I am very tempted to refer you all here and just be done with the whole thing, but as I have promised to complete my critique of Dawkins’ Delusional argument (yes, I admit it’s a cheap shot, but then I was raised watching Johnny Carson and David Letterman), I will continue with my thoughts on the central argument of The God Delusion as laid out by Richard Dawkins.
I left off discussing his 3rd point and the Cosmological Argument, my point being that his argument so far (leading to the question of “Who designed the Designer?”) fails to deal with the real issues. I did not mention one other key problem with his 3rd point. While the Cosmological Argument proposes that “everything that begins to exist has a cause,” this only applies to material things that began to exist.
When we are dealing with the proposal that there exists a pre-existent Creator-being who is outside of the natural world He created, including being outside of time itself, a different set of rules obviously apply. And, since time is a part of the created universe, there is no basis for claiming that such a Creator had a “beginning” as we understand it. There is, therefore, no logical inconsistency in holding that a physical universe had a beginning, but that a spiritual Creator did not. This may at first seem to be nothing more than a logical “sleight of hand” but upon serious consideration, it is nothing of the sort. That being said, let us move on.
The proverbial crane vs the skyhook
Dawkins’ point three includes the proposition that “only a crane can do the business of working up gradually and plausibly from simplicity to otherwise improbably complexity.” The crane, again, refers to a purely natural process, a process which exists entirely within the material universe, and the skyhook refers to a non-material process, such as a non-material, intelligent Designer-being. Dawkins believes the neo-Darwinian hypothesis that evolution must be a slow, gradual process from simplicity to complexity.
I find it very interesting that Dawkins throws this in his argument, as it’s a point which is not only questionable based on available information, it is debated by some fellow non-design evolutionists. The fossil record at the moment indicates periods of plateaus followed by relatively sudden extinctions and appearances of new species, such as what is known as the Cambrian Explosion. Here’s Dawkins on the importance of gradualism:
Evolution is very possibly not, in actual fact, always gradual. But it must be gradual when it is being used to explain the coming into existence of complicated, apparently designed objects, like eyes. For if it is not gradual in these cases, it ceases to have any explanatory power at all. Without gradualness in these cases, we are back to miracle, which is simply a synonym for the total absence of explanation. Dawkins, R. (1995) River Out of Eden, Basic Books, New York, p. 83.
Stephen J. Gould, on the other hand, had this to say:
The history of most fossil species includes two features particularly inconsistent with gradualism: 1. Stasis. Most species exhibit no directional change during their tenure on earth. They appear in the fossil record looking much the same as when they disappear; morphological change is usually limited and directionless. 2. Sudden appearance. In any local area, a species does not arise gradually by the steady transformation of its ancestors; it appears all at once and “fully formed.” (Gould, Stephen J., “Evolution’s Erratic Pace,” Natural History, Vol. 86, No. 5, May 1977, p.14).
Each, of course, have there own naturalistic explanations of the data, and I don’t mean to misstate their positions. The point is merely that there are issues with the concept of gradualism, and it isn’t necessarily the given that Dawkins would want us to believe.
The genome of the sea anemone, one of the oldest living animal species on Earth, shares a surprising degree of similarity with the genome of vertebrates, researchers report in this week’s Science.
The study also found that these similarities were absent from fruit fly and nematode genomes, contradicting the widely held belief that organisms become more complex through evolution. The findings suggest that the ancestral animal genome was quite complex, and fly and worm genomes lost some of that intricacy as they evolved.
She also writes:
Previous studies have shown gene loss in flies and worms, but this work shows that loss “was highly substantial, even more significant than we expected before,” said Eugene V. Koonin of the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) in Bethesda, Md., who was not involved in the work.
Now, the question arises, “Even if gradualism is the correct viewpoint, why is it essential that it be a natural process and not the result of a ‘skyhook?'” The answer is that it isn’t essential. It is, rather, a presumption from his overall argument that there is no Designer. In other words, it appears merely to be circular reasoning. There is no reason why a Designer could not choose to design a process which operates gradually. I think even the most ardent Fundamentalist Creationist would agree with the concept that God designed processes which does not require Him to personally raise up every stalk of corn, or what have you. Whether animals “poofed” into existence or resulted from an amazingly complex designed process, design is still design.
I think that’s quite enough for point #3. Points 4-6 follow from the “crane v skyhook” argument, so I am hoping to be able to sum all of this up in one more post. Keep your fingers crossed (but don’t hold your breath…).