beliefs when you are in a position of authority rather than suppressing them and leaving others guessing what motivates you? The public are crying out for more genuine politicians…”

    “Nicky Morgan has described her role in Parliament as not only to serve her constituents, but “to remember the Word of God and serve the Lord.” I say good on her. Now can we please grow up a bit and judge her on what she does rather than stirring up trouble and taking cynical pot shots simply because we don’t like her face.”

  6. Oh boy, they will crtainly ‘rise’ to those final comments! I find wry humour in the fact that bigotted people simly ASSUME that those with opposing views will behave and react to their utterances in exactly the same ‘grey, grim and humourless’ manner as they themselves do when opposed!
    They just don’t get it! (God Bless ’em!)

    • It appears some believers don’t like to be reminded what a true ‘christian’ is supposed to be. You have to accept the whole of the bible is ‘gods’ word – therefore you have to accept the bible tells women they must obey their husband and I am sure it goes on to say if they don’t, her husband can stone her to death. Elsewhere, this god creature orders the killing of women and children for other dubious reasons. The bible is full of it.

      Any person that wishes to be a slave to this type of god must be stark raving bonkers !
      Naturally, there are plenty of people who know full well there cannot possibly be any type of god as portrayed in the bible, but seize the opportunity to obtain power over the vulnerable.

      If Nicky Morgan had just said she believes there must be some sort of god that made everything we see, without putting words into its mouth, then that would be more acceptable and I would be prepared to give her the benefit of the doubt (that she can do a good job) but apparently, she has stated she is a christian so has swallowed the whole scam. To have such a weak woman in charge of educating our children is only asking for trouble.

      • Hi Neil,

        I’m pretty sure I’ve never come across a bit of the Bible giving a husband the right to stone his wife to death if she doesn’t do what he says. I have, however, read the bit which commands him to care for, live for, and be willing to die for his wife.

        If you’re going to try and paint Christianity as an utterly monstrous religion, you’re going to need to do some actual study into what Christians believe, and how we interpret the Bible, and not just cherry-pick passages which you think prove that Christian beliefs are necessarily evil.

  7. ”Let he who is without sin cast the first stone”. And not a stone was thrown

  8. The new Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan is a Christian – so what?

    A hugely important and influential post. What an opportunity for a Christian Education Minister to declare that there will be a change in policy on the teaching of science in schools, where the previous incumbent had declared outright opposition to any reference to God’s creation on the issue of origins.
    The D of E had issued a statement recently requiring that the theory of evolution should be taught in schools as fact, rather than a mere theory. Further, that “creationism” (sic) is to be rejected.
    One has to ask why the outdated and anachronistic theory of evolution (a Victorian vestigial organ if ever there was one!) should even be considered in a science class?
    What a chance therefore for Nicky Morgan as a Christian to announce a reversal of this policy which is basically atheistic not Christian.
    The issue of origins is not even a strictly scientific matter – it is philosophical and religious (Christian). Scientists, Christian or otherwise can offer their opinions, speculate & etc but the fact remains that the issue of creation and origins cannot be subject to empirical, and therefore scientific, testing and proof.

  9. Hallo Neil. I admit to being baffled by your reply for as you have stated above:
    ” You have to accept the whole of the bible is ‘gods’ word”
    To be consistent therefore one has to accept the many creation accounts as being part of God’s Word do you not?
    For example, what part of John 1:1 do you not understand in relation to its firm affirmation that creation was an act of God and of Christ. This is the consistent testimony of both the Old and New Testaments. The question arises – which is right – Darwinian evolution theory or the biblical accounts of creation?

  10. Dave Godfrey wrote: Are you being serious, grahamwood32? Every word of your comment is sheer lunacy?

    I am absolutely serious. As a Christian I accept the totality of God’s Word. I presume you do not. Please explain your allusion to “lunacy” Thanks
    Graham

  11. Grahamwood22 – for a start, the creation story of the Bible was originally the Hebrew’s creation story, and Christ hadn’t even been born at that time. Secondly, you reject evolution as a science when it bears every hallmark of science, whereas creationism is based on nothing but ancient myths and relative ignorance. Your contention that evolution is outdated and anachronistic when almost every other day new evidence is found to support it is just crazy.

    You wonder why evolution is taught as fact, and creationism is rejected. It’s because the facts fit the theory of evolution, whilst creationism is neither fact nor theory. It is pure fantasy.

    If you don’t want to be thought of as even slightly mad, I suggest you refrain from saying things that make you sound like a madman. At least in public and online.

    • Hi Dave,
      Let’s start from the top and work our way down:

      Jesus wasn’t born – Have you ever come across the phrase “fully God and fully man”? because that should be a clue as to why your comment is incorrect. Jesus was born and so became fully man, but was also fully God and so already in existence, just not in human form. Also, Jesus is referred to as the Word of God. Ever read the 1st chapter of Genesis and seen how the world came into being? You also might want to read up on the Christian doctrine of Trinity.

      Evolution – First off, it remains a theory, hence why it is “The Theory of Evolution”, not “The Fact of Evolution”. And why is it a theory and not a fact? Because it is not able to be proved a fact! Plus, even if you were to believe that evolution happened, it only covers how life developed on this planet. It does not do either of the following:
      a) show how the inanimate became animate
      b) show how something came from nothing
      Because of this it should be treated as an interesting idea, one that has much that suggests it could be true. But to be taught in schools as a scientific fact is nonsense, given that a scientific fact is one that can be proven through repetition. Go into any classroom in thee world that is doing a science experiment and you will see a very clear process of theory, practice, results/evidence and conclusion. This is not possible to apply to evolution, so rather than being science it is actually, in the way that it is used as a description for the existence of everything, philosophy. You know what also fits in to the realm of philosophy? Creationism!

      You suggest that Graham is a mad man, but I ask you who is the more insane:
      – The man who declares that the world was created by an eternal being whose power is outside the understanding of creation, given that he created it from nothing.

      or

      – The man who declares that science explains the entire existence of the universe, even though the basic rules of science include matter being incapable of coming from nothing. And that the “Big Bang”, the inevitable conclusion for most evolutionists seeking an answer to where the world came from, is scientifically impossible.

      • Be sure to take your medication Youth Pasta – sounds to me you and Graham have some serious issues to sort out.
        Whoever said religion is bunkum but harmless has obviously not seen the extent to how it can screw people up.

