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.

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