Chapter 3 Summary
The purpose of chapter 3 is to disprove the various arguments in favor of God’s existence. Dawkins addresses Thomas Aquinas’ five proofs, the ontological argument, and various arguments from beauty, personal experience, scripture, and admired religious scientists, along with Pascal’s Wager, and Bayesian probabilities.
Dawkins seeks to undo Aquinas’ “cosmological argument” by showing that using God as the necessary “first cause” is flawed because God Himself needs a cause. Further, God’s supposed omnipotence and omniscience are contradictory because if God is omniscient, He knows what He is going to do and is therefore powerless to change His mind. Finally, he asserts that the “first cause” could have just as easily (more so, in fact) been a Big Bang. In short, there is no requirement for it to be God.
Dawkins addresses Aquinas’ “teleological argument” (argument from design) by asserting that Darwinism “blew it out of the water.”1 Darwinism shows how the appearance of design can and will emerge inevitably from natural selection. In other words, life today appears designed to thrive in this environment but that is just because those life forms are the ones that could. The ones that couldn’t, died.
Dawkins spends most of his time on the remaining arguments. The ontological argument is basically philosophical nonsense. The argument from beauty presumes its own conclusion. Personal experience is unreliable because people can be ignorant, mistaken, or just plain crazy. Scripture is laughably inaccurate and has been proven so. Citing religious scientists is not convincing because most scientists, and most distinguished scientists, are atheists. Pascal’s Wager is not a proof. And finally, Bayesian probabilities are just an example of “garbage in, garbage out.”
Chapter 3 Response
Chapter 3 is perhaps the most disingenuous within the entire book. Dawkins’ attempt to answer the main arguments for God’s existence is weak and dishonest and represents a text-book example of attacking the straw man. It is very telling that Dawkins spends the least amount of time (four pages) on Aquinas’ proofs, which are by far the most compelling arguments he addresses (in particular, the cosmological and teleological). In comparison, he spends thirty-three pages trying to eviscerate arguments that are rarely, if ever, used by most apologists. This chapter does, however, superbly showcase Dawkins’ biases and flawed logic.
The two paragraphs dedicated to the cosmological argument are laughable. In our recent post on The God of the Gaps, we briefly summarized some of the massive scientific evidence supporting the cosmological argument and how the evidence points to a first cause that is eternal, powerful, intelligent, and transcends the natural universe (i.e. is supernatural). Dawkins conveniently ignores all of these facts.
But even the areas Dawkins’ does address to try and refute the cosmological argument are weak. The objection that God needs a cause too is just tired. Only effects need causes. God, both by necessity and in consistency with the scientific evidence, must be eternal. So He is uncaused. The “infinite regress” of causes has to stop with an uncaused prime mover.
Dawkins tries to refute the above reasoning by asserting that a “big bang singularity” could have just as easily been the first cause as God. But this logic is lacking for several reasons. First, the Big Bang Theory seeks to explain how the universe behaved at the moment of creation and has been successful in describing and predicting many aspects of the cosmos. However, it offers no insight whatsoever as to what caused it. In other words, it is a description of behavior, not causation. And since the universe, mass/energy, time, and space were created in this event, they are by definition, effects. Effects need causes outside of themselves. Dawkins’ appeal to a natural cause to explain the creation of nature itself is circular reasoning at best and self-delusion at worst.
Dawkins’ assertion that omnipotence and omniscience are incompatible is nonsense. As we have discussed in a separate article, such “proofs” are really just word games. God’s omnipotence doesn’t mean He can do anything. It means He can do anything that is logically possible and consistent with His nature. God’s omniscience doesn’t prevent Him from changing His mind. It prevents Him from ever needing to change His mind! Besides, this is not a limit on His power but Him simply acting consistently with His nature. The Bible even acknowledges this fact (Malachi 3:6, James 1:17, Numbers 23:19).
Dawkins only briefly touches on the teleological argument in chapter three, preferring to answer it via evolution more in-depth as the central theme of chapter four. Therefore, I will do the same in this response. But as Logic and Light has covered in posts here and here, evolutionary theory doesn’t come close to answering the teleological argument. Nor does it actually fit the evidence of the fossil record or the nature of mutation itself. And the odds of it working as described, based on known mutational rates, are effectively zero. Consequently, Neo-Darwinism is a theory in desperate search of workable mechanism and secular scientists are tripping over themselves to try and salvage it.
Dawkins spends the most time attacking the ontological argument. The ontological argument is admittedly weak and nothing more than a philosophical word game, in my opinion. If you aren’t familiar with it, don’t bother. It’s not worth researching. But it is very telling that Dawkins chooses to focus here. Like a Senior bully, he looked for the skinny Freshman to pick-on. No one uses the ontological argument. I have read numerous books on apologetics and related topics and can’t recall a single instance of someone using this argument as a pillar in their case for God.
