In chps 3 and 4 of Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, the author evaluates arguments for God’s existence and then offers arguments why “there almost certainly is no God.” RJS and I are summarizing and offering brief evaluation. Here goes:
But, first a question: Has our view of Scripture so influenced us that we have to abandon the faith in order to be responsible scientists?
1. Thomas Aquinas’s arguments involve infinite regress terminating in God; the assumption is that God himself is immune to regress.
2. The ontological argument: it is possible to conceive of a being than which nothing greater can be conceived. Therefore, God exists. That we can conceive of such a being indicates that being’s reality. Dawkins is suspicious of such logic since it does not include real world stuff — it is in the mind.
3. The argument from beauty turns out to be largely an argument that to some is self-evident rather than logically a proof.
4. The argument from personal experience can be explained by psychology or any number of other factors. He takes odd examples; he ridicules.
5. The argument from Scripture — he simply dismisses the gospels because “Ever since the nineteenth century, scholarly theologians have made an overwhelming case that the gospels are not reliable accounts of what happened in the history of the real world…” and the books were copied and recopied and the scribes had their own imaginations. And “reputable biblical scholars do not in general regard the NT as a reliable record of what actually happened in history.”
I take umbrage here. Dawkins doesn’t distinguish “facts” (or data) from “explanations.” He refuses to look at the other side. There are plenty giants who assessed the evidence and thought it came up standing firm — Lightfoot, Hoskyns and Davey, Sir Wm Ramsay, etc.. His big logic is the use of authorities; so and so is an authority; he doesn’t believe it is reliable; therefore, it is not. This sort of thing can be bandied back and forth forever: lots of reputable scholars believe the evidence is reliable and it is totally disrespectful of facts to insinuate that copying texts meant corruption at a level to where we can’t trust the texts.
6. The argument from admired scientists: the same as he has just done; he admired critics of the Bible and he now criticizes believers for admiring scientists who see things their way.
7. Pascal’s wager: sceptism is just as honorable.
In chp 4 he argues why there is almost certainly no God.
Here’s the Ultimate Boeing 747 gambit: a hurricane blows through a scrapyard and when its winds die down, a 747 has by chance come together out of the scraps.
Here’s his big point in this chp: believers tend to argue there are two options. Either we believe in God and design or we believe in chance. Dawkins contends this is a false dichotomy. The third option, and the one he chooses, is natural selection, which is neither design nor chance.
He contends that “irreducible complexity” arguments are created by “gaps” and “gaps” are just as explicable through natural selection (as long as we admit we don’t have lots of the evidence) as through a designer God.
He goes through a variety of arguments and counter-arguments to show that “chance” is a bad way of putting it, and that natural selection is the best argument so far. For some odd reason he continues to assert that if we posit a designer God behind all of this (1) that God must be irreducibly complex and (2) that there is no designer for the designer. This last one boggles — and it may be because I don’t comprehend his logic or science. Why does there have to be a designer for the designer? Can’t we just stop with the Designer? He prefers the anthropic principle: we exist on earth and the earth is the kind of planet that makes possible the kind of life we have. The statistics make this kind of life possible if there are a billion billion such planets in the cosmos. There is “luck” involved in the anthropic principle.
Here’s a good quote: “however little we know about God, the one thing we can be sure of is that he would have to be very very complex and presumably irredicibly so!” (125).
SMcK: if we need “luck” to have a planet such as ours that make a life like our possible, with some nice little pushes forward through natural selection, would it not be just as “lucky” to have a God who designed it all?
RJS: As Scot has given an excellent summary of Dawkins’ discussion of arguments for God in Ch. 3, I will only comment on the argument from admired scientists. Dawkins goes out of his way to discount contemporary scientists who believe in God and to equate intelligence (IQ) with doubt or atheism. As with so many of his argument he argues by assertion, discounts evidence to the contrary, relies on ad hominem, and emphasizes ridicule. Although Christians at high levels of academia (research universities) are rare in science, as in all disciplines, we are not as rare as Dawkins’ makes out.
Ch. 4 “Why there is almost certainly no God” gets to the heart of the matter for Dawkins and his writing improves dramatically when he is on his own turf. His discussion of the scientific evidence is sound in his areas of expertise and is reasonable in other areas of science as well – in accord with accepted ideas, without too much speculation. As Christians we need to be aware that the theory of evolution and natural selection is not a house of cards built on a foundation of Jello. The evidence is overwhelming. (See Francis Collins’ Book “The Language of God” for a Christian perspective.) There are also problems with Intelligent Design, which is essentially a “God of the Gaps” theory. The gaps are already being filled in and likely will continue to be at record pace. We believe that God created and continues to act in the world – but postulates of irreducible complexity reflect our ignorance more than God’s explicit action.
Dawkins’ application of this evidence to argue against the existence of God is another matter altogether. I would paraphrase his basic argument as follows:
(1) Darwinian thought raised our consciousness to realize that complexity can and does develop from simplicity.
(2) This foundational concept is even consistent with cosmology.
(3) The initial development of life is improbable but
(a) Life developed so it was not impossible. (Anthropic Principle)
(b) There are enough planets and galaxies for life to develop once or perhaps more than once.
(c) Oh and by the way we can even postulate a many universes reality.
(4) A personal God as creator would be extremely complex.
(a) Complexity develops naturally from simplicity.
(b) God must have developed from something less complex and isn’t God.
(5) Therefore God almost certainly does not exist. QED.
Or using Dawkins’ analogy of cranes and skyhooks: Everything develops from the bottom up in the same way as a building is constructed by using cranes; skyhooks don’t exist; God, if he existed, would be a skyhook; therefore God doesn’t exist.
As a proof for the nonexistence of God, Dawkins’ argument seems so circular as to be laughable. There is a rational basis for arguing for the existence of God – based on much of the same evidence that Dawkins gives. It is not a proof for the existence of God however, any more than it is a proof for the nonexistence of God.