Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Reactions and Responses to The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, Part Nine

Dawkins can’t be faulted for failing to give some of his chapters provocative titles. Chapter Four is a case in point: “Why There Almost Certainly Is No God.”

In this chapter Dawkins is dealing with the “argument from improbability” (p. 113). If I understand him correctly, Dawkins says that there is a high statistical improbability that the life forms that now exist got that way by chance. “Creationists,” as he seems to like to call all Christians who believe that God stands behind creation, whether those Christians reject evolution or not, conclude from that improbability that those life forms must have been designed by a designer that we call God. Dawkins argues that Darwinian natural selection offers a better explanation for the development of those life forms because it factors in accumulation: bit by bit, step by step, natural selection brought about the changes that culminated in life as we know it. “Creationists,” Dawkins maintains, cannot understand this because they do not understand natural selection (which is not a big surprise, since, as Dawkins thinks he so ably proved in chapter three, folks who believe in God are not very bright).

I humbly admit that I do not understand natural selection. With the help of some suggested reading from a friend who is a professor of biology at Augusta State University, I am attempting to learn, though. Hopefully I can come back to that subject in a future post.

Dawkins believes that the argument from improbability effectively proves that there is no God. The reasoning goes something like this: if there is a high statistical improbability that life developed without a designer, then that supposed designer is itself even more improbable. Dawkins says, “Design is not a real alternative at all because it raises an even bigger problem than it solves: who designed the designer?” (p. 121). He believes that to be an unanswerable question. He no doubt could not live with my answer: no one designed the designer because the designer has always been. “That cannot be,” the atheist would respond. “Why not?” I would answer. Why does that make less sense than some unexplained and (so far) unexplainable singularity that somehow brought something out of nothing?

Dawkins points out that “creationists” like to try to find things in nature that are “irreducibly complex” and then to argue from those that evolutionary theory is false. When something is deemed irreducibly complex, Dawkins says, it is always found, upon further investigation, not to be so in fact. Still, in a surprising admission, he says, “We on the science side must not be too dogmatically confident. Maybe there is something out there in nature that really does preclude, by its genuinely irreducible complexity, the smooth gradient of Mount Improbable” (pp. 124-125). If such a thing were to be found, he says, it would destroy Darwinian natural selection. Dawkins believes that the claims of believers about God, especially since he would have to be irreducibly complex, destroys intelligent design. That’s because we cannot say who designed the designer.

Here Dawkins completely misses the important point. I think that he misses it because, according to his way of thinking, the complex must develop from the simple and the simple cannot develop from the complex. Were there a God, from Dawkins’ perspective, God would have had to evolve. But, believers for the most part assume that God has always been what God is and thus he is irreducibly complex. I’m not sure that process theologians would agree with that, but most Christians certainly do. And that, from our perspective, is part of what makes God God. Even if it is true that in biology life must develop from the simple to the complex, why must that be true of God? And if it is not true of God, why does that negate God? Dawkins gets nowhere near answering those questions.

Dawkins does say one thing in this chapter that I almost agree with: “Perhaps you need to be steeped in natural selection, immersed in it, swim about in it, before you can truly appreciate its power” (p. 117). If you substitute the words “faith in Jesus” for “natural selection,” I can agree with every word he says. Perhaps, to paraphrase some of Dawkins’ earlier words, we cannot expect someone who has been immersed in natural selection to be open to faith in Christ, since that person has clearly been brainwashed!

1 comment:

Robert Siddall said...

I am re-reading Dawkin's book and I was interested in finding out if it had any impact on the world at large. During a web surf I came across your blog and your reaction to the book.

So far it has made facinating reading. I've often wondered if anyone of any religous persuasion would have the resilience to read it. The thorough assessment you have subjected it to must be unprecendented.

From the nature of your response I think you are hairsbreath from admitting you are agnositic if not an actual atheist. You have only the last strawman of faith to dismiss and you're there. This obviously doesn't detract from the fact that you are clearly a intelligent and moral person, you just obviously didn't escape the brainwashing, which clearly is still effecting you reasoning.

Take for example the quote

"“Design is not a real alternative at all because it raises an even bigger problem than it solves: who designed the designer?” (p. 121). He believes that to be an unanswerable question. He no doubt could not live with my answer: no one designed the designer because the designer has always been. “That cannot be,” the atheist would respond. “Why not?” I would answer. Why does that make less sense than some unexplained and (so far) unexplainable singularity that somehow brought something out of nothing?"

You've clearly got this backwards, if you take the trouble to talk to your science friends they will tell you that all the evidence points to very simple begining for the universe and the complexity arose after the passage of some considerable time. Surely you can see that thinking that a simple universe came into existence from nothing (which incidentally makes a lot of sense from a quantum mechanics point of view where particles seem to be springing into existence from nothing on a very regualr basis) rather than a necessarily complex God springing into existence from nothing is many order of magnitude easier to accept. You are doing exactly what a religious upbringing conditions us to do, i.e. propose a complex origin, God, whenever there is an as yet an unknown. Leading inevitably to the "God of the gaps" argument. Which incidentally John Polkinghone seems to be very fond of. Having read his book "Quarks, Choas and Christianity", he tries very hard to say that he doesn't believe in God because of a God of the gaps argument, and then promptly presents his argument from precisely this stand point.

May I suggest that you post your entire blog to this website www.iidb.org where you might get a slightly more interesting debate. After all as a Pastor I would think you are in some way obligated to speak to the "lost sheep".

robert.siddall1@hotmail.com