The God Hypothesis 2

Here is Richard Dawkins’ essential thesis: “any creative intelligence, of sufficient complexity to design anything [the God hypothesis], comes into existence only as the end product of an extended process of gradual evolution” (The God Delusion, 31). And the God of the Old Testament, according to Dawkins, is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction.
There is one major theme of this chp: he comes out fighting and swinging and accusing and denouncing.
1. Method: Quoting Thomas Jefferson, Dawkins says this: “Ridicule is the only weapon which be used against unintelligible propositions” (34). Dawkins, whose prose is saucy and accusations heated, resorts far more often to ridicule than he needs to. As when he accuses Roman Catholic theology of “tasteless kitsch” and says of RC details in theology that they are “shamelessly invented.” Or the Old Testament’s “psychotic delinquent” (God).
Dawkins claims he is a “teapot agnostic”: “We cannot prove … that there is no celestial teapot.”
2. Is religion immune from evidence? He weighs in against NOMA: the notion, accepted by far too many, that science can only deal with empirical evidence and facts while religion deals with the non-empirical, and one cannot judge the other’s knowledge. If something is beyond evidence, it is also beyond religion and theology. Thus: “I have yet to see any good reason to suppose that theology … is a subject at all” (57).
3. Does evidence disprove the efficacy of prayer? And he adduces the so-called Great Prayer Experiment as evidential proof that prayer does not help. Physicist Russell Stannard and Herbert Benson (a cardiologist), with the Templeton Foundation, tested the evidence for the efficacy of prayer and the results were published in the American Heart Journal (April 2006) with these results: no difference between those patients who were prayed for and those who were not; there was a difference between those who knew they had been prayed for and those who did not know; that difference was not in favor of those who knew they had been prayed for.
RJS adds the following conclusion from a study, and then her comments follow:
Unfortunately, I’m not sure Dawkins tells the whole truth. Here is the conclusion of the study by Benson:

The finding that intercessory prayer, as provided in this
study, had no effect on complication-free recovery from CABG may be
due to the study limitations. Understanding why certainty of receiving intercessory prayer was associated with a higher incidence of complications will require
additional study.
Private or family prayer is widely believed to influence
recovery from illness, and the results of this study do not challenge
this belief. Our study focused only on intercessory prayer as
provided in this trial and was never intended to and cannot address a
large number of religious questions, such as whether God exists,
whether God answers intercessory prayers, or whether prayers from one
religious group work in the same way as prayers from other groups.

I said last time that Dawkins is not alone in his opinions and others possessing somewhat more tact, are rapidly becoming more vocal and forceful, and ultimately more dangerous. The first section of this chapter is an excellent case in point. Dawkins’ rhetoric and ridicule is so far over the top that he becomes his own worse enemy. He then settles down somewhat as the chapter progresses, only throwing in the occasional barbed comment.

The God Hypothesis as defined by Dawkins states “that the reality we inhabit also contains a supernatural agent who designed the universe and … maintains it and even intervenes in it with miracles” (58). He admits that the existence of God cannot be disproved but claims that the preponderance of evidence pushes so close to disproof that the only rational position is functional atheism. His hypothesis then is that God does not exist and that there is no supernatural reality. The presence or absence of superhuman beings (think ET) is scientifically testable. By definition all life and all intelligence in the universe evolved in a natural gradual way.

So:

Is the God Hypothesis subject to scientific verification?

Is the claim that too much evidence would not be good for us a cop out?

Would you expect a scientific double blind test to be able to prove the efficacy of prayer?

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • VanSkaamper

    I haven’t read the book yet, but I’ve read a number of reviews. I’d be interested, Scot, to get your take on the assessment by Alistair McGrath:
    Epistemically Dawkins is a throwback to the modernism and methodology of the logical positivists; his statement that ‘real’ scientists are atheists is factually mistaken; his characterization of belief in God as a ‘mental virus’ can be applied just as easily to his atheism; and his assertion that theism is a ‘meme’ is vague and without merit. And, finally, he points out that the history of violence and genocide on the planet point to a fundamental problem with human nature, not any particular religious ideas.
    Dawkins also creates what, to McGrath, is a false dichotomy: either evolution or God. Dawkins argues for the truth of macro-evolution and considers it form of proof that God does not exist. Dawkins knows that other prominent evolutionists like Stephen J. Gould don’t join him in that conclusion.
    Most interestingly, perhaps, is McGrath’s sober warning about Dawkins derisive tone in the book. In his opinion, Dawkins book is dangerous because he doesn’t make a clear distinction between the goals eliminating belief in God from the planet and that of eliminating believers themselves from the planet. McGrath is particularly concerned about the way Jews in particular are attacked by Dawkins in his book…so the book itself might itself be evidence that the absence of belief in God isn’t a cure for the kind of bigotry and hostility that enables human beings to rationalize genocide.
    So, in short, the book’s arguments, even stripped of the over-the-top rhetoric are questionable at best. It’s a screed by an admittedly talented and intelligent man with an enormous chip on his shoulder.
    McGrath and his wife, a neuro-psychologist, have written a book tentatively titled The Dawkins Delusion slated to be published early in the new year.

