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Elgin’s Books


  • Christianity and Secularism

  • Evidence for the Bible
  • A Review of Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion Part XI

    Friday, November 9th, 2007 by Elgin Hushbeck

    Listen to the MP3

    Nov 9, 2007, Wausau, Wi   Last time in my review of Richard Dawkins’, “The God Delusion” I looked at the flaws in the first three point of what Dawkins calls “the central argument of my book.”  Again, he summarizes this argument in the following six points:

    1 – The appearance of design is one of the greatest challenges to the human intellect.

    2 – The temptation is to attribute design to a designer.

    3 – The designer hypothesis is false because it does not explain who designed the designer. 

    4 – Evolution, the best explanation so far, shows that design at least for biology is an illusion.

    5 – Since in evolution, apparent design is an illusion, it could be an illusion in other areas such as physics.

    6 – We should not give up hope of finding better explanations elsewhere and the weak explanations we do have are better than the explanations that rely on God.

    When we come to point four, that evolution shows that design in biology is an illusion; this of course assumes that not only is evolution a valid theory for the origin of new life forms and biological structures, but that it is a completely explanation.

    Space here does not permit a discussion of all the problems with evolutionary theory, and in any event, these are well discussed elsewhere. So I will just mention two points that cast serious doubt on Dawkins argument. The first is that the problems with evolutionary theory have not decreased over the years, as our understanding has grown, but rather have increased to the point that, as I discuss in my book Evidence for the Bible, even the definition of evolution itself is now unclear, as supporters keep shifting the definition to avoid these problems, frequently in contradictory ways. 

    The second is that, contrary to the claims of evolutionists like Dawkins, evolution is not questioned simply for theological reasons, and not are all of those who question it are even theists. In fact, evolutionists have increasingly had to resort to the suppression of differing views, in order to maintain their dominance, as the evidence contrary to evolution and in support of intelligent design has grown.  In short, the claim that evolution has shown design to be false is simply untrue despite how much evolutionist like Dawkins might want to believe in it.

    Point five, which claims that the apparent design in areas other than biology might also be an illusion, correspondingly falls apart. Yet even if this was not the case, point 5 would still have a huge problem as it is fallacious. It simply does not follow that even if evolution shows design to be an illusion in biology, that it was therefore an illusion elsewhere.  This would be like claiming that just because some apparent suicides turn out to be murder, all apparent suicides could be murder, and therefore we can reject the concept of suicide itself.

    This brings us to last point. It can hardly be called a conclusion.  Rather it is a plea to “not give up hope.”(158)  I must commend Dawkins for his honesty.  Most atheists strongly deny that hope, and it counterpart faith, play any role in their thinking, and in fact are highly critical of theists when they express hope or faith.  But at least theists do not confuse expressions of hope, with logical arguments that make opposing views untenable.

    Dawkins’ does acknowledges that there are problems in the view he defends, but see hope in an old argument frequently employed by atheists.  Chance + enough tries = certainty.  Such reasoning has another name: The Gambler’s fallacy, and the error of such reasoning can be clearly seen in the lavish displays of wealth in such places as Las Vegas.

    Based on Dawkins estimates, where concerning the number of planets he even knocks off a few zeros “for reasons of ordinary prudence”, and where he assumes that life is a one in a billion chance, there would still be billion planet with life, and ours would only be one of them.

    This is at least better that Carl Sagan’s famous estimate of billons and billons of planets.  Yet like Sagan’s it is seriously flawed. Sagan only considered a few of the factors needed for life. Far more rigorous looks at these numbers have shown that if all of them are considered the chance of having even one planet in the entire universe that would support life, are less than 1 in 100, odds that even Dawkins says are to be laughed at. And this is just for a planet that could support life. It does not begin explain how life itself could start. The odds against life starting by chance are so incredibly huge that they are truly beyond comprehension, odds so large that even other atheists have compared them to a miracle.  (For a more complete discussion of these odds, see chapter four in Evidence for the Bible)

    So Dawkins’ hope is based on an off the cuff estimate that are not even close.  Where he estimate billions of planets with life, serious estimates of all the relevant factors show that there should not even be one planet that could support life, much less actually have life.

