The God Delusion - an Appraisal  - Chapter 3: Pt.1

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This is the Chapter 3, Part 1, Page for the appraisal of the contents of Richard Dawkins' book, The God Delusion.



Page Contents:








Chapter 3 Overview 

"Arguments for God's Existence"


This chapter is divided into:

(The following are considered on the next page)

  • The Argument from Scripture (p.117-123)
  • The Argument from Admired Religious Scientists (p.123-130)
  • Pascal's Wagner (p.130-132)
  • Bayesian Arguments (p.132-136)



Chapter 3: Content & Comments (First half)


Part 1: Thomas Aquinas' ‘Proofs'



Quote 1: p.100


The five ‘proofs' asserted by Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth century don't prove anything



PRELIMINARIES: There are several preliminary points worth observing here:


1. We are looking here at a man's observations about God and not concrete specific tenets of the Christian faith. Although these sorts of things have been added as periphery arguments in favour of God, they are very much periphery arguments. Aquinas himself didn't see them as proofs.


2. I marvel that with my other knowledge of that period, over 800 years ago, when research and education were minimal in comparison to today, that there were men who ventured out in these ways. Aquinas should not be put on a pedestal but he was certainly a man who stood out in his day as a thinker, and we should respect that.


3. The things that are being debated here fall more in the province of philosophy than of theology, and philosophy is a very unsure foundation from which to build anything. My studies of the history of philosophy have convinced me that the history of philosophy is quite a depressing area to work in. What it actually is, is one philosopher propounding an approach to life, and the next one finding fault with it. That may be an over simplification but that actually is what happens. The first man was probably venturing out on uncharted waters and so had no one to compare with. Those who followed him had plenty of time to discuss the former person's ideas and to come up with alternative suggestions and point out their flaws. This has happened with every single philosopher who has even gone into print – including Aquinas.


4. These ideas from philosophy of religion are never taken as ‘proofs', merely suggestions that the inner beliefs of the faith are consistent with these ideas, or to put it another way, these ideas show a consistency with the revelation that the theologian works on.



Quote 2: p.101


All three of these arguments rely upon the idea of regress and invoke God to terminate it. They make the entirely unwarranted assumption that God himself is immune to the regress.



AQUINAS'S SUGGESTIONS: In case you aren't familiar with these things, Aquinas suggested:

1. The Unmoved Mover – nothing moves without something moving it – that something is God

2. The Uncaused Cause – nothing is caused by itself – therefore God is the Ultimate cause

3. The Cosmological Argument – prior to physical existence, something non-physical must have brought it into being.


The comment about ‘regress' simply means you keep going back until you reach the original – God.


The assumption being made that God is immune to the regress, actually is not unwarranted, but is built on the knowledge through revelation (Scriptures) that God is One who is unchanging and always the same. It is easy to forget that Aquinas was first a theologian and then a philosopher. In the back of his mind at all times would have been the Biblical revelation.



Quote 3: p.101


there is absolutely no reason to endow that terminator with any of the properties normally ascribed to God: omnipotence, omniscience …..



KNOWLEDGE OF GOD COMES FROM THEOLOGY: The ‘Five Proofs' don't do this; the Bible does. That's why there is a distinction between philosophy and theology. Philosophy is about ideas; theology is about the revelation of God through the Bible. It's a silly point to make here and, again, shows a lack of understanding.

LINK to the Biblical revelation of God



Quote 4: p.101


it has not escaped the notice of logicians that omniscience and omnipotence are mutually incompatible.



SILLY SEMANTICS: We have here just another one of those silly examples of semantics. Listen to it: “If God is omniscient (all-knowing), he must already know how he is going to intervene to change the course of history using his omnipotence (all-power). Consider this order of activity: God thinks about the situation – decides on the best course to act – and knows what He will do.


Now you can't have ‘God thinking about how to deal with the future' and ‘God knowing how he will deal with the future' as one and the same, at the same second – because they are mutually exclusive in meaning. In one of them God doesn't yet know (because He hasn't yet thought – so don't add any silly talk about him not be omniscient) and in the other He knows. To talk about God not being all-powerful because He can't change His mind because He's made up His mind, is just plain silliness. Think on it more. It's just playing with words. Silly example!



