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#64 Dawkins’ “Central Argument” Once More

July 07, 2008
Q

I think you misread Mr. dawkins 6 statements.

This is the way I would read them.

1. If God exists, then the natural temptation would be to attribute the appearance of design to God.

2. The temptation is false because it immediately raises the larger problem of who designed the designer.

3. The most ingenious and powerful explanation for design is the Darwinian evolution by natural selection.

4. At present we don't have an equivalent explanation of Darwinian's evolution by natural selection for physics.

5. If we did then God almost certainly would not exist.

Tom

United States

Dr. craig’s response


A

It's a very important principle of scholarship, Tom, that one accurately and fairly present a person's view before criticizing it. Otherwise, one has achieved a hollow victory in knocking down a straw man.

Inspired by your question, I got out a copy of Dawkins' The God Delusion and reviewed the summary of what he calls "the central argument of my book" on pp. 157-58 to make sure that I had not misrepresented him. Here is the summary I gave of his argument in my Question 1 in the Archive:

1. One of the greatest challenges to the human intellect has been to explain how the complex, improbable appearance of design in the universe arises.

2. The natural temptation is to attribute the appearance of design to actual design itself.

3. The temptation is a false one because the designer hypothesis immediately raises the larger problem of who designed the designer.

4. The most ingenious and powerful explanation is Darwinian evolution by natural selection.

5. We don't have an equivalent explanation for physics.

6. We should not give up the hope of a better explanation arising in physics, something as powerful as Darwinism is for biology.

If you'll look at pp. 157-58 of Dawkins' book, you'll find that the above is almost a verbatim quotation of Dawkins' words (I substituted the word "explanation" for his metaphor "crane" so as to make his meaning clear). I also re-read his chapter to make sure that his own summary was an accurate summation of his argument. Of course, it was.

By contrast your summation does not accurately represent what Dawkins says. First, by re-writing Dawkins' own (1) and (2) as you do, you attribute to Dawkins the view that if God exists, then there will be a natural temptation to attribute the appearance of design to God. But Dawkins does not want to speculate about what would be the case if God existed. He wants to say that even if God does not exist, there is this natural temptation. His first premise entails that there is the appearance of design in the universe, and his second says it's natural to attribute the appearance of design to a designer. As an atheist he believes both of these statements. God doesn't have anything to do with either the appearance or the temptation. So you're quite mistaken in representing his argument as based on a conditional.

Second, more seriously, you also represent his step (6) and conclusion as a conditional statement. This would make his argument more modest, admitting that we don't have an explanation for the appearance of design in physics, but insisting that if we did, then we could conclude that God almost certainly does not exist.

Unfortunately, this just isn't what Dawkins says. With respect to step (6), he says, "But even in the absence of a strongly satisfying crane [i.e., explanation] to match the biological one, the relatively weak cranes we have at present are, when abetted by the anthropic principle, self-evidently better than the self-defeating skyhook hypothesis of an intelligent designer" (p. 158). And with respect to his conclusion, Dawkins states, "If the argument of this chapter is accepted, the factual premise of religion—the God Hypothesis—in untenable. God almost certainly does not exist. This is the main conclusion of the book so far" (Ibid.). This makes it quite clear that Dawkins believes that the argument he has summarized in steps (1) - (6) does prove that God does not exist. He's not waiting around for a better explanation of the appearance of design in physics to come along first.

So your attempt to re-cast Dawkins' argument to make it appear more modest simply does not do justice to what Dawkins asserts.

More importantly, Tom, even if we went with your interpretation—or re-interpretation—of Dawkins' argument, what good would it do the atheist? For the argument remains invalid, as I explained in my answer to Question 1. Your step (5) doesn't follow from your first four steps. At most all that follows is that we shouldn't infer God's existence on the basis of a design argument, a conclusion which is compatible both with God's existence and our justifiably believing in God on other grounds. Moreover, as I explained in my previous answer, step (3) in Dawkins' argument, which you appropriate unchanged as step (2) of your version, is plainly false for a number of reasons. So even your more modest re-interpretation of Dawkins' argument remains unsound and quite hopeless as an argument for atheism.

- William Lane Craig