One of the more astonishing claims made over and over by Richard Dawkins (you can start with his bestseller, The God Delusion) is that Christian faith is simply incompatible with reason, with natural science being viewed as the paragon of rationality.
True, Dawkins admits to being acquainted with a handful of indisputably accomplished scientists who are also Christians, but he clearly finds it impossible to explain these few absurdities—as if he has happened to have come across several unicorns.
In the face, however, of polls showing that a great many scientists are believers in the Christian God—and many more in the almost-equally indefensible versions of God held by Jews and Muslims—other atheists have suggested more recently that human beings generally are wired to believe in explanations that aren’t true. And that trait explains religious belief.
The argument goes something like this. Our ancestors were more likely to survive (and thus procreate—the main concern of Darwinist evolutionary theory) if they spotted dangers before they were harmed by them. Spotting dangers means noticing patterns: that patch of bush over there seemed to move all at once, as if it were a body; that set of sounds is rhythmic, thus making me think of breaths or footfalls.
This penchant for spotting patterns is advantageous especially if it is excessive. It’s better to be wrong a few times about the presence of a bear or lion than ever to miss even one such threat.
This penchant has carried over, the story continues, to our big brains spotting other patterns that don’t exist in completely different domains: such as noticing “design” in nature, or in the shape of our lives, that we attribute (wrongly) to a Divine Providence. Thus even scientists believe in God.
But I’ve just spent three days in company I wish Dawkins & Co. could have enjoyed. Thirty people were convened at St Anne’s College, Oxford, for a discussion of religion and science. All were believers in the Christian God. And they didn’t strike me as people inclined to see things that aren’t there.
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