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Meditation 604
A Critique of Richard Dawkin's "The God Delusion"

by: George Rush

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Richard Dawkins, in "The God Delusion", shows that the old arguments for the existence of God are, from a logical standpoint, not convincing. But he himself is completely unconvincing in two key areas: single-cell life and, most important, consciousness.

First, he discusses the "God of the Gaps". A "gap" can be defined as a place where science is (temporarily) baffled. Dawkins says, "If an apparent gap is found, it is assumed [by theists and creationists] that God, by default, must fill it." For instance, Michael Behe ("Intelligent Design") says that certain animal parts, like wings and eyes, are "irreducibly complex" and can't be explained by evolution; so some intelligent agent (e.g. God) must have designed them. Of course this reasoning is faulty, since evolutionists will no doubt be able to explain these gaps.

But Dawkins has a problem explaining the initial instance of single-cell life, which can't come about by evolution. Imagining that molecules in the primordial sea randomly combined into the first living organism, he admits it's about as likely as the wind assembling a Boeing 747 from spare parts in a junkyard. That's why he has to bring in the big guns: The Anthropic Principle. Probably you're familiar with it; if not read that section of the book. Basically it says that given billions of worlds, sooner or later the unlikely "747 event" is bound to happen. Any observers - like us - can only exist on one of those rare worlds, where life got started.

This is a very poor argument; it can be used to justify any coincidence at all, no matter how unlikely. Also, it assumes the existence of other life-capable planets, even parallel universes. Compared to this the simple hypothesis "God did it" is far more sensible. However, I won't go into that here, since at least this argument can be defended. Not so for consciousness.

He mentions consciousness only once, on p. 140: "The origin of consciousness might be another major gap whose bridging is of the same order of improbability [as single-cell life]." He admits it's as unlikely as the first organism; but in fact it's even worse than that. At least we know how the single-cell is constructed, and can imagine it arising out randomly out of constituent molecules. However we have absolutely no idea how the brain produces consciousness (basic awareness). In fact, it's the biggest puzzle in all of science today.

Furthermore, it's the most important of all human attributes regarding the God question. Most religions say the spark of consciousness - the soul, or atman, or whatever - is the divine part of humans, a direct gift from God. We could call this "the Proof (of God's Existence) from Consciousness". Obviously it's not really a proof; but as long as science has no alternative explanation for consciousness (basic awareness) the argument remains unrefuted. And Dawkins himself admits that science is baffled.

You can see a related article and discussion beginning at Meditation 537.