      • Neil, I note that rather than try and prove me wrong on the points I make you try and turn it personal. Are you just going to blow hot air or are you going to try and deal with the issues I raised?
        Be warned, if you avoid answering the points, for whatever reason, I can only assume that you admit defeat.

      • Youthpasta, you ask/state: For example, what part of John 1:1 do you not understand in relation to its firm affirmation that creation was an act of God and of Christ. This is the consistent testimony of both the Old and New Testaments. The question arises – which is right – Darwinian evolution theory or the biblical accounts of creation?

        What exactly is John 1:1 supposed to be ? All we are told (by whom ?) is that he was a follower of somebody called Jesus – there is not a shred of evidence either existed so how on earth can you attribute words to either of them ? You say god and christ created something – presumably earth.
        Do you have any evidence they are responsible ?
        I’m not sure where ‘christ’ comes into this for even your own religion only claims ‘god’ did the creation stuff … or are you trying to say ‘christ/jesus’ was also a part-time gardener besides being a carpenter and a magician and that growing a couple of fig trees constitutes his part in this creation myth ?

        Is this really the best you can do ?

      • Neil, you seem to think that evolution and God creating it are incompatible. However some Christian believe that evolution, with God being the instigator of each change, is perfectly acceptable. Me personally I have no problem with that idea but I am not completely convinced. All I can say is that I believe that God did it, however He did it. Evolution as His means of getting things done (because the Bible only says that it happens, not how) would not change my mind on this.
        However, interestingly, I think you might have directed your comments at the wrong person. I have only alluded to John 1 by pointing out that Jesus is also called the Word of God, but I have made no mention of what it says about creation.

        As to the rest of your comment, given that ACTUAL HISTORIANS believe that Jesus existed, and also John the disciple (assuming that is what you mean by “both”) I think that you are clutching at imaginary straws.
        You ask about evidence that God created the world, I would ask you if you have proof that the Gallic wars happened? Because there is more reliable evidence for the events in the Bible than there is for the Gallic wars!
        Finally, your comment about Jesus being a “part-time gardener” shows that you are either being deliberately obtuse or you that you are so up yourself that you decide to pick an argument about something that you have absolutely no knowledge about! As I have said to someone else earlier in this thread, you might want to read up on the Christian doctrine of the Trinity before you start saying anything else. Otherwise you are just going to look like an illiterate numpty trying to pick a fight because you have an irrational dislike for a certain set of beliefs. But then you are an atheist, and we all know that atheists are never irrational!

  12. Appreciate your personal insights here Gillan which, together with others’ wisdom, is like ‘casting pearls…’.

  13. Dave. The reply from Youthpasta is I think an adequate answer to your post above – but of course you will disagree.
    Leaving aside the pejorative “madman” and further ad hominem, perhaps you can now tell us what evidence you find for your theory when you say: “because the facts fit the theory of evolution”

    Please instance one or more such facts which fit the theory.
    Thanks. Graham

  14. Youth pasta – “Jesus wasn’t born.”. “Jesus was born…” What am I supposed to make of that?

    Gravity is a theory. It’s also a scientific fact. but we should ‘t teach about gravity because it’s only a theory? Yes? Go into any science classroom teaching evolution, and if it’s being taught properly, you see clearly a process of theory, practice, results/evidence and conclusion. Go into any creation science classroom, and all you see is conclusion.

    I’m saying graham22 is a man making mad claims.

    Evolution is part of biological science. The Big Bang theory encompasses cosmology, particle and nuclear physics, and general physics. Nothing to do with biology.

    If your god created the universe, or to put it another way, created something, where did he get the something from? And if heaven was perfect and incorruptible, why bother making something imperfect and corruptible?

    • daveygod2014 – I can answer your last questions regarding where did ‘god’ get the something from … he had a quick natter with Fred Dibnah who was busy creating a parallel universe. The conversation probably went something like “Oi Fred, can you lend me something” ?

      As for “Why bother making something imperfect …” god naturally had a bit of space to fill … just to keep himself amused like.

      Now I wonder if the 2 madmen can come up with a better answer.

    • Davey, gravity is a fact that is measurable with defined outcomes. If you notice, I also describe what makes something scientific and what makes it philosophical, mentioning the basic scientific process. Gravity passes, as you can test it and get results from which to extrapolate a conclusion. Evolution requires you to repeat the process. Unfortunately the only aspect that can be observed definitively is micro-evolution. However the “Theory of Evolution” requires an acceptance of this on a macro level as well. In order to prove this you need not only to observe over the space of many [most likely hundreds of] thousands of years but you will also need to be able to repeat the initial process whereby dead matter (dust etc) became living matter (cells, proteins etc). Problem is that in order to do that you either need to be in control of creating a brand new universe where you can observe everything that is going on without interacting with it, or you have to be in a place where no living matter exists. Since that would also mean that you cannot be there that’s not really possible.
      Now, you suggest that evolution has evidence to support it. The problem is that all they have are clues and guesses to link them up. Darwin made assumptions based on what he observed, as do all who try to observe evolution. He did not see the progression of changes that created different species, just that similar creatures had certain differences and that they fitted a certain niche in the areas that they inhabited. That is not scientific evidence of evolution. It is not repeatable. All it is is assumptions based on observations of the world around us.
      You say that evolution and TBB have nothing to do with each other, but if that’s the case then evolution falls flat when you try and explain how inert particles became active. And that’s before we even start to get in to where they came from in the first place! Not that it matters either way, as they still have the same flaws.

      Regarding God and creation, first off you are assuming that a God that exists outside of space and time is bound by the laws of space and time. Simply by typing that sentence it should point out the error in your thought process. As regards creating the imperfect, can I suggest that you read Genesis chapters 1, 2 and 3 and then come back on that one?

  15. Evolutionary theory should be taught in science lessons including the weaknesses and inconsistencies in that theory. Creationism should not be taught in science but maybe there is a place as part of probability theory to include intelligent design as the universe is so finely tuned as to almost be mathematically impossible, this as a counter consideration to Big bang theory and the processes involved in the formation of the universe. .

  16. Evolution is just assumptions and guesses? If you really believe that, there’s no point trying to persuade you otherwise.

    A god that exists beyond the limits of space and time has no need to create space and time. A god that can simply break the rules has no need to establish the rules in the first place.

    I suggest you read the first 3 chapters of Genesis again. If you can’t identify the hundreds of flaws and questions I can identify, you really haven’t read them properly.

