Friday, February 01, 2013

On The Oppositionalism Of Atheists

The news that the University Marine Biological Station at Millport might close down is obviously very bad news for the people who work there, and they all have my sympathy. 

Unless I'm very greatly mistaken, this is a former Royal Navy facility to which a Mr. Pask, a sometime biology teacher at St. Paul's School in the 1940's, took three of his more interested pupils on field trips. Their names were Jonathan Miller, Eric Korn and Oliver Sacks. I quote from memory, so my apologies to all concerned if I am incorrect, but I have a very strong memory of Dr. Miller recalling, in a BBC documentary on his career which was broadcast over the 2011-2012 Christmas holiday, how Pask, a committed and evangelical atheist, set out to undermine the three's religious beliefs as soon as the train north had pulled out of the station; a personally fulfilling task for him, perhaps, but one that had nothing to do with the job he was there to perform, an unprofessional act not dissimilar to playing Solitaire on your PC at work when you're meant to be working.

These encounters obviously affected Dr. Miller very deeply, otherwise he would not have felt the need to mention them during an hour long documentary on a life lived for eighty years thus far, and counting. Certainly both Dr. Miller and Professor Sacks seemed to have found Pask's arguments, such as they might have been, persuasive. The latter later became one of the medicine men of the so-called 'Freedom From Religion Foundation'; a perhaps unusual intellectual posture for one who spent forty years associating with The Little Sisters Of The Poor, but I guess it takes all sorts.

A similarly aggressive form of atheist antevangelism is recounted by Alain de Botton, with his reminiscence of how his father, the late financier Gilbert de Botton, rounded savagely on his younger sister when she expressed an interest in God at breakfast one morning (she was eight at the time). It might have been the case that de Botton realised that the course of acquiring substance on which he was set, or perhaps the manner in which was achieving his goal, was directly contrary to the laws of God, and therefore could not bear even the mention of His name. Whatever his real motive, he died a rich man, and by the impression that his aggression clearly made on his son I'm sure his family never mentioned God's name around him ever again.

This has all been brought to mind by hearing that the redoubtable Richard Dawkins has apparently described religion as 'redundant and irrelevant'. It would certainly be both more interesting and very much more newsworthy if he had declared religion to be important and relevant, but as far as what he has actually said is concerned one need only say 'Well, not if you're a Malian'. 

Such obtuse belief in the rightness of one's own opinions, even in the face of evidence so bountiful you can cite it in one-liners, is one of the hallmarks not of bigotry but incurable oppositionalism. God help him, there is probably nothing that anyone, anywhere could say or do that would make him even start to reconsider his opinions. To have such faith in one's opinions must be a great privilege. No matter that no atheistic scientist or businessman of the modern era has yet risen from the dead to peer review the Gospels. No matter that the places in which the young have been corrupted away from God by those for whom it would be better for them to be cast into the sea with millstones round their necks, even such places as the Marine Biology Station at Millport, soon to be abandoned to the Firth of Clyde's timeless wind and rain, don't endure, or that the lives of the old persecutors hold no lesson for the new persecutors other than that they will be as unsuccessful as their predecessors. No matter that you can point to the endurance of Christianity and fairly observe that the odds on its survival and growth are firmly in its favour - without even mentioning that's because He who created odds said it would be so. All no matter. No matter what, Dawkins will not believe.

While he can be as annoying as an unscratched itch, in many ways I do feel very sorry for him; if only because he seems to be an academic who is resolutely unwilling to learn.



Blogger PTET said...

Is the endurance of Islam firmly in its favour? How about the endurance of Hinduism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism or Judaism? Are they firmly in their favour?

I'm sure you agree humans have a pretty amazing capacity of self-delusion. While I don't think Dawkins or anyone else has all the answers, I don't see how anything you wrote is evidence for the "truth" of Christianity.

(p.s. regular reader, enjoy your blog :>)

01 February, 2013 10:34  
Blogger Martin said...

"Is the endurance of Islam firmly in its favour? How about the endurance of Hinduism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism or Judaism? Are they firmly in their favour?"

No, not from my point of view. However, it does count in favour of Christianity, on account of Our Lord's injunction that the gates of Hell would not prevail against it. I choose to believe that. You might not. That's your call.

"I'm sure you agree humans have a pretty amazing capacity of self-delusion."

Although you might have been better off using the dative rather than the genitive, I can't really argue with a word of that. Indeed, the very, very weird, and also very stubbornly enduring, belief held by some people that human beings are related to monkeys is a very striking case in point.

01 February, 2013 22:09  
Blogger PTET said...

What we "choose to believe" has no bearing on whether it is true or not.

Common descent is not a "belief held by some people". It's the overwhelming opinion of biologists and other life scientists, including Catholic ones, based on multiple lines of evidence including anatomy and genetics.

With respect, it seems to me you are bearing false witness about the beliefs of others.

02 February, 2013 11:03  
Blogger Martin said...

Oh, bearing false witness! Thatr's a good one! Never been accused of that before! Ohh! Ohhhh!



03 February, 2013 22:52  

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