Dawkins’ Delusions:  Part III

dawkins-ivHere, we continue with our four-part chapter-by-chapter response to Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion.  This is part 3.

Chapter 5 Summary

In chapter 5, Dawkins seeks to answer how “the anti-factual, counter-productive fantasies of religion” could have developed so universally among mankind from a Darwinian, evolutionary perspective.  After discussing a few theories, Dawkins leans toward the idea that religion did not evolve because it was beneficial, but rather as a by-product of some other characteristic that contributed to survival.

His main hypothesis is that human survival is often dependent on collective experiences and wisdom that get passed on to future generations.  Therefore, children that had a propensity to “believe, without question, whatever your grown-ups tell you” had a survival advantage and thus passed it on.  An unfortunate side effect of this advantage is that we also are prone to fall for religion.

He further explores evolutionary psychology to show several theories of how we may be “psychologically primed for religion.”  He discusses how we seem to be wired as “dualists” that view mind (i.e. personality) and matter (i.e. physical brain) separately, as opposed to “monists.”  We are also “native teleologists” that see things as having been built for specific purposes, even if they weren’t.  He then proposes a link to Daniel Dennett’s “three-way classification of the ‘stances’” we adopt to understand the world and to make more quickly the decisions and predictions necessary for survival.  Finally, he suggests that religion may be a by-product of the “built-in irrationality” that causes the “insanity of romantic love,” which presumably also provides a survival benefit to our species.

Dawkins then moves on to show how our religious memes can spread and get passed on just like genes, leading to a widespread acceptance of patently irrational thoughts.  Some memes survive because of their “universal appeal to human psychology” such as a desire to survive death.  As they persist and join other similar memes, a religion is born.

Dawkins closes with an illustration of the “cargo cults” that grew up in the Melanesian islands during the 19th and 20th centuries.  He draws a particular comparison between Christianity and the cult of “John Frum” to show how Christianity could have sprung up from “almost nothing” as a local cult and then spread worldwide.  After all, Jesus was just “one of many such charismatic figures who emerged in Palestine around his time.”

Chapter 5 Response

Dawkins admits that religion is common to all human cultures and practically universal to mankind.  But, given his purely materialistic worldview, he has to explain how such a “wasteful,” “extravagant,” and clearly delusional thing as religion could survive and thrive when natural selection is effective at “rejecting that which is bad” and “preserving and adding up all that is good.”  In trying to explain such a paradox, Dawkins relies heavily on theories with little or no evidence and continues attacking straw men, misrepresentations, and caricatures of Christianity rather than the real thing.

Dawkins offers no compelling naturalistic reason why people are “born dualists,” teleologists, or “innately predisposed to be creationists,” nor why these contribute to survival.  His only real attempt is to link to Daniel Dennett’s three-way classification of “stances” theory to show how these characteristics might make us faster decision makers.

In doing so, he makes assumption on top of assumption and qualification on top of qualification to complete his pretty weak case.  A perfect example is seen in a quote from page 212:  “…I think a case could be developed that some kind of theory of other minds, which could fairly be described as dualistic, is likely to underlie the intentional stance…(emphasis added)”  Wow.  Now that is a statement of purely objective, fact-based, hard-hitting analysis if ever I’ve read one!

One other observation about Dawkins’ argument is especially interesting.  According to Dawkins, mankind developed, by natural selection, to be dualists, teleologists, and creationists.  However, he is proud of the fact that he is a monist, non-teleologist, and evolutionist.  In other words, if evolutionary theory is correct, he and his atheist friends are less “fit” for survival and should be extinct!

Dawkins’ theory on how memes survive and grow is plausible, but he applies it inconsistently.  Certainly memes that appeal to universal human psychology are more likely to persist.  But this is true of both religious and atheistic beliefs.  It is just as likely that Dawkins’ atheistic views persist due to the universal human desire to answer to no authority outside ourselves.  Somehow, Dawkins fails to realize this.

Furthermore, while the evolution of the “memeplex” can explain the growth of false religions, it is less capable of explaining Christianity.  This is because Christianity sprang out of actual, recorded, historical events from many eyewitnesses as opposed to simple mythologies.  At best, memes may explain certain additions or distortions to the Christian faith (e.g. selling indulgences), but not its core.

