UNUSUALLY, THIS PARTICULAR TEST WILL ALSO INTRODUCE QUITE A LOT OF NEW INFORMATION THAT IT MAY BE USEFUL TO REFER TO IN AN EXAMINATION ANSWER, ESPECIALLY WITH RESPECT TO THE 30 MARK ‘EVALUATE’ QUESTIONS THAT REQUIRE THE CANDIDATE TO INCLUDE CROSS-REFERENCES TO THE CONTENT OF THE SYLLABUS FOR ONE OF THE OTHER PAPERS. IN OTHER WORDS, THERE IS A LOT TO TAKE IN BELOW. GOOGLE IS YOUR FRIEND FOR UNFAMILIAR NAMES, TERMS AND REFERENCES, ESPECIALLY WIKIPEDIA.
THIS TEST (AND MANY OF THE OTHERS ON THIS SITE) SHOULD ALSO BE OF SOME USE TO STUDENTS FOLLOWING OTHER ADVANCED LEVEL RELIGIOUS STUDIES COURSES.
IT CAN BE USED TO REVISE SECTION 5.1 (b) OF THE EDEXCEL PHILOSOPHY SYLLABUS ON ALTERNATIVE EXPLANATIONS FOR RELIGIOUS BELIEFS (PAPER 1) AND SECTION 4.2 OF THE CHRISTIANITY SYLLABUS (PAPER 3 4B). IT ALSO TAKES IN THE ALISTER McGRATH ANTHOLOGY EXTRACT ON DAWKINS FOR THE CHRISTIANITY SYLLABUS.
BEAR IN MIND THAT TESTS LIKE THIS ARE MEANT TO BE DIFFICULT. FOR THIS REASON THEY SHOULD BE ATTEMPTED AFTER THE AFOREMENTIONED TOPICS HAVE ALREADY BEEN CAREFULLY REVISED. HAVING SAID THAT, IT IS POSSIBLE THAT ERRORS MIGHT HAVE BEEN MADE DURING THE CREATION OF THE TEST. PLEASE USE THE CONTACT FORM TO LET ME KNOW IF YOU THINK YOU HAVE SPOTTED ONE.
THE LANGUAGE USED IN ALL BLOG POSTS AND IN THE FOLLOWING TEST HAS NOT BEEN SIMPLIFIED. THIS IS BECAUSE EXPANDING YOUR PERSONAL VOCABULARY IS IMPORTANT IF YOU WISH TO ACCESS THE HIGHER GRADES AT ADVANCED LEVEL.
FOR THE ANSWERS TO THE QUESTIONS, SCROLL DOWN TO THE END OF THIS BLOG ENTRY.
1.TRUE or FALSE? The term secularization (which can also be spelled with an ‘s’) refers to the view that religion should be opposed or restricted.
2. Which one of the following is not one of the ‘four horsemen’ of New Atheism?
a. Christopher Hitchens
b. Steven Weinberg
c. Richard Dawkins
d. Sam Harris
3. TRUE or FALSE? Christopher Hitchens is the author of the bestselling book ‘The God Delusion’.
4. TRUE or FALSE? Unofficial, ‘bootleg’ copies and translations of the writings of some of the New Atheists are widely circulated and popular in Muslim majority countries, especially The God Delusion.
5. TRUE or FALSE? Negative atheists are also known as ‘strong atheists’. Those who fall into this category typically assert that there is no God and explicitly deny the existence of supernatural beings with divine powers.
6. Which of the following is NOT one of the reasons typically given for a lack of religious belief?
a. The increasing explanatory power of science (e.g. the Big Bang theory and the theory of evolution in accounting for our origins) and scientific method (e.g. that identifies laws of cause and effect which are consistent and effectively rule out the possibility of divine intervention through miracles).
b. The evidential problem of evil which states that the existence of evil is logically incompatible with the existence of an all-powerful, all-loving God.
c. Awareness of other faiths and their competing truth claims might cause some people to conclude that these claims cancel each other out and make it more likely that they are all false.
d. An accompanying perception that if there is no God, then morality is a product of human culture and does not have its source in divine commands.
7. Which of the following is NOT a claim made by Richard Dawkins about religion?
a. Religious faith is like a virus that infects people’s minds.
b. Religious faith can also be compared to a tiny parasite (the lancet fluke) that takes over the brains of ants, causing them to climb to the tops of blades of grass, where they can more easily be eaten by grazing animals.
c. Religious people acquire beliefs that are irrational, untrue and unsupported by evidence i.e. delusional.
d. Those religious beliefs promote prejudice and violence e.g. homophobia, misogyny and terrorism.
e. Inflicting a religious upbringing on children is a form of child abuse.
