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Could the ‘Greatest Show on Earth’ have a Ringmaster?
Richard Dawkins’ latest book is titled ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’ and argues
the case for the process of life in ‘Evolution’ being the greatest and only show on
earth, occurring totally independently of any idea or concept of a God or Creator
(or ‘Ringmaster’). After his other more highly popularised book ‘The God
Delusion’ (in which he passionately argues against any possibility of there being
a God) numerous writers have written in response and also publicly debated with
him over this matter of God’s existence in the universe. Did the universe (or
multiverses) occur through random chance or is there a Ringmaster behind it all
who initiated (and continues to sustain?) this very complex and beautiful
environment in which we live?
Before I begin to address this question of God’s existence in particular, let me
state several riders and preliminaries so that we can focus in particular on the
main issue.
1. I thank Dawkins for the many ways in which he has pointed out
inconsistencies and evils that have occurred in the church in the past and which
still blight the public face of the church. Many of these are connected with the
extreme elements of the church and it is healthy to expose these extremities and
their unacceptable beliefs and practices. Other evils are closer to the heart of the
church involving wrong actions of leaders and members of the church. As with all
human organisations they need to be faced, admitted and apologised for and all
attempts made to amend the situation and make sure it does not happen again.
But as we know these faults occur in all human organisations and belief systems
including those with an atheist base as well (eg Communist countries and
systems as well as Nazism).
2. I am not going to address the question of evolution per se in this paper as it
involves another whole area of discussion. Suffice it to say that it is not the
particular issue of this discussion as there are thousands of scientists who are
theists (including Christians, Jews and Muslims) who work with the evolutionary
theory in their everyday working lives and who also have it as part of their
worldview. One of the most prominent of these is Francis Collins who is the Head
of the Human Genome Project. Originally an agnostic and then an atheist at
university, he went on to have his atheistic faith challenged by some of his
patients, and after taking up their logical challenge, embraced the Christian faith.
He now combines his faith and his scientific work, particularly in relation to
genetics and evolutionary theory. He rejects Intelligent Design but has developed
what he calls Biologos, which is a combination of science and faith in harmony.
His recent book details his views and is called: ‘The Language of God’ Francis
Collins, Free Press, 2007.
3. One of the main theses of this discussion is to ask for a more open and
humble discussion about this question of whether of not there may be a God and
creator of the universe as we now scientifically know it. I will point out how
Dawkins has distorted and dragged the discussion away from an academic,
scientific and open forum and often resorted to verbal thuggery which is helpful to
no one. I also call on all theists and Christians (who have also resorted to heavyhanded approaches) to put down their ‘clubs’ and come to the discussion table
acknowledging that we can neither insist nor prove that God exists. That is why
this paper begins with the word ‘Could…there be a Ringmaster?’ Neither atheists
nor theists can fully logically prove or insist on their belief in this area, nor should
they scoff at or rubbish people who have a different worldview to them. Hopefully
there can be an open and logical discussion about this question and its
implications for both science and our wider living in the world today.
The discussion
Three of the most reasonable and significant responses in this debate have
come from Dawkins’ fellow academics at Oxford University. These men know
Dawkins personally and have also engaged in debate with him both informally
and formally. Their recently written books in response to Dawkins are both polite,
but also pertinent in their criticism of his sloppy arguments and the extreme
positions which he takes. They include John Lennox, a Reader in Mathematics;
Keith Ward who was a philosopher at universities in England for most of his
academic life until taking on the position of Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford
and Alistair McGrath, a former atheist who studied chemistry at Oxford in the
area of molecular biophysics.
The first response is John Lennox whose book is titled ‘God’s undertaker:
Has science buried God?’ (Lion, Oxford, 2007)
His book includes some of the following responses:
1. War of the worldviews
‘It is no part of the biblical view that things should be believed where there is no
evidence. Just as in science, faith, reason and existence belong together.
Dawkins’ definition of faith as ‘blind faith’ turns out, therefore to be the exact
opposite of the biblical one.’ (15, 16)
‘Francis Collins says of Dawkins’ definition that it ‘certainly does not describe the
faith of most serious believers in history nor of most of those in my personal
acquaintance’.’ (16)
Men such as Galileo (1564-1642), Kepler (1571-1630), Pascal ((1623-62), Boyle
(1627-91), Newton ((1642-1727), Faraday (1791-1867), Babbage (1791-1871),
Mendel (1822-84), Pasteur (1822-95), Kelvin (1824-1907) and Clerk Maxwell
(1831-79) were theists; most of them, in fact, were Christians. Their belief in God,
far from being a hindrance to their science, was often the main inspiration for it
and they were not shy of saying so.’ (20)
‘…Galileo was a firm believer in God and the Bible, and remained so all his life.
