Saturday, November 04, 2006

My critique of Dawkins' "The God Delusion" #1

Dear Professor Dawkins

I bought your book "The God Delusion" yesterday (to add to the other 9 books of yours I own).

[Graphic: "The God Delusion,"]

I plan to critique it (as time permits) section- by-section in the form of letters to you (similar to geneticist Gabriel Dover's "Dear Mr Darwin") posted to my blog
CreationEvolutionDesign, cc. your email address on your Oxford University Professor Richard Dawkins page. Any reply from you or your staff I reserve the right to post to my blog.

I realise you are very busy and you must get a lot of unsolicited emails from those you consider "ignorant, stupid or insane ... or wicked" because they (like me) "don't believe in evolution":

"`DO you realize,' said Don, `that nearly half the people in the United States don't believe in evolution?' ... It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I'd rather not consider that)." (Dawkins, R., "Put Your Money on Evolution." Review of "Blueprints: Solving the Mystery of Evolution," by Donald C. Johanson and Maitland A. Edey. New York Times, April 9, 1989, Section 7, p.34)

so if I receive a request from you or your staff to not copy these posts to you, I will comply with that request.

First I will briefly introduce myself. I am an Australian evangelical Christian in my late 50s (early 60s from next week!). I was an atheist from a non-Christian home in my early teens, became a deist in my mid-teens from the evidence of design in nature, and then was converted to Christianity in my early twenties. Previously I debated on various Creation/Evolution Internet forums for over a decade from 1994-2005 and completed a biology degree in 2004.I have been a member of the Intelligent Design Movement since 1994 and my position on the creation- evolution spectrum is Old-Earth Progressive (Mediate) Creation.

I accept universal common ancestry, but regard that as neither necessary nor sufficient to uniquely specify evolution, since as you yourself, quoting Darwin, have pointed out, God could have supernaturally intervened "at any one stage of descent" and then it would be "not evolution at all" (my emphasis):

"Darwin ... wrote in a letter to Sir Charles Lyell, the leading geologist of his day: `If I were convinced that I required such additions to the theory of natural selection, I would reject it as rubbish...I would give nothing for the theory of Natural selection, if it requires miraculous additions at any one stage of descent.' [Darwin, C.R., Letter to C. Lyell, October 11, 1859, in Darwin, F., ed., "The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin," [1898], Basic Books: New York NY, Vol. II., 1959, reprint, pp.6-7]. This is no petty matter. In Darwin's view, the whole point of the theory of evolution by natural selection was that it provided a non-miraculous account of the existence of complex adaptations. For what it is worth, it is also the whole point of this book. For Darwin, any evolution that had to be helped over the jumps by God was not evolution at all." (Dawkins, R., "The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design," W.W Norton & Co: New York NY, 1986, pp.248-249. Emphasis original).

but "divine creation" (my emphasis)!:

"At first sight there is an important distinction to be made between what might be called 'instantaneous creation' and 'guided evolution'. Modern theologians of any sophistication have given up believing in instantaneous creation. ... many theologians ... smuggle God in by the back door: they allow him some sort of supervisory role over the course that evolution has taken, either influencing key moments in evolutionary history (especially, of course, human evolutionary history), or even meddling more comprehensively in the day-to-day events that add up to evolutionary change. ... In short, divine creation, whether instantaneous or in the form of guided evolution, joins the list of other theories we have considered in this chapter." (Dawkins, Ibid., 1986, pp.316-317)

Since 2003, with minor variations, I have stated on my testimony page:

"I would have no problem even if Darwinian evolution was proved to be 100% true, because the God of the Bible is fully in control of all events, even those that seem random to man (Prov. 16:33; 1Kings 22:34). Jesus said that not even one sparrow will die unless God wills it (Mat. 10:29-30), which means that God is fully in control of natural selection. But if the Biblical God really exists there is no good reason to assume in advance that Darwinian (or any form of) naturalistic evolution is true!".

Those preliminaries out of the way, at the start of your book you have this:

"In Memoriam Douglas Adams (1952-2001) `Isn't it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?' (Dawkins, R., "The God Delusion," Bantam Press: London, 2006, p.v).

Now I sympathise with you at the sudden death at age 49 of your friend in 2001. But I have three points to make:

First, if Christianity is true (which it is) , then according to:

Daniel 12:2. "Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt."

your atheist friend now knows (or will know when he is made to "awake ... to shame and everlasting contempt") that God is no fairy!