8. Which of the following statements about the New Atheist account of the biological and cultural evolution of religion is factually incorrect?
a. Biological evolution has endowed us with an instinctive hypersensitive agency detector device (HADD), a tendency to be alert to threats posed by possible predators. But this device does not always work properly. The HADD nevertheless provides us with an evolutionary advantage because we get to survive even if it is triggered by mistake. As humans evolved shared communication became possible, and as a result, humans began falsely attributing agency to the weather (e.g. a drought means that the rain god is angry), and cases of good and bad fortune (e.g. my bad luck is the result of a god being displeased with me). This belief in supernatural agents is therefore a by-product of a device which is otherwise highly adaptive.
b. Dawkins additionally attributes survival value to an innate tendency on the part of children to believe whatever adults tell them. This can also reinforce false religious beliefs.
c. In other words, some tendencies to think in a certain way evolved because they conferred real benefits in terms of survival, even though the machinery sometimes misfired, producing accidental effects which made people prone to believing in gods. At no point was religion itself beneficial to individuals or groups. At no point were genes selected because individuals with religious beliefs outcompeted those who lacked them. At the level of cultural evolution, false religious ideas or memes about the role of the gods in our lives spread and became dominant, in spite of the fact that no genuine evolutionary benefits were conferred by them. Such beliefs have retained their tendency to hijack the credulous human mind right down to the present day.
d. Religious belief therefore makes people bad and is still today a primary cause of war, genocide, terrorism and the oppression of women. Hence, Dawkins asserts that if it were not for religion, good people would stick to doing good things while bad people would do bad things. Instead, religion causes good people to do bad things.
9. TRUE or FALSE? Scott Atran and Joe Heinrich have responded by arguing that religious belief does confer tangible survival benefits, arguing that a shared moral code derived from faith can bind groups together more closely e.g. if members of a group believe that a god or gods are watching them, they may be less inclined to engage in selfish behaviour that harms that group. Atran and Heinrich also cite various studies which show that religious faith causes believers to be highly altruistic towards members of their own local communities, and to donate to charity and engage in charitable work more than the least religious members of that same community.
10. TRUE or FALSE? Christopher Hitchens claims that there are moral actions committed by a believer that could not be made or uttered by a non-believer.
11. TRUE or FALSE? Dawkins’ claim that religious faith is inevitably harmful has been criticised because it is impossible to prove with evidence that this applies to any and all religions.
12. Which of the following is NOT an additional criticism that has been made of Dawkins?
a. Dawkins fails to acknowledge the positive impact that religious belief can have e.g. promoting charitable behaviour, inspiring characters like Gandhi and Martin Luther KIng Jr.
b. Dawkins fails to acknowledge the role and explanatory power of politics, economics and culture to account for things for which religion gets all the blame e.g. the rise of ISIS, FGM (Female Genital Mutilation).
c. Dawkins fails to acknowledge the positive impact that genuine religious experiences have had on major religious figures e.g. Martin Luther King Jr’s famous ‘vision in the kitchen’.
13. Which of the following is NOT a point made by Alister McGrath in response to Dawkins?
a. McGrath disagrees with Dawkins’ assertion that we cannot explain something improbable (our existence) with appeal to something even more improbable (the Big Bang followed by Evolution).
b. McGrath accuses Dawkins of being an ‘atheist fundamentalist’ and states that high quality religious education is needed to prevent children from going down a similar path to Dawkins where they end up stereotyping religious believers and caricaturing religious faith as being ‘infantile’.
c. McGrath argues that Dawkins overlooks the role that rationality has played in theology (e.g. with regard to Aquinas’s 5 Ways) and so to regard religious belief as involving blind faith is incorrect.
d. McGrath also notes that New Atheists like Dawkins have alienated atheists who are more favourably disposed towards religion.
14. TRUE or FALSE? McGrath himself might be criticised for not acknowledging the extent to which faith DOES underpin religious faith when it comes to Christian theology and belief.
