Home » Answering the Critics » Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion (Answering the Critics #2)

Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion (Answering the Critics #2)

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.

  1. One of the greatest challenges to human intellect is to explain the improbable, complex appearance of design which we observe around us.
  2. It seems only natural for humans to attribute the apparent design to a Designer.
  3. 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).
  4. Darwinian evolution, that is, evolution through small degrees, has explained the illusion of design.
  5. We do not yet have a theory which explains the appearance of design in physics, as Darwinian evolution does for biology.
  6. 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…

5 thoughts on “Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion (Answering the Critics #2)

  1. Interesting…

    From the point of view of a formal logic class, you are absolutely correct in your analysis of Dawkins’ argument. His conclusion does not follow from his premises. It is interesting, however, that even though you acknowledge the fact that his argument could be easily refined as an indictment of Intelligent Design, you have rushed, instead, to throw out his entire world-view. Isn’t that the very thing that Christians get the most annoyed about? Show me a Christian who doesn’t get their hackles up a bit when a well-read atheist starts to point out the logical fallacies and ourtright inconsistencies of the Bible? Besides being a bit hypocritical, it simply doesn’t work the other way around. Here’s why.

    If you find a logical inconsistency in Dawkins’ (or Hitchens, or any atheist) argument, the argument can be refined. The newly refined argument, however, still leads inevitably to the original, albeit premature, conclusion. If Intelligent Design is incorrect, then life needed no creator. If God, the CREATOR, were not needed, then he would cease to be special or important. If God were not special or important, he would not fit the definition of God, therefore, “God” would not exist.

    When inconsistencies appear in the Bible, however, the whole house of cards come tumbling down. The only evidence for God–and more specifically, Jesus–comes from the Bible. Therefore, the truthfulness and reliability of the Bible is IMPERATIVE for God to even be considered as a factual reality. Inconsistencies in that single piece of proof, then, serve to eliminate the credibilty of the entire world-view.

    In short, atheism survives without “The God Delusion”, Christianity doesn’t survive without the Bible.

  2. “The newly refined argument, however, still leads inevitably to the original, albeit premature, conclusion.”

    I think I would disagree here. You would be right if Intelligent Design was the only argument or theory for the existence of God. But it’s not. Intelligent Design could be totally wrong and one of the other theories of theism be correct. So it does not follow that if Intelligent Design is wrong, there is no God.

    Again, take the made-up example in the post. It does not follow that Newton should give up on the existence of gravity simply because his first theory of it was wrong. It’s the theory that needs to be changed. The answer to the problem isn’t that gravity doesn’t exist–it is simply that the first theory is not capable of demonstrating the existence of gravity. Gravity, however, still exists.

    Same with ID. If ID is disproven, this doesn’t mean God doesn’t exist–it simply means this theory or argument is not capable of demonstrating that God exists.

    I would love to talk about inconsistencies in the Bible, maybe even make a series of posts about it, but I would prefer to take them as individual cases rather than talk about them in general. Do you have any specific cases in mind?

  3. There is an important difference between the Bible’s relationship to Intelligent Design and the Newtonian example from your post.

    You were right that Dawkins’s argument was only effective in eliminating a Creator from the universe–not necessarily a God. The problem for Christians, however, lies in the fact that you can not have one without the other. I would be very interested to hear you try and convince a church full of Sunday floor-stompers that God exists–in all his biblical glory–but that he didn’t actually create life or human kind. There are other, better crafted, logical arguments against the existence of God, but even this one–limited as it may be to the scope of ID–does a pretty good job at making a rational person question their definitions of any “God” that could still exist after the responsiblity of creation has been taken away from him.

    As far as biblical inconsistency goes, I’m going to try and opt out of that argument. It’s not because I don’t believe in my argument–I do. I could probably even be brow-beaten into having the argument if you really want to. I’m going to save us both a bit of time, though, because I have been down this road on more than a few occasions. The Bible is ABSOLUTELY FULL of things that could be considered logically impossible. Since God doesn’t follow the rules of logic, however, you will not take much stock in those arguments. There are also many examples of differing accounts of the same event–the order in which things were created in the two creation stories, for example. These instnaces are more tricky since, on first glance, both accounts can not BOTH be true. Apologists, however, will always fall back on the “poetic v. literal” argument. Only one account is to be taken literally, while the other is poetic and, therefore, not MEANT to be taken as historically accurate. We would continue to bat specific examples back and forth, and the mental acrobatics it will take to rationalize each one will become more and more ludicrous. Finally, I’ll gouge my own eyes out with a red-hot poker from frustration with your willingness to twist your mind into pretzels in an attempt to forgive this utterly nonsensical work of fiction. I’ll quit and walk away, and you’ll declare victory over another “heathen”. If that’s how you want to burn away a few hours of your time, I guess I can play, but I really don’t see the point.

  4. Again, though, I don’t think the fallibility of ID proves the non-existence of a Creator. It’s just that ID cannot prove there IS a Creator. There is a big difference between an argument proving the non-existence of something and that same argument simply not proving its existence.

    It’s totally up to you whether we discuss Biblical inconsistencies (even though my answers may be different than you think!). You might keep an eye out, though–there is a series of posts coming about Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus, and I suspect some of the inconsistencies you might have in mind will be addressed in that series.

  5. I believe that Mr. Gault and Dawkins’ arguments can both be defined as “Affirming a Disjunct”, which is fallacious reasoning. This can happen (often times by intellectual individuals) when a debater can find any flaw in the opposing statement, whether it is directly or indirectly relevant to the argument, and uses it to prove that the argument them must be incorrect. They further conclude that if the argument is “incorrect” then any further antecedents must also be incorrect, and if the entire premise is “incorrect” we must finally conclude that the opposing premise is “correct”.

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