Refuting Richard: Dawkins Doesn’t “Get” God

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Richard Dawkins seems to concede that God could make sense of the universe (see his interview with Alister McGrath). However, he does not believe that theism is a good explanation because “God is far too improbable to have jumped into existence.” Dawkins point is simple. If we explain the complex order in our universe by claiming “God made it”, we simply invite the further question “well, how do you explain God’s existence?” To Dawkins mind, theism would simply add to our puzzlement; it would represent a net loss to our understanding. Although much more could be said I’ll briefly state two objections to this argument.

First, Dawkins insists that God is “positively improbable” – just as improbable as “the sudden conjuring into existence of an eye.” Now, an eye has a number of parts that must be arranged in a specific manner if it is to function properly. So it is incredibly improbable that one would accidently assemble from pre-existing parts. We can imagine an ordered process (like evolution) or a Creator (like God) producing an eye. But Dawkins is only appealing to our intuition that the complex mechanisms do not assemble purely by accident.

Analogously, there is barely infinitesimal chance that a Boeing 747 would be produced if a whirlwind passed through a scrapyard. No one thinks that something so complex could be assembled by a purely random series of events. It is this act of assembly that we find improbable. Dawkins is correct that it is unlikely that an extremely complex entity could assemble from simple antecedents purely by chance. But he simply assumes that every complex entity must have been assembled from simple parts. No-one believes that God “popped” into existence! God is uncreated, from eternity to eternity. That’s just what it means to be God! There is no act of assembly to explain!

Second, as Alister McGrath patiently points out, God exists outside nature. Unfortunately Dawkins seems to miss the crucial point – God could not have organised complexity. God is defined as the creator!  So by definition God cannot be assembled out of parts. If God were made of parts then those parts would be more fundamental than God; God would not be the creator. Once you start asking what God is made of you just sound silly. You clearly have not understood the hypothesis that you are criticising.

In The God Delusion Dawkins never really gets to grips with Richard Swinburne’s writings on the simplicity of theism. Swinburne describes God as “limitless, intentional power”. “Intentional power” is simply the power to choose; something that we readily experience. It is a clear concept, and Swinburne argues that this gives us some insight into God’s nature. God is “intentional power” without limits. Our choices are limited by our bodies and the nature of the universe that we dwell in. So a limitless power would not be confined by a body, or by time or space.

The power to choose depends on knowing our options; limitless power needs perfect knowledge. God would know everything that he was capable of doing; and he would know everything that he has created and is currently sustaining. So this accounts for God’s omniscience. I prefer to describe God as “loving, limitless power”, because love requires freedom, and because God is the source of all value and goodness in our universe. But in either case, God is not the result of a complex interaction of parts.

Dawkins is within his rights to speculate on what God would be like if he did exist. He runs into difficulty when he refuses to listen to what everyone else has to say on the matter. To put it as gently as possible, his conception of God is somewhat confused. Unfortunately, this means that his argument for atheism is wildly implausible.

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