More Straw

Nicholas Buxton. Why don’t I beat up on Nicholas Buxton a little. I’ve never heard of him before, but I think he’s silly, or else slyly rhetorical (it can be so hard to tell which). More of the same old gabble – why atheism is wrong and confused and befuddled.

It is a secularist article of faith to maintain that religion will soon be eliminated as a by-product of “progress”.

No it isn’t. Next?

No but really – how stupid. Of course it isn’t!

Atheists complain that religion proposes unprovable accounts of life and death. But this is uninteresting.

No we don’t.

What a berk. We criticise religion for not proposing but dogmatically asserting and shoving in all our faces accounts of various things that are not supported by evidence and are highly implausible. That’s quite a different matter from ‘complaining’ about ‘unprovable’ accounts of anything.

Death is obviously a fact, but how we make sense of that fact is not the sort of question that could be subject to “proof” any more than a painting could be judged “wrong”. Insights into human nature derived from the plays of Shakespeare may be equally “unprovable”, but that doesn’t mean they’re not meaningful, useful or true. The atheist’s first mistake, then, like the fundamentalists they often object to, is that they completely miss the point.

Oh, Christ. No kidding, no kidding, and no we don’t, because we know all that, you fool. God I hate it when people put quotation marks on their own wildly erroneous versions of what other people say or think. He’s the one who says we say ‘unprovable’ when we don’t and then he drops in all these bogus citations of ‘unprovable’ with the quotation marks as if he’d gotten that from somewhere other than his own stupid assertion! What a mess of an ‘argument’.

Faith has nothing to do with certainty: it is not a set of closed answers, but rather a series of open questions with which to engage.

Oh really. Maybe in the circles you hang out in, but not in all circles where ‘faith’ is considered a virtue. To put it mildly.

I recognise that life’s potential for meaninglessness requires us to give it a meaning it would not otherwise have. This is the function of religion.

No it isn’t. One, it may be one of the functions of religion, but it’s not the function of religion, and two, it’s not the function or a function of religion alone. Other ways of thinking also give life a meaning it would not otherwise have.

The alternative is nihilism. If we truly believed that life was meaningless, we would have no reason to get up in the morning – ultimately, the most rational thing to do would be to jump over the edge of a cliff.

Oh, please. Why would that be rational? ‘Hey ho, life is meaningless. Whaddya know. Well, here I am, I’ve just finished writing this book, I’m going to Italy tomorrow, next year I’m going to China, I’m learning to play the cello, a friend is coming over for dinner tonight and afterwards we’re going to the theatre, this afternoon I’m going to go for a walk in the mountains, I have a bowl of fresh peaches for breakfast, the coffee smells good, the Trout Quintet is playing on the radio, it’s a gorgeous day, oh look, there goes a bald eagle – but life is meaningless, so obviously the most rational thing to do is go jump over the edge of a cliff.’

Without religion’s insight that human beings are essentially flawed, we lose all checks on our hubristic pride, and risk making a false god of our own scientific genius, even though there is no evidence to support the belief that society advances in tandem with science.

Oh? That depends on what you mean by ‘society advances’, I suppose. If you want to live in a world without antibiotics, anaesthetic, dentistry, electric light, efficient heating, sewer systems, public transport, efficient agriculture, abundant cheap books and music – well, go ahead, but I think of all those things as social advances. That does not however mean that I make a ‘false god’ (whatever that means) of our own (our own? certainly not mine!) scientific genius.

Can religious arguments really be as deeply unimpressive as the ones we keep seeing in the newspapers? Can they really not do any better than this? Surely that’s not right. Surely they can say something persuasive and somewhat sensible. Surely…

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