    • Evolution is a much more satisfactory solution than ‘god did it’. Yes it is a theory, but the thing about science is if it is wrong, it admits it, then starts again. The bible has no such concept, and backs believers Into a corner of ignorance where they are forced to put their fingers in their ears and go la la la.

      • The bible/god/jesus approach is in reality a brick wall – all life begins and ends there is the suggestion, in other words “The buck stops here”
        So with that, the believers have to accept all life’s failures (such as their god not answering the prayers of the relatives of the missing from the Malaysian Jetliner that disappeared with still no trace) to the atrocities committed during the crusades and other more recent religious wars.

        This is evidence on the futility of prayer, plus evidence of the real evil of religion in making man feel justified in committing such evil.

        When will you people ever learn … for goodness sake open your eyes and think beyond the brick wall, and try asking if there is a god how did it get here ?

        You will not get an answer, but at least it will set you on the right track.

      • @Sarky – Evolution (and the inevitable Big Bang Theory that follows) is not satisfactory as it fails scientifically to explain 2 key aspects of how things came to be.
        1 – How did the inert (the components that make up dust, rock etc) change to also start creating active elements (proteins, cells etc)?
        2 – Where did it all come from in the first place?
        Even if you lean towards the multiverse theory you still find yourself returning to these 2 problems, as even a multiverse needs a beginning, or else you are positing one of the properties that people have with the existence of God, infinite existence.
        Matter (and anti-matter for that matter) cannot come from nothing. When this is suggested it is because people have absolutely no grasp of the concept, because whilst matter might not have been created by matter, there is still a transfer of energy in the process, so it does not come from nothing.
        Imagine nothing. No matter, no energy, nothing! Where does anything come from in that scenario? It can’t, it is that simple. The existence of the universe REQUIRES the existence of a being that is outside of the laws of science/nature in order to come into being!

        @Neil – Of course it’s a brick wall to you, you only think of it in terms of an aid to find an ultimate answer for facile minds. Belief in God is far more than that, but your closed mind in incapable of grasping that. Of course, it is and end to the search for people of faith, as that is where they see the beginning and it is not possible to go before that which has always been, but given that everything in existence as we know it in this universe has a beginning and an end you have to have a “brick wall” somewhere. To suggest otherwise is to ignore the observable facts of life in the universe and to suggest that creation has an infinite existence, something for which you have no proof and no ability to explain. Sounds like you might be putting “God properties” on creation!
        Of course you then bring up suffering and war and posit all that at religion’s feet and say “Look what you did”, but actually it was people without faith that have caused the biggest suffering in the history of mankind. Stalin, Hitler (no, he wasn’t religious. He had a soft spot for the Catholic church because of his mum, but nothing more. And whilst others in his regime may have had leanings towards the occult there is NO evidence to suggest that Hitler himself was that way inclined), North Korea, communist China. The list could go on and on. Add in the fact that the Crusades were politically motivated, not religiously, they were just tarted up with religion by the politicians in order to get people involved, and that the troubles in Ireland are also political, not religious (though the opposing sides do tend to be from different religious groups it is always for political reasons that people have acted, never religious) and you are left with Islamic wars as the only ones that you can label. But even then, because in Islam (or at least the understanding of Islam back in it’s infancy) was that it was all tied up with politics, it’s far more complicated than just saying “religion brings suffering”.
        Suffering has been commented on in many places, with many books out there on the subject. All I will say on it is that we live in an imperfect world where we have freedom to choose what we do. remove that freedom by bringing in a benevolent creator that always sticks his oar in to fix things when they go wrong and we no longer have free will and we no longer have the chance to learn from our mistakes, and thus grow in understanding. Sometimes God does intervene and humans cannot explain why He chooses some situations to do so and ignores others. I know of someone whose leg muscles had atrophied away to almost nothing, yet when they were prayed for the skin ballooned and muscle grew. I have seen a video that shows a man coming back to life (though there will always be sceptics on this video as they regularly suggest it was tampered with, the video is real-time over 2-3 (?) hours and the image almost never leaves the dead guy). And I have experienced healing on broken toes (February 2013 I broke my toes. They were still giving me problems in August 2013, so I got them x-rayed and the image showed a very clear break. I was prayed for at a Christian festival as I was having real problems with standing, let alone walking, and the pain all but disappeared. When I returned for a follow up x-ray in October the image showed, according to the doctor “no sign of even an old break, let alone a recent one”). Of course you can poo-poo all of this and every other example that people might offer to you, because you are not a believer. But there are things like this that science can’t explain, regardless of how much they are derided or ignored.
        And finally, to deal with your final comment about how God came to be, you are asking an illogical question. God, by very definition, is an eternally existing being and therefore has no beginning or end, He simply is. You may well suggest that this is a nonsense, that no being can exist infinitely. But I would point you to my earlier comments to you, about the properties that you seem to be intimating upon creation. If it is the case that nothing can exist infinitely then creation is without a cause, because everything that is finite needs a cause, and logic dictates that the ultimate cause CANNOT be finite, as it too would require a cause. Therefore, when everything else has been removed, you are left with the truth. You are left with the truth that there MUST be an eternal, transcendent Creator from which everything came to be.

        • Dont know if your still reading, but reports of plankton and other organisms found on the outside of t he international space station are quite intetesting. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I dont believe anything like this was mentioned in genesis.

  17. A good article, and yes it is my experience that the National Secular Party are very good at sounding off with a narrow view of life but are very poor at engaging in discussion. Email replies are not there strong point. People should have freedom to express their views I am pleased that Nicky Morgan has given a clear message on what she considers right.

    • Well, my comment above proves you wrong Mike, although I belong to no party.
      Despite all my comments above facing a brick wall with no sensible responses including yours, I have continued at engaging in discussion.
      Regarding a lack of emails … perhaps your correspondent became sick and tired of your closed mind approach.

      I disagree people should have the freedom to express their views – should we all have to listen to religious people preaching extremism, should we continue to allow our children to be told any religious lies at all ?

      Of course not, and we all must be on our guard that this Nicky Morgan doesn’t drag our children back to the dark ages again.

  18. Gillan, I have tended to stay away from here of late, what with the increasing vividness of your colours attracting a number of ‘Second Coming’ and creationist (can’t think of a better term than…) nutjobs. There is no dialogue to be had (or worth having) with such types; and I wonder at your own circular reasoning.

