Posted by: stumpffk | February 8, 2009

Richard Dawkins: Arguments for God’s Existence

In Chapter 3: Arguments for God’s Existence of Richard Dawkins’ book The God Delusion, Dawkins sets out to present common arguments for the existence of God and subsequently tear down these arguments as poorly presented and unreasonable support.  He provides eight arguments to respond to and does a fairly good job of refuting their claims.  However, Dawkins doesn’t choose very strong claims to make his arguments against.  For one thing, out of all eight, there are only two arguments from well respected theologians and philosophers, Aquinas and Anselm.  Dawkins picks and chooses the arguments that he is able to refute and ignores many other works on God’s existence including, just to name a few, Plato, Aristotle, Augustine and many other philosophers and theologians.  He presents only the most simplistic arguments in support of God so that his job is made much easier.  I would find many good Christians hard pressed to use seriously the argument from beauty or admired religious scientists or Bayesian arguments as their “proof” for God’s existence.  Even within the chapter that Dawkins writes he can’t explain the situation at Fatima and so doesn’t even address it as if it wasn’t worth an argument.  The fact that Dawkins picks and chooses the arguments he can refute is his first major flaw in this chapter.


The second problem Dawkins has is his own presumptions: the most significant one being in regard to evolution.  Throughout the entire chapter Dawkins presumes that evolution is necessarily in opposition to religion and that if one has knowledge of Darwinian Theory that there is no logical reason to still have faith.  Seeing as only literalists believe the creation account in the Bible, Dawkins can only make this claim against literalists, which many Christians today are not.  As has been mentioned several times already on this blog and throughout class, there is no reason to assume, which is what Dawkins is doing, that evolution and religion cannot be compatible.  Dawkins presents a false dichotomy in regard to evolution and religion.  This being the case, many of Dawkins arguments then no longer have a strong impact. One of the most significant arguments this changes is in reference to scientist.  Dawkins claims that if scientists know about the theory of evolution then they can no longer have faith because evolution itself necessarily counters religion.  Problem number 2: the presumption that religion and evolution are in direct opposition.


The third problem I have with Dawkins, this one more personal than the others, is the claim he makes about intelligence and faith.  At one point in the chapter Dawkins presents “evidence” that the higher one’s intelligence the less likely it is that that person will have any “beliefs” whatsoever.  There is only room for faith in the ignorant and unintelligent.  However, all Dawkins presents are correlations between intelligence and religion and correlations have no bearing whatsoever on direct links between the two, that is why they are called correlations.  Not only that but he doesn’t describe any of the details of the 40 or so studies he cites, wanting us to just trust that the studies were reliable in terms of results and even methodology.  To me it is an absurd claim that you must not be intelligent enough to be an atheist and that is why you have faith. 


Moving along to problem number 4, I will take some ideas that we have looked at from John Haught; the first of which being that scientism itself must have a sort of faith, faith that the universe is ordered and can be explained and that it will stay this way.  They must have faith that science can find these answers and that the world will act in a predictable and consistent manner.  One specific point of interest was in chapter 3 when Dawkins refutes faith by personal experience because the brain is an excellent simulation software that can produce hallucinations, illusions, etc.  Dawkins admits that evolution is a mindless process that seeks to consistently evolve beings into more efficient survivors if you will.  Haught responds that if evolution is a mindless process with really no direction, how can we trust our minds at all?  How can we trust our minds to arrive at truth or to be able to reason accurately?  According to Haught, “He [Dawkins] simply believes blindly in the superior capacity of his own mind to find truth with a facility and certainty that people misguided by religious faith do not possess.” (pg. 49)  Haught continues on with many other arguments along this same line that I would recommend reading so I don’t quote the entire page here.  Overall however, Dawkins has faith that he can trust his quest for truth and knowledge and reason from a process of evolution that is mindless and only good at adaptation.  How then, without a sort of faith, can we trust our own brains?


