Free will and fairies

At the suggestion of a friend, I recently listened to the Blair vs. Hitchens debate. Jimmy concluded that Hitchens was the more eloquent but Blair had the better points. Listen to it for yourself; perhaps you will disagree as I do.

The gist of Hitchen’s argument was that religion causes a lot of evil, a little bit of good and that many of the good works done by the religious are the healing of violence done by religion in the first place. Blair’s rather timid argument seemed to be “well, hang on folks, not everyone who has faith does terrible things, and some of them would be worse people without religion, so let’s at least be grateful for that.” Rather weak sauce; he did however bring some more solid figures to the debate regarding just how much those inspired by faith contribute to charitable campaigns.

As I have a post nightshift morning off, I think I’ll chip in with a couple rebuttals of my own – though they are obviously beyond the scope of the question originally debated.

Hitchens’ opening gambit included an indictment of religion’s view of mankind as “raw material”, suggesting that we are objects in a “cruel experiment.” However, he didn’t mention the inevitable conclusion to his chosen alternative (materialism): robotic pre-destination.

“Once you assume a creator and a plan, it makes us objects in a cruel experiment whereby we are created sick and then commanded to be well.” ~ Christopher Hitchens


“Pre-destination” certainly sounds like it belongs in a theological lecture, but it falls squarely in Hitchens’ lap when it comes to the reality of a purely material life. A life in which we are meat machines built and programmed by our genes to protect them and pass them along, then disguarded when we reach the end of our usefulness. I’m sure he would come up with an eloquent retort if questioned but ultimately, Hitchens doesn’t believe in free will. Bob Dylan reminds us “you gotta serve somebody”; the choice for people today is not necessarily between the devil and the Lord but between a loving God or a cold, calculating biological blueprint.

In his prompted concession towards the end of the debate, Hitchens acknowledges “the numinous.” The sense of significance, divinity, other-worldliness that is encountered by human beings everywhere and in many things; a piece of music, a mountain vista, a poem, the obsessional and unnecessarily detailed beauty of something as temporary as a snowflake. He concedes that this phenomenon exists, but we should just enjoy it rather than allow it to lead us to supernaturalism and doctrine.

This is a commonly argued point, summarised by Douglas Adams and often quoted by atheists, “Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?”

No questions please, I'm a just a fairy.


Sadly, I believe this is a wrongly applied and hypocritical metaphor. Why, according to a horde of materialists, are we allowed (in fact, obliged) to investigate and scrutinise every aspect of the physical world, yet putting any thought into the source of our sense of divine presence is heavily discouraged? We are a naturally curious species. Isn’t it both understandable and inevitable for the same questions that provoke our desire to know why a flower opens to also prompt us to ponder why we find it beautiful? Yet apparently, despite out scientific endeavours we are to simply enjoy a sip of the numinous without taking it any further. Hitchens does not deny for a second the reality of our other-worldly sense (and states that he would not trust anyone who does).

The corrected metaphor therefore reads something like this: “isn’t it enough to enjoy the fairies at the bottom of the garden, without having to think about who they are or where they’re from?”