Search Results for: Michael Rea

The Big Bad Wolf, Theism and the Foundations of Intelligent Design

by Peter S. Williams (MA, MPhil)

The man described as “Darwin’s Rotweiller”
(by supporter Charles Simonyi) has evolved to metaphorically resemble
the big bad wolf of nursery rhyme fame, and he is on a mission to liberate
the pigs (the analogy is mine, not his) from what he sees as their prisons
of straw. Indeed, Zoologist Richard Dawkins is so intent on blowing
down straw houses that he not only acknowledges the existence of firm
foundations that might be used for permanent constructions, but he fails
to notice that some of the pigs are building on just such a wolf-endorsed
foundation with bricks and mortar more than adequate to the task of
withstanding all his huffing and puffing.
Dawkins, who is Oxford University’s Professor for the Public Understanding
of Science, has been described as “materialistic, reductionist and overtly
Nevertheless, The God Delusion – which is descended by
design from Dawkins’ two-part television series The Root of all

– is Dawkins’ first book to make a direct attack upon religion
(especially theism, and most especially Christianity): “If this books
works as I intend, religious readers who open it will be atheists when
they put it down.”

Dawkins thinks that if his book fails to have the desired effect,
this can only be because “dyed-in-the-wool faith-heads are immune to
argument, their resistance built up over years of childhood indoctrination
using methods [such as issuing] a dire warning to avoid even opening
a book like this, which is surely a work of Satan.”
On the other hand, anyone who is “open-minded”, whose “childhood
indoctrination was not too insidious… or whose native intelligence
is strong enough to overcome it”, will “need only a little encouragement
to break free of the vice of religion altogether.”

The God Delusion is certainly the work of a passionate and
rhetorically savvy writer capable of making good points against authoritarian
religious fundamentalism. For example, I wholeheartedly agree with Dawkins
about the hazards of illiberally encouraging an unbiblical blind

Teaching children that unquestioned faith is a
virtue primes them – given certain other ingredients that are not hard
to come by – to grow up into potentially lethal weapons for the future
jihads or crusades… If children were taught to question and think
through their beliefs, instead of being taught the superior virtue of
faith without question, it is a good bet that there would be no suicide

Likewise, I stand shoulder to shoulder with Dawkins in being appalled
at the un-Christ-like attitude displayed by many people who profess
to own the name of Christ. It is shameful that Dawkins can quote American
writer Ann Coulter saying: “I defy any of my co-religionists to tell
me they do not laugh at the idea of Dawkins burning in hell.”
I for one do not laugh at the idea of Dawkins burning
in hell (not that I think hell involves literal burning, and not that
I would presume to forecast Dawkins’ eternal destination). Coulter should
attend to the following verses of scripture: James 3:9-10, 1 Peter 3:15-16
and Luke 5:27-36. Dawkins ends his first chapter with the following
pledge: “I shall not go out of my way to offend, but nor shall I don
kid gloves to handle religion more gently that I would handle anything
Critics should extend Dawkins the same courtesy.

However, it would be an instance of kid glove donning not to note
that Dawkins simply doesn’t recognize when he is out of his philosophical
depth. Antony Latham is correct when he laments that “Dawkins clearly
has an inflated idea of his competence in metaphysics.”
And as Oxford theologian Alister McGrath comments:

Dawkins’ engagement with theology is superficial
and inaccurate, often amounting to little more than cheap point scoring…
His tendency to misrepresent the views of his opponents is the least
attractive aspect of his writings. It simply reinforces the perception
that he inhabits a hermetically sealed conceptual world, impervious
to a genuine engagement with religion.

Terry Eagleton passes similar comment in the London Review of

Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose
only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds,
and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins
on theology. Card-carrying rationalists like Dawkins, who is the nearest
thing to a professional atheist we have had since Bertrand Russell,
are in one sense the least well-equipped to understand what they castigate,
since they don’t believe there is anything there to be understood, or
at least anything worth understanding. This is why they invariably come
up with vulgar caricatures of religious faith that would make a first-year
theology student wince. The more they detest religion, the more ill-informed
their criticisms of it tend to be. If they were asked to pass judgment
on phenomenology or the geopolitics of South Asia, they would no doubt
bone up on the question as assiduously as they could. When it comes
to theology, however, any shoddy old travesty will pass muster…critics
of the richest, most enduring form of popular culture in human history
have a moral obligation to confront that case at its most persuasive,
rather than grabbing themselves a victory on the cheap by savaging it
as so much garbage and gobbledygook.

The God Delusion is liberally sprinkled with imaginary opponents
(“Here is the message that an imaginary “intelligent design theorist”
might broadcast…”
, “the following statement from an imaginary apologist…”
, “My imaginary religious apologist…”
, “Let’s invent an imaginary quotation from a moral philosopher…”
), as if Dawkins can’t be bothered to engaging with the real
opposition. Aside from an unfortunate determination to tackle straw
men, the most noteworthy and controversial aspect of Dawkins’ apologetic
is his support for the theoretical underpinnings of Intelligent
Design Theory. Most significantly, Dawkins makes it clear the intelligent
design is a scientific theory

No More NOMA

“I do have one thing in common with the creationists. Like me…
they will have no truck with NOMA and its separate magisteria.” – Richard

Dawkins asserts in the Preface of The God Delusion that:
“‘the God Hypothesis’ is a scientific hypothesis about the universe,
which should be analysed as sceptically as any other”
(including, presumably, Darwinian macro-evolution). He later
affirms, in broader terms, that:

The presence or absence of a creative super-intelligence
is unequivocally a scientific question, even if it is not in practice
– or not yet – a decided one… The methods we should use to settle
the matter, in the unlikely event that relevant evidence ever became
available, would be purely and entirely scientific methods.

Dawkins and intelligent design theorists are in full agreement upon
this latter point.

Dawkins defines science as simply: “the honest and systematic endeavour
to find out the truth about the real world.”
As design theorist Jay W. Richards states: “Methodological naturalism…
contradicts the true spirit of science, which is to seek the truth about
the natural world, no holds barred.”
Dawkins appears to use “science” as a term of endearment extending
to any critical investigation of the “real world” to which empirical
data has relevance, although as a metaphysical naturalist he assumes
that the “real world” is describable in exclusively naturalistic terms.
While ID theorists are careful not to allow a priori assumptions
to pre-determine the conclusions science reaches, and have followed
the lead of David Hume in distinguishing between conclusions that scientific
arguments can and cannot support without philosophical extension, Dawkins
is not so careful. Bearing these qualifications in mind, the design
theorist (especially the theistic design theorist) can welcome Dawkins’
affirmation that: “the existence of God is a scientific hypothesis like
any other… God’s existence or non-existence is a scientific fact about
the universe, discoverable in principle if not in practice.”

In claiming that ID is a scientific theory Dawkins flatly contradicts
many critics – including physicist Lawrence Krauss, microbiologist Carl
Woese and philosopher Robert Pennock – who argue that intelligent design
theory is not a scientific hypothesis. In his Kitmiller v. Dover
opinion, Judge John E. Jones III wrote of “the inescapable conclusion
that ID is an interesting theological argument, but that it is not science.”
Dawkins disagrees. According to the American Civil Liberties
Union (ACLU): “Intelligent design… falls outside the realm of
Dawkins disagrees. Austin Cline argues that: “Intelligent Design
isn’t a part of science.”
Dawkins disagrees.

A basic assumption of ID is that an intelligent agent is capable
of acting in such a way as to impress empirically detectable evidence
of design upon physical reality (this assumption underlies the day-to-day
work of many scientists, including archaeologists, cryptographers, forensic
scientists, paranormal researchers, conductors of double-blind prayer
studies and those engaged in the search for extra-terrestrial life).
A world in which God both exists and acts in such an empirically
detectable way
is therefore empirically distinguishable from a
world in which he does not. Dawkins has no truck with: “the erroneous
notion that the existence or non-existence of God is an untouchable
question, forever beyond the reach of science… 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.”

Dawkins rejects Stephen Jay Gould’s theory of “non-overlapping magesteria”
(or NOMA) that:

The net, or magisterium of science covers the
empirical realm… The magisterium of religion extends over questions
of ultimate meaning and moral value. These two magisteria do not overlap…
To cite the old clichés, science gets the age of rocks, and religion
the rock of ages; science studies how the heavens go, religion how to
go to heaven.

Dawkins considers this an act of “bending over backwards to positively
supine lengths”
to avoid any possibility of conflict (or dialogue) between science
and religion. In order to stand any chance of mounting an attack on
religion with the sword of science, Dawkins first has to cut through
the shield of NOMA. The dialogue negating suggestion that science is
about “how” while religion is about “why” actually contains a grain
of truth (religion does deal with questions of meaning with which science
does not and cannot deal), but is too simplistic. As Dawkins says of
NOMA: “This sounds terrific – right up until you give it a moment’s
He dramatizes the point by imagining:

that forensic archaeologists unearthed DNA evidence
to show that Jesus really did lack a biological father. Can you imagine
religious apologists shrugging their shoulders and saying anything remotely
like the following? “Who cares? Scientific evidence is completely irrelevant
to theological questions. Wrong magisterium! We”re concerned only with
ultimate questions and with moral values. Neither DNA nor any other
scientific evidence could ever have any bearing on the matter, one way
or the other.” The very idea is a joke.

Real world religions make real world claims that therefore intersect
with the fields of inquiry handled by science.
As philosopher of science Stephen C. Meyer argues:

it’s inherent in the Christian faith to make claims
about the real world. According to the Bible, God has revealed himself
in time and space, and so Christianity – for good or ill – is going
to intersect some of the factual claims of history and science. There’s
either going to be conflict or agreement. To make NOMA work, its advocates
have to water down science or faith, or both. Certainly Gould did –
he said religion was just a matter of ethical teaching, comfort, or
metaphysical beliefs about meaning. But Christianity certainly claims
to be more than that.

For example, Dawkins observes that:

the alleged power of intercessory prayer is at
least in principle within the reach of science. A double-blind experiment
can be done and was done. It could have yielded a positive result. And
if it had, can you imagine a single religious apologist who would have
dismissed it on the grounds that scientific research has no bearing
on religious matters? Of course not.

Obviously, we can imagine a religious apologist who holds
such a view, but the basic point is well taken. Equally obviously, the
failure of a double blind study on prayer for healing to produce a positive
result does not count against either the God hypothesis or the hypothesis
that God sometimes answers prayer positively (it counts against the
hypothesis that God always answers prayer positively, but few
if any religious believers accepts such a hypothesis). Double blind
or not, one can’t constrain the variable of God’s willingness to “play
ball”. Absence of evidence for intelligent design is not automatically
evidence of absence of an intelligent designer (that depends upon whether
or not one has a good reason to expect to find evidence if the ultimate
object of one’s investigation were real). Magicians can randomly shuffle
their cards as well as stacking the deck. Failure to detect design in
the order of a pack of cards used by a magician does not disprove the
existence of either stacked decks or of magicians. Noticing that a pack
is ordered to perform a certain trick does, however, tip us off to the
existence of a magician. Likewise, a double blind study that did produce
a positive result would at the very least present the naturalist with
something to explain away. Dawkins references a Templeton Foundation
funded study of prayer for healing that failed to yield a positive result,
and comments:

Needless to say, the negative results of the experiment
will not shake the faithful. [It would be more accurate to state that
the study had a “null” result rather than a “negative” result.] Bob
Barth, the spiritual director of the Missouri prayer ministry which
supplied some of the experimental prayers, said: “A person of faith
would say that this study is interesting, but we’ve been praying a long
time and we’ve seen prayer work, we know it works, and the research
on prayer and spirituality is just getting started.” Yeah, right: we
know from our faith that prayer works, so if evidence fails to show
it we’ll just soldier on until finally we get the result we want.

