My Thoughts after Reading “The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins

One of the reviews printed on the back of my copy of The God Delusion calls Richard Dawkins “one of the best nonfiction writers alive today.” Before reading the book, I found that description rather incredible. After reading the book, I must say that Dawkins is indeed a masterful writer. He is easy to read and often charmingly witty.

And so, if you are reading my response to his book in hopes of some “intellectual throw down” in which I mock Richard Dawkins for being a moron, you will be disappointed, and I’m not even particularly sorry to disappoint you. As a matter of fact, I intend to draw out not only what I think is shortsighted in his work, but also what I see as particularly insightful. He does, in many respects, have a piercing intellect, and I dare say that in many respects he is indeed more intelligent than I am.

To be quite candid, though, I am still a firm believer in God after reading his book. Mr. Dawkins’ chief aim is to destroy faith in God among the masses, and whatever secondary insights he may posses, this primary goal is one that I consider a grave miscalculation.

What Dawkins gets right:

  • Whether we like it or not, Einstein was something much closer to a pantheist than a proper Christian, and certainly did not believe in a personal God. While this fact has little if any bearing of the evidence for God’s existence, it is worth setting the record straight.
  • The book states a clear intention not to deal specifically with the Abrahamic God, but with the simple “God Hypothesis” in general. This is a wise choice not only because I doubt that he could constrain himself from descending into vitriol against my God and thus becoming derailed from proper argument, but I also recognize along with Dawkins that talking about a specific God isn’t of much use until you’ve decided on the existence of any God at all.
  • As Dawkins makes clear, and as was clearly stated in the Treaty with Tripoli in 1797, the United States is not a “Christian Nation” in any sort of categorical, governmental way. Nor were many of the founding fathers, such as Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, or Adams, in any way shape or form, Christian. In fact, many of them actively disdained Christianity. We, as Christians, lose credibility in all academic fields, when we try to rewrite history by cherry picking quotes.
  • Dawkins rightly admits that he does not “know” that God does not exist, but that his own inquiry leads him to believe that God’s existence is very improbably, and he consequently lives as if there is no God. Thus both he and I would agree, I think, that hard, mathematical proofs need not be furnished before we can take a stance on the issue of God’s existence. We can work with the evidence together and let it lead us to conclusions that are respectable.
  • The book contains several ridiculous or otherwise embarrassing quotes by believers. In many cases, Dawkins is right about the fact that the quote in question in ridiculous or embarrassing.
  • Dawkins is particularly adamant that it is wrong to teach children to accept blindly what they are told. They should not be taught that it is virtuous to believe something is spite of persuasive evidence to the contrary. They should not be discouraged from asking questions. I agree. Does Mr. Dawkins know that there are many Christians who encourage open and honest discussion, even among children?
  • Dawkins suggests that we should not refer to young children as “Christian children” or “Muslim children,” etc. as they are too young to decide what they believe on those matters. I understand his apprehension, and in a sense, I agree. Each person gets to decide their own religion or lack thereof, and makes those decisions, perhaps with increasing conviction, as they get older.
  • In the final section of the book, Dawkins allows himself to sort of ramble a bit about how amazing science is in general, without making any real comment on God. It is some of the best reading I have done in a while. His passion for science is evident and inspiring, and the specific insights that he shares from contemporary science are thought provoking and wonderful.

What Dawkins gets wrong:

  • The very idea that any religion makes any meaningful claim that science cannot be used to prove or disprove is simply assumed to be ridiculous. Dawkins speaks as though no question of ultimate meaning or purpose, or morality, or of any philosophical question that religion might comment on, is outside the jurisdiction of science. For someone who in other places in the book condemns black and white, dogmatic, unnecessarily bipolar thinking, this oversight of his is unfortunate. It makes the unwarranted assumption that all realities are observable by the five sense organs.
  • Dawkins thinks that superhuman aliens probably do exist because of the Drake equation, which plugs in seven variables and spits out the probability that such is so. He admits that some of the variables in the equation are still very difficult to estimate. No kidding. One of the variables is: the percentage of those planets that have conditions that are favorable to life that actually do develop life. Since we’ve seen life spontaneously arrive from non-life so many times, we should definitely have a good idea of what that number would be, right?
  • Later in the book, Dawkins suggests that the chances of life spontaneously arising from nonlife on a planet that is suitable for it are about one in a billion. I’m quite surprised that such a respected biologist believes that. I have been unable in my searching to uncover anything that makes abiogenesis even seem possible. I would encourage those interested to investigate themselves, with all of the scientific depth necessary to understand the topic, rather than take Dawkins’ word for it on this one.
  • Dawkins starts his dissection of arguments for God’s existence by presenting Aquinas’ thirteenth century proofs, and oversimplifying them. Honestly, why not address contemporary arguments as presented by leading contemporary apologists, and quote them, so as not to oversimplify things?
  • Dawkins doesn’t actually seem to understand the Cosmological argument. I’m sure he is more than intelligent enough to do so, he simply hasn’t taken the time. He is so ready to find it bankrupt that he doesn’t pause long enough to hear its claim. Throughout the book, in fact, he seems surprising inept at philosophy, despite his amazing intellect.
  • Dawkins reveals his ignorance of the cosmological argument in the comment about believers that: “They make the entirely unwarranted assumption that God Himself is immune to the regress.” If he understood the Cosmological argument at all, he would realize that the whole proposition that the argument proves is that an entity that is immune to the regress of causality must exist.  You must disprove the logical structure of the argument, or disprove one of the premises, in order to refute that claim. But he doesn’t, and you can’t. It’s a solid argument for the fact that some entity that is immune to the regress of movement, causation, contingency, etc. necessarily must exist.
  • Dawkins goes on to say that even if we take the “dubious luxury” of postulating a terminator to the infinite regress of causality, there is no reason to believe that it should have any of the properties normally ascribed to God. But as contemporary apologists have pointed out, and as he fails to even address, such an entity would have been the entity that started everything in motion, as God is said to have done, and would be outside of the laws that normally govern our universe, as God is said to be. And since such an entity has no preceding cause, it seems that it would be eternal, as God is said to be. Etc.
  • Dawkins spends way too much time addressing silly arguments for God’s existence that no one makes anymore, or pointing out that various unscientific arguments are in fact unscientific. Fun reading for a smug atheist, but not contributing to the real discussion at hand.
  • Dawkins refers to God using the concept of the “Ultimate Boeing 747.” What he means by this is that a God complex enough to design our world would Himself have to be even more complex than the world, and that such a God would then need an even more complex explanation. This is very ironic since Dawkins spends so much of the book talking about how we need to have our consciousness’s raised by Darwinian natural selection so that we can realize that complex things can arise from simplicity through natural processes. If such is the case, why can God not be self-causing in the same sense that biodiversity supposedly is? In this manner he also assumes that the cause of the universe is bound by the same kinds of rules that bind the universe itself, which he would know is untrue if he had understood the Cosmological argument.
  • Dawkins seems to think that explaining how biodiversity could have arisen without intelligent guidance answers the Teleological question exhaustively. First of all, he presents no evidence that genetic mutations are sufficient to drive Darwinian natural selection. Evidence that I continue to wait for. Secondly, explaining biodiversity is such a small part of the question. What about the origin of life? What about the leap from prokaryote to eukaryote, which Dawkins admits in the book, might be even more unlikely than abiogenesis itself? Neither does he present convincing evidence as to how our universe is so fine tuned for the conditions necessary for any type of order at all. He simply points out that, however unlikely it is that everything should be so fine-tuned, it obviously is since we are here. Multiverse theories are suggested. There is no evidence presented to support them.
  • The many theories and speculations presented as to how religion might have come about as a result of evolution and how we might have evolved to be moral creatures are all very interesting. They reveal, though, just how open for speculation macro evolutionary theory is. It is a theory that deals with such an incredibly complex system in such a general way that reasonable speculations are endless and difficult to confirm or deny.
  • Dawkins continually blames the concept of religion itself for so much of what rightly ought to be blamed on ridiculous people doing ridiculous things. Yes, they are using religion as license to be ridiculous, but the problem is not religion itself.

The book was a fascinating read and often enjoyable.

I was disappointed, though, by the lack of scientific depth regarding Darwinian natural selection and the processes that supposedly drive it. This is not a science book.

I was also disappointed by how little of it was devoted to addressing arguments for God’s existence. This was due to the fact that Dawkins, who appears to care very little indeed for philosophy, didn’t give them the time of day necessary to be properly understood or responded too.  Much like all of the clips that I see online of him intellectually destroying uneducated people who cannot articulate arguments well, he seemed to do a lot of demolition work on caricatured ideas that I wasn’t particularly invested in to begin with.

