Magazine article The Spectator

A Man Who Believes in Darwin as Fervently as He Hates God

Magazine article The Spectator

A Man Who Believes in Darwin as Fervently as He Hates God

Article excerpt

In the downstairs loo of Richard Dawkins's house in Oxford there's a framed award from the Royal Society; to remind visitors, or maybe Richard himself, that here lives a man of some purpose, some gravitas and intellectual clout.

The Faraday prize is given to those who communicate science with brilliance and verve to the scientifically ignorant, thick general public. Richard has done a lot of that, ever since The Selfish Gene in 1976. It is his job these days; he holds the Simonyi chair in the public understanding of science at Oxford University. His latest wife, the actress Lalla Ward, has done her bit too, helping out various bereft timelords in Dr Who.

Richard himself is a bit of a timelord, if you like. A scientist forever battling an intractable foe -- the daleks of religion. He is probably more famous these days for kicking God around than for the hard science of his earlier work (a fact he accepts, with some misgivings); he is our most belligerent and brilliant atheist. Show him a deity -- Jehovah, Allah, Sat Guru, whoever -- and he will stand up straight and nut it right between the eyes. He rarely yields, as I discovered when I interviewed him for Channel 4.

His latest book does all this and more. It is the (surprise) publishing success of the year and easily outsells those awful football autobiographies (170,660 so far). It is a book of rhetoric rather than science. The God Delusion is, like all the best books, riven with beguiling contradictions, full of interesting holes into which one can clamber and find oneself instantly transported to an alternative universe. It is Dawkins's broadside against God and those who are stupid enough to believe in him, or her, or it. A book against belief written with the fervour of one who believes utterly in non-belief. A book which insists that science must be a humble undertaking but which -- driven by the logic of his argument -- contains Dawkins's own abbrievated version of the Ten Commandments (for which thanks, mate). A book that, for a disinterested non-believer, shows a simple and touching faith in the scientific creed of Darwinism -- which theory, only 147 years after its inception, is already looking rather flawed and careworn. And finally, as a neat little irony, a book that will trouser its author an enormous sackload of dosh, not because it is beautifully written and at times exquisitely argued, but because it is about that thing which the author believes must be banished -- God.

The author is, as ever, affable, eloquent and charming. He settles into his armchair and immediately tells me, to my surprise, about the religious renewal he experienced when he was 14.

'I think it was Elvis. I mean, I should have known better because of course practically all Americans of that class are religious maniacs.

But when I discovered that Elvis was religious I went back on to religion for a bit.'

It didn't last long; the man who gave the world 'Heartbreak Hotel' was soon replaced, in Richard's canon, by the man who gave us The Origin of Species. If Elvis rocked, Darwin rocked more. He rocks still, apparently. And thence there devolved along the years an insuperable belief in atheism.

'There seems to be a tension, ' I venture, 'between what I suspect you believe -- that there is no God -- and what science will allow you to say: that it's extremely improbable that there is a God.' 'Right. I don't think you can disprove God. But I don't think you can disprove God as you can't disprove fairies and unicorns.

It's a kind of scientific purism that makes me say I can't be an absolute 100 per cent atheist.' 'But, to read your book, you are 100 per cent, aren't you?' 'No. Some of my friends and colleagues would say that [for them] it's 100 per cent.' Well, I counter, having read the book: it's 100 per cent for you, too; it burns through on every page. Otherwise the acres of rhetoric would have been displaced by pure, disinterested science. …

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