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  • Writer's pictureKirk Bagby

Flaws in Dawkins’ "The God Delusion"

In his book The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins seeks to explain all reality from a strictly naturalistic worldview. In doing so, Dawkins makes several unwarranted claims regarding God’s existence, the origin of religious beliefs, and the origin of morality. This is because his worldview is founded upon a faulty, naturalistic epistemology.


Dawkins' Naturalistic Epistemology

Regarding epistemology, Dawkins believes that everything should be explained by natural or scientific means. While he never gives a clear definition of science, he seems to imply that “science is the enterprise of seeking natural explanations for everything.”[1] Dawkins claims, “I am not advocating some sort of narrowly scientistic way of thinking.”[2] However, immediately thereafter, he claims that any explanation for the existence of the universe must be “a crane and not a skyhook.”[3] In other words, all explanations for the existence of natural phenomena, including the universe itself, must come from within nature. All of reality must be explained by natural rather than supernatural causes.[4] What “crane” does Dawkins use to explain reality? Dawkins says, “The most ingenious and powerful crane so far discovered is Darwinian evolution by natural selection.”[5]


I will return to Dawkins’ Darwinian view of natural selection at the end of this paper. For now, Dawkins’ analogy of a “crane” reveals the inconsistency or circularity of his epistemology. Cranes cannot hold themselves up. A crane that holds itself up is a logical inconsistency or an example of circular reasoning. All cranes must rest upon a foundation, but what holds up that foundation? If another crane is given to hold up the first crane, then what holds up the second crane? Again, one could say that this crane holds itself up, but that is circular reasoning. Or one could say that another crane holds it up, ad infinitum. Natural explanations for the origin of the universe always result in circular reasoning or an infinite regress of causes. Either option must be affirmed by faith rather than reason.


Dawkins also holds a faulty view of faith. He defines faith as “holding a belief without adequate reason to do so.”[6] But what constitutes “adequate reason”? Who gets to determine when a reason for a certain belief is adequate or not? Surely, humanity can never mutually agree upon a definition for “adequate reason.” Consequently, Dawkins’ view of faith is subjective. Anyone can assert that his or her own beliefs are based upon “adequate reasons.” Likewise, anyone can assert that someone else’s beliefs are not based upon “adequate reasons.”


Dawkins claims that “[a]theists do not have faith.”[7] However, I propose that atheists do have faith. Now, Dawkins does not believe with absolute certainty that there is no God; rather, he believes that it is very probable that God does not exist.[8] Regardless, Dawkins’ atheism rests upon faith because one can never unequivocally demonstrate that it is more probable that God does not exist. Dawkins’ faith in naturalism, along with his naturalistic epistemology, leads to unwarranted claims about God’s existence, the origin of religious beliefs, and the origin of morality.


God's Existence

Regarding God’s existence, Dawkins repeatedly asserts that God is a scientific hypothesis. For example, he says that “the existence of God is a scientific hypothesis like any other,” and “God’s existence or non-existence is a scientific fact about the universe, discoverable in principle if not in practice.”[9] He also declares, “The presence or absence of a creative super-intelligence is unequivocally a scientific question, even if it is not in practice – or not yet – a decided one.”[10] Thus, Dawkins believes that God’s existence must be explained by natural or scientific means.[11]


Even so, Dawkins admits that the “God Hypothesis” indicates that God is “a supernatural agent.”[12] Later, he claims that given dualism, “We can also easily imagine the existence of a deity as pure spirit, not an emergent property of complex matter but existing independently of matter.[13] Thus, Dawkins concedes that God may be defined as “supernatural” or “pure spirit, . . . existing independently of matter.” Indeed, theists do affirm that God is a supernatural Spirit, completely different from and metaphysically separate from the physical universe which He created ex nihilo. Consequently, God is not a natural entity that can be studied by the scientific method of investigation. Thus, Dawkins’ claim that God is a scientific hypothesis is unwarranted.


