Richard Dawkins eh? Who doesn’t have an opinion on him? Christians can’t stand him, because he attacks them, theologians can’t stand him, because he’s a lame theologian (being a biologist and all), scientists can’t stand him, because he twists scientific theories to try to disprove the existence of God and discredit any form of religion.
Actually, what I just said was a gross generalisation. It’s true that Christians do generally despise Dawkins, as do many theologians. However, while some scientists think he’s a complete idiot, others don’t have a problem with him. But the generalisation I just made is exactly the sort of think Dawkins does in his latest book, The God Delusion. This is the first of his books that, by his own admission, actively sets out to convert people from religion. And it is full of sweeping rhetoric, backed up by incomplete and often simply incorrect facts and logic. He seizes on any piece of evidence that supports his doctrine, and ignores anything else. Not a great scientific method really. A large proportion of the book is Dawkins citing various problems with certain religious beliefs or practices, which leads him to conclude that all religion is completely evil. Classic.
I could write for hours on the errors in the book, but it’ll be more interesting to highlight some of the things Dawkins does well. By the way, I’ll assume that if you’re religious, you’re not creationist. That’s a whole different blog, one I’m not inclined to write at the moment. So I’ll assume you might believe in God, but you are also happy with evolution is some form. So, the three things Dawkins does well in the book…
After the introduction, Dawkins spends a chapter critiquing the respect that society gives to religion. This is something that I think has been nudging away at my subconscious for a while, but it wasn’t till I read The God Delusion that my thoughts were clarified. Dawkins points out that religious faith is treated as if it is ‘especially vulnerable to offence and should be protected by an abnormally thick wall of respect’. We feel happy to argue and debate heatedly about Labour vs Conservative, war in Iraq vs no war, Chelsea vs United, Windows vs Macinthosh, but as soon as we talk about religion or faith or even the origins of the universe, people seem very concerned to give a huge amount of ‘respect’ to others and are much less inclined to engage in intellectual debate.
You can’t defend uttering public statements such as ‘homosexuals will burn in hell’ by claiming freedom of speech (because that doesn’t include hate speech), or freedom of prejudice, but you could claim ‘freedom of religion’. Religion trumps all!
The bottom line is that religions, like any other theories, philosophies or schools of thought, should be (but generally aren’t) critiqueable and open to debate, and should, frankly, be able to defend themselves without whining ‘but you’re insulting my beliefs’. Can you imagine such a phrase carrying any weight in any other argument? But where religion is concerned, people seem to think we have to give beliefs an extra-wide berth, no matter how ludicrous or even evil they may be. Religion and faith must accept that they, like everything else, must be open to scrutiny.
This is Dawkins’ first point, and I wholeheartedly agree with him.
The second of Dawkins’ ideas with which I agree is that many classic arguments for God’s existence are rubbish. Dawkins easily dismantles Aquinas’ five proofs, the argument from beauty, the argument from personal experience, and Pascal’s Wager. None of these hold water.
Unfortunately he also tries to tackle the argument from scripture, claiming that the New Testament is in all likelihood historically very inaccurate. Big error there. He doesn’t give any sources, so I couldn’t follow it up, but various pieces of evidence, summarised here, indicate that they are in fact accurate.
Because he skims over this issue, he manages to completely ignore the argument from Jesus, which is possibly the only argument that he could not defeat (more on this later).
The third, and last, thing Dawkins does well is the science. He is a very good evolutionary biologist, and in chapter 4 (idiotically titled ‘Why there is almost certainly no God’), he explains how the argument of irreducible complexity is flawed. Irreducible complexity is the idea that certain biological structures, such as the eye, could not have evolved bit by bit, because they require all their many parts to function – to remove just one would stop it working, i.e., it is irreducibly complex. Dawkins brilliantly explains the flaws in this argument, from an evolution point of view. It’s clear that when he’s talking about what he actually knows about, he is very, very good. By the way, he also explains that evolution is not based on ‘chance’, as is commonly thought, but is actually a highly systematic process. For this argument alone everyone should read this book. It will make you understand how evolution, a concept that in the scientific world carries as much weight as the existence of the atom, really works.
Incidentally, for anyone who goes on about how the theory of evolution is ‘only a theory – it hasn’t been proved’, I would like to point out that, in science, a theory is ‘a coherent group of general propositions used as principles of explanation for a class of phenomena’ (Dictionary.com). This does not mean it hasn’t been proved. It’s just the way scientists talk. It’s like the theory of gravity, the theory of relativity, particle theory, the theory of evolution. Just different bits of science.
Now we come to the central theme of the book. Dawkins’ writing goes something like this:
Anything that has been created is less complex than its creator. A creator cannot make something more complex than itself.
So far so good. As Dawkins says, the horseshoe doesn’t make the blacksmith. Next…
The universe is incredibly complex. Some people try to explain its existence in terms of a creator (God). But this God would have to have been created by something even more complex. And this God-creator would have had to be created by something even more complex. Where does it end? The problem of complex existence just escalates and is never answered.
Yep, that’s it. Dawkins’ proof that God doesn’t exist is the classic seven-year-old playground line ‘so who made God then?’
I have to admit that my flabber what slightly ghasted. The might of one of England’s greatest scientific minds can come up with nothing better that ‘so who made God?’
Of course, the problem is that Dawkins approaches the problem from a completely scientific point of view, and doesn’t allow for the idea that there could be things that are not physical and material. He makes no allowances for the supernatural or for an eternal God. The discourse continues…
Darwinian evolution by natural selection, however, provides a mechanism whereby more complex things evolve from less complex things. Evolution, not God, is the explanation for the universe.
This is very interesting. As a sincere scientist and a sincere Christian, I completely agree with Dawkins that evolution explains the diversity of life in the universe. I agree with him that, even though physics has not yet produced evidence of how the universe itself started, and chemistry has not yet produced evidence of how the first lifeform came about, this does not discredit the fact that the production of the universe and everything in it could one day be explained by scientific theory.
However, this does not prevent the possibility of a supernatural world, angels, demons, or God. The best evidence for the existence of God is not that the world exists. The best evidence is Jesus (I told you we’d come back to him – now we’re here).
It has been said that the historical figure of Jesus as recounted in the (historically accurate) gospels and other ancient sources, could either truly be God, or else insane or a con man. Not strictly true. He could also be genuinely mistaken (though this might come under a mild form of insane). But he certainly wasn’t just a good man or a wise teacher. He certainly was both those things, but not just them.
The sheer volume of crazy miracles that happened around him, the revolutionaryness of his teaching, the number of prophecies, over which he had no control, that were fulfilled in him, the fairly weighty evidence pointing towards his resurrection, the way he treated both his friends and enemies, all add up to a lot of evidence that Jesus of Nazareth was indeed God on earth.
This can’t be scientifically proven, like the fact that there is a sun, but I reckon it’s a lot of evidence. Enough to stop anyone conclusively saying ‘there is no God’. Jesus provided enough evidence to at least make a question of it.
In the end, when Dawkins sticks to what he knows about, he’s great. But he really doesn’t know enough about religion, or maybe he just ignores vast amounts of it. If you’re not religious, The God Delusion is worth reading for the science, but not for the attacks on religion. I’m sure you can some up with better evidence against God if you wanted to. If you are religious, it’s worth reading, again for the science, but don’t get too frustrated or offended by the rest of it. It’s better to laugh at Dawkins than take him too seriously.