• Skip Wilson

Review, Response and Refutation of The God Delusion

Richard Dawkins' book, "The God Delusion" comes up frequently in conversations with atheists. Even those that haven't read it directly are often familiar with his arguments.

I have broken the book down into a series of logical arguments by chapter. Then, I analyze each argument. After all, the work is a classical apologetic book for a particular worldview, and is therefore setup into a series of arguments. At the outset, I will say that I rather enjoyed the book, and I was utterly shocked by how much I found myself nodding in agreement with Dawkins. Then, in the last two chapters, I became greatly concerned.

Chapter 1:

  • Whereas many famous scientists are atheists and/or deists,

  • Whereas science is perfectly capable of producing a “religious feeling”,

  • Whereas many theists pervert and distort quotations from such individuals in order to claim that individual as their own,

  • Therefore, religious zeal is to be separated from belief in the supernatural.

Argument Analysis: It’s true, that the religious feeling is not for the theist alone. Indeed, one of

the interesting things about the human mind is that it constantly seeks to construct a “religion”.

Furthermore, Dawkins is quite right that theists are too quick to borrow a single phrase of a famous historical figure and then claim them as their own. This is not an honest practice, and therefore the Christian should have no part in it. Before claiming a figure from the past or present as a Christian, let us only do so if we know that to be true for goodness sake.

Chapter 2:

  • Whereas theistic claims are truth claims;

  • Whereas non-overlapping magisterium (NOMA/ the idea that God cannot be studied scientifically) is only invoked by the theist when science is in opposition to an individual’s belief,

  • Whereas Creationism “lacks evidence”,

  • Therefore, God and the likelihood of the existence of a God should be studied through a scientific means and tested just as all claims to truth should be. And Creationists should be excluded from the scientific realm because their view lacks support.

Argument Analysis: Again, I found myself agreeing with most Dawkins in most of this chapter. Truth claims should be open to scrutiny. Indeed, the very scientific method was developed by the great Puritan Francis Bacon because he realized God’s attributes demanded a universe consistent enough to be studied. However, Dawkins seems to clearly undermine his own claims at the end of the chapter. In case you didn’t catch it from this analysis, he ultimately concludes a chapter wherein he’s made the case that theism is something which can be tested for likelihood with the statement that theists (i.e. Creationists and Intelligent Design advocates) should be excluded from the scientific discussion. This smells a bit of double- peak. Claims should be tested- if not in whole, then at least aspects. He’s also quite right to criticize Christians for liking some scientific discoveries and rejecting others simply based on the results. All too often, I’ll see a headline that “scientists confirm such and such a thing” and then the study/conclusion itself is spurious at best.

It is in this chapter that Dawkins offers the hypothesis which he seeks to refute, what he calls the “God Hypothesis.”

  • “There exists a superhuman, supernatural intelligence who deliberately designed and created the universe and everything in it, including us.”

Chapter 3:

  • Whereas all arguments for theism based upon design are based on the appearance of design rather than from actual design,

  • Whereas the ontological argument for theism is childish,

  • Therefore, there is no good argument in favor of a God.

Argument Analysis: Dawkins’ dismissal of the Argument of the Unmoved Mover and of First Cause is only weakly addressed by an appeal to various multi-verse theories. He then dismisses this argument by addressing the issue of infinite regress by simply saying “then who created God?” which is a serious logical fallacy that begs the question. If the God of the Bible is true, then He is by definition without a creator. It’s not an argument against something if you just assume that it’s false... thus the fallacy. The Argument from Degree is only spuriously handled here, but he does address this at length later in the book. The Teleological rgument, indeed the argument that is the basis upon which Francis Bacon developed the scientific method, is only addressed by his broad address to all of these arguments by an appeal to the Anthropic Principle. Specifically Dawkins appeals to the “Weak Anthropic Principle” which, in effect, is natural selection on the cosmic scale.