    Ability vs suitability? Your title for this piece is absolutely correct. ‘So what?’ indeed. It ought to be irrelevant as to her suitability/unsuitability for her new appointment, and, as you write, she should be judged entirely on how she does the job. Yet, aside from secularists’ concerns as to the latter, you, it seems (correct me if I’m misreading), consider that espoused faith is relevant; that she brings something that a non-(professing) Christian would bring to the role. Because you both endorse religion in politics, and consider that declared Christianity automatically implies some extra virtue that the areligious (or less fervent) lack. So, you are not really of the ‘So what? attitude, as your contradictory final paragraph reveals. It is not ‘good on her’ “… to remember the Word of God and serve the Lord” in Parliament. That is not why she is there.

    So why is she there? Was such pulpit language a consideration in appointing her? Well, judging by some of Cameron’s childish (yes – and you say ‘grow up’?!) speeches on faith, we might wonder that it was. Gove was shunted out because he had become an electoral liability; the profligate (Christian?) Iain Duncan Smith wasn’t (but the public apparently buys the right wing-perpetuated myth that those on benefits are all scroungers). That Morgan is both female and an evangelising Conservative suits Cameron’s agenda: to present (he’s a PR man, remember), a kinder, compassionate image – to get elected (note, not elected).(I wonder whether his need to fulfill his pledge to get more women in Cabinet, and to suck up to the faithful, hamstrung the potential sacking of Baroness Warsi.)

    Yes, let’s judge her on what she does – which hopefully won’t include more zeal-speak.

    • Yes the nature of the commenting has changed recently, but I refuse to be picky over who is allowed to comment as long as it’s not abusive. There has been some nonsense which makes the gems harder to dig out unfortunately.

      I’m not saying that Christians are any better. It’s been the opposite perception that has been the problem. People thinking that they can’t do a job properly just because they have certain opinions.

      • Quote from Lee Turnpenny: “Gillan, I have tended to stay away from here of late, what with the increasing vividness of your colours attracting a number of ‘Second Coming’ and creationist (can’t think of a better term than…) nutjobs. There is no dialogue to be had (or worth having) with such types; and I wonder at your own circular reasoning” end quote.

        Quote Gillan: “I’m not saying that Christians are any better” end quote.

        Do I detect a nifty bit of ‘twisting things around’ here – I do believe Lee was referring to ‘christians’ in the first instance.

  19. Nicky Morgan has described her role in Parliament as not only to serve her constituents, but “to remember the Word of God and serve the Lord.”

    Oh, good Lord!

  20. While I think it’s unfortunate that people who believe in a “Magic Sky Fairy” are appointed to positions of responsibility, given that their beliefs have no rational foundation (because of course a demonstrable lack of rationality should disqualify anyone from exercising power over others), the fact remains that this woman is now Education Secretary and no amount of moaning on the part of those who do not share her strange beliefs will change that. Not for the moment at least.

    I’ve known Christians who can rise above their misogynistic and homophobic beliefs and do a more or less competent job. They tend to be the kind of person who’s good at compartmentalizing. But the Education Secretary has shown by her voting record in Parliament that her religious opinions do affect the way she does her job. So I predict she’ll be a complete disaster in the role. She’s already shown that her attitude towards the LGBT community is not impartial. The Prime Minister recognized this by handing responsibilities that were formerly undertaken by the Education Secretary to another minister. What clearer declaration could he make of his belief that she would not do an effective job advocating for people who do not, in her opinion, deserve equal rights? If she also shares the Christian view that wives must obey their husbands, she’s hardly likely to promote equal opportunities for women either.

    Of course given that most Christians are of the “cafeteria” kind and pick and choose only the parts of the Bible they personally like to believe in (which again should pretty much disqualify them from public office, this time for demonstrable inconsistency, perhaps she’ll turn out to be a full-blown feminist and women in education won’t have anything to worry about. Gays and lesbians on the other hand should be extremely concerned. She can’t be relied on to champion full equality for the LGBT community, so what other forms of discrimination will she indulge in?

    Quite frankly I don’t think she’ll last long. You can’t claim to represent everyone when you vote against according equal rights to everyone. I give her 6 months to a year at most before her Christian beliefs make her a political liability that not even a Prime Minister desperate to woo the right wing of his own party will be able to endure.

    • Hi Stephen,

      I think your argument rests on two rather dodgy assertions.Firstly that Nicky Morgan believes in a “Magic Sky Fairy”, a concept that seems to be part of the Dawkins-style atheist phrasebook, but doesn’t match up to any real-world religious beliefs. Secondly, the assertion that those with religious beliefs are less rational than anybody else. The problem with the second assertion is that psychology has pretty comprehensively proven that human beings in general do not act in rational ways. If you want rational people in government, then you’re going to have to look at getting rid of all the human beings, not just the ones with religious beliefs.

      • Magic Sky Fairy or God, the terms are interchangeable as far as I can see. Nicky Morgan believes in a supernatural entity that rules the universe. No convincing evidence for the existence of such a being has ever been produced, so her belief is as much a fairy story as anything JK Rowling could write. Sure, I don’t know for sure that God doesn’t exist. But I also don’t know for sure that Harry Potter and Hogwarts aren’t real either. I’m confident they’re not, but in order to know that for sure, I’d have to be omniscient. Which I’m not.

        I take your point about no human being completely rational, however I do feel there has to be a minimum requirement of rationality in our leaders otherwise we’re just asking for trouble. Believing in a supernatural entity for which there is no convincing evidence seems to me to place someone’s intelligence below the minimum level of rationality required to merit social and political responsibility. I wouldn’t vote for a Christian just as I wouldn’t vote for a Wiccan or a Scientologist or any other believer who replaces a minimum level of rational thought with “faith”.

      • Except, Stephen, that the Bible is, according to all accepted forms of scholarly assessment, valid as a historical document. Harry Potter, however, is something that Rowling invented, has admitted to and is firmly placed within the science fiction/fantasy sections of ALL bookshops.

        Your reasoning behind refusing to vote for anyone with a religious belief is a strange one. I mean, you would rather vote for someone who refuses to believe that the universe has an ultimate cause that fits with the known laws of science (i.e. outside of them and therefore not bound by them, as a creator would have created the laws as part of the creation) and instead vote for someone who believes that the universe was created through the laws of science/nature when that is scientifically impossible (you can’t make something from nothing and you can’t make the inert active when all you have is inert around you)? Surely that would suggest that you are barred from office too!

