Is Ireland Abandoning Religion?

A headline in today’s Belfast Telegraph announces: ‘Republic of Ireland Abandoning Religion Faster than almost any other Country.’

Breda Heffernan and Colm Kelpie report on an international poll conducted by Red C, which found that:

An overwhelming 69% of Irish people declared themselves to be “a religious person” in the last survey conducted in 2005, but this has now plummeted to 47%.

According to the data, only Vietnam is experiencing a faster drop in religiosity than the Republic. The Red C poll is based on interviews with more than 51,000 people worldwide, including 1,000 respondents in the Republic.

The Telegraph article attributes much of this recent decline to the impact of the child sexual abuse scandals in the Irish Catholic Church, which is one plausible explanation.

There’s nothing surprising about this poll, as it confirms the findings of a series of recent polls that have charted the decline of the Irish Catholic Church. While the Red C poll measured how many people identified themselves as ‘religious,’ other polls have asked Irish people about their feelings on some of the specific teachings of the Catholic Church.

If decline can be fairly measured by people’s disagreement with particular church teachings or disillusionment with the ‘institutional’ church, the decline is steep indeed.

For example, in February, a survey carried out by market research group Amarach on behalf of the Association of Catholic Priests (a group often considered at odds with the hierarchy, and which includes priests like Redemporist Tony Flannery, who has been ‘silenced’ by the Vatican), found that the Irish public did not agree with the Catholic hierarchy on issues including married priests, women priests, the election and term of office of bishops, and attitudes towards homosexuality.

In March, the Moncrieff Show on Newstalk 106-108 FM surveyed Ireland’s Catholic priests on a variety of issues, finding that 61% of priests feel that the hierarchy doesn’t understand the challenges they face, 63% thought that the church has handled the abuse scandals poorly, 60% thought women should be allowed to become priests, and 78% thought priests should be allowed to marry.

In November 2010,  a study by the Social Attitude and Policy Research Group at Trinity College Dublin revealed that most Irish Catholic women think that their church does not treat them with respect. A stunning 74% of Catholic women said that the Church did not treat them with “a lot of respect” compared to just 6.3% of Protestant women. 

In addition to that, previous sociological studies have shown that Ireland has been secularizing at a faster rate than other countries in Europe. For example, an article by Susie Donnelly and Tom Inglis, ‘The Media and the Catholic Church in Ireland: Reporting Clerical Child Sex Abuse,’ published in 2010 in the Journal of Contemporary Religion (volume 25, issue 1, January 2010, pp. 1-19), compared trends in what they call ‘personal religiosity’ and trends in ‘institutional religiosity.’

Personal religiosity (or ‘spirituality’) was calculated on the basis of answers to these questions: do you believe in God? Do you believe in life after death? Do you believe in heaven? Do you believe in hell? Do you believe in sin?

Institutional religiosity was calculated on the basis of answers to questions about church attendance and trust in the church.

Donnelly and Inglis found that personal religiosity in Ireland stayed relatively stable over the time period, but that institutional religiosity declined sharply. They write:

‘…regardless of spirituality, Irish people’s trust in the church declined significantly during the 1990s. This is the first time that we can observe a dimension of Irish religiosity dropping below the level of religiosity in Italy and Spain. In short, by 1999, Ireland had, on average, the lowest levels of trust in the church than any of the other Catholic European countries examined.’ (p. 12)

Interestingly, all this data was gathered between 1981 and 1999, before the more recent Ferns, Ryan and Murphy Reports caused further damage to the church.

Other sociological research by Eric Kaufmann has noted that in Western Europe, majority Catholic countries are currently ‘secularizing’ at a faster rate than majority Protestant countries – with Ireland (late to secularize compared to other European countries) now again seeming to lead the way.

So what does this all mean for religion in the Republic?

One easy answer could be that secularization is now irreversible, and that people are turning to atheism. For example, the Belfast Telegraph article reports that the Red C poll also reveals that:

the Republic is now in the top 10 for the number of people declaring themselves to be “a convinced atheist”.

My own research for the Irish School of Ecumenics in Trinity College Dublin lends some support to the growing strength and visibility of atheism. In our 2010 surveys of faith, atheists responded disproportionately to their numbers in the overall population, with many saying that they felt that their perspective was excluded from the public sphere.

I think it’s more likely that the Republic will follow a trend evident in the United States, where trust in ‘institutional’ religions is plummeting, but people are increasingly engaging in alternative church/religious/spiritual networks and institutions.

Again, my own research is documenting this process in Ireland, through research on how people have found room for their faith to grow through what I call ‘extra-institutional’ spaces such as:

These extra-institutional religious spaces are perceived as (relatively) free from the corruptions of the institutional church, and they are places where people can experience hope, healing and personal growth.

Because the Catholic Church has had such a monopoly on ‘institutional’ religion in the Republic, I think the process of people engaging in alternative or extra-institutional networks will take longer to happen there than it has in the United States, where a religious ‘free market’ has for generations been a seed bed for innovative expressions of religion.


  • Greenflag

    We can only hope that the current trend continues not just with the RC church but with all religions including the more recent imported varieties

    The sooner the Irish people turn their collective backs to religion the better for everybody .BTW I’m not suggesting that vaccuous consumerism or shopping is an alternative .

