God and scientific enquiry 44

The Reverend Dr. Peter Mullen, rector of the delightfully named St Sepulchre-without-Newgate in the City of London (and a conservative with whom I have had the pleasure of co-operating on the battlefield of British politics – JB) has written this article about Richard Dawkins’s views on whether God comes into the purview of scientific enquiry. Dr. Mullen thinks he does not, and we agree with him. 

Dawkins is not  … an intelligent atheist. … For example, he writes: “Either God exists or he doesn’t. It is a scientific question. The existence of God is a scientific question, like any other.”

This is idiotic. Science investigates material phenomena, observable entities in the universe. No competent theologians or philosophers – not even the atheist ones – have ever declared that God (if he exists) is an object in his own universe. Perhaps there is no God, and intelligent Christians readily admit that there may be some legitimate doubt. But if the Judaeo-Christian God exists, then he is the maker of the universe and not an entity within it.

It is not the business of science to ask if there is a God. It is not a scientific question. Science is concerned with nature, not the supernatural. (See our review of Richard Dawkins’s book The God Delusion, by C.Gee.)

It may be that Christians are tragically misled and that there is no God. But before you rush into atheism, you have to know something about philosophical reasoning and how theology works. In other words you have to know what it is about and what it is not about. When he discusses religious belief, Dawkins does not know what he is talking about. And to fire off ignorant opinions is only the first mark of a fool.

We don’t think Dawkins is a fool. Far from it. His books on evolution are wonderfully reasoned. But we disagree with him on political issues as well as on this one.

It is as if I should presume to lecture the zoologist Dawkins on his own subject: as if I should idiotically declare that all the subtleties of modern biological science could be summed up in a book entitled Janet and John Look at Frogs.

By contrast, there have been, and no doubt are still, competent atheists. If I were asked to name my favourite atheist, I would say David Hume. Hume was a thorough-going atheist, a man who on his deathbed declined the consolations of religion, saying: “I am dying as fast as my enemies, if I have any, could wish, and as easily and cheerfully as my best friends could desire.”

Moreover, the atheist David Hume did not possess an irrational, inhumane, roaring opposition to men of faith. He was a close friend of that great English Christian, Samuel Johnson. Unlike Dawkins, Hume did not wish to obliterate Christianity from the public realm.

Well, he might have, even if he didn’t say so.

Though we don’t have “an irrational, inhumane, roaring opposition to men of faith”, only a rational opposition to their ideas, we would be happy to see the obliteration of Christianity and all religion – by argument, not force.