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13 years ago

3841 words

Another question and I found someone who said want I wanted to say but said it better…. Hope you enjoy!

Question: I’m an atheist and I don’t think God is real. I believe science clearly proves this. Why do you still believe in God since science has proved otherwise?

Aaron is the guy’s name. I’ve known him since college and I really like him. He used to have this posted, it’s not any longer.

“Once again, I have been brought into contact with a highly educated agnostic. She came into my place of employment carrying Richard Dawkins’ book The God Delusion. For those of you who don’t know who Richard Dawkins is, he is a professor at Oxford University and one of the world’s most outspoken atheists. He has written extensively against religion and on why God does not exist.

So, the lady, who was very kind and gracious to me, asked if I would read the book and let her know what I thought of it. What follows is my response to her. It is basically a critique of Dawkins’ book and why I feel that his argument does not stand. Hope you enjoy…

Dear Mrs. ______,

You came into ____ with your book on a Wednesday night. Thursday afternoon I went to Barnes and Noble and bought my own copy. I was up all night reading it. After I read it, I thought it was a pathetic attempt to disprove the existence of God. The next day I spent time thinking over his arguments and thought to myself, “Dawkins is obviously a highly intelligent and very well educated individual. Perhaps I think his argument is pathetic because I just don’t understand it.” So, I read the book again. Unfortunately, a second reading didn’t alter my original perception. You told me at ____ that Dawkins was “the Einstein of our day.” If this is the best that atheism has to offer, I rejoice in that it will be short lived.

I do have one positive statement to make concerning Dawkins’ book: He is a great writer, showing an excellent command of language and communication, his book was witty, and at times entertaining. I did like his particular brand of sarcasm, even if I disagreed with what he was saying.

Unfortunately, that is about the only positive thing I have to say about his book.

On the very first page of the Preface, Dawkins writes, “You can be an atheist who is happy, balanced, moral, and intellectually fulfilled.” In that, he and I are in complete agreement. The problem is that neither he nor I can justify that statement. Sure, you can be those things, but there is no rational for them. I hope to explain what I mean by that as we get further into this.

The first chapter, “A Deeply Religious Non-Believer”, had no bearing on the rest of the book, nor does it have any bearing on our conversation. It was a waste of my time to read it. Fortunately, I’m a very fast reader so it didn’t waste much of my time. J

The second chapter, “The God Hypothesis,” offers us something we can at least discuss, and, what I feel is Dawkins’ main problem with religion. On page 56, he writes, “It is a tedious cliché…that science concerns itself with how questions, but only theology is equipped to answer why questions. What on Earth is a why question? Not every English sentence beginning with the word ‘why’ is a legitimate question. Why are unicorns hollow?…What is the smell of hope?…Nor, even if the question is a real one, does the fact that science cannot answer it imply that religion can.”

I have been involved in many debates of this nature and have heard this argument time and again. While there is some validity to what he is saying (not all ‘why’ questions need answers) it is a view that cannot be sustained by any person. For, the moment a person attempts to answer a ‘why’ question, they give the question validity. I won’t try to explain what the smell of hope is. It’s not a valid (or answerable) question. If Dawkins wishes to place the ‘why’ questions of our existence or religion in the unanswerable or invalid category then he needs to ignore them completely just as we have ignored the ‘smell of hope’ question. But he doesn’t want to do that. In the previous paragraph on page 56 he writes, “What expertise can theologians bring to deep cosmological questions that scientists cannot?” In other words, he feels that scientists can answer any questions that theologians can answer. The irony is, by attempting to answer the question, he qualifies it as a valid question, but, when he fails to be able to answer a question (“we can all agree that science’s entitlement to advise us on moral values is problematic,” pg 57) he attempts to write it off as an invalid question.

I will not here get into to idea of why atheism cannot answer some ‘why’ questions for we will deal with that shortly. I only wished to point out that Dawkins’ argument that we don’t need to answer some questions is valid only if he quits trying to answer them. Seeing how he has written extensively on this topic he obviously sees it as a valid question and therefore I dismiss his argument that we don’t need an answer. Apparently, he feels that we do…

The rest of chapter two wasn’t very helpful, although I did find the section called “The Great Prayer Experiment” hilarious. I was literally laughing my butt off while reading of the stupidity of humans trying to scientifically analyze prayer. The mock conversation he wrote of on page 62 was hysterical. I enjoyed it.

