Debate at Sydney University, 14 September 2017
I would like to thank the organisers for the invitation to participate in this debate. I believe in free speech and I am always hopeful that an exchange of views can be productive. I am an atheist and a secularist. It has been suggested to me by some colleagues, that I should not participate in this debate on the grounds that I will help publicise extremist Islamic views. However, I participate because I see it as an opportunity to refute and discredit these views. I will do my best to do so.
The particular concern that people on my side have is the support of
Hizb ut-Tahrir for the policy of killing apostates from Islam. I know many
ex-Muslims who live in fear. Some of our associates are from Bangladesh
and have been personally affected by this policy. They have had friends
and loved ones hacked to death in Dhakar because they were apostates. They
did nothing more than criticise Islam in a way I am about to do. A relative
of mine, Robert Thwaites, was killed in the Bali bombing. I would like
to call for a momentís silence in remembrance of these victims of Islamist
As I understand it, the Islamist policy on apostates derives from the Hadith, and not the Koran. I call on my opponents to renounce this policy.
Before moving to the topic of the debate I would like to say something of where we in the Secular Party are coming from. As secularists, we are not in favour of banning any religion. We are in favour of banning any government support for any religion. As atheists, we do not believe in any supernatural beings because there is no evidence of any such beings.
I do not have any animosity towards Muslims. I respect our debate opponents as advocates for their cause. Islam however, is entirely based on false premises. And, it is not just false, but thoroughly bad. Islam is an immense cause of human suffering. Those who suffer most are Muslims.
I recognise also that Muslims suffer victimisation in our society. It is this sorry state of our society that I hope to address. Islamists are a threat, but Muslims are welcome. It is a hard distinction for many to make. But I make it. It is common to suggest that anyone who criticises Islam is a racist. I am not. I hope my opponents will not use this tactic in this debate.
Does science disprove God? Lets take it part by part. What is science? What is disproof? What is God?
Science is knowledge about the natural world achieved by the application of reason and evidence. This knowledge is not fixed. It is ever growing. Not everything can be proven or disproven. Often itís a matter of the balance of evidence. In the entire history of the universe as we know it, no evidence has ever been found for the existence of any god. Throughout history, gods have been used as explanations for things we do not understand, for example, thunder and lightning. These were knowledge gaps. The god required to fill these gaps has shrunk into non-existence. Science does not need, nor benefit, from the God hypothesis.
Proof is a logical process. A proposition can be true or false. Something can either exist or not exist. An event either happened or did not happen. Sometimes the evidence is conclusive, sometimes not. Proving non-existence is harder than existence. For those who claim the existence of a God, the onus is on them to prove it. Some claim there is no such thing as truth. This is relativism. It is sham and a fraud. It should be banished from academia, where unfortunately, it is rife.
What is God? The question of whether gods exist and whether religions are true, are different questions. Most believers make the logical jump: God exists, therefore Islam is true. Or God exists therefore Christianity is true. Why is it always just their religion that is true? Your religion. It is an arrogant assumption. If religion was race, that would be racist.
In fact, even if Gods did exist, religions would still be false. This is because religious beliefs are based on known scientific fallacies, and are premised on past events, assumed to be historical, but a known to be purely mythical or fabricated. If religions were true, they would not be religions.
God is just a concept in peopleís minds. In that sense, gods exist. But each person has a different concept of god. So we need to look at the religion to see what the concept of god is, that is supposed to exist.
The traditional concept is that god is a creator, all powerful, omnipotent. God also knows everything, even your thoughts. God is also kind and compassionate. In Koranic terms, Allah is Powerful, Wise and Merciful. So the wonderful superman in the sky, God, must have these three properties.
But then we have the problem of evil. In so called Acts of God, such as hurricanes and earthquakes, innocent babies are killed. If Allah knows about this but allows it to happen he is not Merciful. If he would like to prevent it but canít, he is not Powerful. If he would stop it, and could, but does not know about it, he is not Wise.
So in these three required attributes, the most God can score is two out of three. We do not need to refer to any of the great philosophers, the cosmic scientists who have refuted the concept of god. We just need the ability to count up to three. The god of the Torah, the Bible and the Koran is logically impossible.
Of course you can say that it is impossible for humans to understand God. What you really mean is that you cannot understand why you believe in an impossible God.
