Updated June 2012 Version 0.3
When I picked up “The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins, I was expecting to encounter new reasons put forward to form a positive case for the Atheist worldview, but I have to say that I was disappointed. What I read were rehashed, incoherent and outdated arguments that made me realize that Richard Dawkins is not very well read in philosophy. In light of this I thought it would be useful to provide a compilation of arguments from existing material and respond to his main arguments in the following way:
1. Respond to what Dawkins considers his central argument;
2. Respond to what Philosophers consider his best argument.
Responding to what Dawkins considers his central argument
On pages 157-158 of “The God Delusion,” Dawkins summarises what he maintains as “the central argument of my book”:
1. One of the greatest challenges to the human intellect has been to explain how the complex, improbable appearance of design in the universe arises.
2. The natural temptation is to attribute the appearance of design to actual design itself.
3. The temptation is a false one because the designer hypothesis immediately raises the larger problem of who designed the designer.
4. The most ingenious and powerful explanation is Darwinism evolution by natural selection and we don’t have an equivalent explanation for physics.
5. We should not give up the hope of a better explanation arising in physics, something as powerful as Darwinism is for biology.
God almost certainly does not exist.
Before I go into Dawkins’ main points, I would like to address his conclusion “God almost certainly does not exist.” My main issue is – how does he conclude that God doesn’t exist from the above statements? It seems to me that his conclusion just jumps out of thin air, to infer that God does not exist just shows how invalid his argument is. It seems to me that the only delusion is Dawkins’ conviction that his arguments undermine the existence of God.
If we could conclude anything from Dawkins’ argument it would be that we should not conclude that God exists based on the design of the universe. However, even if that is true, it doesn’t mean that God doesn’t exist; we can believe in God’s existence from many other arguments, which include:
• The argument from morality;
• The miracle of the Qur’an;
• The cosmological argument;
• The argument from personal experience;
• The argument from consciousness.
If we were to accept all of Dawkins’ statements, it would not be enough to reject the idea that God exists, and it certainly does not provide a positive case for Atheism. However, many of his statements are false. Let us take his statements and respond accordingly.
Statement #1: One of the greatest challenges to the human intellect has been to explain how the complex, improbable appearance of design in the universe arises.
I believe that it is only a challenge if you wish to take God out of the picture. It is indeed a challenge if you presume atheism to be true. However for someone who is reflective and thinks deeply about things, I think the simplest and the best explanation – with the greatest explanatory power – is that there is a supernatural designer. The next point will address why God makes sense of the design in the universe.
Statement #2: The natural temptation is to attribute the appearance of design to actual design itself.
This is not only a natural temptation but a rational conclusion brought to light based upon the fine-tuning of the initial conditions of the universe. Let me start off by presenting the premises of this argument:
1. The fine-tuning of the universe to permit life is due to physical necessity, chance, or design.
2. It is not due to physical necessity or chance.
3. Therefore, it is due to design.
Explaining Premise One
The existence of a universe that permits human life is due to conditions that must have been fined-tuned to a degree that is beyond comprehension. Take the following examples into consideration:
• The Strength of Gravity & the Atomic Weak Force: Physicist P. C. W. Davies concludes that a small change in the strength of gravity or of the atomic weak force would have prevented a universe that permits our existence. P. C. W. Davies argues that this small change is as small as one part in 10100 .
• Volume of the phase space of possible universes: Roger Penrose of Oxford University explains that the creator would have to aim for a very tiny volume of the “phase space of possible universes” to create a universe that resembles our own. This is quite technical science, but we should ask the question: how tiny is this volume? According to Penrose the volume would be 1/10 to the power of X which is 10123. The precision required to produce a universe that resembles our own is much greater than the precision that would be required to hit one proton if the universe were a dartboard!
