Hibernia College teacher training course teaches untrue claims about atheism and atheists

Hibernia College Dublin, in its Higher Diploma in Arts in Primary Education, is teaching as part of its Religion module several untrue statements about atheism and at least two defamatory allegations about modern atheists. This includes course notes that claim that “What bothers very few of its latter-day exponents is the fact that atheist humanism produced the worst horrors history has ever witnessed, namely Nazism, Fascism and Marxism…” and a mock examination where the student is expected to answer that it is “True” that “Atheist humanism produced the worst horrors history has ever witnessed.”

Atheist Ireland is requesting that the untrue statements and defamatory allegations be immediately removed from the course notes and examinations, and then that the Religion module be entirely revised so that it teaches students about religion in an objective, critical and pluralistic manner. We have offered to assist in this by providing accurate information about atheism and atheists.

We have today sent the following letter to Hibernia College, the Minister for Education, the Higher Education and Training Awards Council; the Teaching Council; the Irish National Teachers Organisation; the Union of Students in Ireland; and selected politicians with an interest or responsibility in this area. We have already raised the matter with two Council of Europe delegations who are in Dublin this week monitoring Ireland’s record in protecting human rights. They are the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI), and the Advisory Committee for the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (FCNM).

Letter sent by Atheist Ireland to the bodies listed above

28 February 2012

Dear [name],

In Ireland, we have got used to Roman Catholic educational institutions discriminating against atheists and against religious people who are not Roman Catholics. It is sad that we now find Hibernia College in Dublin, a nonreligious educational institution, doing the same in its Higher Diploma in Arts in Primary Education. Can you please let us know what you are empowered to do, and what you intend to do, to address the following concerns?

Overview

1. Hibernia College should not be teaching the disgraceful libel that very few modern atheists are bothered about the causes of the worst atrocities in history, and that we feel that anything is morally justified in the absence of gods. Nor should it be teaching untrue statements about atheism, such as atheism is a religion; atheism generally places its faith in some other absolute; atheism produced Nazism, Fascism and Communism; and atheism is not a benign force in history.

2. Hibernia College should not be setting online examination questions, presented in factual multiple choice format rather than discussion format, where the student is expected to answer that it is “True” that “Atheist humanism produced the worst horrors history has ever witnessed,” and that “Atheism has had, historically speaking, a negative effect on society.”

3. Hibernia College should not be teaching the subject of Religion in accordance with the doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church. Its course notes should not include phrases like “As Catholic educators…” Hibernia College should be teaching about Religion in an objective, critical and pluralistic manner, in accordance with the Toledo Guiding Principles and judgments of the European Court of Human Rights.

4. The Equal Status Act 2000 states that it is illegal for an educational establishment, whether or not supported by public funds, to discriminate in relation to any term or condition of participation in the establishment by a student on the grounds of religion. Also, the teaching of Religion in Hibernia College contravenes the College’s own Equal Opportunities Policy, which states that the College promotes dignity and respect for all individuals and groups.

5. We are asking you and other relevant bodies to please let us know what you are empowered to do, and what you intend to do, to address these concerns. Specifically, we are requesting that the untrue statements and defamatory allegations be immediately removed from the course notes and examinations, and then that the Religion module be entirely revised so that it teaches students about religion in an objective, critical and pluralistic manner. We have already raised the issue this week with two Council of Europe delegations on monitoring human rights.

1. Teaching about Atheism

The course notes on Religion, Lesson on Morality, Section 3 on Religion and Political Life, Slides 3 and 4, contain at least six untrue statements about atheism and at least two defamatory allegations about modern atheists.

1(a) Hibernia College should not be teaching that “What bothers very few of its latter-day exponents is the fact that atheist humanism produced the worst horrors history has ever witnessed, namely Nazism, Fascism and Marxism…” This is a disgraceful libel on modern atheists and humanists, suggesting that very few of us care about the worst atrocities history has ever witnessed. The College would not dare to teach this shocking statement about any other group of people, simply on the basis of their beliefs about supernatural claims.

1(b) Hibernia College should not be teaching “the fact” that “atheist humanism produced the worst horrors history has ever witnessed, namely Nazism, Fascism and Marxism.” This is simply untrue. Hitler was not an atheist, and he wrote in Mein Kampf that he was doing the Lord’s work in fighting the Jews. The Vatican signed concordats supporting both Hitler and Mussolini. Stalin was a Seminarian and his Marxism was based on totalitarianism. Also, the notes ignore atrocities that were explicitly religious, such as the Crusades and the Inquisitions.

1(c) Hibernia College should not be teaching that “Atheism seems to be fashionable in Ireland at present. It is seen as rational, progressive and compassionate. But above all, it is ‘in’, not to mention convenient, since as Dostoyevski said in 19th century Russia, where it was likewise ‘in’, that if there is no God then anything can be justified.” This is another defamatory statement about Irish atheists today. In reality, most Irish atheists are ordinary decent people who behave ethically and compassionately towards our fellow human beings.

1(d) Hibernia College should not be teaching that “Atheism is not a benign force in history” where the context of the paragraph makes this a euphemism for teaching that atheism is a malign force in history. The course notes inaccurately ascribe malign effects to atheism in factual terms, and dismiss any perceived positive effects by describing them in terms of “is seen as…”

1(e) Hibernia College should not be teaching that atheism is a religion. The course notes list “Atheism, Hinduism, Judaism and Islam” under the heading of “various religions”. In reality, atheism is either believing there are no gods or not believing that there are gods. This does not constitute a religion. Indeed, it typically indicates the absence of a religion.

1(f) Hibernia College should not be teaching that atheism “generally places its faith in some other absolute, be it humanism, the march of history, materialism, the economy, or even hedonism, cuius venter deus est (‘whose belly is their god’), as Paul once put it.” In reality, most atheists are reluctant to place faith in any absolute. Also, if atheists do place faith in other ideas, it is because of factors other than their atheism.

