When Richard Dawkins claimed that you can never absolutely prove the non-existence of anything, he was of course wrong. It is for instance perfectly rational to be certain that square circles, and spherical cuboids definitely do not exist.
So it is with the God of, “The God Delusion.” He cannot, by definition, exist.
I shall define the God Hypothesis more defensibly: their exists a superhuman, supernatural intelligence who deliberately designed and created the universe and everything in it including us.
Richard Dawkins The God Delusion Black Swan Edition 2007
For Richard Dawkins a necessary part of the definition of all gods is that they are supernatural, and by supernatural he means magic – the possessor of powers which by definition do not exist.
Skyhooks – including all gods – are magic spells.
Richard Dawkins The God Delusion Black Swan Edition 2007
With this definition of God there is no reason to beat about the bush:
An Ontological Argument for the Non-existence of God.
- Supernatural beings are fictional beings, with fictional powers.
- God is a Supernatural being.
- Therefore god is a fictional being with fictional powers.
This syllogism demonstrates that it is possible to define God in such a way that he exists only in the mind. It does not prove anything at all about whether or not the universe is a work of intentional creation.
Richard Dawkins claimed that his position on the existence of God was the rational one – Temporary Agnosticism in Practice, or T.A.P.; which he compared with what he alleged was the irrational position of, Harvard professor, Stephen Gould, whom he accused of arguing for Permanent Agnosticism in Principle, or P.A.P.
The view that I shall defend is very different: agnosticism about the existence of God belongs firmly in the T.A.P category. Either he exists or he doesn’t. It is a scientific question; one day we may know the answer, and meanwhile we can say something pretty strong about the probability.
Richard Dawkins The God Delusion Black Swan Edition 2007 p.70
It seems fairly obvious from this quote that Richard Dawkins had failed to note that God as defined by him has a zero probability of existence. And he didn’t feel the need to revise what he had previously written after making the following claim.
That you cannot prove God’s non-existence is accepted and trivial, if only in the sense that we can never prove the non-existence of anything. What matters is not whether God is disprovable (he isn’t) but whether his existence is probable.
Richard Dawkins The God Delusion Black Swan Edition 2007 p.77
This claims contained within this paragraph can be formed into a syllogism:
- The existence of God is a, not very probable, possibility.
- We can never absolutely prove the non-existence of anything.
- Therefore we are never going to absolutely prove the non-existence of God.
So I am afraid dear atheist, that if these premises were true, and that if Richard Dawkins was also correct in his assertion that one day you might be able to give up rational agnosticism; it would be because you would have acquired absolute proof for the existence of God.
But cheer up, because, as any philosopher is likely to tell you, absolute proof for the existence of anything is also very difficult, and with the right definition of the word existence, maybe even impossible to achieve.
Julian Bagini explains in Atheism: A Very Short Introduction, the meaning of an atheist’s commitment to naturalism: ‘What most atheists do believe is that although there is only one kind of stuff in the universe and it is physical out of this stuff come minds, beauty, emotions, moral values – in short the full gamut of phenomena that gives richness to human life.’
Human thoughts and emotions emerge from exceedingly complex interconnections of physical entities within the brain.
Richard Dawkins The God Delusion Black Swan Edition 2007 p.34
A materialistic definition of the word existence means that it applies only to physical stuff, i.e. matter and energy. Naturalism is the belief that everything other than matter and energy is an emergent property of the physical. Using this definition, many things whose reality we experience as primary, are immaterial emergents: e.g. pain, pleasure, love, consciousnes. And as the title informs you, evolution is also an immaterial reality; an emergent consequence of the interaction of matter and energy.
Boxing Ultimate Reality
Anselm‘s Ontological argument, made nearly one thousand years ago, produced a definition of God that made it impossible to conceive that God did not exist. By describing God as that than which no greater can be imagined to exist, and arguing that existence was a necessary part of absolute greatness, Anselm made it impossible to meaningfully conceive that God, as defined by him, did not exist. Because at the very moment you conceived the great being you were thinking of not to exist, you would no longer be thinking of God. See also Anselm’s Teapot.
