Friday, February 23, 2007

Dawkins - The God Hypothesis

Chapter 2 of Dawkins' book is devoted to the question of the reasonableness of what he calls The God Hypothesis (a phrase taken from LaPlace). The question he asks is simply this:
It is reasonable to assume that there exists a super-human, supernatural intelligence who deliberately designed and created the universe and everything in it, including us? (page 31)
He proceeds in the chapter to address a myriad of subjects, almost none of which is germane to his question. In fact, by the end of the chapter, he has made absolutely no progress in answering the question. Rather, he has regaled us with stories of atheist-phobic hicks, theologians who express offensive opinions and ill-advised studies of the efficacy of prayer. He has told us that Jefferson was an atheist who simply didn't know that it was a permissible opinion. He has mocked theists simply because they are theists, choosing only the most superficial arguments as the targets of his derision.

Finally, he concludes his narrative with an attempt to argue that because Stephen J. Gould wants the province of Science and Theology to be non-overlapping, then theists must accept this restriction. He does this in spite of the fact that the greatest theological thinkers have never made such an argument. He observes that some say that Science addresses the how of the universe and Theology the why. This seems to be an artificial distinction - useful at times, but hardly a general rule. Rather, I would state that Science and Theology can both offer their explanations for what we see around us - and may the best explanation win. Interestingly, Dawkins would undoubtedly accept such an offer; but he is already convinced that Theology has nothing to bring to that table, so there would be no competition. Unfortunately (for him and the book), he never gets around to actually making the case in this chapter.

What he does do is to state, over and over again, that Theology is of no value. He quotes all of his patron saints (Darwin, Jefferson, Einstein, Sagan, et. al.) over and over, as though the only thinkers in this age were men who questioned the existence of the God of Abraham. It is as if his argument is, "God must be a silly idea, because Jefferson (or Sagan, or whoever) says so". The chapter comes down to a "my experts can out-think your experts". And while he does quote a number of "theistic thinkers," he noticeably manages to avoid quoting anyone who thinks deeply about these issues (Ravi Zacharias, C. S. Lewis, and William Dembski come to mind). It then comes as no surprise that he sees no value in the thinking of theologians - those he mentions say nothing of value to me either.

I do not think that Dawkins' book begins well for him. To begin by setting up straw men and resorting to ad hominem attacks on one's opponents is to begin with nothing. A friend sent me a link to a review of the book by a thinking theist. I am going to avoid reading it until I have finished the book myself, but the introduction to the review notes that Dawkins spends much of his time making arguments that would make a first-year theology student wince; not because they are so devastating, but because they are so superficial. After chapter 3, it feels that way to me.

1 comment:

the-unintentional-blogger said...

Wow. So I thought as I typed my comments in your last post "surely he won't use this as the basis for his arguments", but apparently, at least thus far, that's exactly what he's doing.

At least he has the marks of a good debater - if you don't have any REAL ground to stand on, throw in as much tangential things as possible to try and confuse the issue.

Oh, and I would LOVE to meet a "atheist-phobic hick" one day. That cracks me up...