Critique of The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins
Transworld Publishers, London, 2006
The title of this book immediately betrays the bias of the author—even for those unacquainted with the writings of this Professor of the (so-called) Public Understanding of Science of Oxford University, Richard Dawkins. Just to skim the chapter contents is to give one a forewarning of what to expect. For instance, Chapter 1 is entitled ‘A deeply religious believer in no God.’ Chapter 4: ‘Why there almost certainly is no God.’ Chapter 7 is ‘The ‘Good’ Book and the changing moral Zeitgeist’—showing Dawkins’ absolute dislike of the message of the Judeo-Christian Scriptures. More provocatively still, the ninth chapter is ‘Childhood, abuse and the escape from religion.’ The single appendix is ‘a partial list of friendly addresses, for individuals needing support in escaping from religion.’
So much for any attempt at balance and objectivity—this book is certainly not a disinterested search for truth and is devoid of any careful weighing of evidence, for and against his thesis. Rather, it is this author’s most polemical work to date, that of a man driven by an unholy zeal to depose the God he claims to disbelieve in but transparently hates.
However, he takes pains to inform his reader that his venom is mostly reserved for monotheistic forms of God and one in particular:
Dawkins gets angry with what he views as the unhealthy and undeserved respect accorded to religious belief and closes the first chapter with:
Ironically, the first sentence of the next chapter is a veritable torrent of abuse1 directed at ‘The God of the Old Testament … arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction …’ I found offensive and blasphemous. Similar outbursts appear elsewhere but when a professed atheist engages in such frequent name-calling—‘psychotic delinquent’ (p. 38), ‘monster’ (p. 46) and ‘evil monster’ (p. 248) will suffice as examples—one wonders how secure he really is in his atheism.
Such animosity is unlikely to inspire confidence in the reader who wishes to be presented with a well-argued cogent case but will obviously bring plaudits from Dawkins’ most ardent supporters (e.g. Playwright just plain wrong). The perceptive reader—regardless of their bias—will not fail to notice the contradiction between this antagonism towards the Judeo-Christian God, illustrated by numerous outbursts against His attributes, and the following claim:
However, it is not for nothing that Dawkins has been described as ‘Darwin’s Rottweiler’;2 his claimed rationale is spelt out as follows:
Those who have seen Dawkins’ television documentaries ‘Root of all evil?’3 will be familiar with the tenor of his rhetoric on what he here calls the God Hypothesis. Like those programs, The God Delusion spews forth more of the same unsubstantiated claims and specious arguments. Of course, those who are desperate for justification of a world-view that removes accountability to the Creator and Judge of all human beings will be blind to these fatal flaws. Consequently, Matt Ridley—author of books on genetics and human behaviour—endorses this polemic as,
More disturbingly still, Philip Pullman—acclaimed author of the award-winning children’s trilogy, His Dark Materials—says,
Why read and review a 400-page treatise of a man’s hatred of God? Simply because, for all Richard Dawkins’ ranting ways, he is so widely promoted in the mainstream media that he cannot be ignored. While it is true that a number of non-believers do smell a rat when they observe such blatant antireligious bias, many more—including a constituency of his readers that attend churches—accord this man’s writings and opinions with considerable honour. The limitations of a review mean there is much that begs for comment or critique that must be ignored, while seeking to arm the reader with many usable Dawkins quotations.
Early on, Dawkins emphasises that The God Delusion does not refer to the physicists’ God (see Einstein, the universe and God) but to supernatural gods, especially Yahweh of the Old Testament (p. 20). It is believers in this God who are the really deluded ones and this is why he has written what he unashamedly describes as ‘a book on religion’ (p. 351); albeit advocating a view that is indistinguishable from humanism, rather than (as he asserts) no religion at all:
‘The truly adult view, by contrast, is that our life is as meaningful, as full and as wonderful as we choose to make it. And we can make it very wonderful indeed.’ (p. 360)
‘The atheist view is correspondingly life-affirming and life-enhancing, while at the same time never being tainted with self-delusion, wishful thinking, or the whingeing self-pity of those who feel that life owes them something.’ (p. 361)
Those who happen to reject Dawkins’ self-described ‘atheistic world-view’ (p. 344)—or yet worse, creationists—are singled out for the professor’s most scathing ridicule: ‘unsophisticated Christians’ (p. 94) and ‘dyed-in-the-wool faith-heads’ (p. 5). ‘Creationist “logic” is always the same’ (p. 121) and even intelligent design theorists are ‘lazy and defeatist’ (p. 128) according to this Oxford sage. Those who believe in irreducible complexity are ‘no better than fools’ (p. 129). In fact, Dawkins makes no effort to moderate his contempt—after all he is an atheist, and atheism is not even ‘tainted with self delusion’:
The man’s arrogance is palpable. At one point, having attacked irreducible complexity, he says:
Ignoring for a moment the false science-vs-creation sleight-of-hand, the irony is that Dawkins is utterly dogmatic and insistent that his own views on religion are superior to all others! He seems genuinely unaware of his crass hypocrisy when he writes:
This is rich, appearing as it does in a book by a scientist that purports to engage with theology. Indeed, philosopher and Marxist Terry Eagleton opened his own review of The God Delusion with these words:
Similarly, leading philosopher Alvin Plantinga argues5 that Dawkins’ forays into philosophy could be called sophomoric were it not a grave insult to most sophomores.
