The God Delusion – a critique

Finally, I have forced myself to sit down and begin dealing with Richard Dawkins’ much-touted book, The God Delusion. The reason, if you were wondering, why I’ve repeatedly put off dealing with Dawkins has been put rather well in a review I found of Alister McGrath’s little critique of Dawkins:

As McGrath points out, trying to critique Dawkins’ arguments is difficult. They are naive, emotive, poorly argued, misrepresent religion and Christianity, and are a departure from the usual careful and rigorous approach that Dawkins displays in his other books.

While I haven’t read the McGrath book, I think I can recommend it based on the quote by Michael Ruse, “The God Delusion makes me embarrassed to be an atheist, and the McGraths show why.

If Dawkins were more logical, the book would be somewhat easier to deal with. Nearly every page presents some item that needs to be challenged, so a complete critique would end up probably larger than The God Delusion itself. The book is full of outlandish statements, which appears to be Dawkins’ standard rhetorical style, such as:

I have yet to see any good reason to suppose that theology (as opposed to biblical history, literature, etc.) is a subject at all.

I simply do not believe that Gould could possibly have meant much of what he wrote in Rocks of Ages.

The only difference between The Davinci Code and the gospels is that the gospels are ancient fiction while The Da Vinci Code is modern fiction.

The book also contains a number of errors (or misdirections) of logic. In one example (page 129), he tries to dismiss the concept of irreducible complexity by referencing A.G. Cairns-Smith analogy of a free-standing arch, claiming it is irreducibly complex because it falls if one stone is removed, and asks “how, then, was it built in the first place?” He then explains how such an arch can be constructed by the use of some scaffolding. The analogy is obviously ridiculous if it is being used to support unguided evolution, as the use of scaffolding requires engineering; in other words, design. Since this isn’t even an original piece of bad logic, I can’t blame Dawkins for coming up with it, but he is responsible for repeating it.

Dawkins goes on to talk about some of Micheal Behe’s examples of irreducible complexity; when he can’t completely dismiss the flagellar motor, he says, “A lot more work needs to be done, of course, and I’m sure it will be.” This is all fine and good, if he were to admit that the “gaps” are up for grabs. However, he then attempts to ridicule the what is called the “God of the gaps” reasoning, in spite of just having used the same reasoning himself – the “science of the gaps” position!

Dawkins also makes a common logical error when discussing the Fine Tuning argument, that proposes that the universe, and the Earth in particular, is so “fine tuned” for human life that it could not be an accident. He attempts to dismiss it by saying that complexity cannot be used to support a Creator / Fine Tuner as it fails to answer the question of the existence of the Creator, who would have to be as complex as the universe He created. This is the standard red herring used in dealing with the “first cause” issue, and it changes nothing. I will agree that the origin and nature of God are still questions to be considered; however, that is a separate question, and must be kept distinct from the question of the creation of the universe. Once we conclude that the universe must have been created (and designed) by someone or something, then we can go on to the next question and discuss the nature of that creator/designer. It is not logical to ignore a potential answer to a question simply because it presents a new question. Furthermore, the two questions exist in different “magisteria” and the logic applied to one is not necessarily the logic to be applied to the other.

Let me explain a bit further: An automobile engine (especially the newer, computerized beasts) are quite complex, and as it is a purely material, non-living thing it cannot have created itself. We can then presume that some intelligent being designed it. That, of course, presents the question, “but who is this intelligent being?” Evolutionists who believe in non-guided evolution would easily draw the distinction between the existence of the engine, which could not have evolved on it’s own, and the human designer, which they believe did evolve on it’s own. Different rules apply.

Again, there are a plethora of problems in Dawkins’ book that I don’t have time to deal with, and McGrath might be a good place to go for more on Dawkins’ logical missteps. However, Dawkins has summarized (page 157) the central argument in his book in a series of 6 numbered points. In what will probably be a series of 2 or 3 posts, I will explore these six points.

6 thoughts on “The God Delusion – a critique”

  1. “The analogy is obviously ridiculous”

    No, actually, it is a good analogy. Biological “things” are built up step by step and then the “keystone” can be inserted.

