Our discussion of Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion will focus on Chapter 4, “Why There Almost Certainly Is No God”, because this contains the central argument of the whole book. Dawkins sums up his argument in 6 points leading to a conclusion. These are provided below, not in exact quotes, but translated into language that one can understand without having read the first half of Dawkins’ book.
- One of the greatest challenges to human intellect is to explain the improbable, complex appearance of design which we observe around us.
- It seems only natural for humans to attribute the apparent design to a Designer.
- We must not attribute this apparent design to a Designer because it would lead to a “who designed the Designer” problem. If we conclude that a Designer designed the universe because we observe the universe to be complex, then surely the Designer is more complex than what He/She designed. If complexity shows that something was designed by a Designer, and the Designer of the universe is complex, then who designed the Designer of the universe? (This fallacy is called the fallacy of infinite regression).
- Darwinian evolution, that is, evolution through small degrees, has explained the illusion of design.
- We do not yet have a theory which explains the appearance of design in physics, as Darwinian evolution does for biology.
- Even though it is true that we do not yet have a theory to explain design in physics, the weak theories we do have are still better than the theory of an Intelligent Designer.
Conclusion: There almost certainly is no god.
There are a number of problems with Dawkins’ 6 statements. A number of them are questionable at best. For the moment, though, let us assume Dawkins’ statements are accurate. Even if all of them are true, there is a sort of bait-and-switch going on here. Throughout Dawkins’ argument, he is talking about Intelligent Design. In the conclusion, though, a switch happens. Dawkins no longer talks about Intelligent Design–he makes the jump to say that there is no God. It does not make sense to make a whole argument about Intelligent Design, and then end with a conclusion that is about the existence of God. In short, Dawkins’ conclusion does not follow from the premise. One cannot make an argument about Intelligent Design, and then follow it to a conclusion about the existence of God. The most Dawkins can say is that the Argument from Intelligent Design is flawed. This does not prove, though, that there is no God. It simply proves that this one line of reasoning is flawed.
Let’s look at an analogy to demonstrate this idea. Let’s imagine that we are with Isaac Newton as he watches the apple fall from the tree. Newton sees the red apple fall from the tree, but notices that the green leaves do not fall off the tree. Imagine that Newton’s first theory of gravity went something like this: “How gravity affects an object is directly related to its color. Red objects are affected by gravity more strongly, and green objects not at all. That is why the red apple fell to the ground and the green leaves did not.” Of course, with further experimentation and investigation, Newton would find that his argument is flawed. The appropriate correction to Newton’s argument would not be to say that there almost certainly is no such thing as gravity. The appropriate correction to Newton’s argument would be to say that gravity is not related to color—in other words, to say that this specific theory of gravity was mistaken.
The same is true of Dawkins’ flawed argument. The conclusion Dawkins ought to come to is not “There almost certainly is no god”, but simply that this specific argument or theory of god is wrong. Instead, though, Dawkins takes it further and says that god almost certainly does not exist. Dawkins conclusion does not follow from the premise and should therefore be discarded. This bad reasoning, it should be remembered, occurs in the argument which Dawkins calls “the central argument” of his book (page 157). If this sort of bad reasoning happens in the central argument of his book, how can we trust anything he says as accurate? What other mistakes in logic does Dawkins make in his book? One gets the idea after reading Dawkins’ book that perhaps theists aren’t the ones who are delusional…