15. Which of the following statements describing another criticism that has been made of the New Atheists is FALSE?
a. Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris and Dennett have arguably tended to selectively focus on unrepresentative examples e.g. religious activists who have promoted extremism and violence e.g. Salafi-Jihadist movements like al-Qaeda and ISIS and Christian organisations such as the Army of God.
b. In doing so, these New Atheists have arguably helped to fan the flames of Islamaphobia. For example, in God is not Great, Hitchens portrays Islam as being ‘analogous to a carnivorous gene complex’.
c. Statements like this caricature Islam as a hateful, destructive faith, and fuel a stereotypical, misleading impression of Muslims as being predisposed to violence and inherently opposed to democracy, liberalism, secularism and equality.
d. The problem with this kind of controversial narrative is that when it becomes influential, societies run the risk of becoming increasingly polarized. Far Right parties and militant groups may gain in strength, and ultimately it will become more difficult for people of different faiths and origins to live together.
16. TRUE or FALSE? Church attendance in Britain has been steadily declining in the UK. According to one calculation, it has decreased from six and a half million to just over three million during the period 1980 to 2015.
17. Which of the following is NOT one of the reasons given to support the claim that a process of secularization is well underway in many parts of the developed world?
a. People today are becoming less rational and individualistic and are therefore increasingly disinclined to accept religious truth claims and belief in the supernatural, both of which are increasingly regarded as being out of step with a modern world in which scientific method has the greatest explanatory power.
b. Globalization has resulted in the advent of increasingly multicultural societies that undermine the monopoly that one religion (e.g. Christianity in the case of Western Europe) formerly enjoyed. This pluralism in turn leads to competition between faiths which ultimately damages them all simply because they cannot all be true. As a consequence, religious belief itself is undermined.
c. Fewer people are attending church or other traditional places of worship.
d. The publications of New Atheist authors like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens are proving to be popular in parts of the Muslim world where their books (and translations of them) are privately circulated.
18. TRUE or FALSE? Steve Bruce denies that a process of secularization is happening in many parts of the world. He asserts that ‘…the assumption that we live in a secularized world is false. The world today….is as furiously religious as ever.’
19. Which of the following statements contains factually incorrect information in support of the claim that secularization is not occurring as a global phenomenon?
a. Church attendance in the USA is not declining, and the rise of militant or politicised forms of Islam, Hinduism and even Buddhism in many parts of the world also suggest that religion itself is not in decline.
b. Pentecostal and Charismatic forms of worship are becoming increasingly popular e.g. the Omega Course in the UK has proved to be very successful in increasing church attendance and the Jehovah’s Witnesses have been gaining many converts in South American countries.
c. Migration flows have brought religion into the heart of Europe where, for example, Muslims now constitute an important political and religious presence. Pentecostal/Charismatic movements whose origins can be traced to Africa also appear to be thriving in UK inner cities.
d. A significant minority of people are embracing what are known as New Religious Movements. Secular forms of some world faiths have also become popular e.g. Buddhism (see especially the publications of Stephen Batchelor), the Sea of Faith movement (as promoted by Don Cupitt, a former Christian minister) and Salafism (a modern form of Islam promoted by Saudi Arabia around the world).
e. Although church attendance may be in decline in many parts of Western Europe, this has not been accompanied by a corresponding increase in the number of people self-identifying as atheists. Instead, according to sociologists of religion like Paul Heelas and Grace Davie, many people still hold privately held beliefs and engage in practices that might be more broadly described as ‘spiritual’ and non-institutional rather than formally religious e.g. they might believe in God and an afterlife or meditate without formally attending a place of worship.
20. Which of the following is NOT a New Religious Movement (NRM)?
a. the New Age
c. International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) known more popularly as the Hare Krishna movement.
e. Nation of Islam
21. TRUE or FALSE? Some evangelical Christians perceive themselves to be in the vanguard of a battle against New Religious Movements as they believe these movements to be an expression of Satanic influence on the world. Curbing their popularity is part of what they see as an ongoing cosmic battle between the forces of good and evil.
