Dawkins’ One-God-Further Blunder Simplified

One Less God

In A Devil’s Chaplain, Richard Dawkins reechoed an increasing popular meme. Dawkins contended:

[M]odern theists might acknowledge that, when it comes to Baal and the Golden Calf, Thor and Wotan, Poseidon and Apollo, Mithras and Ammon Ra, they are actually atheists. We are all atheists about most of the gods that humanity has ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further. (Dawkins 2004, 150)

I presented a case in Dissecting ‘One God Less’ Meme  showing that this meme is nonsensical utterance because it confused the concept of God, a general notion/idea of a being that is God, with conceptions of God, the way in which that general notion/idea is perceived or regarded. Noting that concept of God refers to objective notion/idea of a being that is God, while conceptions of God(s) refer to a particular groups’ subjective way in which that objective notion/idea is perceived, the meme appears to be a mere wind-egg. This article offered an analogy to explain the argument presented in a more simplified form.

Explanation From Analogy: United States of America’s Future Presidency

Say we are in USA in year 2050. There is a confusion over who is the current president, if indeed there is any. State B claims that Theodore Baal is the current president of USA. State C claims Benjamin Thor is current president of USA. And so on.

Newly formed State X dismisses Baal and Thor &c., as current president of USA and X claims that William Allah is the current president of USA.  State U rejects all B, C and X former-candidates regarded to be in the presidential office and hold that the former-candidate, now in office, is unknown. In this pool of States there is also ‘apresident’-state, State A. A claim is that there is no such thing as a president in USA.

From this analogy, it is clear that states B, C, X and U agree on the notion of there being a former-candidate that is now occupying the presidential office. What they disagree is who that former-candidate is regarded to now be in that office.  State A, contrary to other States, reject that notion of a being occupying the presidential office, since according to A, there is no such thing as presidential office.

Dawkins one-god-further’s blunder is on failing to note that by X dismissing Baal, Thor, &c., former-candidates regarded to be occupying the presidential office, X does not dismiss the notion of there being a being in presidential office. There  is multiple former-candidates but a single office presidential office. There is no multiple offices for A (or B, C, X and U) to go one further. There is either an office or no-office.

Claiming that X is like A in regard to Thor, Poseidon &c., but A goes one president further is nonsensical utterance because what X dismisses is not the notion of presidential office (concept), namely there is a being in office, but who is in that office (conception). U, for example, rejects all former-candidates regarded to be now in the office, but U  is not A  because does not reject that there is someone in that office.

Dawkins, Richard (2004) A Devil’s Chaplain: Reflections on Hope, Lies, Science, and Love. A Mariner Books. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Dissecting ‘One God Less’ Meme

One Less God: Australian University Atheists“I contend we are both atheists,” signed Stephen F. Roberts, “I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.” Roberts is believed1 to be the person who crystallized and popularized this increasing reechoed sound bite when he began signing his online post with it in 1995.

Richard Dawkins in A Devil’s Chaplain reechoed this sound bite. Dawkins contended that:

[M]odern theists might acknowledge that, when it comes to Baal and the Golden Calf, Thor and Wotan, Poseidon and Apollo, Mithras and Ammon Ra, they are actually atheists. We are all atheists about most of the gods that humanity has ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further. (Dawkins 2004, 150)

Paraphrasing Socrates, let us examine this sound bite together, and see whether it is a real sound advice or a mere wind-egg. (Plat. Theaet. 151e). Contrary to Daniel C. Dennett (2006, 210), this is not “some sound advice”  offered by Dawkins but a mere wind-egg because it confuses the conceptions of God with the concept of God. Continue reading

Argumentum ad Malum

Suffering

“It’s not that I don’t accept God, you must understand,” said Ivan Karamazov, one of Fyodor Dostoevsky novel’s characters in The Brothers Karamazov, to his younger brother, Alyosha,  “it’s the world created by Him I don’t and cannot accept.”(Dostoevsky 2007, 257) The world created by God is overflowing with horrifying and repugnant evils. Ivan vividly captured some of the moral evil committed by the Turks and Circassians in Bulgaria:

They burn villages, murder, outrage women and children, they nail their prisoners by the ears to the fences, leave them so till morning, and in the morning they hang them — all sorts of things you can’t imagine. People talk sometimes of bestial cruelty, but that’s a great injustice and insult to the beasts; a beast can never be so cruel as a man, so artistically cruel. The tiger only tears and gnaws, that’s all he can do. He would never think of nailing people by the ears, even if he were able to do it. These Turks took a pleasure in torturing children, too; cutting the unborn child from the mothers womb, and tossing babies up in the air and catching them on the points of their bayonets before their mothers’ eyes. Doing it before the mothers’ eyes was what gave zest to the amusement. (2007, 260)

Evils such as these are morally abhorrent. It is painful to imagine that humans are capable of inflicting such inhumane deeds that are far worse than those of  mindless beasts. Arising in any morally sane person is  intuitive repulsive attitude towards such evils.

