Escaping the Transcendental
Chapter 3 is where things in The God Delusion begin to get interesting. In this chapter Dawkins deals with what, in his view, are the strongest arguments for God’s existence, and attempts to refute them.
Much of the chapter I agreed with. Many of the arguments he deals with I believe are very bad, and I also believe he has heard them often. The Bayesian argument, Pascal’s wager, personal experience arguments, the unmoved mover, the un-caused cause argument, the argument from incomplete devastation, the argument from possible worlds, and others are arguments I would never utilize. I hold to a school of apologetics that is barely swimming in the mainstream current, but it is growing in popularity.
The apologetic I hold to is often referred to as Presuppositional Apologetics, and we present the “Transcendental” argument for God.
The Transcendental argument for God, in its most precise and concise definition is the that the God of Scripture is the necessary precondition for all intelligibility. In other words, Romans 1 says God has revealed Himself to all with certainty. Thus, no worldview which rejects that can make sense of the universe they live in.
I hold to this because, first and foremost, I believe it to be entirely biblical. I also find it effective and powerful. It is sad it is not more popular however, because Dawkins did not deal with it in his book; he was able to escape it.
However, this is not all due to the unpopularity of the apologetic method, but is also due to the cowardice of Dawkins to debate.
If Dawkins would debate, he would likely have run into a presuppositionalist at this point, like many of his Atheist counterparts have been willing to do.
Douglas Wilson applied the presuppositional method to both Christopher Hitchens and Dan Barker alike. And that is not the first time Barker had to lose to a presuppositonalist, as he also debated the genius Joe Boot as well.
The president of the American Atheists, David Silverman had one of his more embarrassing debates with Dr. James White who was utilizing the method. Famous internet atheist and former T.V. show host Matt Dillahunty gave it a shake against Sye Ten Bruggencate, and friend of Richard Dawkins Michael Shermer had a tough time with pastor Paul Viggiano in a public debate as well.
Speaking of Pastor Viggiano and Sye Ten Bruggencate, they teamed up with fellow presuppositionalist Jeff Durbin for a three-on-three debate, which turned out to be one of the most interesting debates I have ever watched.
And no one can forget what is considered by many to be the greatest, and most one-sided Atheist versus Christian debates ever, the famous Dr. Greg Bahnsen completely stealing the show against Dr. Gordon Stein.
If Dawkins was willing to be brave like his counterparts, perhaps he would not have neglected the most powerful apologetic he apparently has yet to encounter.
Dawkins does stumble upon a few arguments that scratch the surface of the Transcendental argument, and therefore those are the ones I am most interested in. They are similar to my method in that both are hinting at one of the most important questions I ask in dealing with Secularists: By what standard?
Argument from Degree
One argument I am interested in is one Dawkins claims originated from Aquinas called “The argument from Degree” (AFD). The AFD essentially stated that humans notice different degrees on earth: degrees of wisdom, degrees of beauty, degrees of morality, etc. However, these things cannot be compared in degrees without a “maximum.” A better word for maximum is ultimate authority. And this is absolutely true.
Dawkins makes a very trite and brief response, saying that this must make God smelly because people vary in smelliness.
To equate smelliness with something like morality is certainly beneath Dawkins, and his brief answer implies that really is the best he can do.
I have not studied this form of the argument enough to buy in completely, but the point remains that one cannot call a line crooked without understanding what a straight line is.
Dawkins has already gone on a tirade about the immorality of God. But Dawkins cannot call God’s degree of morality too low when Dawkins has no standard to compare to. God kills babies in the Old Testament: so what? Why does that matter?
Without a standard, Dawkins cannot answer that question. That is why he is forced to refute this by referring it to something that is subjective: smelliness.
But he does not treat the God of the Bible, or anyone else in his life, as if they just happen to be unpleasant to his personal tastes like smell. He is holding them to an objective standard, to objective behavioral expectations, yet he has none to provide. They are arbitrary, and ultimately stolen.