    ‘Because the Catholic Church has had such a monopoly on ‘institutional’ religion in the Republic, I think the process of people engaging in alternative or extra-institutional networks will take longer to happen there than it has in the United States, where a religious ‘free market’ has for generations been a seed bed for innovative expressions of religion.’

    Probably true .The US has had a ‘free market ‘ in religious services and market branding of same since the Puritans landed at Plymouth Rock . This has now in many cases degenerated into thousands of ‘Prosperity Churches ‘ which are offshoots of the red claw financial services capitalism which has destroyed the US economy and others over the past couple of decades. Christians may like to believe that Jesus cast the moneylenders from the Temple . Modern day ‘prosperity christians ‘ print pictures of Jesus the Prosperous on ten dollar bank notes and hand them out while proselytising.

    It’s probably normal for people who have been formerly part of an all encompassing religious faith such as Catholicism to turn elsewhere when they lose faith in their institution . Ironically I’ve just been watching historian Niall Ferguson’s ‘Civilisation’ on DVD where he comments on the western world’s six killer applications which gave the west the advantage over the rest of the world in terms of economic domination at least up to recent times .Worth a look and from a religious perspective the last episode is probably most relevant.

    Interestingly he brings up his take on one reason for the ‘death ‘ of religion in developed Europe as compared to it’s vigorous survival in the USA . And that reason is one you have hit on above when you noted ‘free competition ‘ for religions in the USA . Europe’s religious history is one of State domination from the Vatican to the Queen’s headship of the Church of England . Even in modern Germany -the RC Church and the Lutherans all take ‘collections ‘ directly from peoples pay packets via automatic deductions -a move initiated by Hitler as part of his ‘persuasion ‘ of the then Church organisations not to rock the boat .

    More surprisingly Ferguson (an atheist ) sees the revival of evangelical forms of Protestantism in former Communist China as part of westernisation in modern times and even makes the pint that there are now more practising Christians in China today than in Western Europe iirc the figure of 45 million was mentioned.

    Whats interesting for Ireland is not just the lack of trust in ‘religious ‘institutions but also a growing lack of trust in political and financial institutions also . The USA is going through a similar phase but the sheer vastness of the country and as you say the multiplicity of religious denominations makes any kind of focus much more difficult than in Ireland .

    Of course if the relative ‘success’ of religion in the USA is deemed to be due to ‘competition ‘ as Ferguson observes then it’s branding denomination successes are due to marketing and salesmanship .

    So ‘religion’ is just another commodity then -packaged and shelved complete with shining white teethed evangelists raking in the dosh from millions of hooked suckers .
    But then since the age of 15 I’ve never believed anything else anyway . In western societies shopping may be the new opium of the people and in fast catching up China ‘religion ‘ has become the new opium to inoculate against the dark side of the new consumerism and to prevent a relapse into the even darker past of totalitarian communism .

    Meanwhile the western world looks forward to a new age of ‘indentured servitude ‘ where the rich become ever richer -the middling classes are emisserated and the poorest are marginalised beyond hope of redemption not just in any fanciful post death heaven but in their only ever existence on the here and now earth . .

    O brave new world etc !

  • HeinzGuderian

    Let’s hope so !

  • tacapall

    About time too, hopefully it spreads to this part of Ireland.

  • Greenflag

    Just one other point re the thread

    ‘A stunning 74% of Catholic women said that the Church did not treat them with “a lot of respect” compared to just 6.3% of Protestant women. ‘

    I’m presuming this paragraph means that the RC Church treats Protestant women with a lot of respect or does it refer to treatment by Protestant churches ? I imagine that in some of the smaller Protestant ‘denominations ‘ women are viewed as respectfully if not less so than in the RC Church . The only way to look at the treatment of ‘women ‘ by the RC Church is they serve as a source for cheap labour (housekeeping) , cheap teachers (nuns) and administrators .
    If Irish and European nuns were endowed with black skin instead of white they could probably take the RC hierarchy in Ireland to the European Court and sue them for millions .

    Perhaps some of them should !

  • BluesJazz

    If all Atheists were to leave the USA, that would constitute 93% of the National Academy of Sciences, but less than 0.3% of the prison population.

  • BluesJazz

    As a follow up, obviously education is a key factor:

    Just the facts….

  • This survey is flawed because the word ‘religious’ has all sorts of suggestive connotations and not everyone who could be so characterized would readily self-identify as such. I can just imagine many of my co-parishioners asking themselves, ‘Religious? Oh no, not me. I just go to Mass and pray the Rosary’.

    It would have been more meaningful if the survey has asked whether the individual practices a faith, if he/she believes in God or an afterlife, and if he/she prays regularly, etc.

  • Greenflag: “If Irish and European nuns were endowed with black skin instead of white they could probably take the RC hierarchy in Ireland to the European Court and sue them for millions”

    The case would be thrown out. No one is forcing them to be a nun. Since the Second Vatican Council many thousands of nuns in the west have left their convents and pursued secular careers. Those who haven’t already done so presumably prefer to remain where they are. Indeed I suspect the prospect of an austere and frugal lifestyle is partly what attracts a certain type of individual to a convent.