Dawkins confidently claims that the universe was not created by “a designer who just popped into existence, or who always existed.”[14] However, Dawkins provides no reason why one should not believe in a designer “who always existed.” This proposition rests upon Dawkins’ naturalistic epistemology which is founded upon faith rather than reason. By contrast, it is reasonable to believe that God, being supernatural, is a necessary Being who has always existed and cannot cease to exist. Furthermore, it is reasonable to believe that the universe is contingent, being created by God’s free will ex nihilo. Therefore, it is reasonable to believe that God cannot be studied or explained by natural, scientific means.


The Origin of Religious Beliefs

Dawkins also seeks to explain the origin of religious beliefs and morality using his naturalistic epistemology. Dawkins explains the origin of religions as being “an accidental by-product – a misfiring of something useful,” and he also explains the origin of morality as “a by-product of something else.”[15]


Dawkins affirms Darwinian evolution by means of natural selection, and natural selection tends to eliminate “wastage of time and energy.”[16] But Dawkins also affirms that religions are “time-consuming,” “wealth-consuming,” “hostility-provoking,” “anti-factual,” and “counter-productive.”[17] Because natural selection allegedly results in beneficial rather than useless products, there must be some evolutionary benefit to religious beliefs. Dawkins writes, “Knowing that we are products of Darwinian evolution, we should ask what pressure or pressures exerted by natural selection originally favoured [sic] the impulse to religion.”[18]


At first, Dawkins offers some hypothetical direct advantages for evolution which religion may afford; however, he does not favor this idea that religion affords a direct advantage for evolution.[19] Thus, he explains religious belief as being a by-product of something that was once beneficial for evolution such as “an underlying psychological propensity which in other circumstances is, or once was, useful.”[20] This otherwise useful psychological propensity had the unfortunate side effect of generating religious beliefs according to Dawkins.


To support this explanation, Dawkins and other evolutionists seek to explain what this hypothetical useful or “normal psychological dispositions” may be which resulted in religious belief.[21] One possibility is that “there will be a selective advantage to child brains that possess the rule of thumb: believe, without question, whatever your grown-ups tell you.”[22] Dawkins claims that “[n]atural selection builds child brains with a tendency to believe whatever their parents and tribal elders tell them.”[23] Trust in one’s parents has survival advantages, but it can also lead to the by-product of religious beliefs or “slavish gullibility,” says Dawkins.[24] On the contrary, this hypothesis is inadequate, for it merely explains the continuing propagation of already established religious beliefs. This hypothesis fails to explain how those religious beliefs originated.


Another possible explanation for the origin of religious beliefs comes from psychologist Paul Bloom who notes that “children have a natural tendency towards a dualistic theory of mind.”[25] Dawkins notes that Bloom has “experimental evidence that children are even more likely to be dualists than adults are, especially extremely young children. This suggests that a tendency to dualism is built into the brain and, according to Bloom, provides a natural predisposition to embrace religious ideas.”[26] Again, this hypothesis is incomplete, for it does not explain how or why dualistic tendencies are built into children’s brains. Bloom’s research can only reveal that children are inclined towards dualism; his research cannot explain how or why children are inclined toward dualism. Dawkins provides some possible evolutionary advantages of Bloom’s findings, yet Dawkins never explains how this built-in tendency towards dualism originated.[27]


The Origin of Morality

To explain the origin of morality, Dawkins first offers four hypothetical evolutionary advantages for altruism in a small group of closely related people.[28] Next, he explains how these four principles afford mutual survival benefits in a population of closely related individuals living in a small village. Even though humans no longer live in small groups of close relatives, Dawkins claims that the principle of altruism still exists as a leftover of these past evolutionary advantages.[29] To help explain this, he likens altruism to sexual lust. The principle of sexual lust has obvious evolutionary advantages by encouraging people to reproduce; however, sexual lust persists even in situations where one might be “infertile or otherwise unable to reproduce.”[30] In other words, even though one may be infertile, which clearly inhibits evolution, one still possesses sexual lusts. Likewise, altruism still exists in humanity even though altruism may not directly benefit one’s own survival or the survival of one’s nearest relatives.[31]