From such revulsion, atheists have argued that the existence of such evils is the problem for theists. Atheists have looked into the problem of evil’s abyss for far too long. Our intuitive revulsion toward such evils is the abyss looking back at them.  The queerness of our intuitive revulsion of such  evils from a naturalistic perspective is a problem for atheists.

In a naturalistic worldview, our intuitive revulsion toward such evils is nothing but social instincts acquired to aid the survivability of our species. The deeds Ivan mentioned, for example, are neither good nor evil because our species could have acquired different instincts to which such deeds were not intuitively repulsive (Darwin 1877, 99-100).

Repulsive Ivan’s Turks artistically deeds may sound, Richard Dawkins rightly argued from a naturalistic perspective that,

“nature is not cruel, only pitilessly indifferent. This is one of the hardest lessons for humans to learn. We cannot admit that things might be neither good nor evil, neither cruel nor kind, but simply callous—indifferent to all suffering, lacking all purpose.”(Dawkins 1995: 112)

Nature just is. “[Y]ou won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice” Dawkins correctly explained, since there is “at bottom no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.”(149) We are intuitively revolted by such acts because it is of biological worth. Our intuitive revulsion to such evils, in naturalistic worldview, is illusory.

Darwin, Charles (1877) The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex, Part One (Second edition 1989, revised and augmented ed) New York: New York University Press.

Dawkins, Richard (1995). River Out of Eden: A Darwin View of Life. Weidenfeld & Nicolson
The Orion Publishing Group

Dostoevsky, Fyodor (2007) The Karamazov Brothers. Wordsworth Editions Ltd. (First published in 1880)

The Truth about the God of the Old Testament

Copan Is God a Moral Monster

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomanical, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.

Atheist Richard Dawkins’ infamous description of Yahweh in his book The God Delusion is enough to make most Christians’ blood boil. Unfortunately, we are not always well-equipped to calmly and reasonably respond to such vitriol. Dr. Paul Copan, a well-respected professor of philosophy, author, and speaker, notes that Christians shouldn’t ignore the charges of Neo-atheists like Dawkins. Rather, “As people of the Book, Christians should honestly reflect on such matters.”

Copan’s recent book, Is God a Moral Monster?, is one of my new favorites. Written for a lay audience, the provocatively titled work responds to atheists’ most frequent attacks against the Old Testament God:

  • God’s supposed arrogance and jealousy
  • The binding of Isaac
  • Strange Levitical laws
  • “Imaginary crimes” and excessive punishments
  • Treatment of women as inferiors
  • Slavery in Israel
  • The killing of the Canaanites

Right away Copan exposes a hole in atheists’ arguments: a tendency to skim the surface of biblical topics without looking deeply at the whole text and its historical context. He writes,

The Neo-atheists are often profoundly ignorant of what they criticize, and they typically receive the greatest laughs and cheers from the philosophically and theologically challenged….Their arguments against God’s existence aren’t intellectually rigorous—although they want to give that impression.

Misunderstanding God’s intentions and the nature of the ancient Near East, as well as failure (deliberate or otherwise) to constructively integrate passages throughout Scripture can lead people—both skeptics and believers—to develop a lopsided and fallacious view of God.

In going deeper, Copan demonstrates that the Old Testament reveals an infinitely patient and kind God who metes out justice fairly and vigorously defends the weak, oppressed, and alien. One of the things I appreciate most about Copan’s book is that he not only responds to atheists’ accusations, he helps readers better see God’s goodness and kindness. I wish I could share with you every gem I’ve come across in Is God a Moral Monster? but, I’ll stick to one example: the position and treatment of women in the Old Testament.

