Richard Dawkins’ God Delusion
by Stephen Bedard
Richard Dawkins is one of the most outspoken of what is commonly called the new atheists. As one of the “Four Horsemen of the New Atheism” (along with Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett), Dawkins has been very influential as a critic of religion. The web-site for the Richard Dawkins Foundation (www.richarddawkins.net) gives this mission: “to support scientific education, critical thinking and evidence-based understanding of the natural world in the quest to overcome religious fundamentalism, superstition, intolerance and suffering.” Many people would support the first part of his mission, the second part, at least in terms of religion, is more controversial.
In The God Delusion, Dawkins attempts to destroy what he sees as myth. Some of this is very accurate on his part. Dawkins exposes the misconceptions that Albert Einstein believed in a personal god or that the American Founding Fathers were as completely Christian as many believe. Dawkins also rightly attacks Stephen Jay Gould’s NOMA (non-overlapping magisteria), in which part of reality goes to science and part goes to religion. Science can say something about the existence of God, and it could be argued (but not by Dawkins) that religion has something to say about science. Dawkins is critical of agnosticism, suggesting that there is enough evidence against God’s existence that people need not withhold judgment. His spectrum of belief from strong theist to strong atheist would be very helpful in surveys of faith.
Instead of just insulting religion (which he does), Dawkins also tackles the various arguments for God’s existence. Evidences for God such as the ontological argument, beauty, experience, Scripture, testimony of religious scientists, Pascal’s Wager and Bayesian arguments are all examined and rejected. Although Dawkins overstates his case at times, he does make some good points and demonstrates the weaknesses of many of these arguments.
The most compelling arguments for the existence of God are the existence of a life-permitting universe and the existence of life, human and otherwise. For many theists, this is enough to believe there is something is out there, even if they are not sure what or who it is. As a scientist, Dawkins attempts to expose the fallacy of this argument. To do this, Dawkins relies heavily on the anthropic principle. Dawkins defines it in this way: “We exist here on Earth. Therefore Earth must be the kind of planet that is capable of generating and supporting us, however unusual, even unique, that kind of planet might be.” (p. 162) This argument works on the cosmological and biological level. It may be highly unlikely that a universe would have all the right constants to support life, but it happened and so it must be possible…
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