On the contrary, this explanation is inadequate even from an evolutionary worldview. Using Dawkins’ own evolutionary worldview, one could argue that selfishness has survival advantages. Being selfish affords oneself greater opportunities to acquire scarce resources (e.g., food, shelter, and mates). Natural selection is all about the “survival of the fittest,” and those who are selfish rather than altruistic are better fit to survive in environments with scarce resources. Thus, natural selection might select for selfishness rather than altruism. Even the secular scientist Philip Skell contended that natural selection is “too supple” and can be invoked to explain almost any observable biological phenomenon. As an example, Skell said,

Natural selection makes humans self-centered and aggressive – except when it makes them altruistic and peaceable. Or natural selection produces virile men who eagerly spread their seed – except when it prefers men who are faithful protectors and providers. When an explanation is so supple that it can explain any behavior, it is difficult to test it experimentally, much less use it as a catalyst for scientific discovery.[32]

To support his position, Dawkins must somehow afford an evolutionary explanation as to why altruism has a greater selective advantage than selfishness.


Natural Selection

Dawkins’ whole worldview rests upon a naturalist epistemology built upon the principle of Darwinian natural selection.[33] He claims that natural selection can explain the origin of religious beliefs and morality just like it explains the origin of species. On the contrary, natural selection cannot even explain the origin of species. Natural selection is not a creative process; it is merely a conservative process. Natural selection cannot create new biological traits or new genetic information. Rather, it can only preserve what already exists. Even with the aid of mutations, natural selection cannot explain the origin of species.[34] This is due to many observable phenomena including, but not limited to, the extreme difficulty of “fixing” or locking-in new mutations into a population;[35] the extreme rarity of “beneficial” mutations;[36] the reality that “beneficial” mutations result in the loss of genetic information and cannot create new genes;[37] the high rate of nearly-neutral, deleterious mutations which cannot be removed by natural selection;[38] and the vast accumulation of deleterious mutations which cannot be reversed.[39] Consequently, empirical evidence reveals that genetic degradation is inevitable and will lead to the extinction of all species, which is the exact opposite of neo-Darwinian evolution. Even some secular scientists have doubted the validity of neo-Darwinian evolution by means of mutation/selection.[40]


Geneticist and former evolutionist Dr. John C. Sanford demonstrates that neo-Darwinian evolution by means of mutation/selection is a “faith” which contradicts empirical evidence.[41] He reveals from primary sources that many geneticists are aware of the inadequacies of natural selection and mutations to produce forward evolution, yet they continue to affirm evolution by faith, despite evidence to the contrary.[42] If natural selection is incapable of explaining the origin of species, then how much less can natural selection explain the origin of religion and morality?


In conclusion, Dawkins’ naturalistic worldview is based upon a faulty, naturalistic epistemology. This leads to numerous unwarranted claims regarding God’s existence, the origin of religion, and the origin of morality.[43]