2. The Online Examination

In the mock online exam two weeks ago, under HDAPE Religion Sample Assessment, the following two questions were asked. They were not presented as questions that were open for discussion. They were presented as factual questions with a limited range of multiple choice answers to select from. If the student wished to receive marks in the examination, he or she was expected to answer the question in accordance with the course notes.

(a) Question 12 of 20. Moral Theology: “Atheist humanism produced the worst horrors history has ever witnessed.” Options: “True” or “False”.

  • It is clear from the course notes that, if the student wishes to receive marks in the examination, he or she is is expected to answer “True” to this question.
  • The course notes on Atheism state it as a fact (not as an opinion) that “What bothers very few of its latter-day exponents is the fact that atheist humanism produced the worst horrors history has ever witnessed, namely Nazism, Fascism and Marxism.”

(b) Question 13 of 20. Moral Theology. Which statement is false? Options: “Hinduism is a positive force for change in society” or “Atheism has had, historically speaking, a negative effect on society” or “Islam is based on the identity of religion and society.”

  • It is clear from the course notes that, if the student wishes to receive marks in the examination, he or she is is expected to answer that the false statement is “Hinduism is a positive force for change in society”; and that the true statements are “Atheism has had, historically speaking, a negative effect on society” and “Islam is based on the identity of religion and society.”
  • The course notes on Hinduism state: “Hinduism induces fatalism, namely a religious sanction of the status quo, which comes from their understanding of karma and reincarnation. Thus, the ruling classes are destined to rule and the outcasts must accept their lot at the bottom of the social and economic pile, since they merited their present social rank by their behaviour in their previous existence.”
  • The course notes on Atheism state, among other things, that “Atheist humanism produced the worst horrors history has ever witnessed,” and “Atheism is not a benign force in history.”
  • While the examination question about Islam is somewhat incoherent, the course notes on Judaism and Islam include the statements: “Islam too is by nature political, and it has as its temporal goal the subjection of the world to the truth or law as revealed to Mohammed,” and (with regard to Islamic monotheism) “that means that for them there is only one truth and thus only one embodiment of truth in law and society.”

3. Teaching about Religion

3(a) Hibernia College should not be teaching the subject of religion in accordance with the doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church. The course notes assume either that all students are Catholics, or that it acceptable to discriminate against students who are not Catholics.

  • The course notes are presented entirely from a Roman Catholic perspective. The College’s Grade Moderator or Lead Tutor in the subject of Religion is Father Vincent Twomey, professor emeritus of moral theology at St Patrick’s College Maynooth. He also wrote the course notes for the module on Atheism.
  • The course notes on lesson 2 about the New Testament, Slide 13 on reading the Bible, explicitly state: “As Catholic educators, it is essential to remember that the Spirit that inspired the writing, collection and passing on of the Scriptures is the same Spirit that inspires our reading of them. So, always use the rule of thumb provided by St Augustine: ‘If our reading of the Scriptures does not help us to love God and love our neighbour then we are reading them incorrectly’.”
  • The course notes include short disparaging caricatures of other religions, presented as if they were serious examinations of those religions. For example, “Hinduism indices fatalism, (thus) the outcasts must accept their lot at the bottom of the social and economic pile,” and “fundamentalist Mohammedans have set their goal on world domination by force.”

3(b) Hibernia College should be teaching students, who will themselves become teachers, how to teach the subject of Religion in an objective, critical and pluralistic manner, as recommended by the Irish Human Rights Commission, in accordance with the Toledo Guiding Principles and judgments of the European Court of Human Rights.

  • The Toledo Guiding Principles are based on human rights law. On page 68 (State neutrality and opt out rights – State Competences on Education vis-a-vis the Rights of Parents) it says that the State must take sufficient care that the information and knowledge included in the curriculum is conveyed in an objective, critical and pluralistic manner.
  • The European Convention obliges the State to respect the right of parents to ensure that the education and teaching of their children is “in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions” (Article 2 of Protocol 1). The ECHR has stated that the secular viewpoint is worthy of respect in a democratic society, and must be regarded as a “philosophical conviction” within the meaning of the Convention.
  • The European Court of Human Rights has said this obligation on the State: (a) presupposes that the parents’ choice between public and private education be respected, and also that teaching be neutral; and (b) is binding upon the State in the exercise of “each and every” function that it undertakes in the sphere of education and teaching. The State cannot absolve itself from responsibility by delegating its obligations to private bodies or individuals. The State must provide itself with the means of efficiently establishing and punishing violations.

4. Equality Law and Policy

4(a) The Equal Status Act 2000 states that it is illegal for an educational establishment, whether or not supported by public funds, to discriminate in relation to any term or condition of participation in the establishment by a student on the grounds of religion.

  • Section 7(1) and (2) of the Act state that it is illegal for an educational establishment, whether or not supported by public funds, to discriminate in relation to any term or condition of participation in the establishment by a student.
  • Section 3(1) and (2) of the Act state that discrimination shall be taken to occur where a person is treated less favourably than another person is, has been or would be treated, on the grounds that that one has a different religious belief from the other, or that one has a religious belief and the other has not.
  • Section 7(3) provides some exemptions where where the establishment is an institution established for the purpose of providing training to ministers of religion, or where the objective of the school is to provide education in an environment which promotes certain religious values. Neither of these exemptions apply to Hibernia College.

