Dawkins’ Central Argument, Part 1

In his chapter entitled Why There Almost Certainly Is No God (The God Delusion, pp 157, 158), Richard Dawkins lays out the central argument of the book, summarized in six numbered points:

  1. One of the greatest challenges to the human intellect, over the centuries, 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.

Let’s stop there for now, and take a look at the first two points. Assuming for a moment that Dawkins is correct on point one, that the “improbable appearance of design” has been a challenge to the human intellect, which is by no means a given, I will concede that number two, the natural conclusion (rather than “temptation”) is to assume that actual design exists. I would state propositions one and two slightly differently:

  1. The universe, and specifically the Earth and the various life the exists on the Earth, certainly give every appearance that they were not only created, but designed.
  2. The obvious and natural assumption is that the universe was indeed created and designed.

Point number two can be justified by the logic, if it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, the chances are that it’s a duck. It can also be supported by the principle of logic known as Occam’s Razor: The simplest and most direct explanation tends to be correct. Of course, materialists have restated Occam’s Razor in order to support an atheistic explanation, but the proposition was first posited by a Catholic friar, William of Occam, to make the case that the only entity that need exist is God. Materialists have tried for some time to come up with a naturalistic explanation for the Universe, to make God the unnecessary being. However, the Big Bang and the deficiencies in other hypotheses have put God back in place as the most obvious creator/designer.

This brings us to Dawkins’ Point Three, that the assumption that the universe was designed is false because it raises the larger problem of who designed the Designer. I dealt with this flawed logic in my first post, but I’ll restate the problem. Dawkins’ objection appears to be nothing but a sleight-of-hand maneuver to avoid the issue, at least how he has expressed it. It seems illogical to conclude that a Designer designed the universe simply because you don’t have an explanation for the origins of the Designer, yet.

Dawkins proposes that the issue is statistical improbability, and it “is no solution to postulate something even more improbable” as an explanation. He then quotes the adage “we need a ‘crane,’ not a ‘skyhook,’ meaning that to explain the origin of the universe we need a cause from within the universe, not something from “the sky,” or from outside the universe. The reason Dawkins gives is that only a “crane” can “do the business of working up gradually and plausibly from simplicity to otherwise improbable complexity.”

Here we have what probably should have been multiple points:

  • You cannot imply there is a designer, because then you have the origin of the designer to deal with.
  • The problem is in explaining the improbable with something more improbable
  • To explain the improbable, only a gradual process from the simple to the more complex will do.

Dawkins never really presents this argument well; it seems that he has so little respect for those of a religious persuasion (and perhaps his audience) that he tends to oversimplify his arguments to the point of being rather dismissive. However, perhaps I can unravel his oversimplified logic in a rather simple, but still adequate manner, in my next post.

5 thoughts on “Dawkins’ Central Argument, Part 1”

  1. “It can also be supported by the principle of logic known as Occam’s Razor: The simplest and most direct explanation tends to be correct.”

    Non sequitur. The existence of a “designer” is an “unnecessary hypothesis”. Therefore this explanation is NOT the simplest/most direct.

    “However, the Big Bang and the deficiencies in other hypotheses have put God back in place as the most obvious creator/designer.”

    I doubt that your opinion is shared by most “scientists”. You have no “evidence”, just non-scientific speculation.

  2. Actually, I didn’t say that the Big Band has been shown to be deficient; rather, it seems to be the only theory that doesn’t have major issues. It is the Big Bang, of course, that raises the “first cause” question.

    I’ll probably talk a bit about “mount improbable” in the next post.

    I think you make too many excuses for Dawkins; as you know, his critics aren’t just IDists.

  3. “Materialists have tried for some time to come up with a naturalistic explanation for the Universe, to make God the unnecessary being. However, the Big Bang and the deficiencies in other hypotheses have put God back in place as the most obvious creator/designer.”

    You are repeating the assertion that both the Big Bang and the other hypotheses have been shown to be deficient, and this most decidedly has not been the case, except in the minds of the IDists and other Creationists.

    Dawkins makes references in _The God Delusion_ to _The Blind Watchmaker_ and _Climbing Mount Improbable_ which are books that both deal with the issues of how, biologically at least, the appearance of design and how incremental steps can lead to fantastic changes. He is attacked by others for only considering the two elements of NS and RM, but those who attack him are quick to show how a Designer is less likely through their processes. Your restatement of point two is reflective more of your wishful thinking than it is logical.

    Remember the thing about how sharks have genes for fingers? That certainly pokes holes in any idea that it is “obvious” that life is “designed.”

    If it seems that he is oversimplifying, perhaps it is because he doesn’t want to add over 1000 pages to TGD.

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