West London Humanists and Secularists

"A Humanist Apologetics Workshop"
-addressing religious arguments and caricatures of secular humanism-

Our committee had decided that we should hold an event with the following objectives:
  • To help those attending to develop their ability to make the case for Humanism.
  • To give some idea of the breadth of the knowledge and skills that are involved. A lifetime's work.
  • To consider the circumstances when these skills and knowledge may need to be deployed
  • To give some examples of good and bad practice.
We wanted to be able to show a number of video clips which would have to be carefully chosen and edited to fit into the time available. Truman Urban, our secretary, agreed to put this together with the help of a team comprised of Daniel and Philip Veasey, Matthew Groizard and Robert Harwood. Workshop documents are available here in PDF format. If you would like a copy of the PowerPoint version, please contact us.

Setting the scene
The workshop opened with a presentation by Philip Veasey. He started by defining the scope of what we might be trying to defend by describing Rationalism, Atheism, Secularism and Humanitarianism and suggesting which aspects of these constituted Humanism in the UK. He proceeded to classify and describe the special considerations that might be involved in situations where we might find ourselves having to defend Humanism:
  • with friends/acquaintances
  • as a Humanist representative in the community
  • in debates/Media Interviews
  • in discussion groups e.g. 3FF.

In order to demonstrate the size of the task, Philip then showed large tables containing:
  • Arguments for the Existence of God
  • Arguments against the Existence of God
  • Common Objections to Atheism and Counter-Apologetics.
These were taken from The Iron Chariots Wiki which is very valuable reference site for atheist apologetics maintained by the Atheist Community of Austin, Texas.

Truman's reference resource
There is a surprising lack of resources like the Iron Chariots Wiki. This has frustrated Truman who has invested a great deal of time making a collection of links to a variety of sources which can be used to investigate religious arguments. This has been a personal resource but, with this workshop in mind, he has started to structure it so that it can be used by anyone. The current draft contains 67 slides. Truman gave us a brief tour of its contents, which was difficult because both he and his audience would have liked to spend several hours on it.

We then watched 14 clips which had been chosen to illustrate the sort of things we might encounter. Sadly these cannot be seen on our website which has limited storage and bandwidth. If you particularly want to view one of them, contact us and we will see what we can do..

1 The Banana Man In an excerpt from their evangelical ministry TV program, Kirk Cameron and Ray Comfort, who are both born-again Christians, explain how the banana "proves" that god created the world, as it is. Totally hilarious!

2 Hamza Tzortzis caught lying During a debate Hamza is shown a quote of him declaring freedom of speech to be unnecessary. Hamza vehemently denies this and accuses the person who shows him the quote of being a liar. Another clip then shows Hamza saying exactly what he denied he said about freedom of speech. It is important that if possible, video or audio recordings be immediately available should a claim be challenged in a debate.

3 Hamza Tzortzis trying to justify Mohammed marrying a child. Here Hamza attempts to justify paedophilia, while saying that incest is immoral. The hypocrisy can be seen in that the justification for paedophilia made could also be used to justify incest. What is also interesting to note is the juvenile/hooligan-like behaviour of the crowd in what appears to be an attempt to intimidate/infuriate guest speakers. Furthermore, the audio setup has Hamza louder than his debate opponents (it could very well be that he consistently speaks louder vs. opponents who are softly spoken in comparison).

4 Ravi Zach and the law-giver He argues that if one can distinguish between good and evil (as his atheist opponent concedes) then there must be a moral law which allows one to make the distinction. Therefore there must be a moral law giver, therefore the law giver is a god. Ravi ignores that a naturalistic explanation exists for moral "laws". Given that various animals have been seen to show high levels of "moral behaviour" without the promised reward of an afterlife, it is not unreasonable to posit a naturalistic explanation over a supernatural one (i.e. one involving deities).

5 William Lane Craig - if it's possible it exists. Here, he tries to use "logic" to prove that the existence of something's being possible proves that it exists. The very same "logic" or argument can be used to justify the existence of Zeus, Thor, and unicorns. For example: it is possible in some possible world that talking snakes and leprechauns exist, if it exists in some possible world it exists in every possible world, therefore talking snakes and leprechauns exist.

6 William Lane Craig - cosmological argument The Kalam Cosmological argument states (simply) that whatever begins to exist has a cause, the universe began to exist therefore the universe has a cause which is a god by default. The problem with this argument is that it's just that, an argument, and has no relevance in science as arguments without evidence are not sufficient. Furthermore, unverifiable attributes are asserted for whatever caused the universe to exist: that the cause itself was THE first cause (and no other cause was behind it), that it is changeless, beyond time, immaterial, personal/anthropomorphic.

