Lap of the gods
Published 10/11/2012 | 05:00
• I read Philip O'Neill's letter on modern Ireland and its relationship with religion, atheism and agnosticism (November 6) with great interest. It is true that a growing number of people are distancing themselves from religion -- according to Census 2011, there was a four-fold increase in the number of people who said they had no religion, were atheists or agnostics, since 1991.
This statistic warrants deeper investigation because, as Philip intuits, there is a sub-group within this group who have not only distanced themselves from religion, but have distanced themselves from a belief in the existence of a god as well.
In response to Philip's puzzlement at how many succumb to "the least convincing versions of modern atheism", well, whereas there have been multitudinous perceptions of god/gods since time immemorial, the position of atheism has always been consistently singular and simple: an absence of a belief in god/gods. Modernism does not come into it.
Once people dispense with mutually exclusive competing claims of revealed truth, some take a step further and decide that, on balance, the evidence suggests there is no god. The atheist David Hume cited the Greek philosopher Epicurus in framing the conundrum of 'God' in a series of questions: "Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?"
This brings us to Einstein. While not an atheist, Einstein was certainly not a religious believer or a theist either. If anything, he was a deist (one who believes in a god who does not act to influence events, and whose existence has no connection with religions, religious buildings, or religious books, etc). This is clear from many statements made by him. For example: "I do not believe in a personal god and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly"; and "I believe in Spinoza's god who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists, not in a god who concerns himself with fates and actions of human beings".
Ultimately, it is the following quote from Einstein that makes most sense to me: "We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangements of the books, but doesn't know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God."
Rathfarnham, Dublin 16