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The Dawkins Delusion (1)
by Lon Roberts
Among the several books British biology professor Richard Dawkins has written attacking theism and promoting atheism, the latest, called The God Delusion, seems to be the most scurrilous and vitriolic.
I don’t know what category Mr. Dawkins thinks his book fits. It is not strictly science, though he brings in some science. All through the book he scorns and debunks both religion and philosophy. Though he has slightly more respect for philosophy than for religion, philosophy doesn’t fare very well either.
Nevertheless, The God Delusion is closer to philosophy than anything else. Strictly speaking, science has little if anything to say about the existence of a Being who falls outside of time and outside of the material universe. Such inquiry lies more in the realm of metaphysics, which is a branch of philosophy. So one could say Dawkins has written a bad book on metaphysics and called it “science.”
Unfortunately, in order to write this brief critique, I had to buy the book. Dawkins had already provoked me to anger from the online critiques that I read before purchasing the book. Opening the book, I found that in the very first chapter, only a few pages into his material, he manages to say something that would antagonize any religious reader who might attempt to read what he has written.
To believers, the book appears formidable and daunting. It would not appear so if Dawkins were not browbeating Christians on almost every page of the book. But this is part of his method. In war, if the troops don’t have adequate weapons to face the other side, they try to intimidate the opposing force by beating on their shields and screaming and shouting to “scare” them into submission. Apparently this is what he has tried to do with his hate-filled, sometimes sarcastic treatment of people who believe in God.
Strangely, Dawkins, in his own words, has set out to convert believers to atheism. Fortunately he makes a very poor evangelist, and an even worse psychologist. Does he think he’s going to convert believers by trashing their faith on nearly every page? This is probably his greatest psychological blunder: his failure to see that you cannot convert a man to your beliefs by attacking his beliefs.
Prof. Dawkins is a clever man, and I don’t claim to be on a level with him in intelligence. However, even an average intellect can see that he has made numerous mistakes.
Before I go any further, let me give an example of an argument he makes that looks good but contains a serious flaw. In Chapter 3, he attempts to shoot down the traditional arguments for God’s existence. On page 79 of The God Delusion (Bantam Press edition), he takes up the Teleological Argument (or argument from the apparent design in the universe). Bringing in Charles Darwin, here is how he attempts to get rid of the teleological argument:
The young Darwin was impressed by [the teleological argument] when…
he read it in William Paley’s Natural Theology. Unfortunately for Paley, the
mature Darwin blew it out of the water. There has probably never been a
more devastating rout of popular belief by clever reasoning than Charles
Darwin’s destruction of the argument from design. It was so unexpected.
Really? Let’s see how Darwin blew the teleological argument out of the water by clever reasoning.
Thanks to Darwin, it is no longer true to say that nothing that we know
looks designed unless it is designed. Evolution by natural selection
produces an excellent simulacrum of design, mounting prodigious heights
of complexity and elegance. And among these eminences of pseudo-
design are nervous systems which—among their most modest
accomplishments—manifest goal-seeking behavior that, even in a tiny
insect, resembles a sophisticated heat-seeking missile more than a simple
arrow on target.
Most readers surely will have seen the problem here already. This is what a professor of mine used to call “begging the question.” This whole argument, that evolution has produced the semblance of design without having been designed, is based on the assumption that there is no intelligence working behind the scenes to produce design. It is circular reasoning. God, as the intelligent Designer, has already been ruled out. Only in this way can “evolution” appear to produce design without there actually being design. For believers, obviously God is working in the life-process, or has at least produced the laws of nature that work to achieve the goal he has in mind. (But see my position on evolution below.)
All Dawkins has succeeded in saying here is that there does appear to be design in nature!
In his book The Blind Watchmaker, Dawkins endeavors to explain how Paley was wrong. His conclusion is that the “watchmaker” is blind evolution. No intelligence is necessary, because evolution, which is blind, accidental and purposeless, has produced the design. But he has forgotten the problem of where the laws of nature came from, or how they by sheer chance could act in such a way as to produce apparent design.
Scientists have not explained the origin of life, and they cannot. Nor have they explained the origin of the laws of nature (this is brought out eloquently by Anthony Flew in his recent book, There Is a God). Even if evolution is true, it is obviously the laws of nature, created by God, that are working in the process to produce design.
Physicist Stephen Barr explains the problem:
What Dawkins does not seem to appreciate is that his blind watchmaker
is something even more remarkable than Paley’s watches. Paley finds
a “watch” and asks how such a thing could have come to be there by
chance. Dawkins finds an immense automated factory [the universe] that
blindly constructs watches, and feels that he has completely answered
Paley’s point. But that is absurd. How can a factory that makes watches
be less in need of explanation than the watches themselves?
Not only that, Dawkins has overlooked another crucial point in Paley’s watch analogy. It has been pointed out there are some similarities between Paley’s watch and DNA. Both of them contain a “language,” or information. Just as there is information in the DNA that is passed on to future generations, so there is information in the watch. It has been shown that information can only come from a mind. No amount of fortuitous movement of atoms could have accidentally produced such information, which, as biologists know, was already present in the very first simple cell.
