Faced with the spectacle of the cruelties perpetrated in the name of faith, Voltaire famously cried ‘Ecrasez l’infâme!’
Scores of enlightened thinkers followed him, declaring organised religion to be the enemy of mankind, the force that divides the believer from the infidel and which thereby both excites and authorises murder. Richard Dawkins is the most influential living example of this tradition, and his message, echoed by Dan Dennett, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens, sounds as loud and strident in the media today as the message of Luther in the reformed churches of Germany. The violence of the diatribes uttered by these evangelical atheists is indeed remarkable. After all, the Enlightenment happened three centuries ago; the arguments of Hume, Kant and Voltaire have been absorbed by every educated person. What more is to be said? And if you must say it, why say it so stridently? Surely, those who oppose religion in the name of gentleness have a duty to be gentle, even with -- especially with -- their foes?
The evangelical atheists are subliminally aware that their abdication in the face of science does not make the universe more intelligible, nor does it provide an alternative answer to our metaphysical enquiries. It simply brings enquiry to a stop. And the religious person will feel that this stop is premature: that reason has more questions to ask, and perhaps more answers to obtain, than the atheists will allow us. So who, in this subliminal contest, is the truly reasonable one? The atheists beg the question in their own favour, by assuming that science has all the answers. But science can have all the answers only if it has all the questions; and that assumption is false. There are questions addressed to reason which are not addressed to science, since they are not asking for a causal explanation.
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
Scruton and "Evangelical Atheists"
Roger Scruton on the "The Return of Religion":
Posted by W. at 1:51 PM