Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Martin Gardner - a belief ignored

The Great Beyond: RIP Martin Gardner

So Martin Gardner, who is well known and respected in skeptic circles, has died at the age of 95.

Apart from his long running maths columns in Scientific American, he is best known for his work “discrediting scientific fraud and quackery”. This means, for example, that he is getting favourable and sympathetic comments from rabid atheist PZ Myers and his followers.

Yet, few people are noting in detail that, despite his generally skeptical take on life, Gardner never became an atheist, and wrote an entire book in which he justified his "philosophical theism."

The book is "The Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener", and I do have a yellowing copy on my bookshelf. As someone who wrote a review at Amazon explains:
Gardner is a "fideist," meaning that he acknowledges the impossibility of demonstrating rationally the existence of God and related issues, but insisting that faith is an appropriate mechanism for getting around these difficulties. Gardner is never heavy-handed or preachy in his positions, and he gives the arguments against him a fair hearing.
That's a position I basically agree with, and as such I did find it a very good read. Gardner did not go so far as to believe in Christianity, but his position is one that I think any thoughtful Christian could call a very reasonable "fall-back" position.

What I find a little curious, though, is how in atheist circles, like PZ Myers' blog, this aspect of Gardner seems to be being ignored, or at least downplayed. I don't really see why Gardner's views, and his deep faith in "faith", so to speak, should not be the subject of the same ridicule that Catholics and other Christians have faced from Myers. Maybe he just hasn't read the book.

In fact, I am a little curious as to whether Gardner in his later years, was starting to get a bit indignant about the aggression of the "new atheism".

Someone else has already noted that the New York Times obituary paints his religious belief quite misleadingly, if you have read his "Whys.." book. I suspect it is one of his least read, but most deserving, works.

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