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Saturday, February 20, 2010

The God Delusion and disproving God's existence: The tooth fairy

I have been posting on The God Delusion, a book by Richard Dawkins.

In this book, Dawkins explicitly says that he is trying to convert people to atheism. How well did he do? It's hard to say. The book has sold millions of copies, and, presumably, most of the people who purchased it read at least some of it. Others, like me, are using library copies of the work. Perhaps some of these people have been converted to atheism. Probably many more have found their atheism strengthened.

How does Dawkins attempt to convert? His plan is straightforward. He attempts to show that the classic proofs of God's existence are inadequate. He attempts to show that the chance that there really is a God is very small. He attempts to show that religions could exist, even prosper, for purely naturalistic reasons. He attempts to show that belief in God is not just misguided, but dangerous.

I wish to muse about Dawkins' treatment of religion. Although he is opposed to belief in any God, or gods, Dawkins concentrates on Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. As I understand him, this is because he thinks that those religions are those most influential in Western thought, or at least those that people who speak English are most likely to pay attention to.

Dawkins has occasionally compared belief in a supernatural God to belief in the tooth fairy. Alister McGrath has taken Dawkins to task on this. Dawkins has even said that ignorance of theology is not a problem, because "Christian theology is a non-subject. It is empty. Vacuous. Devoid of coherence or content." (This was before the publication of The God Delusion, which book indicates that Dawkins does have at least some knowledge of Christian theology, although some critics have said that he doesn't have much such knowledge.) It could be that Dawkins is correct, and that there is neither a God nor a tooth fairy. But belief in a God is often not the same as belief in the tooth fairy. Unfortunately, some people will fight to the death, or commit cold-blooded murder, based on what they say is a belief in God. No one murders because she believes in the tooth fairy. It is also true that there have been many cases, some prominent, most not so much, of people coming to belief in a God as adults. I've never heard of an adult who came to believe in the tooth fairy.

Dawkins discusses a number of attempted proofs of God's existence. One that he leaves out is fulfilled prophecy. I would suppose that Dawkins thinks that there is no such thing, and he may be right, but Jews and Christians believe that the Bible sets forth a number of such prophecies, made by a person speaking for God, which came true. Two such examples are prophecies that the descendants of Abraham would inherit the land of Canaan, and that they would live in Egypt for over 400 years, but return to Canaan, and control it. There are many more such prophecies, including some which have yet to be fulfilled.

Dawkins discusses a comment by C. S. Lewis, who said:
A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic--on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg--or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that option open to us. He did not intend to. C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity: What One Must Believe to Be a Christian. New York: Macmillan, 1952. pp. 56-57. I doubt if Dawkins ever read this himself, but if he did, he missed the point. Dawkins writes:
A common argument, attributed among others to C. S. Lewis (who should have known better), states that, since Jesus claimed to be the Son of God, he must have been either right or insane or a liar: 'Mad, Bad or God.' . . . A fourth possibility, almost too obvious to need mentioning, is that Jesus was honestly mistaken. (p. 92).
Dawkins is correct that this is a possibility. But if Jesus had been mistaken about this, then He wouldn't be worth being called, and followed, as Lord, any more than  He would have been worth that submission if He had been a raving lunatic.

In a previous post, I described how an atheist scientist criticized some of Dawkins' attempt to explain the existence of religions, assuming that supernatural beings do not exist.

A review of the The God Delusion in the New York Times includes the following statement: "Despite the many flashes of brilliance in this book, Dawkins’s failure to appreciate just how hard philosophical questions about religion can be makes reading it an intellectually frustrating experience."

A review of The God Delusion in the London Review of Books is scathing: "Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology."

The God Delusion is an important book, but it has some serious weaknesses in its treatment of Christianity.

Thanks for reading.


Anonymous said...

One could argue that since Paul has claimed that so many people had seen the risen Christ, that such a bold claim, if false, would have been proven dead false, especially in that culture being infiltrated by Judaism as well as Christianity. The tooth fairy has not been documented by being seen by so many by any historic document. Even if you consider the Christian and Jewish Scriptures as merely historical documents, you must account for the claims that large masses have witnessed such things.

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, superrustyfly. You are right, in that there is some documentation for Christ's resurrection, although, no doubt, Dawkins would dismiss such with little or no hearing.

I am reminded of Who Moved the Stone? That book, it is claimed,
was written by a person who did not believe in the resurrection, but, after researching the evidence, came to believe in it. The claim has been disputed.

Weekend Fisher said...

I haven't read the thing -- Did Dawkins seriously argue that Jesus could have been "honestly mistaken" about being Son of God? See, here's the thing: being "honestly mistaken" about something that important, when you are in a position to know differently, for so long a time is (roughly) the definition of a type of insanity.

Anyway, the classic proofs of God leave me cold. I'll stand on the resurrection -- and when the challenges come as to the sources and "how we know" then gladly go into that.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, Weekend Fisher.

I wouldn't say that Dawkins presents a serious argument about that, presumably because he doesn't take much of anything about Christ seriously.

Yes, the resurrection is the main argument. Paul made that pretty clear, I think.

atlibertytosay said...

In the documentary "Expelled", Dawkins is asked to answer the question, "Is there intelligent design?" - definitively. The whole movie shows clips of him skirting the issue ... at the end, he admits,

[paraphrase] "There isn't a god, and there is no intelligent design, but I think there could have been a crystal placed by an alien intelligence that started everything."


This is a statement someone makes when they've lost a debate, but are intelligent enough to recover with saying everything BUT the premise of your point.

I agree with other comments - his statements, while seemingly very intelligent, are nothing but the very flim flam he accuses Christians of.

Was it Einstein that said, "High intelligence is hard to distinguish from insanity"?

Dawkins is one of the most intelligent men I've ever read or seen therefore _______________________.

Julana said...

Have you seen the 2011 project, celebrating 400 years of the King James Version, online? Dawkins is part of it, reading from Song of Solomon.

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, atlibertytosay.

In today's post, I believe it is (by me) on the book, I deal with Dawkins' explanation for how things got to be as they are. I think it's as hard to swallow as the one about the crystal you mentioned (which I hadn't heard). Or, in other words, it requires a lot of faith.

Julana, I had no idea! I'll try to find that. Thanks.

sildenafil citrate said...

I think there could have been a crystal placed by an alien intelligence that started

Martin LaBar said...

sildenafil citrate, I'm not sure what you were trying to say.

Thanks for the attempt, anyway.

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