This is part three of a series on Richard Dawkins The God Delusion. I am writing a running commentary on the book as I read it, more or less.
Part I: Starting "The God Delusion"
Part II: A Deep Atheist
In the second chapter, Dawkins explicitly sets out his two alternative hypotheses in the God debate (p. 31): (1) “there exists a superhuman, supernatural intelligence who deliberately designed and created the universe and everything in it, including us. (2) “any creative intelligence, of sufficient complexity to design anything, comes into existence only as the end product of an extended process of gradual evolution.” This dichotomy does not seem extensive enough. Of course, it is expected that the following argument would stem from Dawkins’ hypotheses, but the hypotheses are not on the same physical plane. The phrase “comes into existence” is the kicker. I would expect to think that most theologians would define God as “existence” itself. Without God as the creator, without God’s existence, nothing would exist, or be created. God does not “come into existence”; He/She/It is; as in Abrahamic religions put it, God is “I am”. If there is no “am”, no other thing exists.
Further in definition (2), evolution is a process that results in an end product. Without a first cause, an end product is not possible. God is that first cause that has always existed within and without of our limited time referencing. The complexity argument will come up again in a future chapter (at this point I have read into Chapter 5).
The supposed progression from polytheism to monotheism is discussed (p. 32-36). Gods were seen to be contained in many facets within nature at first. Later, God was seen as an overall creator.
I would say that first in polytheism, people naturally found gods to be part of all the wonderful things of nature; nature was personified. From this, fantastic folk stories were made up to describe how the gods interacted with humans and between themselves. Later within the Abrahamic religions, real people were portrayed as interacting between themselves and with the one Creator of all things. These personal religions are more believable since they are mainly based on facts of the history of man rather than on fanciful stories (of course there are exceptions to the rule to make it more interesting; obviously, history can be boring).
He then goes back and forth between mono- and polytheism at will. “[St. Gregory’s] words [on the Trinity] convey the characteristically obscurantist flavour [sic British] of theology, which – unlike science or most other branches of human scholarship – has not moved on in eighteen centuries.” Revealed Truth of religion doesn’t “move on”; it can only deepen in meaning (as in a reflection on the Trinity). There’s one major difference between science and religion (not that they’re “non-overlapping magisteria, or NOMA, p. 54-61) in terms of the here-and-now. Revealed Truth of religion deals with historic revealed Truth, or past evidence and science deals with falsifiable data in the present. One cannot “move on” from the past evidence of revealed Truth, one either believes it or not. That’s where faith comes in. However, faith’s necessity does not diminish the significance of the past facts.
Dawkins said previously that he hated that religions were a socially unchallengeable topic. From this, I suppose, the impetus to write this book was brought about. In response, Dawkins says, “I am attacking God, all gods, anything and everything supernatural, wherever and whenever they have been or will be invented.” (p. 36) Of course, he assumes God is invented in our mind: we material humans materially made an immaterial ‘man in the sky with a long white beard’ (p. 36) or something along the same lines in our head. So we have as seen in the polytheistic religions. However, Abrahamic religions suggest that God is external to our minds; I suggest that he made our minds, though whatever physical process (which is irrelevant), in order to seek Him via faith and in reason. We just need some revealed historical Truth to help us along.
Ultimately, Dawkins will predictably reject any historical facts that are not explicit unless it fits his model of the world (such as the fossil record or letters by Jefferson). However, what if his model is wrong, especially if he does not let some relevant historical data into it. He will not ultimately reach one of his revealed goals: to find the truth about the world. I respond that without God, there would be no world, no matter what dimension, multiverse, or whatever we’re in.
Next, the Founding Fathers of the US were discussed. (pp. 38-46) In my opinion, it is irrelevant what the Fathers thought about religion. What matters is what made the Constitution and Declaration of Independence. Dawkins is ultimately complaining that the religious of America are too influential. Well, we (including myself) are because we have numbers that stick together in general, at least more than atheists.