To avoid this fact, Dawkins lumps all religions together and illustrates certain supposed religious memes as “proof” of his theory.   His list includes “Heretics, blasphemers, and apostates should be killed,” “Faith (belief without evidence) is a virtue.  The more your beliefs defy the evidence, the more virtuous you are,” and “There are some weird things (such as the Trinity, transubstantiation, incarnation) that we are not meant to understand.  Don’t even try to understand one of these, for the attempt might destroy it.”1

As stated previously, these beliefs are either not legitimate or not related to Christianity.  Dawkins is seeking to convict Christianity through “guilt by association.”  Even when he does use a meme that is tied to Christianity (such as the “weird things” example), he misrepresents it and builds a straw man.  No legitimate church teaches that we aren’t meant to understand the Trinity or incarnation.  There are countless books and sermons on both of these topics and Christians are encouraged to understand theology so they can be effective evangelists.

Finally, Dawkins’ comparison of Christianity to “cargo cults” is utterly ridiculous.  First of all, despite Dawkins’ claims to the contrary, there is a wealth of evidence to support Jesus’ existence, teachings, miracles, and resurrection.  There is simply no comparison to “John Frum.”  Furthermore, Jesus was not just “one of many charismatic figures that emerged in Palestine around his time.”  While there were others who claimed to be Messianic, none of them had anything near the world-wide impact or corroborating historical evidence of Jesus.  And none of them birthed a lasting religion, let alone the world’s largest religion that flourished despite brutal persecution for the first 300 years of its existence!  However you view Jesus, you cannot simply dismiss him as just another “charismatic figure” and maintain any amount of intellectual honesty.

Chapter 6 Summary

In chapter 6 Dawkins addresses the issue of morality and whether or not we can be good without God. He describes four Darwinian reasons morality could develop through survival of the fittest.  The first is “genetic kinship” in which genes program individuals to favor their kin for a survival benefit.  Secondly is “reciprocation” where favors or altruism are given in anticipation of future payback.  Next is the theory that there is a Darwinian benefit for those organisms that develop reputations for generosity and kindness.  Finally, he proposes the idea that “conspicuous generosity” is a form of advertising that improves the odds of attracting mates and spreading one’s genes.

Dawkins then cites studies from Harvard biologist Marc Hauser and moral philosopher Peter Singer that most people, regardless of religious background, come to similar moral decisions in hypothetical situations.  His conclusion is that religion must, therefore, not be the driver of our morality.

Dawkins concludes with attacking the basis of the idea that goodness can’t exist without God.  To illustrate, he cites studies that purport to show higher crime, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy, and abortion among more religious populations.  Dawkins hypothesizes that atheism may actually be correlated to better morality because atheists tend to be more educated, intelligent, and/or reflective.

Chapter 6 Response

It is interesting to note that while Dawkins goes into his arguments for how morality comes from evolution, he states in another of his books, The Devil’s Chaplain, that he is a “passionate anti-Darwinian when it comes to the way we should conduct our politics and how we should conduct our human affairs.”2 In other words, he passionately wants to convince us that morality comes from natural selection, but just as passionately doesn’t think we should follow it!

While any of Dawkins’ proposals of how natural selection can “create” morality are theoretically possible, they all ultimately miss the point for several reasons.  First of all, if morality is simply the result of DNA and natural selection, there is no real, objective standard of right and wrong.  Every moral judgment is really just a matter of opinion and there is no real means of declaring generosity, love, and courage as “good” or genocide, rape, and torture as “bad.”  While this admittedly doesn’t prove Dawkins is wrong, it does show why he doesn’t want to live by his own beliefs!

Secondly, if evolution is true, there is such thing as moral capacity or free will.  We are simply organic machines “dancing to our DNA” that act and react according to the immutable laws of physics, chemistry, and biology.  Many well-known atheists including Sam Harris and Stephen Hawking acknowledge this fact.  But Dawkins, both here and in his other works, refuses to do so.  So again, Dawkins is left vehemently arguing for a purely naturalistic view of the world, but unwilling to accept its inevitable outcome.