Sadly, chauvinism has reared its ugly head within the church—but is such behavior condoned and supported by Scripture? No, it is not. As Copan points out, from the very beginning, God established the equality of men and women as an ideal state. Both genders bear His image (Genesis 1:26–27). Following the Fall and the rise of patriarchal societies, God established laws in Israel that granted women rights and protection unprecedented in the ancient Near East. What may seem like unfair regulations at first glance (to modern eyes) are rules that prevented Israelite men from taking advantage of and abusing women. (Copan addresses several particularly difficult passages to show how, on closer inspection, they support a positive view of women, not negative.)

Mosaic laws aside, the Old Testament is replete with examples of strong female characters (think Sarah, Rebekah, Deborah, and Esther—just to name a few). Proverbs even portrays wisdom as a woman. Yet God never places women on pedestals; they are to be held responsible for their own actions, too. As a woman myself, it means a lot to me to see evidence of God’s regard for His daughters throughout the entire Scriptures. He values us highly and accords us respect and dignity.

In a recent interview with Reasons to Believe’s own philosopher, Kenneth Samples, Copan says he was inspired to write Is God a Moral Monster? in response to the accusations of atheists like Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, and Sam Harris:

I’m trying to not shrink from the issues; I’m trying to be straightforward and frank about some of the challenges, some of the misunderstandings of these texts, and looking at the toughest texts that people will level at the God of the Old Testament.

In my view, Dr. Copan does an excellent job of addressing Old Testament difficulties with fair-mindedness, gentleness, and respect. I’d recommend the book to anyone, especially Richard Dawkins.

— Maureen

Resources: Be sure to catch Ken’s interviews with Paul Copan on Straight Thinking.

About Guest Contributor

MaureenMaureen Moser is an editor and blogger for Reasons to Believe (RTB), an organization dedicated to integrating science and faith. She is the managing editor for RTB’s print newsletter and scholar blogs and has completed editorial work on numerous RTB resources, including Christian Endgame and the Impact Events devotionals. A blessed wife and mother, Maureen is also an adventurous cook and a lover of Star Wars, Jane Austen, and peppermint tea.

Maureen’s article originally appeared at Reasons To Believe  and Take Two Blog.

More of Nagel’s Review Of Dawkins’ The God Delusion

Nagel's ReviewRichard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, a book that attempted to expose logical faultiness of religion and its’ cause of much suffering in the world, is the most read atheistic literature in our times. In this series of articles, I explored different prominent atheists and agnostics’ reviews of The God Delusion.

This article is a follow up of my second  atheists’ reviewer, an American philosopher Thomas Nagel, whose review, “The Fear Of Religion”, appeared in The Republic on October 23rd 2006, page 25-29. If you have not read the first part, Nagel’s Review Of Dawkins’ The God Delusion, I will dearly recommend you to do so before reading this closing remark of Nagel’s review of Dawkins’ popular book, The God Delusion.

Nagel’s Third Alternative: No to God Hypothesis And No to Physical Naturalism

The tension between “Dawkins’s physicalist naturalism and the God hypothesis is a disagreement over whether this end point[of what best explain the origin of life] is physical, extensional, and purposeless or mental, intentional, and purposive” correctly observed Nagel. Both views, according to him, fail to explain the grand explanation. “ The God hypothesis does not explain the existence of God, and naturalistic physicalism does not explain the laws of physics”.

Adding my own remark, I believe Nagel here missed or failed to understand the aim of  design argument, the God hypothesis, which does not step forward to explain the existence of God. The argument from design simply attempt to argue for the existence of a designer. The grand explaining for the existence or the nature of this designer is a totally different matter.

Nagel offered the Aristotelian view as another possible possibility. He expounded that “there are teleological principles in nature that are explained neither by intentional design nor by purposeless physical causation— principles that therefore provide an independent end point of explanation for the existence and form of living things.”

The positive part of Dawkins’s argument, commented Nagel, is that “Darwin’s theory of natural selection offered a way of accounting, [which is not a result of design nor hopelessly improbable chance], for the exquisite functional organization of organisms through physical causation”.  The Complexity that arises, which gives an appearance of design without design, can be radically reduced by the theory of heritable variation and natural selection “purely on the basis of a combination of physical causes operating over billions of years”.

