5/21/2007

Richard Dawkins – 1

Richard Dawkins’ book The God Delusion (New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006) evokes strong feelings. Most of the arguments presented are not cogent, and the next post or two will address some of them. Not everything will be addressed. Some of the statements he makes about probabilistic arguments seem intelligent. Some do not justify a response. The case presented will outline a strong confirmation of the basic tenants of Christianity.

Dawkins quickly dismisses all of the classical arguments for God’s existence without reason. His issue is the infinite regress. This argument, called the cosmological argument because it is an argument from the existence of the cosmos, is more fully stated in the post Logic and God 3. There are other forms of this argument (what Norman Geisler calls the horizontal form for example), but those are better stated elsewhere.

In brief, the argument proceeds backwards through the series of causes that arrive at us. We cannot expect that an infinite regress of finite causes exists. That is, if we move backward from ourselves to the things that caused us, then backward to the things that caused them and so on, we must find something that did not have a beginning. Otherwise, we would never have moved through the infinite series of causes to get to ourselves.

Dawkins responds as follows:

To return to the infinite regress and the futility of invoking God to terminate it, it is more parsimonious to conjure up, say, a ‘big bang singularity.’ Or some other physical concept as yet unknown. Edward Lear’s Nonsense
Recipe for Crumboblious Cutlets invites us to ‘Procure some strips of beef, and having cut them into the smallest possible pieces, proceed to cut them still smaller, eight or perhaps nine times.’ Some regresses do reach a natural
terminator. (p. 78)

This is a false analogy. To make the analogy fit the argument that is being questioned, we have to think of a strip of beef so long that when we stand at one end of it we cannot find the other end. We simply cannot cut the entire thing into fine pieces because we will never reach the other end of the thing.

Dawkins goes on to discuss dividing gold into pieces. He says, “If you cut ‘gold’ any further than the level of the single atom, whatever else you get it is not gold” (p. 78). He is right. If you move far enough back, you arrive at something totally different than gold. How does this help Dawkins’ case? It seems the example requires something to be a further subdivision. Eventually we will get back to the cause of the continuing existence of the atom. This being must exist. We cannot think of it as not existing; the other option is to think of it as “nothing.”

We cannot say it is “nothing.” As soon as we decide on what nothing is, we have made it something in our thinking. As Jonathan Edwards noted, “Nothing is what the sleeping rocks dream of.” (Reference: Classical Apologetics, Sproul, et. al., Grand Rapids, Michigan: Academie Books, 1984)

It is worth pointing out that the something must also have the power to hold the atom, with all of its stored energy, together. That is power.

Dawkins goes on to criticize many of the probabilistic arguments given, but he has not addressed the classical arguments adequately. There will be more to come later.

Another useful reference in all of this is Reasons for Faith by John H. Gerstner (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1960, reprint 1995). It is a 245-page book that is worth reading. You will easily see that many of the things Dawkins says have been around for a long time. “There is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1: 1-11, ESV).

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