Over the last couple of weeks I have been critiquing the central argument of Richard Dawkins’ book, The God Delusion, as he has laid it out on pages 157 & 158. The argument consists of 6 points, 3 of which I have dealt with here, here, and here. Now, let’s finish up with his final 3 points (I’ll include points 1-3 in abbreviated form, for the sake of context):
- One of the greatest challenges … is the appearance of design.
- The natural temptation is to assume design.
- This temptation is false.
- “The most ingenious and powerful crane so far discovered is Darwinian evolution by natural selection. … living creatures … have evolved by slow, gradual degrees from simple beginnings. We can now safely say that the illusion of design in living creatures is just that – an illusion”
- “We don’t yet have an equivalent crane for physics. …”
- “We should not give up hope of a better crane arising in physics …”
This last part of Dawkins’ argument I will refer to as “Dawkins’ dream,” as that is in reality what it is. This is, perhaps, Dawkins’ version of John Lennon’s Imagine; a fairy tale which is as far from logic as it is from reality. (Wow… I’m pretty good at this rhetoric crap myself…)
Let’s take a look at his point number 4. (To refresh your memory on the “crane” analogy, read my last post.) While we certainly understand how some forms of evolution exist (it would be foolish to deny that some evolution doesn’t exist), Darwinian evolution, and particularly Dawkins’ brand of neo-Darwinism, doesn’t explain the evidence, and doesn’t explain the origins of life itself. Natural selection, for example, can only happen with there’s something to select from. The “poof” of non-life into life (at least into a replicating RNA sequence) requires another explanation. Also, there are plenty of folks who challenge the slow, gradual process from simple to complex. Part 3 of this series dealt in part with this issue.
Dawkins assertion that the appearance of design is an illusion is itself an illusion. It may make him happy to think that, but neither he nor any of his Darwinian buddies has done anything to rule out the possibility of design. Francis Collins, while I also challenge his logic in places, holds to evolution and common descent, but with a belief that a Creator God designed the process and provided the spark of life. Science can not rule out that which is outside the realm of science.
Point number 5 starts his position of what I refer to as the “Science of the Gaps.” You have probably heard atheistic scientists dismissively refer to any reference to Intentional Design as the “God of the gaps,” meaning that God is presumed to exist merely where there are gaps in science. Here, Dawkins has merely reversed the issue. He admits there are gaps in physics, even though he denies any meaningful gaps in biology. Others, of course, also admit there are numerous gaps in biology.
Finally, he completes his “Science of the Gaps” argument, with a plea for us not to lose hope that physics won’t fill in the gaps. He also here mentions the “Anthropic Principle,” which he claims is “self-evidently better than … an intelligent designer.” The Anthropic Principle is merely the argument that life happened simply because the conditions were correct. It’s actually not a bad argument when you look at it from a certain vantage point. It’s like someone doing a series of completely random actions on a calculator. After a combination of several dozen functions, adding 29, multiplying by 5, dividing by 3, and so on, you wind up with the answer of 5. You can certainly say that 5 is an accident; the circumstances just happened to fall into place to produce that number, and any other number would do just as well. If the series of functions were indeed random, “5” is an accident.
It is another matter, however, if “5” just happened to be the perfect number, the only number that would, in fact, do. In the case of the universe, we know many of the “functions” that were performed to get us here, although we certainly don’t know all of them. We also don’t know whether these functions were random, or designed. Those holding to the anthropic principle believe that in the universe, countless calculations have been done, and we live here simply because the random functions happened to be perfect. Those not limited to a materialist view (the “skyhook” view), look at the probabilities for fine-tuning the universe to work and see design as more probable than accident.
The anthropic principle is not self-evidently better than proposing design; it is only “self-evident” if your worldview prevents you from factoring in the possibility of design.
In summary, I have found Dawkins’ book to be – as with Victor Stengor’s book – a “failed hypothesis.” I really had been hoping it would have been more challenging, or at least more based in science. However, this was not the case. Dawkins may currently have a big voice in some circles, but it doesn’t seem that he is really adding anything of substance to the discussions.