You are here:   Features > The devout sceptic: hope for those of little faith

On the other side, the sceptic is beset by atheists and materialists whose reductionist certainties strike him as no less unattractive than the extremism of faith in its most assertive forms. These include people who will use Occam’s razor to exclude the possibility of God, but have no difficulty in conjuring up an infinity of unknowable parallel universes, in order to explain the inconvenience of the apparent fine-tuning of the physical laws of our universe to convey (in Paul Davies’s term) the appearance of purpose, or to account for the existence of something rather than nothing. Or they may be people who ridicule the idea of faith in God as a metaphysical assumption for which there is no scientific or rational evidence, but to whom it has never occurred to realise that their own beliefs rest on no more concrete a foundation. (Thus the atheist’s essential case that the only truths that we should accept are those for which there is an empirical or scientific basis does not itself have an empirical or scientific basis. The notion that the only things worthy of belief are those which are objectively verifiable is not itself an objectively verifiable belief. As Wittgenstein says in the Tractatus, it is impossible for a proposition to state that it itself is true.) Or they are those who pick off with a flourish their opponents’ weakest arguments like so many low pheasants, while ignoring all the more challenging ones. Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion is a now notorious example of this unsporting and evasive technique, but the book is worth mentioning one last time if only to alert readers to its superlative savaging by Terry Eagleton in the London Review of Books, “Lunging, Flailing, Mispunching”. This article should be read in its entirety, but as he starts out: “[Professional atheists] invariably come up with vulgar caricatures of religious faith that would make a first-year theology student wince. The more they detest religion, the more ill-informed their criticisms of it tend to be.” (Dawkins’s approach has also been taken apart by thoughtful non-believers, for example Tim Crane, the sub-title of whose book The Meaning of Belief is Religion from an Atheist’s Point of View.)

Many of us conduct our inquiry into the possibility of faith by employing the same rational apparatus that we use for other mental activities — our work, for example. This is such a natural and prevalent tendency that it takes a moment to realise that there is no necessary reason why we should be doing any such thing. It may sound paradoxical to say so, but it is not always irrational not to use our faculties of reason. Unless we are convinced that reason is the only legitimate means of approach, we should start again. It should be self-evident that science can only answer scientific questions. There is no logical basis for the assumption that it can answer any other questions, and there is simply no basis for supposing that questions susceptible to rational treatment are the only sort of worthwhile questions that there are.
View Full Article

Post your comment

This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.