The Dawkins Delusion

Richard Dawkins is a globally celebrated evolutionary biologist, skeptic, and atheist who most well know for his famous books, The Selfish Gene and The God Delusion. In his book, The God Delusion,he summarizes what he calls “the central argument of my book.” The syllogism goes like this:

Premise 1: One of the greatest challenges to the human intellect has been to explain how the complex, improbable appearance of design in the universe arises.

Premise 2: The natural temptation is to attribute the appearance of design to actual design itself.

Premise 3: The temptation is a false one because the designer hypothesis immediately raises the larger problem of who designed the designer.

Premise 4: The most ingenious and powerful explanation is Darwinian evolution by natural selection.

Premise 5: We don’t have an equivalent explanation for physics.

Premise 6: We should not give up the hope of a better explanation arising in physics, something as powerful as Darwinism is for biology.

Conclusion: Therefore, God almost certainly does not exist.

The argument is surprising, not because its a knock-down argument that disproves God’s existence, but because the conclusion doesn’t come from the premises. William Lane Craig notes that Dawkins’ argument, at best, shows:

“[T]hat we should not infer God’s existence on the basis of the appearance of design in the universe.”

-William Lane Craig

But that conclusion is still compatible with God’s existence and is even compatible with us having justification for believing in God’s existence. What if I believe in God’s existence not based on the appearance of design but on the evidence that the universe had a beginning? The fact that a finite time ago, there was no universe, which means there was no time, space, and matter–that in itself cries out for an explanation and points to some kind of transcendent cause that is timeless, spaceless, and immaterial. Or, to give another example of belief not rooted in the appearance of design, what if I believe in God’s existence based on the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ? Dawkins’ logic does nothing to dismantle a firm belief in the existence of God.

Not only does Dawkins’ argument fail because the conclusion is not incompatible with the existence of God, but because there are some issues with some of his premises as well. First, take the third premise, which looks at the idea of “Who designed the designer?” This is a very easy question to answer. The answer is God never had a beginning. No argument for God’s existence implies God had a beginning and nowhere in Jewish or Christian scriptures does it implicitly or explicitly say that God had a beginning. If you want to read more on this, I go more in-depth with this premise in another blog post.

A second premise in which we find problems is premise 6. The premise amounts to an appeal to the future fallacy. If I were to say to an atheist that, “We don’t have any arguments outside of scripture that God exists, but we shouldn’t give up hope because we know those arguments are out there and one day we will discover them.” I think most people would see that as a highly inadequate response. In premise 6 Dawkins is essentially doing that very thing, saying, “Don’t give up hope. Just have faith. Soon enough we will come up with an explanation in physics for the apparent design in the universe.” That’s not a good enough explanation when you’re giving an argument for your position.

So this is what Dawkins’ “central argument” in his book The God Delusion amounts to: the conclusion doesn’t follow from the premises and there are problems with some of the premises themselves. In the end, his argument does not do what it seeks to do, namely, to show that there are purely natural explanations for the appearance of design and/or disprove the existence of God.

Who Made God?

The question “Who made God?” is often moaned about by theologians as a nonsensical question because it is a question that has been answered time and time again and could only be asked by children and confused teenagers. Nonetheless, this question continues to pop up in the minds of adults who have never received that answer and that is why I’m talking about it today.

The famous atheist Bertrand Russell wrote about God and the universe in his essay, “Why I Am Not a Christian.” Having read the philosopher John Stuart Mill’s autobiography, Russell was struck by what Mill wrote: “My father taught me that the question ‘Who made me?’ cannot be answered, since it immediately suggests the further question, ‘Who made God?’” Reading this, Russell concluded, “If everything must have a cause, then God must have a cause.”1

The Cambridge physicist Stephen Hawking said something similar in his best-selling book, A Brief History of Time. He begins by asking questions about what started the universe and what makes the universe continue to exist. What theory exists to unify everything? “Or does it need a creator, and if so, does he have any other effect on the universe? And who created him?”2

While we’re used to children and young adults asking “Who made God?” it is surprising to hear sophisticated philosophers and scientists ask the same questions! So how do we respond when the average person on the street asks us, “Who made God?”  Here are a few things you could say:

First, the theist does not claim that whatever exists must have a cause, but whatever begins to exist must have a cause. This confusion comes in part because of the various cosmological arguments that are used by Christians and other theists to prove God exists.3 A more defensible variant of the cosmological argument is known as the Kalam Cosmological argument:

Premise 1: Whatever begins to exist has a cause.

