Richard Dawkins & 'The God Delusion'

Flaws in his case against God and for evolution

Who is deluded?

Refuting the God Delusion

Major flaws in this book:

  • Dawkins enlists the Weak Anthropic Principle (WAP) to aid his claim that 'there is almost certainly no God'. He claims this is a scientific and natural explanation of life. But this is neutral ground and could equally be claimed by Creationists and supporters of Intelligent Design. There is no absolute proof either way.
  • Dawkins uses a weak probabilistic argument to argue that life could possibly evolve given that there could be a billion billion planets in the universe. But serious estimates of this probability show that it is mathematically impossible for life to evolve in our universe.
  • Such calculations also invalidate the concept behind WAP since fine-tuning simply cannot occur.
  • In order to give life a finite probability of arising it has been necessary to speculate on the multi-universe idea. This is more faith than science since there is currently no observable evidence for such a theoretical concept.
  • Dawkins omits very substantial, observable evidence for the existence of God. He omits to examine verified physical healings (claimed to be through Jesus), and he omits to examine the amazing emergence of Israel (which correlates with prophecy).

Given weak statistical and scientific arguments and the omission of observable evidence in support of God's existence, Dawkins cannot seriously claim that 'there is almost certainly no God'. Turning this around, 'there is almost certainly no convincing case' made in 'The God Delusion'.

The God Delusion

The best-selling book The God Delusion by biologist Richard Dawkins presents arguments leading to the conclusion that

"there is almost certainly no God"

It appears that this conclusion has had little impact upon Christians themselves (see for example Bede's Library). Nevertheless, the central arguments leading to this conclusion deserve serious analysis. Are there flaws in his arguments? Are his arguments mathematically and scientifically reasonable?

Secondly (and perhaps even more convincing) is the fact that Dawkins has drawn the above conclusion by ignoring some of the most compelling and observable evidence. There is abundant evidence for the reality of God and the truth of the Bible by observing today's world.

If his arguments for stating the above conclusion can be shown to be irrational on mathematical, scientific and observational grounds, then his general thesis in the book is null and void!

Flaws in the Central Argument

Dawkins arrives at the above conclusion by surveying the main philosophical arguments in favour of God's existence. For example, he gives a rather unconvincing dismissal of Pascal's Wager. His main attack is reserved for the philosophical argument that the universe appears to be designed. He considers the undeniable complexity in nature to arise from one of two possibilities:

  • a complex being has designed what we observe (the creationist approach)
  • there is a natural explanation for how the observed complexity can emerge (the atheistic approach)

One concept which could be adopted by adherents of either case is the so-called Anthropic Principle.

Neutral Ground: The Anthropic Principle

Wherever we look the physical, chemical and biological conditions are 'fine-tuned' for life. For example, the following fine-tuning is required for life as we know it:

  • the nuclear force (the force between protons and neutrons) must not increase by more than 2% or decrease by more than 0.3%
  • If the proton mass increased by just 0.2% the proton would become unstable and decay. Since the hydrogen nucleus comprises just a single proton, then all hydrogen atoms would be destroyed, implying the destruction of water molecules etc.
  • the neutron mass must be fine-tuned to better than one part in 1000
  • the number of electrons must be equivalent to the number of protons to an accuracy of better than one part in 10 to the 37
  • the value of the cosmic mass density must be fine-tuned to better than one part in 10 to the 60
  • the gravitational force goes as the reciprocal of distance squared. The factor 2 here appears finely tuned and any variation from 2 would lead to decay of planetary orbits.

This fine-tuning is acknowledged in the so-called Weak Anthropic Principle or WAP:

WAP: The observed values of all physical and cosmological quantities are not equally probable but they take on the values restricted by the requirement that there exist sites where carbon-based life can evolve, with the requirement that the universe be old enough for it to have already done so. [Carter 1973]

This 'natural' explanation of the fine-tuning appeals to Dawkins. He argues that, according to WAP, we should not be surprised by the fine-tuning. After all, if this were not so we would not be here to observe it! Conversely, adherents of a literal interpretation of Genesis (Creationists) could argue that the fine-tuning is simply the hand of a Creator God. Similarly, adherents of Intelligent Design would argue for some 'intelligent cause' behind the fine-tuning rather than the Dawkins natural cause.

So WAP appears to be neutral ground and Dawkins cannot claim it as his own. Neither the 'natural' case, the 'creational' case, or the ID case is absolutely provable. As a broadside to naturalism we might ask, 'Since fine-tuning is needed for life, why the fine-tuning in the first place?'

A Mathematical Fudge

In chapter 4 Dawkins resorts to some elementary probability arguments. He acknowledges that the chance of life arising in any one place by natural causes is extremely small (he suggests 1 in a billion) but since there are a billion, billion possible planets in the universe then evolution of life, somewhere, is possible. In fact, if these figures are right there could be a billion planets with life (although SETI hasn't found one yet)!

But let's look at that again. We will use the generous probabilities given in 'What is Creation Science?', Morris & Parker, 1987. Assuming no empty space in the universe it has been estimated that there are some 10 power 130 particles the size of an electron (all crammed together). Morris & Parker claim every system or structure or 'event' must be comprised of these particles. They then assume that each particle can take part in an incredible hundred billion billion (10 power 20) 'events' each second. Now suppose the universe is a generous 3,000 billion years old (200 times the estimated 15 billion years). This is about 10 power 20 seconds. So since the start of the universe we have say 10 power (130 + 20 +20) possible 'events' which might lead to the evolution of life.

