Show Hide image

Why Richard Dawkins is the best argument for the existence of God

Russell Brand questions Richard Dawkins, explains Transcendental Meditation . . . and offers readers

Russell Brand questions Richard Dawkins, explains Transcendental Meditation . . . and offers readers a touch of the divine.

I'm glad Jemima Khan asked me to contribute to this issue of the New Statesman as it (at last) gives me the opportunity to prove the existence of God. You may think me unqualified for a task that has baffled the finest theologians, philosophers and physicists since the dawn of time but don't worry, I've been unqualified for every job I've ever embarked on, from learning to drive to working as a postman for the Royal Mail, and both these quests were successfully completed, aside from a few broken wing mirrors and stolen letters. So, unlike the Christmas money of the residents of Ockendon, Essex, you're in good hands. Atheists are all about us, sermonising from the godless pulpit on the benefits of their anti-faith with some pretty good arguments like, oh I dunno, "evolution" and oddly, I think, given the stated nature of their motives, being incredibly reductive in their line and manipulative in their targets.

Zero fun and too much mental

I once had the pleasure of talking to the brilliant Richard Dawkins, who has been called the "Abu Hamza of atheism". (It was me who called him it, just then.) In his remarkable documentary The Genius of Charles Darwin the professor excellently relayed the information within his hero's On the Origin of Species, gave us some key information from his own masterpiece The Selfish Gene (which I only read because I took it to be an unsanctioned biography of the Kiss bassist Gene Simmons) and set about unravelling religion and spirituality with the adorable fervour of the Andrex puppy making off with some scriptural lavvy paper. Choice among Dawkins's targets were the kind of daft 'apeths we're accustomed to tolerating on our telly; low-browed creationists gurgling up Genesis like (forbidden) apple chutney and knee-jerk fundamentalists, who are always zero fun and far too much mental.

Who could fail to concur with Dawkins's erudite dismissal of these hapless saps? No one. I have Dawkins to thank for my own understanding of the fantastic discovery that is evolution; his passion and expertise in this documentary hugely enhanced my knowledge and illuminated what for many spiritual people can be a difficult subject.

It is only in his absolute renunciation of God that the professor and I part company and, heaven knows, I'd understand if you wanted to join his party. In almost any expedition in which the rival guides were myself and Richard Dawkins, I wouldn't be surprised to find myself pulverised by the converted horde stampeding towards the professor.

However, it's not just swivel-eyed haters and mad mullahs who live a religious life, and to condemn all religion and spirituality on the basis of their slack-jawed, knee-jerk saliva-flecked vitriol (spit-triol?) is as unfair as the simplified dogma that the choir of pious atheists harmonise against. Gandhi, as I recall, was quite a religious man.

St Francis of Assisi was a straight-up believer. And while the tenets of Buddhism are varied on the notion of God, the creator, I think it would be fair to describe the Dalai Lama as a spiritual chap. I don't see atheists queuing up to call the Dalai Lama a dickhead. These are the examples to which we should turn when questioning the existence of a power beyond man. Not Glenn Beck or some other capillary blob on Fox News.

Dawkins, the patron saint of atheists, would say that all religions are simply wrong - a baffled blanket of cosy lies to warm dopes into snug compliance; unproven ideologies based on faith. I think God exists beyond the current reach of science, that one day our fast-evolving minds will know God empirically as they do now only intuitively. That the mystical will become physical.

Galileo Galilei, the man credited with being the first to point a telescope skyward (all previous users had presumably been Renaissance peeping Toms), speculated that heliocentrism was viable: that the earth likely circled the sun. He was imprisoned for this observation, which, viewed retrospectively (through my invention, the retro-speculars), seems unfair. He was, after all, correct. Evidently the persecution of scientists by religion has irked the members of that community but I think that the theoretical annihilation of God is a reprisal too far.

We must, on both sides of the debate, show compassion. I for example have overlooked the bald fact that Galileo's parents gave him a bloody stupid first name considering their surname was Galilei. Galileo Galilei. He would have gone through hell at my school, not for being a heliocentric heretic but for being a ridiculously titled child. We already had another lad in my year called David Dave (honestly) so his problem wouldn't have even been original.

Religion has rightly been cited as the cause of much suffering and conflict, way beyond what ol' star-gazing "two names" went through with his prison stretch and forced retraction. Plus the Pope (I think it was Pope Benedict Benedicto) recently pardoned GG, so let it go.

A croissant conflict

It has been said that "man is never more vehement in killing his brother than when it is in God's name"; perhaps that's true, but we humans can seek out conflict in any situation. My last serious argument was about a croissant. It had been placed in the fridge beneath a meat product and could have been contaminated by dripping. If I'd had a sword on me I would have happily carried out a jihad in the kitchen and I'm a vegetarian. It is our nature to quarrel and fight just as it is to inquire and to empathise.

