Science or naturalism? The contradictions of Richard Dawkins
by Alvin Plantinga
Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett are, of course, the glamour twins of current academic atheism. They both apparently think it requires considerable courage to attack religion these days – says Dennett, "I risk a fist to the face or worse. Yet I persist." Atheism has its own heroes of the faith, it would seem – or self-styled heroes at any rate.
But here it’s not easy to take them seriously. The fact is religion-bashing today is about as dangerous as endorsing the party’s presidential candidate at a Republican rally. Nevertheless, Dawkins wrote The God Delusion, he says, partly to encourage timorous atheists to come out of the closet.
Dawkins is perhaps the world’s most popular science writer; he is also an extremely gifted writer. (For example, his account of bats and their ways in his earlier book The Blind Watchmaker is a brilliant and fascinating tour de force.) The God Delusion, however, contains little science. It is mainly philosophy, theology and evolutionary psychology, along with a substantial dash of social commentary decrying religion and its allegedly baneful effects.
But despite the fact that this book is mainly philosophy (Dawkins is not a philosopher, but a biologist), much of the philosophy he purveys is remarkably jejune. You might say that some of his forays into philosophy are at best undergraduate, but that would be unfair to undergraduates. The fact is many of his arguments would receive a failing grade in a basic philosophy class.
This, combined with the arrogant, smarter-than-thou ("thou" being believers in God) tone of the book can annoying. But let me put irritation aside and do my best to take Dawkins’s central argument seriously.
The monumentally improbable God
Chapter 3 of The God Delusion ("Why There Almost Certainly is No God") is the conceptual heart of the book. Why does Dawkins think there almost certainly isn’t any such person as God? It’s because, he says, the existence of God is monumentally improbable. How improbable?
The astronomer Fred Hoyle claimed that the probability of life arising on earth (by purely natural means, without special divine aid) is less than the probability that a flight-worthy Boeing 747 should be assembled by a hurricane roaring through a junkyard. Dawkins appears to think the probability of the existence of God is in that same neighborhood – so small as to be negligible for all practical (and most impractical) purposes. Why does he think so?
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