He held that ‘the laws of nature are written by the hand of God in the language of
mathematics’ and that the ‘human mind is a work of God and one of the most
excellent’. Furthermore, Galileo enjoyed a great deal of support from religious
intellectuals—at least at the start. The astronomers of the powerful Jesuit
educational institution, the Collegio Romano, initially endorsed his astronomical
work and feted him for it. However, he was vigorously opposed by the secular
philosophers, who were enraged at his criticism of Aristotle.’ (23)
‘Mendelian geneticists were persecuted by Marxists because Mendel’s ideas on
heredity were regarded as inconsistent with Marxist philosophy, and so the
Marxists refused to allow the Mendelians to follow where the evidence led. (37)
‘Philosophers and scientists today also have need of humility in light of facts,
even if those facts are being pointed out to them by a believer in God. Lack of
belief in God is no more of a guarantee of scientific orthodoxy than is belief in
God. What is clear in Galileo’s time and ours, is that criticism of a reigning
scientific paradigm is fraught with risk, no matter who is engaged in it. We
conclude that the ‘Galileo affair’ really does nothing to confirm a simplistic conflict
view of the relationship of science to religion.’ (25)
‘…the real conflict is between two diametrically opposed worldviews: naturalism
and theism. They inevitably collide. For the sake of clarity, we note that
naturalism is related to, but not identical with, materialism; although sometimes
they are very hard to tell apart.’ (27)
Whatever their differences, materialism and naturalism are therefore intrinsically
atheist.’ (28)
‘In order to tease out the relationship between worldviews and science we must
now ask a surprisingly difficult question: What exactly is science?’ (29)
2. The scope and limits of science
‘Michael Ruse…holds that science ‘by definition deals only with the natural, the
repeatable, that which is governed by law’….The most obvious weakness in this
definition is that, if allowed to stand, it would rule out most of contemporary
cosmology as science.’ (31)
‘…there is another way of looking at things that is an essential part of the
methodology of contemporary science, and that is the method of inference to the
best explanation (or abduction, as it is sometimes called).’ 31
‘What no scientist can avoid is having his or her own philosophical commitments.
Those commitments…are not likely to figure very largely, if at all, when we are
studying how things work, but they may well play a much more dominant role
when we are studying how things came to exist in the first place, or when we are
studying things that bear on our understanding of ourselves as human beings.’
‘We cannot emphasize too much that vast tracts of science remain unaffected by
such philosophical commitments. But not quite all—and that is where the
problem lies.’ (38)
‘Dawkins is guilty of committing the error of proposing false alternatives by
suggesting that it is either fairies or nothing. Fairies at the bottom of the garden
may well be a delusion, but what about a gardener, to say nothing about an
owner? The possibility of their existence cannot be so summarily dismissed—in
fact, most gardens have both. Furthermore, take the claim that only science can
deliver truth. If it were true it would at once spell the end of many disciplines in
schools and universities. For the evaluation of philosophy, literature, art, music
lies outside the scope of science strictly so-called. How could science tells us
whether a poem is a bad poem or a work of genius?...whether a painting is a
masterpiece or a confused smudge of colours?...The teaching of morality
likewise lies outside science.’ (39)
‘…the statement that only science can deliver knowledge is one of those selfrefuting statements that logicians like Bertrand Russell love to point out. All the
more surprising that Russell himself appears to have subscribed to this particular
view when he wrote: ‘whatever knowledge is attainable, must be attained by
scientific methods; and what science cannot discover, mankind cannot know.’ In
order to see the self-contradictory nature of this statement we simply have to ask:
How does Russell know this? For his statement is not in itself a statement of
science and so if it is true then (according to the statement itself) it is
unknowable—and yet Russell believes it to be true.’ (40)
‘Let us imagine that my Aunt Matilda has baked a beautiful cake and we take it
along to be analysed by a group of the world’s top scientists. I, as master of
ceremonies, ask them for an explanation of the cake and they go to work…Now
that these experts, each in terms of his or her scientific discipline, have given us
an exhaustive description of the cake, can we say that the cake is completely
explained? We have certainly been given a description of how the cake was
made and how its various constituent elements relate to each other, but suppose
I now ask the assembled group of experts a final question: Why was the cake
made?...All the…scientists…in the world will not be able to answer the
question—and it is no insult to their disciplines to state their incapacity to answer
it. Their disciplines…cannot answer the ‘why’ questions connected with the
purpose for which the cake was made. In fact, the only way we shall ever get an
answer is if Aunt Matilda reveals it to us. But if she does not disclose the answer
to us, the plain fact is that no amount of scientific analysis will enlighten us.’ (40,
‘The claim that science is the only way to truth is a claim ultimately unworthy of
science itself. Nobel Laureate Sir Peter Medawar points this out…’There is no
quicker way for a scientist to bring discredit upon himself and upon his profession
than roundly to declare…that science knows, or soon will know, the answers to
all questions worth asking, and that questions which do not admit a scientific
answer are in some way non-questions or “pseudo-questions” that only
simpletons ask and only the gullible profess to be able to answer.’ Medwar goes
on to say, ‘The existence of a limit to science is, however, made clear by its
inability to answer childlike elementary questions having to do with first and last
things—questions such as: “How did everything begin?”; :What are we all here
for?”; “What is the point of living?”.’ He adds that it is to imaginative literature and
religion that we much turn for such questions…There is clearly no inconsistency
involved in being a passionately committed scientist at the highest level while
simultaneously recognizing that science cannot answer every kind of question,
including some of the deepest questions that human beings ask.
