Monday, 1 September 2014

The Long Conversation

There is nothing new under the sun, least of all that quote, but especially not the ancient discussions about the nature of the universe.  

One of the books I’m reading at the moment is Reasons for Faith by Oliver R Barclay, published in 1974.  I picked it up for a pound in a second hand bookshop, and so far it’s fairly good.  It’s a work of apologetics, arguing for faith, and specifically Christian faith, from the perspective of reason and logic.  It is very much what I was hoping Maurice Wiles’ extremely disappointing Reasons to Believe would be.  I don’t happen to agree with all of Oliver Barclay’s conclusions, but it’s still fairly good.

A while back, I downloaded The Necessity of Atheism by David Marshall Brooks from Project Gutenberg, first published in 1933.  Needless to say, I found his arguments less than convincing and his tone less than endearing.  For the most part, they were the same old arguments against religion repeated, and all I could conclude was that he had a very flawed and one-sided understanding of what religion is.

The one thing that did strike me about both books however, is that what the first is responding to, and what the second is stating, are indeed exactly the same arguments that the New Atheists are still using now, in almost exactly the same terms and tone.  Barclay’s responses are very similar to those used today by people like Allister McGrath; Brooks’ are very close in both content and tone to Dawkins.  It isn’t that he’s using ‘the same old arguments’ (although of course they were already old in 1933) but that Dawkins et al are.  Barclay uses the term ‘scientism’ to describe the almost irrational faith in science and the exclusively scientific worldview that some New Atheists seem to hold, a usage that I had thought relatively recent.

One of the pithy memes I’ve seen on the internet is a quote apparently from Epicurus, questioning the existence of evil and the omnipotence of God.  The caption reads ‘Atheists: Winning since 33AD’.  For a start, Epicurus died in c. 270BC, so I’m not sure why they’ve gone with the approximate date of the death of Christ, but there you go.

The main point though is that if the case for atheism is so obvious to anyone of even marginal intelligence, if religion is so clearly wrong, why, after all this time, and after the arguments have been repeated so often, are the arguments still being repeated.  It seems like every couple of decades or so, someone proclaims that religion will be dead within a generation.

Now inevitably there will be some people who obtusely stick to their ignorant beliefs and refuse to change, even in the face of clear arguments to the contrary, but these should be a tiny and isolated minority by now, surely?

And yet here we are, still believing, still arguing, still struggling to understand how another person can look at the arguments and come to a conclusion other than our own.  It cannot be denied that the old traditional organised religions are in decline in this country, and across Europe, but I suspect that that is more sociological and technological, than because more and more people are being won over by the ‘rational’ arguments of the New Atheists.

The conversation (I’d prefer to call it that than an ‘argument’) goes on, and I dare say that it will continue to go on until the mountains crumble and the seas boil, and we will finally be told the answer directly.

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