Professor Richard Dawkins' Recent Admission

On Tuesday evening I attended the debate between Richard Dawkins and John Lennox at Oxford's Natural History Museum. This was the second public encounter between the two men, but it turned out to be very different from the first. Lennox is the Oxford mathematics professor whose book, God's Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? is to my mind an excoriating demolition of Dawkins's overreach from biology into religion as expressed in his book The God Delusion -- all the more devastating because Lennox attacks him on the basis of science itself. In the first debate, Dawkins was badly caught off-balance by Lennox's argument precisely because, possibly for the first time, he was being challenged on his own chosen scientific ground.

This week's debate, however, was different because from the start off Dawkins moved it onto safer territory- and at the very beginning made a most startling admission. He said:

A serious case could be made for a deistic God.

This was surely remarkable. Here was the arch-apostle of atheism, whose whole case is based on the assertion that believing in a creator of the universe is no different from believing in fairies at the bottom of the garden, saying that a serious case can be made for the idea that the universe was brought into being by some kind of purposeful force. A creator. True, he was not saying he was now a deist; on the contrary, he still didn't believe in such a purposeful founding intelligence, and he was certainly still saying that belief in the personal God of the Bible was just like believing in fairies. Nevertheless, to acknowledge that `a serious case could be made for a deistic god' is to undermine his previous categorical assertion that

...all life, all intelligence, all creativity and all `design' anywhere in the universe is the direct or indirect product of Darwinian natural selection...Design cannot precede evolution and therefore cannot underlie the universe.

In Oxford on Tuesday night, however, virtually the first thing he said was that a serious case could be made for believing that it could.

Anthony Flew, the celebrated philosopher and former high priest of atheism, spectacularly changed his mind and concluded -- as set out in his book There Is A God -- that life had indeed been created by a governing and purposeful intelligence, a change of mind that occurred because he followed where the scientific evidence led him. The conversion of Flew, whose book contains a cutting critique of Dawkins's thinking, has been dismissed with unbridled scorn by Dawkins - who now says there is a serious case for the position that Flew now adopts!

Afterwards, I asked Dawkins whether he had indeed changed his position and become more open to ideas which lay outside the scientific paradigm. He vehemently denied this and expressed horror that he might have given this impression...Even more jaw-droppingly, Dawkins told me that, rather than believing in God, he was more receptive to the theory that life on earth had indeed been created by a governing intelligence - but one which had resided on another planet. Leave aside the question of where that extra-terrestrial intelligence had itself come from, is it not remarkable that the arch-apostle of reason finds the concept of God more unlikely as an explanation of the universe than the existence and plenipotentiary power of extra-terrestrial little green men...

Truth is indeed the crux of the matter - but Dawkins seems to understand the word rather differently from the rest of us. The great question, however, is whether his own theory is now in the process of further evolution -- and whether it might even jump the species barrier into what is vulgarly known by lesser mortals as faith.

Melanie Phillips, The Spectator (.CO.UK), October 23rd, 2008 (Abridged)