A Response to Dawkins Delusion: A Critical Review
With the publication of The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins presents a passionate argument against religious believers. The purpose of this article is to give a short summary and review of this best seller. When one compares the size of this task with the space available, then it becomes quite obvious not every issue found in Dawkins’ Delusion be considered in this essay; however, the basic thrust of the book can be set forth and a fair evaluation made. Further, it is not my intention to prove the existence of the God of the Bible in this article (though that can be done), but to prove Dawkins does not do what he claims to have done, that is, prove the God of the Bible does not exist. He fails in his attempt to prove that God is a delusion. In preparation for this task I have found, since the Delusion has been published, scores of reviews, both in article and in book form, which have responded to many of the issues with various degrees of effectiveness. The reader need only do a simple search and an ample quantity of material will be forthcoming. It is certainly not this writer’s intention just to add to the quantity of the material on the subject, but, rather, to contribute to the quality of critical evaluation.
GOD AND HIS EXISTENCE
Dawkins fails to prove God does not exist as asserted, and, therefore, fails to prove the God of the Bible is a delusion.
In his preface Dawkins urges atheists to come out of the closet. He says they need to realize they can live happy, balanced, moral, and intellectually fulfilled lives and so be proud to be atheists. He hopes his book will convert some believers into atheists, but he realizes most believers will dismiss the book. In chapter one he begins to discuss the term “god” and claims the term is confusing; though he has no problem with Einstein or other enlightened scientists’ beliefs on the subject. It is interesting Dawkins nowhere mentions Einstein reached the conclusion that the integrated complexity of the world of physics led him to believe there must be a Divine Intelligence behind this science. One could reason if Einstein’s conclusion is true with regard to the world of physics, would it not, also, be profoundly true of the world of biology? Dawkins does not spend time precisely defining the term “god,” or religion for that matter, but it is clear his attack is leveled at the God of the Bible and refers to Him by His name, Yahweh (41). In chapter two Dawkins debunks the whole idea that supernatural intelligence deliberately designed and created the entire universe, including us. Further, he rules out the agnostic system as flawed, because it assumes the probability that God exists is equal to the probability that God does not exist. He promises he will prove later in the book the probabilities are unequal. In chapter three he outlines some of the arguments for the existence of God and offers basically the same criticism that has been offered in the past; nothing new here. He asserts any attempt to prove God with logic and reason amounts to nothing more than a word game. He brushes away such logical reasoning as simple misinterpretation of nature, figments of imagination, or blatant lies. Further, he attacks the historical credibility of the New Testament by asserting it contains inconsistencies. By chapter four he presents the central argument of his book with a six-point summary (157-58). He attempts to explain design using the watchmaker analogy; claiming such is false, because the Designer Himself needs an explanation. He fails to see the distinction between a contingent being, that is, one that cannot account for its own existence, and a non-contingent being. Only a contingent being needs an explanation as to its cause. The great God of the Bible is a non-contingent being, that is, He has always existed and has no beginning. Further, Dawkins fails to see the force of the design argument, but continues affirming natural selection as the only option left; therefore, he concludes the matter of design is just an illusion. Of course, this assertion is hard for any observant individual to swallow. He believes the origin of the universe awaits a better explanation, so he favors the multiverse theory, which, in fact, is not observable, even in principle, so it can hardly be considered a scientific theory. However, he says, there must be something as powerful, as Darwinism is for biology, to explain cosmology. This is the book’s central argument, and anyone conversant with Dawkins’ previous writing will find nothing novel here. He says the conclusion to any discussion about a God, who is personal to the world, (an interventionist God), is explained by Dawkins’ theory that our universe is the product of natural selection. He stresses that people lack understanding on the powerful force of natural selection. He affirms it is more probable to think natural selection, when confronted with a complexity, such as life, rather, than an invisible Creator. Dawkins then states our world is the result of some process of cosmic evolution. He dismisses the world being originated by a Creator, because, after all, who would have created the Creator? The truth of the matter is the design of the universe is of such a nature that implies a Divine Designer, who has no beginning. When properly formulated, the design argument is incontrovertible. Sound reasoning demands effect must have an adequate cause, and design and adaptation must have a superintended intelligence.