Quote 5: p. 101


it is more parsimonious to conjure up, say, a ‘big bang singularity' or some other physical concept as yet unknown



BIG BANG AS A SUBSTITUTE: I think Richard is using parsimonious to mean prudent here. The trouble with the big bang idea is that no one can explain how a big bang can occur from absolutely nothing with nothing energising or motivating the ‘bang'. The use of language and everything we know about science says that this cannot be so, and yet scientists like Richard insist that it is, for no other reason than they don't like the God idea.

Their escape clause is “as yet unknown” implying it may yet become known, but this does keep on taking us back to the concept, that is really beyond our understanding (which galls the pride of such scientists), that a) it is possible to conceive of absolutely nothing existing [except God] of ‘material existence' and b) from that absolutely ‘nothingness' something comes into being without outside influence [God again].


Whatever else Richard says, he is making just as big a leap of faith in the world of science as the theologian does in the world of religion, yet has less evidence than the theologian to make that leap, and actually his leap is quite inconsistent with everything else he believes. At least the theologian is consistent!



Quote 6: p.102


Calling it God is at best unhelpful and at worst perniciously misleading.



BAD WRITING: I am really sorry about this but this is really a nonsense sentence! We are talking about ‘something' that was the first cause which, as we've pointed out above, is a leap of faith for scientist and theologian alike (yet more reasonable for the theologian) so there are absolutely no grounds (and he doesn't offer them) for Richard to use the words, ‘unhelpful' (for who? for why?) and ‘perniciously misleading'. Ruinously misleading? Because it doesn't agree with your ideas – and they are ideas and no more, and however much you protest, you cannot prove them otherwise! This is just using words to sound impressive and appeal to the ignorant crowd. Poor literature, poor debating and certainly poor science!


What follows in the following paragraph is almost bizarre, seeking to apply Edward Lear's Nonsense Recipe to the argument. All it ‘proves' is that it is nonsense to work backwards and minimise the regression. All you do is end up with neutrons and electrons which have no ‘purpose' as we've commented before.



Quote 7: p.102


It is by no means clear that God provides a natural terminator to the regresses of Aquinas.



FAILURE: Well that almost sounds like a capitulation (I know it's not!) because he knows he can't say, “See I have proved categorically it can't be so." The last two pages have been disappointing because they really provide no grounds whatsoever to say that Aquinas's suggestions are wrong. It's just not there on the pages!



Quote 8: p.102


The Argument from Degree  



A THEOLOGIAN FIRST: All the things we've said in the introduction to this part apply here. The most important of those points is probably that referring to Aquinas being first of all a theologian with the Bible in the back of his mind. Hence to use the comparison of ‘smelliness' is quite inappropriate and simply abusive to cause upset presumably. Beyond that, yes, it's not a good argument, more a point for speculation.


The point of philosophical discussion that is behind this is that if we see ‘good' in existence, is there an ultimate perfect goodness somewhere behind it? That is the point that Richard purposefully forgets.



Quote 9: p. 103


The Argument from Design




LOTS OF QUESTION MARKS: I hesitate to comment in this area because it is supposed to be Richard's specialist area but when he speaks so authoritatively about Darwin and about natural selection, I get a sense that he is being selective about what he promotes. I was under the distinct impression that there were, according to many scientists, massive great holes or questions in both Darwinian Evolution and natural selection. Now I can see that these must be loathed by Richard but I simply have a problem with accepting this paragraph. Maybe he's right, but not all his colleagues agree, which means it is not so open and shut as he seeks to make is appear.

LINK to Appendix 4 - Quotes about Evolution


To see this in detail I suggest a serious reading of John Blanchard's, Does God Believe in Atheists?


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Part 2: The Ontological Argument and other A Priori Arguments



Quote 10: p. 103


Arguments for God's existence fall into two main categories, the a priori and the a posteriori




CLARIFYING LANGUAGE: If you are not familiar with these terms:

  • a priori refers to pure knowledge
  • a posteriori refers to empirical or experience knowledge


Richard then goes on to pillory Anselm's ontological argument of 1078. All that we have said previously about Aquinas applies equally here. Richard goes into a long rambling section mocking the argument and quoting Bertrand Russell who had been for it and then against it but misses the point we'll make below.