7 William Lane Craig - evolution improbable proves god exists He states that evolution resulting in human beings was such an improbable outcome that it proves the existence of his deity to ensure that result. In essence what he is implying is that the improbable nature of the event is a miracle, yet every day improbable events are occurring (lottery winners where the odds of winning were 1 in 10 million) yet are not declared "miracles" by the mathematically literate.

8 Richard Dawkins - Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, their behaviour was not determined by atheism. Fox News anchor Bill O'Reilly claims that religion/spirituality is seen as a "moderating force" by the founding fathers (of the United States). A common argument used by the religious is that Stalin, Hitler and Pol Pot were atheists who had millions of people killed. Dawkins points out that the founding fathers were secularists who saw the divisiveness of religion and created America as a secular nation, Hitler was not an atheist and Stalin had committed atrocities which were not based on his lack of belief in a deity.

9 Christopher Hitchens - claims that Fascism was the creation of the Roman Catholic right wing. He deals with the frequently made claim that Hitler was a secularist and atheist. In fact, Hitler never ceased to be a Catholic and had very good relations with the Vatican. Furthermore, Hitler claimed and appears to have believed that he was doing the will of a god. Hitchens also highlights how Hitler was not excommunicated by the church, although Joseph Goebbels was for marrying a Christian from another sect. Hitler was an adamant believer in maintaining blood/racial purity which has nothing to do with atheism.

10 William Lane Craig - highly rehearsed Video clips show how he follows the same precise script in different debates. His conviction, and even his apparent understanding of what he is saying, is staged.

11 William Lane Craig - intimidating with mathematics In this video, explained by Philip Veasey, WLC tries to prove the truth of the biblical story of the resurrection of Jesus Christ by bamboozling his audience. He says he will make it clear for everyone (so if you don't understand you are stupid) then races through an unnecessarily complicated argument based on probability calculus and Bayes Theorem in a manner, which Philip believes, demonstrates that he doesn't understand it himself (Philip used to teach this stuff to degree students). The formula he finishes up with is correct, however, and allows him to say "The probability of the resurrection given the evidence approaches 1, as the probability of the evidence being true and there not being a resurrection approaches 0". This is the same thing as saying that the more we are certain that the evidence is true and that its being true proves the resurrection, the more the resurrection must be true. So what! We have no reason to believe either of these things. But by this time his audience is too confused and intimidated to notice this and accepts that he has proved his point.

12 David Silverman, president of the American Atheists vs. Mike Huckabee is an American politician on the Christian World Trade Centre Cross. The American Atheists were battling with the US government about a 9/11 memorial where a steel girder "cross" was to be erected at Ground Zero. Silverman argues that the cross is not a secular symbol but a religious (Christian) one and therefore not inclusive of those of other religions or none. Furthermore, that public money should not be spent on a monument that puts religion forward (even though religion was a motivating factor behind the 9/11 attack), and that an inclusive secular monument should be chosen instead. This clip was offered as an example of what may be not a good way of winning people over to secularism as the lawsuit and arguments ran headlong into sensitivities that ensured an irrational response.

13 Isaac Asimov The Nature of Scientific Truth. This video made by c0nc0rdance beautifully summarises an essay that Isaac Asimov wrote in reply to an English literature graduate who claimed that because science is ever changing, with the latest developments just as likely to change in the future, science must be no closer to the truth than religion. Asimov uses a brilliant analogy of how the Earth was seen as flat thousands of years ago, later was found to be spherical, and more recently an oblate spheroid with a slight pear shape. The fact that our view of Earth has changed for thousands of years does not mean that a century into the future we will discover that the Earth is a triangle. Science gets a good model and refines it, becoming more accurate even though it might not be 100% right, 99% is still better than 98% and 50% accuracy.

14 Unchanging bible vs changing science. Another hilarious video in which an American pastor claims that science is rubbish because it changes. He compares this with his King James version of the Bible which has not changed in centuries and must therefore be the eternal word of the biblical god. He ignores and is probably ignorant of the history of the Bible's development. He seems oblivious to the contribution made by science to the materials and methods used in the construction of the church he preaches his sermons in, to the microphone he is using and even to the construction of his bible as a book. All have been made possible by scientific thinking that has made a far larger contribution to humanity than his religious dogma.

The workshop provided so many points for discussion that it was hard to bring it to an end. Everyone had enjoyed the workshop immensely and agreed that this was well worth doing. Finally Philip asked the meeting whether the work we had started should be taken further. Could it be developed into a resource that would be of value to all the humanists in the UK and be managed by the BHA? As Truman said, something should be done because theists have a lead in apologetics having been better resourced for so long.

"A god that does not manifest in reality is indistinguishable from a
god that does not exist."
- Matt Dillahunty

Truman Urban, Philip Veasey 4th February 2014