Even though most this story’s detail can never be recovered and that there are also  evolutionists’ internal issues on how the process works, “[t]here are also skeptics about whether such a process is capable, even over billions of years, of generating the complexity of life as it is.” The direct analogy to Dawkins’ “Who made God?” explained Nagel, is that,

The theory of evolution through heritable variation and natural selection reduces the improbability of organizational complexity by breaking the process down into a very long series of small steps, each of which is not all that improbable. But each of the steps involves a mutation in a carrier of genetic information—an enormously complex molecule capable both of self- replication and of generating out of surrounding matter a functioning organism that can house it. The molecule is moreover capable sometimes of surviving a slight mutation in its structure to generate a slightly different organism that can also survive. Without such a replicating system there could not be heritable variation, and without heritable variation there could not be natural selection favoring those organisms, and their underlying genes, that are best adapted to the environment.

Darwinian explanation hangs on the prior existence “of genetic material” with have outstanding properties, which preconditioned the possibility of evolution. Nagel explained that “since the existence of this material or something like it is a precondition of the possibility of evolution, evolutionary theory cannot explain its existence.” He went on,

We are therefore faced with a problem analogous to that which Dawkins thinks faces the argument from design: we have explained the complexity of organic life in terms of something that is itself just as functionally complex as what we originally set out to explain. So the problem is just pushed back one step: how did such a thing come into existence?

According to Nagel, an  obvious difference between Darwinian explanation to that of God hypothesis is that only the former is observable. “But the problem that originally prompted the argument from design” explained Nagel, is “—the over whelming improbability of such a thing coming into existence by chance, simply through the purposeless laws of physics— remains just as real for this case. Yet this time we cannot replace chance with natural selection.”

In The God Delusion, Dawkins response was “pure hand-waving” at this difficult by claiming it was a one-time event and that given billions of planets in the universe that may permit life, it is likely that a DNA could be formed. Nagel expounded,

Dawkins is not a chemist or a physicist. Neither am I, but general expositions of research on the origin of life indicate that no one has a theory that would support anything remotely near such a high probability as one in a billion billion. Naturally there is speculation about possible non-biological chemical precursors of DNA or RNA. But at this point the origin of life remains, in light of what is known about the huge size, the extreme specificity, and the exquisite functional precision of the genetic material, a mystery—an event that could not have occurred by chance and to which no significant probability can be assigned on the basis of what we know of the laws of physics and chemistry.

Nonetheless it happened and this, according to Nagel, is the reason “why the argument from design is still alive, and why scientists who find the conclusion of that argument unacceptable feel there must be a purely physical explanation of why the origin of life is not as physically improbable as it seems.”

Since time cannot replace chance with natural selection, Dawkins, with “a desperate device to avoid the demand for a real explanation”, invoked “the possibility that there are vastly many universes”. Hence giving chance more chances to create life.

Final Remarks: Fear Of Religion + World-flattening Reductionism

As “an outsider to religion”, Nagel believes, unlike Dawkins, that deciding which one, the God hypothesis or Darwinian evolution, offers a best explanation of what we observe is a tough question to put to rest. He suspect there could be other unthought-of solutions than that offered by these two.

A brilliant observation was made by Nagel when he contended that “[t]he fear of religion leads too many scientifically minded atheists to cling to a defensive, world-flattening reductionism.” He went further,

Dawkins, like many of his con- temporaries, is hobbled by the assumption that the only alternative to religion is to insist that the ultimate explanation of everything must lie in particle physics, string theory, or what-ever purely extensional laws govern the elements of which the material world is composed.

The problem in this reductive view,  “the world with all subjective consciousness, sensory appearances, thought, value, purpose, and will left out.” Going against this view, Nagel contended that “ [w]e have more than one form of understanding.” He expounded,

Different forms of understanding are needed for different kinds of subject matter. The great achievements of physical science do not make it capable of encompassing everything, from mathematics to ethics to the experiences of a living animal. We have no reason to dismiss moral reasoning, introspection, or conceptual analysis as ways of discovering the truth just because they are not physics.

He also point out that anti-reductionist view also have  “very serious problems about how the mutually irreducible types of truths about the world are related.” It is true that we are physical organism. How do we deal with thoughts, emotions and value, if not mere complicated physical states of organism, asks Nagel. “What is their relation to the brain processes on which they seem to depend? More: if evolution is a purely physical causal process, how can it have brought into existence conscious beings?”

Nagel’s verdict on Dawkins’ famous book could be packed in a single sentence. The God Delusion is “a very uneven collection of scriptural ridicule, amateur philosophy, historical and contemporary horror stories, anthropological speculations, and cosmological scientific argument” and contemptuous flippancy when dealing with the classical arguments offered for the existences of God.