Likewise, Dawkins attacks the supposed arguments from beauty and personal experience as if they were central to apologetics. Again, I can’t remember these having been actually used in apologetics work. Sure, I’ve heard people say “How can someone look at that beautiful sunset and not believe in God?” But that is typically meant as a statement of awe versus an actual argument for God.
Dawkins’ attack on scriptural accuracy is a rehash of the same misinformed arguments we have been addressing on Logic and Light for two years: Jesus may not have existed, the gospels were arbitrarily chosen, they are full of errors and contradictions, the texts have been corrupted, the Jesus myths were borrowed from other religions, etc. It is shocking that the same lies and discredited scholarship continue to persist. To address each of these, I would pretty much have to re-print most of the posts on Logic and Light. So just read them at your leisure and see how Christian scripture has repeatedly demonstrated its accuracy!
Next, there are several holes in Dawkins’ argument that most scientists are atheists. First of all, while I am willing to accept his premise, it proves absolutely nothing about whether God exists or not. At various times in the past, “most scientists” felt that hand washing would not prevent disease, the sun revolved around the earth, and the universe had existed eternally. Truth is not determined by a majority vote of scientists. Besides, it’s important to note that a great many famous scientists did—and do—believe in God. See a sampling here.
Secondly, his argument can be accused of confusing correlation with causation. Dawkins’ point is that most educated scientists who study natural cause and effect do not believe God is one of those causes. However, this does not mean that studying nature caused them to become atheists. Rather, it is just as likely that given science’s predisposition to a naturalistic perspective, it disproportionately attracts those who are atheists in the first place. But this has not always been the case. During the birth of modern science in the 16th century, for example, science was often seen as a means of learning about God’s creation. So it disproportionately attracted people that did believe in God! Dawkins’ cherry-picking of “most scientists” statistics from today is not a complete picture.
Finally, Dawkins returns to beating up straw men by addressing Pascal’s Wager and Bayesian probabilities. Dawkins is right, these two hardly count as proof of God. However, they aren’t used as such. I have never seen them used as central arguments for God in mainstream apologetics. So why does he waste time on them unless he is just trying to notch a “win” wherever he can and avoid the real evidence for God?
Chapter 4 Summary
As an evolutionary zoologist, Chapter four is Dawkins’ coup de grace. It represents his case for how evolution explains life and complexity and even offers insights into cosmology from a purely natural viewpoint. And it proves “why there almost certainly is no God.”2
Dawkins spends over fifty pages laying out his case and covers a lot of ground. But he relies on a few key points:
- Natural selection is not a random process. Rather it is a very efficient means of creating gradual, incremental improvement that explains the increase in biological diversity and complexity over time without having to resort to a supernatural God.
- While it is statistically improbable for life and complexity to arise naturally, God cannot be invoked as the solution to the problem. Because a complex designer would need its own explanation and is even more improbable than the creation we are seeking to explain.
- Rather, the “anthropic principle” provides all we need to explain away the improbable nature of our existence. With potentially billions of planets in billions of galaxies, and untold numbers of universes in the multiverse, the “impossible becomes inevitable” given the number of shots we get at the goal.
- To use God as an explanation is simply lazy, ignorant, and uneducated and is the same “god of the gaps” logic primitive man used.
Chapter 4 Response
I have to admit Chapter four was a bit disappointing. Given Dawkins’ background as an evolutionary scientist, I was really expecting he would challenge me here. But his arguments are full of errors, both in logic and fact. The margins of my copy of The God Delusion are filled with notes and counter-arguments. Again, because of space, I will limit myself to only answering the four key points above.
Dawkins’ practical deification of natural selection is faulty on several grounds. First, natural selection can do nothing on its own. There must be something from which to “select” for it to advance life. According to Darwinism, that something is random mutation. Dawkins spends almost no time discussing the nature of mutation. Perhaps this is because mutation is the Achilles heel of Neo-Darwinism.
The problem with mutation is that it is simply the wrong mechanism to drive the kind of change Darwinism demands.3 Mutation does contribute to so-called “micro-evolution” where life evolves or adapts basically within a given species. But it cannot drive “macro-evolution” where there are large scale changes to morphology (body plans and parts). This fact is largely because mutations simply change or delete existing genetic information, without creating an increase in new, usable data.4 But such increases are required to have happened countless times for new morphologies to develop and for evolution to account for the complexity and diversity we see.
Even “epigenetic” information, that can drive changes to morphology, can’t save Darwinism. This is because mutations within epigenetic information invariably cause the resulting organism to be less fit for survival.5 They either die or cannot reproduce. The fact of the matter is that mutations large enough to change morphology are disastrous to the organism.
Finally, Dawkins’ and Darwin’s elegant model of gradual, incremental change over time is simply not what we observe in the fossil record.6 Rather, diversity of life seems to burst onto on to the scene (the “Cambrian explosion”) and most life forms follow a pattern of instant arrival, continuation with little or no change, and eventual extinction. There simply isn’t the theoretical “tree of life” diagrammed in many biology books.
