August 2007


To Love and Cherish

Doing Apologetics

Christianity: The Basics

What is Wrong with Social Justice

Christianity and Secularism

Evidence for the Bible

A Review of Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion Part III

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August 3, 2007, Wausau, Wi  In part II of my review of Richard Dawkins’, “The God Delusion” I pointed out that atheists, like the educated elites, have constructed a world view based on assumptions that leads them to their conclusions.   One can clearly see this in Dawkins description of the atheist’s view.  Dawkins writes, “Human thoughts and emotions emerge from exceedingly complex interconnections of physical entities within the brain.  An atheist in this sense of philosophical naturalist is somebody who believes there is nothing beyond the natural, physical world, no supernatural creative intelligence lurking behind the observable universe, no soul that outlasts the body, and no miracles – except in the sense of natural phenomena that we don’t yet understand.  If there is something that appears to lie beyond the natural world as it is now imperfectly understood, we hope eventually to understand it and embrace it within the natural.” (p 14)

Dawkins starts with what seems like a statement of science about human thoughts and emotions, and from there expands it into a view of atheism.  Yet this statement about human thoughts and emotions is not a statement of scientific fact, but is at best a statement of atheistic belief or maybe even hope.  This is because we do not know how we think and feel, and there are lots of competing views. 

In the early days of computers, it was assumed by many that as computer technology grew and developed, before long we would have machines that could really think and would someday be conscious.  In science fiction there are many examples of conscious machines such as Hal, the computer in 2001 A Space Odyssey, and Commander Data in Star Trek. 

Yet as computer technology developed and programs grew more and more complex, the more we came to realize how little we actually understood consciousness.  As a result the whole field of Artificial Intelligence has largely transformed itself away from creating conscious machines, and into simply handling complex decision making processes. While there are still those who hope to one day create a conscious machine, many have grave doubts that it will ever happen.

From this questionable belief about how we think, Dawkins goes on to defines an atheist as “somebody who believes there is nothing beyond the natural, physical world.”  This also is not a statement of science, it is a statement of faith.  Atheist often try to avoid the fact that this is a statement of faith, by claiming that this is a justified conclusion, because there is no proof that there is anything beyond the natural, and it is irrational to ask them to prove that there isn’t. 

As I discuss in my book, Christianity and Secularism, there are several problems with this argument, but a key one is that the whole concept of proof is very subjective and is greatly determined by one’s world view.  Notice how in his statement Dawkins insulates his view from problems.  He leads in with what seems to be a statement of science to say human thoughts are explained, and thereby implies both that atheism is a scientific view, and that there is no need to seek any further explanation.  He then rejects that there is any supernatural, God, soul or miracles. Finally, those things that science can’t yet explain are handled with the “hope” that we will someday figure it out.

As a result, Dawkins’ claim boils down to a claim that the atheist worldview is correct, because within the atheist world view there is no proof that there is anything else.  But this is circular reasoning.  This problem is not unique to atheist, it is a problem all world views must confront, and why ultimately faith and hope plays a role in all world views, even the atheist’s.

For Christianity, the idea that faith and hope are important parts of the Christian world view is both accepted and embraced.  But for atheism they pose a major problem. This is because atheists so strongly identify themselves with science and much of their attacks on religion centers on attacking faith and hope, particularly faith.  In fact many atheists will strongly try to insist that atheism does not depend on faith and dogmatically reject any claim that is does.

But dogmatic denials do not change the fact that the acceptance of atheism requires the acceptance of a naturalist world view that cannot itself be proven, but must be accepted on faith.  You can see this even in Dawkins statement of “hope” that the issues out there that have not yet been understood, will be eventually be understood in a naturalistic way, when by the very fact that we have not yet understood them means we do not know what the explanation will be. In short, Dawkins has faith that the explanation will be a natural one.

As I point out in my books, while atheist often criticize Christians for having a faith contrary to the evidence,  this is actually the case with them in areas such as their claim that the origin of universe does not require something beyond the universe, or their claim that the origin of life was a natural process. In both cases, the evidence is not only strongly against them, it has been getting worse for some time.

So a key component of atheism is faith, just as faith is a key component in all world views. As such, when the atheist like Dawkins attacks Christianity for relying faith, they are also attacking themselves.

This is Elgin Hushbeck, asking you to Consider Christianity: a Faith Based on Fact.  


Part I     Part II     Part IV     Part V 

2 Responses to “A Review of Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion Part III”

  1. stuart easton Says:

    Let me recommend this book to you.

    You seem to think that Dawkins’ statement that the mind emerges from the brain as speculative. While there are books that better explain the link between the physical brain and the mind, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat (“Wife for Hat”) is a much lighter read. The book is sometimes uplifting, sometimes sad, but always interesting. And the interesting thing is that physical changes to the brain have very real effects on the mind, the behaviour and the personality of the people in the book. The examples given in Wife for Hat are not intended to prove that the mind emerges from the brain, but its observations are instructive for non-neurologists.

    Dawkins explains at some length in his book that atheism is a belief, but not in the same way that religion is. Religious belief is usually based on some “holy book” or “tribal knowledge”. Dawkins’ belief that God does not exist is based on evidence that it is very unlikely that God exists. He explicitly admits that God COULD exist, but not as a “Personal God” – the evidence is simply against such a god. Any God would, at best, set up the universe and then stand back. He then goes on to explain why you don’t NEED a god to set up the specific rules of this universe… and none of this is “simple belief”.

    So while Dawkins does give a working definition for atheists in the sections you quote, he is not arguing that they are correct simply because they believe they are correct. If you really believe what you wrote, you need to go back and read his book again. Take your time. Try and understand what it’s telling you and then represent it accurately. It may not jibe with your world-view. I’m sorry for that and I understand that it must be difficult to hear, but science really does stack the odds extremely heavily against God’s existance.

  2. Elgin Hushbeck Says:

    Mr Easton,
    Frankly you seem unaware of the complexity of the issue here, for your example only demonstrates something virtually all dualist would agree with, and thus is not determinative.
    As for “simple belief” you assume that belief in a religion must be simple. While it can be, it need not be, as there are many people, who have thought deeply and critically about it and reach different opinions than Dawkins, and continue to do so.
    Over all you seem to miss the point. Granted atheism seems consistent and logical within its own worldview, but all beliefs seem so within their own worldview. The big problem with most atheists is that they are for the most part completely unaware that they even have a worldview, that they even are making assumptions that cannot be demonstrated.