When he wrote his 2006 best-seller, The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins expected to accomplish two aims that have proved to be remarkable failures. The first aim was social. He wanted to attract a horde of doubters, fence-sitters, and agnostics to gather their courage and join the atheist ranks. This never happened. There has been a quiet, steady decline in church attendance for at least fifty years in the US and Western Europe, and recently a noticeable bump in self-described atheists has occurred. At the same time, around 10% of declared atheists go to church, usually for reasons of community or for their children.
What has decidedly not happened is the success of Dawkins’ agenda. As a militant movement, his brand of noisy public atheism remains a splinter group. It has had no effect on national politics, laws, the judicial system, education, etc. Whether a person believes in God or not remains a largely private matter. As for Dawkins himself, he has become an embarrassment to the atheist movement, largely for his cranky, arrogant tweets–the godless don’t want to be seen with him anymore.
But the second aim of The God Delusion was more important, because it attempted to show scientifically that God was a near impossibility. Here Dawkins felt secure, if not invincible. But his scientific arguments have crumbled around him, as I’ve detailed in a new book, The Future of God, which I hope will lay militant atheism to rest on rational grounds, not traditional religious ones, while at the same time giving new life to a viable spiritual path. It’s the anti-God Delusion book I feel must be presented so that people don’t fall into a kind of passive unbelief for want of a better way.
So, how did science fail Dawkins? It was the other way around. Relying on his great hero, Charles Darwin, he intended to use evolution to bludgeon everything religion stands for. Dawkins’s worldview is rigidly either/or, black and white. If you are on the side of science, you stand for reason, logic, hard facts, verifiable data, skepticism, and the scientific method. If you believe that God exists, you are automatically irrational, credulous, superstitious, ignorant about science, and probably unable to think logically. Dawkins backs up this either/or position with noisy polemics that have a strong media appeal but little backing from scientists (he himself hasn’t been a practicing scientist for decades).
Dawkins’s setup is to propose “the God hypothesis,” a supposedly scientific theory that can be tested, like the hypothesis that gravity exists, in order to test its validity. Unfortunately for him, actual scientific hypotheses are subjected to experiments, measurements, data, peer review, and replicated results. He offers none of these. In reality, there can be an hypothesis (like superstrings or the multiverse) that seem to be credible on mathematical grounds but which cannot be subjected to experiment. This, however, would serve if anything to help God out. He can’t be subjected to experimentation, but disbelief has no data, measurements, or experimental conclusions on its side, either. The playing field is even on that score.
Dawkins must retreat to showing that God is a near impossibility. Since he can’t prove with scientific rigor that God doesn’t exist, it seems almost as powerful to reduce the chance that he exists as close to zero as possible. Here is where Dawkins’s sense of invincibility rests, and he trots out a host of arguments. His main one is that creation follows Darwinian lines rather than the creation story in the Book of Genesis. Darwin himself was quite reluctant to use this tactic, but we can set that aside. The argument that God is disproved by evolution places the question on the wrong level.
Let’s say that thousands of people claim to have seen a ghost. Their experience isn’t disproved by arguing that the universe is made of atoms and molecules, rendering non-physical entities impossible. The actual experience of seeing a ghost must be met on its own terms. The same holds true for the millions of people across the centuries who claim to have an experience of God, heaven, the soul, the afterlife, and so on. Telling them that life evolved from one-celled microorganisms doesn’t say anything about their experience, which is why Dawkins, a canny propagandist, resorts to disdain and ridicule to demolish religious belief, adding a healthy dose of accusations against the evils produced by organized religion (which are undeniable but again don’t address people’s genuine spiritual experiences).
Yet the nub of the matter, the real reason Dawkins is turning into a footnote in the history of science, is his stubborn insistence on naive realism. This is an extreme form of realism, claiming that what the senses see, hear, touch, taste, and smell is the measure of reality and the only valid way to conduct science–Dawkins used his book for young adults, The Magic of Reality, to drive naive realism home. But even someone with a passing acquaintance of relativity and quantum physics knows that the five senses are absolutely not the foundation of modern science–exactly the opposite.
Your eyes tell you that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. Your sense of touch tells you that physical objects are solid, stable, and fixed. Clocks tell you that time moves in a straight line. Dawkins doesn’t care or perhaps even understand the profound implications of why these reports from the senses are wrong. Without Darwin he would have no science at all, yet meanwhile naive realism has been totally demolished. And one of the cornerstones of Darwinian theory, that mind and intelligence took billions of years to evolve before finally reaching their apex in the human brain, is being seriously doubted.
There is currently a wholesale attempt to solve the “hard problem,” the problem of how mind came into existence and how that relates to the brain. The brain certainly serves as our interface with reality. But no one has the slightest idea, on the basis of traditional materialistic science, how the brain’s electrical and chemical activity produces the three-dimensional world we perceive. The brain contains no light or sound; it is totally dark and silent. It has no photographic images in it. It has no provable way of looking into the past or future, since all of its activity takes place in the present.
The mystery of the brain’s interface with reality has led to an open-ended discussion of the hard problem, and a number of prominent theorists now believe that consciousness, or mind, exists in the universe at large, that it is the very basis of everything in spacetime. This is the real God hypothesis–the existence of cosmic mind woven into the very fabric of nature–not Dawkins’s trumped-up attack on the God of conventional religion.
I am not saying that science is moving closer to God, only that the possibility of a conscious universe is very real in scientific terms. On that basis, the very things Dawkins defends so vociferously–reason, logic, data, experimentation–can be applied to reality beyond the five senses. In the future as science expands to in this direction, God will have to be redefined to fit a new conception of reality. No one can predict where the hard problem will lead. However, it most certainly will abandon naive realism. Dawkins has already isolated himself from serious thinking, either in science or spirituality. He’s wound up being a fundamentalist of anti-belief and a crank whose science is more primitive that the religionists he lives to destroy.
Deepak Chopra, MD is the author of more than 80 books with twenty-two New York Times bestsellers . He serves as the founder of The Chopra Foundation and co-founder of The Chopra Center for Wellbeing. His latest book is The Future of God