Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Blaise Pascal vs. The New Atheists

    “Religion," writes Alain de Botton, "is above all a symbol of what exceeds us and an education in the advantages of recognising our paltriness." It is a thought reminiscent of Blaise Pascal. One of the creators of modern probability theory, the 17th-century thinker invented an early calculating machine, the Pascaline, along with a version of the syringe and a hydraulic press. He made major contributions to geometry and helped shape the future development of mathematics. He also designed the first urban mass transit system.

    Pascal was one of the founders of the modern world. Yet the author of the Pensées - an apology for Christianity begun after his conversion to Catholicism - was also convinced of the paltriness of the human mind. By any standards a scientific genius and one of the most intelligent human beings that may ever have lived, Pascal never supposed that humankind's problems could be solved if only people were smarter.

    The paradox of an immensely powerful mind mistrusting the intellect is not new. Pascal needed intellectual humility because he had so many reasons to be proud of his intelligence. It is only the illiteracy of the current generation of atheists that leads them to think religious practitioners must be stupid or thoughtless. Were Augustine, Maimonides and al-Ghazali - to mention only religious thinkers in monotheist traditions - lacking in intellectual vitality? The question is absurd but the fact it can be asked at all might be thought to pose a difficulty for de Botton. His spirited and refreshingly humane book aims to show that religion serves needs that an entirely secular life cannot satisfy. He will not persuade those for whom atheism is a militant creed. Such people are best left with their certainties, however childish.
So begins The New Stateman's John Gray in his review — Religion for Atheists: a Non-Believer’s Guide to the Uses of Religion.

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2 Comments:

Blogger 박태민 마태오 said...

Alain de Botton is a refreshing atheist. I actually liked his "Atheism 2.0" TED Talk:
http://www.ted.com/talks/view/lang/ko//id/1327

February 22, 2012 at 2:36 AM  
Blogger Mark in Spokane said...

And Pascal, for all his virtues, was a filthy Frenchman. :-)

February 24, 2012 at 1:04 AM  

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