4(b) The teaching of Religion in Hibernia College contravenes the College’s own Equal Opportunities Policy, as described in the College’s 2010 Quality Assurance Manual:

  • Hibernia College is committed to equal opportunities and endeavours to provide a work environment and access to study that promotes dignity and respect for, and from, all individuals and groups.
  • The College aims to remove and prevent direct and indirect discrimination, by individuals or College policies and procedures, on the basis of gender, marital or family status, sexual orientation, religious belief, age, disability, race or membership of the Traveller Community. College policies, practices and procedures do and will continue to treat people on the basis of their ability.
  • The College will continue to review its’ policies and procedures to ensure continued compliance with relevant legislation.
  • The implementation of the Equal Opportunities Policy remains the responsibility of the Executive Vice President. However, all managers are responsible for effective implementation and adherence to the procedure in their team.
  • Notwithstanding the above responsibilities, each individual employee and every student is accountable for her/his behaviour and for following the procedures associated with Equal Opportunities.
  • In order to raise awareness and in an attempt to ensure compliance, the College will draw the Equal Opportunities Policy to the attention of all employees, students and applicants.
  • The same Equal Opportunities values and practices are expected of any external partner / body with whom the College works.
  • Communication, be it electronic, written, spoken or otherwise, which may cause offence to particular groups of employees, students and members of society is not permitted.
  • Any practice deemed to be discriminatory to an individual or group on the grounds of gender, marital or family status, sexual orientation, religious belief, age, disability, race or membership of the Traveller Community may result in disciplinary action.

5. What we are Requesting

We are asking you to please let us know what you are empowered to do, and what you intend to do, to address the concerns we have raised in this letter.

We have sent this request to Hibernia College; The Minister for Education and the Department of Education; the Higher Education and Training Awards Council; the Teaching Council; the Irish National Teachers Organisation; the Union of Students in Ireland; and selected politicians with an interest or responsibility in this area.

We have already raised the matter with two Council of Europe delegations who are in Dublin this week monitoring Ireland’s record in protecting human rights. They are the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI), and the Advisory Committee for the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (FCNM).

Specifically we are seeking the following outcomes:

We request that the untrue statements about atheism and the defamatory allegations about atheists be immediately removed from the course notes and examinations, before the next cohort of students begins this course. Hibernia College is currently accepting applications (deadline March 9th) for this next cohort of students.

We request that the Religion module for this course be entirely revised so that it teaches students about religion in an objective, critical and pluralistic manner, as recommended by the Irish Human Rights Commission, in accordance with the Toledo Guiding Principles and judgments of the European Court of Human Rights.

We are willing to assist in this by providing accurate information about atheism and atheists.

Yours sincerely,

 

Michael Nugent
Chairperson
Atheist Ireland

Be Sociable, Share!
Atheist Ireland

37 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Bipedalhumanoid February 28, 2012

    Bravo. It’s no wonder these lies are so frequently regurgitated in the Irish media if this is what the people entrusted to teach our children are themselves being taught as fact.

    I wonder if this could be seen as incitement to hatred in Ireland. I’d be willing to bet the parts about Hinduism and Islam would be even if atheists don’t receive the same protections.

  2. Avatar
    Ciaran MacAoidh February 28, 2012

    Bip, I spoke to the relevant Garda station (Pearce St., Dublin) who said I was welcome to make a complaint. They also said that in their experience incitement cases were usually only taken seriously by the DPP for anti-semitism and other more prominent stuff. I think there was an element of fobbing off as he said I’d have to go in once to set a date to make a statement and then go back on that date. I live in Leitrim and it wouldn’t really be practical. Anyone else up for it? The above letter would be a solid basis.

  3. Avatar
    Andrew Robinson February 28, 2012

    Very elegantly put, painstakingly pointed, inescapably challenging. You deserve a result.

    If atheism is a religion, vegetarians just eat different animals.

    My submission (as Recumbentman) to a discussion thread.

  4. Avatar
    Jon Pierson February 28, 2012

    The Defamation Act, 2009, states:

    Publication or utterance of blasphemous matter.

    36.— (1) A person who publishes or utters blasphemous matter shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable upon conviction on indictment to a fine not exceeding €25,000.

    (2) For the purposes of this section, a person publishes or utters blasphemous matter if—

    (a) he or she publishes or utters matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion, and

    (b) he or she intends, by the publication or utterance of the matter concerned, to cause such outrage.

    (3) It shall be a defence to proceedings for an offence under this section for the defendant to prove that a reasonable person would find genuine literary, artistic, political, scientific, or academic value in the matter to which the offence relates.

    (4) In this section “ religion ” does not include an organisation or cult—

    (a) the principal object of which is the making of profit, or

    (b) that employs oppressive psychological manipulation—

    (i) of its followers, or

    (ii) for the purpose of gaining new followers.

    Seizure of copies of blasphemous statements.

    37.— (1) Where a person is convicted of an offence under section 36 , the court may issue a warrant—

    (a) authorising any member of the Garda Síochána to enter (if necessary by the use of reasonable force) at all reasonable times any premises (including a dwelling) at which he or she has reasonable grounds for believing that copies of the statement to which the offence related are to be found, and to search those premises and seize and remove all copies of the statement found therein,

    (b) directing the seizure and removal by any member of the Garda Síochána of all copies of the statement to which the offence related that are in the possession of any person,

    (c) specifying the manner in which copies so seized and removed shall be detained and stored by the Garda Síochána.

    (2) A member of the Garda Síochána may—

    (a) enter and search any premises,

    (b) seize, remove and detain any copy of a statement to which an offence under section 36 relates found therein or in the possession of any person,

    in accordance with a warrant under subsection (1).

    (3) Upon final judgment being given in proceedings for an offence under section 36 , anything seized and removed under subsection (2) shall be disposed of in accordance with such directions as the court may give upon an application by a member of the Garda Síochána in that behalf.

    I, genuinely, find the material not only published but actually taught as fact by Hibernia College, to be grossly abusive and insulting to me, as an atheist, and it outrageous that such material should not only be published but propagated by the college clearly in order that it be taught as fact in Irish primary schools. It is beyond any belief that this material could be considered as anything other than outrageous to atheists, Hindus and Muslims and that, therefore, must have been the intention.