22. Which of the following statements contains factually incorrect information about the reasons for disillusionment with traditional religion and religious institutions?
a. Many have come to see institutional religion as irredeemably sexist and homophobic, inherently violent (e.g. see perceptions of the teaching of jihad in Islam), as something irrational and delusional (a claim made by New Atheists), and led by religious leaders who are inflexible in their beliefs and moral attitudes. especially with regard to ethical issues like abortion, contraception, euthanasia and divorce, an obvious example being the Catholic Church in this respect.
b. Scandals that have engulfed representatives of traditional faiths have also put off many people e.g. paedophilia among priests within the Catholic Church, concerns about evangelical pastors like Robert Tilton and Ted Haggard , as well as the sexual behaviour of prominent gurus and spiritual teachers from within Eastern religious traditions e.g. Osho Rajneesh, Chogyam Trungpa.
c. Many people today have experienced problems reconciling theistic faith with the problem of evil and with scientific accounts of human origins that they see as obviating the need for faith in God. They might also consider those who embrace essentially unscientific, unfalsifiable beliefs like Creationism to be irrational.
d. The rise of celebrity culture may also have increased the appeal of NRM’s and alternative spirituality at the expense of traditional Christianity e.g. John Travolta, Tom Cruise and Madonna in the case of Scientology.
23. TRUE or FALSE? It is not unreasonable to conclude that people are, on the whole becoming differently religious rather than less religious.
- False – That’s the definition of secularism. The term ‘secularization’ refers to the process whereby religion/religious belief in a society gradually declines and eventually dies out.
- b – though Weinberg has been enthusiastically quoted by Dawkins. Weinberg stated that if it were not for religion, good people would stick to doing good things while bad people would do bad things. Instead, religion causes good people to do bad things.
- False – Richard Dawkins is the author of The God Delusion. Hitchens wrote God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.
- True – in his 2016 publication The Atheist Muslim, Ali Rizvi mentions that, ‘…to thousands of closeted ex-Muslims actually living in the Muslim world that I have corresponded with over the last seven years, he [Dawkins] is widely regarded as a hero. The aggressive, up front approaches of people like like Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens seem somehow relatable and resonate with them.’ Elsewhere in the same publication, he adds this: ‘From Turkey to Egypt to Saudi Arabia and Palestine, these [New Atheist] books became wildly popular, often hidden and shared underground in their pirated, unofficially translated bootleg forms, because those governments didn’t like them one bit. Even in Turkey, a secular democracy and one of the most progressive Muslim-majority countries in the world, the translators of The God Delusion were threatened with jail and the official website of Richard Dawkins was banned.’ It is additionally worth noting that according to one estimate, there are currently 13 Muslim majority countries that punish atheism with death
- False – Negative atheism, also called weak atheism and soft atheism, is any type of atheism where a person does not believe in the existence of any deities but does not explicitly assert that there are none. Positive atheism, also called strong atheism and hard atheism, is the form of atheism that additionally asserts that no deities exist.The terms “negative atheism” and “positive atheism” were used by Antony Flew in 1976. Agnosticism is another important term and describes an attitude of doubt or uncertainty about something, in this instance the existence of a God or gods.
- b- the evidential problem of evil is different from the logical problem of evil. The evidential problem of evil states, not that the existence of evil is logically incompatible with the existence of an all-powerful, all-loving God, but that the existence of evil provides good evidence against the existence of a God that has these qualities. According to the evidential problem of evil, the amount and type of evil now becomes relevant. Even if we acknowledge that an all-powerful, all-knowing God might have created a world with at least some suffering in it (perhaps for the sake of some greater good), surely he would not have created a world with this much suffering? We can sharpen the evidential problem of evil by noting that God will presumably not allow any unnecessary or pointless suffering to exist. There must be a good reason for every last bit of it. Has there been pointless suffering of any sort in any time or place? According to John Holroyd, the author of Judging Religion: a Dialogue for Our Time, there almost certainly has. For Holroyd, one only has to contemplate animal suffering to see this. Surely, God’s plan could be just as viable with one less antelope being torn apart while half alive without this being observed by humans, or a fewer number of caterpillars being eaten alive by the larvae of digger wasps. That plan might also be achievable without the superabundance of illnesses that afflict both the animal and human worlds. All that is needed is a somewhat consistent and predictable environment to make human planning and character building possible, and all of this might be far better achieved without pandemics, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. In summary, it is not difficult to imagine a consistent and fairly predictable universe with less natural evil than there is in this one. On the basis of this argument, derived from simple observation of how the world works, there probably is pointless evil, which in turn diminishes the likelihood of the existence of an all-powerful, all -loving, supernatural deity.
- b – The Lancet Fluke example comes from Daniel Dennett. The behaviour is suicide for the ant, but adaptive for the parasite, which requires the digestive system of a ruminant to reproduce itself. Dennett proposes that religions survive because, like those parasites, they make their hosts do things that are bad for themselves (e.g. suicide bombing) but good for the parasite (e.g. radical Islam). Dawkins would, nevertheless, agree with the previous sentence and might add that religious belief has revealed itself to be a product of biological and cultural evolution that has become superfluous and redundant in our secular age.
