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Magicians take on the God Delusion
Created on Sep 01 2010
Dear Converts Corner
As a professional magician /mentalist and trained historian I must say I agree with Richard Dawkins desire that we find as much evidence as we can to justify our belief system. Like biologists ,the majority of people in my profession tend to have an atheistic outlook –one need only read Derren Browns comments about The God Delusion being his “favourite book of all time”. I am writing this piece as a response to Professor Dawkins programme - The God Delusion– which is based on his best selling book which Derren found so enlightening.
Despite his lack of reading, Derren Brown, like myself will tell you that magicians and mentalists depend on the human ability to suspend their disbelief. In other words people enjoy a good magic trick – “believing” in the magic – while it is being performed. Of course they will later say how much they enjoyed the “trick” – even though we all know there is no such thing as magic.
Richard Dawkins believes that people of faith live their whole lives like this. Because there is no such thing as God –these people are by definition deluded – they must really know the truth (atheism) - but are suspending their disbelief in God. They are therefore living in ignorance.
If I were an atheist I think I would be looking for another spokesperson to profess my ideas. Professor Dawkins piece was very unconvincing. Indeed at times I was a little embarrassed for one of the UK’s top scientists – who tried to back up his belief (yes atheism is a belief) by talking to a believer who thinks it would be acceptable to execute an adulterer, interview American creationist fundamentalists (who believe the earth is about 5000 years old) and showing pictures of the Catholic faithful at Lourdes – adding that this is the beginning of the slippery slope to suicide bombs on the London tube!
Unfortunately the fact of the matter is that our good professor never tires of setting up straw men only to dismantle them with great relish. These repeated mischaracterisations of faith do the atheist camp no favours. All it does is betray a vitriolic personal agenda. I dislike American Christian fundamentalists for the same reason I dislike Richard Dawkins. He is more interested in proselytising his militant atheism – rather than relying on the rational arguments he claims to cherish.
According to Dawkins religion is “anti-rational” – faith is “blind trust” in the absence of evidence. This does not describe my faith – or the faith of any serious believer .While rational argument will not prove Gods existence – serious thinkers from Aristotle and Kant to Descartes and Whitehead and Francis Collins (A biologist who headed the genome project) - have demonstrated that belief in God is very plausible. It is easy and disingenuous to say the least – to put forward a caricature of faith – for it is not real faith at all.
I started this piece with Dawkins insistence that we need evidence. The major flaw of his claim that science demands atheism is that it goes beyond the evidence. By definition God is “supernatural” – i.e. beyond nature – science can neither prove nor disprove His existence. Good scientists know this – including the multitude of scientists (40%) who believe in a Creator God. No doubt these scientists are also deluded ignoramuses
One wonders whether Professor Dawkins is appealing to people’s intelligence or their ignorance. He talks about children being indoctrinated by faith with a debate that could be seen in a GCSE class. He suggests that people are cajoled into staying in their religion. One can just imagine the Church of England Vicar with the recalcitrant teenager “listen Jesus was cool – but if you want to be an atheist –let’s talk about it over a cup of tea and slice of cake”
Dawkins also suggests that atheists are somehow persecuted or misunderstood – even discriminated against. This is a ridiculous suggestion - as academia has been dominated by philosophical naturalism (atheism) for most of the twentieth century largely as a result of the influence of Marxist ideas. Indeed for much of that century half the world was officially atheist – under Communist regimes. I think Richard Dawkins has taken up his fundamentalist atheist crusade because many in the atheist camp (myself included) have moved -and are moving to the Theist camp- including Britain’s most famous atheist – Anthony Flew. The God Delusion is simply a desperate attempt to shore up atheism’s crumbling defences. It is becoming apparent to many intelligent people that a scientific materialist account of everything does not constitute the whole story. Throughout the 20th century a naturalist assumption has been integral to western culture – especially academia. I would argue that it is a fundamental error to see such assumptions as necessarily true. Wisdom begins in wonder – and it increases when we become aware of our pre-suppositions and question them.
Professor Dawkins suggests that believers have an intractable, arrogant idea that they know everything. Nothing could be further from the truth. Although we have inklings of God – in the end God is ultimate mystery. He is awesome by His very nature. An essential component of the spiritual is the experience of wonder. Wasn’t it Einstein who said that the most fundamental mystery about existence is existence itself? He also said that science without religion is lame.
The God delusion has helped to perpetuate two major modern myths. First that religion and science contradict each other. In fact science is a western development precisely because of its Judeo Christian tradition of Theism. People like Isaac Newton sought to understand the “Laws” of nature put into existence by a Creator/Lawgiver. The second myth is that Theists are unthinking drones. If Aristotle, Augustine, Plotinus, Aquinas, Descartes, Kant, Einstein and Collins and thousands of other genius’s are unthinking drones -this would make Richard Dawkins intelligence amoeba like.
Professor Dawkins obviously is a proponent of the scientific method. He is always asking for the “evidence”. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this. The scientific method is sound – but it is not the only route to knowledge. And so we are forced to say that the Professor may be a good scientist – he is however a terrible thinker.
Knowledge comes in two forms – either a posterior (a statement whose truth is based on observation and “evidence”) – also known as inductive reasoning –or a –priori (a statement that is necessarily true, requiring no verification by experience - it is true or false by virtue of the meaning of the words or the laws of logic). This is deductive reasoning. I would like to ask the professor – if science is solely about evidence and hard “facts” - how come mathematics is based upon deductive reasoning – and most science is based on mathematics? After all when the first Apollo spacecraft went to the moon and back – the astronauts were relying on the fact that everything had been worked out in the heads of scientists before it happened in reality. And while we are at it – what is a quark? Is it “real” – or is it a mathematical concept? Does time really stop at the speed of light? How do sub atomic particles “know” what other particles are doing billions of miles away? What is dark matter and dark energy? Apparently these are very real – even though no one has seen them.
I could go on – and I know that these areas in science are usually tackled by physicists and may make super biologist Dawkins uncomfortable. Well I believe he should stick to his biology – because his philosophy and his ability to craft a decent argument is awful. Richard Dawkins is so adamant that Reason is the only way to look at the world – and that it has no room for faith. Oh dear – how misguided can you be. All knowledge, scientific or otherwise, depends on the validity of reasoning – without it no science is true. But I’m afraid strict materialism (and the atheism that goes with it) refutes itself. If thoughts are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain, I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true …..and hence no reason to suppose that my brain be composed of atoms.
Philosophical Naturalism/Atheism tries to offer an account of thought – but this account leaves no room for the acts of knowing and insight (used by scientists and everyone else) on which the whole value of our thinking – as a means to truth – depends. And so human Reason itself – the concept that Richard Dawkins claims is the cornerstone of atheism – is in a very real sense supernatural. Not in a “spooky” – or even “spiritual” way – more like in the sense that it won’t fit into nature. Thinking and insight is knowledge sufficiently free from “nature” to be determined only by the truth it knows. Give this up and you give up nature also.
So – I will finish this piece by re iterating that I believe Channel 4: More 4’s programme -The God Delusion- has done the atheist camp no favours whatsoever. Professor Dawkins failed to put forward an intelligent case for militant atheism. But he did try –God bless him- and next time I am celebrating mass I will light a candle for him.