Richard Dawkins’ Greatest Service to Christendom
Richard Dawkins has emerged as the leading figure of the “New Atheism” movement. While much of the contents of his book The God Delusion lets the reader down where the cogency of his arguments (as opposed to colorful rhetoric) is concerned, I do believe that his “main argument” against the existence of God does have some merit. The unfortunate fact is that his presentation of the argument is poor, and the degree of confidence in his conclusion (he claims that God “almost certainly” does not exist) is clearly overblown in light of his failure to deal with the objections that Christian Theists can raise against his argument. While these weaknesses have been pointed out by Christian and non-Christian intellectuals alike, it seems to me that contained within that poorly argued chapter of a mediocre book that relies so heavily on rhetoric, one can find an idea that should be taken seriously. Dawkins’ idea is that great complexity equals improbability. He notes that this idea is accepted by the defenders of the argument from design, and he then goes on to point out that if one postulates a God of equal or greater complexity to explain the complexity of design, one has gained nothing. The weakness in Dawkins’ reasoning is in the assumption that he never seems to argue for, namely, that God must be complex. He does note that many Christian theologians disagree with this assumption, but dismisses their position as unintelligible nonsense. Unfortunately for Dawkins, such dismissal destroys the credibility of his argument against Christian Theism. He has failed to interact with the idea of divine simplicity as developed by medieval Christian philosophers, and perhaps even more significantly, he seems to dismiss without any consideration the arguments that have been presented by two professors residing at the very same Oxford University where Dawkins himself holds his professorship. I am referring to Richard Swinburne and Keith Ward. Swinburne has provided a clear and detailed analysis of the concept of God as the simplest possible kind of person , and he has also made an interesting proposal that God’s attributes could be seen as derivatives from a single attribute of pure limitless intentional power  , whereas Ward has highlighted some of the merits of the concept of God as providing a single explanatory entity with great elegance and simplicity in the sense of inclusive simplicity (as opposed to exclusive simplicity ) . Therefore, one can only conclude at this point that while Dawkins’ argument is worthy of consideration, he has failed to interact with the relevant philosophical literature that provides a refutation to the argument as applied to the concept of the Christian God.
However, to understand why Dawkins’ argument fails against the orthodox Christian concept of God as a foundational postulate for the purpose of explaining the reality as we see it, is to understand why it succeeds against the Mormon equivalent. As was noted above, Mormonism postulates the eternal existence of immense (probably infinite) number of intelligences and physical elements as equally foundational elements of reality, the existence of which is not explained by anything else. Such a postulate does seem to require one to accept exactly the type of great and unexplained complexity that equals improbability. Therefore, it seems to me that we can thank Richard Dawkins for his great service of pointing us to an argument that can be used to demonstrate a great weakness in the Mormon worldview. By making the proper changes to Dawkins’ original conclusion, we can then conclude that the totality of eternal, uncreated intelligences and physical elements posited by Mormonism almost certainly does not exist.
Notes for Part 4
6. What Dawkins probably implicitly presupposes but fails to make explicit enough in his writing is a premise that most Christians would find agreeable, namely that by definition, God’s complexity (assuming that He is complex) is not explicable by any more fundamental process that gives rise to complexity from simplicity.
7. See his The Existence of God.
8. See his The Christian God.
9. See his God, Chance and Necessity.
10. The doctrine of the Trinity may initially seem problematic in light of this preference for simplicity, but this does not need to be the case. First of all, thinkers such as Aquinas and Anselm have held to the traditional doctrine of divine simplicity without rejecting the Trinity, and it is at least an open question whether it can be shown that this results in irresolvable difficulties. Secondly, the eternal generation of the Son and the proceeding of the Holy Spirit would seem to provide a doctrinally orthodox way in which the existence of three persons can be thought of as grounded ultimately in one person (the Father), while avoiding the unorthodox implication of ontological inequality (which would result if the Son and the Holy Spirit were created rather than eternally begotten from God’s own essence).
Bahnsen, Greg L. & Stein, Gordon: The Great Debate: Does God Exist?
Craig, William Lane: Reasonable Faith . Crossway Books, 1994.
Dawkins, Richard: The God Delusion . Mariner Books, 2008.
Journal of Discourses Online .
LDS Church : Chapter 1: Our Father in Heaven, in Gospel Principles . Salt Lake City, Utah: LDS Church, 1997.
LDS Church : Doctrine and Covenants .
McKeever, Bill: As God Is, Man May Become?
Swinburne, Richard: The Coherence of Theism . Oxford University Press, 1993.
Swinburne, Richard: The Christian God . Oxford University Press, 1994.
Swinburne, Richard: The Existence of God . Oxford University Press, 1991.
Ward, Keith: God, Chance & Necessity . Oneworld Publications, 1996.