In The God Delusion (Houghton Mifflin, 2006), Oxford biologist Richard Dawkins argues that belief in God is delusional and deadly. The book reached No. 2 on the Amazon.com best sellers list in November. It ridicules Biola University in a footnote on page 84 that notes former atheist Antony Flew’s acceptance of Biola’s “Phillip E. Johnson Award for Liberty and Truth.” Biola Connections asked Dr. Douglas Geivett — a Biola philosophy professor — to comment on the book.
What’s Dawkins’ take on religion?
Dawkins believes religion promotes immorality and threatens human survival — including hindering science, fostering homophobia and kindling fanaticism. The final chapters read like a manifesto for the eradication of a disease. The book is filled with scornful remarks against religion, like: “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic-cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidical, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully” (page 31).
How have people been “deluded” by religion, according to Dawkins?
Dawkins claims that religious beliefs emerged through the evolutionary process, serving certain survival goals. Now, however, they have outlived their usefulness. He believes the brain constructs sensory experiences that people mistake as God.
How does Dawkins respond to the traditional arguments for God’s existence?
Dawkins responds with glib comebacks and simplistic arguments. He objects to cosmological arguments, suggesting that if God is required to explain the existence of the universe, then something else is required to explain the existence of God. But this is a mistake since God is self-subsistent, whereas the universe is not. Dawkins calls the ontological argument “infantile.” But he hasn’t shown that the existence of God is impossible, and he doesn’t seem to understand that, according to contemporary versions of the ontological argument, if the existence of God is possible, then it’s also necessary.
What does he do with the currently popular “Intelligent Design” arguments?
Dawkins says the appearance of design in the universe is an illusion that can be explained by evolution, with one important qualification. At least three crucial gaps in the progress of evolution — between non-life and first life, between cell bacteria and organisms containing the all-important eukaryotic cell, and between non-conscious life and first consciousness — all apparently must be bridged by sheer luck! Dawkins also claims that the designer hypothesis “raises an even bigger problem than it solves: who designed the designer?” (page 121; italics added). If the existence of a universe with the appearance of design is statistically improbable, he says, then any Being who could qualify as the designer must be much more improbable. But his argument doesn’t even come close to proving that God does not exist. The existence of our universe, with all of its apparent design, is “statistically improbable” precisely because it could have not existed (and, indeed, has not always existed). But if God is the designer who created the universe, and He has always existed and could not have not existed, then there’s nothing statistically improbable about His existence; the Designer doesn’t need a designer.
What’s the most serious flaw in the book?
Dawkins is a scientist, not a philosopher — and it shows in his reckless forays into philosophy. He ridicules one argument for the existence of God without naming a single individual who actually endorses that argument — or even stating the argument clearly. He simply says it’s a “popular strand of argument” that links “the existence of great art to the existence of God” (pages 86-87). Dawkins doesn’t understand Pascal’s wager, which doesn’t seek to convince people of God’s existence, but simply invites reasonable agnostics to “bet on God” by living their lives as if God exists. And Dawkins miscasts C. S. Lewis’ “Liar, Lord or Lunatic” trilemma as an argument from Scripture for God’s existence. Lewis’s famous argument doesn’t come from Scripture, and it doesn’t seek to prove God’s existence. It’s an argument for the deity of Jesus Christ— an argument that presupposes reasonable belief in God.