Comments on Richard Dawkins’, The God Delusion
I was a surprised by the contents of Dawkins’ book, expecting to read a thousand arguments against the existence of God. As it turns out, Dawkins doesn’t give much consideration to God in his book. It is more of an attack on those who maintain any sort of religious faith, a defense of atheism, and, to a lesser degree, a defense of Darwinism.
Dawkins believes in the scientific method, namely, hypotheses are put forward and then tested in the physical world. The genius of science is in its testing of hypotheses until they are proven wrong, or they are adjusted to make them right, or they become generally accepted truths. But Dawkins is not particularly good at employing this approach to anything beyond the world of the lab. Instead, he enters the Courtroom of Ideas with the mindset of an adversarial attorney. In this court he is not engaged in a search for truth because, in his mind, it has already been determined. The book is, essentially, a large stack of arguments. “Observe, your honor, the evidence.” For those who find big piles convincing, this book will make a big impression. More than three million people have bought the book, which is evidence that some people are being convinced. But reading his arguments critically gives a different result. Many of his arguments are half-baked, many are contortions, and many of his arguments are nonsense.
The God Delusion is 374 pages long. To fully respond to its contents I would have had to write a book that’s just as long. Life is too short. Alister McGrath has critiqued Dawkins more extensively. I have not read McGrath’s books but, if you are interested in a more in-depth response, I suspect McGrath does a good job of it.
Religions are Delusional
“Religious people are delusional” is, I suppose, the meaning of Dawkins’ book title. He objects to religions, first of all, because he thinks they are filled with falsehoods, particularly the falsehood of the existence of a deity; and, secondly, because he believes religions lead to immoral behavior.
He also believes, as a Darwinist, that humans have evolved and that the evolutionary process has made us the way we are in order to survive. This raises a question. Religions have been around a long time—as long as humans have left artifacts. This must mean that religions have helped people survive. So from a Darwinian perspective, and in conflict with his general contentions about religion, it is irrelevant as to whether religion deludes us. If being deluded aids survival, being deluded is a good thing.
Atheism, on the other hand, has not been around a long time. Is it really a positive evolutionary development, or does it present a danger to human survival? Will atheism mill about for awhile and then fade away, like the worship of the Mesopotamian god, Enlil? Dawkins thinks not. He believes that atheism is part of a new liberal ethos that is driving humans to a higher plane of, well…something. Still, his bitter frustration with religion is puzzling. Why would an atheist care what anyone believes? There are no ultimate consequences, so why not believe whatever? Dawkins thinks that morality matters, though.
Religions are Evil
Dawkins is fond of tossing grenades at all religions. All religions are the same in that they need to be obliterated. All religions are false. But let us make an observation that he seems reluctant to consider, namely that all religions are different. This is not to say they don’t have ideas in common. Most religions are interested in love and justice and community, for example. But religions diverge. Some of the differences are small; some have life-altering implications. Some differences have eternal implications. Perhaps lumping all religions onto one tray is dogmatic. Perhaps it is even logical nonsense.
To see falsehood in religions is not exactly revolutionary thinking. There is only one truth. Logically this means that where religions diverge, all but one must be false. This applies not only to religions, but any sort of ideology, as well, including atheism. Sweeping statements about “religions” are of no use when it comes to the sorting of truth and falsehood. More careful analysis is important in order discern where any given religion or ideology is true or is false. But let’s focus the discussion a bit here, in keeping with what Dawkins does in his book. He focuses his criticisms on Christianity because it is the religion he is most familiar with.
Is Christianity evil? Perhaps there should be a second question: are Christians evil? Dawkins does not account for the fact that Christians are conscious of being on a journey of sanctification. Christians are obligated to continue to learn and to continue to mature as disciples of Christ. Dawkins often remarks on the developing nature of science—that there are ongoing discoveries that change understanding. This is true, and if he were a bit more humble he would realize that this means all his ideas are tentative. Christians, while clinging to the Gospel doctrines with hope and expectation, also must move forward with humility in order to be shaped by the work of the Holy Spirit (through various means, such as studying the Bible). Christians, if they understand their own faith, do not imagine themselves as having “arrived” at full understanding and maturity. Christians, are subject to thinking and doing foolishness. This is not to justify foolishness; it’s to point out that slamming Christians for their imperfections is not really a slam. It’s a truth that Christians embrace, recognizing their need for God’s grace, not only for salvation but for growth in maturity.
Dawkins, referring to an Islamic suicide bombing in London in 2005, commented, “Only religious faith is a strong enough force to motivate such utter madness in otherwise sane and decent people.” Dawkins rightfully points out some horrible actions done in the name of Christ, as well. The Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition come to mind. I will not defend these actions. I will say, though, that these actions have been rejected by Christians as failures to put into practice biblical teachings. In the case of the Crusades, for example, while Jerusalem was certainly an important historical location for the founding of Christianity, the idea of holy places is foreign to proper Christian understanding. Possessing Jerusalem is irrelevant to Christianity. Furthermore, the idea of conversions via military conquest is reprehensible to the faith. (The Crusades was a fight-fire-with-fire reaction to Islamic expansionism and, as such, a wrong-headed adoption of a damnable practice.) Sometimes Christians fail to understand Christianity. This is not only frustrating, it always results in ill consequences. But a failure to stop at a Stop sing is not a failure of the sign.
Dawkins blasts Christians for their ill treatment of Jews. Jewish/Christian relations have certainly been ugly in various times and places, though is also true that the two faiths have generally lived peacefully side-by-side. “Christian hatred of Jews is not just a Catholic tradition. Martin Luther was a virulent anti-Semite. At the Diet of Worms he said that ‘all Jews should be driven from Germany.’ Luther described the Jews as a ‘brood of vipers’, and the same phrase was used by Hitler in a remarkable speech of 1922.” I love Martin Luther. He was a brilliant and courageous man who served as a powerful reformer in the Christian church. But Dawkins is correct in this particular criticism of him. Luther was simply wrong on this point and, yes, Hitler used Luther for his own propaganda purposes. But this issue of Christian hatred towards Jews is another failure of Christians to follow their own faith. Yes, the Jewish religious leaders were the worst bad guys of the New Testament. But it is a rather dim-light failure to not notice that all the Apostles were Jews. Nearly all of the early Christians were Jews. Jesus was a Jew. Christianity is a faith built on the shoulders of the Jewish people. Christian hatred of Jews is not only evil, it is stupid. The New Testament is quite clear that God’s favor was first given to the Jews and then the Gentiles…but that his love for the Jews remains. The Old Testament is Jewish writing. Frankly, most of the New Testament was written by Jews, as well. Christianity is essentially a reformed Judaism.
It also needs to be said that not all who profess to be Christians are Christians. Admittedly, it is not an easy thing for those looking in from the outside to tell. Christians can’t tell, either. In fact, it is a Christian doctrine that we should not judge one another. In practice we rely on people’s confessions and assume they are speaking the truth. One can be tossed from the Church for unrepentant actions that are in clear violation of Christian doctrine, but such discipline is a lot of work, is relationally difficult, and rarely pursued. So there are a lot of tares in with the wheat.
But while Dawkins is pointing the finger at others, he doesn’t seem to be aware of the religious characteristics of atheism. While it may not be characterized by rituals, regular gatherings and such, it is a belief system, nonetheless. Atheism has its own set of doctrines, the first of which is that there is no God…that there are no gods. This belief is necessary but still surprising, given that most atheists are also materialists. If you believe the only way to determine the existence of something is to examine the physical world, you absolutely lack the tools to investigate or to comment on anything outside the physical world. Dawkins is thereby committed to a belief that is beyond his investigation. This constitutes a foundational belief based on ignorance.
