Monday, February 23, 2009


Sometimes it is difficult for me to take Mr. Dawkins seriously. His credentials show him to be a very learned and influential man. One would suppose he could argue his case in a calm rational manner. And though he does this occasionally, he seems to feel that he needs to take his readers through all his gripes against religion of any kind. It seems apparent that he is not merely attempting to disprove the existence of God, but also to vent his spleen against all religion, especially Christianity as he perceives it.

He claims that the God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction …” (page 51). Then after his statements regarding “The God Hypothesis” (page 52), he immediately attacks the progress of religion concept, tax-exempt status for religious charities, and “ … the sums of tax-free money sucked in by churches, and polishing the heels of already well heeled televangelists” (pages 51, 52). And he goes on and on. He attacks Trinitarianism and Mariolatry (page 55) and the excesses of the Roman Catholic Church.

At first reading, I just dismissed most of these as red herrings, but I believe they also are attempts to bring the reader over to his side (I even find myself in agreement with many of his religious gripes), and this is his method for dragging the unwary into agreement on the major issues.

However, Dawkins usually returns to his main argument. On page 52, he gives two definitions that clarify his thesis.

First, “The God Hypothesis,” which he disagrees with: “There exists a superhuman, supernatural intelligence who deliberately designed and created the universe and everything in it, including us” (page 52). (I shouldn’t criticize his redundancy, but doesn’t the word “universe” itself already include “everything”?) On page 59 he fleshes out his definition to state that the (non-existent) Abrahamic God whom he is battling “ … not only created the universe, he is a personal God dwelling within or perhaps outside it, possessing … unpleasant human qualities …”

Anyway, Dawkins advocates his alternative view: “Any creative intelligence, of sufficient complexity to design anything, comes into existence only as the end product of an extended process of gradual evolution” (page 52).

That’s right! The design precedes the designer; the creation precedes the creator; the work of art precedes the artist. It’s not that Dawkins disbelieves in intelligent design; it’s just that he believes that intelligent design comes before the Designer! Pardon my sarcasm, but Dawkins himself quotes Thomas Jefferson “Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions” (page 55). I’ll go along with that.

Though Dawkins aims most of his attacks at Christianity, he asserts that he is merely attacking this form of religion because it is the most familiar. He assures us, “I am not attacking any particular version of God or gods. I am attacking God, all gods, anything and everything supernatural, wherever they have been or will be invented” (page 57). That’s pretty clear. We know where he stands.

I would like to spend more time with Dawkins’ excursus on Secular America (pages 60-68), but if I do I’ll never get through writing. Suffice it to say that I agree with him that many of the founding fathers were secularists and that it is incorrect to assume from their god-talk that they were Christians, as many preachers do. But is Dawkins any closer to being correct when he assumes that they would have been Atheists if they had the chance?

Dawkins finally gets to the meat of his argument in his attack on agnosticism. Agnostics, such as T. H. Huxley argued that God could neither be proved nor disproved. Dawkins’ reply to this is that it is a matter of probability (page 72). “God’s existence or non-existence is a scientific fact about the universe, discoverable in principle if not in practice” (page 73). “The God Hypothesis is also very close to being ruled out by the laws of probability” (page 69).

On page 73, Dawkins speaks of a “spectrum of probabilities” and gives us a list of “seven milestones along the way,” ranging from number 1: 100 percent probability that God exists, to number 7: absolute certainty that God does not exist. I find this a very helpful way of looking at peoples’ beliefs. Dawkins places himself in number 6, “low probability, but short of zero,” but “leaning towards number 7.” (I wonder what the probability is that Richard Dawkins exists.)

Dawkins is also very dogmatic about evolution, and feels that professing Christians (including Pope John Paul II) who endorse Darwinism are hypocrites. He quotes with approval another writer, “It’s not just about evolution versus creationism … the real war is between rationalism and superstition … Creationism is just a symptom of … the greater enemy: religion” (page 92).

I have now completed reading 99 pages and I am still awaiting some more solid arguments. I’m sure they are coming. I can’t wait to see them, as I am getting rather bored with his tirades and dogmatic assertions. It is difficult to argue with a dogmatist.

Bill Ball

1 comment:

Canadian Atheist said...

Actually, it seems like you agree with him quite a bit. Your part about the design preceding the designer is true in human terms. However, abiogenesis shows you don't need a designer. But even if you're correct and need a designer, who designed God? That's Dawkins' main point. Complexity needs a purpose and God would have to be the most complex entity around so how did he exist? Who designed this all powerful God.

Besides that, the OT God is very unpleasant and human like. I'd agree with Dawkins on that point as well.