October 2007


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A Review of Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion Part VII

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Oct 12, 2007, Wausau, Wi —This week I return to my extended review of Richard Dawkins’, “The God Delusion” In the prior parts of this review, I have shown how Dawkins’ simplistic approach to the subject of religion regularly leads him into trouble.  This is especially true when in chapter 3 he begins to deal with the arguments for God’s existence. 

Not too surprisingly Dawkins starts with the classical proofs for God set forth by Thomas Aquinas.  His view of Aquinas’ arguments is clearly set forth when he says, “The five ‘proofs’ asserted by Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth century don’t prove anything, and are easily – though I hesitate to say so, given his eminence – exposed as vacuous.” (pg 77) Reading his supposed refutation, it would seem that Dawkins should have hesitated a little longer. 

To understand the problem with Dawkins refutation, it is first necessary to know a little about Aquinas’ arguments.  It is impossible to fully cover details of these arguments here, but I hope to cover enough to show the serious flaw in Dawkins attempt at refutation. (For those seeking a more in depth discussion of some of these arguments and some of the objections raised by critics should see Chapter two of my book Christianity and Secularism).

Aquinas’ first three arguments all deal with the impossibility of an infinite regression of linked events.   For example an apple comes from a tree, and the tree grew from a seed, and the seed came from an earlier apple, and so on and so on, further and further into the past. Such a regression can either go on forever, with no beginning, or it can have a beginning.  Aquinas’ argument is based on the claim that it would be impossible for such regressions to go on forever, but there must have been a beginning to the sequence, a first cause, a first mover, etc.

Unfortunately for Dawkins, he seems too busy finding fault, to have actually have understood the argument.  Dawkins’ first attempt at an argument is to claim that Aquinas’ arguments “make the entirely unwarranted assumption that God himself is immune to the regress… there is absolutely no reason to endow [a terminator of the sequence] with any of the properties normally ascribed to God: omnipotence, omniscience, goodness, creativity of design, to say nothing of such human attributes as listening to prayers, forgiving sins, and reading innermost thoughts.”  (pg 77)

Now it is true that these arguments do not give us a complete picture of God, but neither Aquinas, nor others defending these arguments claim that they did.  After all the main purpose of these arguments is to primarily demonstrate one attribute of God: his existence.  That these arguments do not give us a complete picture of God, is not an argument that they don’t succeed in the purpose for which they were intended.  That a scalpel cannot perform all the tasks needed in surgical operation, is not an argument that a scalpel is useless at the task for which it was intended.

Yet while these and other arguments for God’s existence don’t need to go beyond demonstrating the existence of god to be effective, often they do.  For example, the arguments based on the impossibility of infinite regression, not only demonstrates the existence of a first mover, first cause or creator, they also tell us more.  For example, for something to be the true beginning of a sequence, it cannot itself be part of a sequence, and therefore must be eternal, which is also an attribute of God. 

Since everything in the natural universe, is base on cause and effect, an eternal creator could not be part of the natural universe, and thus, must be beyond the natural, or in other words is supernatural in nature. Thus these arguments not only argue for existence, but the existence of an eternal supernatural creator.  While not by any means a complete description of God, it is at least a good start.

At this point Dawkins’ takes a bizarre side trail to expose what he claims is incompatibility in the out understanding of God.  According to Dawkins, since God is supposedly omniscient, he already knows “how h is going to intervene to change the course of history.”  But since he already knows, he cannot change his mind, and since he cannot change his mind he cannot be omnipotent. 

Like so many of the supposedly devastating critics of atheists, much of this argument turns on exactly how you define omnipotent.  If it is defined as the ability to do anything, then Dawkins is correct, God is not omnipotent. He cannot, to use another supposedly devastating critique, create a rock that is too heavy for him to move.  On the other hand, if omnipotent is defined as God being so powerful, that his desires are not limited by his ability; that his he can do whatever he desires to do, then there is no problem at all.

In fact, not only is there no problem, but Dawkins’ supposed refutation, simply demonstrates yet another characteristic of God: that he is unchanging.  So rather than a refutation, now we have these arguments show the existence of an eternal unchanging supernatural creator.

More next time.

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

4 Responses to “A Review of Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion Part VII”

  1. A Review of Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion - Summary Says:

    […] Part VII- Chapter Three Aquinas arguments for the existence of God. […]

  2. stuart easton Says:

    Oops. Another misunderstanding. God, in no way, address the infinite regress problem. Your example, by the way, of an apple is not a good one. Apples evolved. Slowly, over millions of years. I’d recommend another book – Dawkins, as chance would have it. It’s not a book on religion, it’s a book that takes a rather fresh view of evolution – The Ancestors’ Tale. I learned a lot. It will help you understand why you don’t need to worry about “the first apple”. As for the first life – well Dawkins handles that well. Given the number of worlds, the probability of relicators getting started somewhere is quite high. Once they’ve started, they will evolve (providing that they self-replicate with high fidelity, but not with perfect fidelity). In our case, they evolved into us. And apple trees.

    God outside the Universe. Here’s the tricky one. God MIGHT exist outside the universe. We have no way of knowing, but if he DOES exist outside the universe, he doesn’t interfere with his creation. And sice physics has several models for how universes could exist as closed, self-consistent entities, there’s really no need for a God to explain anything. What’s more likely? God exists, but set the universe up such that he is irrelevent or that there’s no God? You choose. I CHOOSE to believe there is no God. This is different from faith – it’s a decision based on simplicity and some little understanding of the laws of physics. If someone has faith that a God exisits, a non-personal God, I can’t argue. But the major religions of the world do not argue for a non-personal God; quite the opposite. Most of our Gods are take things extremely personally…

    And if God DOES exist outside the Universe, he exists “in something”… and what created the something. Oops. Infite regress.

  3. Elgin Hushbeck Says:

    Mr Easton,
    Actually god, at least the Christian view of God, does address the infinite regess problem, as God, unlike the natural world is by definition uncaused and exists outside of time. That apples evolved over millions of years is irrelevant to the argument, as that evolution would simply be part of the regress. As for the odds being quite high, I go into detail on this in my book Evidence for the Bible. If you actually run the number it is not even close, even if the universe was trillions of years old it remains for all intent an purposes impossible.
    “but if he DOES exist outside the universe, he doesn’t interfere with his creation.” Never? How do you know this?
    As for no need for God, only if you ignore all the problems with the current models. Again see my book Evidence for the Bible.
    “What’s more likely?” While your specific question is a false choice, if expanded to include all options, that is the key question. Given the evidence as discuss in my books “Evidence for the Bible” and “Christianity and Secularism” I believe Christianity is far more likely true than the Atheism.

  4. Casimir Zigulis Says:

    I have been listen to this message and wanted to know does God Exist in the bible because I am a Christian and wanted to know what you think about this book The God Delusion is this book a good book to read at all.