Dawkins repeatedly contends that the conflicts of the world can be laid at the feet of religions. He seems to have forgotten other sources of conflict—racial strife, for example. His selective approach to history neglects the causes of most international conflict: power, resources, and hubris. He makes no mention of Ghengis Khan, Alexander the Great, Attila the Hun, or Napolean—those “great” conquerors who went about crushing opponents under their feet. He makes no mention of ancient Greece or Rome. Perhaps he thought them religious. In their own polytheistic ways, perhaps they were. They never heard of a god they didn’t think ought to be placated. When the Apostle Paul was in Athens he even noted the Athenians had an altar “To the unknown god”. For the Athenians is was covering their bases. But Greece and Rome were fundamentally like America is today. There was lip service to God (or the gods), but primarily because it was politically expedient.
Dawkins works hard to distance atheism from the Nazis. He makes the argument that Hitler was very religious, even somewhat Christian, while admitting that his religion was a smorgasbord of collected ideas useful for his propaganda campaigns. But Hitler was a humanist of sorts, manifested through Aryan racism. As atheism is also a form of humanism, Hitler was not so far from Dawkins as Dawkins wants to admit. Hitler made this statement in November of 1941: “The man of today, who is formed by the disciplines of science, has likewise ceased taking the teaching of religion very seriously. What is in opposition to the laws of nature cannot come from God. Moreover, thunderbolts do not spare churches. A system of metaphysics that is drawn from Christianity and founded on outmoded notions does not correspond to the level of modern knowledge.”
Dawkins does acknowledge that Stalin was an atheist but he does not wish to dwell on Stalin. Nor did he care to mention Mao. Nor did he care to mention Pol Pot. Atheistic communist regimes have easily outstripped the brutalities of all other ideologies, whether through suppression or through ruinous socialist programs. There have been many attempts to estimate the loss of life caused by communist regimes. For obvious reasons it is difficult to obtain accurate information. However, in 2016, the Dissident blog of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation concluded that the overall range “spans from 42,870,000 to 161,990,000” killed, with 100 million the most commonly cited figure. Communist China continues to be a threat to world peace. It continues to suppress the large Christian population within its borders and, more recently, has instituted brutal suppression of its Muslim Uighur population. Of all religions in world history, atheism is easily the most ideologically intolerant, most repressive, and most murderous.
Alister McGrath noted, “The 20th century gave rise to one of the greatest and most distressing paradoxes of human history: that the greatest intolerance and violence of that century were practiced by those who believed that religion caused intolerance and violence.” In light of all the murder and mayhem in world history that is unrelated to formal religions, particularly mindful of atheistic communism, I would think Dawkins would be embarrassed to point the finger at religion as the cause of world strife. Religion is not guiltless. Christians are not guiltless. But the causes of human strife obviously run deeper than religion.
Purpose of Religion
According to Dawkins, “Religion has at one time or another been thought to fill four main roles in human life: explanation, exhortation, consolation and inspiration.” Here’s a commitment to a concept if I ever heard one. “Religion has at one time or another been thought”? What hasn’t at one time or another been thought? This blandest of all possible statements provides the foundation on which Dawkins intends to destroy the fairytales of religion. There is some truth to his list, of course, in that most religions would be interested in addressing those concerns. But his list barely touches the central themes of the religion he is most familiar with. Christianity offers liberation from sin. Dawkins may not believe in sin but he does believe in a cut flower morality (inexplicably). And he knows that all the “unenlightened” people out there, especially the religious ones, are not living in accordance with his idea of that morality. Christianity offers the expectation of individuals and society becoming perfectly moral.
Christianity offers liberation from death. Dawkins thinks that death is fine. He proclaims that losing his life will be no big deal and that the brevity of life makes it more precious. But if life is precious, to cavalierly surrender it is insane. Christianity insists that life will become even more precious than the way we know it now. So Christianity, rather than giving up on life, pushes its adherents to life that is in every way enriched.
Above these things, Christianity offers life in community. It offers relationships that are complementary, edifying, and intimate. It offers good company with all people, and it provides nearness even to God.
Perhaps Dawkins turned to the insipid sociological definition of religion because he knows atheism is devoid of the most important benefits of Christianity. Dawkins is rather fond of misdirection. Answering questions no one asks, slicing straw men into scattered heaps, the multiplication of words, and generally blowing a lot of smoke are all favorite strategies.
Knowledge of Christianity
Dawkins claims he is familiar with Christianity, but is he? He is able to track down biblical passages, especially from the Old Testament, that seem brutal in light of 21st century sensibilities. But there is something sophomoric in his approach. He gives no thought to serious biblical exegesis, failing to consider such concerns as progressive revelation, figurative vs. literal language, prescription vs. description, passage context, or cultural context. There is no reason to expect him to be a biblical exegete, but if he insists on playing the part of the critic, he needs to do so with integrity, consulting a commentary or two, written by Christians who actually believe in biblical authority.
His failure to understand the Bible shows up frequently. He disparagingly notes that Paul provides very few details about the life of Christ in his letters. He doesn’t seem to realize, even though Paul’s conversion is written about in the book of Acts, that Paul did not become a Christian until after the resurrection of Jesus. Paul was not a witness to the life of Jesus, so it should hardly be a surprise that his writings did not focus on the history covered by the Gospels.
Dawkins’ most shocking misunderstanding has to do with a fundamental biblical teaching. “Christians seldom realize that much of the moral consideration for others which is apparently promoted by both Old and New Testaments was originally intended to apply only to a narrowly defined in-group. ‘Love thy neighbour’ didn’t mean what we now think it means. It meant only ‘Love another Jew’.
This question was addressed in one of the most well known of all biblical stories. A Jewish expert in the Law asked Jesus how he could attain eternal life. Jesus responded, “What does the Law say?” The lawyer answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus said, “That’s right. Do that and you will live.” But the lawyer knew he was not loving everyone and, worried about his own skin, he asked, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus proceeded to tell what we call “The Story of the Good Samaritan”. In it a Jew was beaten, robbed, and left to die on the side of the road. A Jewish priest walked by and ignored him. Likewise a Levite (also a Jew). Then a Samaritan came by and, at some inconvenience and cost to himself, took care of the injured man. As background to the story, it’s important to understand that the Samaritans were despised by the Jews because they were Jews who had intermarried with gentiles and, worse, had made changes to the Jewish faith. So the Samaritans were considered to be half-breed heretics. Jesus was pushing the lawyer’s buttons when he asked, “So, who was the neighbor?” The lawyer replied correctly, “The one who showed mercy.” And Jesus replied, “That’s what you should do.” Jesus made it clear that “neighbor” encompasses all people, but it most specifically applies to those we encounter who are in need.
Jesus taught similarly in his Sermon on the Mount. “You have heard it that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy’. But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” – Matthew 5.43-45.
Dawkins may realize that Jesus sorted this issue out, but he failed to mention that along with his criticism. Furthermore, he fails to understand the Old Testament. While there may have been a poor understanding of this issue among the Jewish scholars of Jesus’ time, that does not mean Jesus had to alter Old Testament teaching. Jesus made it clear that he was not changing so much as a “jot or tittle” of the Old Testament. As an example, in the book of Isaiah the Jews were commanded to be a light for the gentiles. In another example, Jonah is commanded by God to preach repentance to the Ninevites. Jonah was none to happy about it, true, but God commanded that Israel serve as an arm of his grace. Nineveh did, in fact, repent and turn to God.
Late in his book, Dawkins, in a liberal state of mind, suggests that the Bible is well worth being familiar with because so much of Western culture is rooted in biblical references. He gives a witty example to demonstrate his own erudition—a poem by Lord Justice Bowen:
The rain it raineth on the just,
And also on the unjust fella.
But chiefly on the just, because
The unjust hath the just’s umbrella.
It is a funny poem, and it is a clear reference to a biblical passage, so Dawkins makes his point. However, because Dawkins is showing off, I think it fair to point out that both the good Lord Bowen and Dawkins misunderstood the biblical reference. The reference, Matthew 5.45, happens to be a continuation of the passage above: For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. Perhaps if he had been familiar with the first part of the passage he would have understood the second. When Jesus points to God sending the sun and the rain to both the evil and the good, he is illustrating a way that God shows love to both evil and good people. He provides for everyone. He provides the sun and he provides the rain. The rain is every bit as much a blessing as the sun. Without rain we have desert or, as in the case of California, devastating forest fires. Perhaps Dawkins should be forgiven since he is British. In Britain rain is so frequent it seems a nuisance. But, of course, this is not the case in the Middle East.