    Incidentally male religious also take a vow of poverty, it’s not specific to women.

  • Furthermore to that last comment, the idea of nuns suing the Irish Catholic hierarchy is odd because while nuns are spiritually subject to their local bishop (like any Catholic) the religious orders are not corporately connected to the diocese. What could be imprecisely described as the ‘Catholic Church in Ireland’ is not an institution in itself but 188 seperate institutions.

  • BluesJazz

    shane, and Gladys Ganiel.
    The point is….whatever magic soup you buy in the spiritual supermarket, it’s all evidence free, chicken soup for the new age soul.
    Flapdoodle as the nobel physicist Richard Feyman called it.
    You can buy ‘personal growth’ from snake oil salesmen like Deepak Chopra and Eckart Toll off the shelf, but placebos are what they are. Science has blown apart the mystic cauldron and only the arcane social rituals are left as a form of common heritage. Wotan and Zeus will soon have new companions in mythology.
    There’s always Tom Cruise and Mitt Romney to add to the shelves in the meantime.

  • Mister_Joe

    I’m not in the least religious although I have a sense of spirituality, believing that all living things are somehow connected.
    Religious differences have led to terrible destruction but, at the same time, religious beliefs do bring a lot of mental comfort to millions or billions of people. They are entitled to that and should not be derided for it.

  • BluesJazz

    believing that all living things are somehow connected.

    They are, on the ‘pale blue dot’, it’s called evolution.

    But if Americans, or Irish, or Iranian or Pastafarian ‘believers’ wish to tread a different path than reality, as long as they do no harm to those outside their families.

  • BluesJazz

    In his book Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space, astronomer Carl Sagan related his thoughts on a deeper meaning of the photograph:

    From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it’s different. Consider again that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

    The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity – in all this vastness – there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. The Earth is the only world known, so far, to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, the Earth is where we make our stand. It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.

    Anyone want to contradict that statement?
    Anyone want to contradict

  • Greenflag

    @shane ,

    ‘Incidentally male religious also take a vow of poverty, it’s not specific to women.’

    Funny you should say that .I seem to remember priests and bishops generally as being well covered in the avoirdupois rankings and also very well housed and having fully maintenanced cars to take them hither and yon not to mention the ‘free ‘housekeeping services and then there was the added luxury of an overseas dalliance a la Bishop Casey among others .

    Stop lying to yourself .While there were no doubt a few ascetic monks in Mountmellory and in other locations I bet you never met a hungry monk or a thin bishop or a cleric who had’nt instant access to a decent malt whisky .

    ‘ What could be imprecisely described as the ‘Catholic Church in Ireland’ is not an institution in itself but 188 seperate institutions.’

    Which is of course a convenience for all sorts of skullduggery , passing the buck or kicking the can down the road and keeping the people in the dark . I wonder who set up that particular organisational structure and with what particular purpose in mind ? Skimming the flock/sheep and hiding the dosh from the authorities no doubt would have been high on the priority list . Who now recalls the Cardinal found hanging under a London Bridge at the time of the Vatican Bank “D’Ambrosiano scandal ?

    We’ll pass on Bishop Casey’s 70,000 euros theft from his Galway congregations to help pay for his mistress in America and their child . There have been so many other cases since then and many a whole lot worse that it beggars belief that any sane person with an IQ of 100 could be persuaded to maintain their faith in the RC institution from the papacy down to the local parish priest or cleric.

    I’m sure there are and were many decent priests and men of the cloth of all denominations out there but in the final analysis they are all ‘heaven ‘ magicians who used to bring some comfort to a lot of people who needed it to make sense of a world which made no sense and where those with economic and political power and religious authority could do almost as they pleased with little chance of being held accountable either in law or by government .

    Thankfully those days are passing and not fast enough for most of us .

  • Mister_Joe

    Friar Tuck was skinny, wasn’t he? hehehe

  • Greenflag

    @ blues jazz ,

    Good old Sagan an awful shame the man died so young. Your quotes of this cosmic visionary should remind us all that we owe our short existences not to an imaginary heaven magician but to a 3.5 billion nay 13.7 billion years chain of events which had one link in that chain been skewed in another direction would have resulted in the Earth not being populated by self aware human beings but by other life forms which could live and die as species for tens of millions of years without any need for ‘intelligence’.

    99.1 % of all species which ever existed on the Earth have become extinct . That will probably be the fate of Homo Sapiens also . Ironically it may be our so called ‘intelligence ‘ which pulls the plug on our species time on Earth . .Homo Sapiens has been around for 170,000 years at most ..Australopithecus was around for a million years and Homo Erectus for another million years but then those hominoid species were never 7 billion in numbers nor did they eject into the atmosphere carbon emissions in the amount that modern man does.

    We have perhaps a century to fix the world ‘political ‘ and economic development /standard of living and environmental protection conundrums and contradictions . And they can only be implemented by a world authority which is supported by all the major economies and trading nations .

    So like it or not ‘humanity’ is being forced to come together as a species to ensure our mutual survival . Impossible ? No but also given the innate and irresponsible greed and power hunger of national and international elites around the globe not by any means an easy task.

  • terence patrick hewett

    The Catholic Church has survived Hitler, Napoleon and the Borgias and it will survive this part of its history too. I see no reason to abandon my faith just because the church is in trouble.

