Thursday, 29 January 2015

The Evidence for God

Stephen Town questions the case for and against religion with the latest donation in his 'My Nightshelf' series.

Ward, K., The Evidence for God, in the University Library at C 11 WAR.

Photo: York Minster by
NMK Photography. Reproduced
under a Creative Commons Licence
In the week that the first woman Bishop (as far as we know) was consecrated in our City, Keith Ward, the Emeritus Professor of Divinity at Oxford University came to speak at St Peter’s School in the lecture series which I have mentioned in previous posts.

Professor Ward is a very accomplished and elegant speaker, who in his talk managed to refer to almost every reputable philosopher of the past two thousand years as well as most populist scientists of contemporary times. Within the first few minutes he constructed a reasonably convincing opposition between materialism and idealism in the minds of his largely non-academic audience, went on to associate these with different evidential assumptions identifying materialism as weak, and, with some reference to aesthetics, justified transcendental belief and consequently the existence of God.

Perhaps I simplify the arguments a little; they are more convincingly elaborated upon in my chosen book this week, Keith Ward’s ‘The Evidence for God’.

Despite the very persuasive style I still left the lecture a little dissatisfied. Personally, I don’t think that a religious position needs to rest solely on belief and evidence (a contemporary obsession), or on taking a stand on the opposition between materialism and idealism that Professor Ward suggests.

Image courtesy of Ward, K., The Evidence for God (2014)

A number of religions still operate without this excessive focus on belief and evidence, and there are other philosophers and theologians who will make the point that the early church was in fact philosophically materialist.

So what has this to do with a woman Bishop? Professor Ward appeared genuinely sad that there seems to be less interest in the traditional forms of organised religion, and that future forms need to be different. Perhaps the event in the Minster will be a positive step along this path.

Further reading: A satisfying and full account to me of how we arrived at the current position of overwhelming secularism is in Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age. This is hardly a nightshelf read, but well worth the effort.

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