In light of the above, there are only three possible explanations for the presence of the above fine tuning of the universe:
1. Physical necessity;
Why it cannot be Physical Necessity
This option is irrational. There is just no physical reason why these constants and quantities should have the values they do. As P. C. W. Davies explains:
“Even if the laws of physics were unique, it doesn’t follow that the physical universe itself is unique…the laws of physics must be augmented by cosmic initial conditions…there is nothing in present ideas about ‘laws of initial conditions’ remotely to suggest that their consistency with the laws of physics would imply uniqueness. Far from it…it seems, then, that the physical universe does not have to be the way it is: it could have been otherwise.”
Additionally if anyone was to take the view that the fine-tuning of the universe to permit human life is due to physical necessity, it would imply that it would be impossible to have a universe not fit for life! However physicists maintain that the universe in which we live didn’t have to be the way that it is, and there could have been many other universes that did not permit human life.
Why it cannot be Chance
Some people who do not understand the impossibility of the universe coming into being by chance exclaim, “It could have happened by chance!” However would they say chance explains how an elephant was sleeping in their garage overnight? Or how a 747 ended up parked in their garden? Even after their irrational perspective is highlighted, they still hold on to the theory that the universe can exist due to chance. In response to this I would argue that it is not just about chance but something the theorists such as William Dembski call “specified probability.”
Specified probability is a probability that also conforms to an independent pattern. To illustrate this, imagine you have a monkey in a room for twenty-four hours, typing a way on your laptop. In the morning you enter the room and you see, “To be or not to be!” The monkey has miraculously written out a part of a Shakespearian play! What you may have expected is random words such as “house,” “car,” and “apple.” However, in this case not only have you seen the improbability of typing English words – but they also conform to the independent pattern of English grammar! To accept this is just the result of blind chance would be irrational and counter discourse, as anyone can claim anything from this perspective. To put this in to context, British mathematicians have calculated that if a monkey did type on a laptop at every possible moment, it would take 28 Billion years (!!!) to produce “To be or not to be”. In conclusion, accepting the chance hypothesis is tantamount to rejecting the existence of our own universe!
Since premises one and two are true, it follows that supernatural design is the most reasonable explanation for the fine-tuning of the universe to permit human life.
Statement #3: The temptation is a false one because the designer hypothesis immediately raises the larger problem of who designed the designer.
The above statement, which is a contention to the design argument is flawed for two main reasons. Firstly, anyone with a basic understanding of the philosophy of science will conclude that in the inference to the best explanation, the best explanation does not require an explanation! The following example illustrates this point. Imagine 500 years from now, a group of archaeologists start digging in London’s Hyde Park only to find parts of a car and a bus. They would be completely justified in inferring that these finds were not the result of any biological process but the products of an unknown civilization. However if some skeptics were to argue that we cannot make such inferences because we do not know anything about this civilization, how they lived and who created them, would that make the archaeologists conclusions untrue? Of course not!
Secondly, if we take this contention seriously it could undermine the very foundations of science and philosophy themselves. If we require an explanation for the basic assumptions of science, for example that the external world exists, where do you think our level of scientific progress would be? Additionally if we were to apply this type of question to every attempt at explaining the explanation, we would end up with an infinite regression of explanations. And an infinite regression of explanations would defeat the whole purpose of science in the first place – which is to provide an explanation!
A Note on Rejecting the Supernatural
Dawkins’ also rejects a supernatural designer because he thinks, as an explanation, it lack explanatory power; in other words, no progress is made with an explanation to the apparent fine-tuning. He raises this objection because he feels that a supernatural designer is just as complex as design. However Dawkins’ objection is problematic as he assumes that a supernatural designer is as complex as the universe. But a supernatural designer, in other words God, is one of the simplest concepts understood by all. This opinion is expressed by many Philosophers including the famous atheist turned theist Professor Anthony Flew.
Dawkins’ other assumption is that God is made of many parts; however, God is immaterial, transcendent and one. Just because God can do complex things does not make him complex, it seems to me that Dawkins confuses ability with nature. In other words, just because God can do complex things (such as creating the universe) it does not make His nature complex.So it stands to reason that God is the simplest, and therefore the best, explanation.
