Retired philosophy professor Raymond Bradley has launched a new book, laying out his journey from an ardent Christian to vocal atheist.
Dr Bradley’s academic career stretches over 50 years including a period as head of philosophy at the University of Auckland when he was just 33 years old.
He retired to Omaha 15 years ago, where he wrote God’s Gravediggers: Why No Deity Exists, released by popular science and philosophy publisher Ockham Publishing last month.
The book deals with the topic that first awakened his mind.
Ray was raised in a conservative Baptist family in Auckland.
“I come from a long line of missionaries, ministers and school teachers,” he says
His grandfather was a Baptist and on his deathbed he ordained Ray to follow in his footsteps. Ray took up the challenge with vigour and filled his childhood and teenage years studying theology and attending church groups.
But as his inquisitive and critical mind developed, he became increasingly dissatisfied with the church elders’ responses to his incessant questioning. He turned to philosophy for answers and by the age of 16 he was convinced Christianity was a myth.
“I came to see religion as something that is intellectually dishonest and morally pernicious.”
Still living at home, he had to become a closet atheist or incur the wrath of his parents.
It was philosophy which provided his escape. He started formally studying philosophy at the University of Auckland while working during the day as a primary school teacher. After receiving a first class Masters, he won a scholarship to study for a PhD at the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra and moved out of home.
After teaching as a lecturer for three years at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, he went on to a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Oxford and was offered positions at both Oxford and Cambridge, but turned them down to become a senior lecturer at ANU.
“I got so sick of the English snobbery at the elite universities.”
Later, aged 33, he was appointed head of department at the University of Auckland and was suggested for the role of Vice Chancellor, but turned that down too.
“I didn’t want to go into a full-time administrative role.”
During this time he was involved in a series of well-attended debates on religion, taking on the defenders of Christianity. This culminated in a series with Auckland classics professor and leading Christian campaigner Edward Musgrave Blaiklock.
“Over 1000 people attended the final debate, which had to be moved to the Auckland Teachers College in Epsom to cater for the crowd. Recordings of the final debate were still circulating decades later.”
Blaiklock went on to be involved as accuser in the infamous heresy trial of NZ theologian Lloyd Geering.
Ray has spent the majority of his professional life as a generalist, writing on the philosophy of logic, mathematics and science, ethics and metaphysics, and was head of philosophy at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver for the latter part of his career. God’s Gravediggers is his first book on religion.
He says that although it is a philosophy book, it is written in plain English for a general readership.
The book has already been announced as one of three finalists in Ockham Publishing’s Next Big Idea competition.
He is now toying with idea of writing an autobiography, which might include stories such as the time he crashed a plane into icy Canadian waters and on his multiple world titles as a masters downhill skier. However, after suffering three life-threatening strokes in the past seven years and developing a tremor in his left hand, typing has become an arduous task.
In the meantime, Ray has started a course on his book through the Warkworth branch of the University of the Third Age (U3A). The group’s next meeting will be on Thursday March 10 at 10am.