    If atheism were a religion, atheists would be able to request that the Garda Síochána take action against the College but, since the State is closely allied to the Roman Catholic Church, atheists have no such rights.

    However, the Prohibition of Incitement To Hatred Act, 1989 has this to say:

    Actions likely to stir up hatred.

    2.—(1) It shall be an offence for a person—

    (a) to publish or distribute written material,

    (b) to use words, behave or display written material—

    (i) in any place other than inside a private residence, or

    (ii) inside a private residence so that the words, behaviour or material are heard or seen by persons outside the residence,

    or

    (c) to distribute, show or play a recording of visual images or sounds,

    if the written material, words, behaviour, visual images or sounds, as the case may be, are threatening, abusive or insulting and are intended or, having regard to all the circumstances, are likely to stir up hatred.

    (2) (a) In proceedings for an offence under subsection (1), if the accused person is not shown to have intended to stir up hatred, it shall be a defence for him to prove that he was not aware of the content of the material or recording concerned and did not suspect, and had no reason to suspect, that the material or recording was threatening, abusive or insulting.

    (b) In proceedings for an offence under subsection (1) (b), it shall be a defence for the accused person—

    (i) to prove that he was inside a private residence at the relevant time and had no reason to believe that the words, behaviour or material concerned would be heard or seen by a person outside the residence, or

    (ii) if he is not shown to have intended to stir up hatred, to prove that he did not intend the words, behaviour or material concerned to be, and was not aware that they might be, threatening, abusive or insulting.

    (3) In this section “private residence” means any structure (including a tent, caravan, vehicle, vessel or other temporary or moveable structure) or part of such a structure used as a dwelling but does not include any part not so used or any part in which a public meeting is being held; and in this definition “public meeting” means a meeting at which the public are entitled to be present, on payment or otherwise and as of right or by virtue of an express or implied permission.

    It is clear that the material published by Hibernia College, and intended to be propagated by its students in primary schools, is abusive and insulting to atheists and atheism and is clearly likely to stir up hatred towards atheists, let alone Hindus and Muslims.

    Jon Pierson, LLB(Hons)(Irish Law)

  5. Avatar
    Paula February 28, 2012

    Gosh, I have no words to describe my response except the proverbial jaw dropping.

    Brilliantly expressed as usual and, once again, thank you for speaking on our behalf.

  6. Avatar
    Paul Moloney February 28, 2012

    Congrats to Atheist Ireland and Mick Nugent for following this up in such a precise and detailed manner.

    As for going the legal route, I would strongly advise against this. I’m a freedom of speech absolutist, only excluding _direct_ incitement to violenc. Such legislation should be used only as the final recourse and only in the case where hatred and violence are being stirred up, rather than genuine criticism. Such legislation could easily be directed at the non-religious for our strong criticisms of religion and it also risk making a free speech martyr out of the likes of Twomey. Don’t give the Iona Institute yet more grist for their mill.

    P.

  7. Avatar
    Elaine Gaughran February 28, 2012

    I’m utterly shocked, I thought we were more excepting than that.

  8. Avatar
    Steve February 28, 2012

    Don’t forget the Franco regime is space and several of the military juntas in South America. All supported by the Vatican in return for promoting Catholicism as the state religion and enforcing its teachings in schools

  9. Avatar
    Jason Hardy February 28, 2012

    Good job Michael, great article.

    Sad to see the abuse of positions of authority and responsibility is still alive and well though. Maybe it’s just a case of waiting another generation or two whilst chipping away at the infection, as you’re doing so eloquently.

    On the subject of aetheism is/isn’t a religion, i’m sitting on the fence. I’m an aetheist I suppose, I fit the one criteria for being one ie I don’t believe in the existance of any gods. My wife is also an aetheist (same reason), but she’s more active about it, goes to meetings, talks, is a member of online societies etc, reads lots of books on the subject, refused to do Religious Studies in school, and get ready to duck if someone mentions “God” at a party. In that respect I’d say that aetheism, for her, is a lot closer to a “religion” than it is for me.

    So perhaps the definition of religion (and aetheism) needs to be reworked and put into a more modern context.

    Couple of definitions I’ve found while googling that could include aetheism as a religion; but take everything with a pinch of salt, cos statistics (and definitions) are usually subjective and can prove just about anything ;)

    Religion: a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons

    Religion: A cause, principle, or activity pursued with zeal or conscientious devotion.

  10. Avatar
    Joe Harte February 29, 2012

    The good news is that after all the effort, this insinuation is having zero effect on the old attitudes, except that we now get a free pass. I had the leader of a gang of 12 to 14 year olds shout across the street at me,
    “What religion are you”?
    I replied, “None”.
    He called, “Are you an atheist, then”?
    I replied, “Short answer, yes”
    He said, “You’re alright so”.
    I was curious and shouted back, “Why did you ask”?
    The reply – “If you were a Protestant you’d have had the shit kicked out of you”.

    How confused is that attitude?

  11. Avatar
    mick February 29, 2012

    Bloody hell… twomey may as well have taken those notes from the creation science institute website. To be honest I’m flabbergasted. This is supposedly 2012!

    He also seemed to gloss over the fact that St. Augustine was also a perfectly normal homosexual man
    .

  12. Avatar
    Bipedalhumanoid February 29, 2012

    @Jason Hardy

    If that’s your definition of a religion then I guess you’d refer to every lobby group, sporting club and association of any kind as religions too.

  13. Avatar
    Atheist Ireland February 29, 2012

    Atheist Ireland will be meeting with Hibernia College on Friday to discuss the content of their religion course.