Those who adhere to a belief in divine revelation subvert science, claims Dawkins.
‘By contrast, what I, as a scientist, believe (for example, evolution) I believe not because of reading a holy book but because I have studied the evidence.’ (p. 282)
‘… and we would abandon [evolution] overnight if new evidence arose to disprove it. No real fundamentalist would ever say anything like that. … But my belief in evolution is not fundamentalism, and it is not faith, because I know what it would take to change my mind, and I would gladly do so if the necessary evidence were forthcoming.’ (p. 283)
Ah, but does he really know his own mind—which after all is ultimately just the by-product of random atomic collisions in his world-view? The professor is on record as saying something very different the previous year:
Yet elsewhere he derides Christianity for allegedly believing things without proof (ignoring Gödel’s famous incompleteness proof that any system as complex as arithmetic will have true statements that are unprovable within the system), so he shows his hypocrisy. Certainly Christians start from axioms, i.e. starting propositions believed to be true without proof, although it is rational to do so as we have explained—and all belief systems start with axioms, as Dawkins illustrates. And does he seriously expect anyone to believe that he would ‘gladly’ change his mind about evolution if the evidence conclusively falsified it? In a rare instance of (feigned?) even-handedness, Dawkins actually claims,
Yet, this entire book furnishes ample evidence that he has failed to follow his own advice!
The fact that Dawkins’ critiques of many carefully argued and long-standing arguments for God’s existence are dealt with in very few pages tells us more about the power of his own self-belief than the soundness of his refutations. For instance, arguments that invoke Thomas Aquinas’ ‘Unmoved Mover’ and ‘Uncaused Cause’ (or similar) are plain wrong, he says in a blatant ipse dixit,7 because the implied/explicit infinite regress must also apply to God himself (p. 77–78) (although philosophers argue cogently that only that which has a beginning needs a cause). Chapter 3 barely scratches the scratch on the surface with respect to other philosophical arguments for the Divine. As for ‘the argument from personal ‘experience’ (p. 87–92), Dawkins believes that this kind of thing simply demonstrates ‘the formidable power of the brain’s simulation software’ (p. 90). But then, how can we be sure that his atheistic just-so story-telling doesn’t demonstrate the same thing, according to his own ‘reasoning’?
‘The argument from Scripture’ (its reliability) is dispatched in only five pages and contains some especially fatuous statements, such as:
‘The historical evidence that Jesus claimed any sort of divine status is minimal. … there is no good historical evidence that he ever thought he was divine.’ (p. 92) [but see The Divine Claims of Jesus and Jesus’ Assertion of Godhood: Miscellaneous Claims]
‘Nobody knows who the four evangelists [gospel writers] were, but they almost certainly never met Jesus personally.’ (p. 96) (of course ignoring real historical evidence such as Gospel Dates, Gospel Authors, Gospels Freedoms)
‘It is even possible to mount a serious, though not widely supported, historical case that Jesus never lived at all …’ (p. 97) [It’s possible to mount a ‘serious, though not widely supported … case’ on anything you like, e.g. the non-existence of Dawkins, but no historian takes the non-existence of Jesus seriously—see Shattering the Christ-Myth]
Each of these assertions is made without a shred of supporting evidence and amount to so much bluff and bluster. Since the nineteenth century, ‘scholarly theologians’ (i.e. liberals) have all but proved the unreliability of the Gospels—so he says. His other sources for alleged contradictions or errors in the New Testament are sceptics like himself, such as a writer for the Free Inquiry, and he actually thinks that embittered apostate charlatans like Brian Flemming are credible. Does he seriously believe that Christians have no answer to the charge that, since Matthew 1 and Luke 3 record very different genealogies, this is a ‘glaring contradiction’ (never mind that theologians have long shown from the original Greek grammar that Luke is presenting Mary’s line)? Predictably, he wheels in gnostic writings to further poison these already muddy waters (p. 96).
