Man as questioner >>back home

When a very gifted writer like Richard Dawkins rejects the query "Why is there something rather than nothing?" 1 as "a vacuous existential question" it suggests an unwillingness to face up to it on a serious intellectual level. The question has exercised many fine minds; it cannot be so lightly brushed aside. The weakness of his response is that it can so easily be turned on its head. He goes on to protest that it is "of course quite illogical" to maintain that "since science is unable to answer 'Why?' questions there must be [my italics] some other discipline that is". We may possibly agree; but it is surely equally illogical to maintain that there cannot be. But it is by no means illogical to maintain that there may be, which is more to the point; it is certainly not if there is a purposeful Mind behind things. Prof Dawkins is here making the mistake of 'begging the question', of assuming what he wants to prove. He goes on in the same strain, "You are right to ask the 'Why?' question of a bicycle's mudguards or the Kariba Dam; but at the very least you have no right to assume that the 'Why?' question deserves an answer when posed about a boulder, a misfortune, Mt. Everest or the universe".  Why has he any right then to assume the opposite? For he is here doing so, and with a vengeance. Again, he regards asking the obsessive 'Why?' question about things as "natural", "nearly universal", for an "animal that lives surrounded everywhere by cars, tin openers, screwdrivers and pitchforks". But he then goes on to imply that the obsession ‑ "held by the vast majority of people who have ever lived" 2 – is a mere relic of our "primitive animism". What then in those primitive animistic minds took the place of tin‑openers etc. in fuelling this obsession? Does he really mean that "primitive animists" were already being prompted to ask the profound question "Why is there something rather than nothing?" merely by looking at their sharpened sticks or chipped flintstones? The perverse 'obsession' with 'purpose', this "nearly universal delusion", which previous famous scientists (even Nobel prizewinners) "got totally and utterly wrong" 3, must have possessed some immense survival value to have become so nearly universal!

NOTES

1          RIVER OUT OF EDEN p.97

2          ibid. p.96,97,98; THE BLIND WATCHMAKER p.xii

3          THE SELFISH GENE p.2