Monday, 14 November 2011

we all need a little mystery, don't we..?

So, I am reading 'God Delusion' by Richard Dawkins at the mo, (yes, I know I am way behind most of the world..). I am actually finding it very interesting. Some of my friends have questioned why I am reading it, but I think you kind of need to know what you are up against, don't you?!
I find I like Dawkins. Which was a surprise to me as I thought I would hate him. I don't. I like the way he writes. He makes his point simply without using too much techho stuff or long words that would bamboozle the average reader. (I do have some issues with his writing whch may form another post...)

But what I found in reading the book was that actually I feel sorry for him. Because he can't seem to live with unanswered questions. He seems to have this insatiable desire to get to the bottom of every mystery. Perhaps that is what drives him. Near the beginning of the book he is talking about the power of the brain and how it can turn unknown noises and images into recogniseable pictures. He gives an example of himself as a young boy hearing what he thinks is a whispering voice, in which he can actually hear audible words. Now I suspect that most kids would either be freaked out by this or perhaps call for a parent. But the young Dawkins decides to go on a mission to find out the source of the sound and he follows it until he finds wind whistling through a key hole. It was not voices after all, just wind. I find that so sad. That even as a child he had such an inquisitive mind that he could not accept a little mystery.

This isn't just about faith, I'm not trying to score any points here, just that I think life is made far richer by a bit of mystery, the unknown. Is it really necessary to try and erradicate that unknown element of life? Our generation has so much more knowledge than our ancestors. We know so much more about how life works, how the world functions, how illnesses start and how we can end them. That is fantastic I am not disupting it, but I am wondering if this thirst for knowledge is just going a little bit too far....

5 comments:

Perpetua said...

An interesting post, Red. I couldn't agree more about the importance of mystery in our spiritual lives as well as in our world. I think it's no coincidence that Dawkins is a biologist, as that is the most reductionist of sciences, with no room for mystery at all.. My darling mother-in-law, who IS a believer, has Dawkins' need for an explanation for everything and she's a retired biology teacher!

Suem said...

I just posted a long response to this and then lost it! I've been discussing atheism and faith with my son and it has been very interesting. We did agree that, in real terms, nobody definitively "knows" very much at all about our existence. I think that must be frustrating for those who dislike living with mystery and unanswered questions!

Ron Murphy said...

Hi Red,

Glad you sort of like Dawkins. He is demonised a bit I suppose, so it's natural for those not directly familiar with his writing to be surprised how tame he is.

"Some of my friends have questioned why I am reading it, but I think you kind of need to know what you are up against, don't you?!" - Yes. It might dispel some misconceptions if more people read directly instead of relying on second or third hand reports.

"But what I found in reading the book was that actually I feel sorry for him. Because he can't seem to live with unanswered questions."

I think you misunderstand him here. He is comfortable with unanswered questions - to the extent that he, and I guess most atheists, would rather we say we don't know, when it comes to issues such as the cause of the universe. What you might be mistaking for something that deserves pity is in fact simply a thirst for knowledge, a curiosity about the world.

"I find that so sad. That even as a child he had such an inquisitive mind that he could not accept a little mystery."

Most proponents of science would find this encouraging rather than sad. But, this episode is not a clue as to the extent to which he did enjoy the mystery. It's only a clue to the extent to which he wanted to solve a mystery. Is mystery forever to remain a mystery? If that were so then perhaps we should encourage our children to discover and learn nothing - all the more mystery to wonder at? As it is I think there is plenty of mystery in the universe to last out humanities time here. There's a great deal of pleasure in discovering the root of a mystery; and most humans seem to revel in this - for which mystery novelists must be grateful.

"Is it really necessary to try and eradicate that unknown element of life?" - Not necessary, since we need discover only that which is necessary to survive. But since when have humans been content with only the necessary? Isn't all religion a quest to understand? Are you immune to the thrill of discovery? Do you feel we will really exhaust all mysteries?

"That is fantastic I am not disputing it, but I am wondering if this thirst for knowledge is just going a little bit too far...."

No. Something worth considering is that humans, as we are now, have been around for a short few hundred thousand years. But what we think of as modern man has left significant evidence of only a few thousand years. And all our modern science, only a few hundred years. What will humans know in a few more hundred years, a few thousand, hundreds of thousands. At any of those stages there will be people wondering if we have gone too far; as there always have been at every other stage. Each generation sees the past as simplistic, their own time as the status quo, the future a step too far.

If there's any mystery to be maintained it's that we cannot know what we will come to know, or what we will become. There's plenty of mystery to go round.

I wonder if your sorrow for Dawkins is because you are looking at his life from your own perspective. Even as an atheist I can't deny that some people find pleasure and comfort in religion. I accept their word for it when they tell me how much their belief means to them, even if I don't think there is anything to the content of their belief. So, though your sorrow for Dawkins may be well intended it is surely misplaced. I can assure you, as an atheist, there is ample mystery around, and a great deal of pleasure to be had from investigating it.

Ron Murphy said...

Hi Suem,

"I think that must be frustrating for those who dislike living with mystery and unanswered questions!"

It may be frustrating in some specific instances, such as when one is close to some discovery but can't quite reach it. But other than that I think you'd find that most scientists both like mystery and at the same time want to uncover it. This isn't paradoxical, since it's only the abundance of mystery that ensures we won't run out.

When occasionally there's some prospect of unifying some theory or other, or of achieving a significant goal in science, it's usually accompanied by popular speculations about being close to having discovered 'everything' (a naive conception). To which most scientists respond that they would not like to be in the position of knowing everything since that would leave nothing else to be discovered. I'd say scientists, atheist or believers, value the presence of mystery, but for the purpose of discovery.

Red said...

Hello Ron, long time no see (or read...), hope you are well :)
Yes it's interesting isn't it. I do find him fascinating! It's not that I don't have a thirst for knowledge, I do, quite voraciously at times, but I suppose it's the determination with which he is so convinced that those who believe are wrong, that makes me question his desire for that knowledge. The boyhood example I used was one that struck me in the book but he does seem to be like this in life. His recent comments about 'winning' (New Statesman I think)by eradicating Christianity shows an arrogance about 'his' beliefs. I mean surely with science the quest for knowledge is about exactly that - finding out what we do not know. In the past there are theories that have been debunked or updated with more recent discoveries for example. I find his refusal to even be open to the idea that there might be a God rather frustrating (completely aside from my own faith). why would one close ones mind to something? Surely scientific processes are about being open to what one might find (even if there is an inital theory).
you said: 'I think you misunderstand him here. He is comfortable with unanswered questions - to the extent that he, and I guess most atheists, would rather we say we don't know, when it comes to issues such as the cause of the universe.'
but isn't that more agnosticism? As I understand it atheism is the belief that there is no God? But what you describe does sound more open to the idea? Which Dawkins does not seem to be at all!
It's that age old Shakespeare quote which I am sure I have writen before: 'There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,Than are dreamt of in your philosophy'.
There is so much out there that we cannot begin to know or understand or even dream of. So how can Dawkins (or you?) be so sure that there isn't a God? Isn't it better to be open to the idea?

Happy Christmas Ron, good to see you here! redx