  • “I seem to remember priests and bishops generally as being well covered in the avoirdupois rankings and also very well housed”

    That’s because the vast majority of priests are NOT religious, they have not taken religious vows. Secular priests (priests who haven’t taken religious vows) get paid about €15000 annually, depending on the diocese. There are no jobs that require 7 years of training and instant availability all round the clock only for the person to end up on such a meagre salary. No sane person in Ireland today would enter priesthood for the money, that’s for sure!

    The rest of your post is rather ranting and doesn’t seem relevant to my comment, which maintained that nuns wouldn’t sue bishops because religious orders are corporations independent of dioceses. That’s not a ‘convenience’, it’s fundemental to the Church’s constitution.

    BTW I have no problem with people criticizing the Catholic Church, but I expect such criticisms to be informed. I don’t that’s unreasonable.

  • Mister_Joe

    ..7 years of training..

    Is that what they call indoctrination these days? But as I said earlier, if they do provide some measure of comfort to people, and I’m sure many of them do, nothing wrong with that. With the exception of providing birth control “advice/counselling”.

  • andnowwhat

    I remember in the late 80’s we has a priest come to St John’s, Falls Road and I saw in him all that I though a priest should be, all that the church should be. He was humble, funny, sharp as a tack and could talk to each person as if they were the only one in the universe.

    Previously, he had been in my cousins’ parish in Carirck and they told me how loved he was there but they also told me that he had lived as a hermit in the Glens for many years. I hears that he went back to his previous life in the Glens after he was moved.

    The vatican has been a rich powerhouse since it was founded, with many riches but I don’t think it ever held the hearts of Catholics among them. The true faith is contained in the priest I mentioned and those many who are so like him and in those who don’t look to bricks and mortar nor gold and gowns for their faith and express what they believe best by simple, seemingly insignificant actions of love towards others.

  • JoeBryce

    Ireland was partitioned because of the fear, which was probably substantially justified, held by unionists of the role the Vatican would play. Home Rule was Rome Rule, after all. If that factor is evaporating, then so too does the fear. If, 40 or 50 years ago, unionists had demanded an Irish constitution formally separating church and state as the price for national reconciliation, they would have been wasting their breath. Today, the demand is worth broaching.

  • Greenflag

    @ t.p hewett,

    ‘The Catholic Church has survived Hitler’

    True which is a better result than 6 million Jews and tens of millions of ‘others’. In fact the RC Church benefitted financially from Hitler as di the German Lutheran Church . It was Hitler’s government which passed the State Church tax which mandated that all Germans would pay 10% of their tax deductions to their Church be it RC or Lutheran . Instant and problem free revenue stream for the Churches and they did’nt make it easy for ordinary Germans to exempt themselves from this forced tithe . Even today while it has become easier to exempt oneself the Churches use every trick in the book to keep even those who have never entered a church in their lives on the ‘revenue ‘ books .

    ‘ I see no reason to abandon my faith just because the church is in trouble.’

    I was’nt suggesting you should . I can’t prove there is a God or there is no God .

    I gave up whatever faith I had long before the current bout of church scandal, hypocrisy and criminality .

    Not that I doubt in the least the huge contribution ‘religion’ has made over the centuries to human development , art , culture and even the sciences and the ‘restraining ‘ effect it sometimes had on the temporal powers that were and still are . They (religion) has also initiated human misery on a near genocidal scale with the Crusades , Thirty Years War , Rise of Islam etc etc etc .Even the small island of Ireland has had it’s bloody wars ‘justified’ by those holding the ‘right’ religion.

    Time to move on and beyond belief in any heaven magician .

  • Greenflag

    @ shane ,

    Seven years training to believe in something that doesn’t exist or can’t be proven to exist ? Brilliant . I’ll believe in the Sun for now .At least I know that if it ceases to exist the life expectancy of every living creature on Earth bar perhaps a few bacteria -will be 8 minutes .

    ‘nuns wouldn’t sue bishops because religious orders are corporations independent of dioceses’

    Next you’ll be quoting Mitt Romney that ‘corporations ‘ are people too . Strange then that no corporations ended up being paedophiled or abused by church clergy then eh?

    I’m not an ‘expert’ on the RC Constitution like your good self . But all the Constitutional guff matters a damn when placed against the criminality of the RC church which has been exposed these past years .

    Good luck to you now and may your God go with you as the man said !

  • Greenflag

    @ Joe Bryce ,

    ‘Ireland was partitioned because of the fear, which was probably substantially justified, held by unionists of the role the Vatican would play. Home Rule was Rome Rule, after all. ‘

    Well at least we can say in retrospect /hindsight that the then Unionists got at least something right .

    Although that ‘fear’ would have been a very real one at the time I suspect that ‘economics ‘ would have played a greater role in the decision of ‘Unionists ‘ to remain outside any Irish Free State even under Home Rule .

    Today I read that Mr Blair is fearful that if there is a referendum on the EU that the British people/peoples will vote to exit the EU .

    The good news is at least they won’t have to go to war to leave like the Irish did while under the Crown .