Dawkins’ naturalism would ultimately lend him to believe that there is no objective standard. He could try to make morality part of nature, but that is wrong for a few reasons.
First, that would potentially require it to be physical. And I doubt Dawkins thinks Laws of morality exist in a physical way to touch, smell, taste, and see.
Thus, he would be forced to a less consistent position that morality is “innate.” But the problem with that is the only way for a Naturalist to categorize anything as being innate is to observe and study. Under that, patterns and habits all become innate, because the Naturalist cannot appeal to anything transcendent to justify their innate status, since Naturalism by definition denies the transcendence. Therefore, the Naturalist must stick to observable behavior as the standard for innate behavior.
However, anything we want to call moral which we observe, can be coupled right beside other observations of the same kinds of things which we do not want to call moral. How do we decide?
In other words, it is true that when we study the human race we see patterns of people who love to help others, aid others, love their children, take care of their beasts, pay their taxes, etc.
But we simultaneously observe selfishness, violence, cheating, lying, theft, rape, kidnapping, etc.
If all of these things are observable patterns within the human race, then they are all “innate,”and if morality is innate, it would have to encompass all these things. Thus, rape is equally moral as donating to charity, for both are innate tendencies within the human race.
The only way to condemn one natural instinct, and condone another natural instinct, is to have a standard which transcends all natural instincts in order to pick between them. Dawkins’ worldview cannot provide that. Thus, as he shuffles through the mixed-bag of human tendencies, he arbitrarily puts some of them in the bucket marked “moral” and arbitrarily puts others in the bucket marked “evil,” when his worldview demands he needs to simply take the whole bag.
God is immoral, by what standard? God is not lovely, by what standard?
Burning the Straw Man
The Argument from Beauty
The argument from Beauty (AFB) is similar to the one above. Without an objective standard of beauty, nothing can be objectively beautiful, not even the garden Dawkins refers to often. What is more important to this issue is what has already been discussed elsewhere, that without intention and purpose, the things we look at in the world can be chaotic, big, and impressive, but they cannot be lovely. Without intention, nothing is beautiful. Without an objective standard of beauty, nothing is objectively beautiful.
However, Dawkins presents this argument in his book as the argument that because Christians have created some of the most beautiful art in the world’s history, it makes their religion true.
If that is genuinely how it was presented, he is right: that is silly. I have seen non-christian art of all forms that are stunning and beautiful. I do sincerely doubt that Dawkins is rightfully understanding the argument. Perhaps if he were willing to debate, it would be clarified for him.
The Argument from Scripture
The argument I was most interested in was unfortunately completely misrepresented by Dawkins, which is a shame. This argument gets to the heart of my apologetic which is the argument from Scripture.
Dawkins made a number of blunders in this section that are seriously inappropriate. First, he tried to make the claim that,
“The historical evidence that Jesus claimed any sort of divine status is minimal” (117).
How Dawkins does not see his question begging epithet is beyond me. Only when a person rules out the New Testament as historical record can this claim even be granted a possibility.
Second, he criticized C.S. Lewis’ famous conclusion that Jesus was either “insane, a liar, or God.” Dawkins throws in what he calls a fourth option:
“A fourth option, almost too obvious to need mentioning, is that Jesus was honestly mistaken” (117).
Remind me how someone could genuinely believe they are God, the maker of the heavens and the earth, pre-existing eternally, all-powerful, the performer of miracles, and not be insane? To be “honestly mistaken” of one’s Godhood is a clear cut sign of a mental illness.
Dawkins then began the argument that the Bible is not historically reliable. He says,
“The fact that something is written down is persuasive to people not used to asking questions like: ‘Who wrote it, and when?’ ‘How did they know what to write?’ ‘Did they, in their time, really mean what we, in our time, understand them to be saying?’ ‘Were they unbiased observers, or did they have an agenda that coloured their writing?'” (118).
