Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Roger Scruton on the Non-death of God

Philosopher Roger Scruton has written an excellent essay called "The Return of Religion." Here are some quotes from it.

"There are two reasons why people start shouting at their opponents: one is that they think the opponent is so strong that every weapon must be used against him; the other is that they think their own case so weak that it has to be fortified by noise. Both these motives can be observed in the evangelical atheists."

"Dawkins writes as though the theory of the selfish gene puts paid once and for all to the idea of a creator God – we no longer need that hypothesis to explain how we came to be. In a sense that is true. But what about the gene itself: how did that come to be? What about the primordial soup? All these questions are answered, of course, by going one step further down the chain of causation. But at each step we encounter a world with a singular quality: namely that it is a world which, left to itself, will produce conscious beings, able to look for the reason and the meaning of things, and not just for the cause. The astonishing thing about our universe, that it contains consciousness, judgement, the knowledge of right and wrong, and all the other things that make the human condition so singular, is not rendered less astonishing by the hypothesis that this state of affairs emerged over time from other conditions. If true, that merely shows us how astonishing those other conditions were. The gene and the soup cannot be less astonishing than their product."

"The atheists beg the question in their own favour, by assuming that science has all the answers. But science can have all the answers only if it has all the questions; and that assumption is false. There are questions addressed to reason which are not addressed to science, since they are not asking for a causal explanation. One of these is the question of consciousness. This strange universe of black holes and time warps, of event horizons and non-localities, somehow becomes conscious of itself. And it becomes conscious of itself in us. This fact conditions the very structure of science."

"It is this mystery which brings people back to religion... We are distressed by the evangelical atheists, who are stamping on the coffin in which they imagine God’s corpse to lie and telling us to bury it quickly before it begins to smell. These characters have a violent and untidy air: it is very obvious that something is missing from their lives, something which would bring order and completeness in the place of random disgust. And yet we are uncertain how to answer them. Nowhere in our world is the door that we might open, so as to stand again in the breath of God.
Yet human beings have an innate need to conceptualise their world in terms of the transcendental, and to live out the distinction between the sacred and the profane."