Doubting Dawkins: A Review of The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins

Delusion. It’s become a sort of buzzword in our world. We see it in newspaper articles, book titles, and insults. It comes up in dinner discussion, and debates. We can’t seem to escape the idea that other people out there are deluded. But there is no area of thought in our culture more infatuated with delusion than the God debate. People on both ends of the spectrum, from highly atheistic to deeply theistic, are throwing the word about almost haphazardly. But that’s exactly what I found in the book The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. I found a gross misuse of the word. Yet despite the (deliberate?) misuse of the term delusional, Dawkins raises many attacks against Christian theism that I feel need to be addressed.

Before any sort of complete discussion could take place around Dawkins arguments, one should be honest enough to acknowledge those things that Dawkins got right. I want to start out by saying that Dawkins was correct in his statement that many scientists (like Albert Einstein) evoke God language in their writings to raise a sense of awe, yet have absolutely no belief in God. He was right about that. In addition, Dawkins was right to critique NOMA (Non-Overlapping Majesterium). Science does have the ability to examine the truth claims of faith. They intermingle on the same plane of existence. Dawkins raises another correct point that I found particularly lamentable: the fact that the vast majority of Christians are completely ignorant of the reasons they have for holding their beliefs. Christians should know what reasons they have to believe. They should study hard, read broadly, and get the answers. I agree that many have been more content to throw themselves on blind faith rather than to exercise the Biblical mandate to give a reason for the hope that lies in them. Despite the failures of the book, these were points Dawkins was right about.

Although he was right in many areas, Dawkins formulates arguments throughout the book that are practically begging to be answered. That’s what we will turn our attention to for the rest of the article. After giving the book an honest read through, I find it very difficult to pick one place to begin. In the course of the author’s ranting, a lot came up: too much to address in an internet article. Because the book is so popular, and the issues it attempts to raise are so broad, there are literally dozens of amazing resources available to saint and skeptic alike to address Dawkins. So for the sake of simplicity, I will be brief, and treat Dawkins failures in broad categories.

The primary category of Dawkins failure is his failure as a philosopher. For being a brilliant scientist, (Dr. Dawkins is a biologist), the quality of his work in philosophy is frankly sad. He didn’t do justice to the work of philosophy, and it shows itself in many other areas that we could discuss. This intense failure is particularly seen in his arguments against the existence of God, and his counter-arguments against theistic argument. I want to bring to light some of these philosophic issues, and take care to address his reasoning against God. I’ll start with his arguments against God’s existence. Dawkins really has only one argument that is positively against God (at least in chapter “Why There Is Almost Certainly No God”). He takes to calling it the Ultimate Boeing 747 Gambit. It’s basically an argument on improbability. The illustration he uses to explain his reasoning describes a hurricane flying through a scrap yard and assembling a Boeing 747 by pure chance. It’s pretty much never going to happen. Dawkins applies this to the God Hypothesis by saying that, “However statistically improbable the entity that you seek to explain by invoking a designer, the designer himself has to be at least as improbable.” The idea he is trying to raise is that if you have something complex, it takes a very complex designer to put it all together. For example, a watch is complex, but the designer, a human, is even more complex. In fact, he has to be to sufficiently explain its origin. Now, there is a lot we could say on this point, but I want to draw your attention to the fact that Dawkins entire argument against God is predicated on the idea of complexity. Designers are always just as complex, or more so, than those things which they design. If his arguments hinge entirely on the idea that God is very complex, then we must be careful that we are defining complex in the same way that Dawkins himself does. On page 179 Dawkins borrows from the biologist Julian Huxley to define what it means to be complex. Huxley defines complexity as “heterogeneity of parts”. Simply put, something is complex when it has so many parts as to become functionally indivisible. In other works like The Blind Watchmaker, Dawkins expands his definition by including the fact that something is complex when it has so many constituent parts that it could not have arisen by chance. It is precisely on this definition of complexity that Dawkins betrays a very poor understanding of theology. No theologian in the world holds that God is a composite of parts. In fact, Jesus describes the Father in John 4:24 as spirit. God is a purely spiritual being. On top of that, the doctrine of the unity of God holds that God is one, both in number and in essence. Deuteronomy 6:4 expounds this by saying that, “The Lord our God is one Lord.” The word ‘one’ meaning one composite thing. God is one in entire essence. He is a spirit that is not made of parts. He doesn’t have hands, feet, eyes, brain. He is one spirit being, with all his attributes stemming from himself. God is truly one, and as one, truly is simple. Being entirely simple, a one part being, God does not require a complex explanation. This has wide spread implications for Dawkins. Primarily, his argument on God being impossible based on complexity is patently false. God is not complex, so this charge can not be leveled. He bases all of his charges on this one idea. When his Ultimate 747 Gambit falls apart, it takes all of Dawkins objections that God can not explain the universe due to his complexity with it. For example, he argues that God should not be invoked as the explanation for the anthropics of the universe because in order to adequately fine tune the universe, he would need to be massively complex. Instead, he prefers to explain that the universe is anthropically fine tuned simply because it is. We live in a universe that is fine tuned, therefore, chances were just in our favor. Of course, he would never admit that it was chance. He prefers to explain the anthropic principle as the explanation for why the universe is fine tuned, and claiming it needs no explanation, as if the fine tuning wasn’t caused. It’s really just circle talk, but I suppose that that is inevitable when the foundations of your argument are unfounded.