Does Dawkins really think that for the last 2,000 years of church history, Christians have affirmed the Scriptures “because they were written down”? Is he so blinded by his ignorance that he really does not think questions like, “Who wrote this and when?” have not been answered and discussed? It would be hard to quantify all of the pages of ink spilled by believing Christian theologians and scholars over these issues! Plenty of answers have been provided to all of those questions about the Scriptures, and still exist today.
Dawkins makes his counter argument by vaguely referencing liberal, unbelieving scholars (even though he ironically requires the Bible to be written by unbiased people without agendas), and also by citing alleged contradictions in Scripture to affirm the case further.
And this just goes to show his continued ignorance. His lack of respect destroys his ability to make a case because he simply does not hear what Christians are and have been saying. Every one of his alleged contradictions are answered on scholarly Christian apologetic organizations and studied theologians alike. He could have at least dealt with the counter-responses to prove he has even tried to hear these.
And all of his scholars can be met with textual critics like Dr. Michael Kruger, Dr. James White, and Dr. Daniel Wallace, who, along with many more, have presented the counter cases. And, many of these men have been and are willing to debate.
This section on Dawkins part was nothing but unfounded, oversimplified assertions with very little fair and honest justification. Given the length of his book, and the credibility he has, that is simply inexcusable.
The Laws of Logic
One last point that needs to be made, however, is that the logical contradictions he believes are in the Bible refute his own worldview. Dawkins is assuming that Laws of Logic even exist. But how does a Naturalist account for utilizing logical Laws?
In a worldview which declares, “All is material,” where do immaterial Laws come from? In a worldview which says the material world is subject to change and evolution, where do unchanging, immaterial laws come from? In worldview of relativism and skepticism, where do universal, immaterial, unchanging Laws come from?
If Dawkins’ thesis is correct, then the Laws of logic, consisting of many of the same characteristics of God, need to be as delusional as God is. Thus, we are back to where we started from: since the Laws of logic do not exist at all, or, are arbitrary human conventions, why is it even an issue that the Bible is contradictory?
Refuting His Refutations
Among the rest of the chapter, there were two other arguments I wanted to address. I do not utilize these, not because I think they are bad, but because I think God already has successfully utilized them in the hearts and minds of all thinking people (Romans 1), and I am not a fan of intentional redundancy. However, they are none the less true, and Dawkins’ answers are beggarly.
The Cosmological Argument
The famous Cosmological argument (CA) is probably the most often utilized argument by Christians today. The argument is not particularly Christian (one of my criticisms), but is certainly a death stroke to the Atheist’s defining assumption.
The cosmological argument could be stated this way: 1) Everything which began to exist had a cause. 2) The universe began to exist. 3) Therefore, the universe had to have a cause.
Dawkins grouped this with 5 other arguments of a similar nature, all proceeded from Thomas Aquinas, Fand he attempted to refute them as a whole.
As has been said, I am not fan of these arguments. Although there is some truth and power to them, since Thomas Aquinas was a “Roman Catholic” he ought to have been familiar with missing the theological mark often.
Dawkins rightly recognized these arguments, when dealing with origins, in order to escape an infinite regress, require the postulation of something eternal. He claims putting God there is “arbitrary” (101). This may be true given how some people promote the argument. I begin with God’s revelation about Himself, not with a logical deduction Thus, for me it is not arbitrary, it is revealed.
However, even giving Dawkins that, in demonstrating how very outdated this book is, he assumes that nature could also be arbitrarily assumed to be eternal. I will say more about this next blog, but for now I will say that even atheistic scientists widely now know this cannot be true,
“It is said that an argument is what convinces reasonable men and a proof is what it takes to convince even an unreasonable man. With the proof now in place, cosmologists can no longer hide behind the possibility of a past-eternal universe. There is no escape: they have to face the problem of a cosmic beginning.” – Alexander Vilenkin
The universe did have a beginning, and something cannot be created by nothing.
