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Dawkins’ treatment of that mathematical genius and 17th century philosopher, Blaise Pascal, is typical of his general approach. Dawkins seizes on Pascal’s weakest argument, the wager, and ridicules its obvious flaws. Ignored are the well-known passages that ground Pascal’s (oft-wavering) faith in the inadequacy of the human mind to deal with the enormity of the universe — both the infinitely large and the infinitely small. In Pascal’s words, “The whole visible world is only an imperceptible atom in the ample bosom of nature. No idea approaches it. We may enlarge our conceptions beyond all imaginable space; we only produce atoms in comparison with the reality of things. It is an infinite sphere, the center of which is everywhere, the circumference nowhere. In short, it is the greatest sensible mark of the almighty power of God that imagination loses itself in that thought.”
Had Dawkins bothered to cite this assertion, he would doubtless have countered it with replies that recur throughout his book. First, the awe that Pascal discusses has nothing to do with religion. Rather, it’s the kind of atheistic wonder that’s typical in scientists like Einstein. Second, this “God of the gaps” argument simply fills in the blanks of our ignorance with a destructive, curiosity-impeding concept. Third — and this is Dawkins’ favorite argument — the complexity of a God who created the world requires explanation. Put simply: Who made God?p>Worshipful humility in the face of mind-boggling (possibly parallel) universes is an emotion foreign to Dawkins — though the academic pugilist does admit to feeling very lucky. As for the “Who made God?” argument, this retort (convincing to any skeptical freshman who hasn’t read Aristotle or Kant) ignores the fact that philosophical explanations, as Wittgenstein and others have noted, have to end somewhere. The real question is whether one’s explanation terminates with a meaningless cosmos or with a being who provides a reason for things. Dawkins, without further ado, assumes that the former alternative is the only rational choice. In this way he gives tacit expression to the point of view that Whitehead criticized some 80 years ago: br> /p>
There persists…throughout the whole [modern] period the fixed scientific cosmology which presupposes the ultimate fact of an irreducible brute matter, or material, spread throughout space in a flux of configurations. It itself, such a material is senseless, valueless, purposeless. It just does what it does do, following a fixed routine imposed by external relations which do not spring from the nature of its being. It is this assumption that I call “scientific materialism.” Also, it is an assumption which I shall challenge as being entirely unsuited to the scientific situation at which we have now arrived.br> Whitehead continues, displaying the non-tendentiousness to which I previously referred, br>
It [scientific materialism] is not wrong, if properly construed. If we confine ourselves to certain types of facts, abstracted from the complete circumstances in which they occur, the materialistic assumption expresses these facts to perfection. But when we pass beyond the abstraction, either by more subtle employment of our senses, or by the request for meanings and for coherence of thoughts, the scheme breaks down at once.br> In other words, once we look for a rational ground for complex development, self-consciousness, aesthetics, morality, and the universe itself, Dawkins’ brute facts (which in the world of quantum physics are neither brutish nor facts) look extremely lame. This lameness, I should add, comports nicely with the pleasure-based ethical system to which Dawkins appeals with no particular rigor.
Overall, Dawkins’ “philosophy” amounts to little more than this unintentionally humorous observation by Dr. Edward Tryon that was quoted in a Time-Life book on cosmology, “Our universe is simply one of those things that happens from time to time.” That’s reason according to Dawkins — a man whose cultural and philosophical observations are predictably au courant, consistently dogmatic, and largely unreflective. He is the un-Whitehead, a man who will never (barring divine intervention) appreciate this sublime comment by my philosophical mentor: “In the study of ideas, it is necessary to remember that insistence on hard-headed clarity issues from sentimental feeling, as it were a mist, cloaking the perplexities of fact. Insistence on clarity at all costs is based on sheer superstition as to the mode in which human intelligence functions. Our reasonings grasp at straws for premises and float on gossamers for deductions.”
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