You might be surprised to find that I agreed almost 100% with Dawkins in chapter three, “Arguments for God’s Existence.” He’s right; none of those arguments can prove that God exists. Personally, I have never tried to employ any of those arguments to prove God’s existence (in reality, not many people have in the last 200 years or so, but I guess nobody told Dawkins that) while engaging in debate. They work as collaborating evidence, but none of them can nail the coffin shut. That being said, I have one small beef to pick with this chapter, the section entitled “Argument from Scripture.”

Scripture has proven itself to be the most reliable historical document of antiquity that mankind has in its possession, particularly the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. This is an area of study known as Textual Criticism. Through this process, we can determine with great accuracy the original contents of ancient or lost documents through a study of the copies we have left. I do not wish to enter a debate about the reliability of scripture, but if you want to, then maybe we can have that discussion at a later date. I will say this with confidence: If we must throw out the Bible as an unreliable witness, then we must also throw out every book of antiquity that does not have the amount of support the Bible has…which is every book of antiquity. If you want to fight, fight fair. Apply the same standards of criticism to other books that you would apply to the Bible. If you accept other books as a reliable witness of their time era, then you must also accept the Bible as a reliable witness.

I say that to say this: Dawkins critique of C.S. Lewis’ ‘Lunatic, Liar or Lord’ is completely unfounded. He writes on page 92, “The historical evidence that Jesus claimed any sort of divine status is minimal.” That is completely untrue seeing that it was that very claim that got him crucified. That crucifixion is a fact attested to even outside of the Biblical witnesses (see Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews, XVIII. 3).

But, I promised that this would not be a defense of the Bible or Christianity, so I will drop this line of thought for now. I only wished to show Dawkins’ unreliability as a critique of Bible scholarship and of history itself.

Chapter Four, “Why There Almost Certainly is No God,” brings us to the crux of what Dawkins has to say. In this chapter he addresses the ideas of Irreducible Complexity and Improbability. He opens with the illustration of a whirlwind sweeping through a scrap yard and by chance assembling a Boeing 747. Of course, nobody believes this could actually happen because of its high rate of improbability. He points out that creationists consistently argue against evolution because of its high rate of improbability. He goes on to say that God would be the Ultimate Boeing 747. I quote from pages 120 and 147 respectively,

“An entity capable of intelligently designing something as improbable as a Dutchman’s Pipe (or universe) would have to be even more improbable than a Dutchman’s Pipe.”

“How do they [theists] cope with the argument that any God capable of designing a universe, carefully and foresightfully tuned to lead to our evolution, must be a supremely complex and improbable entity who needs an even bigger explanation than the one he is supposed to provide?”

The irony of Dawkins’ argument that God is even more improbable than evolution by natural selection is that he spends the entire chapter proving that improbable things do in fact happen. On page 153 he writes, “I challenged the theologians to answer the point that a God capable of designing a universe, or anything else, would have to be complex and statistically improbable.” (emphasis mine) Previously, on page 137, he wrote, “However improbable the origin of life might be, we know it happened on Earth because we are here.” The point is this, improbable things do happen. I can’t say that God exists because without him our own existence is highly improbable. Nor can Dawkins say that God doesn’t exist because it is highly improbable. Dawkins argument of the Ultimate Boeing 747, of which he says “is a very serious argument against the existence of God, and one to which [he has] yet to hear a theologian give a convincing answer despite numerous opportunities and invitations to do so,” fails on the same grounds as the theistic argument of improbability of Natural Selection: improbable things do happen, just as Dawkins has beautifully shown all throughout Chapter 4.

God cannot be proved or disproved on the grounds of improbability. That is why I will argue that God must exist on the grounds of the impossibility of the contrary. But, before I can get to that, I still have the rest of this book to deal with. J

Chapter 5, “The Roots of Religion,” does a great job of showing some of the absurdities of different belief structures. However, it doesn’t have any real bearing on whether or not God actually exists so I won’t here address it.

On the other hand, Chapter 6, “The Roots of Morality: Why are We Good?” deals greatly with the absurdity of atheism, showing plainly how an atheist cannot rationally expect another person to play by the same moral standards, and so we will spend some time here.

