In a chapter disparagingly entitled 'The poverty of agnosticism', Dawkins identifies two categories (p. 47): 1) Temporary Agnosticism in Practice, or TAP, which denotes that there “is a truth out there and one day we hope to know it, though for the moment we don’t.” 2) Permanent Agnosticism in Principle, or PAP, for questions that can never be answered. Some people assign the question of God’s existence to PAP, which means that they “cannot say anything, one way or the other, about whether or not God exists” (p. 51). He, however, believes that “the God question is not in principle and forever outside the remit of science” (p. 71), but on the basis of a 7- point scale of probabilities, places himself in Category 6: "Very low probability, but short of zero. De facto atheist" (p, 50).

It is true that the inventor of the term "agnosticism", T.H. Huxley, intended it to mean the impossibility of knowing whether God exists or not (= PAP), but epistemology teaches us that there are very few things we can truly "know", and so any self-respecting theist or atheist would be bound to call himself an agnostic (hence, presumably, Dawkins' Category 6). In any case, the distinction between "can't know" and "don't know" does not change the neutrality of the person concerned. An agnostic in the more recent sense of the term - as someone who has not decided whether God exists or not - will remain open-minded, and the fact that one cannot answer a question most certainly does not mean that one cannot say anything either way about the subject of that question. Even a PAP can explain his reasons for regarding the question as unanswerable, while a TAP is able to consider all the arguments. Wherein, then, lies the "poverty" at least of TAP agnosticism, i.e. of openmindedness? Besides, all human states are temporary, and even a committed Christian like Darwin can change into an agnostic, while a committed opponent of the church like St Paul can suddenly have a revelation and become its leading apostle. Dawkins, astonishingly, maintains that “atheists do not have faith” (p. 51), and yet it is his belief that science will one day come up with the answer, and the answer will be “no God”. Since this entails the complexities of life (we shall discuss these later) having come into existence by sheer chance, he believes in the miraculous powers of chance as well as the ability of science to answer all the questions. If that is not “faith”, what is?

Again typical of this blinkered approach is his selective quotation of results from a study in America, in which he pinpoints the fact that only 7% of members of the National Academy of Sciences believed in a personal God. This he describes as an “overwhelming preponderance of atheists” (p. 102). An agnostic, by definition, does not believe in a personal God, but by verbal sleight of hand, Dawkins has removed agnostics from the scene. Either you are a believer, or you are an atheist.

In any case, the argument is specious. Science examines the physical world. Religious people believe in a non-physical world. In an earlier chapter, Dawkins quotes the response of an Oxford astronomer who, when asked the “deep questions”, said: “Ah, now we move beyond the realm of science. This is where I have to hand over to our good friend the chaplain” (p. 56). Dawkins’ comment is worth quoting in full: “But why the chaplain? Why not the gardener or the chef? Why are scientists so cravenly respectful towards the ambitions of theologians, over questions that theologians are certainly no more qualified to answer than scientists themselves?” In relation to the poll taken among scientists, one can only ask: “Why scientists? Why are atheists so cravenly respectful towards the ambitions of scientists, over questions that scientists are certainly no more qualified to answer than theologians?” But atheists such as Dawkins are convinced that the world is exclusively physical, scientists examine the physical world, and therefore scientists will one day discover the truth, and the truth is that there is nothing but the physical world. The perfect circle. Theologians, who believe in a spiritual world, are wrong, and agnostics, who are unable to step into either camp, are left out of the equation because they “cannot say anything” either way. His faith, prejudice and self-contradiction are encapsulated in an extraordinary paragraph quite early on in his thesis:

“Human thoughts and emotions emerge from exceedingly complex interconnections of physical entities within the brain. An atheist in this sense of philosophical naturalist is someone who believes there is nothing beyond the natural physical world, no supernatural creative intelligence lurking behind the observable universe, no soul that outlasts the body, and no miracles – except in the sense of natural phenomena that we don’t yet understand. If there is something that appears to lie beyond the natural world as it is now imperfectly understood, we hope eventually to understand it and embrace it within the natural” (p. 14).

He acknowledges that thoughts and emotions emerge (it is good that he avoids the word “originate”), summarizes the atheist’s beliefs, acknowledges that there are things we do not understand, and expresses the hope that one day we will be able to prove that their source is physical. Christians too hope that one day their beliefs will be vindicated, but where is the scientific objectivity of either approach? His own amounts to saying: I believe the universe is entirely physical, there are things I don’t understand, but one day I hope I’ll be proved right. And yet according to Dawkins, atheists have no faith. Agnostics do not impose theories on what they do not understand, and they do not hope that their prejudgments will be proved right.

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3. Evolution

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