No atheists up mountains

Kate and I have just returned from ten days at the Balliol chalet, up in the Alps near Mt. Blanc.  We led twelve students in a reading party devoted to Frankenstein and The Origin of Species.  Naturally, God and religion came up for discussion.

I was amazed to find that none of the students admitted to being an atheist.  It’s not that they were distinctly religious; indeed just one spoke in such terms.  Instead, what we heard was inoffensive waffle.  A common observation seemed to be that, well, wouldn’t it would be going a bit far to be an atheist, since religious belief may be good for a society?

These weren’t twelve random 20-year-olds, they were the best of Britain, products of the famous Oxford tutorial system, which proudly claims to develop habits of wide-ranging and rigorous enquiry.  I can’t imagine at age 20 not having made up my mind as to whether God existed!

Some of the seeming lack of opinion may have been British lack of candour.  These students are socially highly tuned, and perhaps some are atheists inside but sense that making their views clear would not be a constructive move.  And this trumps truth at age 20?  Astonishing.

[25 July 2015]