Next: Simon Watson: Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion and Atheist Fundamentalism

Disclaimers: I am  terribly biased and unfairly hard on Dawkins’ The God Delusion.  My aim is for us to critically examine Dawkins’ case against the existence of God. Whether we agree or disagree with Dawkins’ conclusions, I believe we ought to wrestle with strength and weakness of his arguments. As far as Nagel is concerned, he found The God Delusion’s case  particularly weak. Dawkins could and I believe can do better.

Flew, Dawkins And God

In There is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind”, the British philosophy professor, late Antony Flew, shared his reasons for converting from atheism to deism.

“We must follow the argument wherever it leads”, a principle that Plato attributed to Socrates, was the norm to which Flew followed (Flew 2007: 46).  With increasing evidences of the teleological argument, Flew had to change his position.

“I must say again that the journey to my discovery of the Divine”, explained Flew, “has thus far been a pilgrimage of reason.”(Flew 2007: 155). He further expounded,

Science qua science cannot furnish an argument for God’s existence. But the three items of evidence we have considered in this volume the laws of nature, life with its teleological organization, and the existence of the universe can only be explained in the light of an Intelligence that explains both its own existence and that of the world. Such a discovery of the Divine does not come through experiments and equations, but through an understanding of the structures they unveil and map.

Flew pointed out that even though “[s]ome have said that the laws of nature are simply accidental results of the way the universe cooled after the big bang”, Martin Rees showed that there are “laws governing the ensemble of universes”. He explained,

Again, even the evolution of the laws of nature and changes to the constants follow certain laws. “We’re still left with the question of how these ‘deeper’ laws originated. No matter how far you push back the properties of the universe as somehow ‘emergent,’ their very emergence has to follow certain prior laws.”[ Rees 2000: 87]

“So multiverse or not,” argued Flew, “we still have to come to terms with the origin of the laws of nature. And the only viable explanation here is the divine Mind.”(ibid 120-121)

Richard Dawkins was and is not pleased with Flew’s U-turned position. In The God Delusion, Dawkins asserted that “[o]ne can’t help wondering whether Flew realizes that he is being used”(Dawkins 2006: 82). In  a recent Playboy interview, Dawkin explained,

What’s rather wicked is when religious apologists exploit that, as they did in the case of Flew, who in his old age was persuaded to put his name to a book saying that he’d been converted to a form of deism. Not only did he not write the book, he didn’t even read it.

According to Dawkins, Flew changed from atheism to deism because “he went gaga”.  It is sad that Dawkins keep giving false account of Flew conversion knowing that Flew had already responded to the same Dawkinian’s charges in June 4th 2008 letter. Flew wrote,

I have rebutted these criticisms in the following statement: “My name is on the book and it represents exactly my opinions. I would not have a book issued in my name that I do not 100 per cent agree with. I needed someone to do the actual writing because I’m 84 and that was Roy Varghese’s role. The idea that someone manipulated me because I’m old is exactly wrong. I may be old but it is hard to manipulate me. That is my book and it represents my thinking.”

Flew also answered Dawkins’ The God Delusion’s notes’ assertion of his position in a great length. He admitted that Dawkins’ The God Delusion was “remarkable in the first place for having achieved some sort of record by selling over a million copies”. He further wrote,

But what is much more remarkable than that economic achievement is that the contents or rather lack of contents of this book show Dawkins himself to have become what he and his fellow secularists typically believe to be an impossibility: namely, a secularist bigot.

Turning to page 82 of The God Delusion’s footnote, Flew answered Dawkins “remarkable note” of his decision to convert from atheism to deism.  Flew explained that Dawkins caricature of his decision does not say much about Flew but about Dawkins himself. Flew wrote,

For if he had had any interest in the truth of the matter of which he was making so much he would surely have brought himself to write me a letter of enquiry. (When I received a torrent of enquiries after an account of my conversion to Deism had been published in the quarterly of the Royal Institute of Philosophy I managed, I believe, eventually to reply to every letter.)

For Flew, this indicated that Dawkins was “not interested in the truth as such but is primarily concerned to discredit an ideological opponent by any available means”. Flew suspected that Dawkins’ did not set to “discover and spread knowledge of the existence or non-existence of God” in The God Delusion, but to spread his own convictions.

Bibliography

Dawkins, Richard (2006) The God Delusion. Bantam Press

Flew, Antony (2007) There is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind. HarperOne

Rees, Martin (2000) Exploring Our Universe and Others”, The Frontiers of Space. New York: Scientific American.