Statement #4: The most ingenious and powerful explanation is Darwinism evolution by natural selection and and we don’t have an equivalent explanation for physics.This statement is irrelevant due to the following reasons:
1. Evolution does not have its foot in the door;
2. Evolution is based upon incalculable probabilities;
3. Evolution is impossible because we have not spent enough time on Earth yet.
Let me expand upon these points.
1. Evolution does not have its foot in the door
With regards to the existence of God, evolution does not even have its foot in the door; it’s billions years away. The fine-tuning argument mentioned above refers to the initial conditions of the universe and various constants that pre-date any evolutionary process. Simply put, evolution has no say.
2. Evolution is based upon incalculable probabilities
The odds against assembling the human genome spontaneously are incalculable. The probability of assembling the genome is between 4-180 to 4-110,000 and 4-360 to 4-110,000. These numbers give some feel for the unlikelihood of the species Homo sapiens. And if anyone were to accept evolution by chance, they would have to believe in a miracle as these numbers are so high! Therefore evolution itself would prove the existence of God!
3. Evolution is impossible because we have not had enough time on Earth yet
According to John D. Barrow and Frank J. Tipler, the odds of assembling a single gene are between and 4-180 to 4-360. The implications of this are that there simply has not been enough time since the formation of the earth to try a number of nucleotide base combinations that can even remotely compare to these numbers!
Statement #5: We should not give up the hope of a better explanation arising in physics, something as powerful as Darwinism is for biology.
Dawkins basically says that since there is a naturalistic explanation for the apparent design in species and we do not have a similar explanation for physics, we should just wait. Does this not sound like blind faith to you? The statement presumes scientism to be the only way of establishing facts or sound conclusions. Why else would he want to wait for a naturalistic explanation? Dawkins’ presumption that scientism is the only way to establish facts is not true because:
- scientism, which is the view that we should believe only what can be proven scientifically, is self-defeating. Scientism claims that a proposition is not true if it cannot be scientifically proven. However, the above claim itself cannot be scientifically proven. Therefore, according to this claim, the claim itself is not true, hence scientism defeats itself.
- scientism cannot prove necessary truths like mathematics and logic. For example, “if p implies q, and p, then q” and “3 + 3 = 6” are necessary truths and not merely empirical generalisations. In fact, scientism requires these necessary truths, but it cannot prove them, and any attempt to do so would be tantamount to arguing in a circle.
- scientism is limited in its scope as it cannot address political or moral realities. Concerning morality, scientism can only provide “well-being” as a yardstick for moral truths. However, rapists, liars, and thieves could all have “well-being” due to their actions, therefore the moral landscape, as defined by science, is occupied by good and bad people, and from this perspective morality has no meaning.
It can be seen from the above that Dawkins’ central argument fails and is an embarrassment to the scientific community, as atheist Philosopher Michael Ruse explains,
“unlike the new atheists, I take scholarship seriously. I have written that The God Delusion made me ashamed to be an atheist and I meant it. Trying to understand how God could need no cause, Christians claim that God exists necessarily. I have taken the effort to try to understand what that means. Dawkins and company are ignorant of such claims and positively contemptuous of those who even try to understand them, let alone believe them. Thus, like a first-year undergraduate, he can happily go around asking loudly, “What caused God?” as though he had made some momentous philosophical discovery.”
Responding to what Philosophers consider his best argument
According to Philosopher and lecturer at Yale University, Gregory E. Granssle, Dawkins’ strongest argument can be found on page 55:
“A universe with a creative superintendent would be a very different kind of universe from one without.”
Dawkins’ argument can be summarised in the following way:
1. A universe created by God would be different than the one created by nature;
2. The universe we live in fits better to a universe created by nature;
3. Therefore the universe we live in is most likely to have been created by nature.
I would argue that Dawkins’ argument couldn’t be any further away from the truth; this is because the universe that we live in actually makes more sense being created by God for the following reasons.