    “I will agree that the origin and nature of God are still questions to be considered; however, that is a separate question, and must be kept distinct from the question of the creation of the universe.”

    Why is the “nature of god” separate from his “creation”? Does not the supposed fact that he created the universe imply something (anything at all?) about him? Outside of space and time? Supernatural?

    “ID, by the way, is a collection of hypotheses based upon existing scientific findings, as well as new.”

    ID is “Goddidit” just like all its predecessors. There’s no real “cause and effect”, no science, no how or when or where or why. Just “poof” – something miraculously happened without leaving any trace.

    “The point is merely that the facts are mounting against Darwinism and imply design”

    Dream on, religious one. Scientists will continue to ignore all of your supernatural creations. Read the 1970s editorial in The American Spectator – Darwinisn is Almost Finished Now Any Day and We Really Mean It This Time. Well, it’s been 30 years and the worship of Darwin as a God – Darwinism – is still practiced in non-taxable churches all over the world – NOT. But evolution is stonger than ever, especially after ID’s last gasp at Dover. Took their creationist book and changed all references to “design proponents” – hilarious.

  2. As far as dealing with Behe’s points, it is possible that he finds them so laughable as not to bother with them.

    The thing is, they are not laughable, and the issues have not really been dealt with. I understand a recent printing of Black Box contains additional support for his position. And, if people start to really look at Edge, I think it will shake up some things.

    …to carry the need for a designer to its logical conclusion, you would need to posit the creator’s hand in every step of reproduction (even of our own cells in our bodies.)

    That’s possible (and not unBiblical), but no more necessary than Henry Ford to drive every one of his cars off the assembly line until they are junked.

    The first cause argument is an old philosophical question, and Dawkins responds to those who use it as evidence of a creator, when it is not such thing. Even the Big Bang, at which time was created along with matter doesn’t depend on cause and effect and matter-anti-matter pairs have been found to be spontaneously springing out of nothing.

    The Big Bang is still one of the greatest problems for a non-design position. All attempts so far to explain away the need for a first cause are questionable at best. Steady state is impossible (it, too, demands a cause to change from steady state to “bang”), and the multiverse hypotheses have their own issues.

    To try to use ID to deconstruct Dawkins is weak. If his critics attack him for glossing over the whole of philosophy and religious history in order to form his own conclusion, what does it say about the people in ID that they gloss over contradicting evidence, produce no work of their own and then claim victory over Darwinism?

    Dawkins deconstructs quite easily, just using basic logic. ID, by the way, is a collection of hypotheses based upon existing scientific findings, as well as new. One of the big claims of IDists and other non-materialist scientists is that the proponents of Darwinism have to ignore the evidence to maintain their anti-design positions. Claiming that ID is based on faith as opposed to fact is simply not true; as I have said before, it would appear it is the anti-design people who have to rely on faith.

    And I’ve said this before, IDists don’t necessarily believe they can prove the existence of God, so it’s a waste of time to argue that. The point is merely that the facts are mounting against Darwinism and imply design; where you go from there is another issue, and science is of very little help there.

  3. God of the gaps means that all we need to do is to fill the unanswered questions with the Designer. And I get the pun with supports and arches. 🙂

    As far as dealing with Behe’s points, it is possible that he finds them so laughable as not to bother with them. I pointed you to one example where at least the flagellum is dealt with. But again the analogy of the arch is related to design because, yet, people build arches with stones. An arch is not irreducibly complex, any more than a mousetrap, the human eye, blood clotting, etc. And people build and design cars. But until you can show me a car that meets up with another car and makes other cars without people (such as or parents did to make us) the metaphor of car as designed object is not a perfect one when compared to life, either.

    We know how babies are made, and even though technology is often called into make up for where nature as failed, animals and plants reproduced all on their own (often unsuccessfully) before humans came along to develop husbandry, agriculture and in vitro fertilization. Bacteria, yeast and algae were all able to reproduce to. And it seems to me that to carry the need for a designer to its logical conclusion, you would need to posit the creator’s hand in every step of reproduction (even of our own cells in our bodies.)