However, one of the main problems with the Anthropic Principle is that it doesn’t actually address any of the arguments for theism which account for known science. First of all, the AP is untestable and therefore philosophical rather than scientific to begin with; which goes against his whole premise of the book that we should stick to testable knowledge. Second of all, the AP goes against what is scientifically known about matter/space/time etc. because it posits an unlimited source of energy upon which to draw from; which we know cannot exist naturally. Whatever the source of the multiverse, it would, by definition, be unnatural (which to use the Latin prefix is supernatural). Dawkins avoids this problem by appealing to his belief that “science will get there.” In effect, he is arguing that “nature did it” but we don’t know how.

This is “God of the Gaps” argumentation, just reversed to “nature of the gaps.”

Truthfully, I do not find “nature did it” any more compelling than “God did it” argumentation.

Chapter 4:

  • Whereas a God capable of designing our observed universe would have to be far more complex than the universe itself,

  • Whereas such a complex being is highly unlikely,

  • Whereas positing such a God abdicates human responsibility for finding natural explanations,

  • Therefore, God does not exist.

Argument Analysis: The first premise is, frankly, false. There is no evidence whatsoever that a complex universe would have to come from an infinitely complex being. In fact, this has been readily addressed by theologians for millennia. The Westminster Shorter Catechism defines God as “a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.” Such a being as this is, by definition, simple. That may seem counter-intuitive, but simple in the theological sense means that God is “without parts”. To claim that a being like this is “unlikely” is a claim that must be supported by evidence, as Dawkins himself claims in Chapter 2. Therefore, the second premise is also unsubstantiated. Now, as for the third premise, I actually sympathize with Hawkins. Far too many Christians in our modern world are “anti-science”, but this is not the way Christianity has been throughout history and it’s not the way the Bible tells us to be. Scripture is clear that we are of a renewed “mind”; the heavens declare the glory of God and we should therefore study it for goodness sake! There is a reason universities, hospitals, lower school systems and the like were virtually all started by Christians, and that’s certainly not because Christianity is anti-science. I hear “God of the gap” argumentation all the time from well-intended brothers and sisters, and it is unfortunate. It’s not glorifying to God for us to demonstrate ignorance. The enlightenment flowed directly from the reformation as a result of an increased study of the Word of God; let us Christians today not forsake the very institutions our brothers and sisters before us fought so hard to establish. It is interesting that he posits that we have a “responsibility for finding natural explanations” to begin with. For Christians, the ultimate purpose of mankind is to “Glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” It’s that belief that led Christians to form science as a field because greater natural knowledge leads to greater knowledge of God. Dawkins asserts, as consistent with his belief in absolute naturalism, that we are indebted to the obligation of studying nature. I don’t think it would be wrong to say that he would define mankind’s chief end as being to “glorify nature and enjoy it forever.”

Chapter 5:

  • Whereas religion is everywhere and among all people,

  • Whereas mankind is naturally inclined towards assigning purposes to things,

  • Whereas mankind is naturally inclined to presume causation/design,

  • Therefore, religion must have an evolutionary benefit.

Argument Analysis: Dawkins begins by presuming naturalism. He then goes on to ultimately conclude that there must be a naturalistic explanation for the ubiquitous nature of religion. The problem is that he is presuming his hypothesis (that religion has a natural cause) then seeking out evidences and proofs to affirm his own hypothesis... This is, frankly, bad science. Presuming something to be true, then ignoring all research and evidences contrary to the presumption, then seeking affirmations to the hypothesis is absolutely no way to test the validity of a claim.

Chapter 6:

  • Whereas virtually all of mankind is of one accord with morality,

  • Whereas this morality is not derived from Scripture,

  • Whereas many atheists are perfectly nice people,

  • Whereas the idea of doing good only because God is watching is repugnant,

  • Therefore, morality did not originate from or through religion.

