Dawkins’ Delusion


June 25, 2012 by mattfradd

On my desk is a copy of Dawkins’,”The God Delusion.” I find it to be no coincidence that the most prominent “new” atheists have been British. It’s their language, after all, and they (at least Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens) use it well! Though Richard Dawkins may be a talented author and a fine specialist in his field (ethology) he is, by all accounts, a less-than-great philosopher.

On page 188-189 of his Book, Dawkins lays out what he calls, “the central argument of my book.” “If the argument of this chapter is accepted,” writes Dawkins, “the factual premise of religion – the God Hypothesis – is untenable. God almost certainly does not exist.”

Before we look at the argument let’s review two requirements for a sound – or valid – argument (Learn More Here).

1. The Premises must be true – if even one premise is false, the argument is invalid.

2. The logic must be valid – Just because an argument has true premises, does not mean that the conclusion follows those premises.

In this blog we will, for the sake of argument (and brevity), accept the premises as true and see if the conclusion, “God almost certainly does not exist,” follows. In a future blog I will show why premise 3, in particular, is problematic.

Here is the argument. I have summed up each point without diminishing the substance:

1. One of the greatest challenges to the human intellect has been to explain how the complex, improbable appearance of design in the universe arises.

2. The natural temptation is to attribute the appearance of design to actual design itself.

3. The temptation is a false one because the designer hypothesis immediately raises the larger problem of who designed the designer.

4. The most ingenious and powerful crane (explanation) is Darwinian evolution by natural selection.

5. We don’t have an equivalent explanation for physics.

6. We should not give up the hope of a better explanation arising in physics, something as powerful as Darwinism is for biology.

Therefore, God almost certainly does not exist.

You do not need to be a philosopher to recognize that the conclusion -“God almost certainly does not exist.” – in no way follows from the above 6 statements.

If the above statements are valid, at most, it would follow that we should be careful in inferring God’s existence based upon the appearance of design in the universe.

It turns out that Dawkins’ argument is not so much an argument against the existence of God as it is an argument against a design inference. Okay…so what?

Perhaps one’s belief in God is not based upon the appearance of design. Perhaps it is based upon the contingency argument, or the Kalam argument or the moral argument. Perhaps one’s faith in God is not based upon arguments at all, perhaps it is based upon religious experience.

Certainly Christian theologians have denied the validity of certain arguments for God’s existence without thereby becoming atheists. Dr. Peter Kreeft, for example, seems to doubt the ontological argument – but is still a Christian.

In a future post I will explain why granting these premises to be true is far too charitable, but for now let us conclude with the words of philosopher, Dr. William Lane Craig, and what he had to say about Dawkins’ “Central argument,”

“Several years ago my atheist colleague Quentin Smith unceremoniously crowned Stephen Hawking’s argument against God in A Brief History of Time as ‘the worst atheistic argument in the history of Western thought.’ With the advent of The God Delusion the time has come, I think, to relieve Hawking of this weighty crown and to recognize Richard Dawkins’ accession to the throne.”

7 thoughts on “Dawkins’ Delusion

  1. “Perhaps one’s faith in God is not based upon arguments at all, perhaps it is based upon religious experience.”

    Then why are you reading atheists books at all, if your reasons for believing have nothing to do with evidence or reasoning?

    • Brian says:

      Religious experience is a kind of evidence? Do you not trust your own experiences?

    • mattfradd says:

      I did not say that my reasons for believing had nothing to do with evidence and reason. Perhaps ask a more modest question and I’d be happy to answer you.

      • “I did not say that my reasons for believing had nothing to do with evidence and reason. ”

        If you base your belief on faith, that is exactly what you’re saying. If you have evidence, what do you need faith for?

        “Religious experience is a kind of evidence? Do you not trust your own experiences?”

        It is necessarily only 1st person. If you have a personal religious experience, it might be good enough evidence for you. But not for anyone else.

      • Brian says:

        I’m not sure if that’s really the argument that Matt’s making, but I’ll leave that to him. I think he’s trying to balance the fact that some of what we believe is based on our ability to reason and some of our reasons are based on other things like emotion, intuition, moral conscience, transcendent experience, etc. For example. Did you eat what you ate this morning because of all the evidence suggesting it was the best thing for you to eat… or did you eat it because you wanted to? How many of your decisions are actually based on naked evidential reason? My guess is, not very many. Further to that question… how much of your knowledge is based on evidential proofs as opposed to faith based adoption. In other words, when your teachers through grade-school taught you something about history… did you immediately go and research the evidence for each claim? When they told you that the French Revolution happened in such a way, did you protest and say… where’s the evidence that this France even exists? I’ve never seen it myself. Or, did you do the more reasonable thing and trust the source because it made sense to do so. If it was the latter, I’m afraid that most of your “knowledge” of the world around you is faith based. That approach describes a big part of what religious faith is. It’s trust. And you can’t tell me that it’s unreasonable to trust other people when there isn’t any clear indication that they’re misleading you.

    • Rachel James says:

      I read some of the God Delusion and I thought it sounded like the rantings of a petulant teenager who thought he was being big and clever rather than the writings of a renowned scientist. But I myself read this athiest book, as Matt has read it (although I didnt read it in whole), because I wanted to see what arguments Dawkings was presenting and therefore prepare myself to give a reply when faced by similar arguments when presented with them by athiests I know in everyday life (Im not saying Matt read it for the same reasons, Im just saying this is my reason and Matt will have his own). Im English and as Matt said there are many prominent British athiests so I have to be on my gaurd as facing negative atheism (as opposed to simply not really having a religion, Im talking about vehement, antagonistic, “new” atheism; the agressive stuff Pope Benedict spoke about when he visited out country in 2010) has become part and parcel of being an English Christian, Catholic in particluar. You can barely switch the tv on and watch a comedy programme or satire or debate show that doesnt involve bad mouthing Christianity (not religions, just Christianity) or even Jesus himself which is what really upsets me and they get away with it scot free.
      I absolutely love the William Lane Craig quote. It made me giggle. Cheers Matt. You put is so well as usual.

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