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David Mitchell on Atheism

(14 Posts)
Quangle Thu 17-Oct-13 21:46:45

I think he's making a false distinction really.

If you could prove to an atheist that there was a god they would alter their position. So in that sense they are not very far from agnostics who are waiting to be shown any evidence - except that atheists probably also quite like the idea that there is nothing because the other options (there is something like a god and s/he has let all this shit happen to us) is not very appealing.

Nothing to do with wanting to take away another's comfort or being fundamental about things. I speak as an atheist who would change positions if someone just showed me once and for all I was wrong - I don't like the idea of a god along the lines we are familiar with but if that's what we've got, then I'll have to shift my position - when I get any evidence at all. Until then I am happy with my position that there is nothing.

And it also really annoys me when people say that atheists are just believers like religious people. No. If you show me proof that god exists I'll change my stance. If you show a fundamentalist believer proof that s/he doesn't exist, they'll insist it's another test of their faith. Evidence does not come into it.

tuffie Thu 17-Oct-13 21:28:32

Thank you for posting that link Italian. I think he makes some excellent points.
Also agree with Trice about fundamentalism being the problem.

trice Sun 13-Oct-13 14:44:21

I am properly atheist. But I am quite happy for people tohold differing views. I Like DM. He is good with words and seems a good egg. He would have made a wonderful vicar in another life.

I don’t think his comments on religion based violence were terribly controversial. It seems to me that fundamentalism is the problem, which is probably more political than religious. Although the two are often hard to separate.

technodad Sun 13-Oct-13 14:15:07

This is probably why churches don't want to have secular schools

Choccyjules Sat 12-Oct-13 11:41:31

I have similar dislike about faith schools, which started when I met kids at secondary school who described religion being foisted upon them at their church primary schools- as a young Christian I could see that wasn't the way to do things. That worry extends for me to all the new free schools, in terms of policies etc.

I have to admit that as a parent I now struggle with how to bring up DD re. faith matters as young children are of course going to take what their parents say as 'gospel' (hoho) and I am one of those 'personal faith' types. Very tricky but a bit of a tangent, sorry.

I found it cool that David Mitchell as an esteemed member of the hip comedy bunch would speak openly about such matters. Go Dave!

technodad Sat 12-Oct-13 09:03:28

It may well depend on the particular school. However, my issue is with ALL faith schools. We are we so intent on splitting children into groups, rather than mixing them up.

If you throw all the kids together, teach them all about different faiths and cultures and let their parents provide their own faith at home, the results can only be good.

Splitting up kids and make them all out to be different, the results will only be bad.

Secular schools for all is the only sensible way forwards!

HolofernesesHead Sat 12-Oct-13 08:46:10

Techno, I completely agree with you on this:

From a personal perspective, the issue I have with religion is the unjustifiable privilege that it has within our society (not being prosecuted for kiddy fiddling) and things like the banning of condoms in Africa (leading to the death of thousands of innocent people).

I have huge issues - no, a deep hatred, deeper than words can say - for those things too, and I say that as a fully signed up Christian.

Education I see as a different issue, although I understand the issue of church schools in rural parts. I guess, IME, it depends hugely on the tenor of the local church school - they vary massively and there is a huge 'religiousness' spectrum within church schools.

yeghoulsandlittledevils Sat 12-Oct-13 07:49:15

I think he is right to firmly stand up for agnosticism, it is so often brushed aside as being undecided and sitting on the fence when it really isn't that. I am not sure he has made a great evangelical speech on behalf of the Agnostic Party there, but presumably that was not his intention. He has just as much right to his views and beliefs as anyone else. I remember thinking now and again that he clearly isn't an out and out athiest, nor a firm Christian and was wondering what his thinking on belief/religion is. It is nice to know (and for it to be in an interview like that, not in a panel show.)

technodad Sat 12-Oct-13 07:47:33

I think this is really interesting, and his comments have really made me think about my own atheism.

