Sunday, March 1, 2009


“You are not also deceived are you? No one of the authorities or Pharisees has believed in Him, has he? But this mob that does not know the law, is accursed!”
The Pharisees – John 7:47-49

As I began to read chapter 3 of Dawkins’, “Arguments for God’s Existence,” I had hopes of seeing how he dealt with the various arguments. I expected to be intellectually challenged by his rebuttals. Such was not the case; rather Mr. Dawkins wrote off the five “proofs” put forward by Aquinas in four pages, then went on to spend more time and ink on the shakier ones.

Aquinas’ first three: The Unmoved Mover; The Uncaused Cause; and, the Cosmological Argument are said by Dawkins to “rely upon the idea of a regress and invoke God to terminate it.” He berates the “unwarranted assumption that God himself is immune to regress” (pages 100, 101).

In doing this, it would seem that Dawkins is assuming that the universe is eternal. However, he immediately draws back, by allowing the possibility of a “terminator,” he sees no reasons to posit that this could be God. He rather posits a “big bang singularity,” but fails to explain how this doesn’t also require a mover or a cause.

He probably is correct in his writing off of the Argument from Degree (page 102). It is a weak argument at best.

His claim that Darwin has blown the Argument from Design (or the Teleological Argument) “out of the water” is baffling (page 103). Whether or not one accepts Darwin’s arguments, they are arguments about means, not cause or purpose. They give us Darwin’s (and Dawkins’) views of how living things came to be as they are. They do not tell us why they are as they are. It would seem that the Darwinian Theory still requires a Designer. Why do Darwin’s rules of natural selection, or of “goal-seeking behavior” work as they do (if they do)? And neither Darwin nor Dawkins has explained where life came from in the first place (back to the Uncaused Cause).

Dawkins next pooh-poohs Anselm’s Ontological Argument. I must admit that I have to concede this one. I have always felt that there was a bit of shakiness to the argument. Then he goes on to put down the Argument from Beauty and the Argument from Personal Experience, both of which he caricatures.

When he attempts to refute the Argument from Scripture (pages 177 ff), he shows his ignorance by his dependence on “reputable biblical scholars,” i.e., those who support his views by late-dating the biblical texts or positing a canon by-committee hypothesis. He seems to be totally ignorant of scholarship that supports the biblical texts and canon.

Apparently he’s not read C. S. Lewis, whom he refers to on page 117. Lewis in the passage referred to was not trying to use Scripture to persuade people to believe in God. Lewis was refuting the claim that Jesus was simply a “great moral teacher” but not God. Lewis said, “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic … or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse.” (Mere Christianity, page 56). Dawkins’“fourth possibility … that Jesus was honestly mistaken” is simply a restatement of Lewis’ “lunatic” reference. However, Dawkins simply writes the whole matter off by saying, “There is no good historical evidence that he (Jesus) ever thought he was divine.” This he does by simply denying that the Gospels are historical documents. In one place, he even claims that, “It is possible to mount a serious, though not widely supported historical case that Jesus never existed” (page 122), though he concedes that Jesus probably did.

The other “rebuttals” in the chapter are much the same: use evidence wherever you find it; use “experts” when they agree. However, I think I find that much of Dawkins’ arguing has its source in a sort of intellectual snobbery – a sort of gnosticism. “Atheists are likely to be drawn from among the better educated and more intelligent” (page 129). He and his fellow atheistic scientists are smarter than the average uneducated masses. That should settle the matter! Nyeah, nyeah, nyeah!

Dawkins makes an interesting attempt at refuting Pascal’s Wager: the argument that whatever the odds are, for or against God’s existence, one is safer by deciding to believe in God, as the eternal consequences outweigh the temporal (page 130). He claims that, “Believing is not something you can decide to do as a matter of policy.” And “What’s so special about believing?” (page 131). Well, if believing is not a big deal, why is he trying so hard to dissuade us from believing? I think Mr. Dawkins really does think believing is important. He has a belief system that he has decided to take and would like his readers to make the same decision.

Bill Ball

1 comment:

Canadian Atheist said...

I agree with your snobbery thing. Dawkins is my least favorite of the 'four horsemen' or 'New Atheists'. My favorite is Sam Harris, followed by Hitch. I too find Dawkins snobbish in many ways.

As for Pascals Wager, God does indeed break it. God makes things more complicated because of his complexity, which Dawkins points out.