  14. Avatar
    KarenG February 29, 2012

    As intolerant and contrary to the ethos of a supposedly inclusive college as this is, I wonder about the actual teaching of the course itself. I’d imagine that the college’s view of atheists isn’t a last minute shock to students in the course of sitting their exams. Hasn’t this view been encountered by the diploma students during the lectures that they’ve attended and through any course material handed out? Is it known if the college actively teaches these views too? How does it deal with atheist students? Are atheist students subjected to any form of negativity or discrimination from the management or staff of the college? If these views are taught during the course of the diploma, has any student ever questioned them? I’m just curious as to how this has suddenly become an issue due to a question on an exam. How has this not been brought to anyone’s attention prior to this? Surely in the years that this diploma has been taught at least one atheist student has encountered the college’s views on atheist. Do students, theist and atheist alike, not have the capability of challenging the college on their curriculum? Has at least one person stood up and challenged a lecturer? As interested as I am in how the college replies I’d also be fascinated to hear of ‘on the ground’ accounts of anyone (if any) who challenged the college on its teachings. Has the college a student’s union? Has it been aware of the official college views regarding atheists? What have they done? There really are so many more questions that need to be asked. If this had been happening in one of the bigger colleges around the country I am confident that this would have been picked up and dealt with by the student body until they were satisfied that the teaching of this view on atheism was stopped.

  15. Avatar
    Jason Hardy February 29, 2012

    @Bipedalhumanoid

    yep, that’s kinda my point, sorry if it wasn’t clear.

    Certain definitions of religion could include aetheism purely on the grounds of a “follower” being active in the community and/or merely being involved with other like-minded people.

    ..so maybe we need to better define religion and aetheism to fit with the modern context, and once and for all remove the possibility of others defining aetheism as a religion.

  16. Avatar
    Bipedalhumanoid February 29, 2012

    @Jason Hardy

    The only people I have ever met who use the definition for religion that you have given, are those who are clutching at straws in an attempt to categorise atheism as a religion.

    Perhaps try just using the mainstream definitions of religion that everyone else is already using.

  17. Avatar
    Ryan February 29, 2012

    What hypocrisy. The atheists want the Blasphemy Laws repealed so that they have the freedom to insult religions and/or religious people to their heart’s content. They do that anyway, usually in the most abusive terms. But, let religious people attack atheism and/or atheists, and they go running to the Gardai, witness that Bishop up in Donegal and now this. So, if atheists say that ‘religion has caused lots of suffering and wars’, their right to say that is sacrosanct. But, if religious people say that ‘atheism has caused lots of suffering and wars’, all hell breaks loose and the Gardai and the courts are called in to prevent them saying it. Sauce for the goose, sauce for the gander.

  18. Avatar
    Keith Harris February 29, 2012

    This is on a parallel with social brainwashing.

  19. Avatar
    Jamie Donnelly March 01, 2012

    Ryan,

    Nobody wants to ban freedom of speech. I will defend the right of the citizen to speak his or her mind, even if it is bigoted drivel intended to slander atheism. I find it offensive, but I tolerate offensive opinions. What I do not tolerate is the teaching of this nonsense in Irish educational institutions. Among other things it’s an abuse of educational responsibility to teach students this outrageous misrepresentation of atheism as if it were a fact.

    Please consider this example; creationists are free to deny science and history all they want and insist that the Earth was created ten thousand years ago, but I acknowledge their right to voice that opinion; I don’t however acknowledge their right to enter our education system and teach it to school children as if it’s a fact. To do so would be fundamentally irresponsible, not to mention a gross insult to academic integrity.

    If you think that example’s extreme, would you tolerate an educational institution slandering the name of feminism by running lecture slides claiming it’s fascistic, sexist and violent? A few isolated feminists fit this description, but it doesn’t make the claim any less outrageous to teach in an educational institution.

  20. Avatar
    Kevin March 01, 2012

    I’m a Catholic and a secularist (if you can believe that !!). I find it embarrassing that this kind of stuff is thought in a modern classroom, never mind at third level. I think, however, your letter loses the high ground as soon as you start referring to Stalin’s attendance of a seminary school, the crusades and the inquisition. In reality all of the wars and atrocities mentioned by Hibernia and yourselves are more complex than simple religious belief or lack thereof.

    Also although I haven’t read a huge amount of your material I have read some and your group defending Hinduism, Islam and Judaism (while correct in your arguments) against insult and glib interpretation rings a little false for me.

    Perhaps we’d all be better off setting up a group called Secular Ireland where we can all pursue secular goals without the need to insult the belief systems of others. Something tells me, however, that for the majority of your members that would be as appealing as it would be for the writer of the Hibernia syllabus

  21. Avatar
    Fergus Hannigan March 02, 2012

    Kevin, I’m with you on campaigning for a secular Ireland and I suspect that all my atheist friends, whether members of Atheist Ireland or not, would find that appealing.

    By the way, how do you insult a ‘belief system’?

  22. Avatar
    Kevin March 02, 2012

    Fergus, the header for this group’s website states “Atheist Ireland: building a rational, ethical and secular….” (this part I’m all for). It’s the next line where you lose me and the anti-theism becomes apparent “society free from superstition and supernaturalism”. This tells me two things about Atheist Ireland; that you believe that a society cannot be rational, ethical and secular while individual members of that society follow a religion and that your stated aim is to convert others to atheism (this would surely be the only way a society could be free of superstition and supernaturalism).

    In terms of how you insult a belief system this can be achieved in several ways. By ridiculing the beliefs of others or the concept of religion through satire (the flying spaghetti monster appears among the websites posts a number of times), by promoting a purely negative view of religion (the True Believer posts would be an example ) and by providing glib and disingenuous interpretations of religious beliefs in order to belittle those beliefs (like carrying out mock experiments on Cracker Bread to belittle Catholic belief in the Eucharist, referring to Jesus as Zombie etc.) just like Hibernian College have with their teachings regarding Hinduism , Islam and Judaism .

    I don’t feel the need to denigrate the beliefs of others in order to be comfortable with worldview. Members of this group and lecturers at Hibernia apparently do.

