How could you not admire Richard Dawkins for his wonderful writing, his enthusiasm for science and even more his courage, his determination and his unwavering pursuit of truth? The publication of The God Delusion was a great event. It has challenged us all, and has delivered a grIevous blow, perhaps terminally, to the God who existed outside the universe and constructed it like a watch. Nevertheless, I think Dawkins is wrong about religion. Like many atheists, he belabours a ridiculous straw God in whom no intelligent religious believer believes. He has quite misinterpreted the Bible, especially the Christian doctrine of the Redemption. He has completely misunderstood Aquinas, especially Aquinas’s argument from design. More important still, he has totally missed Keats’s point about the awesome rainbow. One of the best things about Dawkins is his strong sense of wonder in nature. Yet when we turn to his discussion of these wonders we find that, marvellous as they are, his marvels are always mechanical wonders: how spiders solve the engineering problems of spanning a wide space with their webs, how the eye measures colours in raindrops.
You would have thought that someone who wrote an autobiographical account of an idyllic childhood in Africa would have been falling over himself to tell us of awesome natural wonders. Instead, it turns out to be mostly about what he himself confesses is his ‘love affair with machines’. Keats was not talking about a love affair with machines but another kind of wonder altogether. Since the beginning of time human beings have felt and worshipped an awesome, numinous presence in nature that the mechanical structures of nature cannot themselves explain. I feel it acutely and Keats clearly felt it acutely. It is in this sense of numinous wonder in nature, not in the cerebral arguments Dawkins dismisses with such contempt in The God Delusion, that religion is rooted.
It is no longer reasonable to believe in a God outside the universe. But it is reasonable to think that there is a cosmic intelligence deep within the universe, that the universe, one might almost say, is itself intelligent. ‘God is within the universe and that innermostly’ wrote Aquinas. God does not exist, he thought, God is existence. Far from Stephen Hawking’s assertion that the universe was not constructed by a divine designer but spontaneously emerged from nothing destroying religion, this is just how Aquinas too would have viewed the beginning of the universe, except that he would have called Hawking’s nothing existence itself.
There is nothing in science that disproves the existence of a cosmic intelligence. How does it come about otherwise that this astonishingly meaningful universe in which we find ourselves is so meaningful?