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Daniel survives

By David Palmer - posted Tuesday, 17 April 2012


Last Friday I wrote that I was disappearing Daniel like into the cavernous space of the lions’ den also known as the Melbourne’s Convention Centre. Well, I survived, I kept my anonymity, but truth to tell it was a close run thing when PZ Myers likened Christians to sheep and Atheists to wolves and then to thunderous applause from the 4,000 wolves present, warned that the eyes and claws of all those wolves were upon the sheep present.

The organisers are to be congratulated for a very well run programme with a number of outstanding speakers, both Australians and the big names from overseas.

I mentioned in my earlier article that I would “certainly be interested in seeing who attends the Convention, their demeanour, what excites them, do they find joy in their atheism?” What struck me about observing these Atheists was how much they resembled in appearance the Christians I meet at Church in all respects bar two.

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Before I mention the these two exceptions, the point needs to be made that whether we are Atheists or persons of religious faith, we all share a common humanity and therefore most of the issues we face in life are common to us whatever our belief system whether religious or atheism: family life, education, work, possessing hopes and aspirations, growing older and the like. So at the level of our humanity and interaction with one another there ought to be civility, interest in one another and even respect.

Note that I describe atheism, despite the claims of Atheists to the contrary, as a system of beliefs. What I observed occurring was not all that different from attending church. The speakers, in effect the leaders, the great ones, appeared one after another to teach the assembled congregation, dispensing their pearls of wisdom, reinforcing the central doctrinal tenets of their faith, exhorting for appropriate responses, deigning to answer a question or two. They even had the atheist version of canonisation for Christopher Hitchens, whilst in the foyer all the atheist denominations, the Secular Society, the Atheist Society, the Humanist Society, the Freethinkers, the Sex Party were all pitching their competing wares.

Back to the exceptions.

The first exception when compared to a Christian gathering was the lack of children. OK, this was a convention, but Christians almost always include their children in what they do. The second exception was that those attending were overwhelmingly of Anglo Saxon or European descent. Sure, some others, but only a few, mainly Chinese. Our Churches in Melbourne in contrast are far more multinational, even multi cultural.

Well what of my impressions?

In no particular order, I will restrict myself to just five issues.

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I mentioned the big questions in my previous article that I thought Atheists wedded to evolution couldn’t answer. Based on what I heard, this remains the case. Dan Barker, former Christian minister and now head of a US Atheist organisation said while we individually might have our own purposes in life, “there is no purpose of life and that is good”. He was serious.

Cosmologist Lawrence Krauss manfully set out in his talk, that very few in the audience could have understood, to demonstrate how something could come from nothing. This seemed to involve the postulation of a myriad of parallel universes. His conclusion: “something from nothing not only plausible but likely”. Well maybe, maybe not. Neil Ormerod has provided a critique of Krauss’ argument.

The argument that “without religion, you can’t be good” came up a number of times with speakers asserting that to the contrary that atheists do in fact live good lives and according to Dan Barker, “it is religion that gets in the way of moral judgment”.

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About the Author

David Palmer is a minister of the Presbyterian Church of Australia.

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All articles by David Palmer

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