    And yes it could all have been avoided had common sense ruled but then it never does apart from brief periods. More often than not some lunatic crazed power mad politician clings fast to the greasy pole and before sliding into obscurity or being pulled off manages to somehow wipe out thousands or millions of lives as he/she exits the stage 🙁

  • Greenflag you don’t actually deal with my points and yet again you go off on a rant. I don’t care whether the 7 years spent in formation meets your approval or not. It’s still a significant chunk of someone’s life and the pay earned afterwards does not in any way reward it adequately. Which goes back to my point: priests are poorly paid vis a vis other professions, despite what you have claimed.

    Furthermore while the extent of the sex scandals have been hugely exaggerated by the media (since 1948, 12 Dublin priests have been convicted of criminal sexual activity with minors) they don’t actually impinge on the claims of the Catholic Church at all. Nowhere does the Catholic Church claim high moral standards for its clergy – that is simply a red herring that has been invented by a religiously illiterate media. Even if all priests were genocidal murderers, it wouldn’t impinge on Catholic doctrine at all. Priests and bishops are simply human beings, whether they are moral or not is totally irrelevant to whether or not Catholicism is a true religion, because it stands independently of them.

    You admit to being ignorant of Catholicism, which was hardly necessary because it is so painfully obvious. You seem incapable of responding to my arguments, so it seems pointless attempting to engage with you any further.

  • BluesJazz
  • Mister_Joe
  • Greenflag

    @ shane,

    ‘Priests and bishops are simply human beings,’

    I’ve never suggested otherwise -I take that as a given -The same applies to politicians , lawyers , moneylenders , bankers and hospital consultants , loyalist extremists and republican dissidents .

    You have uncommonly strong powers of observation apparently and deserve full marks for the bleeding obvious .

    ‘Even if all priests were genocidal murderers, it wouldn’t impinge on Catholic doctrine at all. ‘

    And this you believe ? Quite obviously ‘doctrine ‘ or should I say ‘ideology’ is obviously more important to your way of thinking than actual human life . So there’s no difference between your particular mind set than that of a nazi or white supremacist or totalitarian communist or fascist or born again dumbo evangelist .

    Doctrine uber alles then ? Sorry mate I don’t buy it and neither does an increasing majority of Irish people and others worldwide.

    I did not admit to being ignorant of Catholicism . I admitted to being ignorant of it’s institutional constitution and it’s hierarchical organisation and how it’s structured . I was after all baptised , and confirmed before I decided that that ideology was not one I could believe in . I’m not keen on any ideology religious or political and certainly very skeptical of any claims that the one true religion or political doctrine has been found !

    I’d suggest if you are a theologian or one who takes his religion seriously it is pointless engaging with me any further on this matter .

    In the name of the Father and the Son and into the Hole you will go mate as I will and that’s it -no comebacks -nothing . So just be kind to your friends while in the swamp because every duck is somebody’s mother , father , brother or sister and life is short .

  • Greenflag

    @ mister joe ,/bluesjazz

    Surely being Belfast that must be Gerry Adams no :)?

  • terence patrick hewett


    It may be instructive to consider why atheist thought appears to be resolutely buried in the 19th century. The atheist world is a world that is described by the Classical Physics of Isaac Newton (Principia Mathematica 1687), the equations of James Maxwell (A Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism 1873) and Charles Darwin (On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection 1859). These ideas, their precursors, their extrapolations and their interpretations have been repeatedly turned over during the last 120 years by such luminaries as Wells, Huxley, Chesterton, Belloc and many, many others. Although both Newton and Maxwell are mathematically derived, they and Darwin may be easily understood by the non-mathematical given a bit of perseverance; Newton can be understood by using readily observed everyday phenomena. They are all empirically deduced and accepted. That is, until the apple cart was well and truly upset by Albert Einstein’s theories of Special Relativity (1905) and General Relativity (1915). To add insult to injury, a pair of corner boys called Erwin Schrödinger and Niels Bohr proceeded to smash up the cart and kick everything into the ditch. The implications of Relativity which deals with the extremely large, and Quantum Physics which deals with the sub-atomic, are unlike Classical Mechanics, and not easily understood. To us, who exist in a world proscribed by Classical Physics, they are counter-intuitive and are only really understood in mathematical terms. We enter strange, sometimes multi-dimensional worlds where gravity, mass and time do odd things or may not exist at all; we have to question the very nature of time itself. Interestingly it is religion, whose stock in trade is the contemplation of the infinite, who have adapted most readily to this. Atheism has chosen either to misinterpret or in the case of Quantum Physics to ignore it. All it has produced is Moral Relativism, a misinterpretation of Relativity which distressed Einstein intensely; regretfully Darwin is similarly being misapplied. Justifying the existence or the non-existence of God is not the business of science; physicists, if they think about it at all, simply regard it all as not proven. However they would be dishonest if they didn’t admit that the ultimate objective is to know all there is to know; in other words, to know the mind of God (literally or figuratively). The sum of human knowledge so far, is a grain of sand in a desert of sand; and given that Quantum Mechanics, Classical Mechanics and Relativity do not equate with each other, everything is up for grabs. Darwin gives no explanation of Quantum Physics but Quantum Physics is starting to explain Darwin; Google “why does matter exist” and have a jolly good time. The survival of the human race demands we keep our eyes firmly on the Cosmos, and atheism although a perfectly respectable intellectual position, (although Huxley maintains that only for agnosticism), is notable for its low expectations of humanity and the poverty of its ambitions.