Premise 2: The universe began to exist.

Conclusion: Therefore the universe has a cause.

As the above syllogism states, the theist is not asserting the proposition that everything that exists has a cause but that whatever begins to exist has a cause. This is a very important distinction.  If the skeptic is asserting the proposition that everything that exists has a cause, he’s making a questionable assumption that has no legitimate argument behind it. Not to mention its question begging or assuming what one wants to prove. It’s kind of like saying: All reality is physical; therefore God can’t exist. That statement is obviously wrong because logic and moral truths are not physical but are obviously real. Similarly, it is not self-evident that everything must have a cause.

Second, we must begin with a non-question-begging starting point, and “everything that begins to exist has a cause” does just that. Thinkers in the past like Plato and Aristotle assumed the universe was eternal and needed no caused explanation for its origin. Just 200 years ago, atheists assumed the universe’s eternality and that it needed no cause or explanation. So if the universe can hypothetically be self-explanatory, then why can’t the same be true for God? Let’s have a call for intellectual consistency on this matter.

Third, we are acquainted with immaterial realities that don’t have a beginning like mathematics and the laws of logic which do not have a beginning. Why should God be different? If the world did not exist, would the statement 1+1=2 still be true? Of course! Would the law of non-contradiction (A cannot be equal to non-A) still be true? Yes! Such truths are real but there’s no reason to think they have been caused into existence. The same could be said about God.

Fourth and finally, the question “Who made God?” commits the “category fallacy.” It is another form of begging the question. In other words, it eliminates from the outset any possibility of God being the explanatory cause of the universe. How so? The question assumes that everything must be a contingent (dependent) entity and that there can be no such thing as a self-existent and uncaused entity like God. But God is in a different category than caused entities; to put them in the same category is unfair. It’s like asking, “Can blue sleep faster than Wednesday?” or “Can a married bachelor find a squared circle?” If we reframe the question “Who made God?” to clarify our categories, we will find that the question answers itself. Let’s rephrase the question in this way: “What caused the self-existent, uncaused Cause, who is by definition unmakeable, to exist?” Any questions?4

End Notes

  1.  Quoted by Bertrand Russell, “Why I Am Not a Christian,” in his Why I Am Not a Christian and Other Essays on Religion and Related Topics (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1957), 6.
  2.  Stephen W. Hawking, A Brief of History of Time (New York: Bantam, 1988), 174.
  3. For an explanation of the cosmological argument see https://carm.org/cosmological-argument.
  4.  I got most of this information from the book, That’s Just Your Interpretation: Responding To Skeptics Who Challenge Your Faith by Paul Copan.  I highly recommend reading this book for a more in-depth response to this subject.

David Hume v Miracles

spring blossoms

David Hume (1711-1776) has been a celebrated skeptic since he put forth his argument against miracles. In this blog post, I plan on refuting it. Here is the argument in syllogistic form:

Premise 1: Natural law is by definition a description of a regular occurrence.

Premise 2: A miracle is by definition a rare occurrence.

Premise 3: The evidence for the regular is always greater than that for the rare.

Premise 4: A wise man always bases his belief on the greater evidence.

Conclusion: Therefore, a wise man should never believe in miracles.

If the four premises are true, then the conclusion necessarily follows—the wise man should never believe in miracles. Unfortunately for Hume and for those over the years who have believed him, the argument has a false premise. Premise 3 is not necessarily true. The evidence for the regular is not always greater than that for the rare.

