October 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 VIII

Listen to the MP3

Oct 19, 2007, Wausau, Wi — In the last installment of my review of Richard Dawkins’, “The God Delusion” I looked at some of the problems in Dawkins’ attempted refutation of Aquinas’ arguments for the existence of God, or at least the lead up to his main argument.

To recap, Aquinas’ first three arguments all deal with the impossibility of an infinite regression of linked events.   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.

When Dawkins’ gets to his main refutation, surprisingly he seems to concede the main force of the Aquinas’ argument, that infinite regressions are impossible, arguing instead that the beginning of the sequence might be natural.

To justify his position Dawkins writes “Some regresses do reach a natural terminator”  (p 78) and goes on to give the example of cutting a piece of gold into two pieces and then taking one of those pieces and cutting it in two to get two more pieces, and  how this cannot go on forever. Eventually you will get down a single atom of gold, and if you cut that in half, you no longer have Gold.

While true, like so much of Dawkins criticisms, it really misses the point, and in fact may even be seen as arguing in favor of Aquinas.   It misses the point because the arguments of Aquinas are not based on just any sequence but particular types of sequences.

In reality, Dawkins argument raises a huge, and little discussed issue that goes to the core of the difference between atheists and theists.  Just what are the natural and the supernatural?  Until recently, the natural world has been understood as the physical universe in which we live which is governed by the laws of nature. The supernatural was then something else, something beyond the natural universe, where the laws of nature as we understand them did not apply.

Atheists then argued that reality applied only to the natural universe, and that there was nothing beyond the natural universe.  A more nuances argument along these lines was that, while there may be something beyond the natural, since our understanding and knowledge was limited to the natural universe of our existence, it was impossible to know anything beyond the natural.

This view of natural and supernatural worked well for theist and atheist alike, until in the middle of the twentieth century it began to cause problems for those committed to denying the supernatural.  This was because the discoveries in science, such as the big bang, made it increasingly clear that the natural world had a beginning.  The science clearly showed that at the big bang, reality as we know it, including space, time, and the physical laws that govern how the universe works came into existence.  In short, the natural universe came into existence.   This was very disconcerting to atheists, who had denied the Bible’s claim of a creation, believing instead the universe was eternal.  In fact much of the work in cosmology since has been aimed either directly or indirectly at trying to avoid this conclusion, but to no avail.

Thus those denying the supernatural were put in a very difficult position, for if the universe had a beginning, it either popped into existence out of nothing for no reason, a proposition that would be akin to magic, and would fly in face of everything they believed, or it came from something that was not part of the natural world and thus would fall under the definition of the supernatural.

So far most skeptics have avoided this dilemma by effectively reversing their claim that reality is restricted to the natural into the natural is anything that is real. Thus as science has begun to investigate (or speculate) about be a reality beyond the creation of the universe, since scientists are investigating that reality, that reality is automatically assumed to be part of the “natural” universe.

Yet while such a view may seem to avoid some difficulties, it has may others. For example, much of the rejection of the supernatural is based on the inviolability of the laws of nature.  Miracles such as raising Jesus from the dead, or the parting of the Red Sea, are rejected because they would violate the laws of nature, and the laws of nature cannot be broken and they always apply.  Since they cannot be broken, miracles are impossible.  But what do such arguments mean, if there is a part of natural world where the laws of nature do not apply?

In short, secularists like Dawkins are caught in a huge paradox. If they stick to the old understanding of natural and supernatural their arguments for rejecting the supernatural at least make some sense, even if they are based on assumptions that Christians would reject.  But then the reality beyond the Big Bang would by definition be the supernatural.  On the other hand, if they expand the concept of natural to include the reality beyond the creation described in the Big Bang theory, they may avoid the problem of seeing this reality as supernatural,  but at the cost of having their arguments against the supernatural fall completely apart.  Either way they have major problems.

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

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

  1. stuart easton Says:

    Good try. Worthy attempt, but missing some pretty key items.

    1) The laws of nature apply in this universe.
    2) There are several good models (none is proven as yet) to account for the big bang. A mathematical singularity is nasty, but some theories (Hawkin’s 2-dimensional time for one) eliminate the singularity. For others, the singularity is a bit like a reset button and we have to figure out what could be “beyond” there. More challenges for science, and by no means a proof for God.

    No. God doesn’t solve the problems. So long as our universe can exist as a self-consistent entity (several models exist, none is without problems), there is no “need for an outside”. Supernatural, in the context about the existence or non-existence of God, means God. There’s no need for God simply because he doesn’t explain anything. I’d rather keep trying to understand what’s really going on than abdicate that task to blind faith.

    Bet you don’t publish these comments, by the way. But I thank you for being a patient debating partner, nonetheless!

  2. Elgin Hushbeck Says:

    Mr Easton,
    I am not sure what your point is with (1). I have some ideas, but I would rather not guess which way you are going with this. As for (2) again see my discussions in Evidence for the Bible.
    “So long as our universe can exist as a self-consistent entity (several models exist, none is without problems), there is no “need for an outside”.” Sure if you ignore all the problems, anything can seem reasonable. Having faith that science will eventually figure it out, or having faith that there is a natural explanation is still having faith. And just so there is no misunderstanding, I do not see this in and of itself as an rigorous proof for the existence of God though it is a piece of evidence to be considered in the much larger question. I am much more like Occam in this sense as I reject these as rigorous deductive proofs, even if there some inductive merit to them.
    “I’d rather keep trying to understand what’s really going on than abdicate that task to blind faith.” So would I. That you seem to think that this is somehow an argument against my view shows is a clear problem with your position.
    Looks, like you would have lost the bet. I publish any criticism as long as it is serious and does involve profanity or vicious personal attacks, name calling, etc.