In the next section (pp. 44-45), the poor atheists are lamented. What does this have to do with the topic?
Next (p. 47), he interestingly discusses the end-Permian extinction of the dinosaur age in relation to “The Poverty of Agnosticism”. The evidence in extinction is inconclusive in terms of the cause of extinction: there is no definite answer. I would say the same is true of religious history. There is evidence for religious facts in history, but one cannot definitely come to a conclusion. This is where faith is needed to believe.
However, on the other end, there are different forms of agnosticism, PAP (Permanent Agnosticism in Principle) and TAP (Temporary Agnosticism in Practice) (p. 47). Dawkins believes, “agnosticism about the existence of God belongs firmly in the temporary or TAP category. Either he exists or he doesn’t. It is a scientific question; one day we may know the answer, and meanwhile we can say something pretty strong about the probability [in the “Ultimate Boeing 747 gambit” (p. 113 et seq.)].” Of course, the answer will be revealed if Jesus shows up on the last day or we die and see God. Until then, we can use faith and reason to come to an intermediate answer. Also, how can one prove that they saw God in history? I’d say that if many people saw Him (raised from the dead), changed their behavior as if they did (after Pentecost), and had a consistent message, I’d be more likely to believe it. Later, I’ll show with some help that the existence of God is not as improbable as Dawkins posits in the “747 gambit”.
I wonder if Dawkins really believes that “[if God] existed and chose to reveal it, God himself could clinch the argument, noisily and unequivocally, in his favour [sic British].” (p. 50) I wonder what God would do to prove that He existed and if that proof would really convince Dawkins. Since Dawkins believes that God is a delusion of the mind, I wonder if he’ll just think that he’s having a delusion of God. Maybe that is what hell is. Atheists and agnostics just won’t believe that God is trying to speak to them; they’ll walk themselves to hell on God’s left with the goats in their disbelief.
Dawkins presents 7 “milestones” of personal belief in the existence of God. (p. 51) Dawkins writes, “I count myself in category 6, but leaning toward 7 – I am agnostic only to the extent that I am agnostic about fairies at the bottom of the garden.” (See the fairies in the garden quote of Douglas Adams in the “Starting The God Delusion” post above.) In other words, Dawkins is an agnostic, not an atheist. Do his followers know this? (I’m sure (all) the cats disagree.)
A Bertrand Russell quote (p. 52) is used to make a comparison between an unlikely appearance of a teapot in outer space to the existence of God. This story quote is the problem with fiction: one can make comparisons between a made up story and real life that are not in sufficiently parallel realms of reality (same goes for the Flying Spaghetti Monster comparison of p. 53). Further, showing the existence of the teapot and Flying Spaghetti Monster in time-space is a different realm of comparison with something that defines a system in which everything exists, i.e., God IS the creator the system, or of the system as a whole, not part of the system, or a finite entity of the system (teapot and Flying Spaghetti Monster).
The Bertrand Russell quote reminds me of the dichotomous philosophical idea of (1) sitting in a room as apposed to (2) experiencing the system to prompt philosophical theory genesis. We can think of all the possible teapots out there, but shouldn’t we also consider that we simply exist in the room too? The fact that our finite corpus exists means that some infinite entity exists that formed the finite. That infinite entity simply exists and nothing created it. Finite creating finite shouldn’t make sense as Dawkins says, “What created God?” But if infinite created finite, God is not created.
On page 54, line 9, the linking of God and “politics” is mentioned again (pp. 4-5).
Regarding NOMA (“non-overlapping magisteria”) of science and religion (pp. 54-61), of course one can have a discussion which links God (theology) and science. This topic (NOMA) for Dawkins all comes down to the following view. “Martin Rees [said,] ‘The pre-eminent mystery is why anything exists at all. What breathes life into the equations, and actualized them in a real cosmos? Such questions lie beyond science, however: they are the province of philosophers and theologians.’ I would prefer to say that if indeed they lie beyond science, they most certainly lie beyond the province of theologians as well. … I am tempted to go further and wonder in what possible sense theologians can be said to have a province.” (pp. 55-56) Does Dawkins know what theologians do? They attempt to explain and reflect on revealed Truths and events with the language of philosophy. Of course Dawkins would have problems with theology since He doesn’t believe in the historical events and revealed Truths (his fairies). I discussed his fairies above.