Dawkins’ attempts to show that universal moral values are similar across atheists and believers based on Singer’s studies is also flawed.  Singer’s studies were designed specifically to test for universal ethics.  He focused on three hypothetical situations like “You see a child drowning in a pond and there is no other help in sight.  You can save the child, but your trousers will be ruined in the process.”3 Seriously?  Of course most people, regardless of religious background, will choose the child over their trousers!

By the way, Christianity does not deny universal morality.  We are all made in God’s image and the Bible even endorses the idea that unbelievers can share Christian morality (Romans 2:14-15).  So proving universal morality does nothing to bolster Dawkins’ case and may even reinforce Christianity’s!

Perhaps recognizing this, Dawkins next mentions studies that purport to show how crime, STDs, teen pregnancy, and abortion rates are higher among religious populations.  I haven’t reviewed these studies to comment on whether or not they have built-in biases.  Factors such as sampling error, “cherry picking” data, not correcting for other factors besides religion, and confusing correlation and causation could all contribute to the supposed results.

But regardless, Dawkins ignores another key point.  It is possible that many “religious” people don’t show better morality versus non-religious people.  The Bible is very clear that everyone, including Christians, are sinners by our very nature.  So again, his argument against the Bible actually reinforces what it says.

Furthermore, one has to ask if the potential lack of difference in morality is due to particular religious teachings or the failure of believers to follow them.  In fact, since the rise of Darwinism over 150 years ago, there has been a continual eroding away of religious faith and practice, even among “believers.”  So perhaps the lack of moral distinction between atheists and believers is because people like Dawkins are winning!  Again, the Bible predicts this throughout the New Testament and most clearly in Revelation.

Chapter 7 Summary

After describing how morality came from natural selection, Chapter 7 is Dawkins’ attempt to prove that morality absolutely does not and should not come from religion.  He makes the case that both in its moral decrees and its examples of God, the Bible’s morality is such that “any civilized, modern person” would find it “obnoxious” and that even its supposed followers do not get their moral standards from it.

Dawkins starts by attacking the Old Testament and how stories like Noah, Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham’s almost-sacrifice of Isaac, and examples of genocide show God’s moral depravity.  He gives a few outrageous quotes from supposed Christian “leaders” like Pat Robertson to reinforce his point.

He then moves to the New Testament and starts by saying that Jesus agreed with him and threw out the Old Testament!  Unfortunately, he replaced it with the equally “vicious, sadomasochistic and repellent” doctrine of atonement.  Further, Jesus was a racist since He limited His teaching and saving strictly to the Jews and was only referring to them when he commanded people to “love your neighbor.”

Dawkins then moves on to describe the evils done in the name of God and religion such as murder, hatred, segregation, discrimination, etc.  His last parting shot is making the case that Hitler might have been a Christian!

Chapter 7 Response

Earlier, I stated that chapter 3 might be the most disingenuous in the entire book.  Chapter 7 makes me rethink that statement.  It is so full of inaccuracies and misrepresentations that it is utterly maddening.  There are simply too many errors and false narratives for me to address them all in this response, so I will limit myself to the most foundational and egregious errors.

First of all, Dawkins’ righteous indignation against the God of the Bible is utterly hypocritical and inconsistent.  How can someone who spends much of his book decrying moral absolutes claim that God and Christianity are so absolutely immoral?

Dawkins’ attacks on the Old Testament are more examples of misrepresentation, partial truths, complete lies, and straw men.  He takes specific exception with several biblical stories like Noah, Abraham and Isaac, Sodom and Gomorrah, and supposed instances of genocide.  I can’t adequately address each of these in detail, but a brief answer to his charges is required.

The stories of Noah, Sodom and Gomorrah, and supposed genocide all carry the common theme of God’s judgment.  Dawkins is disgusted by God’s standards and desire for obedience.  But whether Dawkins approves of God’s ethics and methods or not says nothing about His existence.

On the other hand, these stories say plenty about God’s holiness and justice.  God has clear standards, and as the immortal, omnipotent Creator of the universe and each of us individually, He has every right to demand our obedience.  The people that God judged in each of the instances Dawkins cites were guilty of such horrible crimes as mass murder, child sacrifice, gang rape, etc.  These crimes are often punishable by death in our society today.  So why is God, the one who created life and has complete authority over it, somehow immoral for implementing a just penalty on criminals?