I began this critique by quoting Dawkins’ Preface, “You can be an atheist who is happy, balanced, moral, and intellectually fulfilled.” I then said that that statement was unjustifiable. Let me here explain what I meant by that. The area of morals is a tricky one. You told me that night at _____ that you didn’t need God to tell you how to be a moral person but that you could define morality for yourself. And you are correct. Should you choose to, you could follow every moral law ever laid out in any religious text. In fact, I would argue that you probably have a higher moral standard than most televangelist, who I personally see as a stain on the face of Christianity. But, now you have to look outside yourself, for, after all, you do live in a society with other individuals who are also allowed to define their own morality. What happens when you disagree on moral behavior?

You see, Dawkins does a good job of showing why an atheist can choose and should choose to abide by a moral code, but he can’t show why they should expect someone else to follow the same moral code. He begins the chapter by including excerpts from some letters written by Christians to atheists. They are undoubtedly hostile and immoral. But why should he expect another person to abide by the same moral standard that he does? And why is he the one allowed to define morality?

On page 217 he writes, “For there will always be cheats, and stable solutions to the game-theoretic conundrums of reciprocal altruism always involve an element of punishment of cheats.” But in this statement, he makes some pretty heavy and ungrounded presuppositions. First, he presupposes that cheats are a bad thing. On what grounds? Why does he get to define the cheat’s morality? Second, he presupposes that stability is to be desired. Again, on what grounds? What if I think an unstable world is to be desired? Finally, he endorses the punishments of cheats. One last time, on what grounds? Not only does he think it justifiable to define the cheat’s behavior, but he also advocates taking action against anyone who does not conform to his own idea of moralism!

The rest of the chapter, Dawkins attempts to define and rationalize morality, but he can’t do it. What he does do is show how we don’t need God to be good people, and I agree with him in that. But he can’t at any point rationally justify the application of our own personal morals upon somebody else. I don’t have to explain this conclusion; Dawkins does it for me on pages 230-231:

“Most thoughtful people would agree that morality in the absence of policing is somehow more truly moral than the kind of false morality that vanishes as soon as the police go on strike or the spy camera is switched off, whether the spy camera is a real one monitored in the police station or an imaginary one in heaven. But it is perhaps unfair to interpret the question ‘if there is no God, why bother to be good?’ in such a cynical way. A religious thinker could offer a more genuinely moral interpretation, along the lines of the following statement from an imaginary apologist. ‘If you don’t believe in God, you don’t believe there are any absolute standards of morality…Only religion can ultimately provide your standards of good and evil. Without religion you have to make it up as you go along…If morality is merely a matter of choice, Hitler could claim to be moral by his own eugenically inspired standards, and all the atheist can do is make a personal choice to live by different lights..’

“Even if it were true that we need God to be moral, it would of course not make God’s existence more likely, merely more desirable (many people cannot tell the difference). [please note that Dawkins doesn’t bother to explain it himself, but implies that if we can’t, we are not as smart as he. Clever] but that is not the issue here. My imaginary religious apologist has no need to admit that sucking up to God is the religious motive for doing good. Rather, his claim is that, wherever the motive to be good comes from, without God there would be no standard for deciding what is good. We could each make up our own definition of the good, and behave accordingly….My religious apologist would claim that only religion can provide a basis for deciding what is good.”

Dawkins here realizes what I have been trying to say. Nobody can defend their own morality as something that is absolute and, therefore, followed by everybody, from an atheistic worldview. The next two pages show him giving up. On page 232, he writes, “Not all absolutism is derived from religion. [A statement he doesn’t even try to defend.] Nevertheless, it is pretty hard to defend absolutist morals on grounds other than religious ones. The only competitor I can think of is patriotism, especially in times of war.” (emphasis mine)

I have yet to hear an atheist or an agnostic rationally justify absolute morality or a decent explanation as to how we can live without it. And, even if one could do that, I would like to see what happens the moment somebody steals their wallet.

Chapter 7, “The ‘Good’ Book and the Moral Zeitgeist,” is, in my opinion, a complete failure on Dawkins’ part. I wish to draw attention to two of his statements in this chapter. First, on page 249, he writes, “My main purpose here has not been to show that we shouldn’t get our morals from scripture…[but] to demonstrate that we (and that includes most religious people) as a matter of fact don’t get our morals from scripture.” This, first, shows a total lack of knowledge of the testimony of the Christian scriptures, and, second, doesn’t prove anything. Just as I said to you that night at _____, regardless of a person’s worldview or moral standard, they will at some point fail. Just because he can go through and show how some people, or even a majority, fail to uphold the supposed moral standard he pulls from scripture, doesn’t make that standard wrong.