In the age of instant replay, premise 3 seems to make sense. For example in football, a referee sees a play from one angle at full speed, while we (the audience sitting at home) get to see it from several angles in slow motion. We have greater evidence seeing a play over and over again (the regular) than does the referee who only sees it once (rare).

But what may be true for a videotaped football game is not necessarily true for every event in life. To disprove premise 3, we only need to come up with at least one counterexample:

The origin of the universe happened once. It was a rare, unrepeatable event, yet virtually every naturalist believes that the Big Bang proves that the universe exploded into being because of the mathematical and scientific evidence.

David Hume’s birth happened only once but he didn’t disbelieve in that rare event.

So we know by one of these counterexamples that Hume’s third premise is false and thus his entire argument is invalid. But to go a little further with this…what are some of the problems with Hume’s argument even if all the premises is true?

First, it confuses believability with possibility. Even if the argument goes through, it would not disprove the possibility of miracles; it would only question their believability. So even if you personally witnessed Jesus Christ rising from the dead as he predicted, Hume’s argument says that you (a “wise” person witnessing a rare occurrence) shouldn’t believe it. There’s something wrong with an argument that tells you to disbelieve what you have verified to be true.

Second, Hume confuses probability with evidence. He doesn’t weigh the evidence for each rare event; rather, he adds the evidence for all regular events and suggests that this somehow makes all rare events unworthy of belief. But this is flawed reasoning. There are many improbable events in life that we believe when we have good evidence for them. For example, a hole-in-one is a rare event, but when we witness one we have no trouble believing it. We certainly don’t say to the golfer: Since the evidence for the regular is always greater than that for the rare, I’m not going to believe your shot unless you can tee it up and do it five times in a row! Likewise, we certainly don’t tell a lottery winner who beat 76-million-to-one odds that he’s not going to get his money until he can win it five times in a row! No, in these cases, the evidence for the rare is greater than that for the regular. Sober, sane eyewitnesses provide greater evidence for a rare hole-in-one no matter how regularly that golfer had missed the hole in the past. Likewise, a winning ticket provides greater evidence that a certain person improbably won the lottery no matter how regularly that person had failed to win in the past.

So the issue is not whether an event is regular or rare—the issue is whether we have good evidence for the event. We must weigh evidence for the event in question, not add evidence for all previous events.

Third, Hume is actually arguing in a circle. Instead of evaluating the veracity of the evidence for each miracle claim, Hume rules out belief in miracles in advance because he believes there is uniform experience against them. As usual, C.S. Lewis has great insight on this:

“Now of course we must agree with Hume that if there is absolutely ‘uniform experience’ against miracles, if in other words they have never happened, why then they never have. Unfortunately we know the experience against them to be uniform only if we know that all the reports of them are false. And we can know all the reports to be false only if we know already that miracles have never occurred. In fact, we are arguing in a circle.” 1

His false presupposition is that all human experiences have been against miracles. How can he know that? He can’t, so he presupposes it.

Finally, although Hume defines a miracle as a rare event, he then punishes it for being a rare event! It’s as if Hume is saying: If only miracles happened more often, then we could believe them. But if miracles happened more often, then they would cease being miracles (i.e., rare events), and we might consider them natural laws or part of unexplained natural phenomena. But as soon as we consider them natural in origin, then they would no longer get our attention as special acts of God. Its rarity is one of the characteristics that distinguishes a miracle from everything else!

So by Hume’s logic, even if there is a God who performs miracles, we shouldn’t believe any miracles he performs because they are not regular events. Again, there’s something wrong with an argument that tells you to disbelieve what has actually occurred. And there’s something wrong with an argument that requires that miracles not be miracles to be believed. 2

  1. C. S. Lewis, “Miracles,” p. 105.
  2. Much of the information comes from the book Normal Geisler and Frank Turek, “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be An Atheist” which I highly recommend reading.