Second, this reminds me of another atheist I debated once who claimed God was the same as the Tooth Fairy. My answer to him was (words to the effect), "you spend a lot of time and energy on Internet discussion groups attacking the God of the Bible. So how much time do you spend on such groups attacking the Tooth Fairy?" Christian theologian Albert Mohler, made the same point in his review of your book:

"If Dawkins is so certain that theism is dead, why would he devote so much of his time and energy to opposing it? A man who is genuinely certain that Christianity is passing away would feel no need to write a 400-page book in order to urge its passing." (Mohler, A., "The Dawkins Delusion." Review of "The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins., September 26, 2006).

I saw you on TV where you pointed out (words to the effect) that no one thinks that Zeus or other pagan gods are real today, and therefore we should not think that the God of the Bible is real. But that is precisely the point. The reason why you don't attack Zeus or other pagan gods, but direct most of your attacks toward the Christian God, is that deep down you fear that He is more real than them!

Third, by your quoting Adam's "a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too" you raise an interesting point that might (at least subconsciously) bother you. That is, you may feel that your substitution of apparent design behind nature for real design is a loss. In my biology degree textbook there is an interview with you in which exult over "apparent design" (my emphasis):

"Natural selection is a bewilderingly simple idea. And yet what it explains is the whole of life, the diversity of life, the complexity of life, the apparent design of life. It all flows from this one remarkably simple idea." (Dawkins, R., "Mechanisms of Evolution," in Campbell, N.A., Reece, J.B. & Mitchell, L.G., "Biology," [1987], Benjamin/Cummings: Menlo Park CA, Fifth Edition, 1999, p.413).

Now a man dying of thirst in a desert could conceivably exult over apparent water (i.e. a mirage) as much as over real water, but he would never exult over it better. And most, unless they are highly motivated to deny design (like yourself), would regard apparent design as an inadequate substitute for the real thing.

Significantly your idol, Charles Darwin, from about "the age of thirty" suffered an increasing " loss of the higher aesthetic tastes" which he put down to failing to "read some poetry and listen to some music at least once every week":

"I have said that in one respect my mind has changed during the last twenty or thirty years. Up to the age of thirty, or beyond it, poetry of many kinds, such as the works of Milton, Gray, Byron, Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Shelley, gave me great pleasure, and even as a schoolboy I took intense delight in Shakespeare, especially in the historical plays. I have also said that formerly pictures gave me considerable, and music very great delight. But now for many years I cannot endure to read a line of poetry : I have tried lately to read Shakespeare, and found it so intolerably dull that it nauseated me. I have also almost lost any taste for pictures or music.-Music generally sets me thinking too energetically on what I have been at work on, instead of giving me pleasure. I retain some taste for fine scenery, but it does not cause me the exquisite delight which it formerly did. ... This curious and lamentable loss of the higher aesthetic tastes is all the odder, as books on history, biographies and travels (independently of any scientific facts which they may contain), and essays on all sorts of subjects interest me as much as ever they did. My mind seems to have become a kind of machine for grinding general laws out of large collections of facts, but why this should have caused the atrophy of that part of the brain alone, on which the higher tastes depend, I cannot conceive. A man with a mind more highly organised or better constituted than mine, would not I suppose have thus suffered; and if I had to live my life again I would have made a rule to read some poetry and listen to some music at least once every week ; for perhaps the parts of my brain now atrophied could thus have been kept active through use. The loss of these tastes is a loss of happiness, and may possibly be injurious to the intellect, and more probably to the moral character, by enfeebling the emotional part of our nature." (Darwin, C.R., in Barlow N., ed., "The Autobiography of Charles Darwin, 1809-1882: With Original Omissions Restored," [1958], W.W. Norton & Co: New York, 1969, reprint, pp.138-139)

But Christian theologian B.B. Warfield pointed out that it coincided with Darwin's opening of his "first note-book for facts in relation to the Origin of Species":

"It was an ominous conjunction, that simultaneously with the early progress of this `curious and lamentable loss of the higher aesthetic tastes,' a more positive influence was entering his mind which was destined most seriously to modify his thought on divine things. `In July [ 1837],' he tells us, `I opened my first note-book for facts in relation to the Origin of Species, about which I had long reflected." (Warfield, B.B., "Charles Darwin's Religious Life: A Sketch in Spiritual Biography," in "Studies in Theology," [1932], Banner of Truth: Edinburgh, 1988, reprint, pp.548-549)

which in turn Stephen Jay Gould tells us marked Darwin's adoption of an "uncompromising philosophical materialism" in which even "the human mind" was "an illusion"and "God ... an illusion invented by an illusion":

