Paul Duggan: In article <13048@news.upenn.edu>, speaking of atheists, you write, 'I see wh

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Paul Duggan: In article <13048@news.upenn.edu>, speaking of atheists, you write, "I see where their coming from too, for I as a sinner also have the tendnacy to suppres the truth that God has implanted within me, and all of mankind." This is a terribly unfair blanket characterization of atheists. It is as though I said, "I see where Christians are coming from, for I also have the tendancy to seek after an emotional crutch that will make it easier to live in a large and indifferent universe." Some people became atheists or agnostics because they were seeking after the truth; and because this is honestly where they felt the truth led them. I don't expect you to believe they were right, but on what basis do you question the motives of so many different people you haven't met? As an example, there is Thomas Huxley (an agnostic rather than an atheist, but I think he still makes my point). Shortly after his son died, his friend the Reverend Charles Kingsley wrote him a long letter, the jist of which was if Huxley would only abandon his agnosticism and accept the Christian idea of an immortal soul, he would be comforted. Huxley thanks him for his concern, but then explains in several pages of passionate prose why he cannot alter a set of principles, established after so much thought and deliberation, even to assuage his current grief. He has, he maintains, committed himself to science as the only sure guide to truth about matters of fact. Since matters of God and soul do not lie in this realm, he cannot know the answers to specific claims and must remain an atheist. He writes: "Science seems to teach to me in the highest and strongest manner the great truth which is embodied in the Christian conception on entire surrender to the will of God. Sit down before fact as a little child, be prepared to give up every preconcieved notion, follow humbly wherever and to whatever abysses nature leads, or you shall learn nothing. I have only begun to learn content and peace of mind since I have resolved at all risks to do this." He goes on to speak of the larger comfort he has recieved from three agencies that shaped his deepest beliefs: "Science and her methods [which] gave me a resting-place independent of authority and tradition"; "love. . . that opened up to me a view of the sanctity of human nature"; and a recognition that, "a deep sense of religion was compatible with the entire absence of theology." He then writes: "If at this moment I am not a worn-out, debauched, useless carcass of a man, if it has been or will be my fate to advance the cause of science, if I feel that I have a shadow of a claim on the love of those about me, if in the supreme moment when I looked down into my boy's grave my sorrow was full of submission and without bitterness, it is because these agencies have worked upon me, and not because I have ever cared whether my poor personality shall remain distinct forever from the All from which whence it came and whither it goes. And thus, my dear Kingsley, you will understand what my position is. I may be quite wrong, and in that case I know I shall have to pay the penalty for being wrong. But I can only say with Luther, "Gott helfe mir, ich kann nichts anders [God help me, I cannot do otherwise]." Surely it is unfair to say of him, "I know where Huxley is coming from, he simply has a sinful tendency to supress the truth God has put in him." There is obviously far more to him and his philosophy than that; including a measure of sincerity and desire to believe the truth. --Roderic T

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