Darwinian Evolution and Knowing Truth

Last month on February 12 at the Ramada Inn in Fargo, N. Dakota, Drs. PZ Myers (atheist) and Fazale “Fuz” Rana (Christian theist) held a debate on whether there is evidence for God’s existence, based upon the notion of whether there is design at the microbiological level.  Myers (Ph.D., Biology, University of Oregon) is a professor of biology at the University of Minnesota, Morris, and Rana (Ph.D., Chemistry, Ohio University) is a biochemist by training, who works in research at Reasons to Believe, an old-earth Christian thinktank and apologetics ministry.

The debate is almost two-and-a-half hours long.  I’m only commenting on one question Fuz asked PZ during the ten-minute cross-examining portion of the debate just before the 1:30:00 mark.  Fuz’s question had to do with epistemology (the theory of knowledge), as it relates to the evolutionary process (by “evolutionary process,” I mean the undirected, strictly material process of evolving life-forms wrought by means of random, genetic mutations acted upon by natural selection.  In short, I mean materialism as a metaphysical worldview, or, the notion that only matter exists).  Earlier in the debate, PZ also said much of the debate regarding the existence of a Creator based upon observation of biological processes is epistemological in nature.  Hence, Fuz’s question about truth-identifying capacity given the evolutionary paradigm is very much in accord with the thrust of the debate.

To Myers comes essentially the question from Darwin himself with an echo from Patricia Churchland, a non-theist philosopher (Churchland’s quote will appear subsequently).  The question – or doubt – about the truth-knowing capability of the human species given materialism and hence, naturalistic evolutionary processes, is documented in a letter from Darwin to William Graham:

With me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy.  Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind? [1]

In other words, if the human mind has developed over gradual eons of vast amounts of time from the primordial slime, emerging into more complex life forms, and morphing into the common ancestor from which all humans come, then this means that the human brain (or, mind – an oxymoron given materialism), has, as its genesis, a pool of slime.  Not much better for Darwin is the human “mind’s” near relative, the monkey.

Alvin Plantinga notes a number of “doubters” from the non-theist world of philosophy with respect to a naturalized epistemology wrought via materialist evolution: Nietzsche, Nagel, Stroud, Churchland, and of course, Darwin.  Churchland’s quote is as humorous as it is famous:

Boiled down to essentials, a nervous system enables the organism to succeed in the four F’s: feeding, fleeing, fighting and reproducing.  The principle chore of nervous systems is to get the body parts where they should be in order that the organism may survive…..Improvement in sensorimotor control confer an evolutionary advantage: a fancier style of representing is advantageous so long as it is geared to the organism’s way of life and enhances the organisms chances of survival. Truth, whatever that is, definitely takes the hindmost. [2]

For Churchland and others committed to a naturalistic epistemology, the notion of truth qua truth “takes the hindmost.” That is, truth is relegated to the unimportant back seat in the vehicle of existence where the driver is Four F, on his way to do a survivalist’s party.  Truth, according to Churchland, is a non-essential in the propagation of the human species.  Truth doesn’t matter, and neither should it.  In fact, evolutionary advantages have nothing whatever to say about truth.  Rather, they have everything to say about survival.  If truth happens, it happens not on purpose, by chance, and not with truth for truthfulness’ sake.

Myers’ answer to Rana (again, at the 1:28:50 mark and following) is rather simple (or, simplistic). While Myers agrees with Rana that the human mind – or brain, more accurately, given his materialist position – is subject to error such as logical fallacies, poor memory, and the like, his answer for the reliability of the truth-identifying capability of the human knower is Science.  Science, says Myers, is a coherent mechanism that exists outside of the human mind with the purpose of collecting and interpreting data, albeit on a provisional basis.  On the surface, this makes good sense.  Science is, after all, a coherent system whereby human knowers can build an edifice of knowledge by means of quantification of the individual species or things of the world, and also by noting their qualities as well.  Quantification and qualification are indeed part and parcel of the scientific enterprise.