Richard Dawkins, was unimpressed with Anselm’s ontological argument, but enjoyed Australian philosopher Douglas Gasking’s ironic parody of it.
1. The creation of the world is the most marvellous achievement imaginable.
2. The merit of an achievement is the product of (a) its intrinsic quality, and (b) the ability of its creator.
3. The greater the disability (or handicap) of the creator, the more impressive the achievement.
4. The most formidable handicap for a creator would be non-existence.
5. Therefore if we suppose that the universe is the product of an existent creator we can conceive a greater being namely, one who created everything while not existing.
6. An existing God therefore would not be a being greater than which a greater cannot be conceived because an even more formidable and incredible creator would be a God which did not exist.
7. Therefore, God does not exist.
Richard Dawkins The God Delusion Black Swan Edition 2007 p.107-108
Christian apologist William Lane Craig, like Richard Dawkins believes this argument to be incoherent.
Ironically, this parody, far from undermining the ontological argument, actually reinforces it! For a being who creates everything while not existing is a logical incoherence and is therefore impossible: there is no possible world which includes a non-existent being which creates the world.
William Lane Craig Dawkins’ Critique of the Ontological argument 2009
The irony does not necessarily lie where William Lane Craig thinks it does. He believes that God is Immaterial. Richard Dawkins naturalistic definition of reality, means that the immaterial is always emergent from the material, and therefore cannot be the first cause. So when Richard Dawkins hears believers claiming God, as the Immaterial First Cause, what he hears is, within his worldview the rambling of fools. Anselm who, like William Lane Craig, started with a different first premise, would have thought exactly the same of Richard Dawkins’ naturalism.
There is an awful lot of reality about, and to interact with our environment and society effectively, it is necessary to form models of it. Different models of reality can be effective, in allowing those who hold them to function successfully. Acknowledging that your model may not be all encompassing, and that those holding alternative models are not necessarily truth deniers is rational. It may however result in accusations such as, bending over backwards to almost supine lengths; an allegation Richard Dawkins made against Stephen Gould, in The God Delusion.
Deductive reasoning can give the appearance of certainty, but it is only as good as the premises that you start with. And where the question is about reality rather than definition, then the premises can never be absolutely certain. As Douglas Adams had his eponymous detective, Dirk Gently, point out: all that is required for the impossible to be true, is for there to be something that we don’t know about.
Alvin Plantinga, the author of a modern version of the ontological argument, the one that William Lane Craig accepts as definitive; acknowledges that it doesn’t provide proof of the existence of God, because it cannot be proved that its central premise, that the existence of a maximally great being is possible, is true.
But here we must be careful; we must ask whether this argument is a successful piece of natural theology, whether it proves the existence of God. And the answer must be, I think, that it does not. An argument for God’s existence may be sound,after all, without in any useful sense proving God’s existence. Since I believe in God, I think the following argument is sound:
- Either God exists or 7 + 5 = 14
- It is false that 7 + 5 = 14
- Therefore God exists.
But obviously this isn’t a proof; no one who didn’t already accept the conclusion, would accept the first premise. The ontological argument we’ve been examining isn’t just like this one, of course, but it must be conceded that not everyone who understands and reflects on its central premise — that the existence of a maximally great being is possible — will accept it. Still, it is evident, I think, that there is nothing contrary to reason or irrational in accepting this premise. What I claim for this argument, therefore, is that it establishes, not the truth of theism, but its rational acceptability. And hence it accomplishes at least one of the aims of the tradition of natural theology.
Alvin Plantinga The Ontological Argument 2001
Alvin Plantinga is a theist, that is someone who believes that Ultimate Reality is a maximally great being – God. He admits that the existence of a maximally great being may be impossible, that is have a probability of zero. But argues that if you accept the premise that the existence of a maximally great being is possible, then you must rationally also believe that the existence of that being is certain.