In chapter four Dawkins rants on and on about creationist arguments versus biological evolution, which he claims he and Darwin have cleverly refuted. However, this chapter is an utter failure; Dawkins does not accomplish what he claims to have accomplished. The heading for the chapter, “WHY THERE ALMOST CERTAINLY IS NO GOD,” is a dead giveaway! Dawkins had promised a number of times in the first three chapters that in chapter four he would prove God was too improbable to exist, along with his basic thrust “the God of the Bible does not exist.” His discussion battering agnosticism and why such a view relating to God’s existence will not suffice was, also, to be proven in the same chapter. But all he develops is at most a rhetorical hypothesis. Without a shred of evidence to support his cosmological, evolutionary view of origins, he fills this chapter and the book with scientific words attempting to garner scientific, rational legitimacy. However, not one precisely stated, logical argument is set forth to conclude “I know that the God of the Bible does not exist.” The best he can muster is a statement that God “almost certainly does not exist.” He fails miserably to prove with true premises and a sound argument that such is the case, but substitutes one blind assertion after the other with no attempt to prove deductively. He fails to prove God does not exist, which he must do in order to reasonably say God is a delusion.
The Limitations of Scientific Proof. An understanding of the natural sciences and the scientific method, as a means of acquiring knowledge, helps the reader understand how tentative scientific knowledge really is. Though it is true, the natural sciences have both discovered and accomplished great things regarding the world and our life in it, it does have limitations. Natural science is not the total system Dawkins would have us to believe. Dawkins would foist on us the false belief that science can answer every question. In fact, it cannot. Regarding a proper prospective of science and what one can know about scientific investigations, Warren stated, “We must be careful not to give natural scientists the status of authority in realms where they are not authorities. Scientists— strictly on the basis that they are scientists—are not authorities in the field of philosophy and religion (including ethics).” Warren further set forth the specific limitations of science:
(a) natural science is confined to understanding, explaining, predicting, and controlling natural phenomena (events and states);
(b) natural science is not concerned with answering “why?”
(c) natural science is not concerned with ends;
(d) natural science is not concerned with the existence of God
(e) natural science is not concerned with ethics and
(f) natural science is not concerned with the will of God. (40)
Given the limitations of natural science and the scientific method, how could one determine how life came to be? Others have rightly seen this problem. As questions answered inductively can only yield a probable answer, similarly, science is simply not equipped to handle the “God question.” Alister McGrath, in his book The Dawkins Delusion, points out there are some questions which lie beyond the limits of science. When it comes to a scientific approach of these matters, such as the origin of life, McGrath admits natural sciences depend on inductive inference, which is a matter of weighing evidence and judging probability, not of “proof” (35). McGrath criticizes Dawkins’ approach by stating “scientific theories cannot be said to ‘explain the world’—they only explain the phenomena that are observed within the world” (38). To Dawkins and those like him, all that exists is matter. To view existence his way means the great questions of life cannot be answered with any degree of certainty, including whether or not God exists. Given the limitations of science, how can such crucial questions be answered? How did everything begin? Was there a beginning at all? What are we here for? What is the point of living? These are not scientific questions, nor is science capable of handling them. Contrariwise, the theistic view declares with certainty God is the creator and sustainer of the universe, and life does have purpose and meaning. Therefore, Dawkins’ fantastic claims for chapter four, though couched in scientific jargon, simply amounts to puffery and not proof.
DOES MORALITY OBJECTIVELY EXIST?
Dawkins view of good and evil is contradictory and, therefore, self-defeating, because he uses morality as if it were an objective reality and at the same time reduces moral right and wrong to matters of mere opinion.