On page 56, he discusses the role of why and how questions relating to theology and science, respectively. I can say that if we continue to ask either how or why, we’ll eventually need to answer, “Because God wanted to do it”. Not because, as I’ll propose later, God needs to fill the gaps of our ignorance, but that God fills the role of ultimate answer. I call this the Toddler Theory and Modified Toddler Theory: if we continue to ask why and how, respectively, we will eventually have to answer with “God”.
“Perhaps there are some genuinely profound and meaningful questions that are forever beyond the reach of science. Maybe quantum theory is already knocking on the door of the unfathomable. But if science cannot answer some ultimate question, what makes anybody think that religion can? … I have yet to see any good reason to suppose that theology (as opposed to biblical history, literature, etc.) is a subject at all.” First, did he say that some questions “are forever beyond the reach of science”? What are they? Are they materialistic questions? Is there such a thing as a non-material question that can be answered with a universal truth response, i.e., not dependent on the perspective of the answering sentient being? Second, the last Templeton Prize was won by Fr. Dr. Heller of Poland. He proposes that God is indeed possible in the science of quantum theory. Yes, he is biased, but he uses science as a guide to Truth, not the ultimate Truth. Third, if theology weren’t a subject, no one would study theology.
Dawkins quotes Stephen Jay Gould (p. 57), ‘We neither affirm nor deny [God’s existence]; we simply can’t comment on it as scientists.’ Dawkins states (p. 58), “It implies that science cannot even make probability judgements [sic] on the question. This remarkably widespread fallacy – many repeat it like a mantra but few of them, I suspect, have thought it through – embodies what I refer to as ‘the poverty of agnosticism’.” We’ll get to this probability later with the “Ultimate Boeing 747 gambit”. (p. 113 et seq.)
Regarding testing theological propositions, “The methods we should use to settle the matter, in the unlikely event that relevant evidence ever became available, would be purely and entirely scientific methods.” (p. 59) Oh really, it would be settled? One would need to believe the scientists and their finding. How about if a test was not repeatable due to lack of sampling (singularity)? If it were not repeatable, how would the scientist interpret the data (similar to fossil record interpretation, even if it were more “complete”)? The topic is not that simple. What if the end time came? Possibly no scientific inquiry could be done in the time available.
The last topic on which I’ll comment regards scientifically testing the effectiveness of prayer. (pp. 61-66) Yes, prayer doesn’t work the majority of the time. So what, Jesus didn’t get the Father to take His cup either: Jesus still suffered to the cross. Also, the widow didn’t get her prayer answered except in persistence (Luke 18:1-8); even then, it may not come, or come as we expect it to be.
Finally, Dawkins quotes Micheal Ruse, “When John Paul II wrote a letter endorsing Darwinism, Richard Dawkin’s response was simply that the pope was a hypocrite, that he could not be genuine about science and that Dawkins himself simply preferred an honest fundamentalist.” Then from Jerry Coyne, “To scientists like Dawkins and Wilson, the real war is between rationalism and superstition. Science is but one form of rationalism, while religion is the most common form of superstition.” Maybe Dawkins doesn’t understand the debate as he thinks John Paul the Great (JP2) doesn’t understand Darwinism. Most Christians I know, including myself, are not superstitious. We just believe that there is a God that is good, God is historically revealed in Jesus the Christ, and not that salt should be thrown over one’s shoulder for good luck. The former is not superstition; the latter is. To the pope, Darwinism does not destroy Christianity; it partially explains how material processes develop in nature. (Of course the letter of the pope is not cited.)
In the next chapter, “Arguments for God’s Existence” are presented and critiqued by Dawkins. I’ll again comment on some of his critique.