Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Book Review: "The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins (Part 2 of 2)

Chapter 4 is interestingly titled, “Why There Almost Certainly is No God.” However, don’t be fooled: the author is showing no evidence of an open mind. This chapter is basically dealing with the design argument. Dawkins’ refutation basically boils down to, “who designed the designer?” as if theists didn’t think this would be a potential objection. But never mind that. Dawkins doesn’t expect his readers to read theistic works for themselves, for if they did, they’d see how elementary his arguments really are.

I found it very interesting that of all works which could be referenced, “Life—how did it Get Here?” (Published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society) was referenced. Dawkins is absolutely right that this is a popular work with eleven million published copies. But what Dawkins forgets to mention is that the vast majority of these books are owned by Jehovah’s Witnesses themselves. Furthermore, a snowball in a blast furnace has a better chance than a Jehovah’s Witness actually taking the time to evaluate the arguments presented in “The God Delusion.” But never mind that. Dawkins isn’t concerned with presenting the best that the other side has to offer. Instead, he refers to one of the most closed-minded religions in the world in presenting arguments against evolution. After all, why appeal to the hundreds of books and articles that have been written by Ph.D scientists in refuting evolution when you could refer to a book published by the Watchtower?

To be fair, Dawkins does reference Michael Behe in his dealings with irreducible complexity. But, as stated before, the author’s attempt to refute is pathetic. “Without a word of justification, explanation or amplification, Behe simply proclaims the bacterial flagellar motor to be irreducibly complex.” (p. 131) Rather than go into the complex arguments involved with the bacterial flagellum, I ask that you read Darwin's Black Box for yourself and see if Behe argues his point “without a word of justification.” Those who do so will find Dawkins’ statement to be utterly dishonest, even if one disagrees with Behe.

In attempting to deal with the flagellar motor, Dawkins borrows Miller’s argument in appealing to the TTSS pump as evidence that the motor could function as something else before actually becoming a motor. Thus, the author concludes, “evidently, crucial components of the flagellar motor were already in place and working before the flagellar motor involved.” (p. 132) I ask that the reader look at the responses offered by Behe and others to see if Dawkins actually dealt with the arguments fairly, as the issues would be too complex to discuss in this book review.

Dawkins then deals with some of the other theistic proofs, such as the “fine-tuning” argument, but falls into the same trap of not bothering to look at the counter-refutations or modern developments. Instead, the author presents the same tired argument of,

“A God capable of calculating the Goldilocks values for the six numbers would have to be at least as improbable as the finely tuned combination of numbers itself.” (p. 143)

However, Dawkins completely misses the boat with his objection, which actually doesn’t explain anything. This is in light of his example of the man who is sentenced to death by a firing squad, but they all miss. In reacting, the man exclaims, “Well, obviously they all missed, or I wouldn’t be here thinking about it.” (p. 144) This is a classic case of circular reasoning.

I. The universe is set up with specific parameters.
II. Life is here.
III. Therefore, it happened by chance. Otherwise we wouldn’t be here.

The problem with Dawkins is that he neglects the specified and purposeful tuning of the universe. Its not just the mere fact that its improbable. After all, the structures to which a bucket of toothpicks forms after being dumped on the floor is extremely improbable. But finding toothpicks arranged on the floor to read the first page in “The God Delusion” would not just merely be an improbable event, as if it happened by chance. Instead, it would display specification, function, and purpose. This is the lens to which we view all things that are functionally and purposefully specified. But when it comes to the natural world, we have to advocate unproven and unnecessary “multiverse theories.”

Chapter 5 deals with the roots of religion; where it comes from and why we have it. Certainly, I have my disagreements with Dawkins on this issue. However, the issue doesn’t really matter if, in fact, Christianity is true. That is, you can speculate all you want to and come up with innumerable convincing theories. But if something is actually true, then it doesn’t really matter to me how you think it might have originated. And this is a big problem I have with Dawkins’ book; there is far more content that assumes the case is closed than actual arguments against theistic proofs. The number of pages devoted to Dawkins’ opinions on religions is far too numerous in comparison to the shallow level to which he has dealt with the theistic arguments.

