This week, I have been reading a book The God Delusion, written by the British biologist Richard Dawkins. Dawkins, best known for his 1976 classic, The Selfish Gene, is a professor at “the other Oxford.” It occurred to me, as I reflected upon his brilliantly argued case against the existence of God, that Miami University students might be interested in discussing this book’s message. In an effort to stimulate this conversation, I’ll paraphrase a few of Dawkins’ conclusions.
Let’s begin with a working definition of God: She/he/it is the supernatural being that Christians, Muslims and other theists refer to as “God.” Dawkins argues that rather than something that lies beyond the realm of scientific inquiry, the existence of God is something that deserves to be addressed through rational inquiry. Some readers will reject this idea, leaning on the dictionary definition of faith as a belief for which no evidence is required. But if you are open to further inquiry, I encourage you to read on for a couple of minutes.
If someone tells you that God created life, the universe and everything, then isn’t it reasonable to ask for some supporting facts? Consider this for illustration: I walk into a bank and claim, with great fervor, that I earn fantastic sums of money as a professor and would like to discuss a loan for purchasing a Learjet. The bank would proceed by checking my credit, showing me the door and calling security if I refused to leave.
The problem with God and with my fiscal fortune is the same – there is absolutely no evidence for the existence of either thing. Neither claim can withstand logical scrutiny. Why then do we demand facts in commerce, but view them as superfluous in addressing matters of far greater importance?
Dawkins demolishes a variety of heartfelt critiques against the atheistic viewpoint of most scientists. A common argument comes in the form of postmodern gobbledegook, which dismisses scientific logic because, after all, there is no way of knowing anything for sure. There may be a sliver of merit in the statement that there are limits to the purview of science, but I’m impressed by the fact that most Americans would rather consult a physician steeped in biology and medicine than a zealously philosophical doctor (“How do you know that your head aches?”). If you don’t like this line of reasoning, consider how much you have relied upon scientific rationalism in the last hour.
Other critics claim that science is limited because it doesn’t explain the meaning of life. The theist is on particularly thin ice here. Unlike any religion, science offers a rich and ever-improving picture of the nature of living things, the workings of our solar system, the dynamics of the expanding universe and so on. Indeed, since the publication of an important book by Charles Darwin in 1859, scientists have known how and why life exists in its present form. If we believe that the truth has value, Dawkins contends that it’s time to abandon medieval fantasies about life, the universe and everything else.
Nicholas P. Moneyprofessor OF BotanyMOneynp@muohio.edu