It is only fair to say also that Russell, in spite of the fact that he wrote the very
scientistic sounding statement we cited above, indicated elsewhere that he did
not subscribe to full-blown scientism…’To such questions no answers can be
found in the laboratory.’’ (41)
‘It is one thing to suggest that science cannot answer questions of ultimate
purpose. It is quite another to dismiss purpose itself as an illusion because
science cannot deal with it.’ (42)
‘But what destroys scientism completely is the fatal flaw of self-contradiction that
runs through it. Scientism does not need to be refuted by external argument: it
self-destructs. It suffers the same fate as in the earliest times did the verification
principle that was at the heart of the philosophy of logical-positivism. For, the
statement that only science can lead to truth is not itself deduced from science. It
is not a scientific statement but rather a statement about science, that is, it is a
metascientific statement. Therefore, if scientism’s basic principle is true, the
statement expressing scientism must be false. Hence it is incoherent.’ (42)
3. Reduction, reduction, reduction…
‘Philosopher Richard Swinburne in his book Is there a God? Says: ‘Note that I
am not postulating a ‘God of the gaps’, a god merely to explain the things that
science has not yet explained. I am postulating a God to explain why science
explains; I do not deny that science explains, but I postulate God to explain why
science explains’…The point to grasp here is that, because God is not an
alternative to science as an explanation, he is not to be understood merely as a
God of the gaps. On the contrary, he is the ground of all explanation; it is his
existence which gives rise to the very possibility of explanation, scientific or
otherwise.’ (47)
‘In informal terms, as the British-born American physicist and mathematician
Freeman Dyson puts it, ‘Goedel proved that in mathematics the whole is always
greater than the sum of the parts’. Thus there is a limit to reductionism…There
are many composite systems in which understanding the individual parts of the
system may well be simply impossible without an understanding of the system as
a whole—the living cell, for instance.’ (52)
‘Besides methodological reductionism, there two further important types of
reductionism: epistemological and ontological. Epistemological reductionism is
the view that higher level phenomena can be explained by processes at a lower
level…Richard Dawkins says: ‘My task is to explain elephants, and the world of
complex things, in terms the simple things that physicists either understand or
are working on.’…[But] As Karl Popper points out: ‘There is almost always an
unresolved residue left by even the most successful attempts at reduction.’ (53)
‘A classic example of [ontological reductionism] is given by Richard Dawkins:
“The universe is nothing but a collection of atoms in motion, human beings are
simply machines for propagating DNA, and the propagation of DNA is a selfsustaining process. It is every living object’s sole reason for living.’ The words
‘nothing but’, ‘sole’, or ‘simply’, are the tell-tale signature of ontological
reductionist thinking. If we remove these words we are usually left with
something unobjectionable... But immediately we add the words ‘nothing but’, the
statements go beyond science and become expressions of materialistic or
naturalistic belief…Are we going to say with Francis Crick: ‘You, your joys and
your sorrows, your memories and ambitions, your sense of personal identity and
free will, are in fact no more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells
and their associated molecules’? What shall we think, then, of human love and
fear? Are they meaningless neural behaviour patterns?’ (55)
‘As Fraser Watts has pointed out, Crick himself modifies his ‘astonishing’
hypothesis by weakening it to the almost innocuous statement ‘You are largely
the behaviour of a vast population of neurones’ (italics added)’…If Crick’s thesis
is true we could never know it. For, not only does it relegate our experiences of
beauty, moral obligation, and religious encounter to the epiphenomenal scrapheap. It also destroys rationality. Thought is displaced by electronic discourse.
They are neither right nor wrong. They simply happen…The very assertions of
the reductionist himself are nothing but blips in the neural network of his brain.
The world of rational discourse dissolves into the absurd chatter of firing
synapses. Quite frankly, that cannot be right and none of us believes it to be so.’
4. Designer universe?
‘However much we may debate the essence of the scientific method, there is no
question as to the foundation on which that method rests: the rational intelligibility
of the universe. It was Albert Einstein’s astonishment at this that prompted him to
make the famous comment, ‘The most incomprehensible thing about the
universe is that it is comprehensible.’ (58)
‘Eugene Wigner, a Nobel Laureate in Physics…wrote: ‘The enormous usefulness
of mathematics in the natural sciences is something bordering on the mysterious,
and there is not rational explanation for it…it is an article of faith.’ The
relationship between physics and mathematics goes very deep and it is very hard
to think of it as some random accident. Professor of Mathematics, Sir Roger
Penrose FRS, whose understanding of that relationship is unquestioned, has this
to say about it: ‘It is hard for me to believe…that such SUPERB theories could
have arisen merely by some random natural selection of ideas leaving only the
good ones as survivors. The good ones are simply much too good to be the
survivors of ideas that have arisen in a random way. There must be, instead,
some deep underlying reason for the accord between mathematics and
physics.’…Dawkins is simply wrong: faith is inseparable from the scientific
endeavour. Goedel’s Second Theorem gives further evidence of this: you cannot
even do mathematics without faith in its consistency—and it has to be faith
because the consistency of mathematics cannot be proven.’ (60)
‘Paul Davies comments: ‘Just because the sun has risen everyday of your life,
there is no guarantee that it will rise tomorrow. The belief that it will—that there
are indeed dependable regularities of nature—is an act of faith, but one which is
indispensable to the to the progress of science,’ This aspect of the rational
intelligibility of the universe is often referred to as the principle uniformity of
nature. It is an article of the scientist’s faith. (61)
‘Even Stephen Hawking…admitted in a television show: ‘It is difficult to discuss
the beginning of the universe without mentioning the concept of God. My work on
the origin of the universe is on the borderline between science and religion, but I
try to stay on the scientific side of the border. It is quite possible that God acts in
ways that cannot be described by scientific laws.’ (61, 62)
‘Stephen Hawking…writes: ‘The usual approach of science of constructing a
mathematical model cannot answer the questions of why there should be a
universe for the model to describe. Why does the universe go to all the bother of
existing? Is the unified theory so compelling that it brings about its own
existence? Or does it need a Creator, and, if so, does he have any other effect
on the universe?’ (63)
‘Theories and laws simply do not bring anything into existence. The view that
they nevertheless somehow have the capacity seems a rather desperate
refuge…from the alternative contained in Hawking’s final question cited above:
‘Or does it need a Creator?’’ (64)
‘Faced with not one, but many such spectacular examples of fine-tuning, it is
perhaps not surprising that Paul Davies says, ‘It seems as though someone has
fine-tuned nature’s numbers to make the universe…The impression of design is
overwhelming.’ Up to this point we have mainly been considering fine-tuning at
the large-scale cosmological level. When we think of the specific conditions that
are needed nearer home in our solar system and on earth, we find that there are
a host of other parameters that must be just right in order for life to be possible.’
