Belief may be good for the soul but…

The Observer Magazine has a good leading feature on King’s Academy, Middlesbrough, a school that’s gained notoriety by teaching creationism alongside evolution. I’m not about to start believing in god, but a headmaster Nigel McQuoid’s justification – ‘To teach children that they are nothing more than developed mutations who evolved from something akin to a monkey and that death is the end of everything is hardly going to engender within them a sense of purpose, self-worth and self-respect.’ – is a thought that rings true to me. But just because belief often engenders all those positive attributes, doesn’t mean it’s true.

Vardy also argues that he can’t imagine the evolutionary process. But I think he’s being deliberately obtuse. Few people can make the leap from abacus (or its predecessors) to microcomputer (or its successors). I have little trouble spotting the similarities between myself and other animals. It’s impossible to teach the biology upon which modern medicine is based without evolutionary theory and you get better results from a medical doctor than a faith healer.

In any case, a lack of perception is no argument against. It’s our inability to perceive a certain truth that fuels the debate. Vardy claims that science requires a huge leap of faith as some point. (Where did the matter for the Big Bang come from?) But no, god requires the leap. Non-believers must accept that human knowledge has its limits and avoid claiming to know everything.

Yet, it is part of the human condition to seek to know all. All those unanswered questions scare us, while God makes everything simple. He provides what Jean-Francois Lyotard calls a grand narrative (with a beginning, middle and end) from whose certainties we can draw comfort. Of course there could be a god, but that’s just one of many stories that could be true. Belief’s ability to soothe the soul gives us an incentive to believe, that is, a bias towards god that should not be trusted.

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