  • http://prosthesis.blogspot.com macht

    Does Dawkins talk about any Christians who actually do treat God as a hypothesis? It would be nice to know who and what he is arguing against.

  • http://www.scyldingsinthemeadhall.blogspot.com The Scylding

    Dawkins has lost it. He seems to show the kind of behavior that is typical of any kind of religious extremist. Why? In my mind he seems to realize that the tiniest crack in his belief structure could bring the house down, at that is psychologically dangerous (for him). His words seem to indicate that he has moved beyond mere argument…
    And interestingly enough, there is a major chink in his structure. The foundation of science rests squarely on mathematics – and the foundation (or at least the most basic part) of mathematics is arithmetic – which has been demonstrated to be without an axiomatic basis – in fact, it cannot have one – it is a logical impossibility!!!. This comes from the eminent Hungarian mathematician, Kurt Gödel’s more famous of his two incompleteness theorems (for any self-consistent recursive axiomatic system powerful enough to describe the arithmetic of the natural numbers, there are true propositions about the naturals that cannot be proved from the axioms).
    What does this mean? Mathematics rests on faith or at the very least, on an improvable consensus.
    Mr Dawkins, your slip is showing…

  • http://www.scyldingsinthemeadhall.blogspot.com The Scylding

    For those intersted, I continued with some comments on my own blog – http://www.scyldingsinthemeadhall.blogspot.com

  • http://chasebowers.typepad.com Chase

    In an interview on the Daily show Dawkins asked, “where did God come from?” or “Who made God?” implying that something cannot come from nothing and therefore God cannot exist. This is the very argument for the existence of God. The probability of the initial occurence of cheical evolution is shown by scientist to be so low that the would call it ‘scientifically impossible.” Life came from something, someone, namely God.

  • James Petticrew

    I walk down the Royal Mile often here in Edinburgh, on one side of the street is a statue of David Hume, it looks lonely, covered in bird droppings, nobody gives it much attention, I have never seen tourists having their picture taken beside it, the Hume statue looks across the road to Saint Giles, the heart of the Presbyterian church which he attacked continually. Saint Giles is a hive of activity with tourists and worshippers. The point, hundreds of years after Hume’s attacks on Christianity they have not destroyed belief in God and yet the modernism he helped create seems very vulnerable to post-modern critique. Dawkins is in vogue right now but I predict that in a generation his work will be as ignored as his forerunner Hume’s statue and the church will still be gathering for worship. For a delusion God is very peristant his critics don’t seem to have the same lasting power.

  • http://www.gordonhackman.blogspot.com Gordon Hackman

    In response to the last question about the efficacy of prayer, I’d answer no, I don’t necessarily think studies would show its efficacy. This is because prayer is not like physics, where the same forces working in the same set of conditions should produce the same outcomes every time. Intercessory prayer involves petitioning our sovereign personal God who may or may not choose to answer our prayers the way we want for reasons we don’t always know or understand. To my mind, trying to scientifically prove the efficacy of prayer is to treat the qualitiative/relational as if were the quantitative/impersonal. Prayer is not some giant gumball machine where we put in our quarter and are gauranteed a prize.

  • RJS

    Chase,
    Dawkins’ implication about something from nothing inherent in his point of view and, I agree, flawed.
    However, arguments for creation and origin of life from statistics are problematic. The probability of a protein folding properly is also statistically zero. But it happens all the time. The apparent inpossibility means we don’t understand the “energy landscape” well enough. I think that the same may be true for statistical arguments on chemical evolution and the origin of life. In the absence of facts we don’t have enough information to make a statistical argument.

  • http://jackblogs.typepad.com/integrity/ JACK

    Dawkins problem is that he’s not open to revelation. And I don’t mean that in a “All he needs is Jesus” sense. What I mean is that, if God is to exist, then Dawkins demands that he must prove it. He’s unwilling to accept the possibility that man can only get so far to God through use of his reason, and then it is up to God. He’s struggling with the very thing that gives Christianity it’s uniqueness and its striking power. We need the Incarnation. We need God to come to us and reveal himself. On our own, we can only get so far, primarly to the notion that there’s something beyond me, that I don’t make me, and that what satisfies my heart isn’t anything I’ve found here on Earth (they are only shadows of what satisfies, when I compare their ability to meet the demands of my heart).
    But that would require giving up the illusion of control. And Dawkins can’t do that for some reason.