Quote 11: p. 107


My own feeling… would have been an automatic deep suspicion of any line of reasoning that reached such a significant conclusion without feeding in a single piece of data from the real world.



MISTAKEN: Alister McGrath in The Dawkins Delusion put it well:

Dawkins misunderstands an a posteriori (empirical) demonstration of the coherence of faith, and observation to be an a priori (pure knowledge) proof of faith – an entirely understandable mistake for those new to this field, but a serious error nonetheless.”


I had added in the brackets for clarification, again for those not familiar with the terms. In other words Richard is mixing up pure theory, if you like, (Anselm) with experiential, empirical data.


The sad thing is that Richard is spending so much time on issues that are not fundamental to Christian faith. Aquinas and Anselm were simply men in very early days of education and understanding, who were struggling to express philosophical ideas that supported the theology they already had.


Richard' in defence mode has previously (p.57) opposed the critic who accuses him of attacking a God the rest of us don't believe in either, but he is doing exactly the equivalent of that here, lambasting a ninth century speculative argument as if that is the thing that most Christians stand by. It isn't. It usually only appears in ‘A-Level' RS syllabus material!


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Part 3: The Argument from Beauty



Quote 12: p.110


How do you account for Shakespeare then?




Richard objects to God being assumed by the existence of beautiful works of art whether they be music or paintings. On p.111 he states: “If there is a logical argument linking the existence of great art to the existence of God, it is not spelled out by its proponents”. OK, not by the ones he has come across.


MATERIAL EVOLUTION: My own argument would run along these lines, as we've already mentioned briefly before. The atheistic scientist who is a biologist ultimately reduces everything down to a form of mechanism or, as I've crudely put it before, to mere chemical reactions. At its basest level it comes down to neutrons and electrons. From another perspective we talk about genetic makeup. Please excuse me, I'm not a scientist, but I do know what I hear atheistic scientist saying: everything is material and therefore, in whatever form, is just interaction of material.


Put aside the evidences that I believe I see for ‘spirit' in the world, what worries me, and which materialists refuse to answer, is how can ‘material interaction' enable anything meaningful to be said about ‘beauty'. In the materialists world, ‘beauty' MUST only be a chemical reaction and everything in us screams against that – as it does within Richard – which is why the materialist makes this existential ‘leap of faith' to start talking in romantic language.

CHEMICAL EMOTIONS: Yes, the ‘chemicals' (sorry, I'm being purposely crude to make the point) may give us the ‘feelings' or appreciation of beauty, but if they are no more than pure chemical responses, they are really meaningless. It makes far more sense, with the feelings that we all have, to conform to the suggestion that all the other things that point to the existence of God, factor in here, and it is because there is a creative spirit ‘gene' that is in God that He gives to every one of us (what theologians mean when they talk about us being made ‘in God's image'). It makes far more coherent sense to suggest that God ‘designed in' these tendencies within our molecular makeup and it is this that creates what is so embarrassing for Richard, this desire to explain ‘meaning', which is what his Unweaving the Rainbow was ultimately about.


Beauty on its own does not explain God, but God is necessary to make ‘beauty' a meaningful concept beyond the purely mechanical theory of materialistic science. The point being missed here, and by most atheists arguing this point, is that without God, 'Art', 'beauty', 'aesthetics' etc. are merely meaningless words because materialism reduces them to pure chemical reactions.


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Part 4: The Argument from Personal Experience



Quote 13: p.113


The human brain runs first-class simulation software




MIND GAMES: This quote is a summary really of what Richard seeks to show in this section. He gives us a thoroughly entertaining list of examples of where others, or even he in his own life, have mistaken various phenomenon for something else, often based on their superstitious beliefs. All good examples, all good fun – the only problem is that you don't decry millions of personal experiences merely by putting up a small number of experiences that were clearly mistaken. That is not the way to do it – and Richard knows that, which is why he ends his chapter in such a gentle way!


LIFE TRANSFORMATIONS: All I know is that over the years I have observed some wonderful transformed lives – transformations when these people came to say, “Yes I believe in Jesus,” and all that follows that. Spending my life serving the community, I never ever see those transformations happening in any other way. When Richard and his fellow atheists can show me people with utterly messed up lives, being totally transformed when they hear the ‘good news' of atheism, then I may give it more credit than I do at the moment.