      • Hi Stephen,

        You appear to be saying that we should live in an atheist dictatorship. The last time I checked, less than 15% of the world’s population would be considered by statisticians to have a religious affiliation (and the proportion has been declining since about 1989). And many of those would still have religious beliefs of some form. That’s a pretty small pool of people to draw your elite ruling class from. Add to that the fact that atheistic dictatorships have, historically speaking, had a very poor record on things like human rights, and your personal idea of utopia would seem to be at odds with what you’ve been saying about avoiding discrimination.

  21. Replying to youthpasta…

    So if you can’t make something from nothing, who created God?

    The problem with the creationist argument that the universe needs God because otherwise who created the universe is that you’re just moving the problem of origin back one step.

    The Christian answer to that is to invent a God who isn’t subject to the laws of physics and quantum mechanics as we know them and therefore doesn’t need to have been created. Voilà, problem solved! By magic.

    Only this raises another problem. You have no proof that your solution exists. Indeed, because God supposedly exists outside of time and space, there can never be any proof of his existence. Unless of course he intervenes in time and space in a way that couldn’t happen naturally. Miracles are the only possible proof that God exists. Yet oddly enough, there exists no convincing proof that any of the miracles Christians point to as proof of the existence of God have ever happened.

    You claim the Bible is an historical document, but so are many of the ancient Greek texts like the Iliad. A core of history woven about and embroidered with myth, legend and invention. Did Mary and Joseph exist? Possibly. The existence of a woman and her husband in a particular time and place has nothing remarkable about it and could therefore be a simple historical fact. But was Mary’s son born of the Holy Spirit? Now that’s a remarkable claim. It requires some fairly convincing proof to be accepted as more than colorful embroidery tacked on to a (possibly) historical record. Do we have accurate medical records for Mary showing that she was virgo intacta yet still pregnant? Was every moment of her life around the time of conception documented and those documents supported by multiple sworn witness statements stating that she had never indulged in sexual relations, either with her betrothed or any other man (say, a passing Roman legionnaire by the name of Pantera, for example)? No, we have none of these. We’re just required to accept that Christ’s conception was a miracle and that miracle a result of God’s intervention. But of all the possible explanations for Mary’s pregnancy, a miracle is the least convincing. Anyone with any experience of adolescent girls, the men engaged to them and the behavior of occupying armies could think of several more likely causes of an unexplained pregnancy. A miracle is not the only possible cause of Jesus’s birth. It certainly isn’t the most likely.

    The central event of Christianity therefore remains utterly unprovable. And the same can be said for every other important Christian milestone as well. We have no proof of the crucifixion, no proof of the resurrection, no proof of Christ’s and Mary’s ascension into heaven. All these events that supposedly took place in time and space as a direct result of God’s intervention have left no physical, verifiable traces behind them. The most we have is a series of stories written many years after the purported events took place by people who didn’t witness those events first hand and who disagree on many of the details surrounding them.

    It’s just not very convincing. If God wants us to believe in him, why doesn’t he give us a clearer indication that he actually exists? Why do we have to rely on the muddled and questionable second or third-hand accounts of other humans who lived thousands of years ago? It can’t be because if we absolutely knew he was there, free will would mean nothing. I mean, Satan knows for sure that God exists, yet he still manages to rebel against him.

    It’s all so unlikely that I prefer to place my faith in what I know to be true by means of convincing evidence. And regarding the problem of origin, well our knowledge of the universe is incomplete and we’re discovering new things all the time. I’ve little doubt that in time we’ll figure how the universe originated and that it has nothing to do with a magical being who exists outside of time and space. Science brings reliable, verifiable answers. Religion is just fantasy.

    • Hi Stephen,

      Just replying to you other unrelated point. Yes, if God created the universe, then He clearly isn’t subject to the physical laws of the universe. That’s less a case of magic and more a case of logic. And since monotheistic conceptions of God pretty much always consider Him to be infinite, such a God clearly cannot be expected to have a beginning.

      As for the evidence for Christianity, scholars consider the Bible to contain six independent written sources for the life of Jesus (called Mark, M, L, Q, John, and Paul), and plenty of evidence that these sources originate with eyewitnesses (see Richard Baukman’s book Jesus and the Eyewitnesses for a decent summary of many of the things that mark them out as such).

      And even the most sceptical end of scholarship believes that Jesus was, in fact, crucified. The stigma surrounding crucifixion in the first century was every bit as strong as the stigma surrounding paedophilia in the UK today. It is pretty much inconceivable that somebody in the first century would invent a religion which had, as one of its central points, the crucifixion of its God.

      The evidence for the resurrection is also pretty strong. All the non-miraculous alternative explanations for the resurrection accounts are utterly ludicrous. To get a non-miraculous explanation, you have to rely on the idea that the New Testament was written from legends made up much later. Except that the texts themselves bear none of the marks of such legends.

      As for miracles, first-hand stories of people being healed via prayer are two-a-penny in Christian circles. For some documented examples, go look at this page: http://www.is-there-a-god.info/life/tenhealings.shtml

      • So it’s logical to assume that an all powerful, all knowing, eternal being exists outside of time and space based only on the fact that otherwise we haven’t yet been able to explain how the universe came to be?

        That seems completely illogical to me. We obviously don’t know everything about the universe, so we’re in no position to know how it originated. We don’t have the appropriate data yet. Just like ancient Man didn’t have the data to work out what caused lightning strikes and earthquakes and therefore invented supernatural origins for them, our limited understanding of the world around us causes (some of) us to impute its origin to similar, if slightly more sophisticated supernatural forces.

        It’s one way of explaining the world. But it seems pretty primitive to me. I prefer the modern approach of admitting that we don’t have all the answers because we don’t (yet) have all the data. Filling in the gaps with a God who supplies all the answers via magic seems to me to be a child’s solution. Accepting that you can’t have all the answers until you have all the data makes the need for God disappear. It’s about being comfortable with uncertainty, which is something I’ve noticed Christians have a real aversion to.

        If we speak of the historicity of the Gospels, as I said, I’m prepared to accept that an historical Jesus may have existed. But nothing in the narratives offers any incontrovertible proof of any of the supernatural events that are supposed to have happened around him. No proof exists of the virgin birth. No proof exists of the resurrection. What you’re asking us to believe is that because several people gave similar accounts of a hallucination experienced (or a story concocted) by the apostles, the story they tell somehow must be truthful. It doesn’t work that way, I’m afraid.