  • Matthew

    About the provability of prayer: there is a story of an ant sitting on a rail on a train track. The ant states that he won’t believe the CEO of the railroad company exists unless said CEO comes and personally visits the ant. The point being that the CEO’s schedule is not subject to the ant. Neither is God subject to ours. On a purely empirical level, this leaves an unacceptable loophole: God can either answer yes, or else God knows best. So whether God visibly intervenes or not, we praise him. This doesn’t prove anything.
    Sometimes, this bugs me. However, Job 38-42 has meant a lot. I love 39:1: Where are you when the mountain goats live out their life-cycle? huh? where are you? It does something to me to realize that God is somehow sovereign over all the little life-cycles of bugs, fish, animals that people don’t even know about. God is over the whole picture. We can’t set up a proper prayer-experiment because we can’t dictate to God what he needs to do in a particular situation.

  • Brian

    The Scylding (#3),
    Some of your comments could take this dicussion far afield, but the role of mathematics is indeed important. The descriptive nature of most mathematics is central. It can’t be easily dismissed.
    There is substantial debate about the range of contexts in which Gödel’s theorems apply. I don’t know how well they apply to this discussion of faith and science. Do you have additional information on this?
    Your comments about arithmetic not having an axiomatic basis is interesting. What do you make of Peano’s axioms?

  • http://www.microclesia.com John L

    Dawkins has in essence “come off the rails” of reasonable academic inquiry. And contrary to what many believe, there are a considerable number of scientists embracing “religious faith.” Moreover, most who participate in the science-religion dialogue do so with respect and mutual honor.
    At a recent gathering of non-religious scientists at the Salk Institute, Dawkins and Sam Harris (another incendiary anti-religious pundit), were taken to task by their peers. Atheist anthropologist Melvin Konner told them bluntly: “I think that you and Richard are remarkably apt mirror images of the extremists on the other side . . . you generate more fear and hatred of science. Should we bash religion with a crowbar or only with a baseball bat?”
    With a bit more reserve, agnostic astronomer Neil Tyson added: “Persuasion isn’t always ‘Here are the facts — you’re an idiot or you are not.’ I worry that your methods” — he turned toward Dawkins — “how articulately barbed you can be, end up simply being ineffective, when you have much more power of influence.”
    Case Western atheist-physicist Lawrence Krauss added, “Science does not make it impossible to believe in God . . . we should recognize that fact and live with it and stop being so pompous about it.” He continues, “I think we need to respect people’s philosophical notions unless those notions are wrong.”
    When Galileo was being tried by the church, he wrote: “The Bible tells you how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go . . . In my mind God wrote two books. The first book is the Bible, where humans can find the answers to their questions on values and morals. The second book of God is the book of nature, which allows humans to use observation and experiment to answer our own questions about the universe.” (trans. Tyson).

  • Rob Rumfelt

    Dawkins, Harris and others need to go over the top because they know it’s the only way they will be heard. Despite all the fascinating arguments and debates, atheism will ultimately fail because it has no cohesive narrative.
    Judaism and Christianity have the the stories of Creation, Exodus, Job, the Incarnation and the Resurrection. Of course, there are many more. These stories tell humans who and what they are and how they should live. They give us meaning.
    The secular story can’t even tell how life really started, much less what it means. How did humans really become humans? At what point did our brains suddenly explode and why? Their story is seriously broken and unless they make lots of noise, no one will even hear them much less pay attention.
    Are they still dangerous? Absolutely. Just go to Wesley Smith’s wonderful blog, Secondhand Smoke, and look at what tomorrow’s world could look like if their ideas stand unopposed.

  • http://www.myspace.com/andrewarndt Andrew

    I’ve been tracking with Dawkins’ public diatribes over the past few months, and while watching a C-SPAN book presentation Dawkins gave on “the God Delusion” I heard him quote the line from his book that was quoted at the outset of this blog: “any creative intelligence, of sufficient complexity to design anything, comes into existence only as the end product of an extended process of gradual evolution.”
    Being at first somewhat offended by this comment, I needed to remind myself that, so it seems, Dawkins is operating within a particular cosmology that presumes the primacy of efficient causation and substance metaphysics and the like. But what if a different cosmology was on offer?
    It made me think of Leron Shults’ strong emphasis on Divine Infinity and Absolute Futurity in his book “Reforming the Doctrine of God.” Perhaps this comment of Dawkins, intended as a slam-dunk against religious theism, is actually (and ironically) part of the point that Shults is making in his sketch of a reformed doctrine of God. Perhaps God is not one substance among many (as the Orthodox continually assert), standing outside the cosmos as the first cause in a long string of efficient causes, but rather the One who contains all things in himself (without being conflated with his creation), and who calls the cosmos into his future by virtue of his illimitable wisdom which reaches into the present to evoke “creaturly longing”, as Shults puts it over and over again.
    Just a thought … But perhaps we should not always be so threatened by the diatribes of pagans …