It is unfortunate that Dawkins seeks to portray Barth as claiming
to know from un-evidenced faith that prayer can lead to real
world differences the very sentence after he quotes him claiming to
know from personal experience that prayer “works”. It is also
unfortunate that Dawkins fails to note that several other scientific
studies on prayer have reported positive results.
A systematic review of the efficacy of distant healing published
in 2000 concluded that: “approximately 57% (13 of 23) of the randomised,
placebo-controlled trials of distant healing… showed a positive treatment
For example:

Dr [Randolf] Byrd divided 393 heart patients into
two groups. One was prayed for by Christians; the other did not receive
prayers from study participants. Patients didn’t know which group they
belonged to. The members of the group that was prayed for experienced
fewer complications, fewer cases of pneumonia, fewer cardiac arrests,
less congestive heart failure and needed fewer antibiotics.

Dr Dale Matthews documents how volunteers prayed for selected patients
with rheumatoid arthritis: “To avoid a possible placebo effect from
knowing they were being prayed for, the patients were not told which
ones were subjects of the test. The recovery rate among those prayed
for was measurably higher than among a control group, for which prayers
were not offered.”
Such results are of course far from being conclusive verification
of the efficacy of prayer for healing, but they do show that Dawkins
fails to grapple with the full range of available data on this subject.
Moreover, it is worth noting that such studies assume that a
statistically significant (i.e. sufficiently unlikely) match with specified
beneficial health outcomes would be evidence for the efficacy of prayer,
and are therefore another example of the scientific utility of specified

Although Dawkins rightly rejects the overly simplistic NOMA principle,
it is harder to attack religion using science than Dawkins thinks, because
there is no simple move from “null” results to “negative” results, from
absence of evidence for design to the absence of a designer. Nevertheless,
religious claims can be framed in falsifiable terms, and many religious
claims are framed in such terms. For example, the claim that Jesus rose
bodily from the grave entails that Christianity could in principle be
falsified by digging up the right body. The claim that Mary was a virgin
when she gave birth could be falsified by digging up the right sort
of historical documentation (a denial of the story written by Mary herself
would do quite nicely). Unfortunately for Dawkins, when it comes to
the question of origins, absence of evidence for intelligent design
(from biochemistry for example) cannot be considered evidence for the
absence of an intelligent designer, any more than the null result of
one prayer study can be used to falsify theism. However, just as positive
results concerning prayer should at least be of concern to a naturalist
like Dawkins, so evidence for intelligent design (from biochemistry
for example) should be of concern to him. If naturalism is true, some
sort of evolutionary explanation must be true. If theism is true then
there exists a supernatural creator who may or may not have arranged
one or more aspects of creation after a manner that provides detectable
evidence of intelligent design. As Alvin Plantinga writes:

a Christian (naturally) believes that there is
such a person as God, and believes that God has created and sustains
the world. Starting from this position… we recognize that there are
many ways in which God could have created the living things he has in
fact created: how, in fact, did he do it? …Did it all happen just
by way of the working of the laws of physics, or was there further divine
activity..? That’s the question… Starting from the belief in God,
we must look at the evidence and consider the probabilities as best
we can.

Contrast the intellectual freedom of scientific investigation to
follow the evidence under a theistic worldview with the a priori
constraints imposed upon the interpretation of empirical evidence by
a naturalistic worldview, as candidly revealed by geneticist Richard
Lewontin: “It is not that the methods… of science somehow compel us
to accept a material explanation of the… world, but, on the contrary,
that we are forced by our… adherence to material causes to create…
a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how
counterintuitive, no matter how mystifying…”
The a priori constraint of naturalism often results
in its adherents engaging in arguments (often under the guise of “science”)
that beg the question. As Darwinist Michael Ruse admits: “I think that
philosophically one should be sensitive to what I think history shows,
namely, that evolution… involves making certain a priori or metaphysical
assumptions, which at some level cannot be proven empirically.”
For example, Dawkins asserts that “Creative intelligences, being
evolved, necessarily arrive late in the universe, and therefore cannot
be responsible for designing it.”
However, even if every known creative intelligence were demonstrably
evolved late comers in the universe, this fact would provide no inferential
scientific justification for the conclusion that any and all creative
intelligences are “necessarily” evolved late arrivals in the
universe that “therefore cannot be responsible for designing it”. This
conclusion is one that must be deduced from the conclusion
that naturalism is true.

In 2005 online magazine “Edge The World Question Centre
posed the following question to a number of scientific intellectuals:
“What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it?” Dawkins
revealingly answered: “I believe that all life, all intelligence, all
creativity and all ‘design’ anywhere in the universe, is the direct
or indirect product of Darwinian natural selection. It follows that
design comes late in the universe, after a period of Darwinian evolution.
Design cannot precede evolution and therefore cannot underlie the universe.”
Hence, while Dawkins thinks he can prove that evolution accounts
for all life, intelligence, creativity and (crucially) all design
on earth, he admits he cannot prove that it accounts for
all life, intelligence, creativity and design in the universe.
Therefore, whatever we make of evolution as an explanation of life on
earth, we need to recognize that only from the unproven generalisation
that evolution accounts for all life, intelligence, creativity
and design in the universe, does it follow that “Creative intelligences…
arrive late in the universe, and therefore cannot be responsible for
designing it.”
Indeed, that particular conclusion only follows from the premise
that evolution must (rather than does) account for
all life, intelligence, creativity and design in the universe. Such
an a priori assertion is clearly metaphysical in nature rather
than scientific, since it amounts to the assumption that God does not
exist. It seems, then, that Dawkins believes that evolution must
explain any and all “design” in the universe, and that there is no divine
designer, because he believes that God does not exist. As Phillip
E. Johnson argues: “Darwinism is the answer to a specific question that
grows out of philosophical naturalism… The question is: How must creation
have occurred if we assume that God had nothing to do with it?”
Answering this question is not at all the same as answering
this question: “How did creation occur?” As Thomas Woodward

ID scientists never prejudge in detecting
design. They never assume design; design must be positively detected,
by analysing evidence and passing rigorous tests. Darwinism is different.
It is profoundly theological in its basic operating rules, in that it
lays down an assured truth – an axiom that amounts to a religious
catechism. It is this catechism then that serves as a starting point.
The Darwinian catechism states that when scrutinizing complex living
systems, one can rest assured that scientific evidence and logic can
never lead one to conclude that there was an intelligent cause behind
life… Evolutionary biology, by limiting itself exclusively to material
mechanisms, has settled in advance the question of which biological
explanations are true, apart from any consideration of the empirical
evidence. This is armchair philosophy.

Specified Complexity & Little Green Men

Discussing the scientific search for extra-terrestrial life, Dawkins

It is a non-trivial question, by the way, what
kind of signal would convince us of its intelligent origin. A good approach
is to turn the question around. What should we intelligently do in order
to advertise our presence to extraterrestrial listeners? Rhythmic pulses
wouldn’t do it… Metronomic rhythms can be generated by many non-intelligent
phenomena… Nothing simply rhythmic, then, would announce our intelligent
presence to the waiting universe.

Jocelyn Bell Burnell first discovered the pulsar in 1967 and “was
moved by the precision of its 1.33-second periodicity to name it, tongue
in cheek, the LGM (Little Green Men) signal. She later found a second
pulsar, elsewhere in the sky and of a different periodicity, which pretty
much disposed of the LGM hypothesis.”
The regular, specified but uncomplicated pattern of a pulsar
does not require an explanation in terms of intelligent design. Neither,
of course, does the irregular, unspecified complexity of static. So
what sort of signal would do the job? As design theorist William A.
Dembski argues, it is one that is both complex and specified.
According to Dawkins: “Prime numbers are often mentioned as the
recipe of choice, since it is difficult to think of a purely physical
process that could generate them.”
Dawkins affirms, then, that there is a type of pattern, in principle
discoverable by empirical, scientific investigation, for which it is
difficult to account in purely physical terms and which would rightly
trigger a design inference. In this, he agrees with design theorists.
As Dembski writes:

Intelligent design studies the effects of intelligence
in the world. Many special sciences already fall under intelligent design,
including archaeology, cryptography, forensics, and SETI (the Search
for Extraterrestrial Intelligence). Intelligent design is thus already
part of science. Moreover, it employs well-defined methods for detecting
intelligence. These methods together with their application constitute
the theory of intelligent design [this is ID in the broad sense]. The
question, therefore, is not whether intelligent design constitutes a
genuine scientific theory but whether, as a scientific theory, it properly
applies to biology [this is ID in the narrow sense]. Indeed, the only
place where intelligent design is controversial is biology (even physicists
are now comfortable talking about the design of the universe).

Dawkins also re-affirms his belief that: “Whether we ever get to
know about them or not, there are very probably alien civilizations
that are superhuman, to the point of being god-like in ways that exceed
anything a theologian could possibly imagine.”
(Dawkins cannot, therefore, exclude a priori the possibility
that intelligent design is a true hypothesis when it comes to accounting
for life on earth.) Dawkins has a low opinion of theology: “The notion
that religion is a proper field, in which one might claim expertise,
is one that should not go unquestioned… there is no evidence to support
theological opinions either way… I have yet to see any good reason
to suppose that theology (as opposed to biblical history, literature,
etc.) is a subject at all.”
Of course, theology includes biblical history, literature,
etc. What Dawkins seems to mean, is that systematic or
theology is not a real subject in which one might
claim expertise, since there is no relevant empirical evidence to master.
Even granting for the sake of argument that proper subjects require
empirical evidence, whether or not Dawkins is right about “theology”
being a non-subject would seem to depend upon whether or not naturalism
is true, a question to which, in a NOMA free world, evidence may certainly
be relevant (especially if we reject a self-contradictory scientism
by refusing to restrict the meaning of “evidence” to “empirical evidence”).

ID is a Scientific Theory

Dawkins applies his rejection of NOMA to the questions at the heart
of both ID and Christianity:

The presence or absence of a creative super-intelligence
is unequivocally a scientific question, even if it is not in practice
– or not yet – a decided one. So also is the truth or falsehood of every
one of the miracle stories that religions rely upon to impress multitudes
of the faithful. Did Jesus have a human father, or was his mother a
virgin at the time of his birth? Whether or not there is enough surviving
evidence to decide it, this is still a strictly scientific question
with a definite answer in principle: yes or no. Did Jesus raise Lazarus
from the dead? Did he himself come alive again, three days after being
crucified? There is an answer to every such question, whether or not
we can discover it in practice, and it is a strictly scientific answer.
The methods we should use to settle the matter, in the unlikely event
that relevant evidence ever became available, would be purely and entirely
scientific methods.

