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42 a poor alternative to Jesus

By Mark Christensen - posted Tuesday, 24 April 2012

A race of hyper-intelligent, pan-dimensional beings, fed up with the bickering, ask their super computer to determine the meaning of Life, the Universe and Everything. Seven-and-half million years later, Deep Thought comes up with "42".

The 2012 Atheist Convention is finished, the sum total of its wisdom adding a few more days to the futile quest. Doubtless, numerous unengaged monologues, animated by bitterness and fear more than dispassionate reason, were delivered, yet still no news reports of a final answer for humanity. Perhaps Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett and attendants would have been better served sitting down together to watch the movie version of The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy.

Slartibartfast: Perhaps I'm old and tired, but I think that the chances of finding out what's actually going on are so absurdly remote that the only thing to do is to say, "Hang the sense of it," and keep yourself busy. I'd much rather be happy than right any day.

Arthur: And are you?

Slartibartfast: Ah, no.

He laughs, snorts.

Slartibartfast: Well, that's where it all falls down, of course.


Douglas Adams, who died four years before the film's release, was a staunch atheist. His fiction sought to undermine smug religious certainties by logically demonstrating that anything and everything is literally possible. That conviction of yours, well, no one, in truth, can be certain Jesus was the son of God, sent to redeem Humankind. Even if there was an historical Christ, it may still be a trick instigated by a bunch of very smart, intergalactic mice with a bigger yet unknown agenda.

Faced with innate uncertainty, the best option, should humanity have any chance of every grasping its cosmic purpose, is to subject all assertions to the levelling blade of reason.

In history, even though the understanding of events, of cause and effect, is a matter of interpretation, and even though interpretation is in many ways a matter of opinion, nevertheless those opinions and interpretations are honed to within an inch of their lives in the withering crossfire of argument and counterargument, and those that are still standing are then subjected to a whole new round of challenges of fact and logic from the next generation of historians – and so on.

All opinions are not equal. Some are a very great more robust, sophisticated and well supported in logic and argument than others.

Though fair enough, Adams, like most others, does not fully work through the paradoxical implications of this admirable worldview.

While Charles Darwin's scientific formulations on how you and I got here may be more compelling than the Biblical creation myth, faith in biological evolution is, from an intellectual standpoint, less than absolute. Just as there are missing links in the fossil record, the theory of natural selection, like all theories, is made whole by applying personal judgment. Moreover, for this process to succeed, it must be open and organic, as any coercion or forcing of the argument would imply human understanding is mechanical and formulaic.


"Explaining is a difficult art," wrote Dawkins in his 1986 book, The Blind Watchmaker.

"You can explain something so that your reader understands the words, and you can explain something so that the reader feels it in the marrow of his bones."

Ironically, this insight is exactly why atheists so despise organized religion. The locus of truth concerning God or anything else of importance, lies deep within each of us, an infinite distance from words, facts and figures. Bible-bashing is a closed and counter-productive strategy, since literalism prevents a sensing of the answer in one's bones.

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About the Author

Mark is a social and political commentator, with a background in economics. He also has an abiding interest in philosophy and theology, and is trying to write a book on the nature of reality. He blogs here.

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