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.

The Cosmological Argument: An Intelligible, Contemporary Version

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Statement of Intention:

The cosmological argument for the existence of God is nothing new.  In fact, atheists indicate that they are getting tired of refuting it over and over again.  But because of recent advances in science and philosophy, the cosmological argument is actually stronger than ever.

My intention here is not to simply restate the same argument that has always been made in the same way that it has always been presented, but to present it in a clear and concise, up-to-date, relevant way that internally addresses the claims that atheists make in their responses to it.

Presentation of Argument:

1) Anything that exists either a) has a cause outside of itself (and is a “contingent being,”) or b) is causeless or self-causing (and is a “necessary being.”)

*Note that the cause that resulted in a contingent being is itself a thing that exists, and thus it also must be either a contingent or a necessary being.

2) Since a contingent being exists, it must be a) the result of an infinite string of other contingent beings, or b) the direct result of a necessary being, or of a string of one or more contingent beings that ends in a necessary being.

It should be obvious once these concepts are understood that the vast majority of entities that we can identify in our world (physical objects of all sorts, people, etc.) are in fact the result of a very long line of contingent beings.

So is this very long string of contingent beings infinite, or does it end in the existence of a necessary being?  This brings us to our third premise.

3) An infinite series of causes never reaches a final product, so nothing that exists in the present can have resulted from an infinite string of contingent beings.

*Mentally note the difference between “eternal” and “infinite.”  Eternity merely indicates that something is outside of time, while infinity indicates a quantity with no bounds.  Infinity may be a useful concept in abstract mathematics, but in reality it is by definition an impossibility for us to have arrived here from an infinite string of previous causes, since one more cause would always have to be added before we could arrive at the present, and one more, and one more, etc.  In any case, it is unsatisfactory to answer the question “where do contingent beings come from” with the response “other contingent beings make them.”

4) In light of these three previous premises, since either an infinite string of contingent beings or the existence of at least one necessary being must have brought us to the present, and since an infinite string of causes can not have done so, a necessary being must exist.

Very well then.  A being which either caused itself or has no cause must exist or at least have existed in the past.

Addressing The Most Common Objection:

The common follow-up question: “then where did the first cause come from?” displays a failure to properly understand the argument.  If the argument is properly understood, it logically demonstrates that an uncaused or self-caused being must exist, it is an unavoidable conclusion that can only be escaped if one of the premises can be shown false.

Let me illustrate this concept this way: whether you are a believer, an agnostic, or an atheist, you absolutely must acknowledge that something is self-causing or uncaused.  It could be the universe.  It could be a god.  It could be a god that made a god.  But you absolutely must stop somewhere and call it the beginning.  Without a beginning for your story you can never get to the middle.

Taking the Argument Further:

To suggest that at this point I have proven that God exists would be shortsighted and naive.  I have simply proven that something is uncaused or self-caused.  So why not the universe?  After all, if the laws in the universe can explain its own behavior, why make up a God to go one step beyond the evidence when He is unnecessary to explain the nature of material reality?

The common response to those questions from a thinking believer is that the evidence for the big bang has proven that the universe had a beginning, and if it had a beginning then it had a cause and it thus must be a contingent being.  This is reasonable because in reality we observe that a thing can be a certain way in the simple case that it already was a certain way and nothing has changed it, but nothing begins or happens without something causing it to be so.

But let us humor the hypothetical atheistic standpoints that the universe caused itself suddenly at the big bang, or that an uncaused set of laws called it into existence.  The laws and constants that govern our reality, and the math behind it all, are said to be sufficient to have called the universe into existence, creating matter, time, etc. in the process.

The laws that govern the universe might possibly be capable of this act… if they were actually capable of doing any act!  But laws don’t actually govern, they simply describe.  The laws of nature do not have authority, ordering around the universe, commanding it to behave a certain way.  They simply describe for us the patterns that we have found in the universe’s behavior.

In fact, that atheists would suggest that natural laws “govern” our universe,  essentially commanding it to act a certain way and “calling” the universe into existence betrays the intuitiveness of the idea that a mind really is at work here!  Something with agency, something with the power and authority to establish such organized behavior is indeed at work, and natural laws describe this agent.

The bottom line is that acts of governing, commanding, and calling are only doable by a being with agency.  Natural laws are merely descriptive principles of observed patterns in our universe, and descriptions of recognized patterns cannot do anything, they are mere information.

Whatever the necessary being behind everything is, it has caused our universe to behave in the way that our natural laws describe.  Logic has brought us to God’s doorstep.

See a problem with my argumentation?  Point it out in the comments, I’m always looking for new clarity.