I was very disappointed with chapter 6, where Dawkins attempts to answer the question, “why be good?” And the reason I was disappointed is because the question is not, “why be good?” Instead, the question should be, “if there is no God, then what is the basis for good and evil?” In other words, you can come up with all the evolutionary explanations you want to as to “why” we should be “good.” But the problem is, what if your “good” is not the same as my “good?” The “why” becomes completely irrelevant.

Chapter 7 is an attempt to disprove the Bible as any sort of “good book.” But the argument assumes too much; namely, that Dawkins has an objective basis for judging the Bible. Even if the Bible were the most cruel and sadistic book in existence; if it is true, then its morality is true. Dawkins fails to realize this and simply argues on the basis that he is the objective beholder of true morality. But what he forgets is if atheism is true, then morality is up for grabs. In other words, what’s wrong for you might be right for me. Later in the chapter, Dawkins sought to list his “10 commandments,” as if they were somehow authoritative and binding upon all men. Sure, you might find a lot of people who think that its moral to obey, “in all things strive to cause no harm (Commandment #2).” But if you talk to the countless thousands who are in prisons worldwide for causing unjustified harm to others, they might just be there because they disagreed with the “second commandment.” So here, Dawkins assumes what he is trying to prove; that these “commandments” are somehow the yardstick of morality.

Chapters 8 and 9 could probably be lumped together, as they are the epitome of Dawkins’ hostility towards religion. In fact, the title of chapter 8 is, “What’s wrong with religion? Why be so hostile?” Most of the arguments Dawkins makes are primarily based on “religion’s” moral ills. Thus, because “religion” does things to hurt people and disobeys Dawkins’ “ten commandments,” he sees fit to be hostile. And with moral objectivity aside, I don’t blame Dawkins for his hostility. In other words, Dawkins thinks that his morality is right, and so he acts accordingly. I do the same thing, since I believe that my morality is right. But what is Dawkins really arguing here? Everything that is “so wrong with religion” is only wrong because the neurons firing in his brain causes him to think that it is wrong. This says nothing about moral objectivity. Its all assumption, and does nothing for someone like me who believes that God, not Richard Dawkins, is the beholder of morality.

Overall, I was very disappointed with “The God Delusion.” Had Dawkins spent more time in actual argument than expressing his hostility, I might have provided a better review. But it wasn’t Dawkins’ objective to actually convince people like me; those who are familiar with the arguments and are willing to look stuff up. Instead, Dawkins is targeting people who are on the edge of doubt; those who aren’t going to look up the facts or counter-refutations by theistic apologists. And sadly, these people are embracing Dawkins’ brand of radical atheism.

The only way this book can be at all profitable is to be familiar with the so-called “new atheists” and how they might present their arguments. However, in my opinion, your time would be much more well spent in reading arguments by the more sophisticated, less-hostile atheists who actually engage the best arguments from the other side. “The God Delusion” is a complete waste of paper and would have much better use in a recycling bin.


spiritualbrother said...

Nice review.

Chance said...

Quite a review Mike! As always, i enjoy hearing your ideas because of your ability to penetrate a theistic argument beyond the mere theory. I haven't read the book, but i have watched several of his lectures online and have seen his documentary "Root of all Evil?", which first tuned me into Dawkins. Because i have not yet read the book, i cannot provide you with a proper counter to your review or even know if one is warranted if dealing with context alone. I can only provide my own atheistic beliefs and assume that they relate close to those of Dawkins.

For instance, you begin with the idea that atheism couldn't possibly be a "rational" account for reality. I will admit that there are some versions of Protestant Christianity that are more rational than others (with Catholicism being at the opposite end of the rationality spectrum), the fundamental belief that a Creator exists continues to be an irrational idea. I am sure you have countless counterarguments to this and i would have to pick them apart one by one, but i wholeheartedly believe this to be the case.

Next, you briefly described the type of individuals this book targets... those who are confused, disoriented, and do not pursue facts over fiction. Mike... you just described the vast majority of ALL persons who claim a religion of any kind. In fact, i have found it to be MORE difficult to claim to be an atheist. It is much easier to claim the Lord as the creator of all things than to continue to pursue scientific proof of the origins of our universe. We do not yet have these answers... but does that mean we should settle for one that does not require rationalism?