However, one final thought to make is that Dawkins does not properly deal with the further issues of a natural origin to nature. Even if that is granted, it still does not make sense of the next absurdity, and scientific impossibility, that life sprang from non-life. Even granting an eternal material still does not provide a justification for life, reason, and all transcendental realities like love and morality. In a worldview of only nature, our heads have to hit the ceiling somewhere.
The Argument from Design (Teleological)
The best lesson from Dawkins point here is the famous lesson presuppositionalists are constantly trying to give: worldviews determine how we interpret evidence, our evidence does not determine worldview.
Dawkins fully grants that nature is unbelievably designed. He admits there is and was a designer. But he has found a rescuing device called “natural selection” to account for it. He instead gives credit to nature designing itself.
I do not for one minute suggest that we are stuck now in a Mexican-standoff. There are many refutations to this. (For example, how is natural selection falsifiable? How does an impersonal entity perform a personal action? How is the very premise not self-refuting? How do objects ever evolve from useless to refined, when natural selection discards that which is useless?) However, I want to appeal to Christians right now and demonstrate how the unbelieving heart can always find a way to reinterpret the evidence.
Lesson’s From Hume & Russell
In conclusion, I wanted to use Dawkins’ own friends against him. He regularly cites either David Hume or Bertrand Russel in making many of his points. If only he knew that Russel and Hume both gave admission to the presuppositonalists that naturalism cannot account for itself.
We now call it the problem of induction. All of Science rests upon this principle: the future will be like the past.
Both Hume and Russell admit that their own Naturalism cannot justify or account for induction itself.
Hume applied this principle to reasoning, admitting that without revelation from God, one cannot account for the reliability or basic ability of reasoning processes.
Bertrand Russell applied it to the uniformity of nature, admitting that we have no reason to assume, with revelation from God, why tomorrow will be like today. In Problems of Philosophy, Russell wrote a chapter titled “Induction” in which he says,
“The only reason for believing that the laws of motion remain in operation is that they have operated hitherto, so far as our knowledge of the past enables us to judge. It is true that we have a greater body of evidence from the past in favour of the laws of motion than we have in favour of the sunrise, because the sunrise is merely a particular case of fulfilment of the laws of motion, and there are countless other particular cases. But the real question is: Do any number of cases of a law being fulfilled in the past afford evidence that it will be fulfilled in the future? If not, it becomes plain that we have no ground whatever for expecting the sun to rise to-morrow, or for expecting the bread we shall eat at our next meal not to poison us, or for any of the other scarcely conscious expectations that control our daily lives. It is to be observed that all such expectations are only probable; thus we have not to seek for a proof that they must be fulfilled, but only for some reason in favour of the view that they are likely to be fulfilled…The problem we have to discuss is whether there is any reason for believing in what is called ‘the uniformity of nature’. The belief in the uniformity of nature is the belief that everything that has happened or will happen is an instance of some general law to which there are no exceptions. The crude expectations which we have been considering are all subject to exceptions, and therefore liable to disappoint those who entertain them. But science habitually assumes, at least as a working hypothesis, that general rules which have exceptions can be replaced by general rules which have no exceptions. ‘Unsupported bodies in air fall’ is a general rule to which balloons and aeroplanes are exceptions. But the laws of motion and the law of gravitation, which account for the fact that most bodies fall, also account for the fact that balloons and aeroplanes can rise; thus the laws of motion and the law of gravitation are not subject to these exceptions.
The belief that the sun will rise to-morrow might be falsified if the earth came suddenly into contact with a large body which destroyed its rotation; but the laws of motion and the law of gravitation would not be infringed by such an event. The business of science is to find uniformities, such as the laws of motion and the law of gravitation, to which, so far as our experience extends, there are no exceptions. In this search science has been remarkably successful, and it may be conceded that such uniformities have held hitherto. This brings us back to the question: Have we any reason, assuming that they have always held in the past, to suppose that they will hold in the future?”
It turns out that Dawkins’ science needs my God in order to be consistently practiced at all.