Anything goes

Simon Barnes says approving things about Darwin, David Attenborough, and evolution – but then he gets down to the real business of his piece, which is (you’ll never guess) chiding those pesky atheists. In fact the approving things turn out to be apparently just some throat-clearing en route to what really matters, which is chorus 3,987,281 of ‘fundamentalism/creationism is bad but those tiresome sciencey atheists are much much much worse.’

So much, then, for benign creation; let’s leave the creationists to fight that one out among themselves. But what of the legions of self-trumpeting atheists? What of Richard Dawkins, who had the arrogance to write a fat book about God without troubling to read up on theology, a discipline that includes many writers as subtle-minded as himself?

Yes what indeed. Let’s leave the creationists to sort each other and turn to the really fun bit, which is self-righteously demanding what business Richard Dawkins has writing about god when after all god is a subject for The Professionals despite the fact that amateurs are always telling us what to do and what to think in the name of this putative god. Let’s pretend that it’s arrogant for people to say why god is not believable but not for people to say why god is believable. Let’s leave clerics and their subjects alone but let’s really get in a huff about people who dispute truth claims that are based on no evidence.

No believer can prove that God exists: isn’t faith rather the point? And no scientist can prove that He doesn’t. You may believe that you have a soul. Professor Dawkins believes that you don’t. Both positions are equally tenable in that both are matters of belief, of faith. This stuff can be neither proved nor disproved, therefore it is nothing to do with science.

Proof and disproof (for the 9 millionth time) is not the issue; the point is that there is no evidence that there is such a thing as a ‘soul’ and there is plenty of evidence indicating that there isn’t. It’s just nonsensical to pretend that the existence of a soul is not an empirical subject at all, and equally nonsensical to pretend that there is no evidence that bears on the question. It’s even more nonsensical to conclude from the first nonsense that therefore belief that one has a soul and belief that one doesn’t are ‘equally tenable,’ because brute belief is not as tenable as belief based on reasons, such as inferences from evidence. I could decide to believe that I have the ability to fly, but such a belief would not be as tenable as the belief that I couldn’t.

It’s true that anyone can just decide to believe any old thing, evidence or no evidence – but that doesn’t mean that therefore there is nothing to be said about the content of the belief. That’s especially when the beliefs are not kept private but are trotted out in political and moral disputes, as of course they so very often are.

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