Dismantling the New Atheism“The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins is the best selling book on atheism of all time.  Thankfully, Dr. Dawkins summarizes his central argument on pages 186-189 (depending on the version or release of the book you are reading) and we will concentrate on that.  If you feel the need to read the entire book after this, go ahead.  I’ve read it more than once and, if I were an atheist, I’d agree with atheist philosopher Michael Ruse who writes “The God Delusion made me ashamed to be an atheist.” (ArticleVideo)

So let’s get started.  I’ll quote Dr. Dawkin’s entire summary, word for word, so you can read it for yourself.  I’ll then refer back to each point, by reference only.  I apologize for the length of this summary, but I want to be fair and quote Dr. Dawkins perfectly.  Let us also note that he has updated this summary over time, which a good scientist would, and I believe I am using the most recent version at the time of this writing.

“This chapter has contained the central argument of my book, and so, at the risk of sounding repetitive, I shall summarize it as a series of six numbered points.

  1. One of the greatest challenges to the human intellect, over the centuries, has been to explain how the complex, improbable appearance of design in the universe arises.
  2. The natural temptation is to attribute the appearance of design to actual design itself. In the case of a man-made artefact such as a watch, the designer really was an intelligent engineer. It is tempting to apply the same logic to an eye or a wing, a spider or a person.
  3. The temptation is a false one, because the designer hypothesis immediately raises the larger problem of who designed the designer. The whole problem we started out with was the problem of explaining statistical improbability. It is obviously no solution to postulate something even more improbable. We need a ‘crane’, not a ‘skyhook’, for only a crane can do the business of working up gradually and plausibly from simplicity to otherwise improbable complexity.
  4. The most ingenious and powerful crane so far discovered is Darwinian evolution by natural selection. Darwin and his successors have shown how living creatures, with their spectacular statistical improbability and appearance of design, have evolved by slow, gradual degrees from simple beginnings. We can now safely say that the illusion of design in living creatures is just that –an illusion.
  5. We don’t yet have an equivalent crane for physics. Some kind of multiverse theory could in principle do for physics the same explanatory work as Darwinism does for biology. This kind of explanation is superficially less satisfying than the biological version of Darwinism, because it makes heavier demands on luck. But the anthropic principle entitles us to postulate far more luck than our limited human intuition is comfortable with.
  6. We should not give up hope of a better crane arising in physics, something as powerful as Darwinism is for biology. But even in the absence of a strongly satisfying crane to match the biological one, the relatively weak cranes we have at present are, when abetted by the anthropic principle, self-evidently better than the self-defeating skyhook hypothesis of an intelligent designer.

If the argument of this chapter is accepted, the factual premise of religion –the God Hypothesis –is untenable. God almost certainly does not exist. This is the main conclusion of the book so far.”

A premise is defined as “a statement that is assumed to be true and from which a conclusion can be drawn”.  Dr. Dawkins has put forth 6 premises and used them to make a conclusional statement.  While I believe several of his statements are false, lets first examine his logic assuming they are all true.  To help with this examination of his logic only, let’s apply the same logic to something else we are all familiar with so that the loftiness of the question doesn’t obscure the logic.  For this purpose let’s consider the building you live in or work in, you choose.

