“I am attacking Gods, all gods, anything and everything supernatural..”

I may have to take some time out from diving into the fascinating archives of the Royal Society [free until December – Ed] to read this, Richard Dawkins’ latest book, The God Delusion, and it couldn’t have appeared at a bettter time. Joan Bakewell applauds loudly in her review in the Guardian, “Primed by anger, redeemed by humour, it will, I trust, offend many”, where you can read an extract from the first chapter. Dawkins was also interviewed on Newsnight last night, hopefully they’ll put it online, and there are more extracts there too. And he makes a prescient point in the first chapter that is worth highlighting.As I attempted to point out at the time, Pope Benedict’s speech at his old University at a Meeting with The Representatives of Science was intended to be an “attempt to equate, or entwine, religion and science..”

That attempt is also highlighted by Breda O’Brien in today’s Irish Times, although she is in favour of such a move[subs req]

It seems to have been overlooked in most of the commentary that he was speaking in a university about the role of universities, and challenging the idea that only research based on observable, empirical, measurable evidence can be considered reasonable or scientific. When he taught at Regensburg decades ago, the university was proud of its two faculties of theology and it was accepted even by unbelievers that it is reasonable to explore the question of God.[added emphasis]

Richard Dawkins anticipated the argument put forward by Benedict – from the extract from the first chapter of his book

In greater numbers since his death, religious apologists understandably try to claim Einstein as one of their own. Some of his religious contemporaries saw him very differently. In 1940 Einstein wrote a famous paper justifying his statement “I do not believe in a personal God”. This and similar statements provoked a storm of letters from the religiously orthodox, many of them alluding to Einstein’s Jewish origins. The extracts that follow are taken from Max Jammer’s book Einstein and Religion (which is also my main source of quotations from Einstein himself on religious matters). The Roman Catholic Bishop of Kansas City said: “It is sad to see a man, who comes from the race of the Old Testament and its teaching, deny the great tradition of that race.” Other Catholic clergymen chimed in: “There is no other God but a personal God … Einstein does not know what he is talking about. He is all wrong. Some men think that because they have achieved a high degree of learning in some field, they are qualified to express opinions in all.” The notion that religion is a proper field, in which one might claim expertise, is one that should not go unquestioned. That clergyman presumably would not have deferred to the expertise of a claimed “fairyologist” on the exact shape and colour of fairy wings. Both he and the bishop thought that Einstein, being theologically untrained, had misunderstood the nature of God. On the contrary, Einstein understood very well exactly what he was denying.[added emphasis]

Dawkins is keen to get the terminology clear before any debate

Let’s remind ourselves of the terminology. A theist believes in a supernatural intelligence who, in addition to his main work of creating the universe in the first place, is still around to oversee and influence the subsequent fate of his initial creation. In many theistic belief systems, the deity is intimately involved in human affairs. He answers prayers; forgives or punishes sins; intervenes in the world by performing miracles; frets about good and bad deeds, and knows when we do them (or even think of doing them). A deist, too, believes in a supernatural intelligence, but one whose activities were confined to setting up the laws that govern the universe in the first place. The deist God never intervenes thereafter, and certainly has no specific interest in human affairs. Pantheists don’t believe in a supernatural God at all, but use the word God as a nonsupernatural synonym for Nature, or for the Universe, or for the lawfulness that governs its workings. Deists differ from theists in that their God does not answer prayers, is not interested in sins or confessions, does not read our thoughts and does not intervene with capricious miracles. Deists differ from pantheists in that the deist God is some kind of cosmic intelligence, rather than the pantheist’s metaphoric or poetic synonym for the laws of the universe. Pantheism is sexed-up atheism. Deism is watered-down theism.[added emphasis]

An aside, the 2006 Science and Engineering Visualization Challenge winners have been announced, a competition run by the American National Science Foundation and Science, a publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science

As the introduction to the challenge on the National Science Foundation’s website states

Some of science�s most powerful statements are not made in words. From the diagrams of DaVinci to Hooke�s microscopic bestiary, the beaks of Darwin�s finches, Rosalind Franklin�s x-rays or the latest photographic marvels retrieved from the remotest galactic outback, visualization of research has a long and literally illustrious history. To illustrate is, etymologically and actually, to enlighten.

That would be Leonardo’s Laboratory of the Mind and Robert Hooke’s Micrographia – further details of that in the Royal Society archives

ANYway.. The winners of the 2006 Science and Engineering Visualization Challenge include this wondrous image from an non-interactive animation, Body Code

And this image, from the Photopgraphy section, an Egyptian child mummy

And, to end, a final reminder of Dawkins’, self-declared, ambitious intention, summed up neatly in this quote from Newsnight

“I am not attacking any particular version of God or gods. I am attacking Gods, all gods, anything and everything supernatural, wherever and whenever they have been or will be invented.”