Posted by: Jaime | January 31, 2009

The God Delusion: The God Hypothesis

empirical-experiment-for-the-god-hypothesis1

Dawkins from time to time has been identified as a sophist. Besides being Socrates favorite opponents for a philosophical brawl, sophists are masters of rhetoric. They use rhetoric to win over audiences rather than following the rules of rational argument.

Dawkins chapter the God Hypothesis, to my displeasure, was 42 pages long. Amazingly he deals with this God Hypothesis and his argument against it in just two paragraphs! On page 31 he lays out the terminology of the God Hypothesis and his own thesis against it.

God Hypothesis There exists a super-human, supernatural intelligence who deliberately designed and created the universe and everything in it, including us.

On the contrary Any creative intelligence, of sufficient complexity to design anything comes in to existence only as the end product of an extended process of gradual evolution.

It isn’t again until page 73 that he formulates his argument. He takes the 42 pages in between to develop a number of motifs including: religion is a superstition, religious people are backward unreasonable hypocrites with too much power, all atheist and Temporary Agnostics in Practice are exemplary people unjustly persecuted, and science will answer all of our (legitimate) questions.

Before moving on to address his main argument, it is helpful to restate Michael Buckley’s account of the New Atheists methodology in the article, “The Madman and the Crowd: For the New Atheists, God is Not Worth a Decent Argument.” Buckley claims that the New Atheists’ methodology amounts to taking a single position, then seeking and using only evidence that supports that claim. The 40 pages in between Dawkins main argument are full of one sided evidence. All the atheists he cites seem to be the most logical humanist to have arisen in humanity. He gives some of the most embarrassing examples of small minded believers and abusers like the televangelist Oral Roberts. Religious people he reserves his judgment toward are the secularist American fathers who, as deist, banished God from interacting in the world. He also takes no swings at the respectable Gandhi. He doesn’t take the time to grapple with really smart intellectuals who were believers.

All the claims Dawkins’ makes against religion rest on the assertion that it believes in a God that is not real. Going back to his thesis he claims that a creator God cannot be real because it takes more to explain God’s existence than the God Hypothesis explains on its own. In the Dawkin’s Lennox Debate, Dr. Lennox giving a very strong rebuttal to this thesis, along with a great number of other points in Dawkins’ book. Lennox says that this is not a defendable position, especially from the discipline of empirical science. This is because explanations in terms of science are always expanding. Gravity seems pretty simple explained with as an apple falling from a tree, but as a rift in space time, it seems beyond the minds of all except for the most intelligent. Therefore, the complexity required for the explanation of the intelligent mind in the universe (God) is not a solid argument against the validity of God, even from a scientist’s perspective.

Something else that deserves attention is the argument on page 36, “The God that Dawkins doesn’t believe in is a God that I don’t believe in either,” but, “I am not attacking any particular version of God or gods. I am attacking God, all gods, anything and everything supernatural, wherever they have been or will be invented.” It has already been ruled out above that Dawkins’ attack on the existence of any kind of God doesn’t achieve what he claims. This passage does seem to have some connection with what goes on between page 51 and 54. Dawkins connects belief in God with belief in a celestial teapot, the tooth fairy, and the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Dawkins writes, “The point of all these way-out examples is that they are un-disprovable, yet nobody thinks the hypothesis of their existence is on an even footing with the hypothesis of their non existence.” Dawkins is arguing that the only defendable arguments for God are those that put God completely beyond this realm of the material world.

Dawkins gives theist the fallacy of a choice between two extremes. We can worship the deist God that has no interaction with the world or the God of the superstitious. The God of superstition intervenes in our lives in a way that is scientifically un-defendable. In an effort to utilize what my fellow senior seminar students learned last semester before it is all forgotten, I pose the question to them WWLS, or, “What Would LaCugna Say?” Wasn’t it a big deal for her that all of our language about God (theology) be connected to God’s work in salvation history? I ask this personally to all the believing readers. Do you believe in the idea of God or in the God that has reached out to form a relationship with you? This is the God known as Trinity. God is the tremendous void of which nothing is known about except what God has revealed in the relationship God established in salvation history. This salvation history is being carried out even in the present. God is not equalivolent to the Flying Spaghetti Monster because God is not an imaginary friend we invented to keep ourselves company. God reaches out and affects our lives.

Plenty of more time could be spent analyzing Dawkins many positions for points of disagreement. However, the last little bit of this blog is going to be devoted to the statements Dawkins makes that have to push Christianity to better places.