‘We should note that the preceding arguments are not ‘God of the gaps’
arguments; it is advance in science, not ignorance of science, that has revealed
this fine-tuning to us. In that sense there is no ‘gap’ in the science. The question
is rather: How should we interpret the science? In what direction is it pointing?’
‘John Polkinghorne…rejects the many-universe interpretation: ‘Let us recognize
these speculations for what they are. They are not physics, but in strictest sense
metaphysics. There is no purely scientific reason to believe in an ensemble of
universes.’…Philosopher Richard Swinburne goes even further. ‘To postulate a
trillion-trillion other universes, rather than one God, in order to explain the
orderliness of our universe, seems the height of irrationality.’ (73)
Lennox then continues his response with a detailed questioning of many of the
premises found in Dawkins’ understanding of evolution as it relates to physics,
mathematics, genes and algorithmic information theory. The remaining chapters
5. Designer biosphere?
6. The nature and scope of evolution
7. The origin of life
8. The genetic code and its origin
‘’In his book Goedel, Escher, Bach—an Eternal Golden Braid mathematician
Douglas Hofstadter writes: ‘A natural and fundamental question to ask on
learning of these incredibly, intricately interlocking pieces of software and
hardware [the cell] is: “How did they ever get started in the first place?”…from
simple molecules to entire cells, is almost beyond one’s power to imagine. There
are various theories on the origin of life. They all run aground on this most central
of questions: “How did the Genetic Code, along with the mechanisms for its
translation, originate?” The question is not made any easier by the fact that this
code is viewed as being extremely ancient. Werner Lowenstein, who has won
world renown for his discoveries in cell communication and biological information
transfer, says: ‘This genetic lexicon goes back a long, long way. Not an iota
seems to have changed over two billion years; all living beings on earth, from
bacteria to humans, use the same sixty-four word code.’ (136)
9. Matters of information
10. The monkey machine
11. The origin of information
‘For instance, an archaeologist, on observing for the first time some scratch
marks on the wall of a cave, may well excitedly exclaim: ‘Human intelligence!’ it
would be absurd to say to her, ‘Don’t be ridiculous. Those scratch marks are very
simple. What sort of an explanation is it to postulate the existence of something
as complex as a human brain to account for such simple scratch marks in terms
on a cave wall!’ It would be equally absurd to say that explaining the scratch
marks in terms of human activity ‘explains precisely nothing’. The semiotics of
those scratch marks may well be important clues as to the identity, culture and
intelligence of the people that made them. Incidentally, is it not to be wondered at
that our archaeologist immediately infers intelligent origin when faced with a few
simple scratches whereas some scientists, when faced with the 3.5 billion letter
sequence of the human genome, inform us that it is to be explained solely in
terms of chance and necessity?’ (172)
‘Remember what we would in all likelihood deduce on visiting a remote planet if
we found a succession of piles of perfect cubes of titanium with a prime number
of cubes in each pile in ascending order 2,3,5,7,11, etc. We would be very likely
to conclude at once that this was an artefact produced by an intelligent agent,
even though we had not the slightest idea of what kind of intelligent agent it could
possibly be. The pile of cubes are in themselves much ‘simpler’ than the
intelligence that made them, but that fact does not prevent our deduction of
intelligent origin as a reasonable inference to the best explanation. The
legitimization of the SETI project, as we have seen, uses the same argument: if
we were to receive (as featured in Carl Sagan’s novel Contact) is signal
consisting of a sequence of prime numbers we would assume that it is coming
from an intelligent source. What is more, such as event, were it to happen, would
dominate the world’s press overnight and no scientist would ever dream of
objecting that postulating intelligent origin for the sequence was not an
explanation since it would be tantamount to explaining the sequence in terms of
something more complex than the sequence itself.’ (172, 173)
‘We have referred above to Dawkins desire to explain everything in terms of the
‘simple things that physics understand’. Now, on the one hand, things like atoms
are simpler than living creatures since living creatures are composed of complex
structures made up of atoms. On the other hand, atoms are far from simple,
which is one of the reasons elementary particle physics continues to attract some
of the most powerful intellects on earth. The deeper down you probe into the
ultimate nature of the structure of the universe, the more complex it becomes.