Having outlined what I believe are Dawkins’ short comings I want to turn briefly to Dawkins’ most convincing and potentially detrimental evidence for believers, the reliability of the Sacred Scriptures.  Dawkins wastes little time delving into all of the problems associated with the accuracy and reliability of the Bible.  Among many issues, Dawkins notes problems with copying practices, political and religious agendas during canonization, and inconsistencies between accounts in the Bible and history as a whole.  For support he uses Bart Ehrman’s book, Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why.  While Ehrman certainly makes relevant points concerning scribes adding or subtracting things to or from the Bible to advance Christianity, accumulation of unintentional mistakes, and the number of these mistakes running into the 200,000 to 300,000 range, Lee Strobel attempts to combat these seemingly overwhelming problems.  Out of all of the evidence Ehrman presents, the most problematic is the addition of 12 verses to the end of Mark’s gospel which most scholars agree were not in the original ending. (However most Bibles note this change and place the last 12 verses in brackets).  Of all of the other evidence and examples Ehrman showcases, many if not all are minor word changes like “manifest” to “bears” and do not alter the overall meaning of the text.  Ehrman even admits that scribes often catch mistakes by using other manuscripts and by making sure the right translation of the word is used.  As a whole, Ehrman presents accurate information about many inaccuracies in copying but not enough that the Bible is a wholly inaccurate accumulation of errors that have entirely altered the Bible from its original meaning.


Turning to Strobel’s book, The Case For Christ, Strobel interviews Bruce Metzger about many of the problems appearing in Ehrman’s book.  Metzger points out that 200,000 to 300,000 mistakes may seem like a lot but the way mistakes are counted makes this number a bit misleading.  Let me explain a little bit here, if we have 5,000 manuscripts of the Bible and 2,500 of them have the original word “manifests” changed to “bears” then that is counted as 2,500 errors even though it is only one original mistake.  Also the order of the words in Greek aren’t important like they are in English because Greek is an inflected language.  It makes no difference in Greek if it is ‘man bites dog’ or ‘dog bites man’ so this also reduces the enormity of errors.  Metzger goes on to show, just as Ehrman eludes to, that many scribes catch mistakes from earlier copyists and even make notes in the margin criticizing early scribes for changing words to better fit their agenda.  One of the biggest points that Metzger is quite ecstatic about is the number of manuscripts of the Bible that we have, about 5,000 from only a few centuries after the original books were thought to have been written.  This is significant, for one, because all 5,000 manuscripts are very similar with few disparities.  It is also an important number because compared to other writings from antiquity the oldest manuscripts are much further from the original writings, often times 7- 10 centuries later.  The runner-up to the Bible’s copies and closeness to the time the original version was written was Homer’s Iliad at 650 manuscripts with a much larger gap than early manuscripts of the Bible we have.  Keep in mind also that the 5,000 cataloged are all in Greek, this number doesn’t include any of the early translations of the Bible that we also have, in all about 24,000 if we include the original Greek language as well as Latin and others.  So the Bible has an incomparable number of manuscripts and length of time between them and the original text in terms of writings of antiquity.  Overall Strobel and Metzger do much to overcome the evidence presented by Ehrman and Dawkins and I hope this helps dispel any doubt on the reliability of the Bible as a trusted and accurately relayed document. 


To conclude this lengthy discussion I want to convey my amazement that Dawkins, as a man of science and reason and empirically verifiable facts has very little, if any, scientific support for his claims and refutation in this chapter.  While he makes well reasoned responses to claims for God’s existence, he provides no scientific support to his retorts and nor does he do so with his presuppositions.  I would think that he would do more to verify his claims with facts and evidence but he, in fact, does the very same thing that he is arguing against, claiming things without empirical data.  If Dawkins did more to solidify his position that evolution is necessarily in direct opposition to faith, then he may have a valid and strong argument, but at this point he is basing his case around something he believes but cannot support.     



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