Dawkins Still Doesn’t Get Arguments for God

angry atheism atheism Philosophy of Religion

Doesn’t believe in God. Plays invisible piano.

Richard Dawkins isn’t stupid. He’s a bright spark. This makes me think that his muddle-headedness about arguments for God’s existence can’t be written off as a dullard’s inability to understand. The confusion must surely be an intentional tactic to confuse matters, giving his fans the impression that arguments for God’s existence are just a bit of a mess. The (possibly kinder) alternative is that Dawkins exhibits an inexcusable laziness and hubris, pontificating about arguments that he has never taken the time to understand because he just knows that religious beliefs are a load of nonsense.

At a public event to discuss his recent book about himself this month, Dr Dawkins was asked what he considers to be the best argument for God’s existence. Naturally, he prefaced his answer with a reminder that he doesn’t believe in God or that there are any good arguments for God’s existence. But if pressed for the best argument out there, here is what he says:

He said, however, that the best argument he has heard of concerns a “deistic God, who had something to do with the fine tuning of the universe.”

“It’s still a very, very bad argument, but it’s the best one going,” he added, noting that a major problem with the argument is that it leaves unexplained where the fine tuner came from.

The main problem with the argument, Dawkins seems to think, is that the argument from fine-tuning doesn’t tell us where the designer came from.

This must surely be a case of mixing up different arguments for God’s existence. It sounds like a questionable retort to a form of the cosmological argument, namely an argument from the origin of the Universe: Whatever begins to exist has a cause. The universe began to exist. Therefore the Universe has a cause, etc. Someone might say in reply “Well then God must have a cause!” At this point we’d point out that the argument doesn’t say “everything has a cause,” but rather “whatever begins to exist has a cause.” We would only be committed to the claim that something caused God if we also claim that God began to exist – something no classical theist believes.

But it makes no sense to object to the argument from fine-tuning by saying “but that doesn’t tell us where the designer came from.” The argument from fine tuning is that the universe is so finely-tuned for the existence of intelligent life that the odds against it suggest design, rather than chance. “Oh yeah, well where did the designer come from?” is a question, but it’s clearly not a question the argument from fine-tuning sets out to answer. To reply this way would be like sitting through a talk about how the monuments on Easter Island show clear signs of being designed, and to stand up and shout “but you must be wrong, because your evidence that these monuments were designed doesn’t tell us where those designers came from!” Sit down. The evidence here isn’t being presented to tell you where the designers came from, it’s to tell you that these monuments were designed.

The same is true of the fine-tuning argument for God’s existence. All the argument is intended to do is to support the contention that there is an intelligence behind the universe. Whether or not that intelligence had to “come from” somewhere is an entirely different question. If you think the fine-tuning argument fails principally because it doesn’t answer that question, then what you’re really telling me is that it doesn’t fail at all.

Honestly folks, if Richard Dawkins is coming to a town near you, for the love of clear thinking please stop asking him questions about serious arguments about religion. We need to stop treating him like a fount of knowledge about this.

Glenn Peoples

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{ 10 comments… add one }
  • Richard Goode January 15, 2016, 2:39 am

    > The confusion must surely be an intentional tactic to confuse matters, giving his fans the impression that arguments for God’s existence are just a bit of a mess. The (possibly kinder) alternative is that Dawkins exhibits an inexcusable laziness and hubris, pontificating about arguments that he has never taken the time to understand because he just knows that religious beliefs are a load of nonsense.

    If you “just know” then you “must surely” be right!

    I’m pretty sure that Dawkins’s muddle-headedness can be attributed to his “inexcusable laziness and hubris” (nicely worded) and his not being quite as bright as everyone seems to think.

  • Cornell January 15, 2016, 6:33 am

    Dawkins’ mindset on Theism resembles about 90% of the atheists I debate.

    He is extremely lazy when it comes to understanding the competition and isn’t skeptical of his own arguments.

  • Glenn January 15, 2016, 9:10 am

    “If you “just know” then you “must surely” be right!”

    Yes, Yes – if you actually do know.

  • Mick January 15, 2016, 1:15 pm

    It’s not surprising that Dawkins chose this as the best of the ‘bad arguments for the existence of God’. It is the one that requires no words, no voice and no sound, yet all are heard to the ends of the earth. God does not require arguments for His existence from us. Psalm 19 declares He provided His own. Dawkins et al are merely wilful in denying the evidence.