It’s clear that Dawkins has never seriously studied the Bible. If it is true, as he says, that the religion he is most familiar with is Christianity, it follows that he knows very little about any religion. And, yet, the title of his book is, The God Delusion. It does rather undermine his case, I think, when he insists that people are deluded about God (or god), when he demonstrates how ignorant he is about what people believe.
Dawkins scoffs at faith. There are two serious problems with his scoffing.
The first problem is that he has no idea what faith is. Faith is not a belief in spite of evidence. “Christianity, just as much as Islam, teaches children that unquestioned faith is a virtue.” This is utter hogwash. Faith is not belief that despises evidence. To the contrary, faith is always based on evidence.
Is it possible to be deluded? Absolutely. Delusion is as common as grass. Maybe, considering human progress, I should say, “delusion is as common as asphalt.” This is why it’s important to examine beliefs with great care. As Tim Keller says, ““Strong faith in a weak branch is fatally inferior to weak faith in a strong branch.” Faith in itself is no virtue. Understanding the object of faith is crucial. The appropriate assignment of faith is the virtue.
The Christian faith is not belief in Jesus in spite of all the evidence. No, it is belief because of the evidence. Thomas touched Jesus’ wounds after the resurrection because he could not believe his eyes. He needed more evidence. And that was evidently okay with Jesus. The Bible makes a point of saying there were more than 500 witnesses to the resurrection, and on different occasions. The book of Acts (the historical record of the expansion of the first century church) is full of references to witnesses. We are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. – Acts 10.39. They are not saying, “We are sure of these things because we feel them in our heart (however true that may be). What they are saying is, “We were there. We saw these things happen. They were historical events. We believe because we saw and experienced these things.”
Faith in Christ is not unlike faith in science—it is subject to ongoing testing. Faith in Christ is based on scientific evidence, archeological evidence, historical accounts, personal testimonies, observed character transformations, the testings of moral teachings, considerations of the accuracy of biblical assessments of culture, biblical internal consistency, macro impacts of Christian cultures, subjective consideration for what I will call “the ring of truth”, etc. Dawkins can’t seem to understand that Christians can and do take scientific research every bit as seriously as he does. If God really did make the world and all that is in it, the world must be a wonderful source of insight into his being.
Dawkins does raise an important question about faith, though. “Why, in any case, do we so readily accept the idea that the one thing you must do if you want to please God is believe in him? What is so special about believing?” Can you make yourself believe something? I don’t think so. We either believe or we don’t. Some of our beliefs are tentative. Some of our trusts—maybe all of our trusts in people—are measured. (I’ll trust you with my charge card but not with my most personal thoughts.) We certainly can be delusional about our beliefs. We do this by ignoring or disparaging certain information, while overvaluing other information. We do this constantly in order to adjust facts to our presuppositions.
A strong theme in the Gospels had to do with how Jesus was received. The general population heard his sermons and were amazed at his authority. They were even more amazed at the miracles (not magic tricks) he performed that brought healing to the needy. In contrast, the religious leaders were always angry at Jesus. They accused him of healing through the power of Beelzebub. (They had to think of something.) They saw him as a threat to the status quo, in which they were sitting comfortably. The resurrection of Lazarus was the straw that broke the camels’ back. “This guy has to go!” They judged him in a show trial to be a blasphemer. And then they blackmailed Pilot into crucifying him.
These two groups of people were seeing the same Jesus. Neither group understood well what they were seeing but one group was sensibly receptive while the other was stubbornly resistant. When truth threatens our prize possessions, whether that means stuff, or power, or prestige, or pride, the normal human reaction is to suppress truth. This is key to understanding the importance of belief in Jesus. If our hearts are simple, like the hearts of children, and we look to Jesus with an openness, we will see. We will recognize the truth in him. We will recognize the love in him. We will recognize his power, and we will recognize his authority.
The most difficult possession to give up is personal pride and self determination. In America we cling to freedom as the inalienable right. But, while in many ways, independence is a gift worthy of treasuring, it must be understood within the context of being human. Upon reflection, a person needs to be able to say, “I’m a person. I’ve only been around a little while. My very existence is a mystery. My knowledge is limited. I’m fumbling around on this planet, trying to make sense of everything. I have to struggle to survive. I have to struggle to maintain good relationships. I do bad, mean things all the time. I fail to follow my own rules. My health is uncertain. I work at maintaining my health…but I do unhealthy things, I eat unhealthy foods, I eat unhealthy amounts. My death is on the horizon. As much as I want to be in control, as much as I work at being in control, my control over my own life is quite limited. In myself I am lacking many things that I desperately need and want. I need help.” When a person gets to this point he is at a place where he can say, “I need God. I need God to be God in my life. I need to let God be God and let me be the person he has intended me to be.” The importance of belief, Richard, is that it represents the point at which a person stops lying to himself and submits to Reality.
But aside from not understanding faith in the first place, Dawkins is himself an extreme practitioner of faith as he understands the term, which is to say, a practitioner of wishful thinking. I have already mentioned that He believes there is no God, even though he knows that if God is a spirit, he has no tools to demonstrate he does not exist. I also mentioned that he believes that the material world is the only source of knowledge. Of course, there is nothing in the material world that can argue for this concept. The material world does what it does. We can observe it, but all it can do is operate. It cannot say, “I’m your only source of knowledge, folks.” So, the only way to decide the material world is the only source of knowledge is for people to impose that concept onto the material world. The belief comes from outside the material world. The belief cannot be studied scientifically. Therefore, the contention that the material world is the only source of knowledge is self-contradictory. In order to believe the only source of knowledge is the material world, it is necessary to disbelieve it. Therefore, not only is belief that the only source of knowledge is the material world impossible to prove, as an idea it is logical nonsense.
Dawkins also believes in Darwinian evolution because, as he puts it, this is what the science says. Is it really what the science says? Dawkins stands in a very large crowd on this question (in which “rational” people have already concluded evolution to be the truth). But let’s take a brief skate through the scientific problems with evolution, along with a few pre-evolution “difficulties”.
- The predominant scientific theory about the origin of the universe is that it began as an extremely dense ball, about the size of a soccer ball, that exploded (the Big Bang), and has been expanding ever since. (The theory doesn’t attempt to explain the origin of the soccer ball.) The odds of such a spontaneous explosion resulting in the universe as we know it is, from the prevailing scientific view, zero. Except that it apparently happened. So the odds must be a smidge above zero.
The brilliant physicist, Stephen Hawking, who does not believe in a personal God, wrote about the odds against the universe’s incredibly complex origins in A Brief History of Time saying, “It would be very difficult to explain why the universe should have begun in just this way except as the act of a God who intended to create beings like us.” Astronomer Fred Hoyle commented, “A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a super-intellect has monkeyed with the physics”. Sir Arthur Eddington noted, “The beginning seems to present insuperable difficulties unless we agree to look on it as frankly supernatural.” So scientists like Dawkins believe in the Big Bang theory, and also believe that the finesse of it is unbelievable. Nevertheless, they assume it happened on its own. This requires a huge amount of faith in the theory of materialism.
Dawkins doesn’t really see this as a problem, though. “A God capable of calculating the Goldilocks values for the six numbers would have to be at least as improbable as the finely tuned combination of numbers itself, and that’s very improbable indeed…” His argument is that the improbability of the universe is irrelevant since the alternative, God, must be equally improbable. This is astonishing reasoning. While there is a materialistic methodology applied to determining the probability of the universe forming itself, the same methods for determining the probability of God do not work. The one determination has absolutely no bearing on the probability of the other. I think one would have to say that, even though the reality of a good and omnipotent God is amazing and beyond human imagining, there is no way to determine the probability of his existence. However, there remains the obvious implication that if the self formation of a complex universe is statistically a fool’s wager, the likelihood of a Creator increases proportionately.
