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On Dawkins’s Atheism: A Response

My August 1 essay, “Philosophy and Faith,” was primarily addressed to religious believers. It argued that faith should go hand-in-hand with rational reflection, even though such reflection might well require serious questioning of their faith. I very much appreciated the many and diverse comments and the honesty and passion with which so many expressed their views. Interestingly, many of the most passionate responses came from non-believers who objected to my claim that popular atheistic arguments (like popular theistic arguments) do not establish their conclusions. There was particular dismay over my passing comment that the atheistic arguments of Richard Dawkins are “demonstrably faulty.” This follow-up provides support for my negative assessment. I will focus on Dawkins’ arguments in his 2006 book, “The God Delusion.”

Dawkins’s writing gives the impression of clarity, but his readable style can cover over major conceptual confusions. For example, the core of his case against God’s existence, as he summarizes it on pages 188-189, seems to go like this:

  1. There is need for an explanation of the apparent design of the universe.

  2. The universe is highly complex.

  3. An intelligent designer of the universe would be even more highly complex.

  4. A complex designer would itself require an explanation.

  5. Therefore, an intelligent designer will not provide an explanation of the universe’s complexity.

  6. On the other hand, the (individually) simple processes of natural selection can explain the apparent design of the universe.

  7. Therefore, an intelligent designer (God) almost certainly does not exist.

(Here I’ve formulated Dawkins’ argument a bit more schematically than he does and omitted his comments on parallels in physics to the explanations natural selection provides for apparent design in biology.)

As formulated, this argument is an obvious non-sequitur. The premises (1-6), if true, show only that God cannot be posited as the explanation for the apparent design of the universe, which can rather be explained by natural selection. They do nothing to show that “God almost certainly does not exist” (189).

But the ideas behind premises 3 and 4 suggest a more cogent line of argument, which Dawkins seems to have in mind in other passages:

  1. If God exists, he must be both the intelligent designer of the universe and a being that explains the universe but is not itself in need of explanation.

  2. An intelligent designer of the universe would be a highly complex being.

  3. A highly complex being would itself require explanation.

  4. Therefore, God cannot be both the intelligent designer of the universe and the ultimate explanation of the universe.

  5. Therefore, God does not exist.

Here the premises do support the conclusion, but premise 2, at least, is problematic. In what sense does Dawkins think God is complex and why does this complexity require an explanation? He does not discuss this in any detail, but his basic idea seems to be that the enormous knowledge and power God would have to possess would require a very complex being and such complexity of itself requires explanation. He says for example: “A God capable of continuously monitoring and controlling the individual status of every particle in the universe cannot be simple” (p. 178). And, a bit more fully, “a God who is capable of sending intelligible signals to millions of people simultaneously, and of receiving messages from all of them simultaneously, cannot be . . . simple. Such bandwidth! . . . If [God] has the powers attributed to him he must have something far more elaborately and randomly constructed than the largest brain or the largest computer we know” (p. 184).

Dawkins ignores the possibility that God is a very different sort of being than brains and computers.

Read the rest of the original article by clicking here.

TAGGED: ATHEISM, COMMENTARY, RELIGION


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