Richard Dawkins worldview is naturalism, that is that everything that is real, is natural; and that therefore if there is any creative consciousness lurking behind the observable universe, it like the only consciousness he has any direct evidence for, his own, will be natural. Within this worldview, supernatural means unreal, having no possible existence outside the imagination. So when Richard Dawkins defines God as a supernatural being, he has defined God in such a way that he cannot possibly exist.
Richard Dawkins should rationally therefore have classified himself as a 7 on his own scale of degrees of belief in the existence of God; someone who is absolutely certain that God does not exist. To do this would have put the spotlight on his own belief about the nature of reality, and mean that The God Delusion would have been a book investigating the rationality of his own atheism. Not nearly as much fun as ridiculing the beliefs of others.
Richard Dawkins, classifies himself as somewhat less than certain of the non-existence of God, arguing that anything you can imagine to exist, must have a possibility of actually existing. Therefore God’s existence is possible, but very improbable. He in fact argues that God is so improbable that we can be confident of his non-existence.
What both Alvin Plantinga and Richard Dawkins convoluted arguments seem to be aiming for, is the boxing up of reality, so that it cannot disturb their emotional certainty. The gift of confirmation bias, the instinct that likes to say yes, means that they are likely to be largely unaware of the dishonesty of their position; and will therefore be able to present themselves to the world, without any hint of irony, or need of acting skill, as men of integrity.
And while Richard Dawkins definition of God as supernatural should have meant that he didn’t need to go to all the trouble he did; the god that he is arguing against isn’t magic god, but the maximally great being whom Alvin Plantinga claims as God.
Most of us who believe in God think of Him as a being than whom it’s not possible that there be a greater. But we don’t think of Him as a being who, had things been different, would have been powerless or uninformed or of dubious moral character. God doesn’t just happen to be a greatest possible being; He couldn’t have been otherwise.
Alvin Plantinga The Ontological Argument 2001
Radical Christian theologian Peter Rollins, argues that this God haunts modern secular society, that the problem with atheists is that they aren’t atheistic enough, and that, “the scandalous message of the Gospel is that freedom from the sovereign God, in all its manifestations, is possible”.
Rupturing the Box
- You are sitting in a bar in Belfast.
- In walks a seven foot purple gorilla with a submachine gun.
- What do you call him?
As this joke illustrates there can be very good reason for treating the powerful with respect. In scary circumstances our rationality is likely to fail us, and at that point a forelock tugging instinct, is one that could increase our chance of survival.
If you are forced to remain in the pub with the gorilla, then the lizard brain effect of fear, will increase your chances of not surviving the encounter. One mechanism for reducing the fear, is to believe that the gorilla has qualities other than power and that these qualities are such that he doesn’t want to harm you, if he doesn’t have to.
The god of the ontological argument, the greatest thing that can be conceived not to exist by the godless fool of Anselm’s argument, is the purple gorilla, made maximally great: i.e. omnipotent, omniscient and completely good. Someone that as Alvin Plantinga tells us, we don’t think of, ‘as a being who, had things been different, would have been powerless or uninformed or of dubious moral character’.
This is where the scandal of Christianity lies, the difference between the gospel message and the religion of Christendom.
At the very heart of the Christian message is the cross, and the young man on it, an image of maximal greatness, that is the very antithesis of everything that the ontological argument, and our natural instincts imagine greatness to be. 1 Corinthians 1: 22-25
In the life of one an outcast and a vagabond on earth,
In the common things He valued, and proclaimed of priceless worth,
And above all in the horror of the cruel death He died,
Thou hast bid us seek Thy glory, in a criminal crucified.
And we find it – for Thy glory is the glory of Love’s loss,
And Thou hast no other splendour but the splendour of the Cross.
For in Christ I see the martyrs and the beauty of their pain,
And in Him I hear the promise that my dead shall rise again.
High and lifted up, I see Him on the eternal Calvary,
And two piercèd hands are stretching east and west o’er land and sea.
On my knees I fall and worship that great Cross that shines above,
For the very God of Heaven is not Power, but Power of Love.
G.A. Studdert Kennedy High and Lifted Up taken from Rhymes Published 1929