"The notebooks prove that Darwin was interested in philosophy and aware of its implications. He knew that the primary feature distinguishing his theory from all other evolutionary doctrines was its uncompromising philosophical materialism. Other evolutionists spoke of vital forces, directed history, organic striving, and the essential irreducibilty of mind-a panoply of concepts that traditional Christianity could accept in compromise, for they permitted a Christian God to work by evolution instead of creation. Darwin spoke only of random variation and natural selection. In the notebooks Darwin resolutely applied his materialistic theory of evolution to all phenomena of life, including what he termed `the citadel itself' - the human mind. And if mind has no real existence beyond the brain, can God be anything more than an illusion invented by an illusion? In one of his transmutation notebooks, he wrote: `Love of the deity effect of organization, oh you materialist!...' [Darwin, C.R., "C Notebook," February 1838, p.166] " (Gould, S.J., "Darwin's Delay," in "Ever Since Darwin: Reflections in Natural History," [1978], Penguin: London, 1991, reprint, pp.24-25. Ellipses Gould's).

Professor Dawkins, I don't know whether you yourself are suffering from a "loss of the higher aesthetic tastes" as a result of your increasing commitment to an "uncompromising philosophical materialism" but it is evident from your writings that in your later years, when you should be mellowing, you are instead becoming increasingly bitter. Another Christian theologian, former molecular biologist Alister McGrath, and an erstwhile admirer of yours, has noticed that over time "the tone and focus of" your "writing changed. ... The brilliant scientific popularizer became a savage anti-religious polemicist, preaching rather than arguing ... his case ... Dawkins' atheism became more strident in its tone and more aggressive in its assertions" yet "it did not become noticeably more sophisticated in terms of the arguments offered":

"In the meanwhile, Dawkins went on to produce a series of brilliant and provocative books, each of which I devoured with interest and admiration. Dawkins followed The Selfish Gene with The Extended Phenotype (1981), The Blind Watchmaker (1986), River out of Eden (1995), Climbing Mount Improbable (1996), Unweaving the Rainbow (1998), and finally the collection of essays A Devil's Chaplain (2003). Yet the tone and focus of his writing changed. As philosopher Michael Ruse pointed out in a review of The Devil's Chaplain, Dawkins' `attention has swung from writing about science for a popular audience to waging an all-out attack on Christianity.' [Ruse, M.E., "Through a Glass, Darkly," American Scientist, November-December 2003] The brilliant scientific popularizer became a savage anti-religious polemicist, preaching rather than arguing (or so it seemed to me) his case. I find fundamentalism of all kinds equally repugnant, religious or anti-religious, and was deeply distressed at this development in someone I had admired. Dawkins' account of religion tends to amount to little more than freak-pointing, with the extreme portrayed as the typical. Religious people were dismissed as anti-scientific, intellectually irresponsible, or existentially immature - on a good day. Yet while Dawkins' atheism became more strident in its tone and more aggressive in its assertions, it did not become noticeably more sophisticated in terms of the arguments offered. Religious folk are demonized as dishonest, liars, fools, and knaves, incapable of responding honestly to the real world, and preferring to invent a false, pernicious, and delusionary world into which to entice the unwary, the young, and the naive. It is a line of thought that has led many to suggest, not entirely without reason, that Dawkins might have fallen victim to the kind of self-righteousness that biblical writers associated with the Pharisees." (McGrath, A.E., "Dawkins' God: Genes, Memes, and the Meaning of Life," Blackwell: Malden MA, 2005, pp.8-9).

Continued in part #2.

Stephen E. Jones, BSc (Biol).

Genesis 9:1-3. 1Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth. 2The fear and dread of you will fall upon all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air, upon every creature that moves along the ground, and upon all the fish of the sea; they are given into your hands. 3Everything that lives and moves will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.


Anonymous said...

Dawkins' focus on current religions is because they are the ones that are most damaging. Doesn't he make that clear?

Duane said...

He claims to this purpose (that these are the most damaging), but still fails to address them in a way that isn't damaging and misleading itself.
The use of mis-representations, and propoganda tools like inferences and arguements of 'the extreme portrayed as the typical' do not ultimately help his cause.
Perhaps this view is simply his, without real academic work to back it up?