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Hogarth judge

February 2018



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A thought for Easter

We must concede that the story of Jesus' birth, divinity, and resurrection is going to seem a pretty unlikely story to non-believers. There ultimately is no argument that can compel any nonbeliever to accept that an ancient account of miracles is worthy of belief.

Still, humans naturally tend to believe in God. The best atheistic screed I've troubled myself to read, Daniel Dennett's Breaking the Spell, claims that religions arise as a result of the confluence of various innate biological directives in humans. Dennett observes that we attribute personality, motive, and agency to such things as the weather. English grammar requires a dummy subject ("It's raining" - What's raining?) even in statements about the weather. We interpret a couple of punctuation marks as a human face. :)

The interesting thing about Dennett's argument is that it cuts both ways. It could also be that human beings were so arranged by a god for that god's purposes. There is no way to resolve this question with scientific inquiry.

If Dennett's argument is true, then strong atheism is one of the obnoxious virtues. It would need constant cultural reinforcement to persevere with. Even the officially atheist regimes have historically tended to revert spontaneously to personality cults, totemism, shrines, and apocalyptic beliefs. Atheism is a hard diet to stick to.

Given that religion seems to be inevitable, the question that really ought to be addressed is not, whether God exists? - if there isn't one we will continue to act as if there were - but rather, what kind of God is there? And it's on this question that Christianity emerges as the front runner: it's relatively easy to argue that the God of grace is more likable than the God of Islam or the gods of Hinduism or Shinto or European paganism.