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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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Showing posts with label Dawkins. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Dawkins. Show all posts

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Darwinism, Dawkins, and Complex Designers

Complexity and design seem to be infused into the very elements if life. Francis Crick, winner of the Nobel prize for his co-discovery of the structure of DNA, famously said "Biologists must constantly keep in mind that what they see was not designed, but rather evolved."1 Indeed, the strong map of design in the living creatures of the earth seems at first blush so strong that the scientists themselves have a hard time describing them without using vocabulary that implies design.

Richard Dawkins dismisses the appearance of the complex, organized features of life as pointing to a designer, though. In The Blind Watchmaker, Dawkins acknowledges that the complex nature of things like DNA are things that biologists "have difficulty explaining." Yet, Dawkins states that the organized complexity of either the DNA molecule or the molecular machinery used to replicate proteins in no way points to a designer, simply because what ever created it would need to be even more complex. He writes, "Of course, any God capable of intelligently designing something as complex as the DNA/protein machine must have been at least as complex and organized as that machine itself." This would then lead to looking for an even more complex designer of the designer and so on, regressing back to infinity. Thus, Dawkins concludes, to claim a designer "is to explain precisely nothing. "2

Alvin Plantinga, in his book Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism, deftly takes Dawkins argument apart. He leads with a rather simple analogy showing why Dawkins' cleverness is unconvincing:
Design doesn’t explain organized complexity (says Dawkins); it presupposes it, because the designer would have to be as complex as what it creates (designs). Perhaps, therefore, Dawkins means to argue along the following lines: there are really just two explanations of life: unguided Darwinism and an explanation, guided Darwinism, perhaps, that involves design. But the latter is really no explanation at all. Therefore the only candidate is the former.

Here there are two problems. First, this argument doesn't depend on the facts of biology; it is substantially independent of the latter. Is it likely that Dawkins would be offering an argument of that sort? If so, why would he claim that it is "the Evidence of Evolution" that "Reveals a World Without Design"?

Set that problem aside for the moment; there is another and deeper problem with this argument. Suppose we land on an alien planet orbiting a distant star and discover some machine-like objects that look and work just like a 1941 Allis Chalmers tractor; our leader says "there must be intelligent beings on this planet-look at those tractors." A sophomore philosophy student on the expedition objects: "Hey, hold on a minute! You have explained nothing at all! Any intelligent life that designed those tractors would have to be at least as complex as they are!" No doubt we'd tell him a little learning is a dangerous thing and advise him to take the next rocket ship home and enroll in another philosophy course or two. For of course it is perfectly sensible, in that context, to explain the existence of those tractors in terms of intelligent life, even though (as we can concede for present purposes) that intelligent life would have to be at least as complex as the tractors. The point is we aren't trying to give an ultimate explanation of organized complexity, and we aren't trying to explain organized complexity in general; we are only trying to explain one particular manifestation of it (those tractors). And (unless you are trying to give an ultimate explanation of organized complexity) it is perfectly proper to explain one manifestation of organized complexity in terms of another. Hence it is not the case, contra Dawkins, that an explanation in terms of divine design is a nonstarter. Such an explanation doesn't constitute an ultimate explanation of organized complexity (if God is complex, nothing could constitute such an explanation); but it is none the worse for that. 3


1.Crick, Francis. What Mad Pursuit: A Personal View of Scientific Discovery. New York: Basic, 1988. 138. Print.
2. Dawkins, Richard. The Blind Watchmaker. New York: Norton, 1986. Print.
3. Plantinga, Alvin. Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism. New York: Oxford UP, 2011. 26-27. Print.
Image courtesy goofup [CC BY 2.0]

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Is Christianity or Atheism the Virus?

As I've written before, the New Atheist movement and its proponents' goal is to proselytize the masses into believing that religion is not only untrue, but dangerous for society. The attitude is no more clearly on display than in the late Christopher Hitchens' book God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. Hitchens took the same stance as Richard Dawkins who wrote that religion is a virus1. They are among a number of authors who continue their assault on religion in general and Christianity in particular as being, well, bad for us all. They categorize faith as dangerous, deadly and evil.

Let's examine the charge of religious belief as a virus. One way you can identify a viral infection is the individual will have symptoms that cause their bodies to not operate properly. It is only when one feels ill or aches or one exhibits some other condition where the body is not operating as it should that gives the person reason to go to the doctor and get an examination. Granted, there are viruses that will stay inert for years, but they do eventually present themselves in some way. The same can be said of poisons. They destroy or impair certain processes of the body which results in harm to the individual.