        There’s a story that’s done the rounds for many years now about how the king of Denmark saved the Jews during the Nazi occupation by appearing at court one day wearing a yellow star of David. The very next day, as the story goes, the entire population of Denmark followed his heroic example and started wearing yellow stars so the Nazis wouldn’t be able to tell who was a Jew and who wasn’t, giving the Danes the chance to smuggle all their Jewish compatriots to safety in Sweden.

        It’s a beautiful story. Knowing the cohesion and fair-mindedness of Danish society, it’s also entirely feasible. Only it’s also completely false. It never happened. The Danish Jews were certainly saved, but by ordinary Danes working individually and in groups and not because of a single noble and romantic gesture made by their monarch. Queen Margrethe herself has confirmed that her father never wore a yellow star. And yet still the story still does the rounds and is accepted as gospel truth by many who want no better explanation than a stirring and inspiring fairy story.

        All this has happened within a couple of generations. Imagine how embroidered and romanticized the story will be a few hundred years from now.

        History is woven about with inventions and embroidery. Why should the Gospels, if indeed they really are historical, be any different?

        • Hi Stephen,

          I didn’t say that the existence of God logically follows from the fact that the Universe exists. I merely said that it is logical to assume that if God exists, then He is not bound by the physical laws of the Universe, and that if He is at all like the being portrayed in the Monotheistic religions, then he clearly doesn’t need an origin. The only logic here is that if, like me, you accept that there is enough historical and contemporary evidence to show that God exists, then Occam’s Razor leaves Him as the simplest solution. The concept of the “God of the gaps” is one held by a very small number of people. We don’t believe in God in order to fill in the gaps. We believe in God because we find the evidence convincing, and if that belief happens to explain some gaps in our knowledge, it’s an added bonus.

          As for the gospels (and the mentions of Jesus in Paul’s letters), yes the fact that they agree about some of the main events of Jesus’ life doesn’t prove that they are historically accurate. But, as I said before, scholars consider them to include six independent sources – which is more than we have for most historical events in the era before the printing press. And they do bear the hallmarks of eyewitness testimony – including lots of minor details that are not important to the narrative, and which demonstrate details of the setting that would be unfamiliar to those living distant in time or geography from the original events.

          Yes, there are inventions and embroidery around the life of Jesus, but these are clearly found in the apocryphal gospels that were written in the 2nd century or later – and not the canonical gospels or the epistles, which were written when multiple eyewitnesses to the events were still around, and still playing a significant part in the church community. None of the gospels contain accounts that resemble the form of today’s urban legends.

          Obviously there is plenty of room to disagree about whether Jesus did rise from the dead, or whether it was – as you claim – a hallucination or outright lie, which the anti-Christian Roman and Jewish authorities couldn’t be bothered to disprove by simply producing Jesus’ body. But hopefully this discussion has shown you that it is possible to believe in Jesus whilst still pursing an evidence-based, and rational*, approach towards the central claims of Christianity. Disagreeing about something doesn’t mean that you should assume that the other person has lost their capacity to reason.

          *Or at least as rational as human beings can get.

    • Stephen, your question of who created God is a false question, as the definition of God is a being that has always been, i.e. has no creator. The reason why it is a better fit than every “scientific” explanation is that it does not rely upon set rules that are clearly in existence in creation that need to be obeyed in all the suggested events that occur to create the universe. If the universe has no “otherly” creator then it is reliant purely upon that which currently exists to have formed its original building blocks. But, as has been said already, that requires these original building blocks to appear from nothing. And, as has also already been said, the laws of physics do not allow this to happen. Therefore the only logical explanation is that a being that is not confined by these laws must have brought the building blocks into existence. Given that this being must either be without cause or have an developmental story that includes no original cause, we are left with the logical progression towards the existence of a non-linear, all-powerful entity who created the space which we inhabit today.

      On historical documents, you are correct to say that the Iliad is considered to be partly historical, in that it speaks about a war between Greece and Troy. However, Homer clearly never meant it to be definitively historical. The mention of Gods being involved in some very key aspects, as well as demi-gods like Heracles and Achilles, shows that it is a fanciful tale as much as anything else. However, it also pales into insignificance, historically speaking, when compared to the New Testament. I would recommend the following webpage:
      http://www.bethinking.org/is-the-bible-reliable/the-historicity-of-the-new-testament
      Look at the numbers. The smallest gap between the events written about and the oldest document available is 750 years. The largest number of documents is 200, but they are from 1 copy and there is a 1300 year difference between them and the events they describe. Most are single figure amounts.
      Now check out the table on this webpage, about the dates for the gospels:
      http://www.answering-islam.org/Shamoun/documents.htm
      Note that the longest time gap is 350 years, but we also have a gap of as little as 40 years. That’s like someone writing a history of the 1970’s now, something that we would have no problems with if it were to happen.
      Interestingly, although it is not mentioned on either of those webpages, the gap for the Iliad is over 1000 years and the number of copies is in single figures.
      And the gap is probably the most important aspect of this, because the shorter the gap the greater the chance that someone remembers it differently to the writer and says something to that effect.
      So, by comparison to a whole host of documents that historians take as accurate, using standard historicity assessments, the New Testament is far more reliable as an account of what happened that Caesar’s account of the Gallic wars, for example. Or the histories of the Roman empire, or many other events from a similar time frame. If we ignore the New Testament as an accurate historical account then we have to ignore a lot of universally acknowledged history as well!

      A final comment, on your issue of proof of God’s existence. I could give you the argument that the very existence of everything, based on the logical argument I have already put forward, is proof of God. However, I will instead put forward an argument that takes the form of a question. What proof do you have that the universe came in to being without an eternal creator? You see, all that humans can go on is what we see in front of us and what we can recreate. However, whenever we recreate something (like the Large Hadron Collider) it is never in the same circumstances as the original since the original start to the universe was nothing to something. Unless you are able to wipe out everything, set it in motion and record it as it happens again (which is impossible, since recording the process would mean that you were never back to nothing existing) it is impossible to say that it has been recreated. So all scientists have to go on is conjecture.
      Christians, however, have a historical account of a man who claimed to be God and who, according to the historical documents (the gospels), came back to life after being crucified.
      See here (https://youthpastablog.files.wordpress.com/2014/07/20140712-193109-70269855.jpg?w=490) and here (https://youthpastablog.files.wordpress.com/2014/07/20140712-193108-70268639.jpg?w=490) for arguments as to the veracity of the resurrection.
      And this same man, Jesus, also spoke about the Old Testament (or, to Him, the Scriptures) and never said that any of it was wrong.
      Now, based on this you can have only 3 possible thoughts on Jesus. He was either mad, bad or God (the C S Lewis model), also known as liar, lunatic or Lord or Lewis’s Trilemma. You can read it here (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lewis's_trilemma), along with criticisms for balance. Based on your comments I would assume that you will lean towards the criticisms, regardless of the content of the argument, which would be a shame. But it would be consistent with an atheism that refuses to listen to anything suggesting that God exists and focussing purely on any and every argument that suggests otherwise. This, at the end of the day, is not logical or rational but simply theophobic.

