One long sin against mankind

William Kingdon Clifford, by John Collier

I’ve been slowing working my way through A.C. Grayling’s book, The God Argument, and finding it a very helpful, crisply articulated, summary of arguments against religion and belief in gods (I’ve just finished the first half. The second half is about the merits of humanism). I naturally have questions and areas where I want to push back, but in keeping with my commitments this year I am reading with an open mind. Partly due to my training and partly due to my place in history (I’m a GenXer) I have been a vocal critic of pure reason and empiricism. Yet reading Grayling’s book now, I understand why appeals to reason and evidence are so appealing. The world is understandable. It makes sense.

At the end of the chapter, “Agnosticism, Atheism and Proof,” he includes this quote from W. K. Clifford:

It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence. If a man, holding a belief which he was taught in childhood or persuaded of afterwards, keeps down and pushes away any doubts which arise about it in his mind, purposely avoids the reading of books and the company of men that call into question or discuss it, and regards as impious those questions which cannot easily be asked without disturbing it—the life of that man is one long sin against mankind.

This perfectly describes my Year Without God. It is a deliberate refusal to “keep down and push away” my doubts and questions about the beliefs I was given from childhood. While the universe, and our world, will probably always be more than we can understand we should not for that reason discount our ability to understand, or hide behind vanishingly small probabilities and call it evidence.

If you want to read along and share your thoughts, please do in the comments below.

About Ryan Bell

For 19 years Ryan Bell was a pastor, most recently the senior pastor of the Hollywood Seventh-day Adventist Church. In March 2013 he resigned his position due to theological and practical differences. As an adjunct professor he has taught subjects ranging from intercultural communication to bioethics.
Currently he is a researcher, writer and speaker on the topic of religion and irreligion in America. In January 2014, Ryan began a yearlong journey exploring the limits of theism and the atheist landscape in the United States and blogs about that experience here at Year Without God.