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Faith and Physics

The God Delusion,by Richard Dawkins, Bantam Press, 416 pp, £20, ISBN: 978-0593055489 The first thing to be said about Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion is that it is a good read. In fact it is a romp – a high-spirited, no holds barred polemic, witty, with lots of interesting little stories, wide-ranging in its subject matter and taking on opponents he imagines coming at him from all angles – the sort of thing Christians used to be good at in happier times. A number of reviewers have complained that Dawkins treats their deepest feelings and beliefs with open contempt; but Christian apologists down the ages could hardly be said to have treated the deepest feelings and beliefs of pagans, Muslims, Jews and other varieties of Christian with sensitivity and respect. As far as religious polemics are concerned, it has always been a matter of “if you don’t like the heat, get out of the kitchen”; Dawkins is only following a path that has been well worn by his Christian adversaries. I do, of course, hope he is wrong in his central proposition, since if he is right my religious feelings will have to be satisfied with the enormous size of the universe, its great age and the huge statistical improbability of the wonderful things that surround us on our own small planet – all of which somehow fails to impress me if it is not informed by some sort of consciousness, especially one with whom I can enter into personal communication. Dawkins’s great effort throughout all his books has been to show that the Darwinian principle of natural selection provides a sufficient, simple and elegant explanation for all the diverse phenomena of living nature. Thus he strives to demonstrate that all the changes that are necessary to produce complex organisms can pass through a succession of stages, each one very slight in itself and each of them (this is the great challenge he faces in his 1996 book Climbing Mount Improbable) beneficial in itself. Beyond this, he is distinguished by his argument that the unit pushing the process along must be the smallest, most elementary one: the gene (a thesis that would have been impossible in Darwin’s day before the gene was discovered). Animals, ourselves included, can therefore be represented as machines – “lumbering robots” – fashioned by genes to facilitate their own self-replication. Interestingly, The God Delusion concedes that physics has not yet found…



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