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The Big Bad Wolf, Theism and the Foundations of Intelligent Design - Page 6

Dawkins' attack upon the historical reliability of the bible, which draws upon scholars like agnostic Bart Ehrman (who follows Hume in proposing that miracle claims cannot in principle be supported by evidence 58 ), constitutes a "greatest hits" of the sort of claim I expect to hear from students who have uncritically lapped up philosophically outdated and sceptical treatments of scripture that confirm their prejudices. 59 Plenty of scholars would take issue with Dawkins' opinions concerning the reliability of the bible, on evidential grounds. 60

There is an apparent contradiction between Dawkins' NOMA-rejecting support for the idea that miracle claims can in principle be settled one way or the other by scientific evidence, and his assertion that "miracles, by definition, violate the principles of science." 61 Responding to the latter claim, William Lane Craig writes:

natural laws assume that no other natural or supernatural factors are interfering with the operation of that the laws describes... The law of gravity states what will happen under idealized conditions with no natural or supernatural factors intervening. Catching the apple doesn't overturn the law of gravity or require the formulation of a new law. It's merely the intervention of a person with free will who overrides the natural causes operative in that particular circumstances. And that, essentially, is what God does when he causes a miracle to occur. 62

In other words, using scientific laws to argue against theism is guilty of begging the question. Dawkins might escape the charge of begging the question, and of contradicting his argument that miracles can in principle be verified by science, if it were not for his assertion that educated Christians today know that miracle claims are, not merely unsupported or even falsified by scientific evidence, but rationally absurd:

The nineteenth century is the last time when it was possible for an educated person to admit to believing in miracles like the virgin birth without embarrassment. When pressed, many educated Christians today are too loyal to deny the virgin birth and the resurrection. But it embarrasses them because their rational minds know it is absurd, so they would much rather not be asked. 63

In Dawkins' world it is evidently a sound critique to simply assert that educated people professing allegiance to a belief are so caught up in the spirit of the age that they are embarrassed when pressed upon the subject because "their rational minds know it is absurd". (I wonder how far I can get by asserting: "The twentieth century is the last time when it was possible for an educated person to admit to believing in naturalistic theories of mind, such as that "thoughts and emotions emerge from exceedingly complex interactions of physical entities within the brain," 64 without embarrassment. When pressed, many educated naturalists are too loyal to deny such theories. But it embarrasses them because their rational minds know it is absurd, so they would much rather not be asked"?)

Dawkins obviously knows me better than myself since, despite being well educated, I was strangely unaware of knowing that believing in the resurrection embarrassed me before reading Dawkins' assertion to the contrary. Indeed, I am still unaware of knowing any such thing and protest that I am not embarrassed to profess belief in miracles, including the virgin birth and the resurrection. As Alvin Plantinga writes:

Very many well-educated people (including even some theologians) understand science and history in a way that is entirely compatible both with the possibility and with the actuality of miracles. Many physicists and engineers, for example, understand "electrical light and the wireless" vastly better than Bultmann or his contemporary followers, but nonetheless hold precisely those New Testament beliefs Bultmann thinks incompatible with using electric lights and radios... As a matter of historical fact, there are any number of contemporaries, and contemporary intellectuals very well acquainted with science who don't feel any problem at all in pursuing science and also believing in miracles, angels, Christ's resurrection, the lot. 65

The crucial point here, at least for present purposes, is the point on which Christians agree with Dawkins (even if Dawkins himself is inconsistent upon the matter): When it comes to religious claims about history, it really does matter what the evidence is. I take a different view than Dawkins on the historical reliability of scripture, not because I have a religious faith that brooks no argument, but because I think I can better his claims on the shared ground of rational engagement with the data.

When we come to examine pre-history, Dawkins states:

A universe in which we are alone except for other slowly evolved intelligences is a very different universe from one with an original guiding agent whose intelligent design is responsible for its very existence. I accept that it may not be so easy in practice to distinguish one kind of universe from the other. Nevertheless, there is something utterly special about the hypothesis of ultimate design, and equally special about the only known alternative: gradual evolution in the broad sense. They are close to being irreconcilably different. [In which case they are not irreconcilably different.] Like nothing else, evolution [if it can do everything Dawkins thinks it can do, which many ID theorists question] really does provide an explanation for the existence of entities whose improbability would otherwise, for practical purposes, rule them out [absent intelligent design that is]. 66

While there is an obvious relation between the question of "a creative super-intelligence" and the question of a supernatural creator, they are equally obviously not one and the same question. Evidence for the latter is necessarily evidence for the former, but not vice versa. To move from the former to the latter requires philosophical extension. The theist holds a doctrine of creation that does not demand scientific evidence of intelligent design, but which can welcome such evidence if it exists. The naturalists holds a doctrine of non-creation that precludes any scientific evidence of design unless it is accounted for by reference to some naturalistically acceptable designer (such as Dawkins' god-like but nevertheless evolved aliens); something it is progressively harder to do the more widespread and the more fundamental the evidence for design is shown to be. According to Dawkins, "there is no evidence to favour the God Hypothesis." 67 I disagree (Dawkins' laughable treatment of natural theology appears to be that of someone who cannot be bothered to seriously engage with the subject). However, the crucial point here is the point on which ID theorists (whether or not they believe in God) agree with Dawkins: "A universe in which we are alone except for other slowly evolved intelligences is a very different universe from one with an original guiding agent whose intelligent design is responsible for its very existence." 68 Indeed, such a universe is sufficiently different that the difference might be empirically detectable.

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