    But my main question is this, if this group’s only goal is the separation of the state and religion and not the complete removal of religion from society and conversion of all to atheism then why is it called Atheist Ireland and not Secular Ireland

  23. Avatar
    Kevin March 02, 2012

    Fergus, the header for this group’s website states “Atheist Ireland: building a rational, ethical and secular….” (this part I’m all for). It’s the next line where you lose me and the anti-theism becomes apparent “society free from superstition and supernaturalism”. This tells me two things about Atheist Ireland; that you believe that a society cannot be rational, ethical and secular while individual members of that society follow a religion and that your stated aim is to convert others to atheism (this would surely be the only way a society could be free of superstition and supernaturalism).

    In terms of how you insult a belief system this can be achieved in several ways. By ridiculing the beliefs of others or the concept of religion through satire (the flying spaghetti monster appears among the websites posts a number of times), by promoting a purely negative view of religion (the True Believer posts would be an example ) and by providing glib and disingenuous interpretations of religious beliefs in order to belittle those beliefs (like carrying out mock experiments on Cracker Bread to belittle Catholic belief in the Eucharist, referring to Jesus as Zombie etc.) just like Hibernian College have with their teachings regarding Hinduism , Islam and Judaism .

    I don’t feel the need to denigrate the beliefs of others in order to be comfortable with worldview. Members of this group and lecturers at Hibernia apparently do.

    But my main question is this, if this group’s only goal is the separation of the state and religion and not the complete removal of religion from society and conversion of all to atheism then why is it called Atheist Ireland and not Secular Ireland

  24. Avatar
    Atheist Ireland March 02, 2012

    Kevin, as you say, it is not our only goal to separate church and state. It is also our goal to promote atheism and reason. What separation of church and state does is to provide a neutral background in which people as citizens can promote either religion or atheism or apathy or whatever they want.

    It is quite reasonable for religious or atheist citizens to mock and ridicule atheism or religion if they wish. That is an outcome of freedom of expression. It is not reasonable for the State to engage in this behavior, either directly or through approving state education curriculums that do this.

    We had a long debate about what name to call ourselves, and we decided on Atheist Ireland for various reasons. One was that a group called Atheist Ireland can promote both atheism and secularism, while a group called Secular Ireland could only promote secularism but not also atheism.

  25. Avatar
    David Curtis March 03, 2012

    I was trained as a primary-school teacher in Australia, and religion was not included in the course, as it was not a part of the school-curriculum. Once a week, schools invited representatives of local churches to teach children for an hour. The children’s parents had the right to withdraw their children, if they wished, in which case the children had written work to do, supervised by members of staff. I was not involved at all, and even the most religious of the staff were not allowed, by law, to teach religion at any other time. I expected the same situation when I began teaching in England, and was shocked to find that I had the duty to teach my classes religion, even though I was an unbeliever, in other words, an atheist. Australia does not suffer from religious divisions, unlike Ireland, which permits children to be divided from one another through the state education system. When will Ireland realise the harm it is doing?

  26. Avatar
    Alan Rogers March 04, 2012

    From Adolph’s own mouth! Does he sound like an atheist?
    “My feeling as a Christian points me to my Lord and Saviour as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded by only a few followers, recognised these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them and who, God’s truth! was greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter. In boundless love as a Christian and as a man I read through the passage which tells us how the Lord at last rose in His might and seized the scourge to drive out the of the Temple the brood of vipers and adders. How terrific was His fight for the world against the Jewish poison. Today, after two thousand years, with deepest emotion I recognise more profoundly than ever before – the fact that it was for this that He had to shed His blood upon the Cross. As a Christian I have no duty to allow myself to be cheated, but a duty to be a fighter for truth and justice. And as a man I have the duty to see to it that human society does not suffer the same catastrophic collapse as did the civilisation of the ancient world some two thousand years ago – a civilisation which was driven to its ruin through this same Jewish people.”
    Adolf Hitler, speech of 12th April 1922, Munich. From Norman H. Baynes (ed) The Speeches of Adolf Hitler, April 1922 – August 1939 (2 vols., Oxford, Oxford University Press. 1942 Vol. 1 pp19-20)

  27. Avatar
    Trotta Pasquale March 05, 2012

    Pity That Hitler was Chatolic Christian, pity that he exterminated jews cause they killed ‘his god’, pity that john paul II° met him and gave him his benediction; pity that SS motto was “gott mit uns” that means “god is with us”; pity of all the historical evidences about the like between roman chatolics and hitler.
    The only things religions do is to to ALTER HISTORY to not pay for the pain they dealt to the whole world.
    Militant muslim blows themself up on tanks; militant christians put bombs in subways like the one in Oslo; militant atheists like Dawkins make debates and talk.

    Now tell me who’s the ‘evil’. fools.

  28. Avatar
    Kevin March 05, 2012

    Thanks for the honest response AI and congratulations on your progress with Hibernia.

    While I agree with you on the importance of freedom of expression and recognise the difference between expressing something as an opinion on the internet and promoting an opinion as fact in a government sponsored education system, I’m not sure I would agree that to, as a group, ridicule the beliefs of others is reasonable. I’ve no doubt that others will say that the Catholic Church engage in the same behaviour and I agree (although I do feel that this is slowly changing).

    In the end over simplistic debates and historical allegations like I see on the pages of your site or on religion related news stories on other sites serve no one. I’d be highly surprised if either side ever really converted someone on the other to their way of thinking. In the end these debates are only neccessary for people who want to have their worldview reinforced by like minded people or to feel that they’ve won the argument. It’s never really about change for the better and to me does very little other than sow divisions. I think that religious and non-religious groups probably share more common ground than is allowed for. Unfortunately (and despite victories for pluralism like yours with Hibernia) all I see is the divisiveness growing.

  29. Avatar
    Bipedalhumanoid March 12, 2012

    @Kevin

    “I’d be highly surprised if either side ever really converted someone on the other to their way of thinking.”