Chapter 4 ‘contains the central argument of my book’, says Dawkins, and he gives a useful six-point summary of it (pp. 157–158). To précis this yet further: It is tempting to explain design using the watchmaker analogy but this is false because the Designer then needs an explanation (again misconstruing the designer as having a beginning in the first place, as well as explaining away the fact that God is not composed of different parts). Ergo, natural selection is the only option and we ‘can now safely say’ design is merely an illusion. An ultimate origin (i.e. of the universe itself) awaits a better explanation but the multiverse theory is favoured by Dawkins, even though the alleged other universes are not observable even in principle, so it is hardly a scientific theory. ‘We should not give up hope’ of finding ‘something as powerful as Darwinism is for biology’ to explain cosmology. That is basically all there is to the book’s central argument and anyone conversant with Dawkins’ previous writings (e.g. Climbing Mount Improbable) will find nothing novel here.8
He does engage with Behe’s concept of irreducible complexity9—though very weakly indeed. After quoting from Darwin, he concedes,
One wonders how thoroughly Dawkins has explored each case of claimed irreducible complexity. For instance, his attempt at a refutation of the bacterial flagellum motor is straight out of Kenneth Miller’s discredited book Finding Darwin’s God, an argument that is as fallacious as it is audacious.10 Surprisingly he even gets his facts wrong, claiming that:
‘The flagellar motor of bacteria … drives the only known example, outside of human technology, of a freely rotating axle.’ (p. 130)
‘It has been happily described as a tiny outboard motor (although by engineering standards—and unusually for a biological mechanism—it is a spectacularly inefficient one.’ (pp. 130–131)
On the contrary, Dawkins is apparently ignorant of the F1 ATPase motor,11 direct observations of the rotation of which were published in Nature in 1997; that same year, several scientists shared the Nobel Prize for Chemistry for this discovery. Also, the bacterial flagellum motor is 100% efficient at cruising speed.12 Such errors hardly inspire confidence.
It’s notable that Dawkins says he recommends Miller’s book to Christians—showing clearly how he treats theistic evolutionists as ‘useful idiots’ who undermine their own faith.
In fact, his insinuation of a ‘god of the gaps’ mentality grossly misrepresents the argument for irreducible complexity. Far from being an intellectual cop-out (‘we can’t imagine how this complexity was produced so God must have done it’), design is the only credible scientific explanation for certain data based on what we do know—it is precisely for this reason that non-theists and agnostics have joined the ID movement.
However, no matter how powerfully a case can be made for irreducible complexity, Dawkins will then appeal to his final ‘clincher’ argument:
Aside from the fallacy pointed out already, Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga has pointed out that his argument also begs the question by presupposing materialism. In other words, it presupposes that God is composed of the same sort of matter/energy as the universe, and subject to the same laws. Such an approach a priori rules out the notion that God is spirit, is the uncaused First Cause, is eternal, etc. It thus seeks to discredit God’s own claims about Himself without engaging them on their own terms, ruling them inadmissible by default.
In chapter seven, the missionary zeal of this apostle of atheism becomes very apparent indeed. His thesis is that morality needs neither God nor religion and that the Bible’s standards of morality are abhorrent. First of all, he launches a diatribe against the Old Testament and key players in its history (p. 237–250). To Dawkins, much of the Bible is ‘weird’ and strange so perhaps his theological illiteracy is partly accounted for. Yet, for a man who has clearly studied the Bible—after a fashion—his (mis)use of it in these pages smacks more of calculated deceit. Almost gleefully, he describes immoral actions (such as Lot’s incest with his daughters in Genesis 19 and the Levite’s behaviour concerning his concubine in Judges 19) and concludes that this shows the Bible is not our source for morality (ignoring that not everything reported in the Bible is endorsed by the Bible). But he also wilfully twists the actions of the heroes of faith—so Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac is ripped out of all context to make him a child abuser! Moses and Joshua also receive a bashing by this self-appointed theological expert, but his animosity is always at its fiercest when he is persecuting the God that these biblical figures worshipped and served:
Dawkins truly lives up to the name ‘A Devil’s Chaplain’13 when he writes about the New Testament, quickly showing his true colours. For instance,
As an aside, Dawkins never tells us how he defines a ‘good person’. Indeed, he bandies about such terms as ‘good’ and ‘evil’ (often when indulging in ad hominem remarks about his detractors) quite brazenly and fails to justify his inconsistent absolutist position. So,
‘… Hitler and Stalin were, by any standards, spectacularly evil men.’ (p. 272)
‘Faith is an evil precisely because it requires no justification and brooks no argument.’ (p. 308)
By what standards (omitting the Bible which he rejects) does Dawkins make these points? He doesn’t say. And it seems incongruous with his recent support for eugenics, on the grounds that 60 years is enough time to reconsider some of Hitler’s ideas.