  • terence patrick hewett

    @ andnowwhat

    You have described exactly how I feel: the strength of the church or of humanity is at its most humble and in the expression of charity; christian love.

  • carl marks

    terence patrick hewett.
    atheism although a perfectly respectable intellectual position, (although Huxley maintains that only for agnosticism), is notable for its low expectations of humanity and the poverty of its ambitions.

    Strange how the facts don’t back up your rather contrived argument,
    “If all Atheists were to leave the USA, that would constitute 93% of the National Academy of Sciences, but less than 0.3% of the prison population.”
    the vast majority of Scientists (you know the type trying to find out the secrets of the universe) are atheist hardly an indicator of low expectations or lack of ambition.
    the vast majority of criminals are theists, doesn’t point towards belief in god making you more Humane or ambitious.
    And a quick glimpse at history either over the centuries or very recently in our own country would lead a wise man to mistrust any argument that proposed that a belief in god makes a person or group of people more moral or ethical than a nonbeliever.

  • salgado

    carl – indeed. It could be argued that looking to explain the world through something other than religion is in fact the more ambitious and more rigorous path.

  • carl marks

    It is the more difficult task as proof is needed for a scientific theory to be accepted, and also a means of testing a theory must be presented and it must pass this test every time.
    As a result science can be described as the search for truth.
    Religion or indeed a belief in any or many gods only requires faith and as such is impossible to prove or disprove, thus you can pretty much make it up as you go along, it doesn’t have to make sense, chaining the swings on a Sunday, women made by god to serve man, witch trials, young earth malarkey see what I mean all nonsense but there’s people out there JUST KNOW it’s the will of god

  • salgado

    I study physics myself. I know both religious and non-religious physicists, and I am interested in why Terence thinks that atheism misinterprets, or should be troubled by, quantum mechanics. For a start, both Bohr and Schrödinger themselves were atheists, though others like Heisenberg were christian.

    I also want to pick up on this.
    “Justifying the existence or the non-existence of God is not the business of science; physicists, if they think about it at all, simply regard it all as not proven. However they would be dishonest if they didn’t admit that the ultimate objective is to know all there is to know; in other words, to know the mind of God”
    I agree that God is a non-testable hypothesis and should be avoided by science. However most people wouldn’t really think in terms of “knowing the mind of God” – if you mean we want to understand the universe then you would be right, but it’s not some hidden religious aspiration.

  • carl marks

    Yes I thought that was a bit strange, but the strangest bit was his assertion that a group of people with little or no training in science but with pet beliefs that they wish to peddle, are the ones best suited to explore the mysteries (those things as yet unknown) of existence,
    Perhaps he is right; next time i struggle understanding a mathematical problem or grasping a scientific theory I will not put it down my lack of knowledge and training (where alas I suspect it belongs) instead I will just have to accept that it is the fact that i am a atheist and as such incapable of understanding the wonders of the universe.
    Btw I realise that me lecturing a physicist on what is or isn’t a scientific theory was a bit silly but in my defence i was attempting to point out a flaw in Terrence’s argument. Sorry about that.

  • salgado

    No worries. I phrased my comment in quite an open way, elaborations on it were welcome.

    In fairness, there is currently a certain amount of room for philosophy in the interpretation of quantum mechanics. Collapsing wavefunctions doesn’t really do much beyond mathematics, the many worlds theory is pure speculation [though information from before the big band could suggest otherwise
    As someone of a more practical nature I’d wait until someone comes up with something that can be tested by experiment before I start drawing conclusions.

  • Greenflag

    @ tp hewett ,

    ‘atheism although a perfectly respectable intellectual position, is notable for its low expectations of humanity and the poverty of its ambitions.’

    That comment quoted above is a nonsense . Most of the worlds greatest physicists and scientists are and have been atheists and without their ‘ambitions’ in particular the ambition to understand this world /cosmos /matter we all of us bot religious and non religious be the poorer for it .

    Your comment above reminds me of a chapter in Isaac Asimov’s non sc fi book of essays ‘The Roving Mind ‘ in which he describes the Reagan era and before mind set on atheism. The daft belief that somehow because Atheists don’t believe in a God that they can’t be trusted etc ergo the then Russians , Chinese communists etc could’nt be trusted nor could any atheist even American atheists .

    Asimov tears this supposition to shreds by listing the innumberable number of wars between Christians and non Christians between sects of Christianity -Catholics v Protestants , Muslim v Zoroastrains and Christians -Jews v Islam and even White protestants v Black protestants . It appears that ‘trustworthiness has as much to do with one’s faith as with one’s last bowel passage !

    Traditional Christian notions of God the Creator with the hey presto with a wave of the wand it’s all there are part of many cultures and the Christian legend of the Noachian flood (now apparently a geological fact I believe shows that other side of God the Creator in God the Destroyer of his/her creations .

    We know from the scientists that in the history of life on the Earth some 3.5 billion years ago there have been 5 major mass extinctions of almost all life with the most extensive extermination being the Permian of 250 million years ago and the most recent being the 65 million years ago dinosaur extinction.