  1. Premise: It is difficult to explain the appearance of design.  Does your building appear to be designed?  Almost for sure. Just look around you.  Is it not very difficult to explain the features, congruity, and functions of the building if it were not designed?
  2. Premise: It is tempting to assume there is a designer. Dr. Dawkins admits that this is the tempting conclusion. Are you tempted to conclude your building had a designer?
  3. Premise: If you conclude the building had a designer, that raises difficult questions about the designer, so that answer must be false. You may at first think this does not apply to your building but think again.  Is your building efficient, or inefficient – why?  Does it collapse in, or survive an earthquake – why? Is is ugly, or beautiful – why? Do people die in a fire, or escape – why? Who was the designer and what did he base his decisions on – and why? So…if these questions are in anyway more difficult than the simple answer that, if the building looks like it has been designed it likely had a designer, do you conclude that the building had no designer? (We will discuss this in depth later, but let’s just assume Dr. Dawkins is correct in his thinking here.)
  4. Premise: There is another ingenious explanation. Is it conceivable that the building was built without a designer? I would strongly contend that it is possible. What if a wealthy builder had hundreds or even thousands of crews trying to build a suitable structure at the same time? They had materials and they could build some walls, and if it didn’t work, tear down the wall, or entire structure, and start again. This could go on for literally hundreds of years. And with thousands of work crews and work sites they would gain tremendous experience through trial and error. Over time, couldn’t you imagine the straight walls and organized rooms of your building coming into place? Isn’t that a possible explanation, and really quite ingenous?
  5. Premise: The trial and error process doesn’t quite explain everything, but don’t give up. Now there may be parts of the building that this just doesn’t explain. We have water, gas, and drainage lines going into and out of the building in particular places and all these are connected to heaters, air conditioners, sinks, drains and toilets all over the building. The amazing thing is the pipes are all between the walls and floors and if we didn’t know ahead of time where those walls and sinks were going to be, how did the pipes get there?
  6. Premise: Don’t give up, we may come up with an explanation for these features that is far better than that the building was designed. It’s a good question, and there is no apparent explanation. However, there wasn’t always a possible explanation for the construction of the rest of your building. Do you think that if we just give it more time we might be able to explain these feature that appear to be designed too?

Conclusion: If these premises are true, the hypothesis that the building was designed is untenable. It is almost certain that the building did not have a designer.

Really? Assume every above premise regarding your building is true. Now, look at your building. You could conclude that is is possible that it was constructed without a designer, but can you in any way, shape, or form, be comfortable, or consider yourself thoughtful, if you stated that a designer “almost certainly does not exist”? 

Now apply the same standards of logic and honesty to the 6 premises regarding the existence of God.  I will concede that if all the premises are true, concluding that there may not be a God is reasonable. Can you concede that concluding “God almost certainly does not exist”, is NOT reasonable based on the premises?

We MUST discuss Premise 3!

I know this article is already too long, but we just can’t let Premise 3 go. I’ll quote it again here because this is so amazing.

“The temptation is a false one, because the designer hypothesis immediately raises the larger problem of who designed the designer. The whole problem we started out with was the problem of explaining statistical improbability. It is obviously no solution to postulate something even more improbable. We need a ‘crane’, not a ‘skyhook’, for only a crane can do the business of working up gradually and plausibly from simplicity to otherwise improbable complexity.”

I will grant that if you consider the possibility that things around us have the appearance of design because there is an designer, it does lead to some MUCH more difficult questions to answer. I think Dr. Dawkins is being disingenuous when he fails to acknowledge that this question, and philosophically plausible answers, have been around for well over 1,000 years, but that isn’t the real problem here. The problem is that Dr. Dawkins claims that if an answer leads to a more complex or difficult question, the answer must be false.  Since when, in all of science or history, has that been considered reasonable?  Let’s look at some examples.

  • Imagine you are an investigator in 1963 responding to the scene of JFK’s death.
  • Question: Was John F. Kennedy killed by a bullet, fired from a gun?
  • Answer: Yes
  • If the answer is yes, suddenly there are some very difficult questions.
    • Who shot JFK?
    • How did he/she do it?
    • Was he/she working alone?
    • Why did he/she shoot him?
    • etc. etc. etc.
  • Since answering the question “Yes” leads to more difficult questions, according the Dr. Dawkin’s logic, that answer must be “a false one”.
  • New answer: John F. Kennedy was not killed by a bullet fired from a gun.

Do you think this logic is truly reasonable at all? Doesn’t science love to tackle the more difficult questions? Wouldn’t this type of logic lead to a host of items we now all assume to be true, to be considered false? Consider if this logic had been applied to the discovery of atomic particles…or bacteria…or the earth revolving around the sun? Isn’t the list almost endless?

But these are the truly larger questions.

  1. Can anyone who makes such a premise part of their “central argument” be someone who is logically and open-mindedly seeking to follow the truth wherever it leads?
  2. And more importantly….If you did not catch such glaring failures in Dr. Dawkin’s logic, are you seeking the truth wherever it leads, or seeking a path to a “truth” you want?