- d- Steven Weinberg made that assertion (see the answer to no.2 above).
- False – the second point about altruism was made by Jonathan Haidt. Haidt cautions that although faith binds people together in a moral matrix that often brings out the best in them, there are dangers if this is accompanied by the demonization of other groups.
- True – The point of Hitchens’ assertion is to demonstrate that it is religion that is exclusively responsible for a lot of the evil that goes on in the world. For example, the murder of disbelievers, the stoning to death of adulterers, child marriage, the persecution and execution of homosexuals, sex slavery and jihadist terrorism have all been justified in the name of Islam. Though it is an attack on religious belief in general, Hitchens’ most famous book is called God is not Great, an inversion of the Arabic words ‘Allahu Akhbar’.
- c- Martin Luther King did have a ‘vision in the kitchen’ during which he felt that God was telling him to persevere in his quest for black civil rights (he had been receiving regular death threats). However, Dawkins does not discuss the issue of whether religious experiences like this deserve to be taken seriously.
- a – In fact, Dawkins is actually claiming that the improbability of our existence is better explained by the two scientific explanations mentioned in the question rather than something even more improbable i.e. God. NOTE also: McGrath might himself be criticised for failing to note that a religious upbringing that attempts to instil anti-evolutionary, creationist beliefs into children along with misogynistic and homophobic attitudes might also need challenging with what he elsewhere refers to as ‘high quality religious education’.
- True – for example, the truth of the Trinity cannot be rationally demonstrated and it was faith that prompted Anselm to venture his version of the Ontological argument for the existence of God. A fideistic approach to the Bible (in which it is understood to be like a piece of dictation from God) is also arguably central to certain varieties of Evangelical, Charismatic and Pentecostal Christianity). NOTE: fideism is a theory maintaining that faith is independent of reason.
- b- the ‘carnivorous gene complex’ remark was made by Dawkins.
- True – see the link to the survey in this post.
- a – people are becoming more not less rationalistic and individualistic.
- False – Peter Berger is the author of the quotation. Berger famously changed his mind about secularization. Bruce still thinks that a process of secularization is happening but that Western Europe is ahead of other parts of the world in this respect.
- b- it’s the Alpha not the Omega Course that has been responsible for boosting church attendance. NOTE: According to Davie, The sacred persists, but increasingly it does so in non-traditional forms. There is, as the sociologist Grace Davie has noted, ‘believing without belonging’. This ‘believing without belonging’ could be described as being ‘spiritual’ rather than religious. Additionally, Heelas has noted a trend (a possible outcome of individualism) with respect to modern NRM’s to focus on the self as if it is sacred or divine e.g. where the soul is held to be identical with ultimate reality. This is something he refers to as the ‘sacralization of the self’. Such identifications can be found in traditional faiths (e.g. in the Hindu Upanishads) but has become increasingly foregrounded in, for example, the New Age movement.
- a- the New Age is a movement. See here for a survey article on the contours of the movement. NOTE: the term ‘New Religious Movement’ obscures the fact that some NRM’s are new in the West but old in the East. For example, various forms of Buddhism have their origins in India, China, Japan and Tibet. Modern Kaballah (as favoured by celebrities like Madonna) is actually a much older, mystical form of Judaism, while Transcendental Meditation and the Hare Krishna movement have their origins in Hinduism. ISIS is a form of Salafi-Jihadism, which itself is a violent expression of an ultra-conservative version of Islam that has taken root in Saudi Arabia and that has recently spread to all parts of the Muslim world thanks to the proselytising efforts of the Saudis. However, it is important to note that most Salafis are quietistic and benign in their beliefs and behaviour. Their strict lifestyle is an expression of what is frequently an apolitical outlook and a desire to return to what they consider to be the lifestyle of the al-salaf al salih, the first three generations of the Muslim community established by Muhammad in Yathrib/Medina that they consider to be a pure way of living that has subsequently become corrupt.
- d – Madonna is not a Scientologist. She is a Kabbalist. Her song ‘Ray of Light’ might be seen as referencing Kabbalistic beliefs.
- True (or rather, this might be a reasonable conclusion to draw from an exploration of the issue of secularization).