Delusional Atheism


T
he better title for Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion (or at least the more accurate one, given the self-stated goals of his new book) would be Why There Almost Certainly Is No God. Paring back all the typical Dawkinsian rhetoric, that is all he really attempts to prove.

Richard Dawkins, Houghton Mifflin, $27, 416 pages
 
The better title for Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion (or at least the more accurate one, given the self-stated goals of his new book) would be Why There Almost Certainly Is No God. Paring back all the typical Dawkinsian rhetoric, that is all he really attempts to prove. And we should thank him for trying to prove that much. As the atheist laureate of Britain, he has been throwing out barbs against religion for years. Now that he’s come out full force, we find that, with all due respect, he doesn’t provide a very forceful argument for non-belief.
 
To begin, we’d better make clear why Dawkins only seeks to prove that there almost certainly isn’t a God. Dawkins ranks belief and knowledge along a spectrum of probabilities: Strong Theist=1 (I know there is a God.); at the other end, Strong
Atheist=7 (I know there is no God). He ranks himself at 6 (very low probability of God’s existence, but "short of zero"). "I count myself in category 6," he tells us, "but leaning towards 7 — I am agnostic only to the extent that I am agnostic about fairies at the bottom of the garden."
 
Why doesn’t he just leap to a 7, declare that he’s a Strong Atheist, and be done with it? Certainly that is the impression most of us would have of him after reading his previous works. The reason he doesn’t make the leap — and this is to his credit — is that he doesn’t want his atheism to be a leap of faith.
 
Unlike many atheists and theists today, Dawkins will have none of the mealy compromise position, the theology-and-science-are-entirely-different-things-so-we-don’t-really-bump-into-each-other muddle-headedness as proposed, for example, by the late evolutionist and atheist Stephen Jay Gould. Gould maintained that religion and science inhabit Non-Overlapping Magisteria (the so-called NOMA position). Dawkins rightly points out that this condescending pat on the head for religious believers was simply Gould’s way of shooing them off to scamper harmlessly about as long as they didn’t dare step in science’s domain.
 
Dawkins calls Gould’s insincere strategy the "Neville Chamberlain School of Evolutionists," because it yields a safe and cozy place for believers while buying peace for atheist scientists harried by fundamentalists. But the problem for Dawkins is allowing religion at all. For him, belief is pernicious and must be wiped out. In short, he is declaring war on religion as the enemy of humanity — a definite no-compromise, take-no-prisoners position.
 
That is why he declares himself a 6 rather than a 7. He believes that the God question is decidable. It can, it will, it must be decided by science. The "God question is not in principle and forever outside the remit of science" because "a universe with a creative superintendent would be a very different kind of universe from one without. Why is that not a scientific matter?" Thus, Dawkins’s position is that science has all but clinched it, all but proven that we exist in a universe without a creative superintendent. {mospagebreak}
 
To put the reviewer on the record, I believe Dawkins is exactly right in one important respect. The case for atheism or theism can be settled through science precisely because "a universe with a creative superintendent would be a very different kind of universe from one without." But he is exactly wrong in his assessment of where contemporary science is actually leading. As I argue (with co-author Jonathan Witt) in A Meaningful World: How the Arts and Sciences Reveal the Genius of Nature, the latest science is actually leading to theism.
 
For example, take Dawkins’s treatment of cosmic fine-tuning. Contrary to expectations, cosmologists found fantastically precise fine-tuning of the fundamental constants and forces in nature at the origin of the Big Bang. It looks like a Divine set-up, if ever there was one. Dawkins’s answer? He clings to multiverse theory, the theoretically vacuous assertion that there are billions of parallel or previous universes, and we just happen to be the lucky one. Multiverse theory is theoretically vacuous because it is entirely unprovable. Or to put it in a positive light, it is every bit as sound as the belief that there are fairies at the bottom of the garden — only a little less so.
 
Likewise for Dawkins’s treatment of the "wildly improbable" chance that randomly associating chemicals in the early earth could produce DNA (and hence provide a non-theistic, pre-biological stepladder to the first cell). He reasons thusly: Since there are a billion-billion available planets in the universe, and the chances of DNA arising are one in a billion, well then, there you have it! "Even with such absurdly long odds, life will still have arisen on a billion planets — of which Earth, of course, is one."
 
It should be obvious that you cannot assume the probability of something you haven’t proven is even possible. The probability of flipping a coin and having it land heads is one in two; the possibility of flipping a coin and having it land on the moon is zero. This confusion of probability and possibility is typical of Dawkins. The question is, and always has been: Is DNA the kind of thing that can arise by chance at all? If it isn’t, then it doesn’t matter how many billions of planets there are. Impossible is impossible, and Dawkins never argues, but only assumes, the probability of what many others have argued is impossible.
 
But again, Dawkins does not just want to argue that science completely undermines religion. The zeal driving his book is fueled by his belief that religion is pernicious and must be completely uprooted. He is launching a crusade for the infidels
to take the Holy Land from the fidels, once and for all. This unholy zeal brings him to assert some rather foolish things.
 
For example, Dawkins maintains that Christianity leads to moral evil, whereas atheism does not. And what of the millions upon millions killed by the great 20th-century atheists such as Joseph Stalin? Well, there is "no doubt that . . . Stalin was an atheist," but "there is no evidence that his atheism motivated his brutality." Really? Interesting. {mospagebreak}
 
He fails in an even more magnificent way by trying to unite in unruly moral matrimony two entirely antithetical things. On the one hand, he declares the moral superiority of holding to evolution; on the other, he offers a new morality that he claims was blown in by the "Zeitgeist." The new morality isn’t really very new, as it turns out, but a rather vaporous form of the hedonism of the Left that is strangely at odds with the essential workings and brutality of evolution.
 
To illustrate, Dawkins adopts a New Ten Commandments, the second of which is, "In all things, strive to cause no harm." What part of "survival of the fittest" does he not recall? He even adds a few amendments of his own, number eleven being, "Enjoy your own sex life (so long as it damages nobody else) and leave others to enjoy theirs in private whatever their inclinations, which are none of your business." I thought the evolutionary point was to mate by whatever means — male and female, that is. Dawkins’s proclaimed desire for non-reproductive pleasure, for polymorphous perversity, would seem to create an evolutionary dead end.
 
In sum, I was disappointed to find so many bad arguments on behalf of a most serious subject.
 


Benjamin D. Wiker’s latest book, co-authored with Jonathan Witt, is A Meaningful World: How the Arts and Sciences Reveal the Genius of Nature. Visit the Web site at www.ameaningfulworld.com.

 

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