Dawkins’ Definition of “God” – Part 2

As I argued in my previous post (“Dawkins’ Definition of ‘God’ “, 5/8/08), Dawkins’ use of the word “God” in The God Delusion is idiosyncratic and muddled. I’m trying to work through the muddles in order to determine to what extent, if any, Dawkins’ reasoning and conclusions are relevant to the age-old question, “Does God exist?”.

Sense vs. Reference of the word “God” in The God Delusion
Dawkins intends for the term “God” to refer not only to God as conceived of by Christians, Jews, and Muslims (an all-powerful, all-knowing, and perfectly good person), but also to refer to lesser gods, such as Zeus, Baal, Wotan, and Satan:

Having gestured towards polytheism to cover myself against a charge of neglect, I shall say no more about it. For brevity I shall refer to all deities, whether poly- or monotheistic, as simply ‘God’. (p.56, Mariner paperback edition).

Given this broadened understanding of the word “God”, certain logical relationships hold between the concept of a god and the concept of God:

(A) If a god exists, then God exists.
If (A) is true, this logically implies that (B) is also the case:

(B) If God does not exist, then no god exists.

The derivation of (B) from (A) is based on the deductive equivalence called Transposition:

(p > q) = (~q > ~p)
“If p, then q” is equivalent to “If not q, then not p”.

So, when Dawkins concludes at the end of Chapter 4 that “God almost certainly does not exist.” (p. 189), he is implying that no god exists, including Zeus, Baal, Wotan, and Satan, among many others. This should be no great surprise, since he clearly stated early on that his attack was broader in scope than just against God as conceived of by Christians, Jews, and Muslims:

I am not attacking any particular version of God or gods. I am attacking God, all gods, anything and everything supernatural, wherever and whenever they have been or will be invented. (p. 57)

However, I have been focusing on the intended reference of the word “God” and ignoring the sense of the word, as characterized by Dawkins. Unfortunately, the sense assigned by Dawkins is not logically consistent with the reference indicated by Dawkins. This is part of the muddle that I mentioned earlier.

Consider the definition that Dawkins gives of the God Hypothesis:

I am not attacking the particular qualities of Yahweh, or Jesus, or Allah, or any other specific god such as Baal, Zeus or Wotan. Instead I shall define the God Hypothesis more defensibly: there exists a supernatural intelligence who deliberately designed and created the universe and everything in it, including us. (p.52)

At the end of Chapter 4, Dawkins infers the non-existence of God from the falsehood of the God Hypothesis, and he does this without any explanation or presentation of a line of reasoning that bridges these two claims. Thus, it appears that in his view the God Hypothesis is equivalent to the claim that God exists. If so, then the above clarification of the God Hypothesis implies the following definition of the word “God”:

X is God if and only if
(a) X is a supernatural intelligence,
(b) X deliberately designed and created the universe and everything in it.

Since Dawkins does not provide any clearer definition of the word “God” in the first four chapters of The God Delusion, and since he appears to equate “the God Hypothesis” with the claim that “God exists”, it is reasonable to take this definition to be his understanding or sense of the word “God”.

But on this definition, Zeus would not count as God, nor would Satan, because neither Zeus nor Satan are conceived of as having designed and created the universe. Satan is merely one of a myriad of angels who were created by Jehovah, and Jehovah is conceived of as the creator of the universe. Zeus is at least a third-generation deity (Uranus->Cronus->Zeus), and the Earth pre-existed Zeus, so he could hardly be considered the creator of “the universe and everything in it.”

In short, Dawkins’ definition of “God” excludes many gods, including some gods that Dawkins specifically refers to, and that Dawkins clearly intends to include within the scope of the word “God”. So, the sense of the word “God” that Dawkins puts forward in The God Delusion is logically incompatible with his own understanding of the reference of the word “God”.

Proof of the existence of Zeus would either verify the claim that “God exists” or it would not. It is not immediately obvious which side of this dilemma Dawkins would choose. If he granted that proof of the existence of Zeus would verify the claim that “God exists”, then he would have to toss out his definition of “God” (as being too narrow). On the other hand, if he denied that proof of the existence of Zeus would verify the claim that “God exists”, then his conclusion that “God almost certainly does not exist.” (p. 189), would fail to rule out the existence of Zeus and Satan, and perhaps dozens of other gods.

About Bradley Bowen
  • IlluminatedMel .

    Though I haven’t read Dawkin’s book, I agree with you in many aspects. From reading your entry, I assume the book would lead me to more confusion and less comprehension, while ultimate understanding is my ultimate goal. I have my own questions and notice many contradictions with the concept of an Almighty god. I was raised to believe in God and of course when I got older I got smarter, started asking questions, kept asking questions, and started being ostracized by the family. Still, I haven’t gotten rid of the confusion and something came to mind a few days ago after I read a chapter of Genesis (Still trying to locate a copy of the Pentateuch—wish me luck). How can God name the birds as birds and the trees as trees? Why not the other way around? Why call Adam a man and Eve a woman? Why not the other way around? Disregarding the idea of a supernatural idea to explain our origin and to determine whether God exists or not, I wonder is it possible that nature was here before humans were or even that humans have devolved since the times of Sumerians, Mayans, and Egyptians? That perhaps the Beginners just happened into this galaxy and tried to live peacefully (which would explain the small and gigantic remains of advanced tech) and it didn’t work out because of some flaw in their genetic makeup? This would also explain the onslaught of conflicts between people, the encouragement of aggression, and the instinct in animals to run scared when they see homo sapiens. My main question is: do you think the meanings of god and Lucifer were transposed (i.e. the purpose of the Union and Confederate states back in Lincoln’s days) in an effort to further confuse the masses and encourage religious oppression? While I make no attempts to judge/stereotype others or disassociate myself from those who have different religious beliefs, I have to quell my need for answers with actual answers.
    I hope to get some kind of positive/encouraging/understanding feedback from this. Otherwise, please don’t say anything. Society is already filled with too many anti-everything attitudes/energies/people.