Ultimately, however charming his wit may be, it is tragic to see someone with such talents using them in such a manner.  It is sad that we live in a world where so many religious people do so many terrible or ridiculous things that he would be turned so far away from any kind of religious faith.  It is sad that he would be so unacquainted with what God is really like that he can speak ill of Him in good conscience.  It is beyond sad, it is a tragedy.

If I could give Dawkins some advice, it would be to take philosophy more seriously, and to use his imagination a bit more when considering what is really going on in this fantastically amazing universe.

Thoughts on the Problem of Evil

world hunger

There seems to be a general consensus in contemporary academia that there is no bigger problem for the Christian apologist than the problem of evil.

It is a problem often presented, unlike most questions in which an objective answer is important, in extremely emotional terms.  This is indeed unusual.  Contemporary psychology indicates that negative emotions in particular cloud our judgment, activating primal circuits in our brains rather than those necessary for higher order thinking.  For this reason, emotions are often purposefully left out of objective discussion.

I will not go so far as to say that an answer to the problem of evil can be satisfying even without providing some degree of emotional comfort, so long as it is logically consistent.  But in light of this psychological principle, I will encourage the questioner to consider, and seek to diminish, any inhibiting effect his emotions might have on his ability to reason as we go forward.

The common version of the problem of evil (or suffering) goes like this:

“If God were real, He would not allow this kind of evil and suffering to exist in the world.  Therefore, there is no God.”

This argument may be emotionally moving, but it is objectively speaking, an unsophisticated argument.

The cynic here is clearly appealing to a universally accessible standard of morality by which to judge good and evil.  If allowing innocent people to suffer is not objectively wrong, then the entire argument is a mere opinion.  If allowing innocent people to suffer is objectively wrong, then the questioner must explain where he gets his objective standard from, a task that is impossible without an appeal to the existence of the supernatural, the very thing he was trying to disprove.

The fact of the matter is that our unshakeable internal sense of morality betrays God’s existence to us.  Without even realizing this, the cynic appeals to that internal belief in an objective morality even in his very arguments against the God who gave it to him.

There is however, a more sophisticated way of stating the question:

“A belief system which states that God is all knowing, all powerful, and all loving, and which also acknowledges that innocent people do suffer according to an objective moral standard, is logically inconsistent and therefore erroneous.”

In the previous argument, the cynic betrays himself by revealing his own hidden belief in the objective supernatural.  In this argument, however, the cynic merely points out an understood inconsistency in the believer’s worldview without making any contradictions of his own.

After all, believer’s are the ones who insist on a universal morality.  If they want to keep both their morality and their God, they need to explain this apparent contradiction.

The obvious hidden assumption in this latter argument is that God’s failure to intervene in situations of the earthly suffering of innocent people violates the morality that He himself establishes.  It is obvious that God is indeed remaining inactive in the prevention of the suffering of innocent people.  But is it possible that this does not violate the morality that He has established?

Remember that in order to refute this argument, we need only to demonstrate that there are no contradictions in our faith.

And there certainly are not.  Christianity clearly ensures that in the end, all will be made right.  Justice will be served, and the wicked will suffer for their heinous crimes against the innocent (Romans 12:19).  And indeed, the righteous will be rewarded to such a degree that the suffering we experienced on earth will not even compare with the glory that is then revealed to those who deserve it (Romans 8:18, 1 Peter 5:10).

Only if we look at death as the end, as atheists are accustomed to doing, is there an apparent contradiction in the believer’s worldview.  But since death is not the end for the believer, and ultimate justice is guaranteed in his belief system, there is no contradiction present in the argument that we are addressing.  The cynic may dismiss such a belief system as silly, but he cannot rightfully claim that it is logically inconsistent and therefore erroneous.  His argument is in shambles.

Christianity actually offers a response to what we see around us.  It has an answer for the rage and despair that we feel in the face of evil.

Atheism does not.  The only answer we have is that all of this suffering is meaningless, happening for no reason, never to be avenged or made right unless some human manages to take his own personal vengeance, or somehow erase the past before he lays down and dies forever.

It is an inescapable conclusion that if our existence is the product of mere chance, then senseless crimes are as reasonable as any other outcome.  English journalist Steve Turner put it so powerfully:

If chance be the Father of all flesh, disaster is his rainbow in the sky, and when you hear “State of Emergency! Sniper Kills Ten! Troops on Rampage! Whites go Looting! Bomb Blasts School!” it is but the sound of man worshipping his maker.

