Book Review - THE COSMIC FAIRY, by Arthur Atkinson. 1996. Colin Smythe Limited. With a forward by David Bellamy. ISBN 0 86140 403 3.
Subtitled ‘The New Challenge Of a Darwinian Approach To Humanism’ Atkinson provides a series of short essays on several Humanist themes. Thought he book can be read as a single narrative, most chapters really read quite independently of one another too. Dismissing God as a Cosmic Fairy product of wish fulfillment, Atkinson probes into the implications for humanity of finding that we are alone in the universe. He first explains why he feels that defining God as an intelligent ethereal spirit entity affecting the material world is itself a contradiction in terms. As intelligence is a product of brains and a complex ‘nervous system’, a being with no material body, nervous system or brain, is hardly likely to be able to have the intelligence, know how or ability to create a complex Universe. "But knowledge implies sensation. Sensation implies a brain. How can God possess one? Brains have evolved in animal organisms. Up to now, humanists have failed to lay sufficient tress on this fatal Darwinian conclusion."
Atkinson makes some common arguments sound excitingly fresh. His language throughout the book is that of common sense without ever patronizing the reader, though his use of the royal ‘we’ as a point of reference can be irksome at times. Some of his observations make for profound and eminently memorable one liners. Death is an unnecessary fear for humans. "Death cannot be experienced. We cannot ‘be’ dead." If death is the end of bodily sensation then we cannot experience death in any way. We can experience the pain of dying, but beyond that, nothing can ‘be’ for us. Thus, there is nothing to fear.
Atkinson shares our concern at the ambiguity of the word Spiritual, to which he adds the word ‘mind’, but his suggestion that we abolish such expressions altogether seems unnecessary. He feels that ‘mind’ is often used as a euphemism for brain and memory activity; and lists a whole page of common phrases we use with the word ‘mind’ in them, and offers a brain or memory alternative to each,. "I saw it in my mind’s eye - I imagined it. To my mind - In my opinion. Cast your mind back - Try to remember." If mind is recognized as being a simile of such phrases, there’s no reason why we can’t keep the word in use.
The highlight of the book is the series of replies Atkinson received from several Bishops to whom he addressed the question of how a spiritual entity can affect the material world as they suppose of God. They generally compare God to other intangible non-material or invisible things; i.e., love, air, etc, and effectively play right into the author’s hands.
This a thoughtful, penetrating series of essays, which also show that the author can communicate with devout Christians on his views without offending their own beliefs. The introduction by practicing Christian, David Bellamy is also very well written. He challenges the view expressed by many Humanists and non-believers that human evil towards other people is the fault of religion. He asserts quite rightly that (Inhumanity) "was there in homo habilis, Lucy and the line of primates and vertebrates long before religion took its hold. A hyena is in competition for the lion’s prey and so are the lesser males around the pride." Atkinson’s willingness to allow his critics such a say without counter-argument gives his case a cogent sense of honesty. There are essays here on child education, morality, life, and mortality. They are essays for reading, rereading and thinking over more than once. It’s also of tremendous value that this book has been published as a mainstream work, rather than by the British Humanist Association or the Rationalist Press Association, which means it will be read by many people who haven’t heard of Humanism before, and it will be a very rewarding introduction for them as well.
Copyright. Arthur Chappell
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