Atheistic Teleological Arguments, Part 5: Dawkins’s Ultimate Boeing 747 Gambit

Atheistic Teleological Arguments, Part 5: Dawkins’s Ultimate Boeing 747 Gambit February 28, 2016

(Redated post originally published on 7 December 2011)

A. The Argument Formulated

In chapter 4 of his book The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins advances an argument for atheism he calls the “Ultimate Boeing 747 Gambit,” in reference to Fred Hoyle’s famous comment about a Boeing 747 arising by chance in a junkyard.[26] Just as Hoyle’s argument appeals to the (alleged) improbability of evolution, Dawkins’s argument appeals to the (alleged) improbability of God.

Dawkins is not a philosopher writing for other philosophers; he is a biologist writing for a popular audience. For this reason, it is entirely understandable that he does not provide his argument for atheism in its logical form. On the other hand, it is valuable to state it in its logical form, so that we can have a clear and precise summary of it. We are in luck: philosopher Erik Wielenberg has already done the work of carefully analyzing Dawkins’ argument and identifying its logical form. Since I agree entirely with Wielenberg’s analysis, I shall simply quote his formulation of the argument.

(1) If God exists, then God has these two properties: (i) He provides an intelligent-design explanation for all natural, complex phenomena in the universe and (ii) He has no explanation external to Himself.

(2) Anything that provides an intelligent-design explanation for the natural, complex phenomena in the universe is at least as complex as such phenomena.

(3) So, if God exists, then God has these two properties: (i) He is at least as complex as the natural, complex phenomena in the universe and (ii) He has no explanation external to Himself. (from 1 and 2)

(4) It is very improbable that there exists something that (i) is at least as complex as the natural, complex phenomena in the universe and (ii) has no explanation external to itself.

(5) Therefore, it is very improbable that God exists. (from 3 and 4)[27]

B. Assessment of Dawkins’s Ultimate Boeing 747 Gambit

Dawkins began his chapter by reviewing why Hoyle’s argument from improbability (i.e., his ‘Boeing 747 gambit’) is evidentially worthless against evolution by natural selection. As Dawkins correctly points out, natural selection is the opposite of chance;[28] hence, the argument is literally irrelevant to the hypothesis of natural selection. It seems to me that the Ultimate Boeing 747 Gambit (hereafter, “Dawkins’s Atheistic Teleological Argument (ATA)”) suffers from a parallel problem with respect to the God hypothesis. As Wielenberg points out, it’s valuable to distinguish two versions of the God Hypothesis:

(GH1) There exists a contingent, physical, complex, superhuman, supernatural intelligence that created the universe and has no external explanation.

(GH2) There exists a necessary, nonphysical, complex, superhuman, supernatural intelligence that created the universe and has no external explanation.[29]

The key point here is the difference between a contingent, physical being and a necessary, nonphysical being. As Weilenberg writes, “Dawkins’s argument may be effective against (GH1), but no clear-thinking Jew, Christian, or Muslim accepts that thesis. (GH2) is much closer to traditional monotheism than is (GH1), but Dawkins’s Gambit is ineffective against (GH2).”[30] Therefore, as far as (GH2) is concerned, premise (4) is false and Dawkins’s ATA fails.

Series on Atheistic Teleological Arguments

Notes

[26] Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2006), 111-59.

[27] Erik Wielenberg, “Dawkins’s Gambit, Hume’s Aroma, and God’s Simplicty,” Philosophia Christi 11 (2009): 113-128 at 115.

[28] Dawkins 2006, 113-14.

[29] Wielenberg 2009, 118.

[30] Ibid.

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