Since we cannot really separate gods from the claims of religions, I want to focus on the nature of the religion of Islam, because that is the most relevant question here. What can science tell us about the claims of religions? In particular what can archaeology tell us about the myths and legends of which people hold to be actually true, and on which all of the claims of the religion depend?
Islam was derived from Christianity, which in turn was derived from Judaism. This is obvious from the texts, and it is acknowledged, because each claims to supersede the other.
Abraham is mentioned in the Koran 79 times and Moses 136 times. So the Koran is dependent on Judaic myth. Archaeology tells us that there was no historical Abraham, and that the Exodus of Jews from Egypt, led by Moses, did not happen. These were simply made up stories, designed to give justification to the ancient Israelites claim to title to their so called Promised Land. The consequences of this ancient political ploy are unfortunately all too real today.
That is not the only persistent ancient conflict. The so called clash of civilisations, centuries old but all too virulent today, is the modern equivalent of the conflict between the legacy of the Roman empire, Christianity, and the legacy of the Persian empire, in cooperation the Arabs, Islam. Religious people, the majority of the population unfortunately, are oblivious to the extent to which these ancient myths motivate conflict. The concept of a monotheistic god is the worst idea that the human mind has ever invented.
Islam is the religion for which this is most clear, and most apparent. What we see in the world today is what Maajid Nawaz has described as a global jihadist insurgency. Not only is this motivated by a form of mass delusion, but the fact that the religion is motivating it, is also denied. Thus we have the ludicrous situation where both Muslims and non-Muslims alike, come together and proclaim that "Islam is a religion of peace".
But we can read the Koran, we can read the biography of the Prophet. We can read that the Koran calls for jihad, and the killing of infidels. We can read in the biography that the Prophet engaged in mass beheadings and had a six year old wife. The Islamic State is scrupulous to justify all its actions with quotations from scripture. How can we possibly pretend that Islamic violence has nothing to do with Islam?
Of course people think it is better to maintain the pretence for the sake of community relations. But people can see through this fiction. The hypocrisy is destabilising politics and driving people toward loony right wing parties. The psychological dysfunction of the cognitive dissonance of religions is making us susceptible to fake news. Now, truth can be anything you want it to be. Religions are the original fake news.
I have a certain sympathy with my opponents in Huzb ut-Tahrir. They are only trying to do what their religion says they should do. But they reject democracy and they reject universal human rights. If not then please let us hear their declaration. We need to acknowledge that the Islamist ideology that seeks to impose Islamic law on everyone is not something we can accept. What can we do?
The solution, in a post-truth world, is to reverse this trend. We must respect truth. Truth matters. It exists. All human progress has been achieved in the quest to find it. We cannot abandon this quest.
In the formation of Islam, what is the truth? The evidence from archaeology, from piecing together documents from various independent sources suggest that what happened was nothing like what we hear from the traditional Islamic sources. The legend of the warrior Prophet, who came from Mecca, emigrated to Medina, where he gathered supported to his new religion, launched an insurgency against Mecca, and was eventually victorious, is fiction, not fact.
The Koran was originally a Christian text, used liturgically in religious services. It was translated into Arabic from Syrian Aramaic. It did not come from Mecca but from further north, near Palestine. The Arabs in the 7th century were Christian, and gained their independence from the Byzantines in Constantinople in the year 622. After the fall of the Persian dynasty, Zoroastrianism was abandoned and the Persians adopted Christianity as the state religion. After the death of the Byzantine emperor Heraclius in 641, the Persians and Arabs formed an alliance and built an empire.
They adopted a stridently anti-Trinitarian form of Christianity in which they denied that Jesus was the son of God. They wrote on numerous coins and inscriptions "There is no god but god and Jesus is his Prophet". This form of religion was not transformed into what we now recognise as Islam until about two hundred years after the life of the legendary Prophet.
This is the truth so far as current historical research, based on scientific methods, not religious dogma, can best determine it. So all the conflict base on a literal belief in the truth of the ancient texts is utterly pointless. Only when this is accepted will conflict be resolved.
What can we do now?
Politically we need to protect the rights of children and protect their freedom of thought and conscience. Children are our future. Let them develop critical and creative thinking, without the imposition of any religion. We must stop religious instruction in schools. We must stop funding religion in schools. All forms of religious indoctrination in schools must be abolished.
Hizb ut-Tahrir is a political party that wants to impose Islam on everyone. We are also a political party. The Secular Party wants everyone to be free from having a concept of God imposed on them. What type of future do you prefer?