Think of relativity, quantum mechanics or, better still, quantum electrodynamics.
They are so far from being simple that only the most intelligent human minds can
grasp them and even then there are many mysteries still unresolved. To start
with, no one knows exactly why quantum mechanics works an, as Richard
Feynman was also wont to point out, no one even knows what energy is. Now
here is the curious thing. If Richard Dawkins objects to the complexity of God as
an ultimate explanation, he ought also to object to the complexity of the structure
of the universe or particle physics and be totally dissatisfied with ultimate
explanations in terms of concepts like ‘energy’ since we do not really understand
them.’ (173)
‘We have argued that there is evidence that there is a Mind behind the universe,
a Mind that intended us to be here. And we have minds. It is, therefore, not
illogical that one of the main reasons why we have been given minds is not only
that we should be able to explore our fascinating universe home, but also that we
should be able to understand the Mind that has given us the home. Further more,
we humans are capable of giving expression to the thoughts of our minds and
communicating them to others. It would therefore be very surprising if the Mind
from which we are derived should be any less capable of self-expression and
communication than we are. This leads us at once to the question: Is there any
serious and credible evidence that the Mind has ever spoken to our world?’ (177)
‘…what lies behind the universe is much more than a rational principle. It is God,
the Creator Himself. It is no abstraction, or even impersonal force, that lies
behind the universe. God, the Creator, is a person. And just as Aunt Matilda is
not part of her cake, neither is God part of the stuff of his universe. Now, if the
ultimate reality behind the universe is a personal God, this has very far-reaching
implications for the human search for truth, since it opens up new possibilities for
knowing ultimate reality other than the (scientific) study of things. For persons
communicate in a way that things do not. Being persons ourselves, we can get to
know other persons. Therefore, the next logical question to ask is: If the Creator
is personal, has he spoken directly, as distinct from what we can learn of him
indirectly through the structures of the universe? For if there is a God, and he has
spoken, then what he has said will be of utmost importance in our search for
truth.’ (178)
‘Inevitably, of course, not only those of us who do science, but all of us, have to
choose the presupposition with which we start. There are not many options—
essentially just two. Either human intelligence ultimately owes its origin to
mindless matter; or there is a Creator. It is strange that some people claim that it
is their intelligence that leads them to prefer the first to the second.’ (179)
The second response is from Keith Ward and his book is titled ‘Why there
almost certainly is a God: Doubting Dawkins’ (Lion, Oxford, 2008).
Ward basically responds in particular to chapters two, three and four of Dawkins’
‘God Delusion’. The outline and some pertinent quotes from his book are as
Part 1: On chapter Two of The God Delusion
1. The God hypothesis
‘To most philosophers, materialism looks like a non-starter. Most of us do not
want to deny that material things exist. But we are no longer sure what ‘matter’ is.
Is it quarks, or superstrings, or dark energy, or the result of quantum fluctuations
in a vacuum? It is certainly not, as the ancient Greek materialist Democritus
thought, lumps of hard solid stuff—invisible atoms—bumping into one another
and forming complicated conglomerations that we call people. Some physicists,
such as John Gribbin and Paul Davies, in their book The Matter Myth, argue that
matter is a sort of an illusion or appearance produced by some mysterious and
unknown substratum in interaction with the human mind.’ (14)
‘Believing in God is not at all like believing in fairies or in invisible tea-pots. These
are physical things of a peculiar sort. But God, by definition, is not a physical
thing at all, not even a very thin and ghostly thing. The question of God is the
question of whether conscious mind can exist without any physical body, and
whether that mind could account for the origin and nature of our universe. The
relatively sensible (emergent) materialist has to admit that this is a possibility.
Arguments for the existence of God are arguments claiming to show that not all
minds arise from matter. There is at least one mind that is prior to all matter, that
is not in time and therefore is not capable of being brought into being by
anything. It is the one truly self-existent reality, and the cause of all physical
things. (19, 20)
‘However sophisticated computers get, they are not conscious, they do not
understand or reflect on the programs that operate on their hardware, and they
do not agonize over what moral decisions to make. I am not denying that some
day we may construct a conscious, thinking artificial intelligence. But we are
nowhere near that day, and if it comes, we will simply have found a new way of
bringing conscious minds into existence. We will not have reduced minds to
computers: we will have transformed computers into real minds.’ (21, 22)
Part 2: On chapter Four of The God Delusion
2. Large aeroplanes and God
‘Darwin said, in the Origin of Species, ‘How infinitely complex and close-fitting
are the mutual relations of all organic beings.’ And again, in a letter, he wrote, ‘I
cannot persuade myself that electricity acts, that the tree grows, that man aspires
to the loftiest conceptions, all from blind, brute force.’ (39)
3. Explaining God
‘Everything that is in time is explained, it seems, by reference to a law and a
preceding cause that brings it into being. But if we can think of something being
in time, then it follows by a simple process of negation, that we can also think of
something not being in time. Call than an eternal thing. If there is an eternal
thing, then it could not be brought into being by anything else, since it could not
be brought into being at all. Since it is not in time, there never was a time when it
was not, and it could not possibly be brought into being…And that, really, is the
first part of the answer to the question, ‘Who made God?’ The answer is that God
is eternal, so nothing could possibly make God, cause God, bring God into being,
or kill God either. Once you see that God is eternal, you will never ask the
question, ‘Who or what made God?’ You will see that the question does not
make sense.’ (52, 53)
‘Possibilities, we might say, are eternal. They cannot come into being or pass
away. They cannot be caused or brought about. If they are, they are, and if they
are not, they are not. And that is that. I suppose you could say that there might
have been no possibilities at all. But in that case , nothing would ever exist, since
there would be no possibility of anything existing…So the answer to the question,
‘What made the set of all possible universes exist?’, is that such a set is not the
sort of thing that can be brought into being. It either always is or it never is. And,
since there is actually something—because we are here—it obviously always is.’
