On Tuesday we began a critique of the crucial chapter 4 in Richard Dawkins' atheistic best-seller The God Delusion. We pointed out that Dawkins' whole book rests on the argument he offers in this chapter in support of the claim that God almost certainly does not exist. Dawkins takes the theist's argument that the complexity of the world and of living things makes their existence highly improbable without a designer to account for them and seeks to turn it against the theist. His argument distills to the following steps:
1. The universe and life are very complex and therefore their existence is improbable.
2. Whatever creates the complex world must itself be even more complex than what he creates and his existence is therefore even more improbable than that of the world.
3. Thus, whatever creates the world must itself be explained in terms of another creator, and so on, in an infinite regress of creators.
4. It's absurd to posit an infinite regress. It's more parsimonious to conclude that the world is just a brute fact and that there is no creator.
As we stressed in yesterday's post all the assertions in steps 2 and 3 are false and their falsity is fatal to Dawkins' argument. Dawkins, despite his confident assertions to the contrary, hasn't come anywhere close to proving that God "almost certainly doesn't exist." But there's more that's wrong with chapter 4 than this.
Dawkins argues that God is an unnecessary hypothesis, that the universe and living things could have easily come about without any divine intervention. In support of this claim he cites the marvels of evolutionary theory. Does life's complexity lead you to believe that there must be something supernatural behind it? Then you are too naive, or unobservant, or unimaginative to see that the appearance of design is just an illusion. Dawkins quite astonishingly compares the illusion of design to a magic trick done by Penn and Teller. Just as there is a perfectly natural explanation for the magic trick there's a perfectly natural explanation for the illusion of design in living things. I say that this is an astonishing comparison because it doesn't seem to occur to him that he's completely defeating his own case. The magic trick is performed by intelligent agents, it would not happen without intelligent purpose and skill. If the "design" of living things really is analogous to a magician's trick then that design should be recognized as the result of intelligent agency, just as the trick is.
Dawkins shoots himself in the foot again when he says that the complexity of living things can be built up by natural processes much like a stone arch is built by craftsmen. The arch cannot function or stand by itself until the keystone is finally added, so in order to support it while it's under construction a scaffolding is erected to hold the stones in place until the arch is completed. The scaffolding is then removed and the arch has the appearance of having been erected without it. This, Dawkins believes, is analogous to how irreducibly complex structures in cells, structures like the famed bacterial flagellum, are put together by evolution. Molecular scaffolding holds the components in place until the whole structure is complete and functioning and then the scaffolding disappears. The problem with his analogy, though, is that the arch's scaffolding is intentionally erected by intelligent artisans with a specific end in mind. A scaffolding erected for the purpose of holding up stone arches is much more closely analogous to intentional design than it is to blind, purposeless evolution.
Almost every line in chapter 4 drips with an unseemly disdain for scientists like Michael Behe, an evolutionist who nevertheless thinks that intelligence has somehow played a role in the creation of life. Dawkins' contempt for this view leads him to say the most ridiculous things. For example he caricatures scientists like Behe in these words:
Here is the message that an imaginary 'intelligent design theorist' might broadcast to scientists (note that for Dawkins ID theorists are in a separate class than scientists): 'If you don't understand how something works, never mind: just give up and say God did it.'
Notwithstanding the fact that many of the greatest minds in the history of science have held to ID in some form, or the fact that many scientists today are theists and believe that God is somehow behind the phenomena they study, or the fact that there is no example of such reasoning as Dawkins invents ever having been offered by anyone in the ID camp, blithely indifferent to all of this Dawkins claims that belief in God is a "science stopper." He's dismissive of these men and women who labor everyday in their labs to unlock the mysteries of nature despite the fact that he himself hasn't done any real scientific research since his doctoral work. He simply writes books about the work of others. It ill-becomes him, then, to speak so disparagingly of the science being done by others just because he despises their metaphysical commitments.
In any event, not having yet satisfied his apparently uncontrollable impulse to intellectual self-immolation Professor Dawkins concludes the chapter by insisting that if it's possible for something to happen then it's almost certain that it did happen. We'll address this peculiar argument next time.RLC