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Monday, May 2, 2011 / Duncan Forgan

Scone Old Parish Church: An Atheist’s Lament


I may have come to this story a little late in the day, but I cannot simply let this decision pass without comment.  For those of you who don’t know, the village of Scone in Scotland has been undergoing some ecclesiastical upheaval of late, concerning the merger of the two main churches in the village, Scone Old Parish Church and Scone New.  A unified church needs only one place of worship, and there has been protracted discussion as to which church is to be selected.  The decision was recently made to maintain Scone New as the place of worship, leaving the fate of Scone Old somewhat uncertain.

Scone New

Given previous posts, you will have no doubt identified me as an atheist.  That is true, but in my youth I attended Scone Old, and I was a member of the Boys’ Brigade company attached to it, which at that time was referred to as the 15th Perth (Scone).  It played a big role in my formative years, and I daresay that I owe much of what is good about me to the experiences I had in and around that church.  It saddens me greatly that the decision went against Scone Old.

Scone Old Parish Church

Now, these anecdotal yammerings are hardly conclusive arguments for saving Scone Old.  Nor should they be – decisions like these are not to be taken lightly.  Scone Old is an important part of the history of the village.  While it has been in its current location since 1805, it can trace its roots much further back (most likely back to the 13th Century).  Having been rebuilt in 1784 in the grounds of Scone Palace, the once-crowning place of Scottish Kings, the entire church building was then moved, brick by brick, to its current location in 1805.  Moving Scone Old to “New Scone” was the first step in moving the entire village – the “New” part has since been dropped.  Scone New can trace its history back to the 18th Century, and was rebuilt in its present location around 80 years after Scone Old arrived in New Scone.

As I’m sure you’ll agree, there is no easy way to decide between two buildings of similar age (even if their lineages are very different) to service a congregation.  I’m not saying that I should get my way and have the decision reversed just because I have misty-eyed memories of one of God’s houses, especially as I no longer believe in him.

What I am saying is that I believe the decision to save Scone New over Scone Old was not made in a rigorous or balanced fashion.  Arbiters from the Church of Scotland were called in to make the decision (as of course both parties could not be objective in this matter).  I have read the report from the arbiters justifying their decision.  I’m not going to publish it here, as that would be improper – what I will say is that it contains evidence of bias, of questions not asked, of answers ignored, and of calcified ideas unshaken in the face of good evidence.  As a scientist, each of these things is abhorrent to me.  As the owner of a BB Queen’s Badge (presented to me at Scone Old), it boils my blood.

I’m not saying they made the wrong decision to move the congregation from Scone Old.  I’m saying that the evidence I have seen shows there was no possibility of making the right decision given the apparent motivations and prejudices of the decision-makers.  As Christ said in Matthew 15:13-14,

if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall in the ditch

Or more appropriately, as Hume said,

A wise man proportions his belief to the evidence

I hope that some thought is being given to the validity of the decision against Scone Old.  There are many who feel the decision was poor, and I happen to agree.  It might be a religious matter, but an application of the scientific method wouldn’t go amiss here!

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