Monday, April 28, 2008

God is an aircraft

My 700th post.

Two months ago, when I was getting my prostate ablated, The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins provided me with ideal reading material. In the context of a hospitalized "survival machine" (an expression that made its first appearance in this book, which I've reread several times), there's nothing better than a dose of Dawkins to encourage you to survive.

Insofar as Dawkins considers that all gods—including one's favorite personal God, with a capital G—are a delusion, certain opponents would claim that the professor's atheistic philosophy might depress a sick person (or even a perfectly fit individual, for that matter) to the point of suicide. On the contrary, I've always found Dawkins elating. I look upon him as the finest scientific author I've ever encountered, and I'm convinced that there are no more noble philosophical questions than those—about evolution, genes and memes—tackled so brilliantly by this great thinker and writer.

In The God Delusion, Dawkins uses an unexpected title for his major argument against the existence of gods and God. He calls it the Ultimate Boeing 747 gambit, and it's such a delightful argument, simple yet profound, that I wish to describe it here rapidly... as a way of celebrating my 700th Antipodes post. Apparently, the English astrophysicist Fred Hoyle [1915-2001] once used an aeronautical metaphor to emphasize the extreme unlikelihood that life could have originated by pure chance on our planet... that's to say, without a divine nudge. He likened this probability to that of a hurricane, blowing in a junkyard, which just happened to assemble a Boeing 747. I'm convinced that most people who cling to the notion that Creation necessitated divine intervention justify their beliefs by a variant of this Boeing metaphor. In a nutshell: "It's unthinkable that a phenomenon as rich as Creation could have just come about by chance." Dawkins agrees totally with that last statement. The answer is certainly not chance. The explanation is Darwinian evolution. Getting back to the Boeing metaphor, Dawkins points out simply that the chance arrival on the scene of an "intelligent designer", God, is vastly more improbable than the idea of manufacturing Boeings with the assistance of hurricanes in junkyards. So, in this sense, God can truly be referred to as the Ultimate Boeing 747!

Imagine the following scenario. Suppose that you go out to inspect the damage after a terrible hurricane. In a junkyard alongside your house, you're amazed to discover that the wind has blown together bits and pieces in the form of a makeshift aircraft... a little like a cargo cult artifact. Why not? Intrigued by this extraordinary chance event, you climb up onto the neatly-assembled pile of junk and you peer into the cockpit. There, at the controls of the would-be aircraft, you're utterly astounded to find a well-groomed white-haired middle-aged gentleman wearing a pilot's uniform. Noticing the expression of amazement on your face, he says in a mellow voice: "Don't be surprised, my friend. I'm God. I just happened to get Myself blown together and placed here by that bloody terrible hurricane."

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