October 8, 2007

Dawkins’s militant atheism delusional

As both a conservative Roman Catholic and a science major in the College, I reacted to Richard Dawkins’s lecture at the International House this past Thursday initially with outrage and anger. Those feelings, however, quickly morphed into mere frustration and disappointment after giving the man some thought. I have read his book The God Delusion, and, as I examined the Maroon’s coverage of his remarks, I found myself thinking, “Here we go again.”

The tradition of atheism is certainly long-standing and stretches back at least as far as Western classical antiquity, but the modern trend of liberal, militantly atheist academics and of “scholars” who declare war on religion—or, more simply, a person’s belief in God—is vicious, disrespectful, and an abuse of the scholarly platform. Dawkins insists that our beliefs should be based on evidence, specifically that which can be tested and definitively proven by the scientific method. He points to the “improbability” of God and issues a rallying cry to atheists everywhere to take up the cross and combat the forces of delusion that lead the masses to God, Yahweh, or Allah.

What Dawkins fails to realize, though, is that no science, however advanced or “enlightened,” can ever prove the existence of God. Trying to use the limited perspective of humanity and the simple scientific methods we have at our disposal to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that God exists is a waste of time. The nature of God is found far beyond the reach of even the most advanced scientific instrument.

Despite its experimental manipulation, Dawkins’s argument will always demonstrate that the mystery of faith, lacking a hard empirical basis, cannot be proven.

Moreover, Dawkins incorrectly applies the sciences of biology, chemistry, and physics.

For instance, instead of using evolution and natural selection as examples of a harsh, Godless reality, he should realize that the complexity, intricacy, and beauty of a living organism further reinforce the reality of the supernatural. It also leads someone with an open heart and mind to the unmistakable conclusion that the cell or molecule under observation had to have been designed before it ever evolved to its current state. The road to God is not about whether or not God exists—as in Pascal’s Wager—but about the faith to persevere in spite of the evil and suffering of this world.

If he wants some rational arguments for faith, I would encourage Dawkins to read some St. Thomas Aquinas before vomiting up his next accusation against religion.

On a more concrete level, I question Dawkins’s philosophical conclusions and scholarship. Even the Wikipedia article on The God Delusion presents a deluge of notable philosophers, scholars, and even scientists who disagree with Dawkins’s positions. There are severe lapses of religious understanding in Dawkins’s writing, and it seems that he has only a superficial knowledge of the Bible, as well as other religious primary sources such as the Koran. Of course, Dawkins would probably argue that such “harmless nonsense” and “mere consolation” does not deserve to be known by so enlightened a scholar.

To give an example of one of Dawkins’s logically flawed arguments, one need look no further than the fourth chapter of The God Delusion. One of his main claims is that because the universe is so enormous and contains so much information and substance, God must also be enormously complex. This complexity predisposes God to extreme improbability. I, along with a host of analytic philosophers, do not understand why this has to be so. Must God be infinitely complex to have designed something more complex than himself? Why does his simplicity prevent him from doing certain things? Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel, Handel composed the Messiah, and Gustave Eiffel designed and built the magnificent Eiffel Tower. In each of these cases—and there are countless more—one person produced something so much more intricate than himself that the world still marvels at his ability and vision.

Sarcastic attacks abound in both The God Delusion and Dawkins’s professional life. To be sure, he cherry-picks his facts, which leads him to fallacious conclusions and angry diatribe, but I pray that he finds some fulfillment in his life besides renouncing the ideas of the faithful and declaring religious beliefs a heresy against science and reason. I encourage the theists of this campus to stand up against this type of insidious “academic” persuasion and firmly assert the existence of God.