1. The universe is ordered and open to rational anaylsis
If God did not exist, the universe would not display the order it does, and it would not be finely-tuned to permit human life. Professor Roger Penrose states, “There is a certain sense in which I would say the universe has a purpose. It’s not there just somehow by chance…I don’t think that’s a very fruitful or helpful way of looking at the universe.”
Additionally, the very fact that we can observe and perform rational analysis on the patterns we perceive in the universe makes more sense if God did exist, because in a naturalistic universe things would be expected to be more chaotic. This does not mean a universe without a God could not be ordered; however it is more likely that God would create an ordered universe, and since the universe we live in is ordered it makes sense that God’s existence fits well with our universe
2. The universe contains conscious and aware beings
A universe that contains consciousness and awareness makes sense with the existence of God. A universe without a God would be very different to the one we are living in.Explanation
Human beings experience things all the time. This article you are reading is an experience; even talking about your experience is an experience. However the ultimate reality that we know from any experience is the one who experiences it – in other words ourselves. When we realise that there is a first-person, an “I”, “me” or “mine,” we come to face a profound mystery. The Philosopher Roy Abraham Varghese puts it nicely when he wrote, “To reverse Descartes, ‘I am, therefore I think…’ Who is this ‘I’? ‘Where’ is it? How did it come to be? Your self is not just something physical.”
The self is not a physical thing; it is not contained in any cell or biological structure. The most unchallenged and intuitive reality is that we are all aware, but we cannot describe or explain what this awareness is. One thing that we can be sure of is that the self cannot be explained biologically or chemically. The main reason for this is that science does not discover the self; it is actually the other way round. For science to try and explain the truth of the self would be tantamount to arguing in a circle! Even scientists recognise this; the physicist Gerald Schroeder points out that there is no real difference between a heap of sand and the brain of an Einstein. The advocates of a physical explanation for the self end up in a muddle as they require answers to even bigger questions, such as “How can certain bits of matter suddenly create a new reality that has no resemblance to matter?”So if the self cannot be explained physically then the next question must be asked: “How did it come to be?” The history of the universe indicates that consciousness spontaneously arose, and language emerged without any evolutionary forerunner. So where did it come from? Even the neo-atheists have failed to come to terms with the nature of the self and its source, because no physical explanation is coherent enough to be convincing. Even Richard Dawkins almost admits defeat concerning the self and consciousness; he states, “We don’t know. We don’t understand it.”
The best explanation for the nature and source of the self is that it came from a source that is thinking, aware and conscious. How else can the self, which is an entity with a capacity to reflect and experience, manifest itself? It cannot have come from unconscious matter incapable to experience and ponder. Simply put, matter cannot produce concepts and perceptions, therefore we can conclude that the self cannot have a material basis but must have come from a living source that transcends the material world; and this is best explained by God. No other answer provides an adequate explanation for this phenomenon.
3. The universe contains objective morality
We all believe that killing 6 million Jews during World War II was morally wrong, however not only do we believe it was morally wrong we believe it was objectively morally wrong. What I mean by objective is that if the Nazis had successfully taken over Europe and brainwashed us to believe that it was ok to commit genocide, it would still be objectively morally wrong regardless of human experience. However since our universe contains objective morality then it can only make sense with God’s existence, because God is required as rational basis for objective morality. Without God morality is subjective, because God is the only conceptual anchor that transcends human subjectivity. So the universe with objective morality makes no sense without God. In this light the Muslim or theist may argue:
1. If God does not exist, then objective moral values do not exist;
2. The universe with objective moral values does exist;
3. Therefore, God exists.Explaining the key premise
The question about objective good or bad, in other words objective morality, has been discussed by various moral philosophers. Many have concluded that there is no objective morality without God, for instance the late J. L. Mackie in his book “Ethics” states that there are no objective moral values. Humanist philosopher Paul Kurtz aptly puts it as,
“The central question about moral and ethical principles concerns this ontological foundation. If they are neither derived from God nor anchored in some transcendent ground, are they purely ephemeral?”
