21 February 2010

 

Origins of Scepticism

Last night's final episode in the History of Christianity series on BBC2 was entitled 'God in the Dock' and focussed on scepticism - i.e. doubts about God and the Bible as a historical document. Unfortunately, however, Diarmaid MacCulloch, the narrator, looked no further back in time than Baruch de Spinoza, the notionally Jewish philosopher who wrote in 17th century Amsterdam. Spinoza's scepticism concluded with the notion that Nature itself was God. MacCulloch then reported on the rise of scepticism since that time, incuding the whole Enlightenment and the growth of atheism through the achievements of science and the industrial revolution up to our own time when, under the impact of atheism and rationalism, the Christian church is riven with factions taking different positions on the nature of their god and the status of biblical writings. Like all religions it must be prone to factionalism because its fundamental ideas are built on sand and one interpretation is as good as another.

A little thought and research reveals that scepticism has much deeper roots and may well have been around right through human history, ever since the times when some thinkers first suggested that there were unseen forces at work behind natural phenomena, forces that they called gods or spirits. Why else would there be such emphasis in each of the 'holy' books on condemning unbelievers and insisting that the god of this or that holy book was real and the only god that people should believe in and worship? Only the existence of doubters would make such threats necessary.

In fact, the questionning of the existence of gods and ideas of atheism are known in recorded history as far back as ancient Greece. Wherever, in fact, that humans put any serious thought into devising satisfactory and convincing explanations of the natural world that don't rely on empty words or phrases to cover up ignorance and fear.

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