Dawkins’ second argument that any God responsible for designing the improbable complexity we observe must be even more complex and improbable is sophomoric logic that makes several mistakes. First, Dawkins assumes that God is somehow bound by the constraints of nature. If He exists outside of nature and created it, He can hardly be confined by the rules and probabilities we observe within it.
Secondly, Dawkins contends that evolution provides a “crane” for showing how complexity can be built from the bottom-up as opposed to the “sky hook” of God that drives complexity from the top-down. Since evolution has provided a crane, there is no need for the sky-hook in which we used to believe. But unfortunately for Dawkins, evolution is rife with problems as we have discussed. It is clearly not the elegant crane Dawkins contends.
But even if it were, it would say absolutely nothing about God’s existence. The presence of a crane does not disprove the presence of a sky-hook. This is not an “either-or” proposition. In setting it up as such, Dawkins forces a false choice. It is logically possible that God could use both cranes and sky-hooks to achieve His purposes.
In fact, Dawkins even admits the validity of the “sky hook” model when he quotes fellow atheist Daniel Dennett saying “you’ll never see a spear making a spear maker. You’ll never see a horse shoe making a blacksmith. You’ll never see a pot making a potter.”7 But Dawkins goes on to say that “Darwin’s discovery of a workable process that does that very counter-intuitive thing is what makes his contribution to human thought so revolutionary…”8 In other words, Darwin came up with a workable model to do what common sense says is impossible. The only problem is that the model doesn’t actually work!
Finally, by focusing on complexity and probability as the only problems to be solved, Dawkins conveniently ignores a third factor to explain. That is the issue of information. DNA is packed with very complex, organized, non-random information. In fact, there is enough information to fill 4,000 books of 500 pages each!9 And we only ever see information result from intelligence.
Even secular scientists admit this fact. That is why they are investing millions of dollars into the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) program. Because they acknowledge that organized, non-random information in space must point to an intelligent source. But for some reason, much more complex, organized, non-random information in living cells does not!
Dawkins’ third pillar of appealing to the anthropic principle to show how even extremely improbable and complex life could or inevitably would arise also makes several errors. First, Dawkins vastly understates the probabilities stacked against him. He states that even if the chances of life arising naturally is a billion to one, those odds are easy money in a universe with a billion galaxies that have a billion planets each. The problem is that the likelihood of life arising naturally is not a billion to one (1 chance in 109). Scientists and mathematicians have estimated that the chances of forming a single protein randomly (which is a long way from life) is somewhere between 1 chance in 1077 and 1 in 10164!10 To put that number in perspective, consider that the number of atoms within the visible universe is estimated at between 1 x 1078 and 1 x 1082!11 And that is just to get one protein. You would need at least 600 proteins to get a single, basic cell.12 You would then need your luck to start all over again to get that cell to evolve into the vast array of complex life we have on earth.
There are simply not enough planets in the universe to satisfy these odds. There aren’t even enough atoms if each one was its own planet! A billion galaxies with a billion planets each and billions of years is a drop in the bucket to the actual number of chances you would need.
Perhaps recognizing this fact, Dawkins then appeals to the multiverse to solidify his argument. We’ve dealt with the multiverse elsewhere. This theory is by definition, unscientific. It is a desperate grasp at any explanation other than God. To be clear, there is no evidence for the multiverse. Scientists posit its existence solely because it is the only way to salvage their naturalistic worldview. And it frankly requires more faith than any religion.
Dawkins’ final point that God is nothing more than a “god of the gaps” born of our ignorance has been addressed by Logic and Light in a separate article. As that article shows, a belief in God is not a conclusion born of ignorance, but rather the inescapable summation of the evidence. In other words, a belief in the God of the Bible is not due to gaps in our knowledge, but precisely because of what the evidence shows!
- Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin 2006. 28
- Ibid, pg. 136
- Meyer, Stephen, Ph.D. Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design. New York, NY: Harper One 2013. 281.
- Sarfati, Jonathan, Ph.D. Refuting Evolution 2. Green Forest, AR: Master Books 2002. 102
- Meyer, Stephen, Ph.D. Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design. New York, NY: Harper One 2013. 285.
- Ibid, pgs. 6-17.
- Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin 2006. 142
- Ibid, pg. 142
- Carl Sagan, The Dragons of Eden. New York, NY: Random House 1977. 25
- (a) Meyer, Stephen, Ph.D. Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design. New York, NY: Harper One 2013. 200.
- (b) DVD ORIGIN: Design, Chance, and the First Life on Earth; Illustra Media 2016.
- Brown, Walt, Ph.D. In The Beginning: Compelling Evidence for Creation and the Flood. Phoenix, AZ: Center for Scientific Creation 2008 (8th edition). 17.