    So Dawkins argument has serious problems with each of his six points.  It ends with a hope that could only reasonably be called misplaced.  Rather than showing that God is untenable, the evidence points to the existence of God, and this conclusion as grown stronger over the years, not weaker, as we have learned more about life.

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

    A Review of Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion Part X

    Friday, November 2nd, 2007 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    Nov 2, 2007, Wausau, Wi—In this installment of my review of Richard Dawkins’, “The God Delusion” I come to what Dawkins calls “the central argument” of his book. About this argument he claims that if it “is accepted, the factual premise of religion – the God Hypothesis – is untenable. God almost certainly does not exist.” (pp 157, 8) This central argument centers around the apparent design we see in the natural world around us. He summarizes his argument in the following six points:

    1 – The appearance of design is one of the greatest challenged to the human intellect.

    2 – The “temptation” is to attribute design to a designer.

    3 – The designer hypothesis is false because it does not explain who designed the designer.

    4 – Evolution, the best explanation so far, shows that design at least for biology is an illusion.

    5 – Since in evolution, apparent design is an illusion, it could be an illusion in other areas such as physics.

    6 – We should not give up hope of finding better explanations elsewhere and the weak explanations we do have are better than explanations that rely on God.

    I have to admit that when it became clear to me what his actual argument was, I was both shocked and disappointed. I was disappointed because, despite his simplistic approach to the whole subject of religion up to this point, I was still expecting something a little more substantial. This was particularly the case when, in a section on Irreducible Complexity, he spends several pages refuting the claims made in a Jehovah Witness’s track.

    This again reveals a major flaw in Dawkins thinking and his approach, though in his defense, it is one common to all groups. All groups of any size, be they political, religious, or whatever, have those who are on the fringe. By their very nature of being on the fringe they often make arguments that are not representative of the whole, but despite this, opponents often see refuting the fringe to be the same as refuting the whole.

    Jehovah’s Witnesses are a small group that are not orthodox Christians and thus not even representative of Christianity, much less theism in general. They are also marked by strong tendency towards anti-intellectualism. Yet Dawkins still spends several pages on one of their tracts, refuting a source that even most theists would not take seriously.

    Not only was I disappointed, I was shocked as to just how bad his argument actually was. In fact, given point six, it is more an expression of hope than an actual rational argument.

    If taken as an argument, there are problems with each of his six points. At first blush, point one may seem reasonable, particularly since it claims the problem of apparent design is only “one of the greatest challenges.” Yet it has a hidden assumption that is very much a problem. In short, apparent design would only be a problem if there wasn’t a designer.

    To be clear, it may be a very great challenge to discover the identity of the designer and perhaps how they executed their design, but the design itself would not be. To see this, imagine that that the first explorers to Mars were to find a watch laying on the ground. While it might be a very difficult problem to discover how the watch came to be there, the fact that the watch had been designed would probably not be an issue at all. As such, apparent design in the natural world around us is only a great problem if design is something that needs to be explained away without resorting to a designer. Thus Dawkins argument falls victim to circular reasoning right off the bat, as his initial premise assumes his conclusion.

    This circular reasoning probably underlies the slanting found in point two when Dawkins talks about the “temptation” to attribute apparent design to a designer as if it this were somehow inherently a false choice to be resisted. While no doubt this is Dawkins’ view, to build it into his argument in this fashion is illegitimate and perhaps shows that even he sees the weakness of his argument and feels a need to push the reader with his choice of words, rather than relying on the strength of his reasoning.

    The problem in point three, who designed the designer, again results from Dawkins’ simplistic approach to the entire subject. The key problem for Dawkins is that whether something was designed or not designed, only comes into play for things that had a beginning. The issue of design is inherently linked with the question of how something came into existence. It is therefore meaningless when discussing things that have always existed. By definition design must precede existence. As such, when talking about an eternal God, the question of who designed God is an irrational question, akin to asking ‘What is the difference between a duck?’ It may at first sounds like a question, but the more you think about it the less sense it makes.

    So, Dawkins third points, is simply false, at least if one is referring to a God such as the eternal God of the Bible. I will look at the problems in the remaining points next time, but it is important to remember that if the premises of an argument are flawed, the argument itself is unsound. Based on the first three points, Dawkins argument already fails.

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

    A Review of Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion Part III

    Friday, August 3rd, 2007 by Elgin Hushbeck

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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