A rebuttal of Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion 1

By Robert Slane

Opening Remarks

In the last couple of years, Christianity has come under increasingly hostile attacks from fundamentalist atheists. In America, three books in particular – Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris, God is not Great by Christopher Hitchens and The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins – have enjoyed a high level of popularity. Of the three authors, Dawkins is by far the best known in this country, and his book has been on the bestseller list for some time, earning its author various accolades in the process.

Perhaps we might be tempted to think that such a book has little do with us. But judging by the unanimous acclaim given to The God Delusion in the national press, it is likely that the ideas contained in it will have a big influence on policymakers and the nation as a whole over the coming years. And if this turns out to be the case, we as Christians will find ourselves to be an increasingly persecuted people. For amongst other assertions in the book, Dawkins claims that a religious education amounts to child abuse, which society has a duty to prevent. Does it seem far-fetched that the British State would come to the same conclusion and begin monitoring what parents and churches teach to children? At the moment maybe. But for many Christians around the world, such persecution and interference by the State is par for the course, and if events and laws in this county in recent years have taught us anything, it is that the State is aiming its fire at our faith with increasing fierceness.

As a result of Dawkins’ book, and the others mentioned above, such attacks are likely to continue and the fierceness and intensity of them will no doubt increase. All of which means we will undoubtedly encounter more and more of the arguments made in them when speaking with unbelievers, and it is likely that such arguments will be increasingly hostile. This four-part series seeks to examine the main points of Dawkins’ book and, hopefully, to rebut them. It is hoped that it may, with God’s blessing, help to arm us against the attacks made on our faith, better equipping us to “earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).

The Author, his purpose and his claims

In the short biography at the beginning of The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins is said to be Professor for the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University. We are not told how much time he now devotes to aiding the public in their understanding of science, but it is clear that at some stage in his career he took somewhat of a detour and decided to devote the majority of his time to another cause entirely: attacking Christianity. Not that he sees any incompatibility between these two preoccupations. Indeed, he is adamant that the question of the existence of God is a purely scientific one, and therefore presumably regards aiding the public in their understanding of science and aiding them in their grasp of atheism as two sides of the same coin. But given his increasing obsession with the latter of these vocations, it may only be a matter of time before his masters at Oxford ask him to drop his current academic title, and instead invite him to head up an entirely new department altogether as Professor for the Eradication of Christianity.

Dawkins begins The God Delusion begins by stating that it is aimed at “people who have vague yearnings to leave their parents’ religion and wish they could, but just don’t realise that leaving is an option … usually because of some form of childhood indoctrination.” The word indoctrination, in this sense, denotes somebody accepting something as being true without being able to give a reason why they believe it to be true. To a certain extent Dawkins is right; there is undeniably a great deal of such indoctrination about. Take, for example, the millions of children who have been taught that evolution is a proven fact, and who sincerely believe it to be so, yet who are utterly unable to offer a single piece of evidence to back up this “truth.” Just to cite one example, I once asked a teenager who was a staunch evolutionary atheist to give me one piece of evidence that convinced him of the truth of evolution. After hesitating, he presented me with his prized piece of proof upon which all his beliefs rested: Darwin’s Origin of Species. That was it!

It is unlikely that this is the kind of indoctrination Dawkins has in mind, but nevertheless it doesn’t square well with his claim that atheism is synonymous with free-thinking and indicates a “healthy independence of mind”! Dawkins wastes little time before denouncing religion, and whilst he denies that religion is the root of all evil, he has no trouble asserting that it is the root of most evil. Elaborating on John Lennon’s Imagine, he says: “Imagine a world with no religion. Imagine no suicide bombers, no 9/11, no 7/7, no Crusades, no witch-hunts, no Gunpowder Plot, no Indian partition, no Israeli/Palestinian wars, no Serb/Croat/Muslim massacres, no persecution of Jews as “Christ-killers”, no Northern Ireland “troubles”, no “honour killings,” no shiny-suited bouffant haired televangelists fleecing gullible people of their money.” There is of course much in this catalogue of evils that we would all rather had not happened, but perhaps we might add a few more to the list: “Imagine a world with no atheism. Imagine no Soviet gulags with millions of victims herded like cattle to their deaths simply for failing to acquiesce with the atheistic state, no Nazi holocaust instigated by a madman who took the Darwinian theory of ‘favoured races’ to its logical conclusion, no Cambodian killing-fields, no planned starvation of the people of Mao’s China, no mass murder of unborn babies, no nihilistic young generation without purpose in their lives because they, unlike Dawkins, actually understand the practical implications of being told that they live in a purposeless Universe.”