  • Nick

    I respect that Dawkins is a rational thinker who won’t buy into something without evidence that it matches up with reality. I also agree that the Old Testament God does not well-reflect the true God of lvoe and that prayer most often does not work to cause physical changes (I have never seen a direct result of prayer in 20 years of following Jesus, besides on my inner-self).
    But despite a lack of scientific evidence, and some dubious claims by Christianity, I just wonder if he doesn’t consider the ubiquitous and time-proven belief in the existence of God as itself proof. Why do so many believe so strongly, if there is not God at all? It is hard to fathom that religion could result from simple evolutionary processes, apart from a real supernatural divine being.
    I wonder if Dawkins deep down wants to believe it is true, that He was created by a loving God and made for relationship with Him. To me, its like its too good not to be true. The evidence is in my heart, not my scientific rational mind. He has to sometimes hope there is something more to life, and that there is a hope beyond the grave. How depressing to live without that hope!

  • ChrisB

    “any creative intelligence, of sufficient complexity to design anything, comes into existence only as the end product of an extended process of gradual evolution”
    I believe this is called begging the question.
    If something is beyond evidence, it is also beyond religion and theology.
    Christian theology/apologetics does not claim that God is beyond evidence but beyond proof. We claim all sorts of evidence. That he doesn’t like our evidence does not mean it doesn’t exist, only that he isn’t convinced.
    As far as the prayer “study,” I remember thinking at the time that all that study proved was that God isn’t a genie. There is no assumption in Christian theology (excepting the guys on TBN) that God must answer our prayers for healing. I would not expect such a thing to be testable.
    He admits that the existence of God cannot be disproved but claims that the preponderance of evidence pushes so close to disproof that the only rational position is functional atheism.
    I haven’t read the book; does he offer any actual “disproof?” The only real evidence I’ve ever seen is the argument from evil. Does he refute the cosmological and moral arguments, or does he dismiss them out of hand?
    Is the God Hypothesis subject to scientific verification?
    Yes and no. The “God Hypothesis” is a metaphysical question that is answered using, in part, physical data. Barring setting eyes on a person, how would you prove that anyone exists? The same way you prove electrons exist — by collecting data regarding the effects of their presence and using that data to form the most reasonable conclusion.
    Unfortunately the “most reasonable” conclusion is a matter of opinion especially when there is more at stake than the mere existence of the being in question. Some people want to believe in God; some don’t want to — whether it is to justify their lifestyle or because of past bad experiences or for some other reason.

  • VanSkaamper

    When someone like Dawkins uses “who created God?” as a counter to some form of cosmological argument, it’s a clear sign that they don’t really understand the argument.

  • DV

    I read the preface today of Dawkins book. Up until that point I had never read anything by him about any subject. I came away thinking the man is very smart and obviously very passionate about athiesm and his beliefs. All I kept thinking while reading that brief portion of his book and afterward was this guy needs someone to give him a hug! He just seemed so angry and bitter against something. His arrogence about the arguements presented could definitely scare some unprepared Christians, but in reality he is just restating accusations in a more critical, condesending, and in your face sort of way. I couldn’t help but wonder what happened to this man that he literally seemed to hate anyone and everyone that believed differently than him. It also reminded me how important it is as Christians to be full of grace, humilty, and patience with people that believe differently than we do. Not because Christian arguments are unsatisfactory, but because writing with that ego doesn’t bring people together or change anyone, it separates and creates division. Furthermore, I thought how great a day it would be if the love of Christ was shown so much through believers that he couldn’t help but begin to understand the love of God for himself.

  • http://bartramia.blogspot.com Sam Carr

    “There cannot exist anything other than what I have already discovered” is an attitude that is not just unscientific but positively silly in its dogmatism.

  • http://welikesheep.org Nate

    It is hard to fathom that religion could result from simple evolutionary processes, apart from a real supernatural divine being.
    Interesting an Intelligent Design of Religion argument …
    Nick, I would suggest you check out Daniel Dennett’s book: Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon.
    Of all of Scot’s questions I thought the third was the most interesting. I would suggest that speaking of prayer as being measured by effect or effectiveness might not be useful. A friend of mine last night suggested that prayer should first be understood as an ontological event instead of an economic transaction. I think Ben was right.
    Or check out his talk @ TED

  • http://www.twocities.org Dave

    Dawkins received a second class honors undergraduate (or honours as the Brits put it) from Oxford. Alister McGrath received two first class honors and university wide honors, N.T. Wright (also a double first with several university awards), and C.S. Lewis got a rare triple first (three first class B.A.s). It is interesting to note because of Dawkins’ penchant for mocking Christians as dolts.

