Daunting Dawkins’ Darwinism

A Hollywood Activist Crosses Swords with the Outspoken British Atheist

Notorious British biologist and atheist Richard Dawkins has made more than a little news of late in challenging any suggestion that life on earth implies the involvement of a creative designer. About him, Wikipedia, the on-line ency­clopedia has the following to say:

“Dawkins came to prominence with his 1976 book The Selfish Gene, which popularized the gene-centered view of evolution and introduced the term ‘meme.’ In 1982 he made a widely cited contribution to evolutionary biology with the theory, presented in his book The Extended Phenotype, that the phenotypic effects of a gene are not necessarily limited to an organism’s body, but can stretch far into the environment, including the bodies of other organisms.

“In addition to his biological work, Dawkins is well-known for his views on atheism, evolution, creationism, and re­ligion. He is a prominent critic of creationism and intelligent design. In his 1986 book The Blind Watchmaker, he argued against the watchmaker analogy, an argument for the existence of a supernatural creator based upon the ob­served complexity of living organisms, and instead described evolutionary processes as being analogous to a blind watchmaker. He has since written several popular science books, and has made regular appearances on television and radio programs, predominantly discussing the aforementioned topics.

“Dawkins is an atheist, secular humanist, skeptic, scientific rationalist, and supporter of the Brights movement. He has widely been referred to in the media as “Darwin’s Rottweiler,” by analogy with English biologist T. H. Huxley, who was known as “Darwin’s Bulldog” for his advocacy of natural selection. In his 2006 book The God Delusion, Daw­kins contends that a supernatural creator almost certainly does not exist and that faith qualifies as a delusion—as a fixed false belief.”

Most recently Dawkins has been defending himself in the wake of an interview he gave to the producers of the widely viewed pro-intelligent-design documentary, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, in which narrator Ben Stein succeeded in putting him on the defensive about many of his positions. Dawkins self defense, appeared in an April op. ed. piece for the L.A. Times (“Gods and earthlings, The ‘science of intelligent design’ is science fiction.” http:// www.latimes.com/news/opinion/la-oe-dawkins18apr18,0,2798612. story).

Subsequently the Discovery Institute (Discovery.org), the pro-intelligent design, think tank in Seattle offered two very interesting responses. The first is by Bruce L. Gordon, Ph.D., Research Director for the Center for Science and Culture at Discovery. The second is by Jonathan Wells, also of the Discovery Institute. Both are reprinted here in their entirety—Editor


By Bruce L. Gordon, Ph.D.

Richard Dawkins has got himself in a bit of a pickle and, in an effort to wash off the brine, now appears to be lath­ering up mountains of foam. In an article in the L.A. Times, he is at pains to distance himself from remarks he made in the newly released movie Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed (expelledthemovie.com). Toward the end of the film, in an interview with Ben Stein at the British Museum, Dawkins confesses he has no idea how life originated on earth— nor does anyone, he admits—but, as Nobel laureate Francis Crick once theorized, it could well be explained by hav­ing been seeded here by an alien intelligence. Of course, he demurs with great gravity, this alien race would itself have evolved elsewhere in the universe by Darwinian means.

In other words, Dawkins recognizes that blind evolutionary processes seem an insufficient explanation for how life originated on earth—no one knows how it could have happened and intelligent design is a real possibility—but mi­raculously enough, he asserts, elsewhere in the universe under conditions we have no access to and can’t really ima­gine, blind evolutionary forces are completely sufficient to the task! After all, we have to terminate the regress some­how and we can’t possibly terminate it with God.

You see the problem. No wonder Dawkins is a bit embarrassed and trying to dance around these frank admissions. So let’s turn up the heat on this disco inferno: what’s he saying now? It turns out that he has decided to have a go at philosophical theology. Unfortunately, he appears to have even less talent in this arena. He rehearses in short com­pass an argument offered in his recent book, The God Delusion: God can’t be the explanation for design because he’s too complex, and therefore statistically improbable; and as we all know, “statistically improbable things don’t just happen spontaneously by chance without an explanation trail.”

I see. That sounds rather like a design argument. As Alvin Plantinga—a formidable intellect and the world’s fore­most analytic philosopher of religion—remarked in a review of Dawkins’ book, “You might say that some of his forays into philosophy are at best sophomoric, but that would be unfair to sophomores.”

Let’s take a brief look at Dawkins’ “God is too complex to be the explanation for the design we observe” polemic. His suggestion is that entities capable of designing anything must be complex, and God, if he existed, would be a de­signer par excellence. But what does Dawkins mean by “complex”? He does not care much to define terms in his op­ed, undoubtedly a strategy to his advantage, so we must look elsewhere among his writings for enlightenment. In The Blind Watchmaker we find his declaration that something is complex if it has parts “arranged in a way that is unlikely to have arisen by chance alone.” Indeed. This sounds rather like Michael Behe, but with less precision and far less discernment. Behe, no doubt, would recognize that applying such a characterization to God would constitute a cate­gory mistake. God is not a material object, he is an immaterial Mind, in consequence of which he has no parts. Not having parts, therefore, God certainly doesn’t have parts that are “arranged in way that is unlikely to have arisen by chance.” Given Dawkins’ understanding of complexity, then, God is neither complex nor statistically improbable.

But perhaps we are being ungenerous, so let us concede, for the sake of argument, that God is complex. Perhaps we think that the more a being knows, the more complex it is; and since God is omniscient, he must be highly com­plex. This seems a fair interpretation of Dawkins’ claim that beings capable of designing things are complex. But how is this supposed to make God improbable? As Plantinga points out, if one were a materialist and thought that the only way a being with great knowledge could exist is if he were made up of elementary particles arranged in such a way as to constitute a being with great knowledge, then perhaps God might seem improbable. But one can hardly argue that God is improbable by assuming materialism, for materialism logically entails that God does not exist, and this would beg the very question at issue.