Does real, objective, moral right and wrong exist, or are all good and evil reducible to simple matters of opinion? Can one distinguish objectively between giving his grandmother cookies for her birthday from cutting her throat with a butcher knife? Is there a real objective moral difference between the two? Dawkins would say “yes there is,” but he is inconsistent, when he so affirms. Throughout his book he speaks as if there is a real right and wrong. For example, he says it is wrong for people to be deluded about a God who is personally concerned about them and their life. “The genie of religious fanaticism is rampant in present-day America, and the Founding Fathers would have been horrified.” Dawkins says this is a bad thing (63). He accuses the God of the Old Testament as being a “nasty God” stalking through its pages, which is once again a moral judgment. He launches an attack on the Old Testament and its key characters (272-83). To Dawkins much of the Old Testament is weird and strange. He misuses the Bible, as its critics are fond of doing. He highlights the incest of Lot and his daughters (Genesis 19) and the Levite’s behavior concerning his concubine in Judges 19, and then draws the conclusion the Bible is not our source of morality. He never realizes God is not endorsing the sins of people, but those actions are narrated accurately, as they actually occurred. He views Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac as child abuse (274-75). Moses and Joshua also receive a bashing. In Dawkins’ view the New Testament fares no better for “there are other teachings in the New Testament that no good person should support” (284). In chapter six, “The Roots of Morality: Why Are We Good,” he asserts there is no absolute good, but we are good, because we happen to have the same genes (246-47). However, in chapter nine, “Childhood, Abuse and the Escape from Religion,” he is adamant concerning what he views as “wrongs” committed in the name of religion, e.g., the overreaction heaped on pedophiles in general just because some pedophiles have committed murder; the sexual and mental abuse of children by priests, and on and on his tirade continues. Don’t miss the point here: Dawkins is repulsed at evil, and so is the theist; but how did Dawkins decide these acts were, in fact, evil? Dawkins never discloses how he defines a “good person,” and for that matter neither good nor evil. He bandies about such terms, as “good” and “evil,” frequently and freely and never justifies his inconsistent, absolutist position. He denounces Hitler and Stalin as spectacularly evil men (315) and declares faith an evil, precisely because these men and this belief requires no justification and brooks no argument! By what standard does Dawkins make these points? He does not say. The answer is—his own subjectivism. Once again, science has no way of studying the problem. Who is Dawkins to decide what is right and wrong; what constitutes child abuse, and the murder of pedophiles a bad thing? He argues children should decide for themselves moral matters. Really? Who says so, Dawkins? Why should anyone accept his views as legitimate?
Dawkins’ assessments are typical of atheists; they want to have their cake and eat it, too. Atheists wish to argue there is no objective, moral goodness and in the next breath palaver at length about the injustices of particular incidences; making moral judgments based on something unknown and unexplained. Moral relativists constantly defend the freedom of having illegal drugs, pornography, and prostitution by asking, “How can you impose your morality on me? Who can say what is right and wrong?” They want to deny, as Dawkins does, absolute morality. Yet, at the same time they cringe in horror if someone were to inquire, “So what’s the big deal about the environment and future generations; future generations never did anything for me.” Another question guaranteed to send them into orbit is, “Who cares whether the whales live or die? Let’s just kill them all.” The point is the atheist, such as Dawkins, believes, lives, and acts, as if a standard of right and wrong exists, while at the same time denying such a standard! Do you see the problem with that? Atheists have reduced matters of right and wrong to matters of pure opinion. However, Dawkins is more clever than that. Being the strict materialist he is, for him morality is encoded in the genes. Kin selection means self-help by way of natural selection. The genes are programmed to propagate themselves, even if humans perish in the process, he claims. A good example of this concept is of a Dad rushing into a swimming pool to save his drowning son. Dad is not behaving out of a moral sense of right and wrong to save life, because it is sacred, rather, he is driven to do so, because he shares the same genes as his son. This saving action is best explained as an effort to ensure his genes make it into the next generation. But consider: what about the person, who does a good thing, but receives no genetic advantage in doing so? Why would the deed be done? Further, how would one know to reduce moral actions to these so-called selfish genes and natural selection, if the person’s genes have programmed him to do such things? Given Dawkins’ view, one could possibly be genetically programmed to believe God does not exist. You would not be able to know. One atheist could argue action X is right, while another argue the same action X to be wrong. In Dawkins’ opinion there is no way to objectively distinguish morality between the two; since both are genetically, programmable actions. His faulty view reduces morality to subjectivism.
The truth of the matter is that real, objective right and wrong, good and evil, do exist. If there are real, moral distinctions, then an ultimate, moral law exists. At this point the content of the moral law is not under consideration, only that moral law does exist and has pre-existed the realm of mere human production; making it objective in nature. Since this is the case, ethical decisions can be weighed as being good or bad. A moral law must exist because:
1) disagreements would make no sense, and clearly they do,
2) criticisms would be meaningless,
3) promise keeping would be unnecessary, and
4) excuses for breaking the moral law would not be required.
All over the Earth, human beings have this curious idea they ought to behave in a certain way, an idea from which they are unable to free themselves. Dawkins says genetic predisposition makes us think, believe, and behave in certain ways. How would he know? Where’s the evidence? He has none and makes no attempt to offer any. He emphatically affirms such belief is true without any proof.
