For the past few months, I have been having an engaging and enjoyable discussion with my good friend, Leighton Taylor, centering on the issue of atheism. Most recently, our discussion has turned toward why it is that Richard Dawkins allows for the possibility of intelligent design, but excludes the possibility that the designer could be God. Dawkins states his position in the following video:
Below, I have included our discussion to this point.
I would be interested in your response to this video.
I am interested because I see a pattern in atheist thinking. It is as follows: “We don’t believe in God because we see no evidence for his existence.” When presented with potential evidence for God, the response is inevitably, “Any possible evidence for the existence of God must have a naturalistic explanation because no God exists.” This tells me the issue is not really evidence.
You see this kind of reasoning in Dawkin’s statements in the video above. He is saying that genomes are complex (they are vastly complex), and this leads to the possibility that an intelligent designer is behind them. This is a reasonable conclusion. But then he immediately jumps to the conclusion that it can’t be God because God doesn’t exist. Aliens are a more likely explanation. This is the fallacy of exclusion of evidence, and it is a very weak argument.
In the case of inductive reasoning, which is what science is, no possibility should be excluded. Just because we don’t have the ability to detect something with scientific instruments doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Not all truths are discovered in the same way.
In Richard Dawkins’ book The God Delusion, his central argument against the existence of any eternal deity is that a god would be “the ultimate Boeing 747,” referring to the creationist/ID argument that the development of complex life through natural processes would be like a tornado blowing through a junkyard and creating a 747.
Dawkins makes the case that the existence of a god would be like a 747 “poofing” into existence for no reason, since there is no apparent reason why a god should have always existed. As I discussed in my post, “Does Complexity Require a Creator?” both theists and atheists believe that either something has always existed, or that something came from nothing. As you stated in your comment on that article, “the simpler thing is always more probable,” so Dawkins believes it improbable that a god has always existed, or that a god simply appeared out of nothing.
Because evolution, mainly driven by natural selection, is the only means we know of for complex beings to arise gradually through natural processes, Dawkins assumes that if there is an intelligent designer, that designer can’t simply have appeared suddenly or always existed–the designer must have arisen through evolutionary processes as well.
You’re right that no possibility should be excluded a priori, but so far the overwhelming majority of the scientific community has found great success pursuing natural explanations and has seen no compelling evidence of a supernatural designer, so if there was a designer of some kind, it was more probably natural than supernatural.
There is no way to disprove that an all-powerful god did something. For example, we could have all been created 10 minutes ago with all our memories in place and with the entire universe having the appearance of being old. This scenario can never be disproved, since if there were a god we would have no way of knowing if he/she were mischievous and deceitful, given to playing “practical jokes” on his/her creation. Or perhaps evolution never happened and a god planted all the evidence of evolution in order to deceive us. Since there is no way to disprove this kind of supernatural intervention, and since there is no evidence of such mischief, we can only assume that evidence reflects reality and continue to pursue naturalistic explanations.
One of the biggest problems I see with atheism in general, and Dawkins in particular, is the tendency to oversimplify. Dawkins finds the idea of a god very “unpleasant,” and he wants to disprove the existence of any deity. So he sets about to sweep away all deities in the same way–in one fell swoop. While this approach may make for easy caricatures and funny jokes about the tooth fairy, the truth is that not all theists have the same conception of God. Ideas about God vary greatly from one religion to another.
Dawkins’ approach is like trying to disprove the existence of all animals. It might be easy to disprove the existence of a winged unicorn, but it would be impossible to disprove the existence of a zebra (unless you ignore the facts). They are both animals, but they are not the same animal, and you cannot treat them in the same way. If he is going to be intellectually honest, Dawkins should not oversimplify and treat all conceptions of God in the same way, either.
There is a reason I am a Christian and not a Hindu. And that is because I believe Hindus are wrong about God. If Dawkins wants to disprove the Hindu conception of the divine, or perhaps the ancient Greek conception of the divine, I will join him because I am not a polytheist. I am a Christian because I believe it is the only religion that is theologically and philosophically consistent and defensible.
So the questions arises, what god (or gods) is Dawkins trying to disprove? He needs to choose, because they can’t all be argued against in the same way.
Material or Immaterial
Second, Dawkins continually makes the mistake of comparing God to a physical being by comparing him to a machine like a 747 and saying God is more “complex.” This is an absurd statement. In what way is God complex? If Dawkins is going to base his entire argument against the existence of God on the fact that God is complex, he must first define what he means by complex.
Does he mean composed of a multitude of physical parts that you can diagram? Does he mean complex in intelligence? Does he mean complex in personality? He must define his terms. I ask again, in what way is God complex? And once the nature of God’s complexity is defined, how does that complexity compare to the mechanical complexity of a 747?
What you will find is that the comparison simply doesn’t apply, at least not to the Christian God. It is a false analogy. In Christian theism, God is not composed of parts like a machine, and Christians have an extensive philosophical tradition behind that belief. You cannot compare a spiritual being to a physical one and say the spiritual one is more complex. As a “natural” comparison, it would be like comparing pure energy to a Ferrari and saying energy is more complex. Energy is a different thing altogether than a machine, and so is God.
This shows me that Dawkins is either completely ignorant of the philosophical underpinnings of the Christian faith, or he is being intentionally dishonest. And that leads me back to my first point: Which God is Dawkins arguing against? If Dawkins wants to disprove the existence of the Christian God, he must deal with the truth claims of Christianity. But as it is now, Dawkins is arguing against a god of his own creation.
What Kind of God
“There is no way to disprove that an all-powerful god did something. For example, we could have all been created 10 minutes ago with all our memories in place and with the entire universe having the appearance of being old. This scenario can never be disproved, since if there were a god we would have no way of knowing if he/she were mischievous and deceitful, given to playing “practical jokes” on his/her creation. Or perhaps evolution never happened and a god planted all the evidence of evolution in order to deceive us. Since there is no way to disprove this kind of supernatural intervention, and since there is no evidence of such mischief, we can only assume that evidence reflects reality and continue to pursue naturalistic explanations.”
You are excluding the possibility of revelation of any kind, and assuming that, if a deity exists, it would naturally be capricious and cruel. Why would this have to be the case? Why would a deity have to enjoy playing tricks?
Besides this, the world we live in doesn’t reflect such an evil deity. Would such a wicked god really create an orderly, consistent, beautiful universe, the depths of which we have yet to discover? Would such a god create orderly laws of thought which allow us to comprehend the world we live in? Would such a god give us intellects, emotions and freedom of the will? Would such a cruel God provide us with an appreciation for beauty, the capacity for love, the ability to create? I don’t think so.
You are absolutely right, we see no evidence of such mischief. Instead, the world we live in provides evidence of the Christian God, the God who has revealed himself as the essence of love and orderliness and consistency, the God who has not left us in darkness.