Dawkins’ critique of Christianity, like his critique of ID, is that
the evidence does not support it. He asserts:

Christianity was founded by Paul of Tarsus…
The historical evidence that Jesus claimed any sort of divine status
is minimal… Ever since the nineteenth century, scholarly theologians
have made an overwhelming case that the gospels are not reliable accounts
of what happened in the history of the real world. All were written
long after the death of Jesus, and also after the epistles of Paul,
which mention almost none of the alleged facts of Jesus’ life. All were
then copied and recopied, through many different “Chinese Whispers generations”…
by fallible scribes who, in any case, had their own religious agendas…
The four gospels that made it into the official cannon were chosen,
more or less arbitrarily, out of a larger sample of at least a dozen…
Nobody knows who the four evangelists were, but they almost certainly
never met Jesus personally. Much of what they wrote was in no sense
an honest attempt at history… It is even possible to mount a serious,
though not widely supported, historical case that Jesus never lived
at all… Although Jesus probably existed, reputable bible scholars
do not in general regard the New Testament (and obviously not the Old
Testament) as a reliable record of what actually happened in history…

Dawkins’ attack upon the historical reliability of the bible, which
draws upon scholars like agnostic Bart Ehrman (who follows Hume in proposing
that miracle claims cannot in principle be supported by evidence
), constitutes a “greatest hits” of the sort of claim I expect
to hear from students who have uncritically lapped up philosophically
outdated and sceptical treatments of scripture that confirm their prejudices.
Plenty of scholars would take issue with Dawkins’ opinions concerning
the reliability of the bible, on evidential grounds.

There is an apparent contradiction between Dawkins’ NOMA-rejecting
support for the idea that miracle claims can in principle be settled
one way or the other by scientific evidence, and his assertion that
“miracles, by definition, violate the principles of science.”
Responding to the latter claim, William Lane Craig writes:

natural laws assume that no other natural or supernatural
factors are interfering with the operation of that the laws describes…
The law of gravity states what will happen under idealized conditions
with no natural or supernatural factors intervening. Catching the apple
doesn’t overturn the law of gravity or require the formulation of a
new law. It’s merely the intervention of a person with free will who
overrides the natural causes operative in that particular circumstances.
And that, essentially, is what God does when he causes a miracle to

In other words, using scientific laws to argue against theism is
guilty of begging the question. Dawkins might escape the charge of begging
the question, and of contradicting his argument that miracles can in
principle be verified by science, if it were not for his assertion that
educated Christians today know that miracle claims are, not merely
unsupported or even falsified by scientific evidence,
but rationally absurd:

The nineteenth century is the last time when it
was possible for an educated person to admit to believing in miracles
like the virgin birth without embarrassment. When pressed, many educated
Christians today are too loyal to deny the virgin birth and the resurrection.
But it embarrasses them because their rational minds know it is absurd,
so they would much rather not be asked.

In Dawkins’ world it is evidently a sound critique to simply
that educated people professing allegiance to a belief are
so caught up in the spirit of the age that they are embarrassed when
pressed upon the subject because “their rational minds know it is absurd”.
(I wonder how far I can get by asserting: “The twentieth century
is the last time when it was possible for an educated person to admit
to believing in naturalistic theories of mind, such as that “thoughts
and emotions emerge from exceedingly complex interactions of physical
entities within the brain,”
without embarrassment. When pressed, many educated naturalists
are too loyal to deny such theories. But it embarrasses them because
their rational minds know it is absurd, so they would much rather not
be asked”?)

Dawkins obviously knows me better than myself since, despite being
well educated, I was strangely unaware of knowing that believing in
the resurrection embarrassed me before reading Dawkins’ assertion to
the contrary. Indeed, I am still unaware of knowing any such thing and
protest that I am not embarrassed to profess belief in miracles, including
the virgin birth and the resurrection. As Alvin Plantinga writes:

Very many well-educated people (including even
some theologians) understand science and history in a way that is entirely
compatible both with the possibility and with the actuality of miracles.
Many physicists and engineers, for example, understand “electrical light
and the wireless” vastly better than Bultmann or his contemporary followers,
but nonetheless hold precisely those New Testament beliefs Bultmann
thinks incompatible with using electric lights and radios… As a matter
of historical fact, there are any number of contemporaries, and contemporary
intellectuals very well acquainted with science who don’t feel any problem
at all in pursuing science and also believing in miracles, angels, Christ’s
resurrection, the lot.

The crucial point here, at least for present purposes, is the point
on which Christians agree with Dawkins (even if Dawkins himself
is inconsistent upon the matter): When it comes to religious claims
about history, it really does matter what the evidence is.
I take a different view than Dawkins on the historical reliability of
scripture, not because I have a religious faith that brooks no argument,
but because I think I can better his claims on the shared ground of
rational engagement with the data.

When we come to examine pre-history, Dawkins states:

A universe in which we are alone except for other
slowly evolved intelligences is a very different universe from one with
an original guiding agent whose intelligent design is responsible for
its very existence. I accept that it may not be so easy in practice
to distinguish one kind of universe from the other. Nevertheless, there
is something utterly special about the hypothesis of ultimate design,
and equally special about the only known alternative: gradual evolution
in the broad sense. They are close to being irreconcilably different.
[In which case they are not irreconcilably different.] Like
nothing else, evolution [if it can do everything Dawkins thinks
it can do, which many ID theorists question] really does provide an
explanation for the existence of entities whose improbability would
otherwise, for practical purposes, rule them out [absent intelligent
design that is].

While there is an obvious relation between the question of “a creative
super-intelligence” and the question of a supernatural creator, they
are equally obviously not one and the same question. Evidence for the
latter is necessarily evidence for the former, but not vice versa. To
move from the former to the latter requires philosophical extension.
The theist holds a doctrine of creation that does not demand scientific
evidence of intelligent design, but which can welcome such evidence
if it exists. The naturalists holds a doctrine of non-creation that
precludes any scientific evidence of design unless it is accounted for
by reference to some naturalistically acceptable designer (such as Dawkins’
god-like but nevertheless evolved aliens); something it is progressively
harder to do the more widespread and the more fundamental the evidence
for design is shown to be. According to Dawkins, “there is no evidence
to favour the God Hypothesis.”
I disagree (Dawkins’ laughable treatment of natural theology
appears to be that of someone who cannot be bothered to seriously engage
with the subject). However, the crucial point here is the point on which
ID theorists (whether or not they believe in God) agree with
Dawkins: “A universe in which we are alone except for other slowly evolved
intelligences is a very different universe from one with an original
guiding agent whose intelligent design is responsible for its very existence.”
Indeed, such a universe is sufficiently different that the difference
might be empirically detectable.

Irreducible Complexity

“We believe in evolution because the evidence supports it, and we
would abandon it overnight if new evidence arose to disprove it.” –
Richard Dawkins

In discussing and dismissing the argument for intelligent design
from irreducible complexity, Dawkins quixotically dissects examples
from a book with no named author, published by the Jehovah Witness’
Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, entitled Life – How Did It Get
Dawkins easily blows away the argument that since the insect-trapping
and purportedly “irreducibly complex” plant Aristolochia trilobata
(Dutchman’s Pipe) could not have happened “by chance” it therefore must
have been intelligently designed. Of course, as Dawkins points out:
“Design is not the only alternative to chance. Natural selection is
a better alternative.”
But such straw man bating is simply a red herring that avoids
serious engagement with the far more sophisticated arguments of Intelligent
Design theorists proper.

When Dawkins finally gets around to defining irreducible complexity,
he summarizes the concept in his own words as follows: “A functioning
unit is said to be irreducibly complex if the removal of one of its
parts causes the whole to cease functioning.”
This unreferenced definition is an oversimplification of irreducible
complexity as defined by the originator of the phrase, biochemist Michael
J. Behe. Behe’s most notable presentation of irreducible complexity
is Darwin’s Black Box: the Biochemical Challenge to Evolution
(1996/2006), where he defined irreducible complexity as follows: “By
irreducibly complex I mean a single system composed of several
well-matched, interacting parts that contribute to basic function, wherein
the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively
cease functioning.”

To propose that a system (such as the flagellum) is irreducibly complex
(IC) is not to argue for design by definition, but to lay the foundation
for an inference to design from uniform experience. Behe observes that
if a system is IC then it is impossible to evolve that system via a
direct evolutionary pathway: “An irreducibly complex system
cannot be produced directly… by slight, successive modifications of
a precursor system, because any precursor to an irreducibly complex
system that is missing a part is by definition non-functional.”
Behe admits that: “although irreducible complexity does rule
out direct routes, it does not automatically rule out indirect ones.”
However, he argues that the more complex the IC system in question
is (i.e. the more necessary parts it contains): “the more unlikely the
indirect routes become.”
Behe does not move directly from the unlikelihood of
an evolutionary explanation of an IC system to the hypothesis of intelligent
design. Rather, he notes that:

irreducibly complex systems such as mousetraps
and flagella serve both as negative arguments against gradualistic explanations
like Darwin’s and as positive arguments for design. The negative argument
is that such interactive systems resist explanation by the tiny steps
that a Darwinian path would be expected to take [because direct routes
are impossible and indirect routes unlikely]. The positive argument
is that their parts appear arranged to serve a purpose, which is exactly
how we detect design.

Hence Behe defends his argument against the charge that it is an
argument “from present ignorance”:

there is a structural reason – irreducible
complexity – for thinking that Darwinian explanations are unlikely to
succeed. Furthermore… irreducible complexity is a hallmark of intelligent
design… Truncating my case for intelligent design and then saying
I commit the fallacy of argumentum ad ignorantium is not, in
my opinion, fair play.

Dawkins fleetingly mentions Behe, but only to label him (inaccurately)
as “the creationist Michael Behe… credited (if credited is the word)
with moving creationism into a new area of biology: biochemistry and
cell biology…”
Behe, the primary source of the argument Dawkins is opposing,
apparently does not merit a single quotation by Dawkins (he’d rather
dissect a popular work by an anonymous creationist), even when he critiques
Behe’s most famous example: the bacterial flagellum. (Dawkins writes
that the flagellum is “happily described as a tiny outboard motor –
and unusually for a biological mechanism – it is a spectacularly inefficient
However, the flagellum has an energy conversion efficiency “close
to 100%”
and Japanese scientists have studied it with the aim of producing
energy saving nanotechnology
; so it seems that Dawkins has his facts wrong.)

