Subtitled Adventures of a Devout Sceptic I thought Is Anybody Up There? was an interesting book, although it is more a biography or memoir than an exploration of why Paul Arnott calls himself a sceptic. At times he seemed to me to be advocating most of the world’s religions. He describes how as a child he believed in fairies, leprechauns and Father Christmas, his introduction to Christianity, atheism and his growing interest in Buddhism, Hindusim and Islam.
In fact it’s only with Richard Dawkins that he has any real issues, thinking that “his extrapolations into altruism and faith [in The Selfish Gene] were too deterministic, rich in some answers and impoverished in others.” (page 5)
Writing about Dawkins’s The God Delusion he says
To my mind, it was if he had written a book about football and only focused on the hooligans, corruption in the boardroom, and the few bent referees, ignoring the fantastic skills of both male and female players on the ball and the communal wonder which comes with the scoring of a goal. Dawkins railed against easy targets one after the other, without recognising that every religious person, other than the lunatic fringe he was tilting at, agreed with him wholly about life at the extremes of faith. (page 5)
Arnott’s difficulty is that he just isn’t sure. He explored different faiths, but the “more [he] read and reread, the more any spiritual truth eluded [him].” (page 174) He admits that he “likes religions” (page 211), he commends a “laissez-faire approach” and believes in a “devout acceptance of the beliefs of others” (page 226). And yes, he does believe there is “somebody” “up there”, whatever that is. His reasons are rather vague -“because of how much is going on out there down here” and because “most people throughout the ages have found it makes more sense to have an idea of divinity than not.”(page 205)
It’s easy reading, with information about a number of religious beliefs, but it’s not very enlightening. Still, I enjoyed reading it.