The philosophical treatise ‘Octavious’ was written by the Christian apologist, Muncius Felix, in the 2nd-3rd century. It offers valuable insight into the debates that raged in the Roman empire between early Christians and their pagan neighbors. Muncius Felix gives a lot of space to the views of his opponent and I think he tries to present their views as fairly as possible before offering a refutation of them. Here is one example in which the pagan (Caecilius) explains to the Christian (Octavius) the beginnings of all things.
The seeds of all things have been in the beginning condensed by a nature combining them in itself— what God is the author here? Let the members of the whole world be by fortuitous concurrences united, digested, fashioned— what God is the contriver? Although fire may have lit up the stars; although (the lightness of) its own material may have suspended the heaven; although its own material may have established the earth by its weight; and although the sea may have flowed in from moisture, whence is this religion? Whence this fear? What is this superstition? Man, and every animal which is born, inspired with life, and nourished, is as a voluntary concretion of the elements, into which again man and every animal is divided, resolved, and dissipated. So all things flow back again into their source, and are turned again into themselves, without any artificer, or judge, or creator. Thus the seeds of fires, being gathered together, cause other suns, and again others, always to shine forth. Thus the vapours of the earth, being exhaled, cause the mists always to grow, which being condensed and collected, cause the clouds to rise higher; and when they fall, cause the rains to flow, the winds to blow, the hail to rattle down; or when the clouds clash together, they cause the thunder to bellow, the lightnings to grow red, the thunderbolts to gleam forth. Therefore they fall everywhere, they rush on the mountains, they strike the trees; without any choice, they blast places sacred and profane; they smite mischievous men, and often, too, religious men.
Substitute “random mutation” for “fortuitous concurrences” and you might have something Dawkins would be happy with. This is because the philosophy expounded by Caecilius is consistent with natural religion of all stripes. Both Dawkins and Caecilius belong to a long line of natural philosophers who can trace their ideas to some of the very earliest creation epics. According to the Enuma Elish (late 2nd millenium BC?), the world began when the salty water (Tiamat) mingled with sweet water (Apsu) and there came forth silt (Lahmu and Lahamu?). Then, after many ages passed, there arose Ansar and Kisar – the twin horizons, etc, etc. And so it goes. The Enuma Elish states that this occurred, “before any of the gods had been called into being”. The world of the Enuma Elish was a magical world before it was a supernatural one. If a shaman knows the secrets of the natural ‘powers’, he may try to manipulate them and bypass the gods entirely.
While modern man may not believe in magic, his outlook is compatible with it. Ultimately, he believes that nature assembled itself. He may confine this event to a singularity, or distance himself from it by theorizing an infinite number of parallel universes – but his world is ultimately material and magical. It is, therefore, supremely ironic that Dawkins would call his children’s book “The Magic of Reality”! Dawkins is simply giving a ‘scientific’ spin to the philosophy of Caecilius and the myth of the Enuma Elish. The mingling of the waters has become the primordial soup.
There is only one alternative to this magical world. It is the one described by Octavius in his response to Caecilius:
Wherefore the rather, they who deny that this furniture of the whole world was perfected by the divine reason, and assert that it was heaped together by certain fragments casually adhering to each other, seem to me not to have either mind or sense, or, in fact, even sight itself. For what can possibly be so manifest, so confessed, and so evident, when you lift your eyes up to heaven, and look into the things which are below and around, than that there is some Deity of most excellent intelligence, by whom all nature is inspired, is moved, is nourished, is governed?
There can be no compromise between Caecilius and Octavius. Their differences cannot be measured on a scale. They live in different worlds.