THE FOLLOWING WAS PUBLISHED IN THE MARCH 2011 QUADRANT MAGAZINE, WHICH HAD BEEN DEBATING ATHEISM AND ITS VIEWPOINTS FOR SEVERAL ISSUES.
Sir, congratulations for Quadrant’s ongoing high quality debate on atheism.
As a humanist, I have found the weakest arguments aired against religion to be those that scorn the faithful for their undeniably flawed histories. It is apparently a revelation to some atheists that humans have a tendency to be human, and regularly corrupt noble ideas. Writing off all religions on the basis of such distortions would perhaps be a slippery slope. This approach suggests that human attempts at government, at law, at science, and indeed at morality, should all be given up because humans have a record of doing them badly more often than not.
Many atheists apparently fall for the spurious philosophical argument that we should only believe what we can touch, a mindboggling assumption for anyone who thinks science might involve a willingness to explore the unknown. They suggest that the currently fashionable theory of a Big Bang should be adequate, without any explanation as to why a Big Bang might have happened (or why, if it wasn’t a unique event that had a cause, we don’t see many examples of ‘Little Bangs’).
To continue Mike Alder’s point (The Religious Impulse of Richard Dawkins - Quadrant Jan-Feb 2011), Sir Terry Pratchett explores how humanity needs to believe the little untruths at a childlike level – like the Hogfather (Santa Claus), or indeed a paternalistic diety – in order to believe the big lies – like truth, justice, equality, fairness and all those other fantasies that cannot be seen or touched - which are a vital part of making humanity a worthwhile, if ongoing, project. Even leading atheist Christopher Hitchins reluctantly admits humanity could probably not have developed morality without religion.
I can see nothing wrong with saying that we don’t really understand, and indeed find that more comfortable than those who insist they have a direct line to God. But to claim that because we don’t understand then there cannot be, is the exact opposite to science. More importantly to claim that just because we strive imperfectly to know the ‘divine’ in the universe, means we should give up on striving, is an abandonment even of hope. Humanity has a long way to evolve. Those comfortable to declare that repeated failure requires surrender, have made their own Darwinian choice.
Nigel Davies - Melbourne