- The formation of the earth, too, is an incredible circumstance. We don’t know if there is another inhabitable planet in the universe, though scientists are looking and hoping. As Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay Richards in their book, The Privileged Planet, put it, “With respect to habitability, our existence depends on such local variables as a large stabilizing moon, plate tectonics, intricate biological and nonbiological feedback, greenhouse effects, a carefully placed circular orbit around the right kind of star, early volatile elements—providing asteroids and comets, and outlying giant planets to protect us from frequent ongoing bombardment by comets. It depends on a Solar System placed carefully in the Galactic Habitable Zone in a large spiral galaxy formed at the right time. It presupposes the earlier explosions of supernovae to provide us with the iron that courses through our veins and the carbon that is the foundation of life. It also depends on a present rarity of such nearby supernovae. Finally, it depends on an exquisitely fine-tuned set of physical laws, parameters, and initial conditions.” Some of what they’re saying here is not particularly meaningful to the layperson. I recommend reading the book. The point is much like the one about the Big Bang, though. The provisions for habitability on this earth are astonishing. Scientists brush this off by saying, “Well, with a zillion zillion planets, a few of them would, naturally, come with the right mix of properties.” Perhaps so, though, of course, there is no scientific evidence for such a thing. To say the earth was formed by chance rather than design requires a huge amount of faith in the theory of materialism.
- There is no explanation for the origin of life. No one knows how organic material formed out of inorganic material. No one has been able to figure out how to make it happen in a lab, much less explain how it could happen on its own. Nancy Pearcy put it this way: “It has become clear that simply mixing chemicals in a flask and sparking them with an electrical charge does not produce any biologically significant results. But if the core of life is biological information, this is exactly what we should expect. Why? Because chance processes do not produce complex information.” Herbert Yockey, information theory scientist, does not dismiss the possibility out of hand as Ms. Pearcy does. He did, however, calculate that the probability that a protein containing 100 amino acids would form spontaneously is, at best, 1 in 1065.
Some scientists think that, given enough time and opportunity, it would happen. Dawkins was once asked by Ben Stein just how it was that life originated on the earth. Dawkins confessed that he did not know, but he proposed one possibility as being another life form that “seeded” the earth. In other words, aliens. Dawkins was not joking. What he was saying was that, while science suggests that life can form out of inorganic material, the likelihood is infinitesimally small, and that a very long period of time would be necessary for such a thing to happen. The earth is not old enough. Therefore, life had to begin on some other planet. So, here we have science proclaiming that life formed spontaneously. Science can’t reproduce the phenomenon in a lab, but calculates that it must have happened, because there is clearly life on the planet. Strangely, or maybe I should say, obviously, because it’s obvious to everyone save the most indoctrinated Darwinists, there is no evidence of aliens dropping life off here. You would think that if aliens went to all the trouble to “seed” the earth, they might take the trouble to stop by once in awhile to check up on us. Somehow, counter-intuitive idea of aliens is considered less “religious” or faith driven that the belief in a creator god.
These three problems are more than is necessary to convince me that the scientific evidence stands against a materialist universe…or an atheistic universe. But, since we’re looking, what does science actually tell us about the evolutionary process?
- Dawkins was kind enough to acknowledge two unresolved problems with evolution. As he put it, “It may be that the origin of life is not the only major gap in the evolutionary story that is bridged by sheer luck, anthropically justified. For example, my colleague Mark Ridley in Mendel’s Demon has suggested that the origin of the eucaryotic cell (our kind of cell, with a nucleus and various other complicated features such as mitochondria, which are not present in bacteria) was an even more momentous, difficult and statistically improbable step than the origin of life. The origin of consciousness might be another major gap whose bridging was of the same order of improbability.”
- The theory of evolution requires positive (helpful) mutations. Science knows that mutations are overwhelmingly negative, producing what we generally call “cancer”, or deformations or other negative but survivable results, such as dwarfism. But scientists are undaunted. The argument is that the creatures that experience harmful mutations die off and/or can’t compete with the creatures unaffected by such disadvantages. Then, the story goes, every once in a blue moon, a mutation takes place that provides an advantage. This advantage is then passed on through the gene pool and continues through the generations. After enough of these, a fish becomes an orangutan. Okay. That’s silly. What they really say is that a single celled organic creature, through enough mutations eventually becomes a scientist, who can look back and study the whole process, learning the glories of his origins.
The troubling problem with this concept is that, positive mutations, if they do occur, are not getting any press. What are they? And I don’t mean, for example: “See humans. We are much smarter than the apes. That proves mutations work.” No, this assumes that humans evolved from apes, making the statement a circular argument. Providing similarities between species is not the same as demonstrating that one has evolved from the other.
Georgia Tech geneticist, John F. McDonald identifies what he calls “a great Darwinian paradox”. He observes that genes that are obviously variable within natural populations affect only minor aspects of form and function, while genes that govern major changes, as required for macroevolution, do not vary or vary only to the detriment of the organism.
It’s easy to understand how a mutation can be harmful enough that it kills an organism. What is interesting is that there are many examples of mutations that damage but don’t necessarily kill. I looked up, “examples of mutations in humans”. The summary post was: “A single base change can create a devastating genetic disorder or a beneficial adaptation, or it might have no effect.” But then it provided examples of mutations in humans and this was the list: sickle-cell anemia; betathalassemia (a blood disorder); cystic fibrosis; Opitz-Kaveggia syndrome (mental retardation); Cri du chat syndrome (genetic disorder); cancer; leukemia; and Huntington’s disease.
If positive mutations are rare and minuscule but harmful non-fatal mutations are quite common, isn’t it more likely that organic species are in a slow process of decline, rather than in a process of splitting into new species, or forming into more complex species?
Richard Milton looked at the problem of non-harmful mutations from another angle. “The Darwinists’ traditional response is that mutations that cause eyes in the “wrong” place would not be adaptive and hence would not be selected for. But here they are attempting to have their cake and eat it, for they also argue that (in Hardin’s words) “even a very poor eye would have some advantage.” Hence we should expect to find creatures with eyes in less-than-optimum locations, such as on the flanks or the base of the spine. But no such creatures exist, either today or as fossils.”
- If you’ve studied the subject of evolution at all you have probably heard the terms, “microevolution” and “macroevolution”. I’ve read over and over that the two processes are essentially the same thing but on different scales. As Dawkins puts it, “When there is a systematic increase or decrease in the frequency with which we see a particular gene in a gene pool, that is precisely and exactly what is meant by evolution.” But this is not true. Examples of microevolution include such phenomena as Darwin’s experience with finches on the Galapagos Islands. He was amazed at how these finches had adapted and had become unique species in response to different environmental pressures. They changed in order to survive in their varied environments. The problem is, these changes were not species changes.
Animal species all have a certain capacity to “drift” in response to environmental pressures. This is adaptation, but it does not represent an actual change in a species. It is an expression of species range. The potential was within the species before the environmental change, and the potential remains should the environment change in another direction, or change back. But the potential to change is limited. You could graph “finchness” as a large circle, with the center point representing the ultimate finch. Adding color to the circle can help with visualizing the idea. The color in this situation would be most rich towards the center and would fade as it approached the perimeter. Any point within the circle would be a finch, but as the points move away from the center, the finch indicated would also tend to be more fragile (for any number of reasons). A finch, like any creature, has the potential to be bigger or smaller, to have color variability, strength variability, beak shape variability, etc. But when creatures are pushed to the edges of their species range, they become frail, as can be seen in the human practice of dog breeding and horse breeding. You can make a horse faster, but there is a limit, which happens to be brittle legs. A race horse with brittle legs will not be fast…and neither is it likely to survive. It surely won’t be used to breed other horses.
