Monday, July 5, 2010
Going after God
By Ken Weiss
We've been in Oxford for a few days, and Sunday we went to the Cowley Street Carnival, a local Oxfordshire festival with a parade of a few floats, prancing girls, and school bands. On the grounds of South Park was a crowd enjoying the usual carnival atmosphere: food booths of all sorts, band shells with dancing and music, and tables for various groups working one form of social advocacy or another.
One of these was the Humanist Society (pictured here). We chatted with the congenial people tending the booth. There we learned that, as in any other cause, there is a schism. The high profile Oxford 'gown' Atheists' organization, with the strident-atheist scientists likes of Richard Dawkins and Peter Atkins is one side, and the 'town' equivalent--the Oxford Humanists--who are independent is the other. The people we talked to were very nice, friendly, and intelligent. But some of them were elderly and nearing their realization point, at which they are likely to find out whether they or religious believers are really right.
Ok, we're kidding about the schism. There was no sense of tension or competition between the groups, but why they were separate is not clear (and we didn't ask). But what seems an unfair competition is between these groups and the withering Church of England. England is loaded with beautiful, old, ivy-covered churches and their ancient adjacent graveyards. Wonderful to look at while on country walks, most of which can be counted on to go past a church. But attendance is very low, and rather heavily among the aged. So much for its one-time power and influence as is so familiar in Victorian novels.
Blasting away at religion, by glib scientists who are convinced of their particular ideology, seems dated and unfair under these conditions, which are very different from the US where at least religious believers are numerous and vigorous enough to defend themselves (if often using false reasoning when it comes to debating whether biblical truths include things about real world history--such as the age of the earth, Noah's ark, and so on.
There are so many strident atheist-science blogs that we try not to get involved in the food fights. Scientists can come to believe in not-believing, and science can effectively challenge the material claims of received truth. But scientists cannot use science as we know it today to refute the possibility of a God nor the personal experience claimed by many religious believers.
But it was interesting to see the presence of the Humanists in the Cowley Street carnival, a mild-mannered slice of British civility that went well with the kebabs, burgers, children's rides, and folk-dance and rock-music groups in the band shells.
We're off to Paris tomorrow and the EED society meetings, a source of many things to blog about, we are sure.