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Dawkins and Hitchens

Tiny and temporary, like you and me.

by Everett Wilson
June 28, 2008

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Dawkins and Hitchens

Richard Dawkins, a zoologist, is the Charles Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University. He is an eminent scientist and a skilled communicator. He says there is no God. Christopher Hitchens is an essayist and journalist, one of the most distinguished of our generation. He also says there is no God.

Since God is ineffable, I understand those who believe that he is also incredible. I do not understand those who have the certainty there is no God. Dawkins spent his professional career studying animals, living and dead; Hitchens is a generalist willing to write about anything that interests him, and does a good job of it. Both of them know enough theology to take potshots at it, but that is not hard to get or do.

As gifted as both men are, they are still our fellow organisms, as tiny and temporary as we are, and as restricted to a correspondingly tiny space in the known universe. From such a limited range, where do they, and those who agree with them, amass enough experience and information in their brief lives to be certain of a negative: the non-existence of God?

They must have restricted their search in such a way that they won't stumble upon God by accident. They must have assumed that their increased knowledge of their tiny corner of the universe is sufficient to make conclusions about ultimate reality.

Some of those who chose this intellectual path have stumbled upon God anyway, leading their remaining colleagues to restrict the search even more.

In contrast, most of us realize that Hamlet was speaking to more than Horatio when he said, "There more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in our philosophy."

Of course our generation has access to more information than our fathers, but this lack of information hardly discredits all their insights. A case in point was cited by C. S. Lewis in The Problem of Pain:

You will read in some books that the men of the Middle Ages thought the Earth flat and the stars near, but that is a lie. Ptolemy had told them that the Earth was a mathematical point without size in relation to the distance of the fixed stars.

Ptolemy did his work more than a thousand years before the invention of the telescope. That is how long educated people have known that this "big wide wonderful world" we live in is a speck of dust in a universe so large that numbers become meaningless to most of us.

Yet there are those who insist that this tiny speck in space furnishes enough information to conclude there is no God. They announce this conclusion as fact and ridicule those don't agree.

Can I prove there is a God? No. I'm just tired of the intellectual pretensions of those who claim to prove there isn't.

In the meantime, I tell the story of God to anyone who wants to listen. You can believe it or not.

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Chris Warman from Surry NH USA writes:
July 19, 2008
Excellent column. We could all stand to read or re-read C.S. Lewis. I commented on a column you did years ago on Christopher Fry's "The Lady Is Not For Burning" and I think much of what he was talking about applies here. I stopped being a Christian in my teens (I'm now 54) but I have never stopped being spiritual. I would never presume to say that God does not exist. Anyone who would obviously has a pretty high opinion of his or herself. But I would go so far to say that if someone thought God was an old white guy with a white beard who speaks English and is watching me right now and taking notes... well, I don't think so.

I do feel the power, though. I just don't know where it is coming from.

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