WHAT WE’VE LEARNED SO FAR: GOD EXISTS
In previous blogs we used an approach called “natural theology.” We stated that we would not use scripture as support or justification for the existence of God. Hopefully, our five arguments based on science and philosophy presented a case that you found compelling:
1. The moral argument
2. The fine-tuning argument
3. A beginning and the kalám argument
4. Leibniz’s contingency argument
5. The ontological argument
We also provided a response to a major objection that atheism commonly raises regarding:
• Suffering: If a loving and powerful God exists, why is there suffering?
As Christians, we’ve already borne the burden of proof in presenting five arguments for God. In raising their objection about God’s origin, it is atheism’s turn to bear the burden of proof and make their case that not knowing God’s origin somehow proves, or at least makes it more probable, that he does not exist. After all, agnosticism merely says “we don’t know,” but atheism makes the claim “we know that God does not exist.”
”YOU CAN’T EXPLAIN WHERE GOD CAME FROM, THEREFORE HE DOES NOT EXIST”
Some of our atheist friends say that Christians’ inability to explain where God came from proves that he does not exist. But actually that doesn’t prove anything. God didn’t “come from” anywhere. He is a “necessary being” who has always existed, and it would be impossible for him not to exist (see the note about G.W. Leibniz below).
RICHARD DAWKINS’ CENTRAL ARGUMENT OF HIS BOOK
Frankly, it’s surprising to hear the triumphant tone of people like biologist Richard Dawkins who say things like “You can’t explain where God came from, therefore he does not exist.” That kind of triumphalism is hardly justified.
On pages 157-158 of The God Delusion, this is what Richard Dawkins calls “the central argument of my book.” As you read each premise, please look down at the conclusion and ask yourself if that premise logically leads to the conclusion:
1. “One of the greatest challenges to the human intellect has been to explain how the complex, improbable appearance of design in the universe arises.”
2. “The natural temptation is to attribute the appearance of design to actual design itself.”
3. “The temptation is a false one because the designer hypothesis immediately raises the larger problem of who designed the designer.”
4. “The most ingenious and powerful explanation is Darwinian evolution by natural selection.”
5. “We don’t have an equivalent explanation for physics.”
6. “We should not give up the hope of a better explanation arising in physics, something as powerful as Darwinism is for biology.”
Conclusion: “Therefore, God almost certainly does not exist.”
CHRISTIANS’ RESPONSE TO DAWKINS’ CENTRAL ARGUMENT
It’s a bit of a shock when you read the conclusion of Richard Dawkins’ argument because it doesn’t logically follow from any of the premises that are listed here! Where did that conclusion come from? Even if all of the premises are true, how could it be possible to have six premises and not one logically leads to the conclusion? The conclusion certainly does not logically follow from premises 1 and 2.
Regarding premise 3, no one should ever be required to provide an explanation for an explanation, as in a silly question like, “Who designed the designer?” (see “Slippery Slope” comments below). God had no external cause. He is a “necessary being” who has always existed by the necessity of his own nature (read Leibniz’s contingency argument again if you need to).
Regarding premise 4, Mr. Dawkins focuses on his specialty: biology and Darwinian evolution. However, that doesn’t begin to address physics and the fine-tuning of the universe, subjects in this website’s five arguments from natural theology. In no. 3, he asks, “Who designed the designer?” and in no. 4 he says that the best explanation is evolution and natural selection. We’re not sure what that means. It does not explain how God was “designed.” It does explain biology. But it does not explain physics and the fine-tuning of the universe.
Regarding premise 5, Dawkins bemoans the fact that physics does not have a similar theory that would play the same role as evolutionary theory does for biology.
Regarding premise 6, he tells the faithful believers in atheism that, even though physics doesn’t have an equivalent theory, don’t “give up hope” that a new theory might arrive in the future for physics! In the case of physics, this sounds like a desperate plea to keep the faith, hang in there, and keep hoping for a miracle to save physics like evolutionary theory did for biology!
DAWKINS’ APPEAL TO SIMPLICITY
Later, Dawkins comments on what he considers to be the complexity of God as compared to evolutionary theory. But in fact, God is an unembodied mind — a simple concept. Yes, God does have a number of different properties or attributes, but an immaterial intelligence is simple. The simplest explanation is normally the most plausible!
