Lucretius vs Richard Dawkins

The Spectator, August 17, 2013 | Go to article overview

Lucretius vs Richard Dawkins


Richard Dawkins has been confusing his categories again, comparing Trinity College, Cambridge, with Islam. His attack on religion does precisely the same, as if the prescientific Biblical account of the world somehow disproves the whole religious phenomenon. The Roman poet Lucretius (c. 100-55 BC) had argued in this way long before Dawkins.

In his great poem On the Nature of the Universe, Lucretius built on earlier Greek thought to argue that the whole universe - mind and matter, body and soul, god and man, earth, sky, sun, moon and stars - was made up of atomic particles, below the level of perception, and to explain how it all worked. Further, the gods, made up of self-regenerating atoms, were serenely uninterested in us and our worries.

That Dawkinsian assertion does not follow, but it enabled Lucretius to confirm that death should hold no fears for us: the whole point of his poem. Our body and soul simply broke down into their component atoms and dissipated into thin air like smoke, and the gods could not care less. He concluded 'To none is life given on freehold; to all, on lease. …

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