      • It is not logical to suppose that an eternal uncreated being created the universe. It’s an unjustified assumption based on a lack of data. We know very little about the properties of the universe so it’s not only illogical but also ignorant to assume that what we see happening here on earth in our particular gravity well happens all over the universe in equal measure. Eternity may well be an inherent property of the universe and the Big Bang simply a moment within that eternity. We already know that time flows differently depending on many factors. There may be regions of the universe where it ceases to flow altogether or quite simply does not effectively exist. We just don’t know and filling “don’t know” with magical and omnipotent gods for whom there is no proof beyond your desire to have a convenient answer to your questions is, as far as I can see, merely a fantasist’s solution.

        Primitive men dreamed up gods and spirits and made them responsible for the natural processes they didn’t understand. Some modern men do the same because the idea of not possessing all the facts fills them with fear and a feeling of not being in complete control. God is a bit like the white plaster that archeologists use to stabilize and preserve the remains of Roman tessellated pavements. He fills in all the gaps and provides the simulacrum of complete knowledge, but all we really see are the bits of the pavement that actually exist while the rest is just blank and meaningless filler. We can imagine a whole and with our imaginations imprint it on the white plaster, but the image remains imaginary and ultimately unreal.

        The embroidered historical documents you call the Gospels speak of a man coming back to life after being crucified but offer no proof of this. In effect they document a legend that was common at that point in time and space. Christianity was not the only religion that spoke of resurrection. It was a common theme in Middle Eastern faiths. A mode, if you will. A regional fashion. Jesus, Baal, Melqart, Adonis, Eshmun, Osiris, Dumuzi all experienced resurrection as part of their myths. The fact that Jesus may have been an historical character is not proof that he was actually resurrected. It just means that people took the earlier myths and imprinted them over the facts (if facts they are) of his actual life.

        Jesus does not need to have been mad, bad or God. He was most probably just a common, garden Jewish prophet whose story was taken over and transformed by cult leaders driven by a mixture of idealism and a desire to exercise power and control. Paul’s character as recorded in scripture stands out as bearing all the hallmarks of the controlling and opportunistic cult leader, as do other apostles to varying degrees. Christianity is all about power and control and it only really differs from other religions in that it seeks to impose from the bottom up what can’t be imposed from the top down. It probably wouldn’t exist at all today, at least not in its current widespread form, if Constantine hadn’t been sharp enough to see it was the perfect means of helping to control a diverse and unruly populace. It’s a politician’s faith founded on obedience and central authority, and although man’s natural tendency to constantly recreate God in his own image has caused it to fragment over time and lose that aspect of centralized control, the continuing existence of an imperial papacy, even if it’s no longer universally obeyed, points to the real purpose of the religion. It’s an adjunct of the imperial bureaucracy. A state sponsored faith.

        This is a logical analysis of the Christian faith based on facts rather than legends. The logic you speak of requires you to invent something that you cannot prove exists: an omnipotent and omniscient God who makes everything work by filling in the gaps in your knowledge with his magic. If you want rational people to accept your stories, you need to show us some proof that this magical God exists. That proof is not to be found in the pages of an ancient myth exploited by an ancient empire for the purposes of political control. Using scripture as proof of anything shows the essential weakness of the Christian case: words are just words. It’s only independently verifiable and peer-reviewed research that can prove anything beyond reasonable doubt. So show me the experiments, oft-repeated and always giving the same results, that prove God to be there and to be what the Bible claims he is. There are none. Therefore he remains a story and a myth until proven otherwise.

        • Hi Stephen,

          In your first paragraph, you seem to have forgotten what I said earlier. Christians believe in God because of the historical and contemporary evidence. Believing that He created the universe comes as a consequence of that, it is not the cause of our beliefs.

          In your second paragraph, you make unfounded assumptions about why we believe in God. A large part of living out Christianity is choosing to give up being in control of your life and trying to love God and your neighbour as your first priorities. It really doesn’t fit with your portrayal of us as control freaks. And your later claim that Christianity is purely about power and control gives the impression that you are projecting your prejudices onto the religion, rather than basing your views on the reality.

          As for the gospels, just because there were legends of gods being resurrected doesn’t mean that the six independent accounts of Jesus being resurrected were made up to resemble the myths. Something happened to convince a group of Jews that a man they knew was actually God – which would have been considered a major heresy. There is nothing in the New Testament that shows any signs of being adapted from pagan mythologies. There are some influences from Greek Philosophy, many influences from Judaism, but nothing that resembles the cults of any known pagan deity. The explanation that is most consistent with the evidence is that the first generation of Christians genuinely believed Jesus had actually risen from the dead.

          As for your claim that Christianity only exists today because of Constantine, you are showing a degree of historical ignorance. By the time of Constantine, Christians were a very large proportion of the population of the Roman Empire. Historians disagree about whether Constantine’s conversion was genuine or some kind of power play. If it was the power play you believe, then it only makes sense if Christianity was already strong and widespread enough that it could provide a power base. And if that was the case, despite having been persecuted for the three centuries beforehand, then its survival was never in doubt. And, in any case, Christianity existed beyond the Roman Empire well before that point. There were Coptic Christians in Ethiopia, various parts of the Middle East (Armenia adopted Christianity as its state religion before Constantine’s conversion), the Mar Thoma church in India, and also Christian churches in China. Incidentally, the idea of the Papacy as having imperial control over Christianity post-dates the Great Schism, which happened in 1054 (before that, the Bishop of Rome was seen as joint-first among equals). So not only does it not have anything much to do with Constantine, it doesn’t prove anything about the inherent nature of Christianity.

          Finally, you say that “only independently verifiable and peer-reviewed research that can prove anything beyond reasonable doubt.” So can you provide the independently verifiable and peer-reviewed research that proves your claims about the nature, origins, and history of Christianity? Or the independently verifiable and peer-reviewed research that proves that it is the only way to prove anything? And does that mean that you have no faith in our criminal justice system – since it believes that fair trials can prove things beyond reasonable doubt, but you clearly believe that they can’t get any better than balance of probabilities?