Dawkins dismisses “The absurd notion that such complexity could spontaneously
self-assemble” but asserts that “Evolution… goes around the back of
[Mount Improbable] and creeps up the gentle slope to the summit: easy!”
Anyone familiar with the contemporary ID debate should know that
such a response is far too “easy”; if a system is IC then it cannot
evolve “directly” round the back of Mount Improbable and is unlikely
to evolve “indirectly” up the back of Mount Improbable. Dawkins
the existence of a statistically plausible, indirect graded
ramp up the back of Mount Improbable from the naturalistic assumption
that evolution must be true; but as Danish philosopher Jokob Wolf observes:

An explanation of the evolution of an organism
is scientifically adequate only if it is able to account for all the
incremental steps required for the building of the system. These steps
must be so small that their probability can be calculated. Which means
that you should actually be able to quantify the probability of every
small step, and so prove that it is reasonably probable that it constitutes
a step on the evolutionary ladder. You also have to be able to prove
that each step presents an advantage to the organism. Currently, there
exist no Darwinian explanations of e.g. the bacterial flagellum which
satisfy these criteria… Darwinian accounts purporting to account for
the emergence of very complex systems are primarily expressions of the
hope that the evolution of these systems is explainable by appeal to
the Darwinian mechanism. They are wishful speculations.

Cell biologist Franklin Harold admits that “there are presently no
detailed Darwinian accounts of the evolution of any biochemical or cellular
system, only a variety of wishful speculations.”

Dawkins simplifies things for himself by expanding his over-simplified
definition of irreducible complexity to include a requirement that
no parts of an IC system have any function outside of the IC whole to
which they contribute
(something that is easier to get away with
having failed to quote Behe’s own definition of irreducible complexity).
Behe does not assume that an IC system is one in which the
components of the system have no independent function. However, attributing
this assumption to Behe allows Dawkins to follow Kenneth Miller in blithely
dispatching Behe’s argument simply by pointing to the existence of the
Type III secretory system:

molecular biologists have no difficulty in finding
parts functioning outside the whole… In the case of the bacterial
rotary engine, Millar calls our attention to a mechanism called the
Type Three Secretory System or TTSS… To the evolutionist it is clear
that TTSS components were commandeered for a new, but not wholly unrelated,
function when the flagellar motor evolved.

However, Behe’s argument for design allows for the fact that the
separate components of an irreducibly complex system may exhibit independent
functionality: “there’s no reason that individual components of an irreducibly
complex system could not be used for separate roles, or multiple separate
roles, and I never wrote that they couldn’t.”
As Behe comments in a review of Dawkins’ previous book (The
Ancestor’s Tale

Miller’s argument is that because the flagellum
is more complex than we thought, that because it can act both as a protein
pump as well as an outboard motor, then it is not irreducible. If the
motor gets broken, remaining pieces may still act as a pump. That’s
like arguing that because, in addition to wheels and a motor, a car
has a fuel pump, then it isn’t irreducible either. If the tires are
flat, the fuel pump can still work. Therefore we can imagine that the
car could have been put together in small random steps. Such is the
rigor of Darwinian thought.

Moreover, William A. Dembski points out that: “At best the TTSS represents
one possible step in the indirect Darwinian evolution of the bacterial
flagellum. What’s needed is a complete evolutionary path and not merely
a possible oasis along the way. To claim otherwise is like saying we
can travel by foot from Los Angeles to Tokyo because we”ve discovered
the Hawaiian Islands.”
And as Franklin Howard urges: “we must concede that there are
presently no detailed Darwinian accounts of the evolution of any biochemical
Two final points nail shut the coffin of the TTSS scenario. The
first is that: “The type III system itself is [IC], perhaps with ten
IC components.”
The second is that the best current molecular evidence: “points
to the TTSS evolving from the flagellum and not vice versa.”
As the eminent Yale biochemist Robert Macnab wrote with reference
to the TTSS and the flagellum in the Annual Review of Microbiology
2003: “nature has found two good uses for this sophisticated type of
apparatus. How they evolved is another matter, although it has been
proposed that the flagellum is the more ancient device…”
Thomas Woodward explains why:

the flagellum is likely to have historically
preceded the TTSS
. This is indicated since the TTSS is found in
gram negative bacteria that seem to have appeared in a later
era, when more advanced kinds of cells called eukaryotes had
appeared. These gram negative bacteria with TTSS injectors don’t hassle
other prokaryotes – bacterial life-forms. In essence, the current
best evidence indicates that a flagellum devolved… into a tiny subsystem,
the TTSS injector pump.

Despite his confidence that the flagellum easily evolved up some
graded ramp or other up the back of Mount Improbable, Dawkins admits
that when it comes to giving an evolutionary account of the flagellum:
“A lot more work needs to be done, of course…”
In other words, Dawkins can’t meet the burden of proof involved
in empirically demonstrating the existence of a statistically plausible
“indirect” evolutionary path up the back of Mount Improbable for the
bacterial flagellum; he can only deduce the existence of such a route
from the fact that the flagellum exists and the philosophical assumption
that it cannot have come into existence by intelligent design.

In the final analysis, what is most significant about Dawkins’ discussion
of irreducible complexity is not that he disagrees with Behe’s conclusions,
or that he justifies his disagreement by carelessly miss-defining Behe’s
central concept; or that he prefers to interact with “an imaginary intelligent
design theorist”
than a real one; but rather that Dawkins agrees with Behe
that the concept of irreducible complexity is a testable scientific
hypothesis that constitutes a critical test of Darwin’s theory of evolution

Maybe there is something out there in nature that
really does preclude, by its genuinely irreducible complexity, the smooth
gradient of Mount Improbable. The creationists are right that, if genuinely
irreducible complexity could be properly demonstrated, it would wreck
Darwin’s theory. Darwin himself said as much… genuine irreducible
complexity would wreck Darwin’s theory if it were ever found…

Dawkins and the Anthropic Principle

Dawkins notes that theologians who demure from arguments concerning
“flagellar motors and immune systems”
may nevertheless advance arguments from “the origin of life”
because “The root of evolution in non-biological chemistry somehow
seems to present a bigger gap than any particular transition during
subsequent evolution.”
Dawkins himself questions this assumption, noting that Mark Ridley
“has suggested that the origin of the eukaryotic cell (our kind of cell,
with a nucleus and various other complicated features such as mitochondria,
which are not present in bacteria) was an even more momentous, difficult
and statistically improbable step than the origin of life.”

Dawkins also suggests that “The origin of consciousness might be
another major gap whose bridging was of the same order of improbability.”
Together with a growing number of scholars (David Chalmers notes
that “at least three prominent materialists who have abandoned the view
in the last few years”
), I would question Dawkins’ assumption that the quantitative
concept of physical improbability is applicable to the origin of a reality
of such qualitative difference. Dawkins notes that “Perceived
hues – what philosophers call qualia – have no intrinsic connection
with lights of particular wavelengths”
, but he fails to even ask whether the very existence of qualia
and their reliable correlation with physical realities might not pose
problems for a naturalistic worldview.

Nevertheless, the supposed spontaneous origin of life from inorganic
chemistry does represent a significant and improbable historical change,
and one that cannot be addressed in terms of evolution by natural selection,
for as Dawkins notes: “The origin of life was the chemical event, or
series of events, whereby the vital conditions for natural selection
first came about.”
Dawkins’ handles the improbability of jumping the gap between
chemistry and the specified complexity of life by stating: “The origin
of life only had to happen once. We can therefore allow it to have been
an extremely improbable event, many orders of magnitude more improbable
than most people realize…”
Dawkins then introduces the anthropic principle:

The anthropic principle was named by the British
mathematician Brandon Carter in 1974 and expanded by the physicists
John Barrow and Frank Tipler in their book on the subject. The anthropic
argument is usually applied to the cosmos, and I’ll come to that. But
I’ll introduce the idea on a smaller, planetary scale. We exist here
on Earth. Therefore, Earth must be the kind of planet that is capable
of generating and supporting us, however unusual, even unique, that
kind of planet might be.

Already, at this early stage, we need to sound several notes of caution.
The fact that we exist does indeed entail that our planet is in
the kind of planet capable of supporting us, however unusual
(i.e. unlikely) that kind of planet may be. However, it does not entail
that earth must be the kind of planet that is capable of supporting
us if “must be” is understood to mean that it is a necessary rather
than a contingent truth that a life-friendly planet exists. Moreover,
the mere fact that we exist on planet earth does not entail that earth
is (let alone must be) “capable of generating” our existence. To reach
that conclusion one would have to accept the question-begging
premise that our existence is not specifically dependent upon intelligent

Dawkins writes that “Around a typical star like our sun, there is
a so-called Goldilocks zone – not too hot and not too cold, but just
right – for planets with liquid water [a pre-requisite of life].”
In the very next paragraph Dawkins contradicts his incorrect
statement that the sun is “a typical star”, noting that “Our sun is
unusual in not being a binary, locked in mutual orbit with a companion
Dawkins is right about both the unusual nature of our sun and
about the existence of a so-called Goldilocks zone that the earth happily

The sun is not a typical star; 95 percent of all
stars are less massive than the sun. Less massive stars are less luminous,
and thus a planet would have to be very close to the star to stay warm.
But being close to the star is dangerous because of tidal effects. Also,
at close distances the rotation of the planet becomes locked so that
one side always faces the star… This rotational lock causes one side
of the planet to freeze, the other side to burn. Stars much larger than
the sun have life spans too short for life to occur. It is estimated
that 70 percent of all stars are binary or multiple stars. Binary or
multiple stars contain two or more stars orbiting each other. Stable
planetary orbits are hard to imagine in such systems… A planet such
as Venus, located closer to the sun than the habitable zone, would become
too hot for life. A planet such as Mars, located farther from the sun
than the habitable zone, would become too cold for life. With the earth
at a distance from the sun of 1.0 AU (1 A.U equals 93 million miles),
the width of the sun’s habitable zone is from 0.95 AU to 1.15 AU. Thus,
the habitable zone for the sun is very narrow.

There are, observes Dawkins, two main explanations that have been
offered “for our planet’s peculiar friendliness to life. The design
theory says that God made the world, placed it in the Goldilocks zone,
and deliberately set up all the details for our benefit.”
Of course, ID does not say that God is necessarily
the culprit, for the simple reason that to specify the designer requires
further evidence than provided by evidence of intelligent design. Neither
design theorists nor theists (and the two groups overlap without being
identical) would necessarily argue that the designer set up all
the details of planet earth, or did so solely for human
benefit. But what of the alternative explanation? Bizarrely, according
to Dawkins, the alternative non-design explanation is the anthropic
principle itself

The anthropic approach is very different… The
great majority of planets in the universe are not in the Goldilocks
zones of their respective stars, and are not suitable for life. None
of that majority has life. However small the minority of planets with
just the right conditions for life may be, we necessarily have to be
on one of that minority, because here we are thinking about it. It is
a strange fact, incidentally, that religious apologists love the anthropic
principle. For some reason that makes no sense at all, they think it
supports their case. Precisely the opposite is true. The anthropic principle,
like natural selection, is an alternative to the design hypothesis.
It provides a rational, design-free explanation for the fact that we
find ourselves in a situation propitious to our existence. I think the
confusion arises in the religious mind because the anthropic principle
is only ever mentioned in the context of the problem it solves, namely
the fact that we live in a life-friendly place. What the religious mind
then fails to grasp is that two candidate solutions are offered to the
problem. God is one. The anthropic principle is the other. They are

However, the “problem” that needs to be solved is not “the
fact that we live in a life friendly place”
as Dawkins says (given our existence we obviously could not
exist in a life unfriendly place), but rather the fact that a life
friendly place exists
. The anthropic principle “provides a rational,
design-free explanation for the fact that we find ourselves in a situation
propitious to our existence”
, but it does not provide an explanation of any kind for the
question as to why a situation propitious to our existence should exist
in the first place. Dawkins is probably right to say that, “There are
billions of planets in the universe, and, however small the minority
of evolution-friendly planets may be, our planet necessarily has to
be one of them”
, but this anthropic observation has no bearing on
explaining why an evolution-friendly planet exists. As Woodward explains,
“the name anthropic principle is brought in as a quasi-synonym for fine-tuning.”
When this quasi-synonymic substitution happens, as it happens
in The God Delusion, one obviously cannot appeal to the “anthropic
principle” to explain “fine tuning”. That would be like trying to use
the concept of “bachelors” to explain the existence of unmarried men!
This, in effect, is precisely what Dawkins attempts to do.

