Does God Exist? - Dawkins v Collins If you want guidance on the thorny question of whether or not God exists there are plenty of books available on the subject. If that is not enough for you there is always the Internet on which you will find references, reviews and discussions about such books. In short, there is more stuff out there that you can shake a bishop’s crozier at. I have read two such books: The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins (Professor for the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University) and The Language of God by Francis S Collins (Head of the Human Genome Project). These two men have one thing in common: they are highly respected scientists. What they do not have in common is clearly evident merely from the title of their respective books. Which of the two men settles the argument? In my opinion .. neither. But then I’d have been very surprised if they had! If you think about it, neither of them could possibly settle the argument one way or the other. It’s one thing to argue that God does not exist, quite another to prove it; similarly with the argument that God does exist. In fact Dawkins tacitly accepts this: Chapter 4 of his book is entitled "Why there almost certainly is no God" (my underline). Similarly Collins cannot say without question that God exists: many of the themes throughout his book point to the high probability that He does, but he does not go beyond God’s existence being probable. What do I think? I cannot claim to possess anything but a small fraction of the intellectual capacity of either Dawkins or Collins, but I have spent years of my life thinking about this question of God. I suppose that may define my existence as a human being if Collins is to be believed, because he says the one characteristic of humanity separating it from the rest of the animal kingdom is a perpetual search for the existence of God.  There have been one or two occasions in my life when I have felt quite strongly that I have been able to communicate with God to demonstrable effect. Some may argue that a strong plea for divine help in a deep personal crisis and a subsequent resolution to that crisis is nothing more than a happy coincidence. Who can say if that is true or not? I have never felt that the advancement of scientific knowledge is incompatible with a belief in a supernatural Creator, for the more we come to understand about the universe and our own planet, the more we can do nothing but marvel at the mathematical perfection of the movement of the planets, stars and galaxies; and stand in awe at the sheer biological and chemical complexity of the life forms on Earth from the largest creatures down to microscopic life, from the tallest trees down to a blade of grass. Then there is Humankind – demonstrably very close genetically to one or two other primates, and yet equally clearly worlds apart from the animal kingdom. No other life form on this planet can produce an infinite variety of constructions and designs, bridges, buildings, roads, railways, tunnels, modes of transport, cathedrals, mosques, temples, towers, statues, space stations, rockets, remote-controlled space probes, medicines, surgical procedures, music, literature, (not to mention the ability to produce weapons of mass destruction having the potential to destroy the planet). No other species can even have a conversation amongst themselves about the meaning of life or the existence of God. They just exist, and they do what they have to do; and what they have to do, they have always had to do. The blackbird’s nest built this year will form the exact template for the one he builds next year, and it was ever thus. But the more we understand about the evolution of the planet and the evolution of the life forms upon it (answering the question "How?"), the less we are able to answer the question, "Why?"  If we accept (and I do) the "Big Bang" birth of the universe several billions of years ago, and if we accept (and I do) Darwinian evolution, then I see no contradiction between these acceptances and a belief in God who set that in motion. Rigid evolutionists and fundamentalist creationists are in an unnecessary war with each other. I put it to you that Creation and Evolution are one and the same. Nobody can tell me what existed before the creation of the universe, or how something came to be out of nothing. The nature of nothing is incomprehensible to us. Dawkins versus Collins Dawkins uses scientific facts to suggest the probability that God does not exist. Collins uses scientific facts to suggest the probability that He does. Both of these books should be read, and not necessarily in any particular order. They cover a good deal of common ground, but with different conclusions. Collins’ book is very educational regarding the genetic structure of humans and other animals (as you might expect from the Head of the Human Genome Project). Dawkins’ book is both entertaining and challenging because it forces you to confront some of the hypocrisies and contradictions of fundamental religious beliefs. I challenge you not to be brought up short by the opening paragraph of Dawkins’ second chapter: The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction – jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully. He also points out, interestingly, that one of the founding fathers of a major country (45% of whose population apparently believe that Genesis 1 and 2 are literal descriptions of the world’s creation), described the God of Moses as "a being of terrific character – cruel, vindictive, capricious and unjust". That country is the