Mr. Dawkins should be afforded respect for his expertise in zoology, but he is not a philosopher or logician. His conclusion does not logically follow from the premises. The entire argument is a non sequitur.
AN INFINITE CAUSAL REGRESSION
Besides not being that profound, Dawkins’ “central argument” starts us down a slippery slope of having to provide an explanation for the explanation, ad infinitum (see premise 3 above).
As an example, I dig up an abandoned manufacturing plant under a lot of dust on the dark side of the moon and conclude that there must have been intelligent life at one time on the moon. Can we accept this conclusion as making sense, or do we fold our arms and raise the bar a little higher by saying, “Until you can identify exactly who built that plant, we will not believe your conclusion that the plant came from an intelligent life form!”
This process could just go on and on. Once I proved to you exactly who built that plant, then you could say, “Okay, we will not believe your conclusion that those intelligent people built the plant until you prove to us where the people came from.” This is a slippery slope with no end in sight, and it makes no sense.
Keep in mind that raising the bar for Christians in this manner and lowering the standard of proof that atheists must achieve is a constant game that goes on in every debate about this subject.
If I show you evidence for God’s existence, I carry absolutely no logical obligation to explain where God came from before you can believe my assertion that he actually exists.
This argument about “God’s origin” is not a logical defeater of the arguments for God.
Oxford mathematician and science philosopher John Lennox reacts to this argument by Richard Dawkins:
“ . . . Richard Dawkins has made it a central issue in his best-selling book The God Delusion. It is the age-old schoolboy teaser: If we say that God created the universe we shall have to ask who created God and so on, so that, according to Dawkins, the only way out of an impossible infinite regress is to deny that God exists . . . just think of the question: Who made God? The very asking of it shows that the questioner has a created God in mind. It is then scarcely surprising that one calls one’s book The God Delusion. For that is precisely what a created god is, a delusion . . . Certainly, no Christian would ever dream of suggesting that God was created. Nor, indeed, would Jews or Muslims. His argument, by his own admission, has nothing to say about an eternal God . . . For the God who created and upholds the universe was not created — he is eternal. He was not ‘made’ and therefore subject to the laws that science discovered; it was he who made the universe and its laws. Indeed, that fact constitutes the fundamental distinction between God and the universe. The universe came to be; God did not . . . God belongs to the category of the uncreated. The universe does not. It came to be. It was created by him.”
John C. Lennox, God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? (Oxford, England: Lion Books, 2009),182-183.
Aristotle and Aquinas
Both Aristotle (300s BC) and Thomas Aquinas (1200s AD) concluded that God was the “Uncaused First Cause” of the universe. They said “uncaused” because nothing preceded him. They reasoned that for God to be a created being there would have to be some prior state of affairs that preceded him and caused him to exist. They concluded that would be impossible. Therefore, they used the term “uncaused” to describe God.
The philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz stated that the universe is comprised of:
• “necessary beings,” meaning it would be impossible for them not to exist (i.e., God, numbers, number sets, etc), and
• “contingent beings,” meaning they were dependent on something else to bring them into existence and they would not exist necessarily (planets, dust, radiation, people, buildings, animals, cars and almost anything else).
Leibniz concluded that God was a metaphysically necessary being and that it would be impossible for him not to exist. God cannot have an explanation of his existence that is external to him. He exists by the necessity of his own nature.
Also, he could not choose to exist because that also would not make sense and would again require that a state of affairs preceded him. So it would be inaccurate to say that he is “self-caused.” The only way to describe it would be “uncaused.”
We pointed out that, whenever someone presents a finding in science, that person is never logically obligated to go down a slippery slope of giving an explanation of the explanation in an infinite causal regression before someone can believe that their finding is legitimate.
There is no obligation on the part of Christians to explain where God came from. The “central argument” of Richard Dawkins’ book, The God Delusion, cannot logically be used to disprove God’s existence. After all, Mr. Dawkins is an expert in zoology, but he is not a philosopher or world-class logician.
This argument about God’s origin can be summed up with these words: “You can’t explain where God came from, therefore he doesn’t exist.” This argument is not a logical defeater of the five arguments that we’ve already presented from natural theology.
Actually, an inability to explain where God came from simply has no bearing on the idea of his existence.
At first glance, Dawkins’ “central argument” seems quite impressive to many atheists, but upon reflection it actually is a non sequitur.