Argument Analysis: Dawkins seems to base much of his argument on the fact that there are so many horrendous theists out there. He seems to oscillate back and forth between absolute moral claims and claims that there is no such thing. He theorizes multiple hypotheses of how and/or why natural selection would favor the moral absolutes. However, yet again he begins with hypotheses that he then seeks to validate based within his own, narrowly defined, framework that assumes his hypothesis is right from the get-go.

Chapter 7:

  • Whereas evil actions are recounted in the Bible,

  • Whereas God does things that Dawkins dislikes,

  • Whereas Scriptural textual variants do exists,

  • Therefore, the Bible is not the source for our morality

Argument Analysis: I could not help but feel sorry for Dawkins at this particular part. He seems to have never been shown how to actually read the Bible (or anything from a conservationist framework- wherein the goal is to conserve the author’s original meaning), and that’s not surprising because the “Christians” that Dawkins quotes have severely failed him. Dawkins makes the claim, “either the fundamentalist Christians in our world today either haven’t read these words or they did not understand them.” That’s a tragically false dichotomy, and the third possibility that it leaves out is that Dawkins is the one not good at historical/contextual hermeneutics. He quotes several large sections from the Book of Judges, and then points out how evil the actions within that Book are indeed. Well, Judges 17:6 and Judges 21:25 make the point of the whole Book clear. The book of Judges is a book written to record the actual histories of Israel and remind the people of the Mosaic Law and the horrors of what happens when one strays from those. So, the whole point of Judges is to illustrate how evil mankind can be. Dawkins and the Holy Spirit are rather in agreement with condemning the vast majority of the acts that Dawkins records. He seems to misunderstand that Jesus the Christ is the only person that we are encouraged to emulate.

The Old Testament intentionally includes the sins of each human that is a “great man of faith”, and it records those sins for the very reason that we do not venerate them. If Hawkins finds Abraham’s lying or Lot’s misogyny to be deplorable, then again he finds himself agreeing with the God of the Bible.

Chapter 8:

  • Whereas people do crazy things for the sake of religion,

  • Whereas homosexuality, abortions and the like are hindered from full acceptance by religious individuals,

  • Whereas faith eliminates the desire to investigate further,

  • Therefore, Christianity is untrue.

Argument Analysis: There should be no doubt that horrendous men/women seek to justify their own actions by creating a god in his/her own image. However, Dawkins himself agrees that “because an argument may or may not be to our liking” is no evidence against that belief being true. He then devotes this whole chapter (indeed, frankly, the rest of the book) to arguments that are based upon nothing more than Dawkins’ own personal distaste for religious beliefs. He may think that it doesn’t matter whether or not an unborn child is a human, but that is simply the type of anti-human ideology that comes from “humanism.”

Lastly, Dawkins’ statement that faith eliminates the desire for investigation is absolutely laughable. The vast majority of the scientific greats (i.e. Louis Pasteur, Isaac Newton, George Washing Carver, Galileo, Robert Hooke, etc.) were actually directly motivated by their religious beliefs to scientific undertaking.

Chapter 9:

  • Whereas religious beliefs are all false,

  • Whereas religious beliefs are often harmful,

  • Therefore, it is child abuse to raise children within a theistic system.

Argument Analysis: Any argument is only as good as its premises, and so therefore this argument obviously fails because the premises that it’s based upon are completely ad hoc.

Dawkins reveals in this chapter a much darker intention. Frankly, until this chapter, I had many thoughts of “he seems like a rather nice man that I’d enjoy a cup of coffee with.” However, Dawkins here crosses over from skeptic scientist with a poor understanding of the Bible to a dangerous fundamentalist bent on the forcing of naturalism upon the minds of children. Science and the scientific method are an absolute must for the proper instruction of young people, and frankly that’s why Christians put such a focus on such things when they developed the University system. However, forcing naturalist ideology is just as bad as forcing any particular ideology. As a Christian parent, I consider it my duty to raise our children to learn Truth. Any Christian that would disown or abuse a child for asking questions or even flatly rejecting the faith is, frankly, not a Christian at all. We are told by Peter in 1 Peter 3 to have a defense, and if we never examine our own beliefs critically, then we can hardly form a defense. Children should not be isolated into one ideology, even Dawkins’ ideology. As Christians, we are to be tolerant of others and loving of others. We are to be knowledgeable of science and other cultures. Failures by so many in those areas are not Scriptural problems, but problems within those individuals. It’s good to question our beliefs, and at some point children should be encouraged to do so as well, otherwise beliefs never become our own.