Back to Abiogenesis

Dawkins returns to the question of abiogenesis:

the spontaneous arising by chance of the first
hereditary molecule strikes many as improbable. Maybe it is – very very
improbable… The origin of life is a flourishing, if speculative, subject
for research. The expertise required for it is chemistry and it is not
mine. I watch from the sidelines with engaged curiosity, and I shall
not be surprised if, within the next few years, chemists report that
they have successfully midwifed a new origin of life in the laboratory.
Nevertheless it hasn’t happened yet, and it is still possible to maintain
that the probability of it happening is, and always was, exceedingly
low – although it did happen once! Just as we did with the Goldilocks
orbits, we can make the point that, however improbable the origin of
life might be, we know it happened on Earth because we are here. Again…
there are two hypotheses to explain what happened – the design hypothesis
and the… “anthropic” hypothesis.

Many of those with the expertise Dawkins admits to lacking are not
so confident. For example, Robert Shapiro writes:

A profound difficulty exists… with the idea
of RNA, or any other replicator, at the start of life. Existing replicators
can serve as templates for the synthesis of additional copies of themselves,
but this device cannot be used for the preparation of the very first
such molecule, which must arise spontaneously from an unorganized mixture.
The formation of an information-bearing [RNA chain or equivalent] through
undirected chemical synthesis appears very improbable.

According to biochemist Stuart Pullen:

The hypothesis [of abiogenesis] is found
in almost all biology books where it is put forth as the generally accepted
theory. Yet in the scientific journals, scientists routinely dismiss
many aspects of the hypothesis as highly improbable… When it comes
to chemical evolution and the origin of life, science just doesn’t have
the answer… While several amino acids can be created under plausible
conditions, proteins cannot be… many biologists mistakenly believe
that it is quite easy to synthesize all of the required biological molecules.
Nevertheless, a quick review of the relevant literature reveals that
this is not true.

Having restudied this evidence, Nobel laureate Richard Smalley recently
affirmed that life must have been created by an intelligence.
The hypothesis that life sprang from non-life without the aid
of intelligent design, as Dawkins’ comments make clear, is a philosophical
deduction entailed by the assumption of naturalism
. It is, as Shapiro
writes: “mythology rather than science”.
Dawkins contradicts his incoherent assertion that the alternative
to the “design hypothesis” is the anthropic principle:

the anthropic alternative to the design hypothesis
is statistical. Scientists invoke the magic of large numbers… a billion
billion is a concervative estimate of the number of available planets
in the universe. Now, suppose the origin of life, the spontaneous arising
of something equivalent to DNA, really was a quite staggeringly improbable
event…. If the odds of life originating spontaneously on a planet
were a billion to one against, nevertheless that stupefying improbable
event would still happen on a billion planets… I do not for a moment
believe the origin of life was anywhere near so improbable in practice…
Even accepting the most pessimistic estimate of the probability that
life might spontaneously originate, this statistical argument completely
demolishes any suggestion that we should postulate design…

Odds of “a billion to one against” can be expressed as odds of 1
in 109. In Climbing Mount Improbable Dawkins calculates:
“the probability that any particular sequence of, say 100, amino-acids
will spontaneously form is [roughly] 1 in 20100. This is
an inconceivably large number, far greater than the number of fundamental
particles in the entire universe
And yet here is Dawkins arguing that any suggestion that intelligent
design might be the best explanation for the origin, not of a single
chain of amino-acids at odds of 1 in 20100, but of life
capable of undergoing evolution
, is demolished by the “statistical
argument” that it only had to “spontaneously originate” on a single
planet out of “a billion-billion”! Dawkins vastly underestimates the
odds against the spontaneous generation of life. As Dean L. Overman
complains: “Many proponents of the origin of life by chance do not bother
to perform the mathematical calculations which render their conclusions
highly improbable.”
Stephen C. Meyer calculates that to generate a single functional
protein of 150 amino acids exceeds: “1 chance in 10180,”
and comments “it is extremely unlikely that a random search through
all the possible amino acid sequences could generate even a single relatively
short functional protein in the time available since the beginning of
the universe…”

We have come a long way in our understanding of life since Ernst
Haeckel described cells as “homogeneous globules of plasm”
in 1905. As Overman observes: “the difficulties in producing
a protein from the mythical prebiotic soup are very large, but more
difficult still is the probability of random processes producing the
simplest living cell which represents an overwhelming increase in complexity”.
David Swift comments:

Biologists have become increasingly aware that
the real stumbling block to the origin of life is its complexity – complexity
in terms of the interdependence of molecules and biochemical pathways
within cell metabolism, and complexity at the molecular level of individual
components. The combination of complexities at these different levels
presents insurmountable difficulties to getting anything that is remotely
life-like… the complexity of even the simplest forms of life, a bacterium
is much closer to a human being than it is to any cocktail of organic
compounds in some putative primeval soup… the core of the problem
is the considerable complexity of even the “simplest” forms of life,
or even of some notional system that is stripped down to the theoretical
bare necessities of life.

Fazale Rana and Hugh Ross report that: “Theoretical and experimental
studies designed to discover the bare minimum number of gene products
necessary for life all show significant agreement. Life seems to require
between 250 and 350 different proteins to carry out its most basic operations.”
The simplest existing self-reproducing organism known outside
the laboratory is the bacterium Mycoplasma Genitalium, which
has 482 genes (two thirds of which have been shown to be necessary to
its survival in the laboratory). Outside of the laboratory Mycoplasma
is “unable to sustain itself without parasitizing on
an even more complex organism… Therefore a hypothetical first cell
that could sustain itself would have to be even more complex.”
Rana and Ross argue:

the minimum complexity for independent life must
reside somewhere between about 500 and 1,500 gene products. So far,
as scientists have continued their sequencing efforts, all microbial
genomes that fall below 1,500 belong to parasites. Organisms capable
of permanent independent existence require more gene products. A minimum
genome size (for independent life) of 1,500 to 1,900 gene products comports
with what geochemical and fossil evidence reveals about the complexity
of Earth’s first life. Earliest life forms displayed metabolic complexity
that included photosynthetic and chemoautotrophic processes, protein
synthesis, the capacity to produce amino acids, nucleotides, fatty acids
and sugars [as well as] the machinery to reproduce. Some 1,500 different
gene products would seem the bare minimum to sustain this level of metabolic
activity… neither enough matter nor enough time in the universe exist
for even the simplest bacterium to emerge by undirected chemical and
physical processes.

Paul Davies writes that the odds against producing just the proteins
necessary for a minimally complex life-form by pure chance are “something
like 1040,000 to one.”
No wonder Benjamin Wiker concludes: “there are insuperable problems
in trying to explain, via some mode of design-free evolutionary theory,
how the first cells could have arisen”.
As Swift concludes:

it is no longer tenable to hide behind millions
or even billions of years – trying to argue that even the improbable
becomes probable given time – nor even behind the argument that life
did not have to evolve on earth but could have arisen on any one of
an astronomical number of possible planets. The conclusion is plain
and simple: the universe is not big enough or old enough, not by a factor
of trillions of trillions… for the complexities of life to have arisen
by random associations of simple organic molecules or of random mutations
of proteins or nucleic acids.

Appealing to the existence of a billion billion life friendly planets
(and they have to be life friendly planets) doesn’t rescue
the theory of spontaneous origination when the odds against the formation
of a single functional protein are 10180 to one. In point
of fact, Dawkins’ appeal to the existence of a billion billion life
friendly planets is made in the teeth of the evidence, because as astronomer
Danny R. Faulkner writes: “it is unlikely that there are many, if any,
other earth-like planets in the universe”
able to sustain life. Benjamin Wiker reviews some of the finely
tuned conditions that permit life on earth:

Our sun is not a typical star but is one of the
9 percent most massive stars in our galaxy, and is also very stable.
Further, the sun hits the Goldilocks mean for life – neither too hot
(like a blue or white star) nor too cold (like a red star) – and its
peak emission is right at the visible part of the electromagnetic spectrum
– the very, very thin band where not only vision is possible but also
photosynthesis. Earth just “happens” to have the right combination of
atmospheric gases to block out almost all the harmful radiation on the
electromagnetic spectrum but, strangely enough, opens like a window
for visible light. Jupiter is deftly placed and sized so that it not
only helps to balance the Earth’s orbit but also acts as a kind of debris
magnet keeping Earth from being pummeled. Our moon is just the right
size and distance to stabilize earth’s axial tilt so that we have seasonal
variations but not wildly swinging temperature changes.

Hugh Ross reviews 200 parameters required for a life-bearing planet.
Comparing the chances of a planet falling within these parameters by
chance alone with our best estimate of the total number of planets in
the universe (1022) he estimates that there is “less than
1 chance in 10215” of a habitable planet existing in the
Elsewhere, Ross argues:

fewer than a trillionth of a trillionth of a percent
of all stars will have a planet capable of sustaining advanced life.
Considering that the observable universe contains less than a trillion
galaxies, each averaging a hundred billion stars, we can see that not
even one planet would be expected, by natural processes alone, to possess
the necessary conditions to sustain life.

Offering an updated Drake equation for calculating the number of
intelligent civilizations in our Galaxy, astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez
and philosopher Jay W. Richards conclude: “the probability that the
Milky Way Galaxy contains even one advanced civilization is likely to
be much less than one. This is an interesting result, of course, since
we exist.”
Naturalistic astrobiologists Peter D. Ward and Donald Brownlee
concede that: “If some god-like being could be given the opportunity
to plan a sequence of events with the express goal of duplicating our
“Garden of Eden”, that power would face a formidable task. With the
best intentions, but limited by natural laws and materials,
it is unlikely that Earth could ever be truly replicated.”
The fine-tuning of the non-cosmic preconditions of life both
negate Dawkins’ hand-waving evocation of increased planetary probabilistic
resources in the (forlorn) hope of avoiding the conclusion that life
exhibits specified complexity, and to constitute an example of specified
complexity in its own right.