We can choose to believe God when He tells us that all will be made right in the end, or we can choose to believe “science” that our suffering is senseless, never to be made right.  But we cannot appeal to an objective moral law in our insistence that the moral lawgiver does not exist, nor can someone who properly understands the Christian worldview claim that it is inconsistent.

Has Science Done Away With Faith?

science faith

In debates at the center of science, philosophy, and religion it is common to hear claims like these:

“you have your faith but I have actual science,” or “religion is just having faith when there is no evidence, but science is actually based on facts.”

These statements are received with frustration by believers who assert that “science is just another belief system, just like religion” or “believing in evolution actually requires more faith than believing in God!”

These two groups of people are clearly talking past each other.  They don’t even speak the same language.  Literally.  Because they have defined their terms differently.  When people disagree about the very meanings of the terms that they are using, not only is it virtually impossible for them to reach meaningful conclusions together, they can’t even argue with each other with much coherence!

We will never get to the heart of these discussions until we learn to speak each other’s languages.  So, this post is really all about definition of terms.

Science.

What is science?  Is it a process of gathering information and recognizing patterns in the world through observation and repeatable experimentation?

Or is it a somewhat nebulous group of millions of academics and researchers who claim to use this method, and the composite body of conclusions that they have drawn?

Faith.

Is it a blind leap into the dark based on tradition and subjective feelings of spirituality or compulsion?  Is it an insistence on holding certain views despite a lack of evidence, or even in the face or substantial contrary evidence?

Or is it a conclusion drawn where mathematic certainty is impossible, but where much real world evidence is evaluated by reason in order to make an educated and intellectually honest decision?

To complicate matters, “religion” is often used interchangeably with faith, though its definition is much more narrow and indicates not a mental process but a body of practices or doctrines.  Similarly “evolution” is sometimes used interchangeably with science, though it is neither a process of learning nor the body of evidence gathered by a branch of academia, but simply one prominent theory within that branch.

Before we even start arguing about religion or evolution, we at least ought to agree on the role of science and faith in the discussion.

Here is why atheists and believers keep talking past each other:

If faith is a belief based almost solely on superstition, subjective experience, or tradition (as atheists understand it to be), and science is the knowledge of patterns in the world gained through repeatable, testable experiments (as they believe all conclusions in the scientific community to be), then science offers far greater certainty than faith, and ought to supersede it.

But on the other hand, if faith is a conclusion, be it one without 100% objective certainty, reached by the use of reason acting upon verifiable evidence, and science is the branch of human institutions that adhere to the scientific method, then indeed, the two walk hand in hand rather than being mutually exclusive.

The contemporary atheist often tends to confuse the two definitions of science that I have provided, not even recognizing a distinction.  He understands all conclusions supported by the scientific community to be fact simply because they were reached by a community that claims to observe the scientific method.  But in so doing he not only grossly underestimates the possibility of human error, he also turns a blind eye to the truth about countless “scientific facts” that are neither testable nor repeatable but are rather touted for their “explanatory and predictive mechanisms” and rely on various untestable assumptions.

To take any assertion made by the majority of the scientific community, and claim that it is fact simply because “it’s science” without actually presenting the nature of the experiments, data, and conclusions for yourself, is nothing more than the logical fallacy of appeal to authority.

Of course, the atheist would argue, the science that has disproven God is so complicated that you’ll just have to trust the experts.  It is indeed valid, but an appeal to authority is necessary since you wouldn’t understand the explanation.  This is why you often here so little science in a debate about the existence of God, why it is rare to see much scientific depth from atheists themselves in their arguments.

You want to talk science?  Let’s actually talk science.  But if you want to appeal to the authority of the scientific community, which in large part has strayed from the testable and repeatable to the “explanatory” and “predictive,” I won’t be convinced.  We learned from the dark ages not to “trust the experts” who have the “special knowledge.”

Faith does not need to be blind.  It is not always based on tradition or spiritual compulsion.  In my case, it is a conclusion I’ve drawn about what I can’t know for sure, based on all of the things that I can know.  Much of those things that I can know are indeed derived from science.  And they are repeatable and testable.  In fact, I dismiss nothing from science that is repeatable and testable, and yet I find it beautifully compatible with my faith.

Read more of my articles or start a discussion in the comments if you’d like to learn more.