December 9, 2009

In Response to Dawkins

Last December we carried an assessment and critique on Richard Dawkins’ book The God Delusion (cover story, Dec. 11, 2008). Stimulated by that piece, the present writer engages the issue more directly, exploring other relevant areas of concern.—Editors.

 2009 1533 page22 capichard Dawkins’ assertion that “dyed-in-the-wool faith-heads are immune to argument”1 characterizes all Christians as ignorant and incapable of logical reasoning. And his claim that intelligent people, especially scientists, don’t dabble with religion dismisses as incapable of reasoning scores of other productive Christian scientists, including Francis Collins, a committed Christian, an expert in DNA sequencing, and coordinator of the human genome project.
Dawkins and others like him might be reminded of the limitations of science in dealing with things of the spirit. Scientific investigation can deal only with things that are observable, measurable, quantifiable. If there is a God, He certainly exists outside these parameters and, therefore, outside the realm of scientific investigation. As professor William Keeton rightly said, “Those whose belief in God rests or falls on some fact or the other of science risk ?having science destroy their God.”2
Dawkins’ description of the God of the Old Testament as unjust, unforgiving, vindictive, etc., hardly points to the God who so loved the world that He gave His only Son to save it (John 3:16). To Moses, God described Himself as “merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth” (Ex. 34:6).* And the God of the Old Testament is no different from the God of the New Testament. “I am the Lord, I change not,” God says (Mal. 3:6).
But Dawkins dismisses the gospel as fiction. For him the things Jesus did cannot be explained in terms of scientific principles. Yet he cannot deny that Jesus existed. Nor can the testimony of the disciples who lived with Him during His ministry in Palestine be dismissed. They saw Him crucified and were disappointed when He did not become the king they expected. Yet none of them gave up their belief that He was the Messiah. Instead, they gave the rest of their lives to promoting His cause, even dying in the process.
Were these all ignorant and incapable of reasoning? Peter gives us the appropriate response: “We have not followed cunningly devised fables . . . but were eyewitnesses of his majesty” ?(2 Peter 1:16). John dismissed the skeptics with a similar claim: We declare to you, he said, “that which . . . we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled” (1 John 1:1). They were there when Jesus walked on water, quieted a storm on the Sea of Galilee, and raised Lazarus, who’d been dead four days. Peter and John were there on the Mount of Transfiguration when God announced to them that Jesus was His beloved Son.

