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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

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This Ada Lovelace Day, let’s celebrate women in tech while confronting its sexist culture

In an industry where men hold most of the jobs and write most of the code, celebrating women's contributions on one day a year isn't enough. 

Ada Lovelace wrote the world’s first computer program. In the 1840s Charles Babbage, now known as the “father of the computer”, designed (though never built) the “Analytical Engine”, a machine which could accurately and reproducibly calculate the answers to maths problems. While translating an article by an Italian mathematician about the machine, Lovelace included a written algorithm for which would allow the engine to calculate a sequence of Bernoulli numbers.

Around 170 years later, Whitney Wolfe, one of the founders of dating app Tinder, was allegedly forced to resign from the company. According to a lawsuit she later filed against the app and its parent company, she had her co-founder title removed because, the male founders argued, it would look “slutty”, and because “Facebook and Snapchat don’t have girl founders. It just makes it look like Tinder was some accident". (They settled out of court.)

Today, 13 October, is Ada Lovelace day – an international celebration of inspirational women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). It’s lucky we have this day of remembrance, because, as Wolfe’s story demonstrates, we also spend a lot of time forgetting and sidelining women in tech. In the wash of pale male founders of the tech giants that rule the industry,we don't often think about the women that shaped its foundations: Judith Estrin, one of the designers of TCP/IP, for example, or Radia Perlman, inventor of the spanning-tree protocol. Both inventions sound complicated, and they are – they’re some of the vital building blocks that allow the internet to function. 

And yet David Streitfield, a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist, someow felt it accurate to write in 2012: “Men invented the internet. And not just any men. Men with pocket protectors. Men who idolised Mr Spock and cried when Steve Jobs died.”

Perhaps we forget about tech's founding women because the needle has swung so far into the other direction. A huge proportion – perhaps even 90 per cent - of the world’s code is written by men. At Google, women fill 17 per cent of technical roles. At Facebook, 15 per cent. Over 90 per cent of the code respositories on Github, an online service used throughout the industry, are owned by men. Yet it's also hard to believe that this erasure of women's role in tech is completely accidental. As Elissa Shevinsky writes in the introduction to a collection of essays on gender in tech, Lean Out: “This myth of the nerdy male founder has been perpetuated by men who found this story favourable."

Does it matter? It’s hard to believe that it doesn’t. Our society is increasingly defined and delineated by code and the things it builds. Small slip-ups, like the lack of a period tracker on the original Apple Watch, or fitness trackers too big for some women’s wrists, gesture to the fact that these technologies are built by male-dominated teams, for a male audience.

In Lean Out, one essay written by a Twitter-based “start-up dinosaur” (don’t ask) explains how dangerous it is to allow one small segment of society to built the future for the rest of us:

If you let someone else build tomorrow, tomorrow will belong to someone else. They will build a better tomorrow for everyone like them… For tomorrow to be for everyone, everyone needs to be the one [sic] that build it.

So where did all the women go? How did we get from a rash of female inventors to a situation where the major female presence at an Apple iPhone launch is a model’s face projected onto a screen and photoshopped into a smile by a male demonstrator? 

Photo: Apple.

The toxic culture of many tech workplaces could be a cause or an effect of the lack of women in the industry, but it certainly can’t make make it easy to stay. Behaviours range from the ignorant - Martha Lane-Fox, founder of, often asked “what happens if you get pregnant?” at investors' meetings - to the much more sinister. An essay in Lean Out by Katy Levinson details her experiences of sexual harassment while working in tech: 

I have had interviewers attempt to solicit sexual favors from me mid-interview and discuss in significant detail precisely what they would like to do. All of these things have happened either in Silicon Valley working in tech, in an educational institution to get me there, or in a technical internship.

Others featured in the book joined in with the low-level sexism and racism  of their male colleagues in order to "fit in" and deflect negative attention. Erica Joy writes that while working in IT at the University of Alaska as the only woman (and only black person) on her team, she laughed at colleagues' "terribly racist and sexist jokes" and "co-opted their negative attitudes”. 

The casual culture and allegedly meritocratic hierarchies of tech companies may actually be encouraging this discriminatory atmosphere. HR and the strict reporting procedures of large corporates at least give those suffering from discrimination a place to go. A casual office environment can discourage reporting or calling out prejudiced humour or remarks. Brook Shelley, a woman who transitioned while working in tech, notes: "No one wants to be the office mother". So instead, you join in and hope for the best. 

And, of course, there's no reason why people working in tech would have fewer issues with discrimination than those in other industries. A childhood spent as a "nerd" can also spawn its own brand of misogyny - Katherine Cross writes in Lean Out that “to many of these men [working in these fields] is all too easy to subconciously confound women who say ‘this is sexist’ with the young girls who said… ‘You’re gross and a creep and I’ll never date you'". During GamerGate, Anita Sarkeesian was often called a "prom queen" by trolls. 

When I spoke to Alexa Clay, entrepreneur and co-author of the Misfit Economy, she confirmed that there's a strange, low-lurking sexism in the start-up economy: “They have all very open and free, but underneath it there's still something really patriarchal.” Start-ups, after all, are a culture which celebrates risk-taking, something which women are societally discouraged from doing. As Clay says, 

“Men are allowed to fail in tech. You have these young guys who these old guys adopt and mentor. If his app doesn’t work, the mentor just shrugs it off. I would not be able ot get away with that, and I think women and minorities aren't allowed to take the same amount of risks, particularly in these communities. If you fail, no one's saying that's fine.

The conclusion of Lean Out, and of women in tech I have spoken to, isn’t that more women, over time, will enter these industries and seamlessly integrate – it’s that tech culture needs to change, or its lack of diversity will become even more severe. Shevinsky writes:

The reason why we don't have more women in tech is not because of a lack of STEM education. It's because too many high profile and influential individuals and subcultures within the tech industry have ignored or outright mistreated women applicants and employees. To be succinct—the problem isn't women, it's tech culture.

Software engineer Kate Heddleston has a wonderful and chilling metaphor about the way we treat women in STEM. Women are, she writes, the “canary in the coal mine”. If one dies, surely you should take that as a sign that the mine is uninhabitable – that there’s something toxic in the air. “Instead, the industry is looking at the canary, wondering why it can’t breathe, saying ‘Lean in, canary, lean in!’. When one canary dies they get a new one because getting more canaries is how you fix the lack of canaries, right? Except the problem is that there isn't enough oxygen in the coal mine, not that there are too few canaries.” We need more women in STEM, and, I’d argue, in tech in particular, but we need to make sure the air is breatheable first. 

Barbara Speed is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman and a staff writer at CityMetric.