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Why There Almost Certainly Is a God, By Keith Ward

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There is a running joke in the forums at RichardDawkins.net about "fleas", which is what the site's contributors call the spreading rash of books that have been published in refutation of Dawkins' bestseller The God Delusion. It isn't an officially endorsed term, but was inspired by a comment that Dawkins made about two books with his name in the title by the Oxford theologian Alister McGrath: "It is tempting to quote Yeats ('Was there ever a dog that praised its fleas?') and leave it at that..." While poorly argued and badly written books undeniably number among these "fleas", there are others containing nimble logic and thoughtful prose which even hard-line atheists should still find it rewarding to engage with – if only they would. One such is the latest missive in the Oxford God debate, Why There Almost Certainly Is a God (named, with one small change of wording, after chapter four of The God Delusion), by the university's former Regius Professor of Divinity, Keith Ward.

Rather neatly, Ward uses one of science's finest achievements – the discovery of the bizarre quantum world – as a weapon with which to undermine the materialist world-view championed by Dawkins. The appealing simplicity of the latter evaporates when you look at the building blocks of the universe closely enough: "What is the point of being a materialist when we are not sure exactly what matter is?" The fact that modern physics' best theories about the universe are verifiable experimentally counts in their favour, but Ward only needs you to concede that his "God hypothesis" is simpler to have exposed a chink in Dawkins' armour.

Exploiting it, Ward's line of reasoning becomes increasingly abstract, but never less than intellectually intriguing. Dawkins' blazing polemic is by far the more fun to read (and to my mind the more convincing) but Ward's courteous objections are stimulating and elegant nonetheless.

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