This may be the place to insert a recent quote from Christian History magazine:


In a letter to the bishop of Antioch in 251, the bishop of Rome mentioned that "more than 1,500 widows and distressed persons" were in the care of his congregation. These claims concerning Christian charity were confirmed by pagan observers. "The impious Galileans support not only their poor," complained pagan emperor Julian, "but ours as well." The willingness of Christians to care for others was put on dramatic public display when two great plagues swept the empire, one beginning in 165 and the second in 251. Pagans tried to avoid all contact with the afflicted, often casting the still living into the gutters. Christians, on the other hand, nursed the sick even though some believers died doing so.


If the Christian brain results in this sort of thing, let's have more of it! For the person who is ignorant of these things,  the extensive writing of Charles Colson relies heavily on accounts of hundreds of illustrations of how Christians have been radically transforming the world for good. As we just said, if the Christian brain results in this sort of thing, let's have more of it!

(NB. Just a point of interest in passing. Richard bewails the lack of atheists impact in the world. What I would expect his crusade to do is exhort atheists to have impact in the name of atheism. If that happens, please note the self-centred concern causing that activity. The truth is that Christians serve the world, often at great cost, selflessly, with no thought for 'serving the cause' but simply to help the needy and for no personal gain, as the Spirit of Christ inspires them to.)


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NB. In what follows Q stand for ‘Quote'

Part 1: Thomas Aquinas' ‘Proofs' 


Richard seeks to knock down skittles that Christians don't stand up


Along the way I have pointed out that:

  • These are human, philosophical suggestions about God from an early age and no more (Q.1). They were not put forward as proofs, more as suggestions of how philosophically, a Biblical faith is coherent.
  • The idea that God is immune to regress comes from the already biblical belief that God is unchanging (Q.2)
  • The ‘Five Proofs' don't present the attributes of God, the Bible does. (Q.3) This merely shows misunderstanding.
  • Silly semantics by those who have not thought these things through carefully, should be left out of the argument (Q.4)
  • The ‘big bang' requires a greater scientific leap of faith than belief in God does in religion (Q.5)
  • Using negatively emotive words and nonsense recipes does nothing to further his cause (Q.6)
  • His arguments do little or nothing to knock down Aquinas (Q.7)
  • The argument from degree section is clouded by his poor analogy and he misses the point (Q.8)
  • The argument from design section has much of its strength taken away by his colleagues who question this approach (Q.9)


Part 2: The Ontological Argument and other A Priori Arguments


The point Richard seems to be making here is that he wants ‘pure knowledge' to come under the same scrutiny that empirical knowledge does. As McGrath suggests, he seems to confuse the issues.


Along the way I have pointed out that:

  • Anselm was not proving but making a logical suggestion that shows cohesion of the theological position (Q.10)
  • Criticising 9th century thinking does little for his cause. (Q.11)


Part 3: The Argument from Beauty


Richard objects to a basic linking of God to beauty as an argument for God.


Along the way I have pointed out that:

  • Materialistic atheism allows no room for meaningfully speaking about ‘beauty' which can only be sophisticated chemical reactions. If we speak about ‘beauty' it is only meaningful if there is a personality behind existence who gives us feelings beyond mere molecular reactions (Q.12)


Part 4: The Argument from Personal Experience


The point being made by Richard here is that the brain is very good at creating counterfeit impressions etc. and therefore experience cannot be relied upon.


Along the way I have pointed out that:

  • Christian experience is so wide and so extensive as not to be able to be written off by mind games, and when someone has had a clearly defined transforming experience, then nothing will shake it. Indeed when we look at the extensive ‘good works' done by Christians and the lack of them by comparison outside the faith communities, one has to ask why decry them? (Q.13)



Overall Comment:


In this early and late parts of this chapter, it seems as if Richard looks around for all the secondary issues supporting Christian belief and attacks them with misunderstandings and leaps of scientific faith.

Standing outside of the place of understanding, he no doubt thinks that throwing the equivalent of weightless polystyrene against the stones of centuries of belief will achieve anything. In fact all it does for those with understanding, is make his whole enterprise seem a sham.


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