  • RJS

    ChrisB, Nick, and others,
    This chapter just lays out the God Hypothesis and the variants or alternatives to this hypothesis. The next two chapters deal with arguments for and against the existence of God. Although I think that most, if not all, cosmological and moral arguments for the existence of God have plausible natural explanations. A fair amount of ongoing research is also exploring natural explanations for the development of religion. Arguments based on “Intelligent Design” or gaps only God can fill are inherently dangerous and subject to disproof. There is evidence for God – but it is not compelling and alternatives exist.
    Dawkins scoffs at the idea that a God who could demonstrate his presence conclusively, would in fact choose not to do so. I am interested in what people think of this idea or argument.
    Andrew and John L and others,
    I do think that Dawkins has “come off the rails” but – we need to deal with his ideas more than his rhetoric and diatribes. His arguments are not unique to him; he just has access to an audience and a professional life that is devoted to this purpose. Most proponents of these ideas are more tactful in approach. I think that these ideas and assumptions are growing in popularity – at least in academic environments. But perhaps others disagree?

  • Robert E. Mason

    I concur with the notion that the effectiveness of prayer cannot be evaluated scientifically. Freeman Dyson, writing in the New York Review of books (6/22/06), draws a strong distinction between science and religion: “Science is a particular bunch of tools that have been conspicuously successful for understanding and manipulating the material universe. Religion is another bunch of tools, giving us hints of a mental or spiritual universe that transcends the material universe. To understand religion, it is necessary to explore it from the inside, as William James explored it in The Varieties of Religious Experience.”
    An arresting characteristic of the material universe is its regularity; similar causes yield similar effects. This is not so with prayer. We may pray for the healing of Joe, and God heals him. We may pray for the healing of Henry, and God gives him the grace to die at peace and with dignity, or he may say to Henry, “ I will give you everything you need to live with a sever disability—your job is to demonstrate to the world how to handle a difficulty by trusting in me.” In sum we cannot manipulate God with our prayers as we can manipulate the material universe with a bunch of tools called “science.”
    The 17th century English preacher, Robert South, characterized prayer as “an act of dependence upon God.” In effect, South was saying that prayer is an acknowledgement to our selves and to God that we are not adequate to handle life. Prayer is not about results, but about our posture before God.

  • http://spacebetween.blogsome.com Tyler Watson

    I do expect double-blind tests to show the efficacy of prayer and they exist. I first learned of them in my health psychology class at UC Davis — and the psychology department there is not known as a bastion of Christian thought. It seems that Dawkins is selective in which studies he chooses.
    This link has a report from 2001 on a study conducted by Duke University Medical Center that showed that intercessory prayer seemed to make a difference in heart patients.
    This link goes to a synopsis of a 1999 study that concludes, “Remote, intercessory prayer was associated with lower CCU course scores. This result suggests that prayer may be an effective adjunct to standard medical care.” The research was done by researchers from the Mid America Heart Institute, University of Missouri–Kansas City, and UC San Diego. (This was the study we discussed at UC Davis.)

  • http://bartramia.blogspot.com Sam Carr

    Just because God has chosen not to bash us on the head with His presence does not imply that He can’t, He could if He wanted to. Secondly, we know that He has made His presence and His person known-in Jesus-but again He has done this in such a way that we are left with a real choice of whether or not to believe. Wittgenstein goes a bit further in saying that the shere mediocrity (of the evidence) itself forces us to believe on faith rather than on evidence. I disagree with that viewpoint, I think the evidence is perfectly plain and that we choose to ignore it, or as in Dawkins case, kick against the pricks!

  • RJS

    Tyler,
    Dawkins doesn’t bring them up, but the earlier positive studies were considered by Benson and colleagues, as were two additional earlier studies which showed no effect. The study reported in 2006 was designed to overcome the limitations and failings of these earlier studies. With a large sample size and a double-blind protocol the 2006 report found no influence of prayer.
    I don’t find the result surprising because prayer isn’t a genie-like proposition, an economic transation, or a magic spell, it is part of a relationship, as has been pointed out in comments above.

  • http://bartramia.blogspot.com Sam Carr

    Talking about evidence, a young man once asked John Stott “if christianity is true, why aren’t christians better people than everybody else?” His answer was a very surprising one…”Every person that I know who has come to Christ IS a ‘better’ person – better than they ever were before and as they lean on Jesus, they will surely continue to improve” One implication, for me, is that I was much worse than average before I met Jesus and if I am an average person now, that’s a tremendous improvement!

