Philip K Dick mocks Dawkins

Richard Dawkins

Philip K Dick mocks Dawkins

Duke Maskell considers a passé discourse

The recently published The Divine Madness of Philip K Dick, by Kyle Arnold, proves, beyond question, that Dick was mad. But Dick, the science-fiction writer, wasn’t so mad that he couldn’t see better than the supposedly sane Richard Dawkins, scientist and would-be theologian, where science comes to a stop and religion begins. He wasn’t so mad that he confused the two. It would be stretching a point to call Dawkins insane. But faith in reason can take forms that are irrational and Dawkins’s faith in the scientific method—in evidence, experiment, verification, proof, probability—goes well beyond the rational, if not into madness, then deeply, into stupidity. And, unlikely as it might seem, Dick, the barmy science fiction writer, shows us how.

Dawkins is a scientist … who sees no limits to the reach of science. Which means that, although he calls himself an atheist, he isn’t really. He just regards the existence of God as unproved. Is there a Higgs boson? Is there a God? Same sort of question, same sort of answer: “Either he exists or he doesn’t. It is a scientific question … the existence of God is a scientific hypothesis like any other” (The God Delusion, 2006, pp. 48 and 50).

For Dawkins, God is, or is not, there in the world like any other object or creature, not immortal, invisible but observable, verifiable, measurable, trappable—but perhaps not yet—in a Very Large Hadron Collider. And if H/his existence could be proved, like that of the Higgs boson or the teapot Bertrand Russell imagined orbiting the world, so small we hadn’t, yet, been able to detect it,[1] Richard Dawkins would presumably—by his own logic—believe in H/him, worship H/him, kneel down and pray to H/him. It would be the only respectably scientific thing to do.

Dick, in a little known (and, it must be said, boring) story called A Maze of Death, had the same idea 36 years earlier: God as not merely immanent in the world but as of-the-world, worldly as you and me, H/his existence as verifiable as Higgs bosons or orbiting teapots. But there is this—rather big—difference between him and Dawkins: what Dawkins thinks, he mocks.

Dawkins would believe in God, if only he had good enough evidence. In Dick’s novel, the characters do believe in God, because they do have good enough evidence. They are people after Dawkins’s own heart, “with adult, critical judgement”, yielding to belief only after “scrupulous investigation”. And the God they believe in is precisely the one that Dawkins is ready to believe in: “God is not supernatural. His existence was the first and most natural mode of being to form itself”; H/he is not the Creator but the manufacturer of the firmament—the “Mentafacturer, a quasi-biological, ultra-sentient life form which is just as much the product of natural biological evolution as we are.”

It might seem unlikely but, on this question “What is God when verified by scientific method?”, Dick, being a story-teller, has (even when the story he tells is a dull one) advantages over Dawkins, the scientist. Dick answers the question in a way that makes a mockery of it; and what prompts his mockery is his obligation to envisage a world in the round, populated by characters that have to act and speak. Unlike Dawkins, he has to give convincing answers to such subsidiary questions as how might people pray to such a God? What might be their Bible? What would become of atheism?

And his answers are convincing in so far as they mock the question. If God is just another product of evolution, the Bible must be just another book, and what kind of a book would it be but a self-help manual, with an author and a title—How I Rose From the Dead in My Spare Time and So Can You, by A. J. Spectktowsky—and without “any transcendent symbolic passages, no metaphysical nonsense like they used to talk about before”?

And, of course, with the God hypothesis proved, disbelief in God becomes as impossible for Dick’s characters as disbelief in a God particle detected by a Large Hadron Collider for us: “Atheism seems very strange in this era, when we have proof of the Deity’s existence. I can understand widespread atheism in previous eras when religion was based on faith in things unseen … but now …”.

And how would you pray, how would Dawkins pray, to a Deity who was no more supernatural than he was himself? (Silent prayer would be out, obviously.) It would be, surely, like asking a favour of your boss:

“This damn inventory control job bores me. Routine work—this ship is too large and in addition it’s overstaffed. I’m a useless stand-by module. Could you help me find something more creative and stimulating?”

Prayer might still be an “art”, in which “wording” or “composition” mattered, but it would be one judgeable only by results. If some people seemed better than others at “phrasing prayers properly”, it could only be because their prayers seemed to have more success. If you asked whether a prayer “was a good prayer” or not, the answer would have nothing to do with its prayerfulness; it could only be something like, “Evidently it was, because you got the transfer” (from one job to another) or wasn’t, because you didn’t.

And if God is someone or something in the world, a Mentafacturer, he has to be somewhere, which might be light-years away from where are your self. Your crucial problem won’t be finding the right words but having the right equipment. So, in order to wire themselves into a universal electronic prayer-transmission system, these worshippers have electrodes permanently attached to their pineal glands. When someone prays, he goes to a transmitter and attaches conduits to his electrodes. The conduits carry his prayer to the transmitter, and the transmitter carries it to the nearest relay network, bouncing it about the galaxy until it winds up—the worshiper hopes—at its destination.

But what if the relay networks are hard to access and mere biological “pineal gland emanation” won’t reach them? What else but a more reliable, electronic back-up?

Belsnor said, “I have no faith in prayer that’s not electronically augmented. Even Specktowsky admitted that; if a prayer is to be effective it must be electronically transmitted through the network of god-worlds so that all Manifestations are reached.”

“I suggest,” Morley said, “that we transmit our joint prayer as far as we can through the automatic pilot beam. If we can project it eighty or ninety thousand miles out it should be easier for the Deity to pick it up … since gravity works in inverse proportion to the power of the prayer, meaning that if you can get the prayer away from a planetary body—and ninety thousand miles is reasonably away—then there is a good mathematical chance of the various Manifestations receiving it, and Specktowsky mentions this; I forget where. At the end, I think, in one of his addenda.”

Dick, the science fiction writer, sees—and expects his readers to see—what Dawkins the scientist doesn’t—and doesn’t anticipate his readers seeing either—that the God proved to exist by evidence and experiment wouldn’t be God—not the God of Abraham and Isaac or of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, or of Mohammed either:

But say that some sort of scientific experiment proved the existence of God, what then? Or what if atheism was solidly established and undeniable? If the God who created the heavens and the earth, and man in his own image, is proved to be one object (creature?) amongst others. God as asserted in the creeds certainly does not exist. What exists in His place is a very superior alien intelligence of the sort that Erich von Däniken thought built the pyramids and L Ron Hubbard thought gave us hang-ups. [2]

Charles Bradlaugh (1833-1891); MP & Atheist

Charles Bradlaugh (1833-1891); MP & Atheist


[1] See, e.g.,
[2] Ian Robinson, “The Incompetent Atheist”, p 4, Words in Edgeways, 20, April 2007,

DUKE MASKELL is the joint author of The New Idea of a University (2002)

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