    It appears that God the Destroyer is a pretty hostile individual . One can perhaps have some understanding for his going apeshit and drowning everybody bar Noah the once but almost every living creature five times?

    Of course we would’nt be here as human beings if such mass extinctions had’nt happened so if one takes the view that we humans are God’s special creation then we have to accept that our God is the mass killer supremo of the universe .

    As for quantum mechanics and the search for dark matter etc etc the scientists continue to dig ever deeper into the mystery and from what I read they can now trace ‘universal ‘ matter back to within a few trillionths of trillionth of a second after the big bang of 13.7 billion years ago. For humans it’s unfathomable that something can be created from nothing but then we are mostly made of nothing anyway . Any human’s life is just a brief spark in the eons of time.

    ‘Darwin gives no explanation of Quantum Physics’

    Probably because Darwin passed away in the mid 19th century and Quantum Physics and Mechanics were ‘discovered ‘ only in the first decade of the 20th century .

    The universe or should I say this universe is a wondrous place and there may be other universes just as wondrous if not more so that we can never see or experience just as an ant is never going to build a jet engine .

    On a more mundane note I see a new hominoid species has now been officially added to the list of Sapiens predecessors

  • Greenflag

    @ carl marks ,

    thus you can pretty much make it(religion)up as you go along,

    And they do so much so that by the time they finish telling the last lie it doesn’t agree with the first lie 🙁

    ‘ it doesn’t have to make sense, ‘

    The more senseless the better in fact -virgin birth -transubstantiation -saved by grace alone – 72 virgins served up for devout martyrs etc etc etc

    ‘chaining the swings on a Sunday, ‘

    Children are not supposed to be happy ye see 🙁

    ‘women made by god to serve man’

    Somehow this seems to be one of the most common themes in all religions -woman as slavey and chattel .

    ‘witch trials,’

    A necessity to keep those women who are uppity in their place .

    ‘ young earth malarkey ‘

    Archbishop Usher’s begatholon numerics made fact by eejits clutching at straws 🙁

    ‘see what I mean all nonsense but there’s people out there JUST KNOW it’s the will of god’

    It’s not what you don’t know that hurts you -Its what you know that ain’t so .

  • Los Leandros

    The only accurate figures we can rely on are the census figures. The wording of the questions are less ambiguous. Guess what the recent Irish census revealed. Over 84% of people identified themselves as Roman Catholic. Aso many people identifying publicly as atheist/non-believers do so because they perceive it to be trendy & right-on. But in reality they are not intellectually convinced by atheism. For example three prominent Irish celebs.,Nuala O’Faolain, John McGahern, & Maeve Binchy, made virtual careers out of anti-Catholicism, but all chose Catholic Requiem Massses. Say’s it all !.

  • hisnibs

    Los Leandros – You accept the 84% who tick the ‘Catholic’ box on the census at face value, but reinterpret those describing themselves as atheist/non-believer as simply wishing to be trendy. I could just as easily make the arguement that many of the 84% are simply ticking the ‘Catholic’ box out of habit. I did the same myself until I realised that being baptised a Catholic meant nothing and had no further relevance. The increasingly empty churches will no doubt be reflected in a much reduced percentage in 2021, when the realisation will dawn on many that they are no longer in fact ‘Catholic’.

  • Greenflag

    ‘Say’s it all !.’

    Rubbish LL .Funeral rites and end of life rituals are there to help the grieving relatives and friends come to terms with loss.
    They may take a religious format or not . The religious obsequies be they Catholic , Protestant or any other are as much ‘cultural ‘ traditions as anything else .

    When an elderly relative passed away a couple of years back we did the Church thing including the Requiem even though said relative had’nt been anywhere near a church in 60 years except at weddings , funerals and baptisms.

    But the line was drawn at the graveside when the priest informed a closer relative that a ‘donation’ of 250 euros would be adequate for graveside final prayers . He was told not to bother attending . A family member said the ‘usual’ at the graveside and the ‘saved’ donation was sent to a charitable institution .

    As it’s Friday here’s thinking for yourself

  • Los Leandros

    Both hisnibs & greenflag avoid the facts. People complete the census forms in their own time and are asked very simple yet precise questions. There seems to be a great deal of wishful thinking ( it’s definitely not scientific ) in hoping that the census figures will be different in 2021. I would’nt count on it. In addition to it’s self-inflicted own goals, the Catholic Church has been subject to a pretty relentless media onslaught ( much of it knee-jerk & reactionary ) over the last 20/30 years, and yet the census results are as they are. In addition, many observers feel that there is going to be a gradual de-secularisation of western society ( largely demographically driven ) over the next 20 years. So those identifying as Catholic could actually increase. As for the athesit/agnostics requesting Catholic Requiem Masses, I merely state the facts. It would indicate though that they are not totally convinced by their atheist creed.

  • dwatch

    Greenflag, My dad never attended church to my knowledge for a long time, but when I requested that a Church of Ireland minister said prayers at his funeral I was requested to pay £25. Comparing asking for 250 euros for saying funeral prayers I think the priest was trying to get his arm in.

  • Greenflag

    @ dwatch,

    ‘I think the priest was trying to get his arm in.’

