Well, the big news this week in the UK has been the resignation of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams. For those of you who may not know, the ‘Archbishop of Canterbury’ is the head of the Church of England in everything but name (that title actually goes to the Queen).
OK, so this is hardly world-shaking news, as the Church of England is scarcely a big player in terms of global religions, in fact I only know a few people who are members, but it’s always seemed a rather benign organisation really. A church of gentle hymns and prayers, of church fetes and jam making and I for one will rather miss this liberal Archbishop; he is in favour of same-sex marriage and women Bishops, questions the nature of miracles and has been a pain in the arse to the UK Government over the morality (or rather immorality) of youth unemployment.
The controversy however concerns the matter of his new job. He is to become the new Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge. Despite the fact that he had a previous academic career, this move still brought out what Alain de Botton has come to call the ‘North Oxford Mafia’ including the Queen Bee himself, Richard Dawkins. As early as ‘Unweaving the Rainbow’ (1999) Dawkins has argued that Theology should not be taught in Universities as, in a nutshell, it is uncritical and therefore not academic and he still maintains that line. In that same book, he calls for atheist scientists to ‘come out’ and declare their atheism. So OK, I’ll put my cards on the table. I am an atheist. I don’t believe in gods. I don’t believe in any supernatural being that can influence, nor intervene in, my life. There have been times in my life when I really tried (normally during periods of extrematis) but have never changed my mind.
The curious thing about this is that I haven’t come to the non-belief in gods through any rational process. It is not through my background in science. I haven’t researched comparative religions, familiarised myself with the metaphysical arguments, nor carried out exhaustive multi-variant meta-analyses on huge parameterised data sets and come to this conclusion on the basis of such work. Rather, I intuitively feel that there is nothing there. I sometimes feel that I end up using the inverse arguments to those who do have a belief. So my atheism is certainly not based on science, nor rationality, but rather a ‘belief’ there are no gods.
This is possibly not exactly what Richard Dawkins has in mind.
Particularly as in ‘The God Delusion’ (2006) he goes even further and develops the line of argument that those who do believe in a god are self-delusional. Now, as I’ve said, I’m an atheist and I should be on his side, but even I think this quite outrageous. This is a Professor in Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University arguing that people who disagree with him and believe in gods are delusional and are even hallucinating (you can see examples of this on Youtube if you’re so inclined). For crying out loud, what sort of academic stance is that? You defend your idea by saying that any criticism is invalid, as any criticism is by definition delusional. I can’t wait to get to an academic conference and use that response on anyone who critically engages with my work!
Of course, that is not an academic argument, as it works both ways. My atheism is based on an intuitive sense that there is nothing there, is that delusional as well? I presume it must be as the probability is surly the same both ways, isn’t it. Either we’re all delusional, or none of us are, or perhaps for some reason unknown to me (but presumably known to Richard Dawkins) only those that agree with archbishops are?
No, I’ll live and let live. I’ve become increasingly angered by the intolerance of Neo-Atheism and its association with science. I’ve tried to argue on this blog for a science of equality, peace and social justice. Dawkins line of argument seems divisive, designed to upset and ultimately barren.
I’m a scientist and an atheist, but I quite like home made jam, fruit cake and liberalism. More tea vicar?