Using this understanding, it would be interesting to see how non-believers compare with the faithful in their effect on society. If religion is a poison or a virus then one would expect to see some negative ramifications those views are causing. The person who believes would be like an infected cell, and that view spread across a significant portion of the population would affect the health of the society. So, can we tell if  Christian belief is either aiding or hindering the overall health of the society at large? In looking at a recent study released by the Barna Group I think  we can. The Barna Group regularly deals with matters of faith and it has looked at those individuals in the United States "who openly identified themselves as an atheist, an agnostic, or who specifically said they have 'no faith'."2 They then compared their answers against active-faith adults, (those who have gone to church, read their Bible and prayed within the last week of the survey.)

The results are telling. When compared to those with an active faith, those in the no-faith camp are:
  • Less likely than active-faith Americans to be registered to vote (78% versus 89%)
  • Less likely to volunteer to help a non-church-related non-profit (20% versus 30%)
  • Less likely to describe themselves as "active in the community" (41% versus 68%)
  • Less likely to personally help or serve a homeless or poor person (41% versus 61%).
A big difference Barna notes is the huge disparity in giving between the groups.  In a 2012 study, Barna reports "More than three-quarters of evangelicals (79%) have donated money in the last year, and 65% and 60% of them have donated items or volunteer time, respectively. Additionally, only 1% of evangelicals say they made no charitable donation in the last 12 months." What about the non-religious Americans? The report goes on to say, "One-fifth of people who claimed no faith said they made no donation over the last year, still noticeably higher than the number for all Americans."3

So, is faith a virus, a deadly poison that is damaging humanity? It seems that looking at altruistic measurements – basically people helping those in need – that faith is a tonic to society. People of faith volunteer more, give more, and are more active in making their communities as better place than those of no faith. In these measures, it would seem that having no faith is the true virus that needs to be addressed. Dawkins, Hitchens, and other atheists claim to be basing their arguments on a rational review of the evidence, but it seems to me that they're ignoring the real-world test data that pollsters such as Barna have uncovered.

As an aside, it seems that external measurements aren't the only way no-faith adults don't measure up. When asked about an internal perception of contentment, voiced as a feeling of "being at peace", 67% of no-faith adults described themselves in this way, as opposed to 90% of active-faith adults. This was one of the largest gaps between the two groups in the study.

So, by certain internal as well as external measurements, people of faith are more active, more altruistic, and more "at peace" than their no-faith counterparts. If I was diagnosing a patient, I think I can tell which one has the real virus.


1. Dawkins, Richard. “Viruses of the Mind”. [Online] 1991. [Cited: July 7, 2007.]
2. “Atheists and Agnostics Take Aim at Christians.” The Barna Group. June 11, 2007.  Accessed 4/8/2014.
3. "American Donor Trends." The Barna Group. April 12, 2013. Accessed 4/8/2014  

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Would the World Be Better Without Religion? (podcast)

Skeptics such as Richard Dawkins often claim that the biggest evils in the world are perpetrated because of religious beliefs. Does religion cause more wars, more hatred and prejudice than other views? What would a world free of religion look like? Listen into our latest podcast series where I demonstrate why why such claims have no grounding in reality.

Monday, October 03, 2011

The Origin of Life Matters in the Debate on Evolution

There's an old joke which is a favorite of mine. During World War II, the German U-boats were devastating the English efforts by targeting troop ships and disrupting the British supply chain. Supposedly, Churchill was apprised of the situation and asked what could be done to combat these unseen and therefore uncatchable threats. "Simple," Churchill replied. "Boil the seas and the boats will have to surface. Then our fighters can manage them easily." The officers replied incredulously, "How are we supposed to do that?!" Churchill replied, "Look, I supplied the idea; the rest is an engineering detail!"

In my last post, I discussed how many who hold to a neo-Darwinian view will quickly dismiss questions about the origin of life when discussing the viability of that evolutionary model. As I showed there, it seems that the origin of life does really come into play even in the literature of those wishing to promote an evolutionary paradigm, such as the National Academy of Sciences. However, this doesn't really answer the objection offered that the origin of life cannot be used as evidence against evolution since the former is focused on the beginning of life and the latter assumes life already exists and simply seeks to address the diversity of life in the world. Fair enough, let's then address this objection directly.

One of the primary goals for folks like Richard Dawkins and those who support his Blind Watchmaker hypothesis is to show that the incredible diversity of living beings throughout history has been the result of random mutations coupled with specific environmental factors that would cause some of these mutations to remain, since they provide an advantage to the organism. In other words, we are looking at random mutations and natural selection. But, natural selection assumes that there's something to act upon. If there are no mutations, or if the mutations are not wide enough to cause sufficient variation so that natural selection can make a selection, we don't get any change. So, the next question would be, in looking at the diversity of changes and the time allotted, could natural selection do all that work, considering it must first wait upon a random mutation that is also beneficial? This then prompts more questions.

