The Doubting Meme

Always such a thrill to start a new book and find that you’re enjoying it straight off. My new read, begun last night, is Alistair McGrath’s Dawkins’ God: Genes, Memes and the Meaning of Life. It’s well written and it’s exactly the kind of book the world needs — someone with a similar intellect and scientific background to Dawkins who can respond meaningfully to some of his, let’s say, more simplistic or downright inaccurate warblings.

I have a huge respect for Dawkins based on the books I’ve read – The Selfish Gene,The Blind Watchmaker and Climbing Mount Improbable. His account of the sheer science involved in evolution cannot be bettered, and whenever I’ve devised an alien race in my head I’ve always had one eye mentally on Mr D so that, in my own head, I can account for how this race came to be. But I have always been frustrated by his evident conviction that the leap he makes from these facts to a QED denial of the existence of God has some form of logical basis — mostly because whatever he holds up as “Christianity” bears so little resemblance to the Christianity I know.

I’m sure he’s not making it up — I suspect his notion of Christianity is genuine within his own head and is based on the dead, moribund type taught in his youth by a complacent Church of England. It just seems sad that, having rightly rejected that, he doesn’t bother to look a little further and see what else might be on offer. It’s like rejecting the whole rich field of science fiction because of a particularly bad episode of Trek. But of course, to do that you would have to want to do that, which he clearly doesn’t. My suspicion is that those who want to be atheists will be; those who don’t, won’t. Atheists often have good reason, up to a point, rejecting religion for very Christian reasons — disgust at hypocrisy, rejection of pointless ritual, wanting to live in the present rather than the past. But that only works up to a certain point because for every bad example of Christians there are many more good ones out there. The only really honest reason for being an atheist is to say “I just don’t believe it.”

An example in point. In one of the above mentioned titles — and I have to confess I forget which — Dawkins says that the church condemns Doubting Thomas for, well, doubting, when in fact he was asking perfectly valid questions. Well, maybe, but not any church I’ve been to recently, where questions are positively encouraged on the basis that the truth of God will withstand any kind of scrutiny. Again, perhaps the church of Dawkins’ childhood was like that. It was an unviable meme which lost out against the much more viable meme of honest questioning. Someone should tell him, but I doubt he would listen.

Sadly such memes are still alive and well in other areas of the church, leading to the intellectual anaesthesia of creation science etc etc etc. Rather than just say “I believe …” they have to contrive reasons where none exist for believing. Which is kind of sad.