  • David Brindley March 5, 2016, 8:59 pm

    The argument from fine tuning is that the universe is so finely-tuned for the existence of intelligent life that the odds against it suggest design, rather than chance.

    I don’t know which Universe you live in, but my Universe is in no way at all “fine tuned” for intelligent life. Almost all of the Universe, in fact almost all of our own planet, is hostile to life, intelligent or otherwise. And don’t even think of leaving Earth if you want to survive and live to a ripe old age.

    However, let’s grant you that your “designer” exists. What then, do we see?

    We get the Leucochloridium.

    We get the Loa loa.

    We get the Onchocerca volvulus.

    Each of them is “fine tuned” for its own survival, but at the expense of the host. All Things Bright and Beautiful, indeed.

    But let us accept that the “designer” had valid reason for these designs, ones we cannot fathom.

    We still have no knowledge of “The Designer”. We do not know, although I am quite certain, that is not your Xtian god.

    The Argument from Design proves only that Humans are pattern seeking animals and that there are patterns we are yet to understand. The Argument From Design is philosophical/ theological, its is not science as it cannot be replicated, it cannot be observed and it proposes no hypotheses to test.

    Just what do we learn if we accept “Intelligent Design” as a theory? Nothing. Nothing at all.

  • Glenn March 15, 2016, 2:57 pm

    David, I haven’t attempted to set out the argument in any detail here, because quite evidently this wasn’t the point. The point was that Richard Dawkins, seen by some as a rational opponent of religious faith, either doesn’t understand or misrepresents the arguments he thinks he rejects.

    Thanks for your comment.

  • David March 16, 2016, 5:37 pm

    Glenn, I think it is you who is missing the point. Dawkins understands the arguments, he just rejects the as incorrect.

    I have seen nothing that sways me to believe the “Universe is fine tuned”. I see plenty that shows it isn’t.

    Perhaps you could explain just how the “fine tuned universe” theory fits with the facts we have.

  • T'sinadree March 17, 2016, 5:08 am

    David,

    I think you are confusing biological fine-tuning with the fine-tuning found in physics. If that is the case, then, with all due respect, you are confusing the argument. The argument from fine-tuning in physics, which I think is what Glenn is referring to (correct me if I’m wrong), deals with the fundamental physical constants required for a life-permitting universe. It has nothing at all to say about biological evolution (which wouldn’t occur if the constants were different, since the universe would then be non-life-permitting). You seem to be alluding to Intelligent Design, which Glenn never mentioned.

  • Glenn March 17, 2016, 9:54 am

    No David, I haven’t missed the point. I noted that Professor Dawkins is misrepresenting or misconstruing an argument. You then came along and said that it’s not a very good argument. But that’s another issue altogether. You did in fact miss the point (or else you just tried to change the subject).

    You’re still doing it, trying to get me to take some time out to defend the fine tuning argument and show that it’s good. You’re still missing the point.

  • Blake Burns October 19, 2016, 5:29 pm

    It’s possible that our concepts of “existence” and “nonexistence” are simply too simple to actually accurately describe the universe, much like our idea of the atom as an indivisible final piece of something turned out to be a grotesque simplification and the reality is a bewildering mess of quantum mechanics and wave-functions that makes no sense in the context of our orthodox macroscale understanding of reality.

    Perhaps the universe is a perturbation of “nothingness” into material and anti-material, destined to re-nullify in some distant epoch trillions of years from now?

    I don’t know. I do agree that Dawkins did not make a strong case here.

    This is off topic, but I’m curious to hear your opinion-what is your take on the long period of human history that occurred before we had civilization-when we lived in nomadic bands and roamed the earth hunting the great mammoths? Why do we see no evidence of anything like a monotheistic religion back then? The bible seems to imply that God had a very direct role in the beginning of humanity, as a teacher of morals and giver of stories to promote faithfulness and piety, and yet the faint remnants we see of this time are of a people who seem to have worshiped nature spirits and followed fertility cults. Where was God? Did he simply avoid having anything to do with us for the first hundred thousand years of our existence?

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