FALSE RELIGION AND TRUE BIBLICAL THEISM
Dawkins’ view toward religion, in general, and the God of the Bible, in particular, is false, because he fails to distinguish between the false religions produced by uninspired, religious writers, and the true religion recorded by writers inspired by the God of the Bible.
Throughout the book Dawkins speaks in an authoritative tone regarding certain tenets of the Christian faith, but he is only familiar with a perverted, denominational view of Christianity; not true, biblical theism. A couple of illustrations will be sufficient. He asserts without Adam’s sin, Jesus’ atoning sacrifice for sin becomes meaningless. He says the doctrine of original sin and the atonement is the very “heart of New Testament theology” (284). I disagree. Dawkins’ attack on ‘original sin’ is a false view of New Testament Christianity, which a close examination of the Scriptures proves. He states, God became man to atone for the hereditary sin of Adam, and charges Paul with expounding this repellant doctrine (286). He asks, “Why can’t God just forgive sin,” which indicates a sort of “just forget it” mentality.” He fails to understand the perfect justice of God, the moral perfection of God, and the true heinous nature of sin make it impossible for God to ignore sin and still be perfect in His attributes. God’s nature insists sin be paid for. The point is he grasps the difficulties of the Calvinistic, denominational doctrine and rejects it, but he fails to understand, or refuses to do so, such matters can be consistently explained in a true, biblical fashion without bringing doubt on the existence of God.
Further, he says, the cause of the problems of the world is religion. Notice, he labels the conflicts of certain groups as being religious in nature (294). He complains the media describe conflicts in Northern Ireland, the Balkans, and Iraq, as “ethnic,” rather than religious. He even characterizes the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as religious. Dawkins and other atheistic writers have long tried to point to the atrocities committed in the name of religion, from the crusades to the present, saying that religion is, indeed, the cause of our world’s ills. Once again, it is granted false religions and false religious views have caused great tragedy throughout the centuries, but never can such violence be attributed to the religion of Christ and the New Testament. Christ teaches each Christian is to be a peacemaker (Matthew 5:9). If peace is possible, let the Christian lead the way toward reconciliation (Romans 12:18). Our world is war-weary and violent, because so many have rejected the Prince of Peace and His message. Most men have substituted Christ’s teachings with their own, selfish, perverted version of Christianity. Dawkins never mentions the horrific crimes committed by God-rejecting governments of Communist Russia, Communist China, and Nazi Germany. Stalin, a great mass murderer and a professed atheist, was responsible for some twenty million murders of his own people. Mao Tse-Tung’s atheistic regime was responsible for seventy million deaths (Chang and Halliday). Hitler, by incorporating an anti-religious philosophy, was responsible for killing ten million people, six million of them Jews. These numbers are staggering and the list of murdering atheists is not complete. Such carnage whether caused by both those who profess an allegiance to Christ (perverted as their beliefs may be), or atheists, is abhorrent to the true, Bible-believing child of God. The true, biblical view is that each individual life is sacred and intrinsically valuable. False religion and its adherents are responsible for a great deal of the world’s misery, but the God of the Bible and the way of Christ cannot be blamed for the wicked acts of ignorant people, religious or atheistic.
Considering Dawkins’ amassed hatred for Christianity, (a perverted form of it, at least), he has miserably failed in his effort to debunk the Christian faith. He has not offered any convincing argument in proper form, which is both substantive in nature and would reasonably cause one to say, “God is a delusion.” Alvin Plantinga asserts “Dawkins’ forays into philosophy could be called sophomoric were it not a grave insult to most sophomores.”
Jim Laws studied Philosophy of Religion and Apologetics under Thomas B. Warren at Harding Graduate School of Religion. He has also studied Philosophy at the University of Dallas, Middle Tennessee State University, and Tennessee Bible College (Ph.D.) He earned a JD degree from Concord School of Law in Los Angeles, CA. Mr. Laws may be contacted at email@example.com.
Chang, Jung, and Jon Halliday. Mao: The Unknown Story. New York: Knopf, 2005.
McGrath, Alister, and Joanna Collicutt McGrath. The Dawkins Delusion? Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2007.
Plantinga, A. “The Dawkins Confusion: Naturalism ad Absurdum.” Christianity Today.com. March/April 2007. Web. 10 Aug. 2011.
Warren, Thomas B. “Logical Considerations Relative to the Origin of Life.” A Critical Look at Evolution. Ed. Robert Camp. Decatur: Camp, 1972.