So-called micro evolution is actually adaptation or I would call it “species range”. A species can move around in its own range circle, making quite an impression on observers, as it did for Darwin. But this doesn’t indicate the species is going anywhere. It’s simply exercising its God-given capacity to flex with environmental pressures. A creature near the edges of its flexibility range is not more likely to mutate into some other creature than the creature who is in the dead center of its range. Physically speaking, the opposite is true, since creatures approaching the edges of their ranges are more frail.
Dawkins, in his book, The Greatest Show On Earth, even claimed that human controlled breeding was the same thing as evolution. “The relevance to natural evolution is that, although the selecting agent is man and not nature, the process is otherwise exactly the same. This is why Darwin gave so much prominence to domestication at the beginning of On the Origin of Species. Anybody can understand the principle of evolution by artificial selection. Natural selection is the same, with one minor detail changed.” Richard Milton, author of Shattering the Myths of Darwinism, disagreed. “Darwin was well aware of the one central fact that dominated all animal and plant breeding experiments—then and now. No one has ever bred a new species artificially—and both plant and animal breeders have been trying for hundreds of years, as have scientists.”
Milton also had this to say: “This final proposition—that lots of microevolution adds up to one big macroevolution—is contradicted by every objection raised against neo-Darwinism in the past fifty years: that what Mayr called genetic homeostasis will prevent morphological change beyond a certain point; that there is no evidence for gradual evolution leading to macroevolution in the fossil record; that billions of years are required to accumulate such microevolution; and so on and so on.”
It’s convenient for Darwinists to speak of micro evolution and macro evolution because macro evolution is entirely questionable, while examples of micro evolution (which is not evolution) are legion. It’s good press to confuse one with the other.
- The theory argues that the driving force of evolution is organism suitability to environment, i.e., survivability. Rapid reproduction provides the greatest opportunity for organisms to beneficially mutate in response to environmental pressures. Thus, bacteria is far better suited for survival than a complex, slowly reproducing mammal. The question, then, is, how does it happen that evolution is seen as the process of moving from simple, rapidly reproducing organisms to complex, fragile organisms. Evolutionary theory seems to predict the opposite.
- The fossil record is full of gaps. While the general report is that the gaps are closing, the opposite is true. The number of discovered fossils continues to grow, but the findings are overwhelmingly repeats, with the result being that there are clusters and gaps, clusters and gaps. Evolutionary theory predicts that the fossil record would demonstrate smooth transitions from one species to another. The “great gap” is not the one between apes and humans; it is the ubiquity of gaps. Even so, Richard Milton makes this point: “The position today is that all the fossil remains which were previously assigned some intermediate status between apes and humans have later been definitely reassigned into the categories of either extinct ape or human, and this reassignment has been accepted by all but the most fanatical devotees of this or that fossil.”
A conference entitled, “Macroevolution”, was held in 1980 at Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History. At the conference the paleontologists told the biologists that the fossil record will never support Darwinian evolution. The rocks show a pervasive pattern of gaps. New life forms appear suddenly, with no transitional forms leading to them. Then there are long periods of stability in which little or no change can be observed.
Stephen Meyer speaks of Michael Foote, paleontologist from the University of Chicago. As Meyer puts it, “Foote’s analysis suggests that since paleontologists have reached repeatedly into the proverbial barrel, sampled it from one end to the other, and found only representatives of radically distinct phyla but no rainbow of intermediates, we shouldn’t hold our breath expecting such intermediates to eventually emerge”.
“We paleontologists have said that the history of life supports…[the story of adaptive change]…all the while knowing that it does not.” – Niles Eldredge
- However, the gap between humans and other creatures should not be glossed over. I will borrow from G.K. Chesterton to emphasize the difference in his own humorous way. “If you leave off looking at books about beasts and men, if you begin to look at beasts and men then (if you have any humor or imagination, any sense of the frantic or the farcical) you will observe that the startling thing is not how like man is to the brutes, but how unlike he is. It is the monstrous scale of his divergence that requires explanation. That man and brute are like is, in a sense, a truism; but that being so like they should then be so insanely unlike, that is the shock and the enigma. That an ape has hands is far less interesting to the philosopher than the fact that having hands he does next to nothing with them; does not play knuckle-bones or the violin; does not carve marble or mutton. People talk about barbaric architecture and debased art. But elephants do not build colossal temples of ivory even in a rococo style; camels do not paint even bad pictures, though equipped with the material of many camel’s-hair brushes…We talk of wild animals; but man is the only wild animal. It is man that has broken out. All other animals are tame animals; following the rugged respectability of the tribe or type. All other animals are domestic animals; man alone is ever undomestic, either as a profligate or a monk.”
- The Cambrian Explosion took place from 541 million years ago until 485 million years ago. It is so called because of the explosion of genetic diversification during the period. This explosion cannot be explained by Darwinian evolution because there were way too many “changes” in too short of a period. There are numerous hypotheses to explain the acceleration of development, but they stand as amendments of sorts to Darwinism, and they are merely speculative.
- 11.Irreducible Complexity. There are mechanisms in organisms that function via interdependent parts. Scientists have inadequately explained how rare beneficial mutations have resulted in mechanisms of interdependent parts. Dawkins attempted to address this problem in his book. To me his explanation sounded like gobbledegook, which means it was either gobbledegook or I am just stupid.
The explanations, as I understand them, are series of hypotheticals and supposed possibilities that add up together to create a plausibility. Such arguments are difficult to dispute, because they are conceptually nebulous and impossible to test. It’s faith in the idea of evolution that drives these arguments.
Even Dawkins, after presenting a hypothetical argument, seemed unconvinced. So he brought out his parachute. “Your (and my) inability to come up with an explanation for the evolutionary process is merely an indication of our lack of imagination or brilliance. It will eventually come to us.” He could be right, of course. All problems that have been solved were, prior to their solution, unsolved. On the other hand, not all problems are solvable. Sometimes you just have to accept that pigs don’t fly. His parachute argument is a defense without content.
- 12.The complex sequence specificity of DNA is unexplained by undirected chemical evolution. At this point, the existence of DNA is statistically beyond the explanation of chance. Every cell in our bodies contains more information than the thirty volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica (for those of you who remember encyclopedias). “Applying the Explanatory Filter to life’s origin, we find that the sequence in DNA is neither random (chance) nor regular (law). Instead, it exhibits specified complexity, the hallmark of design.” – Nancy Pearcey.
- From a more philosophical perspective, there is the problem of cognitive dissonance. Raymond Tallis, a medical doctor and a “proud atheist” argues that evolutionary theory fails to answer some critical problems. For example, he asks, “Isn’t there a problem in explaining how natural forces created humans who are able to turn around and use those forces “to engage with nature as if from the outside”? And, isn’t there a problem explaining how the universe “brought us into being by mindless processes that are entirely without purpose”? How did a purposeless process create beings with purpose?”
In the end, it’s important that everyone recognize the dogmatic commitment materialists have to material explanations. This is a faith-based commitment, packed with as much wishful thinking as any new age conceptual grab bag. Richard Lewontin, Harvard geneticist put it like this: “We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.”
“Despite the commercial success of The God Delusion and its wide cultural currency, the New Atheist philosophy lacks credibility because it has based its understanding of the metaphysical implications of modern science on a scientific theory that itself lacks credibility—as even many leading evolutionary biologists now acknowledge.” – Stephen C. Meyer, PhD. Cambridge, philosophy of science. “Neo-Darwinism has ceased to be a scientific theory and has been transformed into an ideology—an overarching belief system that pervades all thinking in the life sciences and beyond.” – Richard Milton. “I came to see that Darwinism is a philosophical bias more than a coherent science. Darwinian processes may explain some patterns and changes in gene frequency in populations, but the evidence does not even remotely support the claim that chance and necessity fully account for the appearance of complex design in living things.” – Dr. Michael Egnor
“Why should science resist any radical review of Darwinist ideas so fanatically? I believe the answer to this question is that to any intelligent, educated, reasonable person, neo-Darwinism appears to be unassailable because it appears to be the only reasonable theory available. The only alternative appears to be either a religious explanation, as represented by the doctrine of creation, or half-baked speculations about aliens and quantum mechanics.” – Richard Milton.