  • Brian

    RJS,
    You are right to keep us focused on the content of Dawkins’ views. They must not be dismissed without dealing with the important issues that he raises.
    On the questions raised at the beginning…
    1. Is the God Hypothesis subject to scientific verification?
    If we are talking about some deistic god, then the answer is maybe (well, maybe). When it comes to the God of the Bible the answer is plainly “Yes,” at least in terms of a verification process. A verification result may or may not be obtainable. The claim is that God has acted in history, and the claim involves evidence that can be evaulated.
    2. Is the claim that too much evidence would not be good for us a cop out?
    Yes. The idea that more information leaves less need for faith misunderstands what faith is all about in most biblical references. The biblical idea is for the most part about trust, and not so much about assent regarding whether or not something is true.
    3. Would you expect a scientific double blind test to be able to prove the efficacy of prayer?
    Maybe. While God might not be willing to be manipulated in this way, Elijah was counting on God’s willingness to show himself on cue at Mount Carmel. One concern I have here is that if prayer is as readily answered as I would expect from the Bible, then it should be self-evidently effective without running controlled tests. Some believers of course would claim that this is indeed their experience, but the basis of their interpretation would have to be understood.

  • http://bartramia.blogspot.com Sam Carr

    How much evidence would be considered enough evidence? One is reminded of what Jesus said of Capernaum and again in the parable of Dives and Lazarus.

  • http://www.myspace.com/andrewarndt Andrew

    I’m sorry if I’m kind of ignorant on this matter, but RJS, who are you?

  • Diane

    The evidence of thousands of studies on the role of religion in health is overwhelming: religious observance: prayer, attendance at church at least once a week, meditation, etc. correlate with good health. There may be rational explanations for this, but the fact remains that Biblical revelation about healthy behavior was true well before empirical science “proved” it. Do we need to wait for empiricism to “prove” every part of the Bible before we believe it? Doesn’t that make an idol of rationalism? Doesn’t rationalism become a limited box we get trapped in? Isn’t it time for a new paradigm? And isn’t the anger of the rationalists a symptom that their paradigm is running its course?
    I have not read Dawkins book but did read Sam Harris’s “A Letter to Christians,” another defense of atheism. My sense is that Dawkins’s book is more intelligent, but I was simply wearied that the same old easily-refutable arguments were trotted out by Harris. Harris, too, was very derisive of faith and heaped ridicule on the Bible (as well as on Islam). It disturbs me that people who purport to be scientists and rational investigators so easily dismiss the texts they are concerned with refuting. I feel that if they would take the time to truly understand the point of view of those they disagree with, a more respectful and fruitful dialogue would take place. One thing (among many) struck me about Harris’s book: he made a derogatory comment about how silly we are to take seriously the opinions of theologians who lived in a time when people didn’t know enough not to mix food with dung. The statement equated empirical knowledge with soul knowledge, but moreover, showed how unconsciously Harris accepts Western notions of “progress” that are predicated on a religious worldview that sees us as progressing (toward a New Jerusalem.) Progress as time passes is a Western religious concept. In other words, scientists are caught the very subjectivity they ridicule.

  • ChrisB

    RJS,
    I think that most, if not all, cosmological and moral arguments for the existence of God have plausible natural explanations.
    Have you confused cosmological and design? I’ve never heard a single attempt to refute the cosmological argument that didn’t resort to “who made God” or a manifestly untestable hypothesis like imaginary time or scientifically discredited (and philosophically questionable) notions like infinite rebounding.
    I can see how design arguments can be somewhat dangerous in that people may become disillusioned if something overturns their favorite design feature, but I think the preponderance of the evidence falls in our favor and will continue to do so.
    I’ve found attempts to explain the moral argument away via evolution completely ridiculous — much of our natural moral sense constitutes a poor survival trait and shouldn’t evolve under Darwinian theories.
    I guess the question that begs to be asked is: what arguments for the existence of God would you make?
    Dawkins scoffs at the idea that a God who could demonstrate his presence conclusively, would in fact choose not to do so.
    I know we all go straight to the free will response, but I think it’s a pretty good one. Throughout the Bible it appears that God stays hidden as much as possible, only showing Himself when necessary to give a foundation of fact or eye-witnesses upon which future generations can build. Abraham interacted closely with God, but Isaac didn’t appear to, and Jacob only did when it was necessary to turn him around. Moses and the generation of the Exodus saw great signs and wonders, but the generation that took Canaan saw less, and subsequent generations saw even less — they seem to be expected to take the word of the first generation. Ditto for the Christian age.
    God’s pattern seems to be to give “proof” only when absolutely necessary and expect everyone else to rely on evidence. This seems to be best explained by the free will argument.
    Finally, the idea that “if god existed” He’d choose to reveal Himself unambiguously implies that God owes us an answer. (I’m not a Calvinist, but I emphasize the sovereignty of God about that much.)

