Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Dawkins Delusion

Richard Dawkins
This is my analysis of Richard Dawkins book, The God Delusion (2006). I'll start by signaling a couple of inconsistencies. There are many more, but detailing all would require a book size.
·         In chapter 3, Dawkins debunks the theistic argument of the admired religious scientists (how can you not believe in God, when so many admired scientists did believe?). I agree with him, this argument has no weight. But then, why does he use once and again the argument of the admired atheistic scientists? One half of chapter 1 is dedicated to tell us that Einstein did not believe in a personal God. In chapter 2 he asserts, more than once, that most of the founding fathers of the United States were atheists, although few of them dared to confess it publicly. (I suppose that's why they printed In God we trust in their paper currency). He also says that Thomas Huxley, who invented the word agnostic to classify himself, must have really been an atheist, although he never made it public, submitting to the demands of his time. He admits that Newton... did indeed claim to be religious. So did almost everybody [in his time]. A little more, and he would have also said that Newton was another hidden atheist.
·         In chapter 4 he correctly criticizes Michael Behe because he refutes publications that offer an evolutionary explanation for the immunologic system, without having read some of them. But then, Dawkins criticizes all theologians without having read one of them. In chapter 2 he says that theology... has not moved on in eighteen centuries. So St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas and all the other theologians did not exist. He spurns theology saying that I have yet to see any good reason to suppose that theology... is a subject at all, and so tries to justify that he does not need to lose his time reading them. As a consequence, Dawkins ignores modern theology and writes as if every Christian were a strict creationist. (In fact, his book goes mainly against them). Criticizing something without having read it is a prejudice, the same word that Dawkins uses against believers.
·         In chapter 8, defending abortion, he writes: The granting of uniquely special rights to cells of the species Homo sapiens is hard to reconcile with the fact of evolution. But let me briefly spell out the argument for the benefit of anti-abortion activists who may be less ignorant of science... The humanness of an embryo’s cells cannot confer upon it any absolutely discontinuous moral status. In other words, abortion is OK because human beings do not have any special right or moral status, compared to other living beings. It's good when things are stated so clearly. But I don't know whether Dawkins has noticed it, but the same argumentation knocks down the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and can be applied to justify slavery, experiments with human beings, genocide and even the crusades, which seem to obsess Dawkins, for he mentions them in the preface and in chapters 2, 8 and 9. This awful argument also endangers his own theory, sketched in chapter 7, that an atheist can behave as ethically as a believer, for ethics is nothing but the recognition that other people have rights that I must observe. If we have no more rights than an ant or a plant, what rights do we have?
In actual fact, this argument is not so evident as Dawkins believes. Many evolutionary biologists hold that man is not just another species among ten million, but should be classified as a kingdom of nature, as the only cultural species.
Mother Teresa of Calcutta
Let us look at another quotation from chapter 8 about the same subject:
Mother Teresa of Calcutta actually said, in her speech accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, ‘The greatest destroyer of peace is abortion.’ What? How can a woman with such cock-eyed judgement be taken seriously on any topic, let alone be thought seriously worthy of a Nobel Prize? Anybody tempted to be taken in by the sanctimoniously hypocritical Mother Teresa should read [here he mentions a book].
Words of hate judging love.
To end this analysis, I will summarize and refute the main argumentation of the book (the ultimate 747) with which Dawkins tries to prove that it's very probable that God does not exist.
      To explain a Boeing 747 one must postulate design.
      The designer  (man) is more complex than the 747, and his existence also requires explanation (natural selection).
      Our universe is very little probable (much less than a 747). If it was designed, the designer must be more complex than the universe and therefore even less probable.
      Therefore, God probably does not exist. And if He did,  who would have created God? We would get into an infinite regression.
Why is this reasoning incorrect? Because it contains a hidden premise: it assumes that the designer of the universe (God) would be subject to the same restrictions as every physical object: he would be a material, contingent being with a beginning and a cause. Thus he speaks of complexity (which implies materiality), probability of existence (which implies contingency), and demands a cause and a beginning (who created God?). But this is not, and never was, the God of Christianity.
A necessary, immaterial God, without cause or beginning is not less probable than the universe. In fact, if we postulate that such a God exists and created the universe, the latter automatically becomes much more probable, for a creator would have designed an universe similar to ours, where intelligent life is possible, rather than an uninteresting universe with no life.

Dawkins is trying to trick his readers. He starts from his own tacit definition of god, different from the God of every religion, reasons that that god is very little probable, and deduces that every idea of God is equally little probable. It is a clear case of what philosophers call the fallacy of the straw man. The ultimate 747 is anything but ultimate, but as Dawkins seems to be as ignorant as Stephen Hawking about the elementary principles of logic and philosophy, I don't think he notices the weakness of his argument.

Manuel Alfonseca


  1. I think it should be compulsory to include some basics in philosophic logic in every university degree, or maybe in a previous course to access university.

  2. I once heard the phrase, "Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence." That can really apply to Dawkins's "ultimate 747." Just because we cannot conceive of one above the universe does not simply mean that it doesn't exist.

    1. Right. Although Dawkins does not conclude that God doesn't exists, he just says that He is not probable. The problem is, his argument is logically flawed anyway.