British atheists have paid to have buses carry advertisements saying: “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” Professor of Atheism Richard Dawkins, a geneticist by training, is a major supporter of this campaign and has put quite a lot of his own money into it (a much humbler figure, a bus-driver, has possibly made a bigger sacrifice by refusing to drive buses bearing the message, but that’s another story).
By Guy Crouchback
Writing in the Daily Express, former Conservative government minister and Catholic Ann Widdecombe has remarked that this advertisement is somewhat baffling. She says: “To most believers that is baffling because the existence of God is the main reason why we do enjoy our lives and expect to go on enjoying life, in a different form, for all eternity, but let us lay that aside and concentrate on other aspects of this very odd message.
“What exactly are we to stop worrying about? And what is the joy that belief kills? Presumably the answer to the first is judgment and the second is undue indulgence. In other words this advertisement is urging a society already steeped in selfishness, materialism and cheap celebrity towards even greater hedonism and moral anarchy … No real joy is banned by belief. What is prohibited is lack of restraint: casual and promiscuous sex, obsession with money and drunkenness, but not healthy relationships, material well-being and a glass or two of wine … the essence of the message is ‘lay aside conscience and do what you like.’ But even non-believers recognise that if we lived by the Ten Commandments, life for all would be better. If my neighbour believes ‘Thou shall not steal’ I can leave my door open. The bus campaign… is advocating a selfish lifestyle at a time when we all need the opposite.”
These are words worth thinking about. If, as C S Lewis said in The Weight of Glory, we believe that we and our neighbours were created by God to live forever, we will treat ourselves and one another differently. But it actually goes further than this. If Man had in the past taken to heart the injunction that “There’s probably no God,” not only would there be no hope of eternal Salvation, and no fixed ground for morality, but there would also be no art, science or civilisation.
Our Western art grew from our religion and a striving to illuminate and understand Mankind’s relationship with God. Belief produced Michelangelo’s Pieta and the Sistine Chapel, Leonardo’s The Last Supper, the great Cathedrals of Europe, the works of Dante, Shakespeare, Mozart, Bach, and virtually every great masterpiece. Modern atheist art has produced the pickled cows and sharks of Damien Hirst and, in literature, the mumblings and ravings of Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter, attempts to illustrate a meaningless world. Socrates and Plato, Pagans but believers in a God, laid the foundations of Western philosophy. Atheism produced the meaninglessness and worse of Sartre, spiritual father of the Pol Pot Genocide, as atheism produced Communism in general, responsible for about 100 million deaths and ruined lives beyond count.
Further, Western sciences and technology are the products of Judaism and Christianity, the one religious tradition which welcomed and exhalted Reason, as it exhalted Art, for the Greater Glory of God.
The first industrialisation of Europe, with water-wheels replacing slaves driven by the lash, was the work of monks. Monks also put books into their modern form, replacing scrolls, and making possible printing. They instituted public clocks and raised agriculture to a science.
They preserved the heritage of the classical world through the Dark Ages: the art and science of Greece and the technology of Rome (previously, when in ancient times civilisations had fallen, all the small store of knowledge which they had painfully scraped together had been lost with them – the Greeks of Homer’s time and of classical antiquity had not the faintest idea that civilisations had existed in the Mediterranean before them). The monks of Europe were responsible for not only innumerable inventions but for their application to improve life. At Glastonbury in England and elsewhere the monks pioneered metallurgy. There is strong archeological evidence that at the time when Henry VIII destroyed the English monasteries the monks of Britain had begun to develop blast-furnaces. The Church set up and nurtured the University system to not only preserve but, for the first time, to accumulate knowledge, lifting Mankind for the first and only time above the “ceiling” of slave-labour, animal-power and sails, and, eventually, above an average life-expectancy of about 30 years.
Professor Dawkins’s own discipline of genetics was created by Gregor Mendel, a 19th Century Abbott. It was the glory of God that inspired and drove onwards Copernicus, Newton, Boyle, Max Planck and countless other great scientists, as well as, later, the lay preacher Buzz Aldrin. Adam Smith, the great genius who founded modern economics, said relatively little about religion, but he said enough, including on his death-bed, to show he believed.
The Catholic Church was, for most of history, a greater patron of Astronomy than all other institutions combined, for it took knowledge seriously.
It was a Catholic Priest who discovered the asteroid Ceres in 1800 and made Palermo, a backward Sicilian village, into one of the world’s greatest observatories, and another Catholic priest who was responsible for probably the greatest astronomical discovery possible to be made: the Big Bang.
It is still the church as an institution – far more, I think, than any atheistic scientists – which stands against the coming together of bad religion, bad reason and bad science in the so-called “New Age.”
There was, as Chesterton put it, a certain inevitability in the fact that the civilization which believed in the Trinity also discovered steam. One of the great ironies of atheism is that by denying God it insults Man. Atheists often call themselves “humanists,” but it is religious belief that is the only true humanism, for it is only religious belief that holds Man is something more than dust, and holds the human brain to be more than a chance assembly of atoms.
For another odd thing is that if you believe in God, you get belief in Man added in.