  22. The Gospels are not historical evidence. They’re a set of stories about people whose existence cannot be verified by any contemporary documentary or archaeological evidence. The only exception to this is Pilate, who does seem to have been prefect of the Roman province of Judaea around the AD30-40 period as evidenced by the inscription on the contemporary Pilate Stone discovered in 1961.

    Before this date there existed absolutely no contemporary evidence that any of the Gospel characters had ever lived or died. So the Gospels do not pass even the most basic test of historicity: the external evidence test. No contemporary evidence outside the Gospels corroborates their narrative, with the sole exception of Pilate. We have no independent evidence that Jesus, Mary or any of the apostles ever existed. We know that many of the places and locations named in the Gospels existed, but the same is also true of just about any work of fiction. Paris and the Louvre both exist, for example, and they’re pretty much as Dan Brown described them. So does this make “Da Vinci Code” the Gospel truth? We also know that Leonardo da Vinci existed, so does the fact that Brown incorporates him into his story mean all the other characters are real people too?

    Whatever early Christians believed proves nothing except that they believed a story. It does not prove, or disprove, the story itself. It’s only by looking at the origins of the story and the robustness of the evidence presented to support it that lets us judge whether the story is historical or not. And there just isn’t any contemporary evidence (apart from the mention of one historical yet relatively minor character) that corroborates anything it says. It just isn’t history. It’s a religious narrative.

    I don’t have the time or the desire to debate the historical importance of Constantine in propagating Christianity, but suffice it to say that from everything I’ve read on the subject, it seems clear to me that Constantine’s recognition of the political uses of a faith that preached obedience and stoic acceptance was key to its widespread adoption. The “opium of the masses” theory makes a lot of sense given the way Christianity supported and bolstered the imperial system. It’s a topic that’s way too large for a blog comments thread, but if a despot was looking for a way to control his unruly populace, he could hardly find a better religion than Christianity. “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” and “Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God” are custom made for exploitative and despotic political structures. I believe that early converts to Christianity like Constantine and Clovis were astute enough to see how useful Christianity was as a faith in their struggle to consolidate their power base. Had it told servants to disobey their masters, their decisions and the history of Europe would have been very different, I think.

    • Hi Stephen,

      Could you clarify exactly what your definition of “contemporary documentary or archaeological evidence” is? Because if your definition excludes both the gospels (which, as I think I already pointed out, are considered by scholars to constitute five independent sources), and the epistles (letters which mention quite a few people who appear in the gospels), then it seems somewhat flawed.

      I’m also mystified by your claims that there is no non-gospel evidence prior to 1961 for the existence of people like Caesar Augustus , Herod the Great, Herod Antipas, Salome, Herodias, Annas, or Ciaphas (all of whom appear in at least one incident in the gospels and at least one non-Christian historical source). Also, the writer of Luke also wrote Acts – which features far more characters who were of enough contemporary significance to leave behind archaeological evidence (there’s one point where we can very precisely identify the time period Paul visited a city because of the title used for its ruler). It seems odd to accept that one of his two volumes is largely historically accurate (and there are no real quibbles amongst historians or archaeologists about the non-miraculous portions of Acts), whilst claiming that the other volume is pure fiction, as you appear to be doing.

      And as for your understanding of Constantine’s significance vis-a-vis Christianity, yes it partially explains how the rather subversive Christianity of the first century became the somewhat oppressive Christianity of the Medieval period, but there is an abundance of evidence that Christianity was already a major religion in both the Roman Empire before Constantine, and in many other parts of the world. But even if Constantine abused Christianity in order to keep his subjects in check, that doesn’t really reflect on the nature of Christianity or on the nature of Christianity today.

      • None of the Gospels were written at the time the alleged events took place. They are not contemporaneous accounts of Jesus’s life but rather stories written later. Much later, in some instances. This is odd when you consider that Jesus’s followers are supposed to have believed he was the son of God. Wouldn’t you want to record your experiences if you came face to face with your deity?

        The second problem with presenting the Gospels as historical documents is that they are not dispassionate and impartial account of events. Written with the express intent of deifying their main character, they fall into the category of hagiography rather than historically accurate narrative. Hagiography is a notoriously unreliable form of historical witness, much given to exaggeration and even downright invention.

        To be accepted as historical fact, the Gospel accounts need to be supported by independent corroborating evidence. Tax and census records, for example, showing that a Jesus son of Joseph really existed. Independent accounts in the contemporary Imperial annals of trouble in Judaea leading to the arrest and crucifixion of a Jewish prophet. Contemporary inscriptions bearing verifiable dates or inscribed on materials that can be effectively carbon dated. None of this exists.

        As you indicate, there are some historically verifiable names and places in the Gospels. But there are also historically verifiable names and places in the works of Dan Brown. Just because the Louvre exists doesn’t mean that Brown’s story about it is true, nor that many of the characters who populate that story have ever existed. Throwing a few historically verifiable names and places into an otherwise fictional narrative is simply a way of anchoring it in a plausible reality, something both Brown and the Gospel authors did to great effect. It’s a literary device designed to draw us into what the author wants us to think of as a credible story.

        In saying all of this however, it is still possible that Jesus may have existed. But we just don’t have any incontrovertible proof that he did. If you were to show me some inscriptions accurately dated to the period 0-33 A.D. that talk about Jesus son of Joseph and his crucifixion, or some eyewitness accounts of Jesus and his life backed up with convincing, independent corroborating evidence, I might accept the historical Jesus. But if you then try to convince me of his deity based on stories of miracles recounted in the various hagiographical and highly embroidered texts we call the Gospels, you probably won’t be very successful.

        We haven’t found any real evidence for an historical Jesus yet, although perhaps we may in the future. But even supposing he did exist, what evidence can you present to support this notion of him as the son of God? Tall stories about supposed miracles? Or am I supposed to accept that because Luke mentioned Caesar Augustus, everything else he wrote was true too? If I follow that rule I might as well start believing in the Gospel according to Mary Magdalene based on the fact that Dan Brown mentions Leonardo da Vinci in his books. I mean, if da Vinci was real, then everything else Brown writes must be real too, no?

        Christian logic gets you to fantastic places with very little effort…

  23. Very, very well put!!!

    ‘Beliefs can’t change facts, but facts should change beliefs’

  24. why do atheists find it so hard to accept that they are not the most intelligent or talented beings in the universe

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