Dawkins seems to have difficulty distinguishing material from rational. While the material world does function in a rational way, it is not true that all that is rational is material. To the contrary, God is a spirit, and he is the source of all rationality. If the material world behaves rationally it is because it reflects God’s design work.
Dawkins had a run-in with a group of theologians at a conference in Cambridge. These theologians had the audacity to maintain that “God lay outside science”. “Who was I to say that rational argument was the only admissible kind of argument? There are other ways of knowing besides the scientific, and it is one of these other ways of knowing that must be deployed to know God.” I was not present to hear the theologians arguments but I find it hard to believe that they would be dismissive of science as one of the ways to know God. If they were, shame on them. The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. – Psalm 19.1. The Bible is full of such connections between God and the physical world. It’s difficult to overlook the central historical fact of Christianity, namely that Jesus, God, became man, incarnate (he was born and lived as a human). But these theologians could not have been dismissing “rational argument”. If rationality is abandoned, one might as well remain silent. One might as well say (or not say) that words have no meaning.
Rationality is not Dawkins’ strong suit, which is a concern, since scientific inquiry is no more than hocus pocus unless it is pursued through rational processes.
Dawkins dismisses C.S.Lewis’ argument, for example, regarding the nature of Jesus. Lewis, frustrated with the smarmy statement by many that Jesus was a good moral teacher, responded that Jesus did not leave that option open. Lewis insisted that Jesus was either God, a liar, or a lunatic. Dawkins added, “A fourth possibility, almost too obvious to need mentioning, is that Jesus was honestly mistaken.” Really? A sane person could be honestly mistaken about being God? The only thing obvious about the fourth possibility is that it isn’t a possibility.
Dawkins seems to prefer a short lifetime. “As many atheists have said better than me, the knowledge that we have only one life should make it all the more precious.” I’m not sure who he is arguing against here. Hindus seem to be unhappy that they are going to keep being reincarnated, so no matter what life they’re in, it can’t be precious. Christians don’t believe they will live more than one life; they believe in a resurrection, but it is a glorified version of the same life. In any case, knowing that your life is short, meaningless, and will be forgotten shortly after your death hardly seems like a motivator to me. If a person genuinely thinks that life is precious—and this is a right understanding, I’m sure—then a person is not content to give it up. What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? – Mark 8.36. Dawkins is merely whistling in the dark.
Dawkins maintains that “Atheists do not have faith”. His own position is that “I cannot know for certain but I think God is very improbable, and I live my life on the assumption that he is not there.” These two lines were on the same page of his book. So, first of all, I’m wondering whether he should return his Atheist Club Card, since he is, by his own words, an agnostic. But, that aside, what can he mean that he doesn’t have faith, but that he lives his life on an assumption based on a probability. Sounds like wishful thinking faith to me.
Dawkins, in a broader argument suggesting that atheists are more law-abiding than Christians, quoted this from Sam Harris: “While political party affiliation in the United States is not a perfect indicator of religiosity, it is no secret that the ‘red states’ are primarily red due to the overwhelming political influence of conservative Christians. If there were a strong correlation between Christian conservatism and societal health, we might expect to see some sign of it in red-state America. We don’t. Of the twenty-five cities with the lowest rates of violent crime, 62 percent are in ‘blue’ states, and 38 percent are in ‘red’ states. Of the twenty-five most dangerous cities, 76 percent are in red states, and 24 percent are in blue states.”
This argument is a statistical red herring that fails to recognize the very obvious fact that categorizes “red” and “blue” according to states, which is not particularly meaningful. The reality is that “red” and “blue” are more reflected in rural vs. urban areas. Violence in the United States is disproportionately concentrated in cities, even if considered on a per capita basis. Sixteen of the twenty (80%) most violent cities are run by Democratic governments. The seven most violent cities: St. Louis, Detroit, Baltimore, Memphis, Kansas City, Milwaukee, and Cleveland are Democratic. Chicago, while not in the top seven, has in recent years been the most notorious (because of its large population) for crime. It, too, is run by a Democratic government. My point here is not necessarily to praise Republicans but to point out Dawkins’ happy appropriation of misleading statistics in order to win argument points.
Dawkins had a lot of fun at the expense of a major research project that attempted to determine the effect of prayer on hospitalized people. None of the patients knew whether they were being prayed for. Dawkins rightfully scoffed at the experiment and acknowledged that many religious leaders pointed out its flaws. Nevertheless, he gleefully noted that the study showed no benefit for the afflicted who had been prayed for. If God is really God, do we imagine that he will obediently join in experiments that we design in order to prove his existence? What amazes me is that those who conceived of the experiment, as well as Dawkins, would assume that God would happily serve as their lab monkey. Is it possible he has taken his own steps to prove his existence and that we ought to consider those?
Dawkins is a very moral person as far as I can tell. What I can’t figure out is why. William Herberg coined the phrase, “cut flower culture” to describe how Western culture retains much of the moral framework of Judeo-Christian thinking without any understanding of why the framework remains valid. Nor does it understand the problems associated with introducing amendments. Dawkins is one of the cut flowers in the Big Bouquet.
Dawkins tries to explain morality as rooted in the evolutionary process. I found the explanation unhelpful. That problem aside, what I found most puzzling is his lack of explanation for why he should maintain this inherited morality. He has the consciousness to claim that it was thrust upon him by his biological past, but what force calls him to remain bound to it? As far as I can tell, he wants to hold on to good because good is good…and he imagines that good is universally agreed upon (unless you happen to be one of the two-thirds of the world’s population deluded by religion).
Dawkins argues for the maintenance of good by borrowing from Michael Shermer and his book, The Science of Good and Evil. “If you agree that, in the absence of God, you would ‘commit robbery, rape, and murder’, you reveal yourself as an immoral person, ‘and we would be well advised to steer a wide course around you’. If on the other hand, you admit that you would continue to be a good person even when not under divine surveillance, you have fatally undermined your claim that God is necessary for us to be good.” Shermer considered this a “debate stopper”. More of a debate skirter, actually. The question that must be answered is how we define “good”. What or who decides what good is? For example, I doubt you could come up with a consensus definition for “robbery”, “rape”, or the “murder” Shermer lists.
Dawkins is utterly naive when it comes to human adherence to morality. “The majority of us don’t cause needless suffering; we believe in free speech and protect it even if we disagree with what is being said; we pay our taxes; we don’t cheat, don’t kill, don’t commit incest, don’t do things to others that we would not wish done to us.” I guess he doesn’t follow the media. First of all, I’m not sure how much comfort should be taken even if the “majority” truly is moral. Does that mean we have to lock up 49% of the people? But as to his points…
All of us cause needless suffering. We all want free speech for ourselves but we are not necessarily so liberal towards others. Consider government control of free speech in places like North Korea, Syria, Saudi Arabia, China, and Russia. Even in the Land of the Free, we are heavily subject to political correctness and cancel culture, and are involved in a bitter struggle about what constitutes American history, and who should be in control over what is taught in the schools.
As to paying taxes, 14 million taxpayers owed $131 billion in taxes and penalties to the federal government in 2017, according to the latest IRS data. Very few people are conscientious about not cheating. Cheating happens continuously by most people, with a nod and a wink and a fuzzy justification.
It’s true that most of us don’t kill or commit incest, but there were over 20,000 murders in the U.S. in 2020. As for not doing to others…please. We can’t even drive to the grocery store without having some other driver make a dangerous move in front of us; without having three other cars drive by, blaring painfully loud music with profane and frightening lyrics; without walking through the parking lot and nearly being run over; and without having the check-out person toss our tomatoes to the bottom of the grocery bag. It’s a dog eat dog world out there and, as any good Darwinist should point out, “Well, that’s how we progress!”