USA and the man in question was Thomas Jefferson. (Note the use of the word "terrific" in its original literal sense rather than the way we tend to use it now). Both Dawkins and Collins refer to humankind’s innate ability to know right from wrong, to be able to perform acts of altruism, in short to abide by a "Moral Law". From this Dawkins says that if we have this ability we don’t need God or the Scriptures to tell us how to behave, whilst Collins concludes that such ability must be God-given. What do the authors achieve? I believe that Collins successfully leads one towards the probability of God’s existence. On the other hand I think Dawkins is equally successful, not so much in disproving God, but in drawing attention to the hypocritical and contradictory nature of the so-called Holy Scriptures. The Scriptures as a Text Book for Life I am at one with Dawkins on the supposition that the Scriptures are not the "Word of God", rather they are the word of MAN and consist of a disparate collection of accounts and stories written down by different people in different centuries, and translated (and mistranslated) from ancient languages into a multitude of modern ones. The fundamentalist Judaic, Christian or Islamic view that the Scriptures form the literal text book for living are, in my view, nothing short of stupid. People who think they are living one hundred percent by the Scriptures are deluded. The opening chapters of the Bible can be nothing other than an allegorical, poetic, symbolic at describing how the world began. To accept the world as being roughly 6,000 years old flies in the face of all the available evidence. The story of Adam and Eve doesn’t add up. God created Adam then gave him a woman called Eve. Together they produced Cain and Abel. It comes to pass that Cain kills his brother, and in the space of a few short verses we find that Cain is with a wife. Well – excuse me - but where did she spring from? We cannot use the Scriptures as the infallible textbook for living. If one of your acquaintances came to you and said that God spoke to him last night and told him to take his son up a hill and set fire to him you would either call a psychiatrist or the police, or both. If you discovered your wife having an affair with another man, you would undeniably be very angry and hurt, but (unless you were some kind of psychopath) I doubt that you would go so far as to call for the punishment prescribed in the Scriptures, namely stoning to death. Similarly, would you expect execution for the gathering of sticks on the Sabbath? Even the disposal of human waste is dealt with in the Bible, and very commendable it is too (up to a point) – take a paddle (i.e., a spade), dig a hole, ease yourself, then cover up what came out of you. But if we took that as the textbook method of dealing with human waste now from 21st century populations we would not be benefiting from the undoubted advantage of water-borne sewage disposal via sewers followed by treatment, and the provision of clean piped water. Jesus Pretty well everyone of every major faith and of no faith accepts the fact that Jesus existed, and that he was a remarkable teacher. Indeed if you want examples of how we should live, and how we should treat one another, you can do no better than to follow his teachings. But are those teachings not at variance with some of the Scriptures that went before? They are, and this is where it becomes clear that people who live by the Scriptures are actually cherry-picking. Passing quickly over the little difficulty of the Virgin Birth being highly unlikely (I have neither the time nor the intellect to argue this one!) I move on to another problem I have with so-called evangelical Christians, and that is the tendency to vilify the Jews as "Christ-killers". First and foremost they need to understand that Jesus was himself a Jew and his disciples were Jews, and he was brought up as part of a Jewish community. The Christians who are so assiduously following Jesus are devoting their lives to the memory of a Jew; and not only that, they are devoutly reading in their churches passages from the Old Testament which is the story of the Jews. More importantly the whole reason for their "Christian" existence is the death (and apparent resurrection) of this particular Jew, without which their Christianity would not exist. If they believe that Jesus was part of God’s plan, then it was pre-ordained that he would be executed. If it was pre- ordained by God then there can be no reason for complaint against anyone, let alone the Jews themselves. In conclusion, I have no personal problem with the existence of GOD, or a spiritual aspect to human life, but I have a big problem with RELIGION. This is one thing on which both Dawkins and Collins agree – the hate, the evil, the wars, the injustices, the prejudices, the tyrannies, the hunger for power, the oppression of women, the belief that God is on your side, all inspired by Religion. But Collins and Dawkins both remind us that many acts of compassion and goodness, and the creation of great visual art and composition of uplifting music, have also been inspired by Religion. Final marking .. The Language of God by Francis S Collins: 55% (for hope) The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins: 45% (for myth-busting) ©Lionel Beck 13th January 2009 (revised 1st July 2009)    © Lionel Beck - North Yorkshire - UK Return to Top Return to Top Return to Top “The God Delusion”  and  “The Language of God” My thoughts on these books by Richard Dawkins and Francis S Collins Made with Xara Web Designer Richard Dawkins Francis S Collins