Footnotes

[1] Jonathan Wells, “Theory in Crisis? Redefining Science,” Evolution News, 11 October 2022, https://evolutionnews.org/2022/10/theory-in-crisis-redefining-science/. [2] Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, 1st Mariner Books ed. (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Co, 2008), 185. [3] Dawkins, The God Delusion, 185. [4] Cf. Dawkins, The God Delusion, 185. [5] Dawkins, The God Delusion, 188. [6] Dawkins, The God Delusion, 74. [7] Dawkins, The God Delusion, 74. [8] Dawkins, The God Delusion, 73–74. [9] Dawkins, The God Delusion, 72–73. See also p. 78. [10] Dawkins, The God Delusion, 82. See also p. 85. [11] See also, Dawkins, The God Delusion, 178, 184, 186, 188. [12] Dawkins, The God Delusion, 81–82. Emphasis added. [13] Dawkins, The God Delusion, 210. Emphasis added. Dualism is the belief that one’s mind is independent of matter. This is the opposite of Dawkins’ view of monism – that one’s mind is a product of matter. See pp. 209-210. [14] Dawkins, The God Delusion, 186. [15] Dawkins, The God Delusion, 218, 240. Emphasis in original. [16] Dawkins, The God Delusion, 191. [17] Dawkins, The God Delusion, 194. [18] Dawkins, The God Delusion, 190. [19] Cf. Dawkins, The God Delusion, 194–99. [20] Dawkins, The God Delusion, 202. [21] Dawkins, The God Delusion, 202–6. [22] Dawkins, The God Delusion, 203. [23] Dawkins, The God Delusion, 205. [24] Dawkins, The God Delusion, 205. [25] Dawkins, The God Delusion, 209. Emphasis in original. [26] Dawkins, The God Delusion, 210. Emphasis added. [27] Cf. Dawkins, The God Delusion, 211–14. [28] Cf. Dawkins, The God Delusion, 251. [29] Dawkins, The God Delusion, 251–54. [30] Dawkins, The God Delusion, 253. [31] Dawkins, The God Delusion, 254. [32] Philip Skell, “Why Do We Invoke Darwin?,” The Scientist, 28 August 2005, https://www.the-scientist.com/opinion-old/why-do-we-invoke-darwin-48438. [33] Cf. Dawkins, The God Delusion, 188. [34] Gary Parker, Creation Facts of Life: How Real Science Reveals the Hand of God (Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2006), 76–108; John C. Sanford, Genetic Entropy & the Mystery of the Genome, Third Edition. (Waterloo, NY: FMS Publications, 2008), 63, 75, 83, 123–39; Nathaniel T. Jeanson, Replacing Darwin: The New Origin of Species (Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2017); Christopher Rupe and John Sanford, Contested Bones, First ed., second printing. (Canandaigua, NY: FMS Publications, 2019), 308–16; Georgia Purdom, The Code of Life (Answers in Genesis, 2007), https://www.answers.tv/videos/the-code-of-life. See also, Jeffery P. Tomkins, Chimps and Humans: A Geneticist Discovers DNA Evidence That Challenges Evolution (Dallas, TX: Institute for Creation Research, 2021). [35] Sanford, Genetic Entropy, 56–60; Rupe and Sanford, Contested Bones, 312–14. See also, Don Batten, “Haldane’s Dilemma Has Not Been Solved,” J. Creat. 19.1 (2005): 20–21; Walter ReMine, “Cost Theory and the Cost of Substitution-a Clarification,” J. Creat. 19.1 (2005): 113–25. [36] Sanford, Genetic Entropy, 17, 20–27; Rupe and Sanford, Contested Bones, 311–12. [37] Sanford, Genetic Entropy, 17, 123–40; Rupe and Sanford, Contested Bones, 308–11. [38] Sanford, Genetic Entropy, 61, 72–78; Rupe and Sanford, Contested Bones, 316. [39] Sanford, Genetic Entropy, 33–34; Rupe and Sanford, Contested Bones, 315–16. [40] Cf. Skell, “Why Do We Invoke Darwin?”; Fred Hoyle, Mathematics of Evolution, 1st ed. (Memphis, TN: Acorn Enterprises, 1999). [41] Sanford, Genetic Entropy, vi, 5, 46–47, 161. Sandford testifies that he once believed by faith that neo-Darwinian evolution is true, but when he was around fifty years old, he began to question evolution based upon empirical evidence from genetics. Sanford, Genetic Entropy, vi–vii; Rupe and Sanford, Contested Bones, 6. [42] Sanford, Genetic Entropy, 161–81.

[43] This paper was written for the class PH610 "Christian Apologetics" which I took at Asbury Theological Seminary in the fall of 2022.

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