There was surprise when Prof Dawkins acknowledged that he was less than 100 per cent certain of his conviction that there is no creator.
Prof Dawkins said that he was “6.9 out of seven” sure of his beliefs, referencing the seven point scale of belief that he sets out in his bookThe God Delusion.
The philosopher Sir Anthony Kenny, who chaired the discussion, interjected: “Why don’t you call yourself an agnostic?” Prof Dawkins answered that he did.
An incredulous Sir Anthony replied: “You are described as the world’s most famous atheist,” to which Prof Dawkins retorted, “Well not by me!” to much laughter among the audience.
The two men were taking part in a public “dialogue” at Oxford University at the end of a week which has seen bitter debate about the role of religion in public life in Britain.
I don’t think this story is as much of a big deal as it is being made out to be. Very few atheists would take the position of a 100 percent certainty that there is no God. Though I think it is an error to describe anybody who has high certainty that there is no God as an agnostic. For them they have weighed the evidence and not found that nothing is known or can be known of the existence of the God, but that enough is known to positively accept that there is no God. An agnostic sits on the fence and sees the balance of what can be known as inconclusive for either side.
No word yet if he will rename his book the “The God Delusion” to the “The 6.9 out of 7 there is no God Delusion.” Though I find it quite interesting that he considers this a significant scale. Especially since so many of the numbers involving chance evolution are quite large involving double exponents. For example a 0.98571428571429 chance there is a God by his scale is whopping compared to a purely natural chance of life evolving as it has. The 0.98571428571429 chance is quite reasonable compared to the old millions of monkeys typing out the works of Shakespeare eventually.
Prof Dawkins told him: “What I can’t understand is why you can’t see the extraordinary beauty of the idea that life started from nothing – that is such a staggering, elegant, beautiful thing, why would you want to clutter it up with something so messy as a God?”
On the subject of evolution my thought is that “However God brought about the human race is fine with me. I just know he was involved.”
A biologist like Dawkins focuses on life evolving out of nothing, but conveniently leaves out that the universe could not evolve out of nothing. The need for “reality” involving space and time requiring an “unconditioned reality” outside of space and time is covered quite excellently in Fr. Robert Spitzer’s New Proofs for the Existence of God: Contributions of Contemporary Physics and Philosophy. Fr. Spitzer also recently did a very nice job on two hours of Catholic Answers Live and I quite enjoyed his responding to an atheist who called in on the impossibility of omnipotence.
Another area why I think this is overblown is that while the majority of believers also have a high certainty of God, they do not have absolute certainty. Blessed John Henry Newman in his book “An Essay In Aid Of A Grammar Of Assent” really delves into the subject of certainty and knowledge. There is essentially no one who does not have doubt on the subject.
…both the believer and the unbeliever share, each in his own way, doubt and belief, if they do not hide from themselves and from the truth of their being. Neither can quite escape either doubt or belief; for the one, faith is present against doubt; for the other, through doubt and in the form of doubt. It is the basic pattern of man’s destiny only to be allowed to find the finality of his existence in this unceasing rivalry between doubt and belief, temptation and certainty. Perhaps in precisely this way doubt, which saves both sides from being shut up in their own worlds, could become the avenue of communication. It prevents both sides from enjoying complete self-satisfaction; it opens up the believer to the doubter and the doubter to the believer; for one, it is this share in the fate of the unbeliever; for the other, the form in which belief remains nevertheless a challenge to him. – then-Cardinal Josef Ratzinger “Introduction to Christianity“