Chapter 10:

  • Whereas religion fills many emotional gaps potentially left vacant by atheism,

  • Whereas religion is false,

  • Therefore, we should find emotional satisfaction in atheism.

Argument Analysis: Emotions are never a reason to believe or disbelieve anything as being true. Dawkins is able to be perfectly satisfied with his beliefs in absolute naturalism... ok. He does spend a large amount of time in this chapter (and even more in Chapter 9) claiming that emotional damage of religion is worse than sexual abuse. I found this to be offensive to anyone that has been the victim of sexual abuse. I have never heard someone on their deathbed say that they wish they’d been less religious. I say that not because of fear of death or as some reification of Pascal’s Wager (I actually rather dislike the PW because it doesn’t prove anything), but simply to say that Dawkins could not ever actually argue that religion leads to a less fulfilled life than atheism. Indeed, I don’t think he does actually argue that or that he even tries to. However, one could certainly come to the conclusion that he would not disagree with someone that did make that claim.

Final analysis:

It is quite unfortunate that Dawkins’ only apparent interaction with theists comes from either crazy individuals that abuse religion in order to fuel hatred or individuals that quickly abandon their theism when challenged. There are other types of theists. Indeed, a Christian that can “read and understand” the Bible will come to the conclusion that all people are to be treated with respect and that the God of the Bible is absolutely sufficient to eradicate the “Ultimate 747 Gambit.”

Dawkins is clearly a naturalist. He claims not to be a fundamentalist, however, because he would happily abandon this belief if someone could “demonstrate” his naturalism to be false.

However, the only implied means by which he would accept such a demonstration is within the naturalist constructs. This is a bit like Christian brothers and sisters that happily and readily admit “I will abandon a belief if I can be demonstrated to be wrong from the Scriptures.” Really, that’s the essence of fundamentalism; a refusal to look at any other major construct as potentially true. Now, with that said, I myself am a Christian fundamentalist. So, I do not call Dawkins a fundamental naturalist as an insult. Indeed, at some point, we should be relatively assured enough of our own beliefs to have a hard time abandoning them on a whim. But, Dawkins himself claims to not be a fundamentalist, and that is simply not true.

Dawkins is a dangerous fundamentalist. Even though I am, by almost every conceivable definition a Christian fundamentalist, I would never argue for a Christian totalitarian government. I would never suggest that only Christians should be in politics, or only Christians should be in academia, or only Christians should be allowed to educate children. That’s not Christian fundamentalism, that Sacralism and I whole-heartedly denounce that. However, it’s exactly that position that Dawkins advocates for in this book. I am concerned that naturalism seems to go unnoticed as a religious system, and that is, perhaps, why it is so dangerous.

In summary, the “God Delusion” does a good job demonstrating that some theists are evil idiots and some non-idiots are atheists. However, I think attending a family reunion or church pot-luck will illustrate the same truth.

The book does a bad job in its treatment of any of the theistic arguments for a designer; often resorting to question-begging premises and contradictory conclusions. Furthermore, it offers little-to-no support of its alternate thesis that there is no designer. That’s interesting considering that one of the points within the book is that theism/atheism claims are testable.

Lastly, the book goes beyond being merely an apologetic writing from a particular worldview. It morphs into a manifesto that argues for naturalistic totalitarianism. Such militant hard-nosed fundamentalism is dangerous.