Just a few of his more trivial lapses: In a long list of phrases from the King James Bible that educated people should know, he neglected to delete Latin phrases from the Vulgate and from post-biblical Christian legends.
He is unaware of the basic details of the life of both Martin Luther (whose “Here I stand” statement was in Worms and not Wittenberg) and the facts about Martin Luther King Jr. (claiming that King got the idea of non-violent resistance from Gandhi rather than Christ is rather like saying someone got money from the bank machine, not from the bank — it not only ignores King’s explicit claims but also that Gandhi himself gave major credit for his ideas to Christ). Finally, Dawkins seems to be unaware that there is both a Gospel of the Thomas and an Infancy Gospel of Thomas, nor is he at all clear even about the contents of the latter, mixing in details from other infancy gospels.
Trivial or not, I mention these because Dawkins is famous for his rages at those who don’t do their homework before attacking evolution.
But what of the major points of Dawkins’ case against God? First, Dawkins asks over and over, “Who made God?” hoping to stump believers. But the answer, at least as old as Isaiah and the Psalms, is that nobody made God — any being that can be made can’t be God since God is the source of everything. Now Dawkins’ point seems to be that God is an unacceptable source because God seems even more improbable than anything we could ask him to explain. But what Dawkins doesn’t share with his readers is that any theory that claims to offer what God offers — an ultimate stopping place for explanation — is going to seem similarly improbable. If we take the laws of nature as the ultimate explanation for everything, then we will realize just how improbable it is that they exist at all, and that they have just the form they do to give rise to all of the improbable things in the world. The same sorts of improbabilities arise whatever we take as ultimate.
Second, Dawkins repeats his claim that religion is a virus of the mind. According to him, our brains have evolved to create, use and pass on mental programs. Many of these mental programs are useful, but occasionally, there are mental viruses that, like computer viruses, invade our mental software and take over. According to Dawkins, religion is one such mental virus, forcing our unsuspecting brains to believe and to infect others. This is a claim Dawkins first floated in an article back in 1993, and at that time, critics pointed out, as my own freshmen often do when I have them discuss the article each spring, “If our brains can be so completely fooled by a virus, how can we tell that science is not a virus?” Dawkins spent a paragraph suggesting that the standard tests of verification, repeatability and so forth would solve the problem, but that of course begs the question — if our brains can’t be trusted, then any test they run can’t be trusted either. Dawkins’ virus idea is corrosive enough to erode trust in religion, but like many similar ideas, it erodes our trust in science and common sense just as quickly.
Finally, there is Dawkins’ view of science. It is clear that for Dawkins, there is no knowledge beyond scientific knowledge. This conviction even leads him at one point to suggest that the existence or non-existence of God is a scientific fact about our universe just like any other. I can imagine even the other atheists backing away from Dawkins at this point. As if poor old God is just not quick enough any more to be able to avoid the penetrating power of our modern scientific instruments. Of course, almost everyone who thinks about God just for a moment realizes that if he is even half as powerful as the Bible indicates, then he will let us see exactly as much of himself as he wishes.
God is not a fact about the universe. The universe is one of the many facts that depend on God.
We should all be awed by the power of human science, and Christians most of all, since it is the gift of God. But our amazement shouldn’t lead us to imagine that science can do things it can’t. Science is a powerful tool, but a tool with limits. When it is pushed beyond those limits, it leads to arrogance and ignorance. Dawkins, I’m afraid, gives us a lesson in both.
JIM BAIRD is professor of Bible at Oklahoma Christian University.
May 1, 2007