More problematic for the scientific materialist is the existence of the idea of good and, even if we recognize there are ideas about it, the question remains why anyone should abide by them.
One way that Dawkins tries to address the meaning and value of life is by putting it on the scales of pain and pleasure. It’s good to live because there is pleasure in life. Strategically speaking, if we live harmoniously, we will all tend to collect bigger suitcases of pleasure. By this rationale he is okay with abortion (early abortion, I suppose) because the embryo is unable to feel pain (he believes). By this same reasoning he is okay with euthanasia because it is good to put people out of their misery. (Of course, this is a greasy morality, given that some very young, healthy people sometimes want to be put out of their misery…but change their minds twelve hours later.)
There are other serious problems with the morality of pain and pleasure. The easiest thing in the world is for people to hold hands and dance in circles, singing, “Kum ba yah—we will distribute the pleasures equally,” but this is only the face of society. What people do when they are being watched and what they do when they think they are not are two very different things. Besides, pain and pleasure are subjective. My pleasure at having sex may outweigh your pain at having an abortion or contracting a venereal disease…at least as far as I’m concerned. Perhaps my pleasure in killing someone I don’t like is greater than your pain from the bullet, since I am a great shot and can hit you between the eyes.
Another problem with morality based on pleasure is that not everyone measures pleasure by the same rules. Some people take pleasure in the pain of others (sadists). Some people take pleasure in their own pain (masochists). But, in any case, why should anyone be bound to this biological yardstick. “I’ll have my own set of morals, thank you.” Or, “Morals don’t exist. I’ll do whatever pleases me at the moment.” Or, even following the principles of pain, “Humans are the cause of pain on the earth. The earth must be rid of us. I will devote my life to the extermination of all humans! After all, what makes humans any more valuable than cockroaches?”
Another problem with pleasure morality is that it is a principle of selfishness. While I can see how it allows for the possibility of self-sacrifice, it only allows for this on the basis that the one who sacrifices takes greater pleasure from the act of sacrifice than pain from whatever has been sacrificed. It’s all about me. This is Dawkins’ morality. Pretty creepy, really.
One example of Dawkins’ application of pleasure morality is his approach to abortion. He never states that the unborn are not human but he argues that if an embryo is aborted before it has a nervous system, this is a better good than the suffering that would come to the mother and her family if she does not have the abortion. But what about the pleasures of a lifetime that have been stolen from the embryo? And, while recognizing that there are appropriate times and situations for birthing a child, how does one decide that a child will bring more misery to a woman and her family than if it had not been born?
What if you happen to be an old person sitting on a pile of money? You’re too old to enjoy life and if I, being young and in possession of a considerable potential for pleasure, appropriated your money, that would certainly represent a profound advance for the sake of pleasure. I determine to provide you with a painless death. Everybody wins.
The last issue I have with pleasure morality is that it appears to be heretical relative to evolution, which says we are here because of survivability advantages. But if we stray after pleasure, we may be threatening our very existence. Perhaps we will choose to enjoy sex without procreating, for example. Perhaps we will choose to immerse ourselves in video games and alcohol and hallucinogens and all other sorts of distractions that remove us from the difficulties of life. How did a good Darwinist intellectually stumble from the importance of survival to the principle of pleasure. “It’s intuitive,” you say. It’s illogical and dangerous, no matter what other social principles a person might espouse.
Moral Progress and Expansion of Atheism
Dawkins wants us to believe that atheism is leading to a more moral world. The world is more sensitive about treating females, racial minorities, and sexual minorities with respect and justice, for example. Atheism is becoming more popular, so there it is: a clear causal relationship. Whether the world is progressing or regressing in these areas is debatable, but the overall moral progress of the world is highly questionable. Of course, if you can argue, as Dawkins does, that Hitler was a moral advancement over Genghis Khan and Caligula, then I suppose it does look like the world is advancing.
The widespread practice of abortion is the greatest evil committed by humans in all history. That’s my view. Dawkins doesn’t consider abortion a problem, which helps explain why he thinks the world is becoming more moral. “The moment of birth provides a natural Rubicon for defining rules, and one could argue that it is hard to find another one earlier in embryonic development.” This seems a bit of a dodge to me, given the timid, “one could argue”. One could argue anything in the universe, which is not the same as claiming one’s argument is somehow better than silence. He also hedges by referring to “one earlier in embryonic development,” given that conception is not, strictly speaking, embryonic development. But, as he well knows, a fertilized egg contains the complete script for human development, and the science is clear that the zygote is human. But even atheistic materialists dismiss science when science is inconvenient.
Abortion aside, there is a great deal else in the world that should give us pause about claiming the world’s moral progress. There is the rampant trade of illegal drugs, along with the dangerous drug cartels, inner city gangs, and deaths from drug overdoses (more than 93,000 in the U.S. in 2020). The murder rate, especially in the United States, is very high, with more than 20,000 in 2020. The proliferation of guns, especially in the U.S., with nearly 400,000,000.
There is great international concern about global warming, coupled with an insatiable appetite for big cars, jet travel, sporting boats, leaf blowers, off-road vehicles, air conditioning, bitcoin computing, disposable goods, plastics in the ocean, plastics in human bodies, etc.
There is racial equality being pursued through racist “rebalancing”. Politicians call for racial justice while pursuing policies that undermine families and policies that leave the urban poor chained to non-functioning public schools. There have been widespread verbal attacks against police, along with calls to defund or disband. In a few places police actually have left. The results have been instant chaos. This is a most telling phenomenon. Our “enlightened” society, left for a moment without police control, goes completely berserk. Even so-called American patriots stormed the Capitol January 6, 2021.
The internet, the supposed leveler of world knowledge, has proven to be a driving force for ideological polarization, and in repressive countries, a means of government control. While the world has managed to avoid major wars since 1945, wars remain a constant. Nuclear weapons remain in place capable of obliterating perhaps all life. The world is now arming itself with drones and improving its capacity to assassinate virtually anyone, any time, and at any place.
While woman are stepping up to put a stop to sexual predation, the ubiquity of the complaints reveals the magnitude of the problem, and the anger of women has caused men to be much more uneasy about women. Innocent men are fearful of being accused of sexual misconduct which, in the public domain, means being guilty until proved innocent. Little doubt, women feel that in the same circumstances they are rarely believed.
And whatever problems there are in the world, the media has seemingly lost its idealistic connection to truth, and has traded it in for the sake of advertising dollars, employing the policy of “if it bleeds it leads.” This “progressive” approach is giving the entire world agita. It is certainly difficult to measure moral improvement but when the realities in today’s world are considered even a little bit, I think it must be said that for every advance made in one area of public morality, there has been just as much regression in other areas.
One terrifying application of Dawkins’ morality is his vision for the raising of children. I say terrifying because there exists in the world today growing totalitarian-socialistic tendencies that are dismissive of the importance of the nuclear family, and that are pushing to place children in child care and/or public education at earlier ages, and that continue to impose their ideologies on the education of these children, continuing through university.
Dawkins quotes at length from his colleague, Nicholas Humphrey. “Children, I’ll argue, have a human right not to have their minds crippled by exposure to other people’s bad ideas—no matter who these other people are. Parents, correspondingly, have no God-given license to enculturate their children in whatever ways they personally choose: no right to limit the horizons of their children’s knowledge, to bring them up in an atmosphere of dogma and superstition, or to insist they follow the straight and narrow paths of their own faith. In short, children have a right not to have their minds addled by nonsense, and we as a society have a duty to protect them from it. So we should no more allow parents to teach their children to believe, for example, in the literal truth of the Bible or that the planets rule their lives, than we should allow parents to knock their children’s teeth out or lock them in a dungeon.”
This is one of the most moronic quotes I have ever read. First he says that children have the right to not have their minds exposed to other people’s bad ideas, assuming, of course that his idea is not one of the bad ones. It certainly is a bad one. And it’s a contradictory one because, on the one hand, he’s calling for children to be given the opportunity to grow into mature individuals capable of discerning foolishness from fact, but he thinks he’ll accomplish this by censuring their exposure to ideas.
