- Published on Friday, 04 February 2011 06:25
- Written by John Draper
- Hits: 2322
The current movie The Rite is all about Exorcism, Satan and the Catholic Church. But the great actor Anthony Hopkins plays the lead character, Father Lucas and he calls himself an agnostic. He wanted to insert a bit of his own thinking into the film so he added some lines: "Oh yeah, every day I struggle. Most days. Some days I don't know if I believe in God or Santa Clause or Tinkerbell." In the film it fits with the character - many religious people admit to moments of doubt but in the case of the actor, it describes how he is all the time. But he is not an atheist - in fact he wants to keep his uncertainty, he wants the debate to continue. In an interview for io9, he talks about his need to leave some room for doubt.
The following is a quote of some off-the-cuff comments by Hopkins on io9:
Anyone who says they know, like Colin the young priest [who] says, "I believe in the truth." Oh, the truth, oh yeah, lot of trouble that got us into, didn't it, over the last maybe thousand years? Hitler knew the truth, so did Stalin, so did Mao Zedong, so did the Inquisition. They all knew the truth and that caused such horror. Certainty is the enemy.
It's like anyone saying "the debate is over." Who says it's over? "The debate is over. We know." We? Who? Human beings, we know nothing. And someone says, "But are you an atheist?" Well, I don't know what I believe. But who would I be to refute someone like [German pastor Dietrich] Bonhoeffer who sacrificed his life for his church and ended up in Flossenburg being executed by the Nazis? The great martyrs who died at the stake, destroyed for their personal beliefs. So who am I to refute anything?
"I would hate to live in a world of certainty. Have a closed circuit, a windowless room where I know for certain; like Jean Paul Sartre's [idea] that we're living in Hell, a closed dungeon. I'd rather live with uncertainty because Socrates was told that he was the wisest man in Athens and he said, "Well that's not likely." So he went around looking for people who were wiser than him. And he found one who said, "I'm glad I don't know anything." I think it was Plato who said "Be kind because everyone is fighting a great battle." Whatever the Devil is or is not, I think when we turn our backs on our own frailty and our own humanity and say we know for certain, we know the truth - we are in trouble."
I think it's a good summary of the thinking of agnostics - certainly agnostics who give it much thought. But to me there are two key points overlooked:
- Atheists are also uncertain - but to a lesser degree. Every atheist I know of has said they would be open to scientific demonstration of a higher power so would be willing to believe in a god but have not yet seen any proof. Agnostics usually point to a lack of a proof of non-existence so decide to sit on the fence. This is a less scientific position since agnostics are ignoring the fact that science cannot disprove the existence of something with no tangible parameters. So basically, atheists are also agnostics but think about it differently.
- Atheists are unlike Hopkins in that they prefer certainty or, they call it "certain" if it's highly probable. For example O.J. Simpson was freed of murder charges by a jury because of a very small chance (approx 1 in 10,000,000) that the evidence (e.g. DNA) could be wrong. Most people, including a later civil case jury, decided that he was in fact guilty. In the same way, atheists say that it's so unlikely there is a god, I'm going to live my life on that basis. Further if the 1 in 10 million chance proves to be true, there is only 1 chance in 10 million that Jesus was god and that any of the religious teachings are true. There is also a roughly 1 chance in 10 million that lightning will kill me in the next 15 minutes - so should that control what I do in the next 15 minutes? [The number "1 in 10 million" is not meant to be an accurate number - so don't pick on that! I just mean very unlikely.]
However, it's interesting to understand where smart agnostics like Hopkins are coming from.
Update Feb 7, 2011
A report in the Hamilton Spectator is headlined - Hopkins believes in God after role as priest. But he actually is quoted as saying something very similar to the above quote. So he does not believe in any god except perhaps "Einstein's God" which is not what any religion will tell you.
Here is the quote:
“Yes, I do. I’m not an atheist. I don’t know what it is. None of us do.
“But everything is God. Everything is particle physics. I’ve read everything I can. I started reading Charles Darwin’s ‘The Origin of the Species’ . I believe in a God that Einstein believed in, a sort of Spinoza kind of interpretation.”
Although he believes in the concept of a creator, Anthony doesn’t agree with the dogma imposed by organized religions.
Instead, the 73-year-old star believes fundamental certainty in life can cause much misery.
Discussing the absolute beliefs of organized religions, he said: “I think it is dangerous. Certainty is responsible for some of the most awful terrors in the world."
So Hopkins has NOT changed his mind and is still an agnostic.