Mr. Dawkins’ circular reasoning seems to go something like this:
There is no God.
Therefore what appears to be design in nature is not actually design.
The accidental design in nature proves that no God is necessary.
Therefore there is no God.
Obviously in this short article I cannot take time to respond to all of Dawkins’ arguments. Some of them would be beyond the scope of a layman, such as myself, to answer anyway. But one thing is clear: most of his reasoning depends on his having already excluded God as a possible player in the origin of the universe and of life.
Mr. Dawkins’ book would have had more appeal, and greater impact, if it were not that he is on a personal vendetta and is not strictly guided by reason when he professes to disbelieve. His God Delusion is not a reasoned, objective study of the evidence for or against God, but rather an emotive hate-filled attempt to debunk the faith held by millions of people. He is typical of atheists, in that most of them make no effort to bash the tooth fairy or the Easter bunny. Why? The reason is obvious: they aren’t a threat, whereas apparently God is.
Several atheists have been in the news over the past year, including Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett. So why are the atheists awakening from their slumber these days? Columnist Madeleine Bunting says something has got the atheists badly rattled (Guardian Unlimited, January 2006). Are they afraid that religion is gaining strength? Since they even attack The Chronicles of Narnia, they must think Aslan is on the move.
The sheer arrogance that Dawkins displays in this book is appalling. Clearly he thinks he is smarter than most of the rest of the 6.6 billion people who live on the globe. By the way, he and several other atheists refer to themselves as “brights” (seriously), as opposed to the dimwits (us) who are not atheists. Atheistic philosopher Michael Ruse, who has a much more moderate attitude toward Christianity, says Dawkins and Dennett make him embarrassed to be an atheist (Internet exchange between Ruse and Dennett on www.uncommondescent.com, February 2006).
So scornful is Dawkins of religious people, which includes the majority of mankind on earth, he almost reaches a position of misanthropy. It is a marvel that he has even deigned to address the benighted rabble whose beliefs he so despises. Because of his extreme attitude toward religion (which, by the way, is gaining strength), he may in the future simply be sidelined and shut out of rational debate. In fact, by his intolerant attitude toward religion, he actually strengthens the very intolerance he so despises.
Also some of his and other atheists’ braggadocio may be false. A new Christian apologist has come on the scene who has been systematically trouncing the atheists in debate. I’m talking about Dinesh D’Souza, who is a research scholar at Stanford University. He has already debated Michael Shermer, Daniel Dennett, and Christopher Hitchens, and won all three times. The atheists are beginning to resort to name-calling and have recently dignified D’Souza with titles such as “odious little toad,” “smug, joyless twit,” “total moron,” “two-faced liar” and several more that are unprintable. It is obvious that D’Souza is making the atheists angry.
Moreover, in the first chapter of his new book, What’s So Great About Christianity?, D’Souza has shown conclusively that Christianity is gloriously winning the battle against atheism. Christianity has never been so strong as it is now (though the focus is shifting from the northern “white” countries to South America, Africa, and Asia), and it looks to get even stronger in the future. As a matter of fact, this may be what has “rattled” the atheists, as Madeleine Bunting puts it. Michael Ruse, in his exchange with Daniel Dennett mentioned above, told Dennett, in effect, “we are losing the battle, and people like you don’t help.”
As of this writing, Richard Dawkins is refusing to debate D’Souza, and Sam Harris wants to do it on paper! Maybe they’re not so confident after all?
Though Dawkins has special scorn for theologians, he also despises those scientists who have faith. Dr. Francis Collins, as one of the world’s leading scientists, led a group of researchers to decipher the human DNA code (the human genome). And yet Dr. Collins has an unshakable faith in God, and has written a book called The Language of God. He sees the amazing spiral ladder of DNA and thinks “God.” Dawkins sees similar wonders and concludes there is no need for God. When it comes to the question of God and science, there is something very “small” about the way Dawkins’ mind works.
All through the book Dawkins sets up straw men and attacks them. His understanding of Christianity is close to nil. In fact, his extreme scorn for Christianity actually works against him in that it prevents his understanding it properly and thus presenting more reasonable arguments.
In the first chapter of the book (p. 12) he sets up a straw man when he quotes Carl Sagan:
How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded,
‘This is better than we thought! The universe is much bigger than our prophets
said, grander, more subtle, more elegant’? Instead they say, ‘No, no, no! My
god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.’ A religion, old or new,
that stressed the magnificence of the Universe as revealed by modern science
might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by
the conventional faiths.
Where has he been? This is ridiculous. What Christian wants a small God, or believes in a small God? Personally, the more I learn of the wonder of the universe, the more I want to praise and worship the Creator! This “small god” supposedly preferred by Christians is just another straw man. The pictures from the Hubble telescope make God seem bigger, greater and wiser than we ever imagined. It is a prejudiced mind, ignorant of biblical faith, that thinks Christians view God in the way Sagan suggests.
(to be continued)