Later in the book, Dawkins attempts to explain that although a great many evils have been carried out by atheists, there is no evidence to suggest that they carried out their evil deeds because they were atheists or “that atheism systematically influences people to do bad things.” Well no one is suggesting that all atheists are mass murderers or oppressive tyrants! But in the case of all the regimes mentioned above, it was precisely their atheistic character that caused them to do what they did. For example, in the case of the Soviet Union, it was expressly stated by its architect, Lenin that, “We must combat religion. That is the ABC of Marxism.” And in a letter he wrote to Maxim Gorky in 1913, he revealed his belief he was perfectly justified in using force to carry out this goal of eradicating religion: “Every religious idea, every idea of God, even flirting with the idea of God, is unutterable vileness … vileness of the most dangerous kind, contagion of the most abominable kind. Millions of sins, filthy deeds, acts of violence and physical contagions … are far less dangerous than the subtle, spiritual idea of a God decked out in the smartest ideological costumes. Every defence or justification of the idea of God, even the most refined, the best intentioned, is a justification of reaction.” Notice these final, chilling words. They are the words of a man who didn’t flinch from putting them into practice when he obtained power, and it would be a brave or a foolish man that would attempt to deny the link between his atheism and his actions.

Dawkins’ denunciation of all things religious is odd, however, given the fact that, whether he is aware of it or not, he too is a religious man. Unbelievers like to pretend they are not religious, because it fills them with a sense of superiority – as if religion were some putrid disease which they themselves re clever and enlightened enough not to suffer from. But let us be clear: atheism is a religion. The word “religion” comes from the Latin word religio, which literally means “to bind together.” This binding together can be taken in two senses, personal and collective. On a personal level, it means the set of beliefs which a person holds to and which are essentially “bound together” in their mind to form their worldview. And since it is the case that atheists have such a set of beliefs, it is clear that on the personal level atheism falls as much within the definition of a religion as, say, Christianity or Islam.

On the collective level, religion is a set of beliefs which “bind together” many people to form a distinctive, organised group. Whilst the atheist might grudgingly admit that he is religious in the personal sense of the word, it is likely that he will be deny being so in the collective sense, claiming that it is not religion as such that he is opposed to, but organised religion. Yet it is clear that atheists have just as much desire to “bind themselves” together as members of any other religion do. Dawkins unwittingly admits this when he speaks of the “difficulties of organising atheists” and his hope that the book will encourage atheists to “come out” and “make a lot of noise” so that they “cannot be ignored.” Does this sound like a call for atheists to unite or “bind together” in the fight against the enemy? Yes it does. Is this not then an organised religion? Yes it is.

The two statements of the atheist faith – the Communist Manifesto and the Humanist Manifesto – together with the great atheistic experiments of the 20th Century – the Soviet Union, Albania, North Korea etc – are ample proof of how capable and determined atheists can be to “bind themselves together” around their shared beliefs. Whatever else atheism is, it is clearly a religion in both the personal and the collective sense. It might be objected that what Dawkins really means when he uses the term “religion” is the worship of a deity or deities. Fine, but this still doesn’t square with his claim that a world without religion would be a world without evil. If there were any truth in the claim, it ought to be the case that wherever “non-religion” has been practiced, we should be able to look at that place as a beacon of light to be admired and copied. But can we do this? Hardly! It is for the atheist to explain why “no religion” has never lived up to John Lennon’s fantasy, but rather has left a trail of havoc in its wake. Perhaps they were merely the wrong type of atheists! Perhaps the problem was a stubborn undercurrent of religion which remained to thwart the great atheistic projects! Or perhaps the understanding of these atheists was simply not as lucid and enlightened as the likes of Richard Dawkins!