Now, is it possible for 10 power 170 particle events to ever lead to a living cell? We are looking at the possibility of a self-replicating system arising by chance. Morris & Parker claim that even the simplest replicating system needs a gigantic amount of information. Taking the conservative calculations of M.E Golay (consultant in information theory, with a PhD in atomic physics) it seems the odds against a simple system organising itself are 10 power 450 to 1. So 10 power 450 divided by 10 power 170 gives the odds against random cell formation i.e 10 power 280 to 1. Since this is less than 1, it means there is not the remotest possibility of cell formation from the start of our universe!

Even allowing for massive errors in the above (generous) statistics, it seems that there is not the remotest possibility of the evolution of life in our universe. In fact, such calculations invalidate the evolutionary undertones of WAP if we assume there is only one universe; chance occurrence of the necessary fine-tuning is impossible.

Similar probability calculations convinced Sir Fred Hoyle to abandon evolutionary ideas. And Professor Anthony Flew was gracious enough to admit to such a U-turn. As one of the world’s leading philosophers and one of its most renowned atheists, Flew abandoned Darwin’s naturalism and to become a deist. What changed his mind? One factor was the fine-tuning of the universe which makes it impossible to explain the origin of life without a supreme intelligence.

So why did Dawkins fudge the maths?

A Scientific Fudge for Evolution?

Perhaps an obscure scientific theory will get Dawkins out of trouble. Note that if the number of events had been, say, 100 and the chance of self-replication was 1 in 10, then we might have had 10 self-replications over 3,000 billion years (in reality the numbers are the other way round). So in order to generate such a finite possibility of self-replicating life i.e. of evolution, Dawkins leans to the speculative multiverse concept. The idea is to postulate an infinite number of universes such that even the above probabilities would then give a finite probability of life! Dawkins then speculates that we just happen to be on one of these occurrences. To illustrate, he uses a card argument. Suppose we deal ten cards and get

QH, 3D, 9S, KH, 5C, 10C, AD, JS, 2H, 4S

This combination of cards is extremely improbable, but nevertheless it happened. Similarly, Dawkins argues that carbon-based life just happened because the right physical and cosmological constants just happened to be right in some universe. He acknowledges:

'The chances of each of us coming into existence are infinitesimally small. We should count ourselves fantastically lucky to get our decades in the sun' [Richard Dawkins, Oxford Zoologist, Guardian 2006]

What is a multiverse?

Stanford University cosmologists Andrei Linde, Alexander Vilenkin and others argue that string theory can allow for such a concept. Linde proposes that an infinite number of 'bubbles' could form an inflating universe leading to 'pocket universes', which lead to more universes. The bad news for Dawkins is that these inferences from string theory have not been verified mathematically or by direct observation. "There is not a shred of experimental evidence to support it" [E. Chaisson, Cosmic Evolution, Harvard University Press, 2001]. To date the only measurement applied uses the total density parameter but the results of this test do not support the concept. On the other hand, the discovery of gravity waves in 2014 lends support for the theory of cosmic inflation, and if the latter is correct it provides support for the multiverse hypothesis. But since these are still unproved theories, Dawkins must still rely more on faith (speculation) than true science.

The Flaw of Omitting Observable Evidence

Richard Dawkins offers other arguments in support of his thesis that 'there is almost certainly no God'. For instance, he argues that human morality can evolve naturally via game theory and kin selection. He also has little time for the historical evidence for God. But since he is a scientist, why didn't he test the observable evidence for God? Such evidence is even stronger than probability calculations. Let's take just two cases.

The Evidence of Physical Healing

There is undisputed evidence today that people are physically healed in the name of Jesus. Such events are supported by clear photographic evidence and are backed by sound biblical theology. There are healing testimonies from many parts of the world. How would Dawkins respond when confronted with such abundant evidence? It cannot all be coincidence or false claim.

The Evidence of Israel

Another strong evidence for God is seen in the nation of Israel. Bible prophecy is very clear about the regathering of Israel back to 'the promised land':

"I will take the sons of Israel from among the nations where they have gone ... and bring them into their own land ..."' (Ezek 37.21)
'And (the Lord) will lift up a standard for the nations, and assemble the banished ones of Israel, and will gather the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth' (Isa 11.12)

It is hard to ignore reality and the fact that Israel has been transformed in the past 100 years, and especially since the establishing of the State of Israel in 1948. Also, the nations are lining up for a Middle East war against Israel, again as prophesied. How would Dawkins refute such evidence and the correlation with Bible prophecy?

So What does Dawkins Really Believe?

The media often portray Dawkins as 'the world's most famous atheist'. But he denied this at the 2012 Global Atheism Conference. As the book's conclusion states, he maintains that 'there is almost certainly no God'. But, clearly, he is not quite sure, despite his 'seven point scale of belief' in his book. At the Conference he acknowledged that he was '6.9 out of 7' sure of his beliefs, and that he was less than 100% certain of his conviction that there is no Creator. When challenged with '(So) why don't you call yourself an agnostic?', Dawkins replied that he did!

Bible quotations are from the New American Standard Bible