While driving this weekend, I tuned into NPR and caught a bit of a program about science and religion. It was biologist Richard Dawkins declaring that the question, "What is the meaning of life?" is no more worthy of an answer than, "Why are unicorns orange?"
I was struck by the realization that debating Richard Dawkins on religion would be like debating a congenitally blind skeptic on the reality of color. Dawkins appears unable to have anything resembling a religious experience, and therefore to doubt that anyone else does. Further, he seems to believe that there is in principle a completely naturalistic (or materialistic) explanation of any such experience.
Well, let's get really scientific about it. As a physicist, I can tell you that there is no such thing as color. There are different wavelengths of light, and specific retinal and neural responses to them. But the experience of color is entirely subjective. It's all in your mind.
Dawkins might object to my analogy because there is a neurophysiological explanation for color perception (but not, I hasten to add for its subjective experience). Yet there are also neurophysiological correlates of religious experience - specifically of Western-style experience of mystical union with God, and of Eastern-style experience of oneness with Everything, as documented in Why God Won't Go Away: Brain Science and the Biology of Belief. The authors take pains to explain that all experience is "all in your mind," and that the absence of an identified sensory organ does not make that experience any less real. Perhaps the brain itself is the sensory organ of religious experience.
Now Dawkins would argue that if there are neurophysiological correlates of religious experience, then religious experience is entirely neurophysiological - no supernatural ingredients required. But just as I cannot prove that there is a supernatural ingredient, neither can he prove that there is not. The only scientifically tenable position is agnosticism - because if your are an agnostic then you can prove that you do not know whether God exists by the methods of unaided reason.
Dawkins' argument that the supernatural cannot exist is equivalent to the argument that everything that exists can be apprehended by the methods of science. But that is something which science itself has known to be false ever since Goedel's Theorem of 1925, in which Goedel proved that within the confines of any finite, non-trivial, non-contradictory set of axioms, it is possible to construct a statement whose validity can be neither proven nor disproven. Therefore, Dawkins' insistence that any question which cannot be answered by science be declared inadmissible is his attempt to turn his erroneous assumption about the universality of science into a kind of Orwellian NewSpeak in order to make all sensibilities become as stunted as his own.
But I have to admire the Religious conviction with which he pursues his mission to make all nations disciples of his atheism.