However, we have to ask if Myers actually answered the question of Darwin’s doubt.  The question, basically, is, “How do we know truth, given materialism?”  The answer is, “Science.”  The answer may as well have been, “We know truth given materialism because we have a system (Science) whereby we know truth.”  But how do we know that the system is giving us truth?  Well, Richard Dawkins answers the question by saying, “Because it works.”  He pauses for a moment and richly adds, “Bitches,” in a near murmur, as if that settled the question.  But an appeal to pragmatism just doesn’t work (heh: a pun) in a question of truth given an naturalistic epistemology. We could play the child’s game and ask, “Well, how do we know it works?”  And of course, the appeal would be to observe the results, and we’re back to square one again.

Fuz’s question remains unanswered because he is asking not only an epistemological question, but also a metaphysical one.  From the vantage of metaphysics (study of the nature, essence, and existence of things as they truly are), Fuz is asking how truth can be known given the ever-changing material world of which we are a part.  If the material world is constantly changing, and only the material world exists, then also the human knower’s brain is a part of that every-changing world.  As such, knowledge remains not fixed, but unfixed and ever-changing along with the material world external to itself.  (I’m surprised Myers even accepted the term “mind” when debating with Fuz, due to its immaterial implications).

What Myers, Dawkins and others espouse is called Scientism. Scientism is an epistemic paradigm which states that only Science gives humans true knowledge of the world.  Of course, this “system” cannot prove itself without arguing in a circle: Science, and Science alone gives us knowledge about the world, and we know this because when we do Science, it helps us (by working) in order to thrive, survive, and flourish.  Stated differently:

1) Science (quantification and qualification) gives us knowledge 2) Science alone gives us knowledge 3) This knowledge gives us desirable results (It works…) 4) Therefore, Science alone gives us knowledge (see #2). This is a circular argument.  Theologian David Bently Hart also sees the circularity of the materialist worldview:

Physics explains everything, which we know because anything physics cannot explain does not exist, which we know because whatever exists must be explicable by physics, which we know because physics explains everything. [3]

This is pretty much the answer that Myers offers to Rana.  Just insert “Science” for “Physics” and you have the skinny.  Now, ditching materialism for immaterialism (whereby a universal mind or intelligent agent exists as the primary cause of all that came into existence) is a constructive task for a different venue.  However, it should stand to reason that Scientism and its pretensions feign a superiority over “superstitious” non-naturalized epistemologies (ones that include a deity).  After all, Scientism cannot even prove its own tenet that Science and Science alone gives humans knowledge about the external world.  In doing so, it would have to submit to a source outside of itself.  Indeed it does and must, and that is where an immaterial world of universals (essences) of things come into play.  On that very playing field of course, come arguments from pure reason as to the existence of God from Aristotle to Aquinas, and it is this playing field where Myers’ dog will not hunt.  In fact, it can’t, but it isn’t allowed in that neighborhood.

*previously posted at www.vanallsblog.blogspot.com

Jesus and the Supernatural

Do you believe in the supernatural?

A survey from 2004 showed that thirty-nine percent of those living in the UK consider themselves atheists or agnostics.(1) Yet a more recent poll found that, while many of those in Britain are abandoning Christianity, their interest and faith in spirituality hasn’t gone anywhere. Over half (fifty-five percent) of those surveyed professed belief in the supernatural and superstition; twenty-nine percent claim to be able to see into the future; and a similar number reported that they had knowledge of past lives or possessed telepathic powers. In comparison, less than ten percent attend a Christian church weekly.(2)

In the US we have our own national fascination with the supernatural. A 2007 poll found that a significant number of Americans believe in UFOs (thirty-four percent) or have personally encountered a ghost (twenty-three percent). Lest we think that a lack of education is to blame, Americans with at least a college degree were more likely to believe in ESP (fifty-one percent) than those with a high school education (thirty-seven percent).(3) And of the top ten most popular TV shows last year, five were based on the premise that the supernatural is real and at work in our world.(4) At the same time as more and more of our neighbors are claiming no religious faith (or claiming to be opposed to it entirely), our interest in the weird and bizarre has stayed put. One could even argue that the decline of Christian belief has led to an increased appetite for the paranormal.