However, what is more pertinent here is that Dawkins reveals his understanding of the central tenets of the Christian faith. Without Adam’s sin, Jesus’ atoning sacrifice for sins (foreshadowed by the Abraham/Isaac incident; i.e. ‘no accident’) becomes meaningless. The doctrine of original sin and the atonement is, as he says, at the very ‘heart of New Testament theology’; we heartily agree. Yet this Gospel is an offence to Dawkins who has chosen to deny God and deny his own sin in order to avoid accountability to his Creator:
How tragically ironic that the very doctrines which Dawkins attacks with a vengeance are also denied by theological liberals and by increasing numbers of professing evangelicals—some have lately been downplaying or attacking not only Creation and the Fall of man but also the penal substitution of Christ for sinners.14
Later, Dawkins asks why God couldn’t just forgive sins without sacrifice but he knows the biblical answer and actually refers directly to Hebrews 9:22. So Dawkins does understand Christianity—much better than many ordinary Christians do—but he wilfully rejects it. In fact, he admits to hoping to make atheists out of some of his religious readers (p. 5).
This is an important take-home message. Dawkins is on a mission is to undermine faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as the only Saviour of human beings. The pronouncements of theistic evolutionists and others who downplay Genesis as history aid and abet him and his ilk:
Defending the historicity of Adam is something that Dawkins would fully expect creationists to do—though he despises them for doing so. On the other hand, his disdain for fence-sitters (p. 46) and theological compromisers is hard to miss; for example:
Clearly, Dawkins hates these doctrines for the moral problem that they expose in himself and others but he has another reason too—an originally perfect Creation and Redemption through the atoning work of Jesus are diametrically opposed to his naturalistic world-view, a vision that he believes, passionately, requires no God:
Other examples of Dawkins’ criticism of compromising ‘believers’, who pick and choose which parts of the Bible they are comfortable with, are found on pages 157 (belief in the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection), 238 (Genesis not literal), and 247 (Scriptures symbolic or literal).
We have already seen that the author is careful to disparage anything and anyone religious. Chapter 5 is a vain and facile attempt to explain religion’s roots from a naturalistic perspective. Religion might be ‘a placebo that prolongs life by reducing stress’ (p. 167) or perhaps it exists merely as a by-product of some separate entity that gave survival value (not having any survival value of its own; p. 172). For example, it’s good for a child to trust his/her parents (it enhances survival value) but religious beliefs are also, thereby, passed on. Alternatively,
Having just decried the idea that faith is a virtue (and scorned those who believe in the Trinity but concede their limited comprehension of all it entails), Dawkins gives us his best shot at explaining why religion exists:
Yet, the ‘meme’ hypothesis of Dawkins merely describes the transmission of ideas and beliefs over generations and falls far short of explaining the origin of religion—amounting to so much hand waving (even according to many evolutionists) and, well, faith (of the blind sort, not the biblical kind). It also ignores the historical evidence for the claims of Christianity, in particular Jesus’ resurrection.
Dawkins believes that morality probably predated religion (p. 207). Then again, he ought to know because he believes he has a firm grasp on the difference between true and false religion. Thus, we are told that the atrocities perpetrated by Hitler (a fanatical evolutionist, incidentally) were carried out by soldiers ‘most of whom were surely Christian’ (p. 276, although atheist and famous evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr testified that biblical Christianity was almost non-existent in Germany when he grew up)! Furthermore, ‘without religion there would be no labels by which to decide whom to oppress and whom to avenge’ in Northern Ireland and ‘the divide [between Protestant and Catholic] simply would not be there’ (p. 259)! Perhaps he has forgotten the Hutu/Tutsi divide in Rwanda. After all, religion is ‘the root of all evil’.3 In contrast, he seeks to reassure the reader:
One hopes that many of his readers are rather more well-informed than Dawkins gives them credit for.15 Christian persecutions were inconsistent with the teachings of Christ, while atheistic persecutions were consistent with atheism—indeed, communists have persecuted non-atheists precisely because they were non-atheists .