The Anthropic Principle: Cosmic Version

Dawkins correctly notes: “Physicists have calculated that, if the
laws and constants of physics had been even slightly different, the
universe would have developed in such a way that life would have been
However, Dawkins attempts to use the anthropic principle as
an explanation for this observation when it is in fact a restatement
of the observation: “We live not only on a friendly planet but also
in a friendly universe. It follows from the fact of our existence that
the laws of physics must be friendly enough to allow life to arise.”
It follows from the observation that we exist that the laws
of physics are compatible with our existence, but unfortunately for
Dawkins it does not follow from the observation of our existence
that the laws of physics are necessarily compatible with our
existence. Dawkins’ anthropic “explanation” flounders by equivocating
over the meaning of the term “must”; and by treating the data to be
explained as an explanation of the data to be explained, as the following
quotation makes painfully clear:

The anthropic answer, in its most general form,
it that we could only be discussing the question in the kind of universe
that was capable of producing us. Our existence therefore determines
that the fundamental constants of physics had to be in their respective
Goldilocks zones.

Dawkins once again gives the lie to his false claim that the anthropic
principle is itself an “explanation” by referencing John Leslie’s analogy
of the man sentenced to death by firing squad who survives to muse that
“Well, obviously they all missed, or I wouldn’t be here thinking about
As Dawkins says: “he could still, forgivably, wonder why they’d
all missed, and toy with the hypothesis that they were bribed…”
In other words, the anthropic observation of the man’s existence
post firing squad, depending as it does upon an unlikely set of preconditions
(all the firing squad missing), does nothing to explain his
existence, exclude the hypothesis of intelligent design, or guarantee
the truth of a non-design explanation. As Guillermo Gonzalez points

The [anthropic principle] has been acknowledged
for about a quarter of a century, but it was not until John Barrow and
Frank Tipler published their massive technical work The Anthropic
Cosmological Principle
in 1986 that it was widely discussed.
The Weak Anthropic Principle (WAP) is the most basic version–the
simple recognition that the parameters we observe in our environment
must not be incompatible with our existence. It is difficult to quarrel
with the simple physical interpretation of the WAP: it is just a type
of observer selection bias. We should not be surprised to observe, for
example, that we are living on a planet with an oxygen-rich atmosphere,
for the simple reason that we require oxygen to live. The WAP “explains”
why we should not observe ourselves to be living on, say, Titan, but
it fails to account for the origin of the oxygen in our atmosphere…
However, Barrow and Tipler, no doubt motivated by the philosophical
CP, have burdened the basic physical interpretation of the WAP with
unwarranted philosophical extrapolations. In considering the WAP with
regard to the observable universe, they claim that we ought not be surprised
at measuring a universe so finely tuned for life, for if it were different,
we would not observe it. But as Richard Swinburne first explained and
as William Lane Craig and John Leslie later argued, we should indeed
be surprised at observing features of the universe that are highly improbable
and are necessary for our existence….

Swinburne famously used the example of a card-shuffling machine to
advance the design argument from cosmic fine-tuning:

Suppose that a madman kidnaps a victim and shuts
him in a room with a card-shuffling machine. The machine shuffles ten
decks of cards simultaneously and then draws a card from each deck and
exhibits simultaneously the ten cards. The kidnapper tells the victim
that he will shortly set the machine to work and it will exhibit its
first draw, but that unless the draw consists of an ace of hearts from
each deck, the machine will simultaneously set off an explosion which
will kill the victim, in consequence of which he will not see which
cards the machine drew. The machine is then set to work, and to the
amazement and relief of the victim the machine exhibits an ace of hearts
drawn from each deck. The victim thinks that this extraordinary fact
needs an explanation in terms of the machine having been rigged in some
way. But the kidnapper, who now reappears, casts doubt on this suggestion.
“It is hardly surprising”, he says, “that the machine draws only aces
of hearts. You could not possibly see anything else. For you
would not be here to see anything at all, if any other cards had been
drawn.” But of course the victim is right and the kidnapper is wrong.
There is indeed something extraordinary in need of explanation in ten
aces of hearts being drawn. The fact that this peculiar order is a necessary
condition of the draw being perceived at all makes what is perceived
no less extraordinary and in need of explanation. The teleologist’s
starting-point is not that we perceive order rather than disorder, but
that order rather than disorder is there. Maybe only if order is there
can we know what is there, but that makes what is there no less extraordinary
and in need of explanation.

Swinburne’s example shows that the fact that an event is a pre-condition
of its being observed does not explain the occurrence of the event,
or negate the obvious fact that “the victim is right and the kidnapper
is wrong” about intelligent design being the best explanation for the
event described (which Swinburne offers as being a parallel to the fine-tuning
of the cosmos). It is clear that Swinburne’s card-shuffling machine
example presents us with an instance of specified complexity. The kidnap
victim is right, not merely because an “extraordinary” (i.e. unlikely)
event happened (the ace of hearts being drawn from each deck) but because
this complex event is also specified (only this “peculiar” event that
will prevent the machine from exploding).

Jimmy H. Davies and Harry L. Poe explain that: “The Weak Anthropic
Principle is a tautology; it states the obvious. If the universe was
not fit for life, then we would not be here.”
This tautology does absolutely nothing to explain the surprising
existence of specified complexity. While he seems to remain somewhat
confused on the issue, Dawkins clearly admits that the anthropic principle
does not provide answer the surprise of our existence:

The evolution of complex life, indeed its very
existence in a universe obeying physical laws, is wonderfully surprising
– or would be but for the fact that surprise is an emotion that can
exist only in a brain which is the product of that very surprising process.
There is an anthropic sense, then, in which our existence should not
be surprising. I’d like to think that I speak for my fellow humans in
insisting, nevertheless, that it is desperately surprising.

According to Dawkins: “This objection [to the no-design hypothesis]
can be answered by the suggestion… that there are many universes…”
Whether or not Dawkins is right about this (the “many worlds”
move commits the “inflationary fallacy” of multiplying probabilistic
resources without independent evidence), it is important to notice that
Dawkins accepts the point of the stories told by Swinburne and Leslie,
which is that the anthropic principle is not “an alternative
to the design hypothesis”
as Dawkins states, but is rather a description of the problem
to which the design hypothesis is one answer and the many world’s hypothesis
is another. As Gonzalez comments: “World Ensemble advocates are obviously
driven by the desire to avoid the “God-hypothesis,” and, in adopting
such extravagant and unnecessary assumptions, they are effectively conceding
that the WAP has been impotent in discrediting the teleological interpretation.”
It is the “many world’s” hypothesis that competes with the design
hypothesis to explain the observation of a “life friendly” universe,
planet, etc., not the anthropic principle itself. The reason
that “religious apologists love the anthropic principle” is clearly
not “some reason that makes no sense at all”, as Dawkins fatuously
opines, but the belief that the design hypothesis is a better explanation
of the anthropic principle than the many world’s hypothesis.

Dawkins’ “Unrebuttable Refutation” Rebutted

Dawkins champions what he considers “a very serious argument against
the existence of God, and one to which I have yet to hear a theologian
give a convincing answer despite numerous opportunities and invitations
to do so. Dan Dennett rightly describes it as “an unrebuttable refutation…””
Dawkins writes that this unrebuttable refutation of the God
hypothesis is “the central argument of my book”, the heart of which
runs as follows:

One of the greatest challenges to the [atheistic]
human intellect, over the centuries, has been to explain how the complex,
improbable appearance of design in the universe arises. The natural
temptation is to attribute the appearance of design to actual design
itself. In the case of a man-made artefact such as a watch, the designer
really was an intelligent engineer. It is tempting to apply the same
logic to an eye or a wing, a spider or a person. This temptation is
a false one, because the designer hypothesis immediately raises the
larger problem of who designed the designer. The whole problem we started
out with was the problem of explaining statistical improbability. It
is obviously no solution to postulate something even more improbable.
We need a “crane”, not a “skyhook”, for only a crane can do the business
of working gradually and plausibly from simplicity to otherwise improbable
complexity. The most ingenious and powerful crane so far discovered
is Darwinian evolution by natural selection.

Design theorists will welcome Dawkins’ re-affirmation of the fact
that there exists an “improbable appearance of design in the universe”
and that the “natural” thing to do is to attribute this “appearance
of design” to actual design. As Jakob Wolf argues:

Biological entities appear to be designed.
It is very important to note that everybody agrees on the phenomenological
of the living organism. Disagreement sets in when it
comes to explaining the nature of what everybody observes. Is it possible
to account for the evolution of the complex organism by appeal to unintelligent
causes alone, or does an intelligent cause need to be invoked? The most
obvious conclusion to draw is that… an intelligent cause is needed.
This perception of the matter is the one that most readily imposes itself
upon us and has done for centuries. If you think otherwise, the burden
of proof rests squarely with you.

Behe agrees:

A crucial, often-overlooked point is that the
overwhelming appearance of design strongly affects the burden of proof:
in the presence of manifest design, the onus of proof is on the one
who denies the plain evidence of his eyes. For example, a person who
conjectured that the statues on Easter Island or the images on Mount
Rushmore were actually the result of unintelligent forces would bear
the substantial burden of proof the claim demanded. In those examples,
the positive evidence for design would be there for all to see in the
purposeful arrangement of parts to produce the images. Any putative
evidence for the claim that the images were actually the result of unintelligent
processes (perhaps erosion shaped by some vague, hypothesized chaotic
forces) would have to clearly show that the postulated unintelligent
process could indeed do the job. In the absence of such a clear demonstration,
any person would be rationally justified to prefer the design explanation.

Faced with the claim that the bacterial flagellum is irreducibly
complex (and therefore best explained in terms of design), Dawkins misrepresents
the ID argument and begs the question by deducing the existence
of an “easy”, indirect path up the back of Mount Improbable from his
assumption that there is no designer. Darwinian evolution by natural
selection may indeed be the “most ingenious and powerful crane so far
discovered”, but being the best available explanation compatible with
the assumption of naturalism does not guarantee being a plausible explanation
(let alone the best available explanation). Indeed, Dawkins’ poor handling
of the IC test demonstrates that we should remain sceptical of the claim
that evolution can “do the business” and receptive towards the hypothesis
of intelligent design.

Of course, Dawkins has what he considers an unrebuttable response
to this line of thought ready and waiting: “the designer hypothesis
immediately raises the larger problem of who designed the designer.
The whole problem we started out with was the problem of explaining
statistical improbability. It is obviously no solution to postulate
something even more improbable.”
There may actually be two overlapping objections here: the “who
designed the designer” objection, and the “explaining something with
something more complex” objection. The “who designed the designer” objection
is a question that can be posed to all design inferences, but
as Jay Richards observes, no one would raise this question as an objection
to the design inference in any other field of explanation: “If someone
explains some buried earthenware as the result of artisans from the
second century BC, no one complains, “Yeah, but who made the artisans?””
Even supposing we can’t answer the “who designed the designer”
question, this does nothing to invalidate the inference that there was
a designer. Dawkins fundamentally misunderstands the nature of explanation.
William Lane Craig comments:

It is widely recognized that in order for an explanation
to be the best explanation, one needn’t have an explanation of the explanation
(indeed, such a requirement would generate an infinite regress, so that
everything becomes inexplicable)… believing that the design hypothesis
is the best explanation… doesn’t depend upon our ability to explain
the designer.

