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.

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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.

Why Macroevolution Isn’t Real Science

dna

Science enjoys a prominent status in the minds of millions as the gold standard of academic disciplines.  While philosophy, religion, art, music, etc. are created by humans and thus fallible, science is distinguished from them as an infallible discipline which uncovers incontrovertible truths.

I’m well aware that the majority of informed scientists would concede that nothing can be truly proven with 100% certainty, and I agree with them, but the fact remains that scientists go around claiming to have discovered things that simply cannot be denied by any rational person.

It bears consideration that we would exalt our certainty in one discipline above others.

Why are they so confident?  Why are we, as a society, so comfortable with holding up science as the pinnacle of certainty in such an uncertain and all-too-human world?  Human error saturates our relationships and experiences, but science, we feel, is different.  Are we justified in feeling this way?

In many cases, I think, yes.

We are justified in holding up science as a pinnacle of certainty, relatively speaking.  Not to the same extent that we can be certain of the rules of math and logic.  Not to the extent that I hold a personal conviction in the existence of God due to my own personal experiences.  But in a world where nothing is – technically speaking – certain, science has an impressive integrity that it derives from some corrective measures that it includes in its definition.

I should make it absolutely clear that at this point I am speaking of science as a method of gaining knowledge about the world around us and using that knowledge to make accurate predictions.  I am certainly not speaking on behalf of every branch of, and assertion made by, the field of academia known in the contemporary world as science.  But science, inasmuch as it can identify constant and therefore predictable behaviors in the world around us when variables are manipulated, is a pretty sure thing.

To give an extremely simple example, the laws we have discovered about gravity dictate that if I drop a rock out of my window, it will fall to the ground.  I do not technically know for sure that this will happen unless I try it, but this experiment has been performed so many times with the same results in so many places in so many time periods of human existence that my degree of certainty is extremely high.

So the reason why we lift up science as a pinnacle of certainty is because it involves repeated experiments and observations.  When we discover long term, stable, repeatable results from an experiment, we begin to trust those results as things of certainty.

This has allowed us to systematically create some amazing machines in the worlds of computers, engineering, and technology.  It is truly phenomenal what bright minds have done with science in the past several decades especially, and indeed in the last several centuries also.

So, does macroevolution qualify as this kind of science, and thus receive the status of certainty that we confer on other scientific discoveries?

Earlier this year I watched the Ken Ham/Bill Nye debate concerning evolution vs. creation.  Ham repeatedly stated that evolution was historical science rather than observational science, and thus it was essentially reduced to mere conjecture.  I think Ham may have been on the right track, but his distinction was overly simplistic and lacked practical weight.

Yes, some sciences are historical, because they deal with understanding the past.  But it doesn’t necessarily follow that this makes a reasonable degree of certainty about the past impossible.  For example, on a crime scene, we expect investigators to dust for fingerprints, collect DNA samples, observe the many markers that the crime may have left on the scene, and come to relatively certain conclusions based on the data that they collect.

Now, does this kind of science lose a little bit of certainty.  Yes, a little.  Just because someone’s fingerprints are on the knife, and their DNA is on the victim, and rubber from their tires is on the street at the victims house, and they had a good reason to kill the victim, and an honest person said they saw the suspect do it, doesn’t make us certain that they committed the crime.  But to simply dismiss all of this evidence as “historical science” because it wasn’t actually observed is not justified.  Using observations made in the present to make reasonable assertions about the past is a practice strong enough to hold up in court.

And in fact, creationists do it, too.  We didn’t observe creation.  We weren’t there when God made the stars or the plants or the animals. But we have a satisfactory degree of certainty about the event based on what we have seen within our short lives.

So now I’d like to expand and adjust the argument Ham made:

Macroevolution isn’t science because its consistency is only demonstrated through “explanatory and predictive power,” and these are indicators of correlation, not causation.

Please let me clarify.

Macroevolutionary biology is championed by atheists and widely propagated by the scientific world.  Its validity is supposedly demonstrated by its power to explain why the world is the way that it is, and its ability to predict new discoveries about the way the world is.  No, macroevolution cannot be observed, but it can explain why we find the correlation we do between the morphological and genetic hierarchies of organisms, and a fossil record that matches both of these.

But can I just point out that there could literally be millions of theories that could explain perfectly why the world is the way that it is?  If I discover that morphological, genetic, and fossil data all cross-confirm each other and then say “AH HA!  The Flying Spaghetti Monster – sometimes used by atheists for satirical purposes – created the world so that it would be exactly this way!” then objectively speaking, my explanation has just as much explanatory power as macroevolution.

The point here is that you can’t observe the way the world is, then ask what could explain the world being that way, and then assume that this theory is true simply because it has “explanatory power.”

I would also like to point out that of course, if God used DNA as the blueprints for the physical features of all organisms, then wouldn’t we expect those organisms with more similar physical features to also have more similar DNA?  Then if we consider the possibility of a worldwide flood a few thousand years ago, I’m already seeing some plausible explanations for the fossil record, including the “Cambrian Explosion” that gives evolutionists such a hard time.

The “predictive power” of evolution can be investigated by a simple google search and a critical investigation.  This field, like any field, is much too vast to be addressed in one short article.  I think you will find that data is quite frequently interpreted to reinforce the predictions which the scientists already expected.  Here is an area where human error can easily creep into science: we tend to perceive what we expect.

If we say “evolution predicts that we will find transitionary fossils between other primates and man,” and we expect it to be so, and we also have millions of dollars of grant money on the line (sometimes I get the idea that the people with all the money want to degrade our morals,) then when we find an ancient skull with a larger jaw than the average human, we say “AH HA!” and invent a new species out of it.

I know I don’t have time to get into real scientific depth here, but all of the “transitionary fossils” that we find could easily be accounted for by variations within the bone structures of the organisms we see in the world around us today or in recent history.  That’s why the “evolutionary tree” illustration is actually more like a mile wide bush, getting wider and wider with new fossil discoveries.  But that wouldn’t look very nice in TIME magazine and would require a several page fold out.

And the methods used to date all of these discoveries over the decades?  Carbon 14 dating.  Which may actually be completely and wildly unreliable.  Researching dating methods a couple of years ago really opened my eyes to the uncertainty of the scientific community over dating things anywhere close to accurately.

I’m going to reign it back in now.

The underlying principle here, is that a correlation between what a theory explains or predicts and the reality that we find, does not prove that the theory is true, only that its explanations and predictions correlate with the data.

On these grounds I find evolution and creation rather equally matched.  Both accurately explain and predict things about our world.  Neither can be observed or objectively, universally tested.  Of course, in my opinion, when you bring the human experience and philosophy into the picture, Creationism comes out squarely on top. But the point of this article is that Macro Evolution is NOT science because the correlation between its “explanatory and predictive mechanisms” and our reality is woefully insufficient grounds for certainty. 

Besides the fact that there are no plausible explanations as to how we got the first living organism, with all of its necessary proteins, by mere chance with no intelligent intervention, or that genetic mutations, even when beneficial, don’t create new meaningful information in the genetic code and thus evolution has no viable mode of progression.

I suspect that within my lifetime – this is if the masses are not brainwashed beyond recovery – we may have dispensed with the idea altogether.