    The first cause argument is an old philosophical question, and Dawkins responds to those who use it as evidence of a creator, when it is not such thing. Even the Big Bang, at which time was created along with matter doesn’t depend on cause and effect and matter-anti-matter pairs have been found to be spontaneously springing out of nothing.

    I am going to copy-and-paste from a comment I made at Pharyngula to show how frustrated I get sometimes with ID/Creationists:

    “My take is that Creationists do this because they keep on hoping that whatever they throw against the wall to defeat “darwinism” (which includes cosmology, btw,) someday something will actually stick. It won’t slide down. Something has to work to defeat secular interpretations of evolution because they “know” that it is wrong. And why is it wrong? Because it contradicts with their particular view of the universe (whatever it is.)

    “And as soon as they finally destroy Darwinism, well, then they can address the heresies of the other creationists. So, they do what they do not as an end, but as a means.”

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2007/09/transitions.php#comment-560602

    To try to use ID to deconstruct Dawkins is weak. If his critics attack him for glossing over the whole of philosophy and religious history in order to form his own conclusion, what does it say about the people in ID that they gloss over contradicting evidence, produce no work of their own and then claim victory over Darwinism?

    Someday people of faith will need to admit that faith is what it is and it is not based on demonstrable fact as per the means of science. This is what riles us most; the insistence that God is demonstrable scientifically when God clearly is not. God is either natural or supernatural.

  4. The flagella explanation isn’t quite as neat and tidy as they make it seem and may not fit evolutionary theory at all, but I’ll leave that argument to the experts. My point, which you haven’t addressed, is that Dawkins’ uses an analogy which doesn’t support his point, as his analogy depends on design. Dawkins, by the way, never really deals seriously with Behe’s arguments; someone should probably challenge him to do so.

  5. On the same page as the A.G. Cairnes arc-building example:

    “In evolution, too, the organ or structure you are looking at may have had scaffolding in an ancestor which has since been removed.”

    And this is what we find with flagella; which Behe claims to be proof of irreducible complexity.

    From Carl Zimmer: (National Geographic)

    http://www7.nationalgeographic.com/ngm/0611/feature4/text3.html

    He lists his source material here:

    http://scienceblogs.com/loom/2006/10/18/national_geographic_gets_compl.php

    but I didn’t want to link directly to it because it is a pdf.

    Some of life’s most marvelous structures are its smallest: the minute clockwork of molecules that make cells tick. E. coli, a bacterium found in the gut, swims with a tiny spinning tail made up of several dozen different proteins, all working together. Doubters of evolution are fond of pointing out that the flagellum, as this tail is called, needs every one of its parts to function. They argue that it could not have evolved bit by bit; it must have been created in its present form.

    But by comparing the flagellar proteins to those in other bacterial structures, Mark Pallen of the University of Birmingham in England and his colleagues have found clues to how this intricate mechanism was assembled from simpler parts. For example, E. coli builds its flagellum with a kind of pump that squirts out proteins. The pump is nearly identical, protein for protein, to another pump found on many disease-causing bacteria, which use it not for building a tail but for priming a molecular syringe that injects toxins into host cells. The similarity is, in Pallen’s words, “an echo of history, because they have a common ancestor.”

    Scientists have discovered enough of these echoes to envision how E. coli’s flagellum could have evolved. Pallen proposes that its pieces—all of which have counterparts in today’s microbes—came together step-by-step over millions of years. It all started with a pump-and-syringe assembly like those found on pathogens. In time, the syringe acquired a long needle, then a flexible hook at its base. Eventually it was linked to a power source: another kind of pump found in the cell membranes of many bacteria. Once the structure had a motor that could make it spin, the needle turned into a propeller, and microbes had new mobility.

    Where Behe says “Can’t have happened without miracles.,” molecular biologists have shown that yes indeed it can. Dawkins here is using analogy as opposed to a factual premise in answer to an analogy. The point being, of course, that irreducible complexity can indeed be reduced. As to the need for a designer, where Behe thinks he has trumped biology, Dawkins has shown it to not be trumped.

    Are your plethora more of these?

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