I was going to write about something else today, but had to change my mind: sitting reading the Times (that’s the London Times, for any transatlantic readers) over breakfast on my Kindle this morning I came across one of the most outrageous (from a Christian point of view) leading articles I have ever read in an English newspaper. Times leaders are usually safe enough: they’re not a bad place to start after you’ve had a look at the front page: you usually get, with a bit of fairly bland and inoffensive comment, three well-informed short pieces which include what Americans call the “backstory” (Oxford dictionary definition: “background information about a … person or thing that promotes fuller understanding of it”.)
The opinion part of a leading article is important if you want to know where a paper is coming from. The leader gives a paper’s official position: and the official position of The Times newspaper, it seems, stated today with an absolute and contemptuous certainty (in the middle of an article which is not far from being in effect a puff for a newly published children’s book by Richard Dawkins), is that the Christian God (and the Muslim God and the Jewish God for that matter) does not exist and also that the belief that he does has been, intellectually, conclusively disposed of:
The argument that creation requires a sentient creator – the teleological argument – had been ably sunk long before Professor Dawkins’ hero Charles Darwin began to fret whether a benevolent deity would have wilfully created a parasitic wasp that lays its eggs inside the body of a living caterpillar. David Hume perhaps scuttled it best, pointing out that if something as complex as the Universe required a creator, then that creator, being more complex, must have required one, too.
Charles Darwin, however, though he did indeed fret about parasitic wasps, was no atheist: “The mystery of the beginning of all things,” he wrote in his autobiography, “is insoluble by us; and I for one must be content to remain an Agnostic.” He may be Dawkins’s hero: but he would have greatly disliked Dawkins’s belligerence: “Why should you be so aggressive?”, he said to the atheist Edward Aveling: “Is anything gained by trying to force these new ideas upon the mass of mankind?” “I hardly see”, he wrote “how religion & science can be kept as distinct as [Edward Pusey] desires… But I most wholly agree… that there is no reason why the disciples of either school should attack each other with bitterness.”
He was quite clear that the theory of evolution did not in any way tend towards disproving the existence of God: to one correspondent he wrote: “It seems to me absurd to doubt that a man may be an ardent Theist & an evolutionist.” He went further: “In my most extreme fluctuations I have never been an atheist in the sense of denying the existence of a God.”
As for Hume having “scuttled” the teleological argument for the existence of God, Darwin certainly didn’t think he had: he was confused by the problem of suffering in nature, but was still (wasps notwithstanding) inclined to believe that nature depended upon “designed laws” and he supported his disciple Asa Gray (who published the first American edition of On the Origin of Species) when he asserted that Darwin’s work supported the teleological argument for God’s existence rather than undermining it.
So much for the Times’s ignorant, Dawkins-worshipping opinions, which appeared, as I say, not in a personal opinion piece written by an author entitled to his or her views (Matthew Parris, for instance, is a convinced atheist and anti-Catholic, but I usually enjoy and admire his Times articles): these views appeared as the paper’s official religious outlook. The declared philosophical assumptions of The Times newspaper, that is to say, include the belief that the universe had no “sentient creator”: a creator God does not exist. What else in the paper’s philosophy is shot through by this atheistical certainty, but in a more hidden way? Who knows? In the Guardian, I would expect it: that’s one reason I don’t read the Guardian. Well, it’s now one reason why I won’t in future be reading the Times: over my boiled egg I require a certain fellow-feeling with my daily newspaper (I was, come to think of it, already aware of a certain unease). I now know not only that I haven’t presently got it, but that the Times just doesn’t care.
As for the teleological argument which the Times thinks (if that’s the word) that Hume “scuttled” (hah!) it may be worth recalling that Aquinas put it forward as his fifth logical argument for the existence of God in the Summa; it’s not absolutely required that Catholics accept it, I suppose, but I don’t see why one wouldn’t: “The fifth [argument]”, says St Thomas, “is taken from the governance of the world. We see that things which lack knowledge, such as natural bodies, act for an end, and this is evident from their acting always, or nearly always, in the same way, so as to obtain the best result. Hence it is plain that they achieve their end, not fortuitously, but designedly. Now whatever lacks knowledge cannot move towards an end, unless it be directed by some being endowed with knowledge and intelligence; as the arrow is directed by the archer. Therefore, some intelligent being exists by whom all natural things are directed to their end; and this being we call God.” As the Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it (referring to the Summa): “The existence of God the Creator can be known with certainty through his works, by the light of human reason” (§286). This argument was good enough for Darwin, it seems; I don’t see why it shouldn’t be good enough for me.
This page is available to subscribers. Click here to sign in or get access.