    Ridicule is a powerful weapon against irrationality, especially where the ridicule is backed by evidence, reason and presented in reductio ad absurdum form.

    You can deduce from the fact that the non-believing population is a minority that is growing at an accellerating rate, that the majority of new atheists have religious influences from childhood and grew up in social structures where the majority of people believe in a god.

    If nobody is ever convinced by argument and debate, where did all these atheists come from? And why has that growth rate increased so much since the sudden existence of books, newspaper articles and online materials, which focus on arguments against religious belief, over the past decade?

    I’ve personally changed my position on a wide variety of topics after evaluating new evidence and considering new arguments. I know a lot of others who have also done this. It’s simply a product of having the courage and intellectual honesty to challenge your understanding of reality.

    I accept that there are people out there whose cherished religious beliefs are more important to them than gaining an actual understanding of reality and their relationship to the universe. I accept that those people will stubbornly stick to their religious beliefs regardless of argument and evidence. But not everyone falls into that category. If we all did, there would be no atheists and atheists would certaintly not be growing in number.

    Perhaps your defeatest attitude towards de-conversion says a lot more about the way you think than anything else?

  30. Avatar
    Kevin March 12, 2012

    Thanks for your reply Bipedalhumanoid

    I can see from your response (and your previous responses to Jason) that you do indeed approve of ridicule as a method of debate given the number of insinuations that as someone with religious beliefs I am incapable of either intellectual honesty or critical thinking and that I have no interest in furthering my understanding of the universe/reality.

    I’ll talk about those insinuations later but to answer your question regarding the apparent increase in the number of atheists there are a number of ways this could be explained. The reduced political power of religion in western cultures has allowed people to more freely express their own beliefs/non-beliefs. Concerns regarding things such as apparently religious inspired terrorism, attempts to teach creationism in US schools as fact or increased exposure to the radical beliefs of others though the growth of the internet could lead atheists to become more vocal in their opposition to religion and therefore more visible. Increased discussion in books, newspapers and on the internet represents a zeitgeist not necessarily “de-conversion” (that’s not a word by the way and is just something you are using to frame religion as the negative state or to imply we are all brainwashed cult members).

    In relation to your implication that because I believe in a deity I am either not capable of or just unwilling to accept evidence in general is ridiculous. I am just as eager as any atheist to understand the universe. This is just your attempt to conflate atheism with science or the scientific method. Just like you I have changed my position on plenty of subjects based on new evidence or reviewing arguments for an opposing view. As far as I am aware, however, there is no evidence against the existence of God. That said, simple absence of proof is not why I believe in God.

    That’s where we come to reasoning and critical thinking. In order to show you how reasoning and a belief in God can be reconciled let me explain to you some of the reasons why I believe in God. There are a number of factors in how the universe is constructed that lead me to believe that it has been rigged with the result that it is suitable for the existence of life. Some examples are the perfect balance of energy of the expansion of the universe and gravitational forces after the big bang (essentially the universe would have collapsed upon itself or alternatively would not be capable of producing galaxies, stars, planets had the ratio of balance deviated much from the 1 to 10 to the power of 59 that was present), the manner in which heavier elements took a much longer period of time to be produced and the special nature of the carbon nucleus (so necessary for the production of life as we know it). There a few other numbers that if altered even slightly would make the universe unsuitable to life (I haven’t read it but I believe there is a book called Just Six Numbers that covers them).

    If atheists alone can be intellectually honest or curious about the nature of reality then perhaps you will have no problem examining what it is you believe about the origins of the universe. Perhaps you will say you just don’t know and that it doesn’t really matter in which case you’ve somewhat lost the high-ground on the pursuit of understanding (perhaps your defeatist attitude towards it says more about the way you think than anything else). Alternatively you might go with some of the other available theories such as an infinity of big bangs producing universes with different constants that would eventually lead to a perfectly constructed (for life at least) universe , a multiverse or a combination of both? If you do accept one of these theories then how is your reasoning any more critical than mine? All of these theories are just as contrary to Occam’s Razor as the one I hold to. I personally choose not to see myself as a cosmic accident, a mediocrity in a universe and multiverse filled with mediocrities. If you follow through the “scientifically” (this is in brackets only because neither side of the argument is more scientific than the other) accepted thinking on the origins of the universe then you do see yourself as such. This is not to say that because I choose to believe something that it is therefore true but is to say that you are no more of a critical thinker or intellectually honest for having your belief than I am for having mine.

    But again, my argument was never that you should believe what I believe only that you do more damage than good to society by going beyond the pursuit of secularism and in to ridicule because you alienate moderates and strengthen extremists.

  31. Avatar
    bipedalhumanoid March 14, 2012

    “given the number of insinuations that as someone with religious beliefs I am incapable of either intellectual honesty or critical thinking and that I have no interest in furthering my understanding of the universe/reality”

    Your logic here is quite flawed. No such insinuation can be deduced from anything I said.

    It does not follow that, because a person can make the journey from religious to non-religious by harnessing the aforementioned values, that a person who does not make the journey cannot possess such qualities.

    I own a car and I use it to drive to Galway. By your logic, when I arrive in at my destination I should conclude that all the people who are not there don’t own cars.

    Personally, I’ve never come across a convincing argument or any kind of valid evidence supporting belief in the supernatural. But I haven’t heard every argument in existence and therefore won’t conclude that one doesn’t exist. It follows therefore that, while I am not familiar with any reason or evidence based path to belief in the supernatural, which utilises critical thinking and intellectual honesty, my claim that there is such a path to atheism does not in any way preclude the possibility of such a path leading to supernatural religious belief. It also doesn’t preclude the possibility of there being great religious critical thinkers who suspend their critical thought when contemplating their religion.