Frankly I think atheism is a commodity we cannot currently afford. "No atheists on a sinking ship," they say, and a quick glance out the porthole reveals icebergs aplenty, but I'm not suggesting God as some demented alternative to desperation - no, this is a phenomenon that touches my life every day.

Through Transcendental Meditation, twice daily I feel the bliss of the divine. Through the mental repetition of a mantra, eventually my chattering monkey mind recedes, gently banishing concerns of the past and drawing the inner eye away from speculation and want. I connect to a boundless consciousness that has no pal­pable relationship with my thoughts, fears or desires. In this impersonal state of awareness.

I recognise that consciousness exists beyond time, beyond the individual. There was a time when the universe did not exist, this we know. We also know that energy cannot be created or destroyed, only transformed. This means that something, not nothing, existed before the universe. We do not know what but there is wonder and intelligence enough to suggest that design may have been a component.

Could a witless miasma of molecules and dust ever have created anything as ingenious and incredible as Richard Dawkins? I don't think so, but I'm prepared to listen and tolerate any theories and arguments, a concerto of contemplation, a requiem of speculation, to divert us till we know the truth.

“Arthur", with Russell Brand and Helen Mirren, is released on 22 April

Russell Brand guest-edited the New Statesman in October 2013. Find him on Twitter: @rustyrockets.

This article first appeared in the 27 February 2012 issue of the New Statesman, The God Wars

Show Hide image

The strange death of boozy Britain: why are young people drinking less?

Ditching alcohol for work.

Whenever horrific tales of the drunken escapades of the youth are reported, one photo reliably gets wheeled out: "bench girl", a young woman lying passed out on a public bench above bottles of booze in Bristol. The image is in urgent need of updating: it is now a decade old. Britain has spent that time moving away from booze.

Individual alcohol consumption in Britain has declined sharply. In 2013, the average person over 15 consumed 9.4 litres of alcohol, 19 per cent less than 2004. As with drugs, the decline in use among the young is particularly notable: the proportion of young adults who are teetotal increased by 40 per cent between 2005 and 2013. But decreased drinking is not only apparent among the young fogeys: 80 per cent of adults are making some effort to drink less, according to a new study by consumer trends agency Future Foundation. No wonder that half of all nightclubs have closed in the last decade. Pubs are also closing down: there are 13 per cent fewer pubs in the UK than in 2002. 

People are too busy vying to get ahead at work to indulge in drinking. A combination of the recession, globalisation and technology has combined to make the work of work more competitive than ever: bad news for alcohol companies. “The cost-benefit analysis for people of going out and getting hammered starts to go out of favour,” says Will Seymour of Future Foundation.

Vincent Dignan is the founder of Magnific, a company that helps tech start-ups. He identifies ditching regular boozing as a turning point in his career. “I noticed a trend of other entrepreneurs drinking three, four or five times a week at different events, while their companies went nowhere,” he says. “I realised I couldn't be just another British guy getting pissed and being mildly hungover while trying to scale a website to a million visitors a month. I feel I have a very slight edge on everyone else. While they're sleeping in, I'm working.” Dignan now only drinks occasionally; he went three months without having a drop of alcohol earlier in the year.

But the decline in booze consumption isn’t only about people becoming more work-driven. There have never been more alternate ways to be entertained than resorting to the bottle. The rise of digital TV, BBC iPlayer and Netflix means most people means that most people have almost limitless choice about what to watch.

Some social lives have also partly migrated online. In many ways this is an unfortunate development, but one upshot has been to reduce alcohol intake. “You don’t need to drink to hang out online,” says Dr James Nicholls, the author of The Politics of Alcohol who now works for Alcohol Concern. 

The sheer cost of boozing also puts people off. Although minimum pricing on booze has not been introduced, a series of taxes have made alcohol more expensive, while a ban on below-cost selling was introduced last year. Across the 28 countries of the EU, only Ireland has higher alcohol and tobacco prices than the UK today; in 1998 prices in the UK were only the fourth most expensive in the EU.

Immigration has also contributed to weaning Britain off booze. The decrease in alcohol consumption “is linked partly to demographic trends: the fall is largest in areas with greater ethnic diversity,” Nicholls says. A third of adults in London, where 37 per cent of the population is foreign born, do not drink alcohol at all, easily the highest of any region in Britain.

The alcohol industry is nothing if not resilient. “By lobbying for lower duty rates, ramping up their marketing and developing new products the big producers are doing their best to make sure the last ten years turn out to be a blip rather than a long term change in culture,” Nicholls says.

But whatever alcohol companies do to fight back against the declining popularity of booze, deep changes in British culture have made booze less attractive. Forget the horrific tales of drunken escapades from Magaluf to the Bullingdon Club. The real story is of the strange death of boozy Britain. 

Tim Wigmore is a contributing writer to the New Statesman and the author of Second XI: Cricket In Its Outposts.