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Informally Responding to Richard Dawkins, “The God Delusion”; Part 1 – Stacking the Deck

June 17, 2013

I went on vacation last weekend and brought along Richard Dawkins’, “The God Delusion.” Because this is a popular book, I thought it would be a good idea to read. If I were to formally respond, the comments that would follow would be somewhat amended. However, since this is a blog, I thought I would share my thoughts about the book as they struck me while reading it. Let me say again that if I were to formally respond to Dawkins I would not say what follows word for word but would adjust my remarks. I will be responding of course as a Christian who has done a fair amount of studying on many of the topics discussed in this book and one who has a Physics degree to at least give me the introductory knowledge about the concepts Dawkins addresses from a scientific standpoint. I hope what follows will be edifying and helpful.

For those of you who are not familiar with the book or the author, Richard Dawkins is at the forefront of what many are referring to as the new atheist movement. He is considered to be an aggressive atheist. I would say that in listening to him, he has quite a calm persona and speaks very well. He is certainly not aggressive in tone but does not believe that the existence of God is very likely. He falls a bit short of saying there is no chance that God exists but says the likelihood that He does is exist is very, very small. Let me begin on the first observation I had while reading the book.

One of the things I believe Dawkins is guilty of is what I call stacking the deck. Throughout the book Dawkins repeatedly makes remarks about how the intellectual elite and the more educated scarcely believe in God or cannot possibly believe in the God of the Bible. Relatively early in the book, before he has made any substantial argument for his position he blatantly suggests that if you believe in God you must be unintelligent and uneducated. He often compares believing in God to believing in fairies at the bottom of the garden or the tooth fairy.

One of his staple arguments that intelligence leads to atheism is in his discussion of the amount of members in the National Academy for Science (NAS) that believe in God. He states that only 7% of that group claim to be theists. He then draws this conclusion, “What is remarkable is the polar opposition between the religiosity of the American public at large and the atheism of the intellectual elite, (100). After mentioning the results of a meta-analysis study on page 103 about IQ, education and religious beliefs, he remarks, “… the higher one’s intelligence or educational level, the less one is likely to be religious or hold ‘beliefs’ of any kind.”

What is disappointing about Dawkins language here has to do with the fact that a few pages earlier he admits that the majority of people, including scientists, up to the nineteenth century were religious. He even mentions Isaac Newton as a pinnacle example of a great scientist, who was intellectual and who believed in God. He goes on to explain that, “Great scientists who profess religion become harder to find through the twentieth century, but they are not particularly rare,” (99). He mentions Michael Faraday, Francis Collins, and Gregor Mendel as modern scientists who are religious. At one point he expresses bafflement that some very intellectual people he has met and who are well educated, continue to be devout Christians.

Related to this is Dawkins belief that there were likely some scientists from the nineteenth century and before who were atheists but did not express such because of social pressure. What does this have to do with anything? Well, if we allow his point, what we are saying is that there are many factors that go into why a person ends professing atheism or theism. Social pressure is one example that Dawkins himself raises. Let me get on to my point.

Dawkins himself shows us that it is possible to be intellectual, educated and religious at the same time. Sure, in the modern day of the secular education institution, we would expect an inverse relationship to a belief in God with the time spent in that environment, perhaps coupled with aspirations to be accepted by “elite” peers or professors who are also atheists. But, as his own experience shows us, it is possible to be educated in evolutionary studies and still believe in God and even be a Christian. I am not referring to an acceptance or rejection of those evolutionary studies at this point but only the fact that some very educated men with high IQ’s who understand the teachings of evolution are still able to be Christian. Dawkins mentions C.S. Lewis as well as the men already referred to above as educated men who are religious. Sadly, he goes on to say on page 157, “The nineteenth century is the last time when it was possible for an educated person to admit to believing in miracles like the virgin birth without embarrassment.”

So why use this language? Whether consciously or not, Dawkins uses this language because of its influence on the reader. Do you want to be considered intelligent? Do you want to be thought of as educated? Well then you mustn’t believe in God. Or to phrase these questions differently; are you religious? Do you believe in God? Are you a Christian? Well most likely that is because you have a low IQ.

So then, in a book that is supposed to be more scientific, the deck is stacked to influence the reader to automatically want to accept Dawkins positions because if they disagree it must be because they are not smart. Because, really, the smart people are atheists. It is actually forming a kind of intellectual priesthood like that of the Catholic Church before the Reformation that would say, “Oh you lay people can’t understand these things so just trust us to interpret them and then tell you what to believe.”

All that being said, none of my thoughts prove that Dawkins is wrong about his views. I hope to come to many specific points that Dawkins makes in his book in the future. For now let me offer a warning. Watch out for language that is intended to emotionally influence you to one position or another without (or before) giving you the rational explanations for that specific position. We should have strong enough arguments to be able to make our points without having to stack the deck with language intended to make someone feel out of the times or insufficient if they disagree with us.

Do I think that Dawkins is intelligent? Yes. Do I think Dawkins is educated? Yes. Do I think he actually makes some good points in his book? Yes. Do I agree with him? No, but apparently that means I have a low IQ, have no real education and should probably just bow to the opinions of those in the National Academy of Science.

From → Miscellaneous

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