Parents do not have a God-given right to “enculturate” their children? Indeed they do, and more so. They have a God-given responsibility to do so. Part of that responsibility is to remind their children that they are loving parents, interested in the well-being and development of their children, but that they themselves are not God. They are neither omniscient nor free of sin. Good child-rearing calls for obedience from children, but it is always directed toward helping the child become an independent thinker and a person capable of living independently.
Do parents fail at this? Of course. All parents fail to some degree or another. But what is Humphreys’ solution? He’ll have society protect children from false teaching. What?! Will it be communist Chinese society? Will it be Russian society? Will it be Syrian society? Will it be Argentinian society? Will it be liberal society that promotes abortion and the establishment of equity at the expense of responsibility? Will it be American society that has chosen, in succession, Donald Trump and Joe Biden? Will we be arresting Mrs. McGillicuddy because she insists on teaching her children to pray? You really have to scratch around pretty hard to find an idea as ridiculous and damaging as this one.
It’s more than obvious that Dawkins and Humphreys are every bit as dogmatic and addled by nonsense as any ideology they may choose to point a finger at. While it is never good to have children raised with wrong understandings, it is infinitely preferable to have children taught nonsense by parents who love them than to be taught nonsense by strangers who think of them as evolved monkeys, and who have no interest in them other than as means to make money…or because they can’t understand how obnoxious and delusional their paternalism actually is.
This is a real quote from Dawkins, referring to the Amish. “There is something breathtakingly condescending, as well as inhumane, about the sacrificing of anyone, especially children, on the altar of ‘diversity’ and the virtue of preserving a variety of religious traditions. The rest of us are happy with our cars and computers, our vaccines and antibiotics. But you quaint little people with your bonnets and breeches, your horse buggies, your archaic dialect and your earth-closet privies, you enrich our lives.” Wow. Talk about breathtakingly condescending. Somehow he imagines that the Amish are preserved by a fawning general public, as if they were some sort of zoo specimen. He can’t imagine the Amish looking at his happiness with cars and computers and feeling a sense of pity for his lifestyle choice. He doesn’t seem to know that they are well aware of the ways of the “English” and they have rejected them.
Dawkins never addresses the problem of determinism. He talks of “ancestral rules of thumb” that influence us, “not in a Calvinistically deterministic way…” First of all, Calvinism, or predestination, are not equal to determinism. It is very difficult for us to understand how God can be in control of all history, even as he assigns decision-making powers to humans and gives them responsibility. We don’t know how it is possible but, if God truly exists outside of time, and he is omniscient and omnipotent, our minds can have a sense of the possibility.
What is not possible is free will in a materialistic universe. All our decisions are caused by the collisions of molecules that took place before. In the world of materialism morality is impossible. It is an illusion. People only do what they must and can hardly be faulted for it. Even more problematic, I suppose, for the atheist, is that people have no choice about what they believe. They believe what the molecules tell them to believe. Why would anyone ever buy a book that argued for materialism while, at the same time, making a big deal about people’s delusions? For the materialist, if there are delusions, they are a necessity. In fact, for the materialist, all ideas are delusions. We can persuade one another to steer clear of certain delusions, but to steer away from one delusion is to steer into another. Life for the materialist is like bumper cars at the amusement park. It’s good fun; a lot of crashing about; and then the time runs out.
Dawkins, expecting annihilation, is bent on making the best of it. Considering resurrection by a benevolent God a myth, he prefers to honestly appreciate what he has and not dwell on vain hopes. “The truly adult view is that our life is meaningful, as full and as wonderful as we choose to make it. And we can make it very wonderful indeed.” He is right that life is wonderful. He is also right that our participation in life, living it appropriately, adds to its wonder. But reality is full of constraints, such as gravity. And for that we should all be thankful. What a terrifying world it would be without it. To live abundantly, a person must first conform to the rules of nature. And a person must conform to the rules of responsibility and relationships. The spirit of a person is even more important than the body of a person, and the spirit must rule the body. And the spirit must live according to the truth. Failure to understand truth will always bring ruin.
Dawkins thinks the physical universe is a wonderful place. He almost waxes poetic in his praise of it, even taking pleasure in factoids. “Every time you drink a glass of water, the odds are good that you will imbibe at least one molecule that passed through the bladder of Oliver Cromwell. It’s just elementary probability theory. The number of molecules per glassful is hugely greater than the number of glassfuls in the world…Aren’t you glad to be alive in a world where not only such a conjecture is possible but you are privileged to understand why?”
It’s interesting and good fun, and I think everyone can relate to his love of the physical universe, though most of us tend to be amazed by forests, landscapes, and wonders, such as the Grand Canyon, more than we are about the wonders we can read about in books. But being amazed at the physical world is an ordinary human response. Being an atheist adds nothing to the mix.
But wonder, as much as he embraces it, seems to me to be a problem for the materialist. How did a being, formed by accident out of materials, develop a kind of reflective consciousness about the materials? And how much delight can there be in something when you know that that which you love will be gone from you tomorrow? How does a person keep the melancholy at bay over all that is to be lost? Blaise Pascal commented on this 350 years ago. “Now, what do we gain by hearing it said of a man that he has now thrown off the yoke, that he does not believe there is a God who watches our actions, that he considers himself the sole master of his conduct, and that he thinks he is accountable for it only to himself? Does he think that it has thus brought us to have henceforth complete confidence in him, and to look to him for consolation, advice, and hope in every need of life? Do they profess to have delighted us by telling us that they hold our soul to be only a little wind and smoke, especially by telling us this in a haughty and self-satisfied tone of voice? Is this a thing to say gaily? Is it not, on the contrary, a thing to say sadly, as the saddest thing in the world?”
And how does a person reconcile intellectually the directed complexity in the universe? The information density of DNA is remarkable — just one gram can store 215 petabytes, or 215 million gigabytes, of data. The average hard drive in a laptop can house just one millionth of that amount. Nearly every cell in the human body includes the same DNA. And this DNA is able to replicate itself.
Two men were walking down the sidewalk when suddenly one exclaimed, “There is a grand cathedral just in front of us!” “Yes, it is grand,” replied the other. “But it wasn’t there yesterday!” “You’re crazy. A cathedral doesn’t just appear out of nowhere.” “Look, I’m from this neighborhood. I know when there’s a cathedral in the neighborhood…and there’s never been a cathedral in the neighborhood. Humans couldn’t have put it there that fast. It must have come as an asteroid.” “What? An asteroid? Look. It’s got wooden doors—grand but still at a human scale. It has stain glass windows, for crying out loud! How would those manage to be in the right place and survive a crash onto the earth? And why isn’t there some kind of crater? Why isn’t there a crowd of people standing around, and all the major papers in the world here taking photos?” “Well, I’m a man of science. Humans couldn’t have built this so fast, and there is no god. Therefore, unless you can come up with a better explanation, this is an asteroid. What? You don’t believe in science?”
I am amazed that The God Delusion has sold 3.3 million copies. Who is impressed by this drivel? Dawkins gets along famously with Darwinists and other materialists, which gives him a lot of traction, because the scientific community is heavily vested in the viewpoint. But the science of it is collapsing. He is forever arguing, but seems to have no powers over logic. He is often mistaken but never in doubt. His morality is a cut flower. And his fawning over the wonders of science as that which gives life purpose is simply pathetic.
It would be hard to be more delusional than this man. I would say his book serves well as an extended proof against atheism, except that its presentation of ideas is so muddled that Dawkins cannot be taken seriously an apologist for his own positions.
The book fails to undermine religion as a whole because it only addresses religion anecdotally instead of analytically. It fails to undermine Christianity, simply because Dawkins’ understanding of Christianity is at the level of the average public school-educated 17-year-old. And it fails to undermine God (or god) because he barely even gives God (or god) any consideration. The God Delusion is a very fine manual for the practice of vacuous thought.