  • VanSkaamper

    Not being a Calvinist, my answer to the ‘why doesn’t God reveal Himself in an unmistakable way’ leans heavily on the free will response as well.*
    I think God courts us. God want to be sought, found, and trusted. Lewis’ famous comment that love can’t truly exist without freedom is applicable here. The other insight that obtains here, I think, is his statement that heaven is man saying to God, “Thy will be done,” and hell God saying to man, “THY will be done.”
    So, I think that Dawkins first needs to demonstrate (scientifically, of course) that if God existed, He’d interact with His creation the way that Dawkins believes he ought.
    *One could argue that God did reveal Himself in an unmistakable way in Jesus, and yet instead of uniform submission, some of those exposed to the Father through the Son felt the urge to nail Him to a cross.

  • Brian

    Of course it is through the cross that God’s revelation of himself in Jesus became unmistakable. Paul’s claim is that these things were not done in a corner (Acts 26:26). I don’t think Paul would agree that God’s revelation is other than unmistakable.

  • Diane

    So Dawkins decides how God should behave. God doesn’t behave the way Dawkins thinks he should. Since God doesn’t reveal himself in ways that are unmistakable to Dawkins (which is how God is required to behave), ergo, God doesn’t exist. Is it Dawkins’s blindness that’s the problem or God’s lack of existence?

  • http://danbrennan.typepad.com/ Dan Brennan

    Is the God Hypothesis subject to scientific verification?
    Of course it is not, and, of course it is, simultaneously. It’s not an either/or, but it will never be universally accepted as a scientifically verified hypothesis. Among other things, atheists like Dawkins have a much too different probability/plausibility paradigm when it comes to miracles. Even Christian theologians and philosophers (let’s forget atheists for a moment) have disagreements about what constitutes a miracle.
    On the other hand, Christian reality, Christian ontology, begs, summons, invites all of us to “verify,” or “test” God and His created order. There’s more here than just looking at scientific tests and verification from one angle. No doubt, RJS, you are compelled to respond to atheists like Dawkins because the universe doesn’t make sense, verification itself doesn’t make sense, without the God hypothesis.

  • RJS

    ChrisB, (and Andrew, Dan and Others),
    The arguments for the existence of God I find most convincing are: personal experience, having seen the gospel lived out in the lives of others, general revelation in his creation, search for meaning, and probably moral law. But Dawkins would scoff at all of these of course. None of them constitute proofs.
    I also think that free will and Lewis’s observation that love can’t truly exist without freedom (as pointed out by VanSkaamper)supply the most compelling answer for the absence of overwhelming proof. We have to listen and look for God freely.
    I have been pushing here a bit because as a scientist, and a professor, I find that the attacks on Christianity are growing rather than receding, sometimes shrill and forceful, sometimes subtle, chipping at foundations. I am interested in seeing how others deal with these issues, as I am thinking through appropriate responses.

  • http://boondockapostates.com LandonSandy

    My professor(who is also atheist) calls Dawkins a “Born-Again Atheist”, but Dawkin’s criticisms sometimes do hit home. I once heard his argument that “if a shaman claims there is a river sprite that makes the river run and I explain physics to him and he still believes in a river sprite then that is fine, but your river sprite is useless” I had to think about that for awhile, but as Christ quoted himself we are not to test the Lord… Anyway, I think no matter the results of a prayer test both sides could explain it away; I don’t want to follow a proven God anyway.
    Note: if you are looking for a good laugh YouTube a few episodes of “Root of All Evil” and see an uncomfortable Dawkins in a span of uncomfortable situations; from holding candles French Cathedrals to shaking hands with Ted Haggard’s flock. hilarious.

  • http://danbrennan.typepad.com/ Dan Brennan

    RJS,
    I hear ya. I assume you are familiar with Alvin Plantinga’s arguments? I confess my affection for Plantinga to argue from a Christian frame of thinking and argumentation. I like your attraction to certain arguments. My immediate response to your leanings is that they seem to lean towards a more “neutral” setting, or am I overreading that? For example, where would the church be, or the “commuion of saints?” Just asking.

  • http://www.scyldingsinthemeadhall.blogspot.com The Scylding

    Brian (no 13)
    My apologies for only coming back to you know, but it doesn’t help to be 8-9 time zones away….
    Well, Peano’s axioms (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peano_axioms) are useful, but not fundamental, in the philosophical sense. Hence they could not have an impact on my argument above. I have not come accross other mentions of Godel in the faith and science debate. But as I explained in the post on my own blog, I percieve that the Godel’s proof is but one hole of many in the hole story (pun intended). Some were poked by the postmodernists (my definition of a postmodernist is an honest modernist…)
    Dawkins intense desire for proof (Baconian method), betrays an incessant modernist underpinning for his philosophy. His belief in the ‘truth’ of science is touching, but misplaced.
    I would like to forward a new name for Dawkins’ approach: Scientific Fascism.