‘The scientific enterprise in its modern sense originated in a theistic culture, and
most histories of science agree that belief in a God who created the universe
through wisdom (in the Christian case, through logos or intellect) was a direct
inspiration to scientific investigation into the causes of things. Much religious
thought teaches that the works of God can be understood by the minds of
humans, who are created in the image of God. And this is a spur to further
understanding, not a block to seeking the truth.’ (61, 62)
‘Scientific explanation should be pushed as far as it can go. Belief in God
supports this push, because it guarantees that the universe is ultimately
intelligible. But it adds that scientific explanation is not the only form of
explanation. Scientific explanation drives you back, in the end, to eternity and
necessity—to the realm of timeless and necessary mathematical truths, to
ultimately intelligible laws and fundamental forces. But what is also needed for a
final explanation is appeal to consciousness, value, creativity and purpose.
Personal explanation complements, but does not replace, scientific explanation.
Both are necessary to a truly final explanation of the universe.’ (66)
4. God and the multiverse
‘I conclude that the multiverse hypothesis, while it is an interesting attempt to
render the laws of this universe more probable, ultimately fails as a final
explanation…there is no path from possibility to actual existence by way of
scientific explanation, except the path of postulating the necessary physical
existence of all possible universes.’ (77)
5. Objections and replies
‘creativity and mind, value and purpose, have to be included in any final
explanation of the universe. Materialism is deficient as a philosophy because it
cannot include them, and has to argue them out of existence. If they are to be
included, the simplest way to do so is to postulate one mind, necessary in
existence and free in creative action, which is the cause of the complex universe,
for the sake of bringing into being many different sort of goods that may be
enjoyed in many different ways by many different finite minds.’ (88)
Part 3: On chapter Three of The God Delusion
6. The five ways
Dawkins supposedly demolishes the five arguments of Aquinas for God’s
existence in three pages in the ‘The God Delusion’. In this chapter Ware redrafts
and updates Thomas Aquinas’ ‘Five ways in which one can prove there is a God’
with reference to modern scientific discoveries and understanding.
7. The argument from personal experience
‘Great art does not prove God. It expresses transcendent Spirit, and that is what
links art to the existence of God. Many people will fail to see this. One reason is
that they may, like Dawkins, believe in all conscience that the idea of God is
incoherent, improbable and harmful. That makes any perception of God in
nature, art and science virtually impossible. The natural awe and wonder that
Dawkins feels before our amazing universe will have to be ascribed to something
other than God. Yet there is natural awe and wonder. And if God could be seen
as highly probable, deeply rational and supremely valuable, then God would be
the most appropriate object for those feelings. A theist would see the feelings of
non-believers as apprehensions of God, the true character of which is
misinterpreted. I have no wish to annoy Dawkins by saying this. But, just as he
must see my belief in God as a delusion, so I must see his atheism as a sort of
blindness, a failure to see what is there, a misinterpretation of experience.’ (130)
‘Schleiermacher, one of the great analysts of personal religious experience, said:
‘To be one with the infinite in the midst of the finite and to be eternal in a
moment, that is the immortality of religion.’ This may not be a complete definition
of religion. But if anyone lacks this sense, or fails to feel its power, then, and only
then, we can say that they are genuinely atheists. And their world, I believe, will
be the poorer.’ (131)
‘Faith is the practical commitment to a relationship with God that will
progressively transform your life, liberating it from hatred, greed and ignorance,
and enabling it to become a more effective mediator of transcendent beauty, joy
compassion and benevolence. Many of Dawkins’ objections to religious belief are
that he cannot see that religious believers are like that. He finds them,
apparently, to be blind, unquestioning, slaves of obtuse authorities, hypocritical,
prejudiced and repressive. Perhaps that is because they are human, after all. He
is absolutely right to criticize any forms of religion that cause people to be like
that. But if there is a God, we just have to live with that fact. It does not seem
correct, or even sensible, to say that God, the ultimate reality of supreme value,
is harmful. What we need to do is find some way of getting people to believe in
this God, and to act in appropriate and non-harmful ways.’ (132)
‘You can be, and should be, a person of strong moral principle without belief in
God. But there is a way of seeing morality that is virtually already a form of belief
in transcendent moral goodness. And for many people, a serious commitment to
the moral life will lead to that path. For the believer in God, morality and religion
are indissolubly tied together, and morality, seen in this way, is itself a journey
into God.’ (137)
‘For many Christians, reading the life of Jesus, or hearing that life reflected in
sermons, evokes a lively sense of our own inability to live as fully, as joyfully, and
as lovingly as we should. The teachings of Jesus reveal all too clearly our
hypocrisy, self-deceit and egoism. The death of Jesus on the cross shows what
these things lead to. But it also shows the lengths to which God goes to forgive
us. The resurrection of Jesus from death shows that the power of the divine love
that filled his life still exists, and is never defeated by suffering and death. This
can lead us to respond to the message of Christ by dying to our old selves of