As William A. Dembski notes: “The who-designed-the-designer question
invites a regress that is readily declined… because such a regress
arises whenever scientists introduce a novel theoretical entity… the
question is whether design does useful conceptual work.”
Dawkins objects that: “A designer God cannot be used to explain
organized complexity because any God capable of designing anything would
have to be complex enough to demand the same kind of explanation in
his own right. God presents an infinite regress from which he cannot
help us to escape.”
In other words, the argument is that:

  1. Once you posit one designer to explain organized complexity
    you have to posit an infinite regress of designers (because any
    designer capable of designing anything would necessarily demand
    the same kind of explanation in its own right, and so on),
  2. but there cannot be an infinite regress of designers,
  3. therefore one cannot rationally posit a designer in the first

Being consistent, one must of course make exactly the same objection
to the design inference in every case, including the cases that
Dawkins himself admits are legitimate
(such as the design inference
from a sequence of prime numbers in a radio signal). The obvious legitimacy
of design inferences in some cases constitutes an ad absurdum
argument against the soundness of the above, logically valid argument.
Dawkins rejects the plausibility of explanations framed in terms of
an infinite regress, and objects to the design inference using a premise
that implies the necessity of just such an infinite regress of explanations
in all cases, despite the fact that he accepts the design inference
in some cases. He can’t have it both ways. Unless Dawkins is prepared
to eliminate design inferences altogether, he must reject the “who designed
the designer” objection as unsound. Since the argument is logically
valid, he can do this either by embracing explanations framed in terms
of an infinite regress, or by rejecting the premise that once you posit
one designer you have to posit an infinite regress of designers. Dawkins
actually rejects the first premise of the “who designed the designer”
objection (as do I), accepting the validity of design inferences where
the posited designer is an agent that he thinks he can maintain is a
wholly physical being that must (he deduces) have some sort
of an evolutionary explanation: “The crucial difference between gods
and god-like extraterrestrials lies not in their properties but in their
provenance. Entities that are complex enough to be intelligent are products
of an evolutionary process. No matter how god-like they may seem when
we encounter them, they didn’t start that way.”
Once again, Dawkins simply resorts to asserting his
naturalistic worldview, begging the question against his opponents.
As Woodward explains: “Dawkins… veers here into blatant circular argumentation.
He simply asserts – without any evidence-based argument or philosophical
proof – that no intelligence can ever exist who is a necessary (uncaused)

According to Dawkins: “God, or any intelligent, decision-making,
calculating agent, would have to be highly improbable in the very same
statistical sense as the entities he is supposed to explain.”
This is incorrect. Part of the crucial difference between a
God and god-like extraterrestrials is that the former’s provenance is
radically different because some of its properties are radically different
from those of the latter. For example, if God exists then God is a necessary
being and not a contingent being, whereas if an alien exists it is a
contingent being and not a necessary being.

Swinburne argues that, as “the greatest possible being”, God is
metaphysically simple in a way that finite entities are not.
With a finite entity one always has questions about why it has this
or that property and why it has this or that degree of this or that
property. Such questions do not arise with God, because, as a matter
of definition, God must have the maximum possible amount of every great
making property (goodness, power, knowledge, etc), including the great
making property of ontological security (being uncaused, independent
and necessarily existent). As J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig point
out that: “A mind’s ideas may be complex, but a mind itself is a remarkably
simple thing, being an immaterial entity not composed of pieces or separable
Unlike a watch, God is not a contingent physical object composed
of separable parts that are combined in a contingent order and which
can therefore be assigned a statistical probability of one possible
arrangement out of a certain finite number of possible arrangements.
Not only is God not a physical object, but God is not even a contingent
object; and it is a pre-requisite of the design inference that it begin
with a contingent object of study. As Dembski explains: “Because information
presupposes contingency, necessity is by definition incapable of producing
information, much less complex specified information…”

Precisely because it is unreasonable to posit explanations framed
in terms of an infinite regress, it is reasonable to hold that not all
designers can require a designer and therefore that not all designers
exhibit specified complexity. If the universe exhibits signs of design
(i.e. specified and/or irreducible complexity) that would otherwise
imply an infinite regress of designers, it is reasonable to hypothesise
the existence of a designer who does not exhibit such signs of design
and thus does not trigger a design inference. A necessarily existent
theistic deity is clearly a prime candidate for a designer who exhibits
no specified or irreducible complexity.

Conclusion: The Wise Man Built His House Upon the Rock

“The reviews have been mixed – it’s the luck of the draw whether
or not you get a religious person.” – Richard Dawkins

Like his reviews and his reviewers, Dawkins’ The God Delusion
is a mixed bag. Jim Holt’s assessment of The God Delusion is,
in my opinion, actually rather understated:

The book fairly crackles with brio. Yet reading
it can feel like watching a Michael Moore movie. There are lots of good,
hard-hitting stuff about the imbecilities of religious fanatics and
frauds of all stripes, but the tone is smug and the logic occasionally

As both an “educated” Christian and an ID theorist I find plenty
with which to take issue in The God Delusion (more than is
discussed here indeed); primarily because this rhetorical tour de
relies upon setting up and knocking down straw men. According
to P.Z. Myers: “The first half of The God Delusion delivers
a thorough overview of the logic of belief and disbelief. Dawkins reviews,
dismantles, and dismisses the major arguments for the existence of the
supernatural and deities.”
Myers is mistaken. Dawkins’ review of natural theology is anything
but “thorough” in either breadth or depth, and mainly consists of dismantling
straw men. As Holt points out, Dawkins:

dismisses the ontological argument as “infantile”
and “dialectical prestidigitation” without quite identifying the defect
in its logic. He seems unaware that this argument, though medieval in
origin, comes in sophisticated modern versions that are not at all easy
to refute. Shirking the intellectual hard work, Dawkins prefers to move
on… Dawkins’ failure to appreciate just how hard philosophical questions
about religion can be makes reading [The God Delusion] an intellectually
frustrating experience.”

Dawkins’ response to the argument from religious experience (which
he never actually spells out)
is merely to point out that experiences can be delusional: “the
brain’s simulation software… is well capable of constructing “visions”
and “visitations” of the utmost verdical power. To simulate a ghost
or an angel or a Virgin Mary would be child’s play to software of this
This single observation concludes Dawkins’ attempted rebuttal
of the argument from religious experience:

This is really all that needs to be said about
personal “experiences” of gods or other religious phenomena. If you’ve
had such an experience, you may well find yourself believing firmly
that it was real. But don’t expect the rest of us to take your word
for it, especially if we have the slightest familiarity with the brain
and its powerful workings.

Dawkins’ supposed rebuttal of the argument from religious experience
doesn’t even rise to the level of an argument, since it fails
to contain more than one premise. Merely observing that the brain can
create illusions provides no reason for the conclusion that all religious
experiences are illusiory. Indeed, without a premise that restricts
the illusion-giving power of the brain to religious experiences, Dawkins’
rebuttal counts equally against all experiences, including those which
lead him to believe that human beings have brains “capable of constructing
“visions” and “visitations” of the utmost verdical power.” Hence,
Dawkins’ rebuttal of the argument from religious experience is self-defeating.

In a quotation free discussion of the matter, Dawkins claims that
the famous five “ways” of Thomas Aquinas
“are easily – though I hesitate to say so, given his eminence
– exposed as vacuous.”
Dawkins really should have hesitated more and written less.
Noting Aquinas’ use of the principle that a causal regresses must terminate
somewhere (lest, per impossible, it becomes infinite), Dawkins
complains that Aquinas’ cosmological argument makes “the entirely unwarranted
assumption that God himself is immune to the regress.”
Dawkins fails to recognize that the cosmological argument
just is an argument for the necessity of postulating the existence
of a being that is “immune to the regress”!

After summarizing Aquinas’ fourth way (from degrees of perfection)
Dawkins attempts a reductio ad absurdum: “That’s an argument?
You might as well say, people vary in smelliness but we can make the
comparison only by reference to a perfect maximum of conceivable smelliness.
Therefore there must exist a pre-eminently peerless stinker, and we
call him God.”
Dawkins fails to notice that Aquinas” argument works with “great-making
properties”, a philosophically well defined class of properties into
which “smelliness” – the subject of Dawkins’ rebuttal – simply does
not fall. As Christopher F.J. Martin observes, although “the existence
of a more and a less does indeed require the existence of a de facto
, Aquinas is concerned with the existence of more and a less
in terms of properties that by definition admit of an intrinsic and
logical maximum, rather than a merely de facto maximum. E.L.
Mascall explains: “Goodness, so the argument claims, demands as its
cause a God who is good; while heat, though it necessarily demands a
God whose knowledge of possible being includes an idea of heat, does
not demand a God who is hot as its cause, but only a God who can create.”
Dawkins’ chapter on the roots of morality simply fails to engage
with the central question of whether or not objective moral values exist
and entail God’s existence.

Dawkins delivers a feast of fallacies in The God Delusion,
including: assertion making, wishful thinking, equivocation, data picking,
ridiculing anything he cannot understand (on the apparent assumption
that there must therefore be nothing to understand) and various
ad hominim
attacks, from name-calling (e.g. “dyed-in-the-wool faith-heads
are immune to argument”
) to “poisoning the well” (e.g. tendentiously talking about
“Phillip E. Johnson who leads the creationist charge against
Darwinism in America”
and “creationist Michael Behe”
). As we have seen, he also attempts to advance a tautology
as an explanation and contradicts himself on several occasions.

However, I find plenty with which to agree with in The God Delusion
(e.g. that religious faith should not be “blind” faith). Dawkins isn’t
wrong about everything. In particular, as a philosopher I welcome Dawkins’
recognition that ID theorists are building upon solid foundations:

  • Science is “the honest and systematic endeavour to find out
    the truth about the real world.”
  • Since the only good reason to believe in evolution is “because
    the evidence supports it,”
    we should “abandon it overnight if new evidence arose to
    disprove it.”
  • “The presence or absence of a creative super-intelligence is
    unequivocally a scientific question, even if it is not in practice
    – or not yet – a decided one… The methods we should use to settle
    the matter… would be purely and entirely scientific methods.”
  • Patterns exhibiting specified complexity are reliable indicators
    of intelligent design: “Metronomic rhythms can be generated by many
    non-intelligent phenomena… Nothing simply rhythmic, then, would
    announce our intelligent presence to the waiting universe… Prime
    numbers are often mentioned as the recipe of choice, since it is
    difficult to think of a purely physical process that could generate
  • Irreducible complexity provides a valid scientific test of Darwinism:
    “Maybe there is something out there in nature that really does preclude,
    by its genuinely irreducible complexity, the smooth gradient of
    Mount Improbable… if genuinely irreducible complexity could be
    properly demonstrated, it would wreck Darwin’s theory. Darwin himself
    said as much… genuine irreducible complexity would wreck Darwin’s
    theory if it were ever found…

Dawkins thinks that no specified or irreducible complexity has, as
yet, been discovered in pre-history. ID theorists such as myself disagree
with this assessment of the evidence, but at least we are agreed that
the above theoretical foundations of ID are sound and that the crucial
question is whether or not the evidence justifies a design inference.
As we have seen, Dawkins’ arguments to the contrary are about as impressive
as the big bad wolf’s attempt to blow away the house of brick.