So, ‘why are we good’ (chapter 6) if a bloody evolutionary struggle is responsible for human existence?
Dawkins is not joking—for humans also, feelings of pity are no different from lust:
Dawkins is truly a man of considerable faith, witness the following pseudoscientific beliefs that he holds:
· There are probably ‘superhuman’ alien civilizations elsewhere in the universe (p. 72).
· ‘I think it is definitely worth spending money on trying to duplicate [the origin of life] event in the lab and - by the same token, on SETI, because I think that it is likely that there is intelligent life elsewhere’ (p. 138).
· There may well be a plethora of universes (the ‘multiverse’) and he even claims: ‘we are still not postulating anything highly improbable’ (p. 147)!
In addition, he indulges in blatant circular reasoning on several occasions:
‘We exist here on Earth. Therefore Earth must be the kind of planet that is capable of generating and supporting us …’ (p. 135)
‘Darwinian evolution proceeds merrily once life has originated. But how does life get started? The origin of life was the chemical event, or series of events, whereby the vital conditions for natural selection first came about. … The origin of life is a flourishing, if speculative, subject for research. The expertise required for it is chemistry and it is not mine.’ (p. 137)
He is right about his ignorance of chemistry. But, neither does the professor have expertise in theology or astrophysics, yet he discusses these at length. The real reason for his disclaimer is that nobody has the faintest idea how life got started—but that it happened is axiomatic for Dawkins:
That has to be the ultimate in circularity although there are other instances in the book (e.g. regarding human embryos, p. 300). One of his main arguments against God’s existence, as we have seen, is that such a being demands an explanation but is held to exist by faith. He is seemingly blind to the many incredible things (also complex and demanding an explanation) which he believes as a matter of faith; such as other universes, the spontaneous origin of life and ETs—all without a shred of supporting evidence. Dawkins believes that Darwinism explains the whole shebang:
And this is the man who is trying to convince his readership that believers in God are deluded!
In view of the foregoing, it is not easy to stomach Richard Dawkins’ sanctimonious attitude towards his dissenters who choose to teach their children a biblical world-view—one which incorporates honour and respect for God and for one’s fellow human beings. He is, by now, infamous for his attacks on Christian schools which dare to expose children to alternatives to his bleak, atheistic take on life—such parents and teachers are guilty of ‘child abuse’ in his celebrated opinion. More than once, Dawkins argues that there is no such thing as a Christian child or a Muslim child (e.g. p. 338 & 339), something that many children would have something to say about! He has a real fixation about this:
Absolutism, he argues, has a dark side—many times in the book, he equates believers in a literal Genesis or the conservative Christians of the USA with the ‘Taliban’ (e.g. p. 289). Needless to say, he admits little of the dark side of atheistic and evolutionistic intolerance and absolutism and its consequences for the lives of millions during the last century.16
He expects young people to be exposed to his wisdom, yet how many parents would be happy for their children to imbibe Dawkins’ twisted take on human life:
Dawkins does concede that if, ‘having been fairly and properly exposed to all the scientific evidence, they [children] grow up and decide that the Bible is literally true or that the movements of the planets rule their lives, that is their privilege.’ (p. 327)
But, he says, parents should not impose their views on their children. Of course, the learned professor is exempt from his own advice—witness the incident he related in Climbing Mount Improbable, where he took pains to put his young daughter ‘right’ for taking a teleological view of wild flowers.17 Exposing young people to ‘all the scientific evidence’ clearly would not equate to teaching evolution ‘warts and all’—including its scientific flaws—in Dawkins’ mind!
Are there any parts of this anti-God disputation with which a creationist might agree? Well, yes, but many are a sad reflection on the state of the church—and of society in general—in our western culture:
‘In England … religion under the aegis of the established church has become little more than a pleasant social pastime, scarcely recognizable as religious at all.’ (p. 41)
‘There seems to be a steadily shifting standard of what is morally acceptable.’ (p. 268)
However, this changing ‘spirit of the age’ (zeitgeist) is something Dawkins approves of. Those who ‘advance’ with the times therefore approve of abortion. Dawkins correctly notes:
But how many pro-lifers realise the foundational (Genesis) basis for defending the sanctity of human life? An ignorance of what the Bible actually teaches in its opening chapters is lamentable. Elsewhere in his book, Dawkins says:
Biblical ignorance is a large part of the reason for the moral laxity and relative moral stance taken by so many today (including within churches)—although Dawkins’s point is simply that the Authorized, King James Version of the Bible has important literary merit.
And finally, we would, with Dawkins, highlight this statement (though not in the way he means it):