    “regarding the apparent increase in the number of atheists there are a number of ways this could be explained. The reduced political power of religion in western cultures has allowed people to more freely express their own beliefs/non-beliefs. Concerns regarding things such as apparently religious inspired terrorism, attempts to teach creationism in US schools as fact or increased exposure to the radical beliefs of others though the growth of the internet could lead atheists to become more vocal in their opposition to religion and therefore more visible.”

    You’ve basically just paraphrased what I said in my previous post. There is debate taking place all over the media and as a result the “non-religious” is the fastest growing religious grouping. How do you marry this with your original claim that people are NOT convinced by such arguments? There’s an apparent contradiction.

    “Increased discussion in books, newspapers and on the internet represents a zeitgeist not necessarily “de-conversion” (that’s not a word by the way and is just something you are using to frame religion as the negative state or to imply we are all brainwashed cult members).”

    Unless you think babies can be born with religious beliefs installed, the act of converting a child to a religion is a conversion. The act of removing the religious beliefs is an act on reverting to the original state, prior to indoctrination… a de-conversion. Words come into existence through popular use. I just googled “de-conversion” and found 265 million results. You have no right or authority to declare that, a word verifiably used 265 million times by your fellow English speakers, is not a word. To do so demonstrates a lack of understanding of how human languages develop and evolve.

    “As far as I am aware, however, there is no evidence against the existence of God. That said, simple absence of proof is not why I believe in God.”

    You cannot disprove that I am a typing tortoise-like reptilian alien with gold slippers and red hat. It’s the lack of evidence that leads you to think it is not worth your contemplation.
    To make a claim and insist that others should have to disprove your claim is called “burden of proof fallacy”. To reject a claim on the basis of a lack of evidence is called “critical thinking”.

    “let me explain to you some of the reasons why I believe in God. There are a number of factors in how the universe is constructed…”

    So you’ve been convinced by the Fine Tuned Universe argument. Are you a Deist? Because that’s as far as that argument gets you. Ignoring all of the objections and counter-arguments for the fine tuning argument for a moment, this argument goes nowhere beyond suggesting that an intelligent being created the universe. It offers no traction at all to the idea of a personal god who answers prayers, creates miracles and sends his son to earth to be tortured for the sins of a metaphorical couple in the book of genesis.

    “perhaps you will have no problem examining what it is you believe about the origins of the universe.”

    Not at all, I am utterly fascinated by cosmology. It’s my favourite topic of all time.

    “Perhaps you will say you just don’t know”

    Yes I will. Because I don’t know and it would be intellectually dishonest of me to claim to know something I don’t know. There are a number of fascinating cosmological hypotheses and speculative theories. Some are more elegant than others and I enjoy reading the latest thoughts on the topic.

    “and that it doesn’t really matter in which case you’ve somewhat lost the high-ground on the pursuit of understanding”

    That’s where you lose me. Being honest about what I know about the topic does NOT suggest that it “doesn’t really matter” to me. It matters a great deal. I simply have the maturity to accept that something I really want to know about the universe is at present, unknown and will probably still not be known at the end of my life. It also doesn’t prevent me from searching for answers and exploring the various proposed explanations.

    “Alternatively you might go with some of the other available theories such as an infinity of big bangs producing universes with different constants that would eventually lead to a perfectly constructed (for life at least) universe , a multiverse or a combination of both? If you do accept one of these theories then how is your reasoning any more critical than mine?”

    It’s more critical than yours because I acknowledge the lack of evidence and declare that the jury is out. I find each hypothesis convincing to various degrees. I judge all of them from the perspective of Occam’s razor and fully accept that there is a fair probability that none of them are correct.
    Fecund universe theory is my favourite, if you want to pick one out of the bunch. But I don’t accept it as fact or believe it as truth.

    “All of these theories are just as contrary to Occam’s Razor as the one I hold to. ”

    I disagree entirely. The god hypothesis invokes a necessarily complex, intelligent entity to “explain” the existence of the universe. The others invoke tiny simple substances and explain mechanistically how they come together to create the larger complex universe. From the perspective of Occam’s razor, the former is a complex explanation that makes an enormous assumption (the eternal existence of an intelligent supernatural being); the latter are simple explanations that make a much smaller assumption (either the eternal existence of matter an energy or the spontaneous creation of matter and/or energy).

    But that’s not even the biggest problem with the god hypothesis. It’s an unsatisfactory hypothesis because it actually explains nothing. It simply regresses the problem back one level and leaves you with the problem of explaining the creator.
    It always seems to be just one being for some reason too. Why just one? Why not an entire civilisation of them capable of reproducing? Seems like monotheistic chauvinism to me.

    “I personally choose not to see myself as a cosmic accident, a mediocrity in a universe and multiverse filled with mediocrities. If you follow through the “scientifically” (this is in brackets only because neither side of the argument is more scientific than the other) accepted thinking on the origins of the universe then you do see yourself as such. This is not to say that because I choose to believe something that it is therefore true but is to say that you are no more of a critical thinker or intellectually honest for having your belief than I am for having mine.”

    This is nothing more than appeal to consequences fallacy. Just because an explanation has consequences that you personally find to be unpalatable, doesn’t make it untrue. In any case, the unpalatability you describe is purely down to your own perception, one that is probably largely influenced by the culture in which you were raised.
    I have a different perspective. For me to be here, I had to win the lottery about a billion times in a row. To be part of the first species we know of that can actually ask questions about its own origin, is utterly dumbfounding. To be amongst the first few members of that species to have some of the answers to some of the questions is incredible. I am extremely lucky and very grateful to be here. I only have one life and I want to make the most of it and I acknowledge that most of the people who have ever had the potential to exist don’t, didn’t and never will.
    I am a tiny spec in a massive universe, made up of 400 billion galaxies, each containing 200 billion stars. As humbling as that fact is, humbling and mind blowing and serves only to make me want to make the most of my life.
    Not everyone has to believe there are fairies at the bottom of the garden in order to enjoy the beauty of the flowers.