Monday, February 26, 2007

Dawkins - Look Ma! No God!

Chapter four of The God Delusion gets to Dawkins' main point - why there almost certainly is no God.

Once again, he is all over the place in this chapter, throwing his logic in as many directions as possible, presumably hoping that some stick. I can only assume he is impressed by the force of his reasoning; I am not. Perhaps I will have a chance to comment specifically on some of these individual issues, but his primary argument (which does not consume the bulk of the chapter) is that if there is a creator-God, then he is most certainly exceedingly complex, as he must be able to devise and implement the amazingly complex universe that exists. However, any such being does not solve the problem of the existence of the universe, it simply pushes the question back one layer. That is, when believers invoke God as an explanation for the complexity of the universe Dawkins says we haven't explained anything.

Put more simply, Dawkins is arguing that you cannot bail on answering the question, "If God created everything, who created God?" Traditionally, believers have argued that God, being eternal, simply has no beginning. Dawkins doesn't buy it. The crux of his argument is that, while the universe is extremely improbable; it does you no good to solve it by assuming something even more improbable. And Dawkins finds the notion that there is a god extremely unlikely. It is to this issue that he devotes the bulk of the chapter.

But why is this so? Is God improbable just because Richard Dawkins finds Him so? The bulk of Dawkins' argument is that smart people don't believe in God. Really. He cites studies showing that there are only a small fraction of believers in Mensa; that there is an inverse relationship between IQ and religious faith; that the higher the scientific honor, the less likely the scientist is to believe in God. I am fairly certain that I could dismantle each of these studies if given the raw data - for example, the Mensa study. For those who don't know, Mensa is a society that has as its primary membership criterion an IQ above the genius level. Why might believers be less well-represented in Mensa than in the rest of American society? Could it be that believers of high IQ have better things to do than join Mensa? Could it be that the church provides a more comfortable community? Could it be that believers are just less likely to find meaning in measures of intelligence. I suspect that the relationship between IQ and faith is less dramatic than this study would indicate.

As an alternative to God; Dawkins resorts to two rather insubstantial arguments. First, he says (without elaboration) at least a dozen times in this chapter that natural selection explains everything. It is so consistently stated, it becomes almost a creed. But I have no more confidence in the truth of the proposition that natural selection can create highly unlikely structures than he has in the proposition that God did it. And Dawkins' assertions to the contrary, natural selection doesn't explain anything.

His second alternative to God is what is known as the anthropic principle. Put simply, the anthropic principle says that, no matter how unlikely it is that life should show up in the universe, it must have happened because we are here. Or, more basically, "I know it may be hard to believe, but this all just happened. We know this is true, because if it weren't, we wouldn't be here to know it". No mechanism is needed to explain how it happened; so you are free to pick the mechanism you want. Dawkins picks natural selection. I don't.

I do not have time to list his other points. Hopefully I will be able to address them in successive posts. But the breadth of Dawkins' misstatement of theistic positions is breathtaking. He has decided that there is no God, and that those who disagree are idiots. Interestingly, He himself quotes the verse which tells us that fool has said in his heart there is no God. He would just contend it is the other way. His arguments are not compelling.


Bad Methodist said...

The problem I have with Dawkins is the same problem I have with people who use the Bible to prove that evolution isn't true. They aren't mutually exclusive and they don't even really address the same topic.

Dawkins is interested in HOW we came to be. That's science. But he then goes and uses that to argue WHO did it (or in his case, the fact that no one did), which is beyond the reach of science, at least where we're talking theology and not, say, criminology. I don't think God left fingerprints or DNA that can point to him conclusively. ;)

The Bible, on the other hand, is concerned with the WHO and the WHY, notsomuch the HOW, which is beyond the reach of theology. To try and make one explain the other is abusing both, IMO.

There's an EXCELLENT book about the compatibility of Darwinism and Christianity called Can a Darwinian be a Christian? by Michael Ruse. My friend, an anthropologist, got it for me.

Andy said...

I think hands-down the best argument against God is theodicy. Do you agree?

Dr. Don said...

For those without a theological background, the term theodicy refers to the argument that the existence of evil calls into account either the omnipotence of God or His goodness. It basically argues that if there exists an omnipotent, good God, then evil could never exist. Since evil exists, God either does not exist, or He is not good (so evil does not offend Him) or He is not omnipotent (so He cannot prevent it).

This is an argument much like many of Dawkins' arguments. It looks good on the surface, and is sufficient to convince an unbeliever. But theologians understand the problem in light of the existence of a real human free will. If humans are truly free, then it must be possible for evil to exist.

C.S. Lewis, in his The Problem of Pain explains the intricacies of this argument in greater detail than I can here. Suffice it to say that as a believer, I do not see this as a particularly compelling argument. So, no Andy, I do not think it is hands-down the best argument.

Truth be told, I'm not sure there is a hands-down best argument on either side.