I have to record this conversation with a former student to honour his passion and commitment and in the hope that, one day, I can make a better response to some of the issues he raises. I think I have removed all the identifiers, Nick, as this was a Facebook thread.

The context was, of course, the infamous interchange between Dawkins and Pell on Q&A: the first time I have seen Tony Jones officiate at a very poor encounter. Oh well: he should have know better. The next round is between Nick and me.


Nick  This is an embarrassment – Q&A

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Christopher Bounds Agree. We should take over.Monday at 22:21 · Like ·

Nick  I agree sir haha

I’m going to the Atheist Convention in Melbourne, nasa, but not the thing at the Opera House.

@amanda – An embarrassment for Pell and the Church. He caved on evolution and admitted that we are ‘probably’ evolved from something, he said that transubstantiation was not literal, he said he doesn’t have a problem with Gay union (so long as they don’t get married) And thats just in the last half an hour. All of that goes against the majority view of Christianity and the Vatican.Yesterday at 10:31 · Like

Christopher Bounds Hang on! Evolution has been acknowledged since the Fifties and Catholic Schools have to teach it (not allowed to teach anti-scientific things!). Transubstantiation isn’t literal unless you are an Aristotelian, and even then it is still metaphysics. This shouldn’t be an issue for Dawkins because, if he did know the philosophy of science, he would know that scientific method relies entirely on metaphor – one thing doctoral studies in social psych have taught me. Yes I have a problem with the Church’s position on gay marriage, but things have moved incredibly in the last 30 years. Most of the blah things in religion, as in society generally, are political or cultural or both. Mind you, I was brought up Anglican and did the atheist marxist thing at uni, so my perspectives are a bit twisted.Yesterday at 10:39 · Like

Nick  No, Catholics fight tooth and nail to get creationism taught alongside evolution in a science class! There is no place for it in science. Acknowledgment is different from acceptance – I acknowledge that Christians believe in God but I don’t accept it and I fight against whenever I can. Also, lok at the Popes view of evolution. Ask a Christian and most Priests what they think of transubstantiation – its an ancient view but so are most of their beliefs and they still cling to them. Priest at our school believed it was the literal body and blood – I asked – and the only reason Pell didn’t stick to the same argument was because Dawkins pointed out that a piece of bread doesn’t have the same genetic makeup as skin so Pell hid behind the metaphysical argument. What do you mean!? The scientific method is about systematic empiricism, its about garnering solid evidence to make factual conclusions. That is the ultimate ambition. On the other end of the spectrum you have those questions which are to broad and subjective for science to answer – so it is left to the religious and to philosophy. And look where we ended up – we now have billions of people who believe that because a book that was written thousands of years ago in the deserts of the middle east (after many similar books were written before it) and presented to a stupefied group of people and those stupefied people said it was the word of god, that it really is the word of God and that because of this book we KNOW God exists, heaven and hell exists, what morality is. It is ludicrous and thank god (no pun intended) for science starting to delve into the more obscure aspects of humanity.

And a problem with the church’s position is an understatement. We now, thanks to science, know that there are distinct and substantial differences genetically between homosexuals and heterosexuals. That lesbians tend to have unusually high testosterone levels, that homosexual men have the same amount of nerves attaching each hemisphere of the brain as heterosexual women. We also know that even if it is a choice, it is a harmless choice and that they are just as capable of raising a family as any other couple. Yet the Church doesn’t acknowledge the right. The Church on some occasions even forbid them the right to have communion and made them wear rainbow scarfs around their necks (in the modern day). Religious representatives frequently say that it is immoral and that they have made this choice and will burn in hell for it. So if you are genetically predisposed to homosexuality and (chances are) religious in your youth how difficult do you think that would be? Then you might even be sent to a ‘gay-correctional facility’ (some sponsored by Gloria Genes Coffee by the way) and then you might even kill yourself for not being able to shut out these perfectly natural, harmless thoughts and desires. There are so many cases of young people committing suicide because their faith cant be reconciled with their sexuality – imagine how they must have prayed, and begged God to make them normal. To forgive them. To help them through the suffering. And if he exists then he watched with indifference while they tied the noose.Yesterday at 11:06 · Like ·

