Monday, 16 September 2013

The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins

"That it will never come again is what makes life so sweet." - Emily Dickinson

I have always loved literature. I have always loved Emily Dickinson. At the splendid age of twenty-two, however, I have unexpectedly been able to interpret this one poetic line in a completely different way after it was quoted in The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. After reading Unweaving the Rainbow during my first year at university, I have found Dawkins's passion for science very inspiring.

When I was very young, I used to pick up bugs on the school playground, and little worms too. I was very philosophical for a young person and I would often indulge in my deep curioisities (which is why you should never undermine children!) and during my time at primary school, I was already questioning the origins of life and our very purpose in this world. I wondered if these tiny creatures had their own belief systems, or even if they believed in the same god as I did. My teachers had informed me that ants were able to form their own colonies, so I thought it wasn't too ridiculous to be questioning this. Furthermore, I would regularly sing hymns and say my prayers just before I left to go home from school. I would participate in nativity plays and I found the idea of a heaven incredibly comforting. I particularly remember one hymn, in which I would sing: "All things bright and beautiful / All creatures great and small / All things wise and wonderful / The Lord God made them all". I became a vegetarian when I was fourteen because I thought that animals, like pigs and cows were also "bright and beautiful" - I couldn't understand these conflicting feelings I had at this time because I loved the idea of Christianity.

Since writing my undergraduate dissertation on the relationship between Darwin and the literature of the late Victorian period, I have become fascinated by the developments in science. For me, science isn't (contrary to Dawkins's belief) about finding the 'truth' but instead, it is about finding an explanation for the events of the past (and this can refer to the present that has just passed). While I do not think that anyone can explain the future with one hundred percent confidence (how could they?) I think that we can assess the past fairly, as it does not require any mode of prediction. So yes, this is why I have consequently become increasingly interested in the philosophy of religion as of late.

This summer, my eyes saw through a telescope for the very first time. I couldn't accept that some divine creator was responsible for this. It was so magical, that it was unecessary to require some form of supernatural explanation. As bleak as it seems, for it is presumably only the responsibility of group of chemical reactions, I find comfort in the beautiful chaos that is the night sky. I saw the moon, and its craters, so clearly. One day, when I have saved up and I know how to read sky maps properly - I will see the stars closer, too.

Before I digress further, Dawkins's text is quite a sensitive topic for most people and can, at times, make uncomfortable reading for those who do not follow atheist ideas. I found it quite difficult to read at points, just because I have been raised in a multicultural society and I have always respected those who have chosen to believe in their individual religions. I still feel that everyone is entitled to their own beliefs - as long as they do not impose their beliefs on others, cause hurt and are open to progression and education.

Although a lot of readers disrespect this book, I admire Dawkins for having the guts to write it. Everything he says he supports with both scientific and historical evidence. I have learnt so much from reading it, although I have the feeling that the arguments put forward by Christopher Hitchens in the past have been stronger. I was introduced to his arguments last night when reading the last few pages of The God Delusion, and I was quite shocked at his eloquence and knowledge of science, sociology, history and theology - as evident in this deeply moving video of his last speech:

At this moment in time I do not feel I could label myself an Atheist. In spite of this, I think that reading these books have spurred me towards this end of the religious spectrum. I currently say that I am Agnostic, as the optimistic part of me likes the possibility of there being something. However, the older I get, I realise that life is that very something.

I went through that inevitable stage of my youth where I was afraid of the end of life. I had experienced grief and I yearned for a reason. I no longer fear this because I have come to the realisation that I knew nothing before I was alive. Proceeding this, I chose not to perceive the end of life as some horrific void. To paraphrase Bill Bryson in A Short History of Nearly Everything, it's a miracle we're here anyway! It is indeed a miracle in itself that we are born into this conscious state of mind from birth. After all, we have the complex brain capacity to experience what it is to fall in love, have children, create art, to have an education, to want to help others and so much more. 

I'd certainly recommend The God Delusion to just about anyone. It is, however, very important to keep an open mind when reading it!

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