As for Abraham and Isaac, this instance is not some “disgraceful story” but a foreshadowing of Christ.  God sent His only son Jesus to be sacrificed on our behalf, to pay the penalty for our sins.  The primary difference is that Isaac was not actually sacrificed while Jesus was.  But, as we will see later, Dawkins finds this reprehensible as well.

There is much more that can be said and many more examples Dawkins uses that can be refuted.  But the point is that if you over-simplify stories, omit facts, misrepresent things, and take them out of context, you can make anything sound bad.  For example, given the recent Presidential election, I can say “Democracy is the single worst political system in history.  Under the supposed morality of ‘majority rule,’ democracy has presided over slavery, denied women the right to vote, and discriminated against minorities.  In fact, the best that the most advanced democracy in history can do for its Presidential election is a lying, corrupt, felonious, immoral career politician and an egomaniacal, selfish, greedy, hypocritical billionaire.  And the one that lost the vote will become President!  Democracy is a total failure!”  While some of what is stated is true, it is neither the whole truth nor an accurate depiction of democracy.  But this is exactly how Dawkins “analyzes” biblical ethics.

Dawkins continues his false narrative with the blatant lies that Jesus rejected the Old Testament and restricted his “love your neighbors” command only to Jews, excluding all others.  Jesus did refute certain incorrect interpretations of the Old Testament and ushered in a new covenant, but He repeatedly affirmed it as scripture (e.g. Matthew 5:17-19).  And the very story where Jesus gives the “love your neighbor” parable (Luke 10), shows a non-Jew as the primary role-model!  Further, there are many verses in both the Old and New Testaments that show how God’s love and Jesus’ atonement apply to everyone (e.g. Genesis 12:3, Micah 4:3, The Book of Jonah, Matthew 28:19, John 3:16-17, Luke 7:9-10).

But the doctrine of atonement is one that Dawkins finds utterly repugnant and “barking mad.”  Logic and Light has described the atonement in detail elsewhere, so I won’t recap it here.  But in one sense, Dawkins is right.  Punishing an innocent person for the sins of the guilty seems unjust.  But there is a key difference here.  Jesus volunteered to take our punishment.  It was an act of selfless sacrifice on God’s behalf to pay a debt we never could.  In so doing, God’s justice and mercy were both satisfied.  Presumably, Dawkins finds it admirable when a soldier jumps on a grenade to save his fellow warriors.  But it is somehow repugnant when God does it for him?

Dawkins moves on to discuss the evil perpetrated by religion onto mankind.  Again, some of what he says is true.  There are people that have done terrible things in the name of religion.  But it is disingenuous to blame Christianity for the actions of self-proclaimed followers that act in ways diametrically opposed to its values.

Besides, if we compare notes, we will see that atheists have inflicted far more pain and suffering on humanity than Christians.  Stalin, Mao Zedong, and Hitler alone murdered over 100 million people, which is many orders of magnitude more than all those that can be attributed to misguided Christians through the Inquisition, the Crusades, Medieval witch trials, etc.4

Speaking of Stalin, Dawkins briefly addresses him and admits he was an atheist.  But he quickly states that his atheism was not the cause of his crimes.  How does Dawkins know this?  Stalin’s actions were 100% consistent with the Social Darwinism that Dawkins himself rejects.  Stalin believed he was morally accountable to no one and that other people had no inherent value.  These beliefs contributed to his willingness to murder and they clearly came from his atheistic worldview.

Dawkins’ final claim that Hitler might have been a Christian is so historically ignorant it must be a willful lie.  Hitler may have feigned religious practice at various times for political gain, but he was clearly not a Christian.  Hitler is quoted as having said that Christianity was one of the great scourges of history and that he wanted Germans to be “immunized against this disease.”  Further, he felt that Christianity’s teachings of love and humility were useless to National Socialism that required ruthlessness and strength.5 In even making such a ridiculous claim, Dawkins shows both his true level of bias and lack of personal integrity.

Notes:

  1. Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion.  New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin 2006.  232
  2. https://www.firstthings.com/article/2004/08/001-the-devils-chaplain
  3. Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion.  New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin 2006.  258
  4. Turek, Frank. Stealing from God:  Why atheists need God to make their case.  Colorado Springs, CO:  NavPress 2014.  119.
  5. Ibid, pg. 119.
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