  • VanSkaamper

    “I would like to forward a new name for Dawkins’ approach: Scientific Fascism.”
    Well, that is the thing. McGrath points out that the 20th century is a bad one for those trying to make the case that atheists are calm, rathional, and non-violent. He mentions the fact that over 90% of the churches and 90% of the clergy in Soviet Russia were destroyed/killed, illustrating the fact that in the absence of God, something else (like the state) becomes an object of transcendent value or desire…i.e., there’s something other than God and his approval for which it’s worth killing people.
    If theists are ‘infected’ with a (contagious) mind virus, or if they are spreading a harmful meme, then an atheistic state has a justification for purging the state organism of the infection.

  • http://bartramia.blogspot.com Sam Carr

    “I said last time that Dawkins is not alone in his opinions and others possessing somewhat more tact, are rapidly becoming more vocal and forceful, and ultimately more dangerous.” One of the reasons for christianity becoming cannon fodder is that very many of the criticisms of christianity (and other religions too) are valid.
    In a postmodern climate we often point the finger at the modernists for not having adequately integrated science into faith. I believe that we have to do more than just pass the blame. Is there such a thing as a sustainable postmodern apologetic? Our penchant for being softly and politely agnostic can be a real problem when dealing with atheistic scientists. What we keep saying is that we are agnostic because we honestly recognise our own limitations, but then the question must arise; what do we believe and why?

  • http://www.scyldingsinthemeadhall.blogspot.com The Scylding

    For some more criticism of Dawkind from a Mathematical-philosophical viewpoint, I’ve posted a follow-up on my original post on my blog. I’m trying, following Brian (13) remarks, to make the discussion somewhat broader than just Godel’s incompleteness theorems… and yes, this is a shameless add for my new blog!

  • RJS

    Dan (#41),
    First, the second on my list of arguments for the existence of God is really an argument based on the witness of the church and the communion of saints.
    But to go a bit beyond this, I think that assent to the existence of God and Christian doctrine without becoming part of a local body of believers putting it into practice is a mostly meaningless academic exercise. And becoming part of the/a church in accord with Christian theology means following through in service and mission and time commitment – not simply coming as a consumer to worship or participate in a fellowship group. One of the strongest arguments for God in my mind is seeing this kind of church in action.
    It is interesting also – one of the reasons that I place a very high priority on weekly attendance at a worship service is because I find this a powerful experience placing me in the communion of saints past, present and future. Specifics of form and style are not so important, in almost every current church there are elements that extend back to the very earliest gatherings.
    But now I am way off topic for this thread. Dawkins, Harris, Dennett, Weinberg, Hauser, and such would all claim that this is subjective nonsense and that the pressures of natural evolution can explain it.

  • http://danbrennan.typepad.com Dan Brennan

    Hi RJS,
    Thank you for further explanation. I understand Dennett, Dawson and company would see the personal/corporate worship experience as utterly subjective nonsense as you put it, in contrast to argumentation and verification. I think you are on good ground with the arguments that you mention. I like the “culminative” strategy to keep what is essential within the Christian paradigm as part of the argumentation strategy. As I read Dennett and Dawson, they would (and other like minded thinkers) be suspicious and critical of all arguments attempting to sneakily insert God into the evolutionary scheme.
    Mind you, from a Christian perspective, we’re not intending to present God through the back door in our arguments, and we’ve taken a beating with the God in the gaps approach. Still, your most ardent atheists like Dawson/Dennett will smell any hint of God from miles away with their methodological and philosophical naturalism.

  • http://bartramia.blogspot.com Sam Carr

    If we do science with the belief that we are rediscovering what God has already done (a belief that was common during the restoration) we will not be looking for something ‘extra’ as evidence for God’s existence. Wheras, Dawkins seems to argue that as there is nothing other than studiable phenomena, therefore positing God is poor science.
    Science would not be a fruitful exercise unless God had made it so. That may sound tautological but that is the fact, i.e. that there are facts is itself the ‘evidence’ for a believer. And that is what I as a biologist see very clearly. One need not have an ‘anthropic principle’ or any other theoretical framework in which God is taken as a ‘factor’ from which God becomes one more phenomeneon that science can quantify.
    Dawkins is asking us to meet him on this non-ground and we will be foolish to aquiesce. The proof will be in the pudding of how good a science we can accomplish and that is precisely what has been lacking so far first in creationism and now (perhaps even more so) in ID.

  • http://prosthesis.blogspot.com macht

    I’m still curious about the whole idea of treating God as a hypothesis. This question comes before the question “Is the God Hypothesis subject to scientific verification?” The Bible clearly doesn’t treat God as a hypothesis and I would say the majority of all Christians don’t either. This would basically mean that Dawkins is arguing against a strawman.

  • http://www.whiterose4jon.net Mike Mangold

    So, according to our own belief, a nice prayer is in order for Richard Dawkins. Anyone care to lead? I’ll believe.


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