Lastly, i will talk about the argument of "What is Good?". I do not believe that religion dictates what is good, bad, evil, or neutral. I believe that religion has been effectively utilized by governments, kingdoms, or whatever to bring society to order. If religion is not the root, then what is? Utilitarianism. Good or bad is simple economics. You chose a right decision and it is profitable... maybe monetarily, maybe in pleasure. A bad decision is simply the opposite. Using your example about the criminal in prison, the pleasure a man gets from killing another is rarely proportional to the amount of pain that is imposed on society. Laws are used to fill in the gaps, but that is the basic principle.

Sorry it took me so long to get you a response Mike and I would much rather have a discussion such as this in person, but thanks for sharing your ideas.

Mike Felker said...

Hey Chance, thank you for taking the time to read my review. And I also appreciate your taking the time to leave some thoughts.

There are a few things i'd like to point out with regards to some of the things you said. First, its unfortunate that in book reviews, space doesn't permit the development of arguments. I realize that a lot is assumed, and many things are said in passing. So maybe I can use this as an opportunity to develop and clarify some of them.

I appreciated the fact that you viewed "protestant Christianity" as more rational than Catholicism. I couldn't agree more. Where we differ is when you state that "a Creator...continues to be an irrational idea."

I would be very interested in why you believe that a Creator is "irrational." I would take "irrational" to be synonymous with "illogical." Could you perhaps explain which laws of logic, for instance, belief in a Creator violates? It is one thing to assert that something like Intelligent Design or Creationism is unproven but another to say that it is irrational.

Next, I feel that you may have jumped the gun in claiming that "the vast majority of All persons who claim a not pursue facts over fiction." While it is quite true that many "religious" people have a blind faith, I don't feel that it is appropriate to say that this is the case for the vast majority. Perhaps this has been your experience, to which you base your assertion. But either way, I think we'd both agree that true is not based on popular vote. Or then again, many atheists do.

Mike Felker said...

You then claim that it is "easier" to be an atheist than a theist, as if we take the easy way out in asserting that "God did it" when we don't have the answers. You seem to be describing the God-of-the-gaps fallacy, to which I fully reject. You claim that we believe in God instead of pursuing scientific proof for the origin of the universe.

And here is where the problem is. When you claim that the alternative to theism is "pursuing scientific proof," this assumes that naturalistic materialism is all there is, and that this is the only rational possibility. I would submit that this is the atheistic version of God-of-the-gaps. I call it evolution-of-the-gaps. That is, when we don't have the answer, we assume that the answer is in the realm of naturalistic materialism.

The problem I have with all of this is that I don't take my belief in Christianity as an alternative to science and rationality. To me, and other apologists, God is not a "fill-in" for a lack of knowledge on something. Instead, God is the rational answer to these matters. We don't "invoke God" based on what we don't know, but on what we do know.

What i'm about to say is not to insult, but to point out an observation: the constant atheistic drumbeat of accusing theists of simply invoking God when we don't know something is based on an extremely elementary and surface level understanding of theistic reasoning. That is, there is no way one could pick up a book by Dembski or Behe and come to the conclusion that they are just arguing a "God of the gaps." And this is one of the big problems I have with Dawkins and so many other atheist thinkers, is that they don't take the time to actually understand our arguments. Instead, they build strawmen and tear them down.

Last, i'd like to address your argument from morality. Contrary to what you asserted, I submit that God is the only measure for good and bad, right and wrong. You seem to be asserting that right and wrong is determined by personal please and the amount of "pain" that is imposed on society. So if I understand you right, "good is defined as: that which brings society the most pleasure?" If this is the case, then how do you know? Why, given naturalistic materialism, is it right or wrong to promote the pleasure of society? This seems to be something that is assumed but not proven. And in addition, there are a whole host of problems with this approach, when taken to its logical conclusion.

Chance, I think there is a lot more we both could say on this subject. So feel free to respond, or we could save it for another conversation.

Thanks again for reading and interacting. Always a pleasure.