Sunday, January 11, 2009
In The Sunday Times I interview the pianist James Rhodes - an incredible and appalling life story - and I discuss Darwin. In the course of researching the latter, I reread Marilynne Robinson's review of Richard Dawkins's The God Delusion. I love the bone dry line 'he is admired for his prose' and the description of Neo-Darwinian rhetoric as 'lost in the miasma of its own supposed implications'. But what struck me most was the Dawkins argument, summarised by Robinson thus, 'A creator God must be more complex than his creation, but that is impossible because if he existed he would be at the wrong end of evolutionary history. To be present in the beginning he must have been unevolved and therefore simple.' This is, as Robinson shows, an entirely futile argument. It is like saying God doesn't exist because he hasn't been seen shopping at Tesco. If, as theologians have always said, God is outside time and space, then the idea that he wouldn't have had time to evolve is absurd. Of course, such a God also lies outside Dawkins's rhetorical logic; indeed, it might be said he lies outside all logic. But that would seem to be the point of being God, though it should be added that Catholic theology does allow for the power of human reason to go some way to understanding God. Atheists would say this is all evasion. Maybe it is. But it is not as irrational as atheism. First, say Dawkins is right and God should be sought in the particular forms of materialism by which we currently understand the world. Since this materialism is, in every area, radically incomplete and since aspects of our knowledge indicate deep structures of matter and the universe, not to mention life and the human mind, of which we know nothing, then it is premature to say anything conclusive about the ultimate nature of material reality. Secondly, say God is not to be found in our forms of materialism, then it is vain to keep insisting that he must be there somewhere if he is to be said to exist. It is equally vain to construct an ideology - atheism - of simple negation. There is overwhelming evidence of the power of God in the human world and of our need to believe. This may not be evidence of his existence but, on the other hand, it may be. It is certainly evidence that there is something odd and probably unique about our place in the world. To say, in this context, that God does not exist is at least as irrational as to say that he does. In the absence of faith, the only rational position I can imagine is agnosticism. You may not think this is a very glorious position. I disagree. I'd go into battle beneath a flag bearing the legend 'we don't know'.
Posted by Bryan Appleyard at 5:21 am