Paul Kurtz is right; God is the only conceptual anchor that transcends human subjectivity, so without God there is no rational basis for objective morality. To explain this further let us discuss alternative conceptual foundations for morality.In God’s absence, there are only two alternative foundations:
1. Social pressure
Both social pressures and evolution provide no objective basis for morality as they both claim that our morality is contingent on changes: biological and social. Therefore morality cannot be binding and true regardless of who believes in them. Therefore without God, there is no objective basis for morality. God as a concept is not subjective, therefore having God as the basis for morality makes them binding and objective, because God transcends human subjectivity. The following statement by Richard Taylor, an eminent ethicist, correctly concludes,
“Contemporary writers in ethics, who blithely discourse upon moral right and wrong and moral obligation without any reference to religion, are really just weaving intellectual webs from thin air; which amounts to saying that they discourse without meaning.”
Since the universe contains objective morality, and Gods existence is necessary as a conceptual foundation for objective morals, then the universe we live in makes sense with the existence of God.
A Quick Note on Religious “Evils”
Before I conclude I would like to highlight that a response to Dawkins’ other contentions with the concept of God and religious life. Dawkins seems to attribute all the negative and evil things to religion. However there is a strong argument that these things are not unique to religion itself, but the common conceptual dominator is humanity. This is summarised well by Keith Ward, the former Regius Professor of Divinity at the University of Oxford, he writes,
“It is very difficult to think of any organised human activity that could not be corrupted…The lesson is that anti-religious corruptions and religious corruptions are both possible. There is no magic system or belief, not even belief in liberal democracy, which can be guaranteed to prevent it.”
To illustrate this let me use the outdated cliché of “religions are the cause war and conflict” and show how war and conflict are not unique to religions. In the relatively short history of secularism the following massacres have committed in the name of non-religious ideologies such a communism, nationalism and social-Darwinism:
• 70,000,000 under chairman Mao
• 20,000,000 under Stalin
• 2,000,000 no longer exist because of Pol Pot
• 700,000 innocent Iraqi’s in the current occupation
• 500,000 Iraqi children in the 10 year sanctions
So it can be clearly seen above that war and conflict are not religious monopolies, rather they are human phenomena and not unique to religion. As Professor Stephen L. Carter argues in “Civility”:
“[T]he statement that wars have been fought in the name of God is a non sequitur. As the theologian Walter Wink once pointed out, more people have died in the twentieth century’s secular wars than in the preceding fifty centuries of fighting combined…. No religious war in history, not all the religious wars of history added together, did as much damage as this century’s wars of nationalism and ideology.”
This article attempted to respond to Richard Dawkins’ best-seller “The God Delusion” by responding to his central argument and the argument that Philosophers consider to be his best. However, intellectual gymnastics – no matter how truthful – seldom convinces others, so I thought it would best to allow the expression of God – the Qur’an – to have the final say. In the wonderful eloquence and sublime style God says,
“In the creation of the heavens and Earth, and the alternation of the night and day, and the ships which sail the seas to people’s benefit, and the water which God sends down from the sky – by which He brings the Earth to life when it was dead and scatters about in it creatures of every kind – and the varying direction of the winds, and the clouds subservient between heaven and Earth, there are signs for people who use their intellect.” Qur’an, 2:164
The majority of this article has been compiled from:
Contending with Christianity’s Critics: Answering New Atheists and Other Objectors. Edited by Paul Copan and William Lane Craig.
There is a God: How The World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind. By Professor Anthony Flew.
The anthropic cosmological principle. By John D. Barrow and Frank J. Tipler.
The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology. By William Lane Craig and J. P. Moreland.
God?: A Debate Between a Christian and an Atheist. By William Lane Craig and Walter Sinnott-Armstrong.