As we start to think through all the questions that this model provokes, one can see that the model must get increasingly complicated. But, a fundamental issue hasn't been addressed—where did the stuff come from to modify in the first place? Not only can natural selection not act when there are no changes, it cannot act if there is no life. That's simple. If I were to go to an auto show and see a new experimental car made out of some unique alloy and ask where did that come from, telling me whether it was put together by robots or by hand doesn't answer my question. My question is who thought it up and how did they develop the new material. The origin of the vehicle is as much a focus of the question as the assembly.

Similarly, when we ask about the origin of life on the planet, taking us back to just a single cell and then looping through a vastly complex set of parameters obfuscates the question of what is necessary for such a theory to begin to function. If random mutations can't start, then they can't help us anymore than the motivations for surfacing in a sub when the seas are boiling. The complexities of forming life from non-life are so much bigger than the changes needed to get from one life to another that if you answer the first, the second would follow in line. It's not much of a stretch to say that if God could create life, then He could create it with diversity. But if we only limit ourselves to genetic mutations and natural selection, we've really not provided an answer. You can draw up battle plans for targeting U-boats once they surface all you want, but until you can boil the seas, they won't provide you with any advantage.

Image "Spirogyra cell". Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Most Penetrating Critique of New Atheism - Written by an Atheist

A lot of people have taken to critiquing the New Atheists. Some of the most eminent apologists (Craig, Copan, and Lennox among others) have written books cataloging the errors of their screeds. However, the most poignant review of the movement I've seen comes from an older article written by a fellow atheist. Physician Theodore Dalrymple provided this article for the City Journal wherein he examined the posturing and pronouncements of Dennett, Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens. His observations are keenly insightful.

Dalrymple writes:
The curious thing about these books is that the authors often appear to think that they are saying something new and brave. They imagine themselves to be like the intrepid explorer Sir Richard Burton, who in 1853 disguised himself as a Muslim merchant, went to Mecca, and then wrote a book about his unprecedented feat. The public appears to agree, for the neo-atheist books have sold by the hundred thousand. Yet with the possible exception of Dennett’s, they advance no argument that I, the village atheist, could not have made by the age of 14 (Saint Anselm’s ontological argument for God’s existence gave me the greatest difficulty, but I had taken Hume to heart on the weakness of the argument from design).
He then goes on to show some of the foibles of each of the main contributors to the New Atheist movement.  He notes, "One striking aspect of Dennett’s book is his failure to avoid the language of purpose, intention, and ontological moral evaluation, despite his fierce opposition to teleological views of existence." In other words, Dennett keeps using language of purpose and design in trying to sell the argument that there is no designer and no ultimate purpose for life. In a parenthetical statement he writes:
And Dennett is not alone in this difficulty: Michel Onfray’s Atheist Manifesto, so rich in errors and inexactitudes that it would take a book as long as his to correct them, says on its second page that religion prevents mankind from facing up to "reality in all its naked cruelty." But how can reality have any moral quality without having an immanent or transcendent purpose?
Dalrymple notes that Dawkins "quotes with approval a new set of Ten Commandments for atheists, which he obtained from an atheist website, without considering odd the idea that atheists require commandments at all, let alone precisely ten of them; nor does their metaphysical status seem to worry him." Brilliant observation. He also looks at Harris and Hitchens with equal insight.

However, the most amazing part of the article is how Dalrymple compares the modern atheists to the writings of a forgotten seventeenth century Anglican bishop. He writes, "But looking, say, into the works of Joseph Hall, D.D., I found myself moved: much more moved, it goes without saying, than by any of the books of the new atheists." After quoting from some of Hall’s writings, Dalrymple goes on to observe:
This is the language not of rights and entitlements, but of something much deeper—a universal respect for the condition of being human… No doubt it helps that Hall lived at a time of sonorous prose, prose that merely because of its sonority resonates in our souls; prose of the kind that none of us, because of the time in which we live, could ever equal. But the style applies to the thought as well as the prose; and I prefer Hall’s charity to Harris’s intolerance.
The article may be a bit long for some, but it is an excellent read, if for no other reason than to expose you to the writings of Hall! I thank Dr. Dalrymple for his care for the human condition and his honesty and clarity in one more problem with the New Atheist movement—for all their sound and fury, they fail at elevating the human spirit.

Image courtesy Richard001 and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.
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