Monday, July 28, 2008

Dawkins' Myth

I have finally finished The God Delusion (TGD). I found it predictable and yet sobering. There was nothing new in the book - unless you call "new" Dawkins' dependence upon logical fallacies for support of his argument. The book was nonetheless sobering. It was sobering because Dawkins proposes a dangerous myth.

Ten years ago or so a traveling lecturer came to LaGrande, Oregon, and spoke on the demise of the "old myth" that had been the basis of our civilization. That "myth" was the view of the world based on the Bible. It is what Christian thinkers now call the biblical worldview. It was dead, he said, because it could no longer be believed. He suggested that for our civilization to continue, for us as individuals to function, we needed a new myth.

He was right - partly. We do need a myth (read unifying worldview) if we are to function as a society and as individuals.

(Before my Christian friends jump on my case for implying that the Bible is a myth, let me define what I mean. A myth is an explanation for who we are, why we are here, and where it is all going. It may be true, as I believe the Bible's explanation of the world is, or it may be an attempt to describe in either literal language or literary language what the myth maker believes is true about the world. The word Myth is not the equivalent of fiction.)

Richard Dawkins in TGD is definitely attempting to create that "new myth," a new explanation for who we are, why we are here, and where it is all going. Here is my understanding of the myth he proposes.

  1. We are the result of entirely material/physical processes. Evolution is the physical process that accounts for living things - ourselves. But physical processes must also be the explanation for the mysteries of where the universe came from, how earth came to be in astounding ways the perfect place for life, how life itself came to be, and how conscious life arose. All that requires a great amount of faith in physical processes, of course, but Dawkins is committed to that belief.

  2. We are here purely by chance. (Evolution is not a chance process, Dawkins will declare, but everything else is so highly improbable that chance is the only way to explain it.) We have no purpose unless it is to enjoy the life that we by pure chance have. Though it might be nice to help out others and solve the problems we all face as the human race, we have no obligation apart from our own self-interest to do so. Helping others makes this a better place for us to live, after all. What is true of us is true of the universe - it has no purpose. It simply is.

  3. We are going nowhere. The universe is headed to eventual heat death. We are destined for the grave. "Get over it. It may be grim, but that's the way it is, and no fairy tale will make it otherwise," is what Dawkins appears to be saying.

So Dawkins weaves his myth, explaining the universe, the earth, ourselves, religion, morality, and everything else in purely contingent terms. (Contingent means everything has a material and or evolutionary explanation, each thing depending for its existence upon another.)

Now, it would be possible - and tempting - to refute Dawkins' arguments and conclusions one by one. The book is full of logical fallacies and illogical leaps to unfounded conclusions. However, the parts are not so dangerous as the whole, and it is to the whole that I want to speak.

A myth is essential. But a myth to be sufficient must be true. Fairy tales are quickly seen to be fiction. The myth of Santa Claus is an example. Santa Claus, in the end does not explain how gifts arrive under the tree on Christmas morning. And that is the reason Dawkins' "new myth" is insufficient. It does not explain. It does not explain those things he admits are highly improbable such as the universe, its laws, the privileged place of earth, the origin of life and consciousness, nor the origin of man. In fact, at best, it explains a process which we all can agree on called micro evolution. It explains how wolves over time can become dogs.

More seriously, if that failure is not enough, it does not explain who we are. It does not explain why we as a race have a spiritual sense of God. (The writer of Ecclesiastes puts it this way: God has put eternity in our hearts.) Dawkins leaves us half human, body and mind and that is all. But we know by intuition and experience that there is far more to us. Far more.

No myth is sufficient that does not explain the whole. Dawkins' myth falls far short of explaining the whole. No myth is sufficient that is not true. Dawkins' new myth is base on hope and conjecture. Though he claims that it is based on solid scientific evidence, there really is no consensus even among scientists for many of the fact claims Dawkins makes. And interestingly, he knows he is sitting way out on a limb. Yet he must make his case, no matter the lack of evidence. (By faith, in other words.)

Only the Bible explains the whole. Only the Bible presents a view of reality that is true.

That does not mean there are no problems, and Dawkins is careful to point out many. Christians do not and have not always lived out a biblical worldview. Our inconsistencies have laid us open to valid criticism and the Bible open to misunderstanding and scorn. But that is our failure, not the Bible's.

Dawkins' answer in TGD is to start over. That's what I suggest as well. Let's go back to the Bible and carefully discover the richness of the truth it declares. Let's go back and rediscover the true God that is so often hidden beneath our religiosity. Let's go back and discover who we are, created in the image of God, fallen, redeemed, and headed for the glory God has set before us in eternity. Let's discover again the Bible's explanation of who we are, why we are here, and where it is all going.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Richard Dawkins Part 2

Ah! I am beginning to like TGD (The God Delusion) better all the time. The chapter in which Dawkins discusses the anthropic principle was great.

Dawkins suggests the anthropic principle eliminates the necessity for God. To my mind it does nothing of the sort. It is merely an observation that if the universe were not as it is we would not be here to observe and discuss it. Actually the observation is inane. It solves nothing. It has no explanatory power. The best it does is imply that we live in a highly improbable universe. I like that. Dawkins goes on to note several other highly improbable events - the singulary at the beginning of time, the orign of life, and the origin of consciousness among them. Now, logically, since these highly improbable events have happened, doesn't it follow that the highly improbable God that Dawkins is trying to eliminate in TGD is certainly possible, as possible as the above mentioned highly improbable events?

I like that. I can live with a highly improbable God just as well as I can live in a highly improbable universe.

I seems like Dawkins undermines his own thesis. Go figure.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Richard Dawkins

I am into my summer reading and am most of the way through Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion. I bought the book when it looked like the library was not going to have a copy available for several weeks. I wish now that I had not spent the money. The cover says, "New York Times bestseller." For the life of me, I do not know why it is a best seller. Dawkins has several other books that are far better. He says nothing new in TGD (The God Delusion), and what he does say is more rant than reason.

His primary argument, for example, against the Cosmoslogical Argument for God's existence (for those unacquainted with that, it is that there had to be a first uncaused cause for the universe) is to dismiss the argument by asking who caused God - all this in less than a page. His argument against the arguments from beauty, from religious experience, and from scripture are equally dismissive. I wonder if he even uderstands the arguments. Of course, these are only preliminary to the meat of the book, according to Dawkins, in which he promises to show that the existence of God is highly improbable. It is there he engages the teleological argument, the argument from design - or he says he does.

We would expect Dawkins to focus on the Design Argument, of course, since it has much to do with design in the biological world, and Dawkins is a Biologist. What is disappointing is that he fails to defend natural evolution or refute design any better than any of the other arguments he has dealt with. In fact, and I am not making this up, his best argument is that any designer capable of the level of design we see in nature must be very complex, and since we know that complexity is evolved from things less complex, we must ask who designed the designer. And he leaves the argument there.

Not only does he fail to deal adequately with the design issue in the biological world but he goes on to say regarding design in the universe that although we don't know how to explain design in the universe we'll figure it out bye and bye, and it will be a natural explanation, he assures us. (But remember, Dawkins is a biologist, not a cosmologist. He is really not interested in those things.)

At this point I am half way through the book and am wondering why I am wasting my time. I think it must be the humor value. I look forward to the quotes from Dawkins' supporters, people like Douglas Adams the novelist and George Carlin the comedian.

Sorry, I'm getting a little sarcastic. I was hoping to find a cogent treatment of Neo Atheism. Instead I found a rant. I do intend to finish the book, and I'll post some final comments when I do, but don't waste your money on this one. Get it from the library if you must read it. In the meantime, you could look a little further at