I am a great admirer of Richard Dawkins. He is, of course, not without faults and blind spots, and I want to spend much of this book pointing out what I think those are as best I can (for if he has a fault it is a surfeit of certainty and if I can I want to avoid that myself). But which of us does not have faults and blind spots? In an age of tepid compromisers and moral pigmies we have in our midst a truly great man: fearless, determined, and unwaveringly devoted to the pursuit of truth as he sees it. He is the greatest of scientific communicators, a fine scientist in his own right and a wonderful writer. He has inspired me, anyway, with the wonder of science, and for that I thank him from the bottom of my heart. Above all, though, I admire him for publishing The God Delusion. It was a very brave thing to do and has challenged us all. Paley’s God, He of the contrived watch, has finally been dispatched to a well-deserved grave. Nevertheless, there is a great deal more to be thought about God, or so I think, about which I do not believe Dawkins has thought enough. I want to suggest that The God Delusion is not the end of the debate. It has inspired us, or at any rate it has inspired me, to move beyond it.
I’m even more grateful to Richard Dawkins – although I suppose he would not thank me for saying this – for he has been a great help in enabling me, paradoxically perhaps, to affirm my own religious belief. First, his bold defiance has helped me too to escape from angry Jehovah, although I have found a loving Jesus in his place as Dawkins has not. Secondly, I am profoundly inspired by his great call to freedom at the end of The Selfish Gene. ‘Only we can escape from the tyranny of the selfish replicators’. Yet on Dawkins’ own account genes are so totally explanatory of our nature, and enter so commandingly into all we think and do, I have come to think that it is only if there is a further dimension of reality that transcends the genes in whose freedom we share, that we can be free.
These days, when I hear Sibelius’s Fifth Symphony, or even more the music of Beethoven, and more still when I am so overjoyed by the numinous wonder of nature (a numen for which so far as I can see science can offer us no explanation) but most of all when I feel the presence of Jesus dwelling lovingly in my heart in contemplative prayer – of course atheists will say it is only self-delusion and perhaps it is, but this is an experience that is now so wonderful and meaningful to me and gives me such profound joy I don’t care what they think – these days I find myself believing ‘yes, despite the genes I have escaped from the tyranny of the selfish replicators, there is indeed a further dimension of reality in which I share, I am free’ and find myself muttering under my breath credo. Thanks Richard. But let’s move on.