hatred and despair, as Christ died on the cross, and seeking to live again in the
power of his resurrection life. A fundamental Christian experience is that of dying
to self and being raised to new life through an active power of reconciliation and
love, that comes as we turn from self to Christ, through whom the wisdom and
power of God comes to us.’ (138)
‘The daily experience of Christians is one of following the way of the cross, so
that we learn to give ourselves as Christ gave himself out of love for us. And it is
one of living in the power of the resurrection, as the Spirit acts within us to
embrace us in a wider life and deeper love.’ (139, 139)
‘Christians seek to live so that they can say with St Paul, ‘It is not I who live, but
Christ who lives in me’ (Galatians 2:20). The point about this experience is that it
is not felt as a mood or an emotion that we conjure up in ourselves. It is felt as a
response to the forgiving and renewing power of God that comes through the
preaching of the good news of Jesus, and in the offer of his life in the bread and
wine of the Eucharist. Of course, if you do not believe in God at all, you will
discount such experiences—though they often take people by surprise, and lead
them to see the God hypothesis is not absurd after all. But, just as the best
evidence that someone loves you is that they meet and embrace you, so the best
evidence that God exists and desires your welfare is that God, in Jesus, gave the
divine life for you, and that this same God, in the Spirit, gives the divine life to
you, to raise you to a more joyful, fuller life. (139)
‘If you are thinking seriously about the God hypothesis, it will be very strong
evidence if a large number of people, apparently well-balanced, intelligent and
virtuous, feel that God has met them in the proclamation of Christ’s teaching,
death and resurrection, and has transformed their lives for the better through a
sense of the presence of the Spirit of Christ in their lives. It would be reasonable
to trust their testimony, and to embark on a way of life that has a chance of
leading to a personal sense that there is a God who will wipe away all tears and
lead us to an eternal and indestructible good.’ (140)
8. Why there is a God
‘As I have presented the case, there are two main avenues of exploration. One
leads to the search for a final explanation of the cosmos. The other leads to a
consideration of various types of personal experience that suggest a sense of
transcendent value. I have suggested that in both cases the God hypothesis
succeeds in providing a unifying postulate that underpins a sophisticated
intellectually, morally and psychologically satisfying way of living in the world. It
seems to me that it easily trumps the materialist world-view, being truer to the
rich variety of human experience, and much better able to account for the deep
sense of objective beauty, intelligibility and goodness that drives and sustains so
much of human endeavour—including the best sort of scientific endeavour. But in
the end, it is a whole-hearted commitment to a way of life that is centred on love
of the good and beautiful that makes the existence of God virtually certain.’ (146,
The third is Alistair McGrath whose atheism lapsed due to his study of the
History and Philosophy of Science. He then studied Christian theology,
specialising in the history of Christian thought. He has since written several
books about his colleague Richard Dawkins including a scathing but rational
response to ‘The God Delusion’ which is called ‘The Dawkins Delusion’ (2007,
SPCK press). In this he suggests that the reason why Dawkins is raising such a
strong response to faith is because according to some scientists in the 20 th
century there was the expectation that with the rise of science and technology
religion would die a natural death. But the contrary is true when you look at the
world as a whole in the 21st century where religious matters dominate the news
headlines and the hearts of billions of people.
The chapters of Alistair McGrath’s book include some of the following:
‘Why is such a book still necessary? Religion was meant to have disappeared
years ago. For more than a century, leading sociologists, anthropologists and
psychologists have declared that their children would see the dawn of a new era
in which the ‘God delusion’ would be left behind for good. Back in the 1960s, we
were told that religion was fading away, to be replaced by a secular world. I was
an atheist back in the late 1960s, and remember looking forward to the demise of
religion with a certain grim pleasure. I had grown up in Northern Ireland, and had
known religious tensions and violence at first hand. The solution was obvious to
my freethinking mind. Get rid of religion, and such tensions and violence would
be eradicated. The future was bright—and godless.
Two things have changed since then. In the first place, religion has made
a comeback.’ (vii, viii)
‘Second, and rather less importantly, my own attitudes have changed. Although I
was passionately and totally persuaded of the truth and relevance of atheism as
a young man, I subsequently found myself persuaded that Christianity was a
much more interesting and intellectually exciting world view than atheism. I have
always valued free thinking and being able to rebel against the orthodoxies of an
age. Yet I have never suspected where my free thinking would take me. Dawkins
and I have thus travelled in totally different directions, but for substantially the
same reasons.’ (viii)
‘Though an atheist, Gould was absolutely clear that the natural sciences—
including evolutionary theory—were consistent with both atheism and
conventional religious belief.’ (ix-x)
Whereas Gould at least tries to weigh up the evidence, Dawkins simply offers the
atheistic equivalent of slick hellfire preaching, substituting turbocharged rhetoric
and highly selective manipulation of facts for careful, evidence-based thinking.