Before proceeding to examine the main arguments in The God Delusion, there is one further claim made in the preface that deserves comment. Dawkins present atheists to his readers as a kind of persecuted minority, claiming that people are reluctant to admit to their atheism because of prejudice against them in society. Although he cites a few instances to back up his claim, the general picture he paints of an afflicted and silenced group is laughable. Indeed, the absurdity of the claim can be seen by reading the plaudits on the cover of his book. There cannot be many subjects that unite this nation’s newspapers, but somehow Dawkins seems to have found the magic formula. The Express claimed the book was “desperately needed.” The Guardian described it as “spirited and invigorating.” The Sunday Times saw it as a book to help us shed this “superstitious nonsense that has bedevilled us since our first visit to Sunday School.” To the Mail it was “a rallying cry to those who want to come out as non-believers, but are not quite sure if they dare.” The Sunday Telegraph said, “If you want understanding of evolution or an argument for atheism, there are few better guides than Richard Dawkins.” And the Mail on Sunday asserted, “The case Dawkins makes couldn’t be clearer: There is no God. All religion is wrong.” Does this sound like a subject that society simply won’t tolerate? Can you name one book by a creationist which would produce such a chorus of favourable reviews in the media and be given pride of place in the window displays of all the major high street bookstores (or indeed any place) as The God Delusion was? This disturbing consensus of opinion in the national press shows clearly that atheism is not merely accepted in society; it is in the ascendancy, and atheists appear to be in very little danger of facing persecution for their beliefs.

The arguments set forth by Dawkins in The God Delusion can be separated into seven parts: the improbability of God; natural selection as the explanation for life; natural selection as the explanation for the roots of
religion; natural selection as the explanation for the roots of morality; the immorality of the Bible; the evils of faith; and the equating of a religious upbringing with child abuse. It is to these points to which we now turn.

The Infinite Probability of God

The whole edifice of The God Delusion rests squarely on the foundation of the alleged improbability of God. But despite recently being voted one of the three greatest intellectuals in the world by the readers of Prospect magazine, Dawkins’ main argument for the improbability of God is not much far advanced from the childish question, “If God made me, who made God?” As he says at the close of chapter 2, “The whole question turns on the familiar question, ‘who made God?’ … A designer God cannot be used to explain organized complexity, because any God capable of designing anything would have to be complex enough to demand the same kind of explanation in his own right. God presents an infinite regress from which he cannot help us to escape. This argument … demonstrates that God, though not technically disprovable, is very very improbable indeed.”

The use of this argument to suggest the improbability of God is a hugely misleading one. For the position rests on the false assumption that humans are capable of understanding the attributes and properties of God, such as His eternal and infinite being. Dawkins clearly believes that we are capable of such understanding as he says, “The presence or absence of a creative intelligence is unequivocally a scientific question, even if it is not in practice – or not yet – a decided one.” But it ought to be obvious to us that this is not the case, since all the attributes that God is said to possess are, by definition, outside our knowledge and therefore beyond the realms of scientific enquiry and discovery. Why so? Well, you and I live in a universe that consists principally of three things: time, space and matter, which is why the Bible begins with the grand statement, “In the beginning (time), God created the heaven (space) and the earth (matter).” This being so, our only frame of reference in the physical universe is to time, space and matter, and so using our natural reasoning we find ourselves utterly unable and unqualified to comprehend the notion of a Being who is said to be the exact opposite of these three categories: timeless, transcendent and spirit. So by reasoning and experience alone, we are (as Dawkins tacitly admits) unable to state with any certainty the existence or the non-existence of God. Instead, we are faced with two possibilities: the first is that there really is nothing outside of time, space and matter; the second is that there is something outside of it which we do not naturally know and are not naturally capable of grasping and understanding. So on the basis of our knowledge of all that exists outside time, space and matter – which is precisely zero – the only conclusion we can reach is that the probability of the existence of God is exactly 50/50.

