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article imageOp-Ed: Beyond Dawkins' Delusion — A More Reasoned Riposte to His Atheism

By J Ocean Dennie     Jan 6, 2011 in World
The atheistic philosophy of Richard Dawkins, though compelling, falls far short in proving that God doesn't exist or that individuals who embrace God are somehow delusional. What is required is a more objective handling of the issue.
Over the past couple of decades, Richard Dawkins, the celebrated biologist and outspoken atheist, has made significant philosophical contributions to the debate over the value of religious belief, according to many of his admirers. It remains to be seen, however, whether Dawkins' often inflammatory and abrasive lines of attack directed toward a refutation of the existence of a primarily Christian demiurge will stand the test of time. The trouble with Dawkins' argumentation is that it is only convincing so far as it refutes any teleological claims asserted by proponents of God as an intelligent designer. The underpinnings of his philosophical approach fail to address concepts of God that do not need to rely upon intelligent design and adopt a far more expansive perspective on the matter, for instance, God as the formless ground of being.
In the crosshairs of Dawkins' ideological framework is the concept of relatively recent origin known as intelligent design which is essentially a pseudo-science asserting that “naturalistic explanations of some biological entities are not possible and such entities can only be explained by intelligent causes”. Advocates of intelligent design attempt to couch their belief in scientific terminology in order to compete with the compelling dictates of scientific rationalism, trying to detect “patterns arranged by an intelligent cause for a purpose” and provide some empirical proof for the existence of God (IDNet 2010). Dawkins, on the other hand, shares a view held by most scientists that natural selection is a sufficient justification for the apparent functionality and non-random complexity of the biological world. It is this reliance upon a major tenet of Darwinism that Dawkins uses to counter intelligent design going so far as to suggest that it can adequately play the role of William Paley's so-called watchmaker in nature, “albeit as an automatic, non-intelligent, blind watchmaker”
Dawkins's use of evolution to explain how life ended up as it is through the development of inherited traits through successive generations only rebuts a quite simplistic view of God as watchmaker. A query that Dawkins' analysis cannot answer is: why? Why this process? The scientific community seems to fixate on the assumption there is no room for a designer because of stable laws that explain cause and effect and evolution but why can't God's design embrace these deterministic principles? Surely it can be argued that the universe may appear to be designed, but why does it have to be exclusively one or the other, designed or not designed. For example, it should be pointed out that 'design' connotes something entirely different from 'creation'. It is only our limited conceptual propensities that restrict us from adopting a wider perspective on the question since we are attempting to answer it within the framework of time and space. God may very well be what lies beyond this observable reality. Physics cannot explain dark matter, black holes, the infinite space between atoms and may never be able to do so since such matters seem to contain elements that are beyond time and space.
Dawkins is quite adamant, however, that religious believers should not attribute faith in God to a sense of bafflement over natural phenomena that are 'irreducibly complex'. He contends that individuals “who leap from personal bafflement at a natural phenomenon straight to a hasty invocation of the supernatural are no better than the fools who see a conjuror bending a spoon and leap to the conclusion that it is 'paranormal'”. In his book, The God Delusion, Dawkins extends the argumentation against the irreducible complexity of life, agreeing with his counterparts that it is not a matter of chance. He reduces the solution, however, to either one of natural selection (not chance) or design. He dismisses intelligent design outright while not really providing any detailed persuasive scientific evidence to support his contention. He rules out design simply on the basis of improbability which is not terribly persuasive since it can be argued natural selection contains a degree of improbability as well.
Supporters of Dawkins' view feel his zealous reliance upon natural selection to rule out God as an intelligent designer is emboldened by his admonitions against religious beliefs in a God who is merely an imaginary entity that we invoke to explain some gap in our present knowledge. As he writes in The God Delusion, advocates of intelligent design respond to the explanatory powers of science by asserting that “if you don't understand how something works, never mind: just give up and say God did it...and appeal to God. Dear scientist, don't work on your mysteries. Bring us your mysteries, for we can use them. Don't squander precious ignorance by researching it away. We need these glorious gaps as a last refuge for God”. This characterization that religious belief is now limited to an ever-diminishing series of informational gaps is simply preposterous for it assumes that God only designs in supernatural mysterious ways or that God even 'designs' at all. Numerous hypothetical questions arise: why can God's handiwork not be reflected in the scientific approach? What if God is merely a more intelligent rational scientist than Dawkins? Can evolution not be worshiped as 'God's plan'? Once a mystery is revealed, why can't God 'move into' the explanation? Or perhaps more provoking: God did not 'make' this, God is this, the creator and created. In any case, it is quite simplistic of both sides to assume that God is necessarily limited to some micro-managing demiurge.
In spite of the increasingly effective revelatory powers of the scientific model, the flaw in Dawkins' theorizing on a God dependent on ignorance and gaps is that it assumes there is a finite number of gaps that will one day be eliminated. Indeed, when discoveries are made, science sometimes winds up asking more questions and learning of 'new' gaps than providing definitive answers that extirpate God. And as philosopher JP Moreland has noted, even if it is the case that the number of gaps is shrinking, it does not follow that there are absolutely no gaps at all. It is simply begging the question to assume that all gaps will be explainable in scientific terms just because most have been.
It seems that Dawkins' militant rationalism constitutes its own delusional belief system. In an interview, Dawkins admitted that “I would want [people] to believe whatever evidence leads them to; not accept things because of internal revelation or faith...not everybody can evaluate all evidence...so [there] does have to be a certain amount of taking things on trust...I wish people would put their trust in evidence”. This is simply a displacement of faith upon another savior and smacks somewhat of intellectual elitism. Strangely, science has become Dawkins' idol, his God.
As noted earlier, Dawkins' reasoning is always in response to an anthropomorphic God, failing to consider wider conceptions such as God is that which is beyond ourselves. The absurdity that we need to attribute the rarity of existence to an anthropomorphic creator is just not necessary. This anthropic principle that dominates present discourse in this area, limits any true understanding of our 'place in the universe'. From the side of intelligent design, the assumption that the universe has been fine-tuned for our existence only serves to inflate a collective anthropocentric vision and a mistaken view of dominion over creation. From the side of science and natural selection, trying to refute this assumption with a deterministic model leaves us no better than a cog in the wheel or a gear in some mechanism. What is happening in this debate is that both sides are attempting to conceptualize reality strictly in human terms, perhaps the most we can do, sadly. Why can't reality just simply be meaningless? Why must we attribute meaning, one way or the other, to something that transcends the very concept of meaning? These are certainly more important questions to consider in this day and age.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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