Anthony Grayling replies to the archbishops.

In the foreword to the confused document produced by the religious thinktank Theos this week the Archbishops of Canterbury and Westminster…iterate the claim that “atheism is itself a faith position”. This is a weary old canard to be set alongside the efforts of the faithful to characterise those who robustly express their attitude towards religious belief as “fundamentalist atheists”…We understand that the faithful live in an inspissated gloaming of incense and obfuscation, through the swirls of which it is hard to see anything clearly, so a simple lesson in semantics might help to clear the air for them on the meanings of “secular”, “humanist” and “atheist”. Once they have succeeded in understanding these terms they will grasp that none of them imply “faith” in anything, and that it is not possible to be a “fundamentalist” with respect to any of them.

An inspissated gloaming of incense and obfuscation – that’s not bad. Made me snicker anyway.

People who do not believe in supernatural entities do not have a “faith” in “the non-existence of X” (where X is “fairies” or “goblins” or “gods”); what they have is a reliance on reason and observation, and a concomitant preparedness to accept the judgment of both on the principles and theories that premise their actions…”Faith” – specifically and precisely: the commitment to a belief in the absence of evidence supporting that belief, or even (to the greater merit of the believer) in the very teeth of evidence contrary to that belief – is a far different thing…for faith at its quickly-reached limit is the negation of thought.

Well, yes. It’s considered bad form to say so, but that is after all what the word means. It’s sometimes a good thing in personal relations and in social and political commitments, but it’s never a good thing in epistemology.

Even some on my own side of the argument here make the mistake of thinking that the dispute about supernaturalistic beliefs is whether they are true or false. Epistemology teaches us that the key point is about rationality. If a person gets wet every time he is in the rain without an umbrella, yet persists in hoping that the next time he is umbrella-less in the rain he will stay dry, then he is seriously irrational. To believe in the existence of (say) a benevolent and omnipotent deity in the face of childhood cancers and mass deaths in tsunamis and earthquakes, is exactly the same kind of serious irrationality.

So – never go out without your umbrella, and be careful in the inspissated gloaming.

23 Responses to “Twilight”