Another untrue Scot

And more again.

Consider the typical skirmish between secular and religious protagonists (AC Grayling provides a good case in point with his blog). They lead, at best, up a cul-de-sac because their arguments only go round and round in circles. They are, at worst, dangerous because in forcing people to take sides, they nurture extremes – whether religious or secular. This rides roughshod over the ground that is genuinely fascinating, humanly enriching, and socially essential: the places where science and religion reach the respective limits of their understanding and meet. The militant atheist and the fundamentalist believer alike try to rubbish such engagement because it offends their faith that science or religion can and should say it all.

One, I would say Theo Hobson provides a much better case in point, and that in any case it’s hard to see why Grayling provides a good case in point of both protagonists of that skirmish. Two, what places are there where science and religion reach the respective limits of their understanding and meet? And what’s so fascinating and enriching about them? Unless he just means subjects on which everyone’s understanding is incomplete so everyone can have a good indeterminate discussion? (But then how do discussions of that kind differ from arguments that ‘only go round and round in circles’? Don’t they have a good deal in common? But if so, that’s not particularly a place where science and religion meet, it’s just a place where humans don’t know much. You can meet anyone there. Lepidopterists, mountaineers, anyone.) And three (loud sigh) very few even militant atheists believe (let alone have ‘faith’) that science can and should say it all. I’ve never spoken to or read a single scientist who thinks science can and should say it all – I’d like to challenge all these enemies of militant atheism to cite one who does, with illustrative quotations. Meanwhile I’ll think that’s a canard, a straw man, a red herring, a magenta halibut. As is (loud sigh) the faith accusation. I wish Gordon Brown would make that illegal, if only on grounds of deep boredom.

For example, a typical atheistic line of attack is to accuse religious people of being inherently intolerant because they believe in a monotheistic God. The supposition here is that God is a divine monarch who admits no diversity of views and who legitimates a quasi-totalitarian approach to social and political issues. What the atheist misses is that monotheism, properly understood, makes everything that the believer tries to say of God provisional, since a monotheistic God is transcendent.

Ha! Another ‘no true Scotsman’ move. Monotheism properly understood – which, funnily enough, it so very seldom is. But since monotheism improperly understood is ubiquitous and noisy and demanding, why are atheists debarred from disputing it merely because it’s improperly understood? Since monotheism properly understood is vanishingly rare, especially in the public realm, what is the relevance of the properly understood kind? And who decides how it is properly understood anyway?

To be fair, Vernon goes on to say as much. But he had to get in the inaccurate shots at atheists along the way – atheists improperly understood, I would say.

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