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Posts Tagged ‘God Delusion’

Introduction

Richard Dawkins (2006), in The God Delusion, makes the claim that “God almost certainly does not exist” (p. 189). He argues that we have enough scientific and philosophical understanding to reject belief in God, that it is a delusion. We can be “happy, balanced, moral, and intellectually fulfilled” atheists (p. 23). He writes this book in the hope that religious folk who pick it up “will be atheists when they put it down” (p. 28). In addition to deeming religion a delusion, he also suggests that it is the cause of many problems in the world and that we should strive to educate ourselves out of it. I write this review to analyze Dawkins’ arguments from a Christian perspective.

Dawkins makes the point that religion has traditionally carried out four roles for humanity: explanation, exhortation, consolation, and inspiration (p. 389). Most of Dawkins’ book deals with explanation (how we and our universe have come to exist) and exhortation (how we ought to behave.)  My review responds to his arguments involving our explanation, as it most interests me and is what I am most knowledgeable about. Although I have objections to Dawkins’ other points, such as that the Bible is not a reliable document, that evolution explains our thirst for God and our sense of morality, I will not address them here.

Explanation: How we and our universe have come to exist

Biological life looks designed. Giraffes have long necks to reach food in the treetops. Monkeys have opposable thumbs to grip tree branches. Bats send out ultrasound signals to locate their prey in absolute darkness. Historically, this apparent design in nature was an argument for God’s existence. If something looks designed, it must have a designer. William Paley was one of the main proponents of this natural theology (Giberson, 2008, p. 22).  The leading scientists of his day, Charles Darwin among them, were influenced by this idea.

Since science offered no explanation of how all of the plants and animals of the Earth had come to exist, most leading scientists were believers in God who designed them. Darwin himself had a belief in God and saw the world through the lens of natural theology (p. 22).

Likewise, the universe looks designed and fine-tuned to allow life to exist. It had a beginning about 13.7 billion years ago, say cosmologists, in an event called the Big Bang. The rate of expansion of the universe allowed galaxies to form (too fast and they wouldn’t have, too slow and the universe would have collapsed in on itself). Gravity is of the ideal strength to allow stars to form and maintain long enough lives to let life develop on orbiting planets. The Earth is in a “Goldilocks” zone, a perfect distance from the sun, not too far away nor too close for life to exist. These qualities, and others like them, lead to the idea that the universe is designed for life. And if it is designed, it must have a designer: God.

Dawkins’ view

(1) Evolution makes God unnecessary as the Creator of animal and plant species. Dawkins argues that the theory of evolution explains the diversity and complexity of life so well that God’s role as Creator is diminished. Slow, gradual degrees of change from simple organisms to complex ones, evolving to adapt to environments, produce creatures that look designed. This natural selection is “an ingenious and powerful crane” that explains the diversity and complexity of life better than the God hypothesis (p. 188). We don’t need a supernatural explanation, because we have a natural explanation.

(2) God is too complex to be a good cause of the universe. As we study the history of life on our planet, we see animals evolve from simple beings to complex beings. Life-forms with a few, basic parts evolve into life-forms with many, intricate parts. Likewise, a universe with basic beginnings of particles and forces has organized itself into a universe of galaxy clusters, binary star systems, and planets hospitable to life. Everything that we see has a cause, and the cause is simple.

Therefore, says Dawkins, when we move back to the beginning of the universe, we should expect to find a simple explanation for it. God is not this explanation, he says, because God is complex. To look at the design of the universe and say that there must be a God who started it creates a bigger problem than it solves. God is a super-intelligent mind able to invent worlds, breathe life into matter, listen to millions of prayers simultaneously, etc. That is a complex being. Complex beings require an explanation. But who designed God? Where did He come from? The existence of such a complex, supernatural being is more improbable than the universe He attempts to explain, says Dawkins (p. 138).