One point Dawkins emphasizes a lot is the tremendous power religion has in politics. I don’t appreciate the a-historical interpretation of the freedom of religious expression he takes. He does seem to make a fair statement that how it is worked out in our country could be reevaluated. I speculate as to whether both religion and government wouldn’t benefit from the United States being a little more secular in practice. Does it necessarily make sense that we pray before and after the inauguration and swear in on a Bible? Would much be lost by either religion or the state if this custom was abandoned? My research paper intends to look at the ways people have claimed their political agendas were the Almighty’s will. This is not an authority true Christianity grants anyone. If we also believe that God is and wants what is good and true, we should be able to find rational explanations for our political agendas rather than using our religious beliefs as the ultimate evidence.

Dawkins also forces Christians to look at what they actually believe. How is it that we think God responds to our prayers? The ambivalence in our understanding gives plenty of room for him to make the astute observations of how people pray for parking spots and their sports teams to win. The prayer experiment also shows our ambivalence in trying to calculate the response from God according to the amount of prayer being said.

Dawkins’ also briefly touches on the theodicy (God allowing evil). How is it that we understand and respond to the evil in the world as Christians? Thank God my experiences in El Salvador moved me to a deeper theology than what Swineburne expressed on page 64.

I recommend not trying too hard to solve every religious anomaly Dawkins brings up. The matrices of meaning he is drawing on are limiting. They are perhaps most limited by the assumption that the rational scientist free from God has the best grasp of what life is all about. For a better understanding of the issue the Dawkins Lennox Debate under the video resources of this blog is most helpful. Someone who does a much better job with the relation of God to science and life or possibly the absence of God is Krzysztof Kielowski. In the first movie of his series, The Decalogue, he sets up a terribly tragic situation in which a good man of science and an atheist must struggle with personal tragedy. Much more complex than this synopsis, the movie asks a good deal of challenging questions about belief, science, and the happenings in our lives.

Questions for the Class

Dawkins’ brings up NOMA in this chapter. What is the relationship between faith and what we know of our surroundings? Do aspects of our faith change as our understanding of the universe increases? Keep in mind the trail of Galileo and push for creationism as a science curriculum. Does this have anything to do with how we operate within our matrices of meaning?

Dawkins holds that actions of God in the material world should be able to be examined by science. What makes you believe in God? What tangible events, feelings, activities have influenced your belief. What do you say to the hypothesis that people believe because they are indoctrinated as Children? Does this have anything to do with what we learned about the Trinity from LaCugna?

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Responses

  1. Hey Jim – thanks for writing on this chapter. I agree that Dawkins seems to leave his readers with 2 choices, but to me it seemed as though the Deist God and the superstitious God to Dawkins were one and the same. Therefore, the two choices that Dawkins set up were belief in an “obviously false God” and admittance that God “cannot exist”.

    In response to your question about childhood faith indoctrination, I do think that Dawkins has a point in claiming that parents who pass their beliefs onto their children have helped religion to be sustained through generations. I know for a fact that had I not been taught the Christian faith in Sunday School and in my home growing up, I would have a much harder time today accepting those aspects of Christianity that Dawkins claims to be absurd. It is not that the virgin birth or resurrection are any less true to an adult, but reason and rationality do tend to want to fight such things if the base belief in God is not there first. I am not saying that a believer must keep reason and faith separate their whole life (and I think my paper is going to attempt to show how the two are in fact compatible), but it is harder to suspend reason for faith if one lives in today’s empirical, scientific world. As a result, I do believe that children who grow up with beliefs are more likely to maintain those beliefs for the remainder of their lives, though this is not to say that a person must be taught Christianity at an early age for it to “stick”.

    I would also like to admit that Dawkins is completely correct in his claim that the Christian “God of the Gaps” strategy is dangerous. Really, it is just a lazy strategy that attempts to credit human shortcomings in knowledge/understanding to God’s amazing power. Of course as Christians we believe that God created the world and everything in it, and of course we believe that He has understanding that far surpasses our own, but why do we feel the need to prove God’s existence through our own lack of understanding? Why can’t we attribute all of creation, both the parts we understand and the parts we do not, to God and save ourselves the embarrassment of being proven wrong in the future? Such approach is dangerous, because if Christians continue to explain God and the world this way, God will one day run out of places “to hide”. Instead of relying on our own inadequacies to prove God, we need to first realize that He has endowed us with reason and intelligence and then work towards showing that even if we do understand the world, that is not to say that God doesn’t exist. There will always be things we do not understand about God and the world, and for those things we do understand, then hey, perhaps God liked using electrons, protons, and neutrons to make up His creation.


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