    Of course and in this case – failing but then how many ‘pay up ‘ the Danegeld just to avoid embarrassment etc etc .

    There were extenuating circumstances in our case in fairness . The priest who officiated at the church was in his seventies and his assistant was even older and looked very frail and bent over with age .
    To be fair the ‘younger ‘ 70+ cleric did tell the son of the deceased s couple of days before the interment that although he would say prayers at the small church inside the main entrance to the cemetry -they the ‘priests’ were no longer went to the graveside but he did know of a priest who would do that and he gave my relative the priest’s ‘business ‘card ‘ who was contacted .

    The amount quoted 250 euros might have had something to do with the fact that the funeral was scheduled for a Wednesday morning and the ‘graveside ‘ priest said he was flying to Nigeria on Friday ?

    I don’t know if such a ‘fee’ is common at all of Dublin’s cemetries and perhaps in other parishes the priests are less elderly and more numerous and can make the hike to the graveside for a more modest fee?

    ‘when I requested that a Church of Ireland minister said prayers at his funeral I was requested to pay £25. ‘

    That sounds ‘reasonable ‘ even a ‘bargain ‘ iMaybe that COI minister was a Christian ;)? and not a heaven magician ‘gouger’ and I hate to see this in the midst of Olympian afterglow -going for the gold !

  • Greenflag

    error above 🙁

    should read

    Maybe that COI minister was a Christian -and not merely a heaven magician ‘gouger’ . and I hate to say this in the midst of Olympian afterglow not going just for the gold !

  • Greenflag

    Of course the other possibility in the case above was that the local elderly clergy had ‘outsourced’ the ‘graveside’ part of their ‘jobs’ to a younger man for a referral fee . Perhaps at the time the ‘market’ for this service was’nt very competitive and thus the attempted ‘gouging ‘ ?

    Who knows ? Nothing surprises me any more when it comes to ‘religious ‘ theft or ‘financial sector ‘ theft 🙁 .

  • Los Leandros

    Greenflags postings are extraordinary & dare one say, hypocritical. They reinforce my earlier point. I’m sorry to hear about the death of his relative, but why on earth did they have a Requiem Mass, when the individual does’nt ” appear ” to have been a beliver in Catholicism. It would seem to be disrespectful to both the individual & to the Sacrament – a double whammy ; or could it be like our atheist friends. Maintaining a pretence of unbelief, but not really believing in their unbelief. There’s a lot of it about. Incidentally, I think the main function of the Requiem Mass is to pray for the soul of the deceased ; comforting the relatives is secondary, though important. Well worth the price, I would have thought.

  • Greenflag

    @ lost leandros ‘

    Why do you believe what you believe and what is it about what you believe that makes you believe it ?

    The requiem mass etc is a tradition -a cultural more thats all . Very few if any of those attending actually believe that the deceased is up there strumming his/her harp and shining his/her halo for the next billion years of the first part of eternity .

    Maintaining a pretence of belief is how the paedophiles and corrupt clerics of the RC church got away for decades with a litany of crimes against individuals in particular the poor and the weak.

    Keep on believing in the heaven magician by all means if it makes you happy . When you come up with actual evidence of an afterlife and a real live God/angel/devil / lets know . Why all the secrecy and the mumbo jumbo ?

  • Los Leandros

    Greenflag, I expected more than a puerile atheist rant to my post. The subject at hand is the intellectual inconsistency of atheists/agnostics, publicly expressing their disdain for Catholicism, but in the final analysis revealing their beliefs ( in atheism/agnosticism ) to be a fraud. I find atheism irrational/risible, so for example, it would be intellectually inconsistent/hypocritical of me to attend a lecture by Richard Dawkins. So please keep to the subject under discussion. Your belief in the atheist tooth fairy is irrelevant.

  • Greenflag

    Sad news Los Leandros -Tooth fairies don’t exist not even atheist or religious ones . Keep avoiding Mr Dawkins lectures and you’ll remain a believer in the tooth fairy and you’ll even have an explanation for those awkward moments in religion such as when God told you to sacrifice your son or that time when God disguised himself as a burning bush before talking to you or that crystal moment when your wife looked back and was turned into a pillar of salt .

    I guess if one believes in the tooth fairy then believing the above should be a doddle . I’ll continue to believe in things which have more credibility -like the Sun which I can see etc.

  • Los Leandros

    Greenflag, the tooth fairy is infinitely more believeable than the central creeds of the atheist religion. But never mind. You have scrupulously avoided the subject at hand, yet again. We’el take that as an admission of defeat.

  • Greenflag

    Atheist religion ?

    I’ll take that as an admission of denial . There is no subject at hand to avoid . As for defeet I’d stop stuffing them in your mouth or at least take your Doc Martins off before you do so .

  • Los Leandros

    Game, set and match.

  • Greenflag

    Indeed and the winner is Dave Allen

    or the more up to date and cruder George Carlin

    ‘If you could reason with religious people there would be no religious people’

    And the loser as always is the believer in the tooth fairy 😉

  • Los Leandros

    All very adolescent & irrelevant. On a more pertinent point, what do you make of Richard Dawkins & Sam Harris refusing to debate Dinesh D’Souza. He even offered to take them on simultaneously. Smacks of intellectual cowardice to me.