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The Big Bad Wolf, Theism and the Foundations of Intelligent Design - Page 15

Conclusion: The Wise Man Built His House Upon the Rock

"The reviews have been mixed - it's the luck of the draw whether or not you get a religious person." - Richard Dawkins 167

Like his reviews and his reviewers, Dawkins' The God Delusion is a mixed bag. Jim Holt's assessment of The God Delusion is, in my opinion, actually rather understated:

The book fairly crackles with brio. Yet reading it can feel like watching a Michael Moore movie. There are lots of good, hard-hitting stuff about the imbecilities of religious fanatics and frauds of all stripes, but the tone is smug and the logic occasionally sloppy. 168

As both an "educated" Christian and an ID theorist I find plenty with which to take issue in The God Delusion (more than is discussed here indeed); primarily because this rhetorical tour de force relies upon setting up and knocking down straw men. According to P.Z. Myers: "The first half of The God Delusion delivers a thorough overview of the logic of belief and disbelief. Dawkins reviews, dismantles, and dismisses the major arguments for the existence of the supernatural and deities." 169 Myers is mistaken. Dawkins' review of natural theology is anything but "thorough" in either breadth or depth, and mainly consists of dismantling straw men. As Holt points out, Dawkins:

dismisses the ontological argument as "infantile" and "dialectical prestidigitation" without quite identifying the defect in its logic. He seems unaware that this argument, though medieval in origin, comes in sophisticated modern versions that are not at all easy to refute. Shirking the intellectual hard work, Dawkins prefers to move on... Dawkins' failure to appreciate just how hard philosophical questions about religion can be makes reading [The God Delusion] an intellectually frustrating experience." 170

Dawkins' response to the argument from religious experience (which he never actually spells out) 171 is merely to point out that experiences can be delusional: "the brain's simulation software... is well capable of constructing "visions" and "visitations" of the utmost verdical power. To simulate a ghost or an angel or a Virgin Mary would be child's play to software of this sophistication." 172 This single observation concludes Dawkins' attempted rebuttal of the argument from religious experience:

This is really all that needs to be said about personal "experiences" of gods or other religious phenomena. If you've had such an experience, you may well find yourself believing firmly that it was real. But don't expect the rest of us to take your word for it, especially if we have the slightest familiarity with the brain and its powerful workings. 173

Dawkins' supposed rebuttal of the argument from religious experience doesn't even rise to the level of an argument, since it fails to contain more than one premise. Merely observing that the brain can create illusions provides no reason for the conclusion that all religious experiences are illusiory. Indeed, without a premise that restricts the illusion-giving power of the brain to religious experiences, Dawkins' rebuttal counts equally against all experiences, including those which lead him to believe that human beings have brains "capable of constructing "visions" and "visitations" of the utmost verdical power." Hence, Dawkins' rebuttal of the argument from religious experience is self-defeating.

In a quotation free discussion of the matter, Dawkins claims that the famous five "ways" of Thomas Aquinas 174 "are easily - though I hesitate to say so, given his eminence - exposed as vacuous." 175 Dawkins really should have hesitated more and written less. Noting Aquinas' use of the principle that a causal regresses must terminate somewhere (lest, per impossible, it becomes infinite), Dawkins complains that Aquinas' cosmological argument makes "the entirely unwarranted assumption that God himself is immune to the regress." 176 Dawkins fails to recognize that the cosmological argument just is an argument for the necessity of postulating the existence of a being that is "immune to the regress"!

After summarizing Aquinas' fourth way (from degrees of perfection) Dawkins attempts a reductio ad absurdum: "That's an argument? You might as well say, people vary in smelliness but we can make the comparison only by reference to a perfect maximum of conceivable smelliness. Therefore there must exist a pre-eminently peerless stinker, and we call him God." 177 Dawkins fails to notice that Aquinas" argument works with "great-making properties", a philosophically well defined class of properties into which "smelliness" - the subject of Dawkins' rebuttal - simply does not fall. As Christopher F.J. Martin observes, although "the existence of a more and a less does indeed require the existence of a de facto most" 178 , Aquinas is concerned with the existence of more and a less in terms of properties that by definition admit of an intrinsic and logical maximum, rather than a merely de facto maximum. E.L. Mascall explains: "Goodness, so the argument claims, demands as its cause a God who is good; while heat, though it necessarily demands a God whose knowledge of possible being includes an idea of heat, does not demand a God who is hot as its cause, but only a God who can create." 179 Dawkins' chapter on the roots of morality simply fails to engage with the central question of whether or not objective moral values exist and entail God's existence. 180

Dawkins delivers a feast of fallacies in The God Delusion, including: assertion making, wishful thinking, equivocation, data picking, ridiculing anything he cannot understand (on the apparent assumption that there must therefore be nothing to understand) and various ad hominim attacks, from name-calling (e.g. "dyed-in-the-wool faith-heads are immune to argument" 181 ) to "poisoning the well" (e.g. tendentiously talking about "Phillip E. Johnson who leads the creationist charge against Darwinism in America" 182 and "creationist Michael Behe" 183 ). As we have seen, he also attempts to advance a tautology as an explanation and contradicts himself on several occasions.

However, I find plenty with which to agree with in The God Delusion (e.g. that religious faith should not be "blind" faith). Dawkins isn't wrong about everything. In particular, as a philosopher I welcome Dawkins' recognition that ID theorists are building upon solid foundations:

  • Science is "the honest and systematic endeavour to find out the truth about the real world." 184
  • Since the only good reason to believe in evolution is "because the evidence supports it," 185 we should "abandon it overnight if new evidence arose to disprove it." 186
  • "The presence or absence of a creative super-intelligence is unequivocally a scientific question, even if it is not in practice - or not yet - a decided one... The methods we should use to settle the matter... would be purely and entirely scientific methods." 187
  • Patterns exhibiting specified complexity are reliable indicators of intelligent design: "Metronomic rhythms can be generated by many non-intelligent phenomena... Nothing simply rhythmic, then, would announce our intelligent presence to the waiting universe... Prime numbers are often mentioned as the recipe of choice, since it is difficult to think of a purely physical process that could generate them." 188
  • Irreducible complexity provides a valid scientific test of Darwinism: "Maybe there is something out there in nature that really does preclude, by its genuinely irreducible complexity, the smooth gradient of Mount Improbable... if genuinely irreducible complexity could be properly demonstrated, it would wreck Darwin's theory. Darwin himself said as much... genuine irreducible complexity would wreck Darwin's theory if it were ever found... 189

Dawkins thinks that no specified or irreducible complexity has, as yet, been discovered in pre-history. ID theorists such as myself disagree with this assessment of the evidence, but at least we are agreed that the above theoretical foundations of ID are sound and that the crucial question is whether or not the evidence justifies a design inference. As we have seen, Dawkins' arguments to the contrary are about as impressive as the big bad wolf's attempt to blow away the house of brick.

For references to this article, click here.

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