What reasons are left for thinking that God is improbable? By the lights of classical theism, God is a necessary be­ing in the sense that it is not possible for him not to exist. Such a conception certainly seems logically coherent: it is logically possible, is it not, that the necessary existence of a transcendent personal being of consummate greatness (God) is possibly exemplified; i.e., that the concept is logically consistent and therefore exemplified in some possible world? But a being that exists necessarily must exist in every possible world, and since the actual world is a fortiori possible, we may conclude, without qualification, that God exists. As Plantinga points out, if Dawkins wants to main­tain that God’s existence is improbable, he owes us an argument that there can be no necessary being with God’s at­tributes, an argument that does not start with materialism as one of its premises. No one has ever provided a decent argument to this effect, but Dawkins doesn’t even seem to be aware that he requires one.

Lastly, Dawkins takes exception to the idea that God had no beginning, arguing that “if you are going to resort to that facile cop-out, you might as well say that flagellar motors were always there.” Again, his ignorance of philosophi­cal theology and his lack of talent for philosophical argument are on display. Dawkins would surely admit that space-time, matter, and energy came into existence with the beginning of the universe; or perhaps, if he’s a fan of avant garde cosmology, the multiverse. Regardless of which scenario you choose, the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem dem­onstrates that the universe/multiverse has a beginning in the finite past. Prior to the universe, therefore, there was no time, and God, who is logically and ontologically prior to the universe, was therefore not temporally prior to it. Before the universe was created, God existed timelessly and so had no beginning; his relationship to time began with his creation of time. So, Richard, please take note: there is a fundamental difference between the claim that God had no beginning and the claim that flagellar motors were always there.

Dawkins’ disclaimers and his invective will no doubt continue. Theists may look on his performance benignly and with a sort of amused sympathy. Dance, Richard, dance: perhaps one of these days you’ll recognize that you’ve tripped and God has caught you.


By Jonathan Wells

Atheist Richard Dawkins is hopping mad at the makers of Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. Dawkins accuses the filmmakers of “lying for Jesus” because they make it seem that he believes in intelligent design and space aliens.

Dawkins is an outspoken critic of intelligent design (ID). In his 1986 book The Blind Watchmaker, Dawkins de­fined biology as “the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.” De­sign is only an appearance, because (as the subtitle of the book indicated) “the evidence of evolution reveals a uni­verse without design.” According to Dawkins, evolution shows that the universe and everything in it can be explained by undirected natural processes such as random mutation and survival of the fittest. By ruling out design, “Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.”

According to intelligent design, however, it is possible to infer from evidence in nature that some features of the world and of living things are better explained by an intelligent cause than by undirected natural processes. Although ID says nothing about the nature of the designer (other than calling it intelligent), it leaves open the possibility that the designer is God.

Clearly, Darwinian evolution and intelligent design have different implications for God’s existence.

Surprisingly, in a lengthy interview with Ben Stein in Expelled, Dawkins says that living things on the earth could be actually (and not just apparently) designed—and that the design might be detectable. Dawkins thereby concedes the central claim of ID, though he insists that the designers—if there were any—must have been highly evolved space aliens, not God.

Dawkins dug his own hole in the interview; the filmmakers simply gave him a shovel. Now he is trying to dig him­self out, though the hole just gets deeper. In the April 18 Los Angeles Times, Dawkins tries to explain what he meant in an essay titled, “Gods and earthlings: The ‘science of intelligent design’ is science fiction.”

Dawkins wrote: “Entities capable of designing anything, whether they be human engineers or interstellar aliens, must be complex—and therefore, statistically improbable. And statistically improbable things don’t just happen spon­taneously by chance without an explanation trail.”

“Natural selection,” he continued, “is the only ultimate explanation we know for complex, improbable things. Even if our species was created by space alien designers, those designers themselves would have to have arisen from simpler antecedents—so they can’t be an ultimate explanation for anything.”

OK. Probably everyone would concede that attributing design to space aliens doesn’t ultimately solve the problem; it just moves the solution further away. But how does Dawkins “know” that natural selection is “the only ultimate ex­planation”? Why not God? Intelligent Design doesn’t tell us that the designer is God, but how does Dawkins know it isn’t?

Because, Dawkins reiterates, God is statistically improbable: “Visitations from distant star systems are improbable enough to attract ridicule, not least from advocates of intelligent design themselves. A creator god who had always ex­isted would be far more improbable still.”

That sounds very scientific, as befits Oxford’s Professor of the Public Understanding of Science. And it sounds sci­entific because improbability can be quantified. Comparing probabilities means comparing numbers.

Ben Stein knows this. So in Expelled he asks Dawkins what number he would assign to the improbability of God, and how he knows what the number is. In what I consider the funniest scene in the movie after Michael Ruse’s “I al­ready told you” interview about the origin of life, Dawkins suggests that God’s existence is 99% improbable. Stein asks him, Why not 97%? Dawkins hems and haws and says he’s not comfortable assigning a number. With his trade­mark deadpan look, Stein presses him: So maybe it’s only 49%? Dawkins replies that he doesn’t know, but it’s certain­ly much higher than that.

Clearly, Dawkins’ devotion to Darwinism and dismissal of God have nothing whatever to do with probability—or for that matter, with science. His improbability argument is an empty bluff.

Your average science fiction writer could have come up with a better story.

By Bruce L. Gordon & Jonathan Wells

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.