The second quote I would like to address from this chapter is on page 262. He asks, “How then, do we decide what is right and what is wrong?” He spends the next ten pages completely ignoring the question he himself posed. He writes extensively that however we determine our morals, they all pretty much turn out to be the same so we don’t need to worry about where they come from. To this I loudly object. Regardless of what the majority concludes to be moral, there do exist individuals who would disagree. I cite every jail cell and penitentiary in the world as my proof. So here is my question: Why does the majority get to be right? The obvious answer is that it makes for a more stable society. However, there are some serious issues to take up with this answer. Dawkins himself gives us a perfect example on page 327. He speaks of the story of a young Inca girl offered in ritualistic sacrifice. He, naturally, sees this as wrong and immoral. As do I. But, as he pointed out on page 328, the Incas didn’t. He goes on to say that if they had all been more highly educated, then the act probably wouldn’t have happened. Again, he’s most likely right. But, what does this say of his “majority makes right” argument? It is obvious that the majority of the Incas felt it moral and justifiable to offer the young girl as a sacrifice. So why was it wrong?

I suppose that you and I both agree that it is wrong to kill people, just as Dawkins does. But, if we are to accept the theory that morality is defined by the majority as Dawkins proposes in pages 262-72, then it cannot be said that killing people is wrong. For, if the majority feels it to be morally justifiable, it is, by those standards, the moral thing to do. Let me bring this into the 21st century. Suppose this society you and I lived in decided that it was right for every fifth child to be aborted for the sake of population control, would that make it right? Bear in mind, I’m not speaking simply of legal legislation; I’m talking of a cultural mindset, meaning that 99.9% of all people feel this to be the right thing to do. However, you and I fall into the 0.1% of people who feel it to be immoral to abort every fifth child. Now, without appealing to an authority outside of ourselves (since you told me we are allowed to define our own morality), how do we defend our belief and show the majority that they are wrong?

Again, without appealing to an authority outside yourself, how do you tell the thief that he may not steal your wallet?

How do you tell your business partner not to cheat you?

How do you liberate the slaves?

The problem is this: from an atheistic or agnostic stance, the only answer to any of those questions is “because I think so.” Tell me, when was the last time that you just accepted someone’s claim simply because they said so? You obviously didn’t accept my claim that God exists based only on my opinion that he does. You don’t even accept the majority’s claim that God exists based only on say so. Why would you expect someone else to accept your standard of morality simply because you say so? Obviously, you do not expect me to live to your moral standards, unless of course I begin to infringe upon you. Then you expect justice, do you not? Dawkins does. Remember the quote from page 217? “For there will always be cheats, and stable solutions to the game-theoretic conundrums of reciprocal altruism always involve an element of punishment of cheats.” One last time, on what grounds?

I hope you see my point.

I am still waiting for any non-religious person to justify to me that their idea of morality can be applied to someone besides themselves; for, just like you, I don’t accept the “because I said so” answer. J

It is on these grounds that I completely dismiss the final two chapters of Dawkins’ book. They are his ideas of how we should precede behavioristictly. However, until he can justify his view that I should listen to what he has to say, I’m not going to. Besides, they have nothing to do with the existence of God and so, they don’t pertain to this discussion. Also, this is getting long and I’m worried that you won’t have the time to read and critique all of this so I’m going to cut it short. Rest assured, I could go on for days about the fallacies of this book. J

Please allow me to end by offering you my sincere gratitude for engaging me in this discussion. I hope this did not seem to long or tedious or that I was attacking you personally. As I stated earlier, I am grateful for the opportunity to have this discussion and hope that it can continue. I also hope that this critique demonstrates how seriously I take this discussion. It has unfortunately been my lot to yet meet an atheist or agnostic or is willing to fully apply their mind to this discussion. I sincerely long for someone to rip my argument to shreds and show me where I’m wrong. That is the only way I can grow.

Whatever the outcome, I wish you the best and thank you once again for your time. I look forward to hearing from you.

By Grace

Aaron E”

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