The way I see it, is that is should be impossible to be atheist, without being open to criticism from religious people that we are hypocritical. At the end of the day, if we are arguing that you need evidence based proof of god, then people reasonably expect us to provide evidence that there is no god.

There is however, a very distinct difference between the two positions. I make no claims to anything, I merely state that there is no evidence for something. I can use the scientific method to back up my position, but it is very difficult to prove nothing exists. It is the responsibility of the Scientologists and Christians (etc) to provide the verifiable evidence that their belief system is true.

The reality is, if you had a sliding scale between 0 and 10, where 10 is the someone who is the biggest believer, and 0 is an all out atheist, most atheists would not be able to say that they were a 0. I would personally put myself at about 0.01, in that I am confident beyond all reasonable doubt, but don’t have absolute proof that no gods (or ghosts etc) exist (and that homeopathy is complete bollox).

So, does that make me an atheist, or an agnostic? Technically, I am agnostic, but I think I am passed the threshold that I might as well say that I am atheist, as a shorthand version of the above discussion. So, in summary, I think many atheists would agree with much of what David Mitchell says about this, and I think he has misinterpreted what an atheist is.


Where I disagree with him, is the justification for why people debate about religion. Clearly religious war is one reason. Wouldn’t it be great if the Muslim and Jewish people got along, but to be honest, religion is just part of a bigger excuse for them to hate each other and is only part of the problem. Me having a rant about religion is not going to change them, or that situation.

From a personal perspective, the issue I have with religion is the unjustifiable privilege that it has within our society (not being prosecuted for kiddy fiddling) and things like the banning of condoms in Africa (leading to the death of thousands of innocent people). It isn’t about destroying someone’s faith, it is about creating equal rights for all. Where we have equality, I am pretty confident that people like Richard Dawkins will just let bygones be bygones.

For example, I hate the fact that my kids can only go to a CofE school, because of our rural location. I hate that they are taught Christianity as a “fact”, long before they are taught evolution, to the extent that our kids are effectively taught creationism by stealth. I hate the fact that if there is a JW child in the same school, they get separated out as “different” because they can’t attend assembly, when school should be about celebrating our differences, not highlighting them in a negative way. My DCs are atheist (or very agnostic), but they don’t want to be excluded from prayer because they don’t want to look different to the whole school. We are teaching them to all behave like sheep, and to not challenge the norm - precisely the wrong education I want my kids to have!

So, why don’t we have a secular schooling system? - Because the church don’t want it.

So, this is why people resort to providing “aggressive atheism” positions of the type that David Mitchell doesn’t like?

1. Because most people don’t think about these issues, and it is a useful way to grab headlines (rightly or wrongly)

2. Because people are dying and action is needed quickly.

3. Because the church is defending its privileges aggressively, so needs to be challenged aggressively to create a more fair and inclusive society.

Interesting comments from a thoughtful man.

Yougotbale Sat 12-Oct-13 00:22:20

He spouts bollocks. Not for what he chooses to believe but his view about people killing people.

RationalThought Fri 11-Oct-13 23:45:02

He says that atheism isn't the most rational way to look at the world, but then fails to give any rational reasons why that's the case. Instead he goes on to say that he wants there to be an all powerful god. I don't think atheists should specifically look to take away the "comfort blanket" of others, but everybody should challenge the beliefs of others where they are illogical, hypocritical or dangerous.

Mitchel mentions historical examples of dangerous non-religious beliefs - communism and fascism - but ignores more recent examples where people are killed or suppressed because they are the "wrong" religion:

- The killing of Christians by Muslims in Pakistan
- The killing of Muslims by Budhists in Myanmar
- Sunni / Shiite conflicts throughout the Middle East
- Israeli suppression of Christian and Muslim Palestinians, based on their scriptural right to the land

Choccyjules Fri 11-Oct-13 21:57:36

Saw a link to this earlier on twitter but couldn't get it to work, so thanks, thoughtful viewpoint he has.

Italiangreyhound Fri 11-Oct-13 20:23:03

David Mitchell on Atheism - very interesting.

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