Not only are his arguments against God unfounded, his counter-arguments to theism are weak. It seemed to me after reading his chapter on Arguments for God, that he just doesn’t understand that arguments. I found it odd that he didn’t deal with any of the strongest arguments that theism has to offer, such as the Leibnizian cosmological argument. Instead, he focused on arguments that are inherently weak. He jabs at the Ontological argument, for instance. It isn’t the most effective argument for God by any means. In fact, even theists disagree about whether or not the argument should be promoted. I can see why he would choose to address this. To his credit, he did attempt to disprove Thomas Aquinas, so I want to briefly answer his objections. In his work Summa Theologica, Aquinas offers several proofs for God. One of which is the the argument of causality. Essentially the argument states that every effect has a cause. So if the universe came into existence, and the Big Bang Theory proves it did, then the Big Bang theory is an effect which needs a cause. Existence is an effect of prior causes, so our existence must have a prior cause. The problem is that this leads into an infinite regress of causes (a chain of prior causes going back forever). Since infinity is literally a philosophic impossibility due to the absurdity it causes, the chain of causes must have an end. There must be a first link in the chain, which would by definition need to be uncaused. This uncaused cause would be the cause of the universe. The initiator of time, space, and matter, which is the definition of God. Hence God exists. Dawkins sole objection is that theists assume that God is immune from the regress of causes. He believes God, because of his complexity, would need an explanation. But since the unity of God demolishes the complexity objection, God can be seated at the head of the chain as the first cause, which by definition, needs no explanation. Whatever comes first does not need an explanation. Dawkins has failed.

Not only does Dawkins fail in the category of philosophy, Dawkins fails as a historian. Throughout the book, he makes a number of specific historic claims to support his point that the Christian faith is inconsistent. I think one of the most obvious of these is his claim that Jesus may not have existed. He states on pg. 122, “It is even possible to mount a serious , though not widely supported, historical case that Jesus never lived at all…” Although he does admit that it is likely Jesus really existed, I find it a testimony to poor historical research that he considers arguments that Jesus never existed serious in any sense. In fact, we have 10 non-christian historical sources from the first century that bear testimony to Jesus, which is one more than that the Roman Emperor of his time existed. In fact, the evidence for the existence of Jesus is so strong that agnostic scholar Bart Ehrman said, “surely the best way to promote any such agenda [destruction of religion] is not to deny what virtually every sane historian on the planet — Christian, Jewish, Muslim, pagan, agnostic, atheist, what have you — has come to conclude based on a range of compelling historical evidence. Whether we like it or not, Jesus certainly existed.”

He continues the tragedy of poor history by saying that the Jesus story is based on mythic gods from the mediterranean mystery religions, and that the four gospels were arbitrarily selected from dozens of others, and so can’t be trusted. For sake of time, I won’t deal with these objections here, but I will post a link to a lecture series from Dr. Gary Habermas in which he deals with this issue.

The third of Dawkins failures is in his moral philosophy. Dawkins attempts to address the roots of human morality. Why are we good if God did not make us good. There is a lot we could say about this, and I covered it in some detail in a series on morality, so I won’t belabor the point here. Suffice it to say, that Dawkins can’t live his ideas of utilitarian morality consistently. If God is not real, and there is no transcending ground that binds us to moral behavior, then morality is not absolute. Dawkins essentially agrees to this, preferring to call himself a utilitarian. Here is the problem: his book is littered with objections to God on the basis of evil. God can’t be real because he would be a moral monster to allow this sort of evil in the world. But that argument can not be propounded if utilitarian ethics are true. Here is why: if utilitarian ethics are true, then right and wrong is consistently changing based on the situation. As such, each individual is left to determine right and wrong for themselves. There is no transcending ethical principle by which to judge the actions of men. But if ethics truly are non-transcending and subjective, then there is no absolute basis on which to call something right or wrong, because it is different for everyone. This means that good and evil are meaningless categories. So why level the charge of God being evil. Evil can’t exist without an objective, absolute basis on which to judge it. So without that transcending ethic, the most Dawkins can say is that God is behaving in a way he doesn’t like, and not that God is doing evil. In fact, no one can be charged with good or evil for the very same reason. In their context, under their interpretation, they may subjectively perceive that what you think is good is evil and vice versa, and there would be no standard by which you can judge them. Of course this would lead to chaos as everyone began to live by a different set of ethics. I would like, then, to submit that Mr. Dawkins does not really want to live in a world where his ethical theories are true.

We have seen that there are many areas in which Richard Dawkins failed in this book. Between poor scholastic research, bad philosophy, and faulty moral theories, Dawkins has hardly made a convincing case for atheism. Rather, I would suggest that that the force with which he asserts such bad argument would demonstrate that he is desperate for them to be true. He doesn’t want God to be real, and he fights that idea with every ounce of strength he can muster, despite the faulty nature of his arguments. If that’s really the case, then it is Mr. Dawkins, and not the theist, that is truly deluded.

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Christian. Apologist. Undergrad. Missio Deo

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Posted in Book Reviews, General Apologetics
One comment on “Doubting Dawkins: A Review of The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins
  1. […] opens the book by critiquing Richard Dawkins work on the existence of God (something I have done here). Following this, various scholars confront common arguments against God such as arguments against […]

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