It's Time to Revisit the God Debate | Daniel Clark

“God is dead,” Nietzsche famously declared in the latter part of the nineteenth century. “And we have killed him.” Whilst there is some dispute about whether this makes Nietzsche an atheist, or merely a commentator on the decline in prevalence of the Abrahamic religions in Western Europe, there is far less ambiguity in the writings of the New Atheists. Richard Dawkins declared religious belief to be ‘The God Delusion’ as Christopher Hitchens hit out that ‘God is not Great’ – the purposefully literal negation of Allahu Akhbar. In the minds of many, the God debate was over with. People are losing their faith in a Divine Being, and it cannot come quick enough.

All, however, is not as it seems. Funded by the Department of Evangelisation and Catechesis of the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales, the Benedict XVI Centre for Religion and Society has undertaken research into the ‘no religion’ population of Britain. Approximately 48.6% of the population identify as such, and the research intended to determine exactly what this entails. It found that, in this group, at least 7% pray once a week or more. Even more interestingly, one in every forty of the ‘nones’ attend religious services on a monthly-or-more basis. What this report does is prove that, whilst the ‘religious’ (being, those who subscribe to an organised religion) has decreased in the country, there is a silent majority who believe in God.

There is clearly a case, therefore, to revisit the debate surrounding God’s existence. In the earlier part of this century, the opposition if you will – that is, the so-called New Atheists –dominated with lazy arguments. These heavyweights (from scientists to journalists) argued that religion is not merely wrong: it is evil. ‘The Catholic Church institutionalised the molestation of children’, they would shout at anybody who would listen. When bored by this, they would caricature religious believers as either somebody who thinks either God made the world in six days or suspends reason in favour of faith. Before we begin again, we must look at these two claims more closely.

The first – that all religious believers are hardcore Creationists – is of course nonsense. Naturally enough, there are those who seriously believe that woman was made from rib of man. Such people, however, are simply not representative, dominating the fringes of the religious divide. Most people subscribe to the theory of Intelligent Design: namely, that the splendour and complexity of the Universe could not have been an accident. Not satisfied with this, Christopher Hitchens encouraged an audience to pay no heed: it is simply creationism through the back door.

What utter nonsense this is. Allow us to consider the laws of nature, which are often invoked as explanations for why the Universe exists. Stephen Hawking claims that soon we will know all these laws, and so there will be no need for someone to believe in God. Physical laws, however, do not provide a complete explanation. Professor John Lennox writes that they are ‘merely a description of what happens under certain conditions.’ We therefore are no closer to understanding why something happens: we simply know that it happens, and we can predict with reasonable certainty when it will. God as an explanation is a reasonable position to hold.

"God is dead. And we have killed him"

The second – that believers in God simply have ‘faith’ – is used to discredit them on the basis that they do not care for empirical evidence, and certainly do not employ their reason. Frankly, the only person who is discredited by this argument is the person using it. During a debate, Richard Dawkins claimed that ‘we only need to use the word faith when there isn’t any evidence.’ Professor Lennox, his debating partner, simply responded as such: ‘I presume you have faith in your wife. Is there any evidence for that?’ Dawkins, for what sometimes feels like the first time, was stumped. The simple fact being made was that we rely on faith all the time: to discredit people for having it is counter-intellectual and counter-productive.

These arguments (and there are many more, though we do not have adequate time here) have been rehashed again and again. When they fail, the New Atheists hit back that ‘religion poisons everything’. What good does this argument do? It is clear from the research discussed earlier that there are indeed people who believe in God but who are not religious. They may indeed agree with the statement but this cannot – by any means – be justification for disregarding the existence of God. A new debate, that more accurately represents the demographics of modern life, is needed.

In the 2010 introduction to his 1968 book ‘Introduction to Christianity’, Pope Benedict XVI wrote that people are looking for ‘an encounter with the entirely Other…faith becomes experience and provides the joy of fellowship.’ Belief in God can of course be destructive but it can also be liberating. To deny this gift to the current generation, or indeed future generations, because we cannot be bothered to reconstruct and reimagine arguments is lazy and – worst of all – selfish.

It's Time to Revisit the God Debate | Daniel Clark It's Time to Revisit the God Debate | Daniel Clark Reviewed by Student Voices on 20:14 Rating: 5

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