Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Thoughts from Darwin's Angel

"Darwin's Angel", by John Cornwell, is an enjoyable and thought-provoking read, and not just because it is another book that deconstructs large chunks of "The God Delusion". I have just finished it, and it has left me with plenty to think about.

The idea is that the guardian angel of Darwin (and Dawkins) addresses communication to Dawkins following his writing of TGD. Here's an extract from the chapter entitled, "Does God Exist?" which is very relevant to many of the debates that have taken place on this blog - and it addresses my thoughts as much as those of commenters.
The ultimate fallacy of your [ie. Dawkins'] position, and Russell's, is that you confuse two quite different areas of discourse, the scientific and the religious. You ask to see evidence, give me the evidence and I will believe, you say, no matter how surprised you would be. But the question 'Why is there anything rather than nothing?' is not a final bid for evidence but a quest for meaning or sense that has begun in a moment of wonder that there is anything at all. You ridicule the quest because you do not seem to understand it. If you understood it, you would not ridicule it even if you felt unable to go there yourself. That you do not understand it is shown by the fact that you actually think that "argument for God" is an argument for the ludicrous anthropomorphic deity that rightly appals you. If denying this claim, as you do, is what makes a person an atheist, then most Christian theologians, including Thomas Aquinas, Father McCabe, and yours truly, can also be characterised as atheists.

A real atheist, like yourself, is one who does not accept that the question 'Why is there anything rather than nothing?' is a genuine question. You are content to ask the question within the world, but you can't see that the existence of the world raises a profound question: again, as Martin Rees, following Wittgenstein, has put it: "The preeminent mystery is why anything exists at all. What breathes life into the equations of physics, and actualized them in a real cosmos? Such questions lie beyond science, however: they are the province of philosophers and theologians."

Philosophers through the ages have invoked the possibility of God as the answer to the existence, as opposed to the non-existence, of the universe: and creation is the name given to the notion of its coming into being. By the same analogy creation is also the word given to the exercise whereby a poem, a piece of music, a painting, a sculpture, is brought into existence by the artist.

Darwin's Angel, John Cornwell p.152-3