Curiously, there is surprisingly little scientific analysis in The God Delusion.
There’s a lot of pseudoscientific speculation, linked with wider cultural criticisms
of religion, mostly borrowed from older atheistic writings.’ (x)
‘The God Delusion trumpets the fact that its author was recently voted one of the
world’s three leading intellectuals. This survey took place among the readers of
Prospect magazine in November 2005. So what did this same Prospect
magazine make of the book? Its reviewer was shocked at this ‘incurious,
dogmatic, rambling, and self-contradictory’ book. The title of the review?
‘Dawkins the dogmatist.’ (xi)
1. Deluded about God?
Faith is infantile
‘I did not believe in God until I started going to university. Those who use this
infantile argument have to explain why so many people discover God later in life,
and certainly do not regard this as representing any kind of regression,
perversion or degeneration. A good recent example is provided by Antony Flew
(born 1923), the noted atheistic philosopher who started to believe in God in his
eighties.’ (3)
Faith is irrational
‘One of the most characteristic features of Dawkin’s anti-religious polemic is his
presentation of the pathological as if it were normal, the fringe as if it were the
centre, crackpots as if they were mainstream…But its not acceptable. And it
certainly is not scientific.’ (5)
The God of the gaps
‘…the Intelligent Design movement—a movement, based primarily in North
America, which argues for an ‘Intelligent Designer’ based on gaps in scientific
explanation, such as the ‘irreducible complexity’ of the world. It is not an
approach which I accept, either on scientific or theological grounds. In my view
those who adopt this approach make Christianity deeply—and needlessly—
vulnerable to scientific progress.’ (12)
2. Has science disproved God?
The limits of science?
NOMAs (non-overlapping magisteria)and POMAs ( partially-overlapping
The warfare of science and religion?
A clash of fundamentalisms
3. What are the origins of religion?
Defining religion
Belief in God and religion
The virus of the mind
Long live the meme!
4. Is religion evil?
Religion leads to violence
The human abuse of ideals
Jesus and loving one’s neighbour
Christianity and the critique of religion
On reading the Old Testament
Religion and well-being
‘Every world-view, whether religious or not, has its point of vulnerability. There is
a tension between theory and experience, raising questions over the coherence
and trustworthiness of the world-view itself. In the case of Christianity, many
locate that point of weakness in the existence of suffering within the world. In the
case of atheism, it is the persistence of the belief in God in which to believe,
when there is supposedly no God in which to believe. Until recently, Western
atheism had waited patiently, believing that belief in God would simply die out.
But now, a whiff of panic is evident. Far from dying out, belief in God has
rebounded, and seems set to exercise still greater influence in both public and
private spheres. The God Delusion expresses this deep anxiety, partly reflecting
an intense distaste for religion. Yet there is something deeper here, often overlooked in the heat of the debate. The anxiety is that the coherence of atheism
itself is at stake. Might the unexpected resurgence of religion persuade many that
atheism itself is fatally flawed as a world-view? (63)
‘The God Delusion seems more designed to reassure atheists whose faith is
faltering than to engage fairly or rigorously with religious believers and others
seeking for truth…Religious believers will be dismayed by its ritual stereotyping
of religion, and will find its manifest lack of fairness a significant disincentive to
take its arguments and concerns seriously. Seekers after truth who would not
consider themselves religious may also find themselves shocked by Dawkins’
aggressive rhetoric, his substitution of personal creedal statements for objective
engagement with evidence, his hectoring and bullying tome towards ‘dyed-in-thewool faith-heads’, and his utter determination to find nothing but fault with religion
of any kind.’ (63, 64)
‘It is this deep, unsettling anxiety about the future of atheism which explains the
‘high degree of dogmatism’ and ‘aggressive rhetorical style’ of this new secular
fundamentalism. Fundamentalism arises when a world-view feels it is in danger,
lashing out at its enemies when it fears it own future is threatened. The God
Delusion is a work of theatre, rather than scholarship—a fierce, rhetorical assault
on religion, and passionate plea for it to be banished to the lunatic fringes of
society, where it can do no harm…Yet others have been more cautious. Aware of
the moral obligation of a critic of religion to deal with this phenomenon at its best
and most persuasive, many have been disturbed by Dawkins’ crude stereotypes,
vastly oversimplified binary oppositions (‘science is good, religion is bad’), straw
men, and seemingly pathological hostility towards religion. Might The God
Delusion actually backfire, and end up persuading people that atheism is just as
intolerant, doctrinaire and disagreeable as the worst that religion can offer? (64)
‘Dawkins seems to think that saying something more loudly and confidently,
while ignoring or trivializing counter-evidence, will persuade the open-minded
that religious belief is a type of delusion. Sadly, sociological studies of
charismatic leaders—religious and secular—indicate that Dawkins may be right
to place some hope in this strategy. For the gullible and credulous, it is the
confidence with which something is said that persuades, rather than the evidence
offered in its support. Yet the fact that Dawkins relies so excessively on rhetoric,
rather than the evidence that would otherwise be his natural stock in trade,
clearly indicates that something is wrong with his case. Ironically, the ultimate
achievement of The God Delusion for modern atheism may be to suggest that
this emperor has no clothes to wear. Might atheism be a delusion about God?’
Mike Pietsch May 2010
[email protected]
0409 725 573