In recent years, the controversy over God, religion, Creationism, Intelligent Design and evolution has reached fever pitch. Where once the teaching of evolution caused an outcry, now voices are raised in protest at the teaching of Creationism; and while new cults spring up in Africa and America, vast swathes of the western world have either turned their backs on religion or, at best, regard it as irrelevant. The atrocities committed by atheist societies such as Soviet Russia and Red China are echoed by those of the crusading past and the fundamentalist present, and there is no difference in the colour of the blood shed by a Communist Stalin, a voodoo-loving Papa Doc, a Christian George W. Bush, and a Muslim Saddam Hussein. It has become impossible to tell where authority lies, since all political, social and religious systems have been thrown into disrepute by their followers, and no faith has a monopoly on truth. The world, to quote the immortal words of Captain Boyle in Sean O' Casey's masterpiece Juno and the Paycock, is in "a terrible state o' chassis".

What caused the mess? St Augustine traced it all back to Adam and Eve. Siddhartha Gotama (the Buddha) attributed it to human cravings. And according to a recent TV programme, The Root of All Evil is religion.

In fairness to the author of that programme, Richard Dawkins, the title was followed by a question mark. However, in his book The God Delusion, Professor Dawkins launches the fiercest attack on religion since Nero unleashed his lions on the Christians. With a mixture of scientific fact, breadth of learning, in-depth analysis, demolition of soft targets, lop-sided reasoning and sheer enthusiasm for his selfimposed task of destroying other people's beliefs, he proves to his own satisfaction that God "almost certainly" does not exist.

Inevitably with such a fundamentalist creed, Dawkins is forced to take a great leap of faith, although he seems strangely unaware that his own quite frequent expressions of hope and belief are indeed a matter of faith and not of science. Agnosticism, in contrast to atheist assumption and religious dogma admits to ignorance. By doing so, and thereby acknowledging the possibility of a conscious designer, it opens up the fascinating areas of speculation which Professor Dawkins is so anxious to close down. These include the motives and nature of such a designer, and the existence of a world and of beings beyond the scope of our perception.

The following essay begins with a direct response to atheism as it is represented in The God Delusion. I should like to stress, however, that although I am unable to embrace atheism mainly because I am not convinced that chance could simultaneously assemble the four factors listed in the section entitled "Evolution", the fact that someone cannot believe one thing does not mean that he believes the opposite. I simply do not know what to believe, and that is why I am an agnostic.

The essay goes on to examine gaps in both the atheist and the theist arguments, together with the implications of those gaps. It cannot of course offer answers to the deep questions, for the simple reason that the human brain has not reached a point where answers can be given - and perhaps it never will reach such a point. This does not mean that we should give up the search, but it most certainly does mean that we should give due respect to other people's beliefs. The world's "state o' chassis" will never be resolved so long as humans seek to impose their suspect truths on the no more and no less suspect truths of their fellows.

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1. The atheist delusion

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