(3) There are probably natural explanations of the origin of life and of the universe. Dawkins thinks it more likely that there is a natural explanation for the cause of the life, rather than a complex, supernatural one. Although it has not been discovered yet, a chemical process of life-forms materializing out of the contents of a primordial soup is certainly plausible. It would be a rare occurrence, but consider the vastness of the universe. There are so many planets. A billion billion is Dawkins’ conservative estimate, that is 1 with 18 zeroes after it. Even if one in a billion planets had the right properties to initiate life, that would still leave us with one billion hospitable planets. Out of these one billion with the right conditions, it’s not so inconceivable that life actually forms and sustains itself on at least one or two of them (p. 165). In fact, we know it’s conceivable, because, here we are!

Likewise, our life-friendly universe is not so unbelievable when looking at it from this perspective of probabilities (deemed the “Anthropic Principle”). Dawkins likes Martin Rees’ suggestion that our universe is one of many inside a sort of multiverse, “co-existing like bubbles of foam” (p. 173). Out of an enormously vast number of universes, each with its own set of natural laws, it is not so unlikely that one or two would end up with laws that are favorable to life. In fact, we know it’s likely because we are in one.

The multiverse would be simple. It would be huge, yes. But it would only be governed by the four natural laws that our own universe is governed by. This is a more plausible explanation and is easier to believe in than a complex God (p. 189).

My view

(1) Evolution does not make God unnecessary as the Creator of animal and plant species. God is the Creator and the Sustainer of the universe. He started it and He keeps it going. Our existence and that of the universe is radically dependent upon Him. “[All of reality] is in existence only so long as God creates and sustains it…. Were He to withdraw His creative power, the universe would be annihilated in the blink of an eye.” (Craig, 2010). God, however, is the only completely independent being in the universe. His existence depends on no one and nothing. He is self-existent (Craig, 2010).

“The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:24-25, English Standard Version).

Even if we have laws of physics and scientific explanations for natural phenomena, it is God who determined them from the beginning. He controls everything that goes on inside the universe. Sometimes He uses supernatural intervention to defy the laws of nature, what we would call miracles: raising the dead, healing the blind, etc.

Most of the time He controls it without intervening. In this sense, God is in and behind everything that goes on, but it looks completely natural. Natural events occur because He intends them to: either He wants them to happen or He permits them to happen. Their existence is radically dependent on God’s sustaining power.

So when human scientists discover natural explanations for things, they are discovering how God has set up the universe to function. They are watching God do His work. The implication of this is that every natural phenomenon will have a natural cause, but it is a cause that God began and upholds. The fact that there is a natural explanation does not deny God’s role.

John Walton (2009), an Old Testament scholar at Wheaton College, puts it nicely when it comes to the relationship between the natural and supernatural. He says “I can affirm with the psalmist that God ‘knit me together in my mother’s womb’ without denying the premises of embryology” (p. 140).

Now, back to evolution. The theory of evolution offers a natural explanation for the diversity and complexity of plant and animal species. Dawkins would say that since we have this natural explanation, we don’t need God as an explanation anymore. This view misunderstands God’s role.

God works in and behind the evolution of species throughout time. He intended for a variety of plants and animals to come into being, and they did (Genesis 1:11-12; 20-21; 24-27). Thus, God is a necessary explanation of the origin of animal and plant species. The theory of evolution is a human attempt to explain how God carried it out.

(2) God’s nature makes Him a good explanation as the cause of the universe. Dawkins says that if God created the universe, then we’re left with the problem of God’s origin. Who designed Him? Where did He come from? However, these questions misunderstand God’s nature.

If He created the universe, that is, space, matter, and time, then He must exist outside of it. Therefore, He is timeless, immaterial, and without spatial dimension. His timelessness is what we mean when we say He is eternal. And if He exists outside of time, then the law of cause and effect is not applicable to Him, as it is a physical law, implying change and the passage of time. He does not change. Therefore, theologians are right to say that God is uncaused and does not need an explanation of origin. He always has been, is, and will be.

