A great mind, just like the Taj Mahal, did not form by accident
CHRISTOPHER Hitchens, Part II. The admirable Ian O'Doherty - who reviewed Christopher's book, 'God is Not Great' on Saturday - in an earlier column fired a brief broadside at colleagues who, he alleged, supported 'intelligent design'.
That is the theory that the maker of the universe, using some early Mrs Beeton recipe, put the ingredients of the cake of creation into the primordial oven, and gave it a few million years at 'low'.
If he included me as such a believer, he was wrong. I don't believe in 'intelligent design': I merely say that, in the absence of proof to the contrary, I cannot rule it out. I certainly don't accept Darwinian theories of evolution, as currently posited, but nor do I exclude the possibility that they can be refined to explain life on earth.
Centrally, I cannot see how 'evolution' was accidentally able to create hundreds of proteins, any molecule of which consists of maybe 1,000 different amino-acids, in precisely the right sequence. Now, if I were to visit the Taj Mahal and declare it was caused by various minerals randomly falling into place, I would probably be considered a suitable candidate for sectioning - not dangerous, but to be given a glass of warm milk and a couple Digestives last thing.
But the accident theory is how evolutionists explain the emergence of proteins: and that is before we even infuse those protein molecules with life, without which they instantly decay. And then, of course, there is DNA, which enables proteins to reproduce themselves: now where, unassisted, did that come from?
A lot of people share my worries. Francis Crick, the co-discoverer of DNA, and a die-hard atheist and evolutionist, provided a possible explanation. "Could life have first started much earlier on the planet of some distant star, perhaps eight to 10 billion years ago?" he wondered. "If so, a higher civilization, similar to ours, might have developed from it at about the time that the Earth was formed. Would they have had the urge and the technology to spread life through the wastes of space and seed these sterile planets, including our own?"
Hold on. Seeding? That sounds rather like intelligent design by another name, but from one of the pre-eminent Darwinians of the 20th century, the cosmological equivalent of laissez-faire communism. Which suggests that all is not as clear as it should be.
Little green men aside, the problems with intelligent design are many, and not the least appears in Christopher's argument: its believers, apparently "choose to make a fumbling fool of their pretended god, and make him out to be a tinkerer, an approximator and a blunderer, who took aeons of time to fashion a few serviceable figures and heaped up a junkyard of scrap and failure meanwhile."
Precisely. On the other hand, evolutionism does not explain how so many millions of members of so many phyla became reproductively discrete, while co-existing in close proximity with one another. And whereas we have fossil evidence of extinct species, where is the fossil evidence of the presumably millions of intermediary species between ancestors and finished products? How did they survive?
At its most simple, a proto-mosquito which cannot find a blood vessel will soon kick the bucket, childless. It couldn't go back to the drawing-board, like we can with an experimental aeroplane. The genes die with failure. That's that.
Moreover, 'evolution' is still a theory which depends on more than rational analysis.
Christopher quotes the scientist (who happened to be a friend of Crick) Leslie Oregl: "Evolution is smarter than you are." Which is no different, really, from saying: "God is smarter than you are." Either way, whatever explanations for existence we devise, be they creationist or evolutionist, they depend upon our inability to understand them fully, and so, in last resort, they come down to faith.
What do I believe in? I, a weak, wimpish agnostic, don't know. I will not, a priori, rule out God, because to do so is to repeat the sin of the theists, who a priori have ruled Him in. Nor can I accept one of Christopher's key declarations: Religion poisons everything. If he means this literally, then it is manifestly not true: it has not poisoned him, he who was raised with Christ's name, has it? Did it poison Shakespeare, Schiller or Bach, those great laureates of the human spirit? No, what poisons the world is life itself: for even single-celled creatures attack and kill one another.
And the most passive, Christian-like animals in this world are merely fulltime prey, whose ecological role is to suffer terrible death at the fangs and claws of professional predators: and what kind of God devised that horror?
NOW I have spent two columns upon Christopher Hitchens' book because within its covers you will find the insights and wit of a veritable Taj Mahal of a mind - one which was formed, moreover, by no accident. The nitpicking of today and yesterday aside, 'God is Not Great' is easily the most brilliant and fascinating contemplation upon the role of religion in human society in recent times, the 'Das Kapital' of a tolerant, if exasperated, atheism.
Christopher will have to forgive me that metaphor: his faith, after all, obliges him to.