Christians shouldn’t be surprised by this, since the Bible reveals our world to be chock-full of beings and realities that transcend the scientific definition of “natural.” Aside from God himself, spiritual beings like angels and demons are unapologetically presented as real and relevant to human life. Heaven and hell are not metaphors, and their inhabitants play as much of a role in the affairs of our lives as flesh-and-blood people — if not more.

Yet that is not to say that the spiritual world is an angelic Wild West. Hebrews 1:1-3 has already shown that Jesus, having accomplished the earthly work necessary to save his people, is now seated in heaven “at the right hand of the Majesty.” In other words — the King is on his throne, and the spiritual world is subject to him:

So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs. For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father”? Or again, “I will be his Father, and he will be my Son”? And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.” In speaking of the angels he says, “He makes his angels winds, his servants flames of fire.” But about the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever, and righteousness will be the scepter of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy.” He also says, “In the beginning, O Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will roll them up like a robe; like a garment they will be changed. But you remain the same, and your years will never end.” To which of the angels did God ever say, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”? Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?
Hebrews 1:4-14 (NIV)

The author of Hebrews affirms what many post-Christendom Westerners believe (and what the overwhelming preponderance of the citizens of the Majority World have always believed): there exists a world that our minds can only barely comprehend. Yet he goes further to say that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, rules over it all and directs its affairs. He quotes multiple passages from the Old Testament (especially the Psalms) to show that this has always been true — the eternal Son of God has eternally ruled over angels, who were created through him (1:2).

So are we crazy for believing in the supernatural? Not at all. But more importantly, we have to ask ourselves whether we submit to the rule of the King of the supernatural. Do we acknowledge Jesus, not only as the Ruler of the angels, but as the Ruler of our hearts? We’d be crazy not to.

 


1 – http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/shared/spl/hi/programmes/wtwtgod/pdf/wtwtogod.pdf
2- http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2590349/God-Were-likely-believe-supernatural-Number-people-think-sixth-sense-higher-regularly-attend-church.html
3 – http://www.christianpost.com/news/how-many-americans-believe-in-ghosts-spells-and-superstition-29857/
4- http://www.imdb.com/search/title?title_type=tv_series

The Surprising Roots of Young Atheists

Why do so many young people today walk away from their church roots?

The answer is most likely not what you think.

A recent article by Larry Taunton, founder of Fixed-Point Foundation, a group that “is dedicated to exploring those ideas that shape culture,” suggested that the main reason many young poeple embrace atheism is because of bad church experiences.

Yep, that’s right.  Not because of the strength of a growing body of scientific evidence against Christianity, the cogency of atheistic argumentation, or the allurement of secular culture, but because of repeated disillusionment and frustration with their church homes.

The question of what is leading youth to embrace atheism popped into Taunton’s mind not long ago.  It eventually moved him to launch a nationwide campaign to interview college students who are members of Secular Student Alliances (SSA) or Freethought Societies (FS).  The college groups are, in Tauton’s words:

…the atheist equivalents of Campus Crusade.  They meet regularly for fellowship, encourage one another in their (un)belief, and even proselytize.  They are people who are not merely irreligious; they are actively, determinedly irrelgious.

The results of these many interviews was fascinating.  Some of their stories and answers are recorded in the full article, which you can read here.

In the end he summarizes the common threads of these student’s responses about their background and what lead them to their atheism:

(1) they had attended church

(2) the mission and message of their churches was vague

(3) they felt their churches offered superficial answers to life’s difficult questions

(4) they expressed their respect for those ministers who took the Bible seriously

(5) Ages 14-17 were decisive

(6) the decision to embrace unbelief was often an emotional one

(7) the internet factored heavily into their conversion to atheism

Food for thought.