Using the “Who made God” argument to claim that God is extremely improbable is simply an attempt to discern the probability of an unknown (in this case God) by trying to understand the properties of that unknown, which is clearly a logical impossibility. To give a little illustration, imagine a foetus that is able to think and reason as well as a fully grown adult, and imagine that it is aware of the water surrounding it, but not of anything beyond that. Its entire sphere of knowledge consists of water, and everything outside water is an unknown, including, of course, its mother. Now, is the foetus in any position to make scientifically verifiable statements about the probability of the existence of a mother by trying to understand the attributes of the mother? Of course not! And why? To the foetus, which knows nothing but a life lived in water, and therefore which has no ability to conceive of life outside water, the idea of a being that is said to exist outside water appears to be utterly inexplicable and so the foetus would undoubtedly conclude that such a being is very very improbable. This doesn’t, of course, mean that the foetus has no mother. All it means is that the foetus cannot understand the concept of a mother. And so it is with Man. Trying to determine the probability of God by trying to grasp the concept of an uncreated being, is merely a fruitless attempt to superimpose our knowledge of time, space and matter on a being for whom by definition these characteristics simply don’t apply. The question, “Who made God” can never be legitimately used to demonstrate the improbability of God; instead, all it does demonstrate is our inability to comprehend how God did not need to be made.

But if we cannot determine the probability of God by looking at the attributes of that which we do not know (i.e. His eternal being), the question arises can we do so by looking at that which we do know: time, space and matter. The answer is yes we can, but in order to do this, we must first understand two things: firstly, the alternative explanation of how the Universe came into being (i.e. the Big Bang) and secondly, the nature of probabilities. The version of the Big Bang theory which is widely touted in the media and believed on by the general public goes something like this: billions of years ago, an atom or “cosmic ball” containing an astronomical amount of matter, exploded, releasing the matter into a pre-existing space. But it is important to grasp that this is not what Big Bang theory actually proposes at all. In the popular version, matter, time and space are pre-existing. But in the real version of the theory, there is no matter, there is no space and there is no time. On the contrary, matter, time, space (and energy) are all said to have come into existence with the Big Bang and so are all products rather than pre-existing components of it. So the Big Bang doesn’t just pit a random atom in the depths of time and space against God; it actually pits no time, no space and no matter – literally nothing – against God.

As for probability, the likelihood of an event occurring depends on the strength of the entity acting upon that event. So for example, if you were asked which team has the greater probability of winning next year’s F.A. Cup, Salisbury City or Manchester United, you will almost certainly say Manchester United, because they are the stronger team. So in the world of football, so in the Universe as a whole: the greater or more powerful the entity, the greater the probability of the event it acts upon coming to pass. Although we cannot determine the probability of God by examining His attributes, we can apply the principle of probability to the Universe, asking whether it is more likely that it was brought into existence by God or by the Big Bang. So if we first put God into the equation and ask, “What is the probability of an infinite and omnipotent entity being able to bring the Universe into existence” what do we find? Well, since the strength of the entity – God – is infinite, it follows that the probability of such an entity being capable of bringing the Universe into existence is effectively an infinite probability. If we now put the conditions that are supposed to have existed with the Big Bang into the equation and ask, “What is the probability of nothing being able to bring the Universe into existence,” what do we find this time? Well since the strength of the entity in question this time is effectively zero, it follows that the probability of this “non-entity” being able to bring the Universe into existence is not, as evolutionists would have us believe, merely extremely unlikely; it is in fact an infinite improbability.

This is in effect the teaching of Romans 1:19: “For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse.” In other words, “Although the attributes of God, such as His eternal being, are indiscernible to you because they lie entirely outside your sphere of knowledge, the Universe, which does lie within your sphere of knowledge, clearly testifies that it must have come from God, leaving you with no rational basis for doubting His existence.” The whole premise on which The God Delusion rests is therefore a delusion itself. We cannot understand the attributes of God; yet we can understand the attributes of the Universe, and it is these attributes which unmistakably declare that far from being “very very improbable,” God is in fact an infinite probability.

To be continued

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