Christopher Bounds Now if you were part of my team at work or I was still teaching you, I would say ‘which Catholics’? But that doesn’t respect the strength of your feelings. My experiences of gays in the church have been different from yours, and I’ve seen catholic school communities go out of their way to help and protect kids confronting their sexuality – working with a kid at the moment. You can always run an argument by looking at worst cases, but the moment the argument becomes emotional, you lose (because we always do when we stop seeking truth). Look at specific cases and individuals and try to judge the institutions they belong to through that prism. Mind you, your example of the rainbow scarves incident was a good one. If I had been Pell, I would have given them communion and asked them in for a cuppa – that would have really annoyed them (even though I am sympathetic) because they were really after a scene!Yesterday at 11:16 · Like

Nick  I would say Catholics that follow the majority view and Catholics that interpret the Bible literally or at least semi-literally. But thank you for not asking haha. It is not so much about being emotional, as it is about getting the opponent to register with those atrocities on an emotional level because faith itself is not a search for truth it is an emotional connection to an ideal – they believe it is true but not for the same reasons we believe anything else to be true. You need to draw on emotional examples to shake people out of their convictions – it is more vivid in a persons mind. And the truth of the matter is that there are emotional aspects that should be addressed. It is part of what makes us human – to respond emotionally to other people. We are horrified by the Holocaust not just because it was wrong in a strictly rational sense but because we empathized with the Jews. We have to empathize with these children because, although not all religious people are abusing children (despite the mental abuse of childhood indoctrination), some are being persecuted and they deserve justice. It is the fact that religion can justify these kinds of atrocities that bothers me, and yes that is the fall of man but at the same time, why didn’t God chose his words more carefully, why didn’t he (knowing everything that has and ever will happen) specifically say not to treat homosexuals, african americans, jews, and everyone else who has suffered under religious influence so harshly. Why didn’t he make sure that even though man may make mistakes and treat these people terribly, that at least the Bible (which he attached his name to) wouldn’t justify it. Instead we have homophobics quoting biblical passages to justify what they say, we had bible passages quoted to justify slavery and treatment of black people as second class citizens. And to the other extreme, there are so many passages in the Koran (the worst of all) allowing for justifications of female excision, terrorism, honor killings. The fact that a man can murder his daughter after finding out she is a rape victim and then turn to his holy book to justify it is unbelievable. How could you not be emotional? You just need to balance the emotion – turn it into a passionate cause.Yesterday at 12:32 · Like

Christopher Bounds Careful when talking about the Qur’an, it’s not an easy read, although I have a very good Oxford edition. Much of what is said about the Qur’an often turns out to be misinterpretation or fabrication. I won’t let my kids near the web for that very reason in SOR. Yesterday at 12:36 · Like

Nick  Well my point is that God/Allah should not have been so ambiguous in the first place – but how many ways can you interpret this exert from the koran (rationally) – “The woman and the man guilty of adultery or fornication, flog each of them with a hundred lashes”. I know there are misconceptions but it is getting to the point where we are so afraid of being politically incorrect that people wont even criticize Islam when it is due.Yesterday at 15:08 · Like

Christopher Bounds Hmm, pretty grim, but the Prophet was criticised for his leniency by the non-Moslems. It’s always hard when you see the Law in the raw, but the sentences handed out are always subject to adjudication. Remember that Moslems call God Allah the Merciful. Anyway, my turn. What do you think of Alain de Botton’s approach?21 hours ago · Like

Nick  I just don’t think that the consolations of religion are enough to allow it to continue in society and the cost-benefit is grossly disproportionate in my opinion. Placebo effects can come from anywhere, we don’t need prayer. And I don’t think Atheists need to be as understanding as he suggests, I think it is necessary to be hostile. Must admit I haven’t read Religion for Atheists but I have seen a few interviews with him and a talk on TED.20 hours ago · Like

Christopher Bounds Oh well, over to you. Without being condescending, it is good to be emotional and angry at your age because it is a sign of a good heart. You will seek gentler paths when you get older, because you start to see life’s complexity and simplicity! I’ve been there and faced some of the moral struggles myself, with God and without God. My daughter is similarly passionate and I couldn’t be happier. Just remember that some of the people that contributed to your being were people of faith – and we weren’t bad all the way through!19 hours ago · Like

Nick  Plenty of angry and passionate Atheists in their 70s and above that are testament to the fact that it is possible to remain this way for your entire life – I can only hope I do as well. That’s good to hear. And I know, most people in my life are religious. I don’t have a problem with someone just for believing in God – my anger is more directed towards the institutions themselves and those individuals who deserve it (Jerry Falwell comes to mind). Good discussion as always : ) I hope I didn’t ruin your Easter break haha19 hours ago · Like

Christopher Bounds Good on you, Nick, good to talk. Off to the Catholic Principals tomorrow. Enjoy Melbourne.18 hours ago · Like