God, being God, must exist. If we imagine a god who began existing at a certain point, then we are imagining something that, by definition, is not God. Wayne Grudem (1994) affirms this, saying, “All else can pass away in an instant; [God] necessarily exists forever” (p. 162).

“Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God” (Psalm 90:2).

Dawkins is also mistaken to assume that just because God can bring forth complex creatures and think profound thoughts, He must be complex in Himself. He repeatedly brings up his fascination in a God who would be able to listen to millions of prayers simultaneously, which supposedly demonstrates His complexity. However, theologians note that, while God has many attributes, they are all unified into one, whole being. God is not composed of parts. If God were a material being, inside of space and time, He would need to be physically and mentally complex indeed, to be able to genuinely listen to and answer each prayer. As He is, all-knowing and powerful, immaterial and timeless, this does not take any effort for Him. Grudem agrees, “God fully knows himself and all things actual and possible in one simple and eternal act” (190).

“For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God” (1 Corinthians 2:10-11).

“Your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:8).

“O Lord, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar.” (Psalm 139:1-2).

God’s other attributes, His will, His omnipotence, and His self-sufficiency, easily account for the origin of the universe, the origin of life, and, ultimately, the origin of our species.

(3) Natural explanations of the origin of life and of the universe will still depend on God. That brings us back to Dawkins’ subscription to the multiverse theory and the Anthropic Principle to explain the origin of life on Earth. Dawkins’ use of the theory lets him reject God’s role. We can trust the numbers of the probabilities, he says, which give us confidence in a natural explanation, which we should strive to discover. And if there is a natural explanation, then there is no supernatural explanation. Yet, reminiscent of my point in #1, even if there is a natural explanation, it occurs because God determines and upholds it.

In conclusion, I have argued that God is the primary explanation for the existence of the universe and everything in it. When we adopt scientific explanations to natural phenomena, we merely attempt to explain how God has set up the universe to function. Scientific truth is God’s truth. When we understand science rightly, there will be “no final conflict” between science and Scripture (Schaeffer, as cited in Grudem, p. 275).

“If God is the Creator of all the universe, if God had a specific plan for the arrival of humankind on the scene, and if He had a desire for personal fellowship with humans, into whom He had instilled the Moral Law as a signpost toward Himself, then He can hardly be threatened by the efforts of our puny minds to understand the grandeur of His creation” (Collins, 2006, p. 230).

“We should not fear to investigate scientifically the facts of the created world but should do so eagerly and with complete honesty, confident that when facts are rightly understood, they will always turn out to be consistent with God’s inerrant words in Scripture. Similarly, we should approach the study of Scripture eagerly and with confidence that, when rightly understood, Scripture will never contradict facts in the natural world” (Grudem, p. 275).

“We must not, then, as Christians, assume an attitude of antagonism toward the truths of reason, or the truths of philosophy, or the truths of science, or the truths of history, or the truths of criticism. As children of the light, we must be careful to keep ourselves open to every ray of light. Let us, then, cultivate an attitude of courage as over against the investigations of the day. None should be more zealous in them than we. None should be more quick to discern truth in every field, more hospitable to receive it, more loyal to follow it, whithersoever it leads” (Warfield, as cited in Collins, 2006).

References

Collins, Francis S. (2006). The Language of God. New York: Free Press

Craig, William Lane. (2010, March 10). Doctrine of God [#2]. Defenders Podcast – Series 2. Podcast retrieved from http://www.rfmedia.org/RF_audio_video/Defender_podcast/Defenders2_DoctrineofGod2.mp3

Dawkins, Richard. (2006). The God Delusion. Great Britain: Bantam Press.

Giberson, Karl W. (2008). Saving Darwin. New York: HarperOne

Grudem, Wayne. (1994). Systematic Theology. Great Britain: Intervarsity Press & Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan

Walton, John H. (2009). The Lost World of Genesis One. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic

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