2009 1533 page22What did these followers see in Christ that merited that kind of devotion? It’s an important question.
Irreducible Complexity
Dawkins, in attempting to explain what he referred to as the complex improbable appearances of design in the universe, pointed to natural selection as being responsible for all we see around us. But natural selection can select only what was already in existence. Right? It does not create anything new.
Dawkins admits (as did Darwin) that “if genuinely irreducible complexity could be properly demonstrated, it would wreck Darwin’s theory.”3 Thus he makes the point that Darwin’s explanation of the evolution of the eye (which proponents of intelligent design often give as an example of irreducible complexity) can be convincingly demonstrated in nature. But I do not find it convincing. The simple eye spots of simple one-celled organisms and the compound eyes of insects consisting of multiple ommatidia do not come close to the structure of the vertebrate eye. The closest an invertebrate eye comes to the vertebrate’s is that of the squid, which is essentially identical to that of the vertebrates with no progressively complex intermediates.
But we can go further down the scale of things to find good evidence of irreducible complexity. The single cell is the basic unit of life, and the bacterial cell is the simplest of all. But since electron microscopes did not exist in Darwin’s days, he could not see the complexity of the bacterial flagella, elegantly engineered to propel the cell around. Or take any cell of more complex organisms (eukaryotes). Again, the structure of the mitochondria—cellular organelles that generate energy—can be seen only with an electron microscope. But they are complex structures, designed to carry out a particular function that would not be possible if the structure were not complete. Similar structures, called chloroplasts, occur in plants, and function to capture and store sunlight energy.
Or what of the DNA molecule? No evolutionist can give a convincing explanation for spontaneous generation of this amazing molecule that carries in every cell the information that determines every detail of our structure and function.
I believe that the creation of the DNA molecule gives more evidence of the genius of God than most everything else in nature. God knew that it would have been necessary for living organisms to change with time as the environment changes, so He created them with this capacity for variation and adaptability. Thus, the mere concept of evolution is not anti-God. Darwin defined evolution as “descent with modification.” This makes a lot of sense. We see evidence of it all around us (microevolution). As sexually reproducing organisms produce offspring, each offspring is slightly different from its parents, and these differences accumulate from generation to generation. We see it even in the human family. God created a single original pair. But look at the huge variety of humans in the world’s population! Yet they’re all one species, Homo sapiens.
I have no quarrel with evolution when it is confined to the limitations of the scientific method. But we must draw the line when it is used to make claims about God and His existence.
The Critical Issue
For me the issue is not so much evolutionary theory as it is the question of origin. Where did it all begin?
Evolutionary processes cannot answer this question. Physicists and cosmologists propose that it all began with what they call the “big bang.” This conclusion came from the observation by Edwin Hubble that the universe is expanding at a rapid rate. So if this expansion is reversed, everything in the universe must at one time have been all together at one place. So the thinking is that the expansion began with a massive explosion from a point of pure energy, and that all the matter that makes up the universe derived from that big bang and later explosions in the resulting stars. But that theory provides no explanation as to how energy came to exist without matter ?or the source of the energy.
Here’s where things become interesting. Energy produces matter. (Isn’t that how the Bible says everything began?) If an explosion of pure energy can produce matter, why couldn’t an all-powerful God do the same? Listen to the psalmist: “By the word of the Lord were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth” (Ps. 33:6). “For he spake, and it was done” (verse 9).
The big bang theory begs the question as to what came before it. For people who ridicule the idea of miracles, to believe something as incredible as the big bang theory—outside of it being miraculous—is puzzling. In my humble opinion the astronomical claims for the big bang and its role in the creation of the universe constitute the best confirmation (outside Scripture) of the Bible’s claim about God’s action in the Creation.
Having explained to their own satisfaction how the universe created itself, astronomers, physicists, and philosophers still ponder a number of apparent coincidences associated with the beginning of the universe that defy probabilities. These improbabilities constitute what is known in the scientific community as the anthropic principle—the idea that the earth was apparently designed for human habitation.
Some 15 of these improbable physical constants are considered in the principle, including such things as the asymmetry between matter and antimatter, the exactness of the ratio of strong and weak nuclear forces holding neutrons and protons together, the strength of the gravitational force, and the rate of expansion of the early universe. A discussion of these improbabilities is beyond the scope of this article and my own expertise, but let me quote one statement from cosmologist Stephen Hawking: “If the rate of expansion one second after the big bang had been smaller by even one part in a hundred thousand million million, the universe would have collapsed before it ever reached its present size.”4
Given such improbabilities, our universe is much too remarkably fine-tuned to have occurred by blind accident.
Professor Dawkins believes that the world would be a safer place without religion. I wonder how well he has thought this through. Does he really believe that we would be safer if nobody believed that they are accountable to a higher power for their behavior? His support of the idea that we should “enjoy . . . life” because “there’s probably no God”5 implies that those of us who believe in God do not enjoy life. Shame on us Christians if we can’t prove him wrong! We have an all-powerful, loving heavenly Father who provides for our needs, protects us from danger, guides our lives, and promises us an eternal existence in a perfect world. We have every reason to be happier than any unbeliever can ever be. 
*All Scripture references in this article are from the King James Version.
1Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2006), p. 28.
2James Gould and William Keeton, Biological Science, third edition (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1964), p. 4.
3Dawkins, p. 151.
4Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time (New York: Bantam Books, 1988), p. 138.
5As displayed on London buses earlier this year in a campaign Dawkins personally supported. (See
Norman L. Mitchell, now retired, was for many years a professor of biology at La Sierra University in Riverside, California. This article was published November 26, 2009.