For references to this article, click here.

Interview with Craig J. Hazen: Five Sacred Crossings

We interviewed Craig J. Hazen, Editor of Philosophia Christi, about his new book Five Sacred Crossings: A Novel Approach to a Reasonable Faith (Harvest House, 2008). If you are in the Southern California area, Biola University is sponsoring a “Five Sacred Crossings” event on May 8th at 7:30 pm. Register here.

How would you characterize Five Sacred Crossings?

That’s pretty straight forward. Five Sacred Crossings is a novel, pure and simple. The best way to capture the genre is to compare it to Dan Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code. The Da Vinci Code is a fast-paced, page turning mystery novel that packed into its center is some teaching about the origins of Christianity. Unfortunately, Dan Brown bought an ugly package of historical gossip and unfounded nonsense as the “suppressed truth” he was hoping to reveal to the world. But what better way to communicate such things than for a couple of years to have every other person on a given airliner reading about it! Dan Brown had the wrong message, but the right vehicle to disseminate it.

What I attempted to do was similar except that I packed into the core of the mystery novel key elements of the Christian worldview that make Christianity attractive and grounded in knowledge.

A funny side point is that the knowledgeable folks at Harvest House decided to position Five Sacred Crossings as a book of apologetics and not as a novel because the Christian fiction genre is so over saturated right now. They wanted my new book not to be lost in that category. Hence, they helped come up with a subtitle “A Novel Approach to Reasonable Faith.” So I don’t know where you will find Five Sacred Crossings in the bookstore – in the apologetics/religion section, or in the fiction section.

Without giving too much away, can you say what the book is about?

The book is about a few weeks in the life of a college professor and brilliant natural linguist named Michael Jernigan who takes a college class through some teachings called “the five crossings” that he learned about in the Cambodian mountains as a young soldier in the Vietnam War. Through these teachings, and raucous discussion among a group of very diverse students, the class learns how the wisest of people approach life’s biggest questions. The book is punctuated by an intense story about an Indonesian terror cell in the college town. I certainly won’t tell you how it ends, but I’ve been stunned by the fact that about a dozen grown men (not to mention the scores of women) have contacted me to tell me they couldn’t put it down and were in tears when they finished it.

Why did you write it?

It seems to me that Christian philosophers, apologetics, and theologians in our generation have done some extraordinary work in re-establishing the intellectual credibility and the integrity of the Christian worldview in a secular and pluralistic age. What we haven’t done, though, is find new ways to communicate these great truths to the masses who are so confused on issues of religious truth and the meaning of life. I thought I would try my hand at writing something that would appeal to people I know who would never read an apologetics textbook or a philosophy article in an attempt to engage them with clear thinking on the issues that matter most.

Who is your intended readership? And can you tell us about some of the reaction to the book?

I had certain folks in mind when I was putting the story together. Think about the millions of people who watch Oprah every day – they are open to spiritual and religious ideas, but want to connect with them first on an emotional level. They are open to thinking about the big issues if they are presented in a relevant and engaging way.

Forget about my intended readership for a moment, though. The book has been out long enough so that we know who is reading it – and it is really remarkable. Everyone you can imagine. Octogenarians, non-Christians, teenagers, women, men, people who haven’t read a novel in decades, Christians, people in the highest ranks of the federal government, major TV stars, pastors, atheist college professors, a woman from Liechtenstein, a stuntman from Brazil, an Israeli soldier, a missionary in Cambodia, and on it goes.

As an evangelical Christian, it is very exciting to receive feedback from non-Christians who are reading it and caught up in the story and the ideas presented. I’ve heard dozens of accounts from unbelievers who read the story and then contacted me or other Christian people they know. The book really throws them for a loop. They resonate with all five of the “crossings” and find the main character very attractive—but at the same time they know that these are Christian ideas being presented. It’s as if they needed to hear the big issues of the Gospel in a compelling new way. I intentionally wrote this book to break down stereotypes of Christianity and provide a fresh look at eternal truths. As one life-time agnostic told me after reading it, “we’ve got to talk about this – if this is how you look at the world it is far more rational and attractive than I have assumed.”

Why should philosophers and apologists read fiction?

Christian philosophers and apologists need to read fiction (and poetry, and listen to music, and at least occasionally watch films and TV) in order to be culturally relevant. Jesus led his revolution primarily by telling unforgettable stories that stuck with people who heard him. Humans are wired for hearing and telling stories. The great ideas that are so compelling and persuasive to high-level Christian thinkers need to become part of the mindset for people in all societal strata. Therefore we need new channels of communication to make these ideas relevant to everyone. This is a creative project of the highest order. Although philosophers and apologists may not be the ones writing the novels, screenplays, and operas that ultimately move the culture, we need to be familiar with these modes of communication and discourse if we want to see our ideas last beyond the life cycle of our latest book from a university press.

Are there fiction writers that you admire or use as your model?

No, I can’t say I used anyone as a model. Although I would recommend that anyone wanting to try their hand at what I call “didactic Christian fiction” should, for two reasons, read widely among very popular novelists whose works fill the racks at popular bookstores and airports. First, so you can see what level of discourse and style the general population finds engaging (after all, these are the people who you are seeking to influence with this kind of writing project). Second, it will encourage you because I think for the most part your reaction will be: “Oh my goodness, I can do much better than that.” You might be wrong, but it will help overcome your insecurities about shifting gears to fiction writing.

Can you tell us what it was like to write Five Sacred Crossings?

The thing I enjoyed the most was discovering myself where the story was going next. I did not have a detailed master plan before writing, so every day was a little surprise with regard to the unfolding of the narrative. I am still surprised by my own ending. Re-reading it was an experience that I certainly have never had when writing academic books and essays. I picked it up started to read somewhere in the middle and couldn’t put it down. I wrote the darn thing yet got caught up in the story myself! It was far more exciting and emotional than I remember when first writing it out.

What would you like to see happen with this book?

Of course, I would like to see it recommended by Oprah so it gets the widest possible reading! Okay, so maybe that’s not going to happen, but it’s a good dream. My book probably won’t get that kind of exposure, but I hope some other compelling, thoughtful, stereotype-breaking Christian literature does. I think this is going to be most likely if those of us in the community of Christian philosophy and apologetics interact with the Christian creative community more intentionally and intensely.

From where you observe, as the Director of a cutting-edge Graduate Program in Christian Apologetics at Biola University, can you say how we – as American Evangelicals – are doing in our apologetic efforts?

How are we doing with apologetics? Not bad. There is one advantage when secular culture encroaches more and more on the Church’s turf – the Church seems to awaken to some of the important things she has neglected like the apostolic command in 1 Peter 3:15 to “be prepared always to give an answer.” By any measure the interest in clear-thinking Christianity has been on the increase. This may just be a regional phenomenon, but huge crowds come out to Biola to hear lectures and debates now that would have only attracted a handful twenty years ago. We have a long way to go, but I think significant progress has been obvious and measurable.

Our greatest weakness with regard to apologetics is that by-and-large the average Christian and pastor still thinks that knowledge and faith are non-overlapping realms of human endeavor and experience. Our greatest strength with regard to apologetics is that so many leaders and teachers in the movement model that fact and that it is not just about giving answers and winning arguments, but rather it is about living a full-orbed life in Christ.

How might Five Sacred Crossings cultivate the strengths of our apologetic efforts?

I think Five Sacred Crossings is centered on this key strength I just mentioned. The book uses arguments and persuasion, but the key characters model grace, kindness, courage, love, and sacrifice to make the arguments real and weighty. I see my colleagues in apologetics and philosophy at Biola doing this every day and it is more inspiring than just about anything you can encounter. These are men and women living the great answers to life’s questions, not just speaking them.

Craig J. Hazen is the Director of the Graduate Program in Christian Apologetics at Biola University. He also serves in that program as Professor of Comparative Religion and Apologetics. More of Craig Hazen can be read at his blog.

Interview with Paul Copan: Is Yahweh a Moral Monster?

We interviewed Paul Copan, President of the Evangelical Philosophical Society, about his forthcoming article in our Summer 2008 issue of Philosophia Christi (10:1). Paul is also the Pledger Family Chair of Philosophy and Ethics Palm Beach Atlantic University (West Palm Beach, FL)

His Philosophia Christi article is titled, “Is Yahweh a Moral Monster? The New Atheists and Old Testament Ethics.”

Who are the “new atheists” and what makes them new?

The new atheists include Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens – the “Four Horsemen,” they’ve been called. Perhaps because of the fading Judeo-Christian cultural consensus or worldview in our culture, they have been emboldened to take on a new stridency and, in some cases, even anger and hostility. God is “not great” (Hitchens) and a “monster” (Dawkins). (Dan Dennett strikes me as more even-handed. I’ve met him and have enjoyed cordial conversation with him, and we’ve contributed to a forthcoming book with Fortress Press, which I mention later.)

One feature many critics acknowledge about the new atheists is that their case against God tends to be fairly flimsy and not very tightly argued at all. In his book I Don’t Believe in Atheists (New York: Free Press, 2008), Chris Hedges writes of Harris’s book The End of Faith: “His facile attack on a form of religious belief we all hate, his childish simplicity and ignorance of world affairs, as well as his demonization of Muslims, made the book tedious, at its best, and often idiotic and racist” (2). Though Hedges shares the new atheists’ disgust – as do I! – with “the chauvinism, intolerance, anti-intellectualism and self-righteousness of religious fundamentalists” (3), he believes that their confidence in reason and science is profoundly misplaced and their optimism about human nature and utopian visions is equally misguided.

Hedges says that we should carefully distinguish between religious values or certain religious figures and religious institutions: “Religion, real religion, involved fighting for justice, standing up for the voiceless and the weak, reaching out in acts of kindness and compassion to the stranger and the outcast, living a life of simplicity, cultivating empathy and defying the powerful” (5-6). I think that if Christians took “real religion” (or, as James 1 says, “true religion”) seriously, many of the points made by the new atheists would be greatly weakened.

Why should thoughtful religious persons pay attention to what the new atheists are claiming?

These new atheists are getting quite a bit of attention with their claims that God and science conflict or that Christianity (or “religion”) is bad for people. They are rhetorically effective and happen to be churning out best-sellers, influencing the minds of many. Yes, the new atheists have plenty of critics. For instance, atheist philosopher of science Michael Ruse writes that Dawkins’s argumentation in the God Delusion “makes me embarrassed to be an atheist.” Many critics of the new atheists see them as strident. But this hasn’t prevented a lot of people from taking the new atheists very seriously.

How should theists listen to these claims?

I think that theist and atheist alike should listen fairly and even-handedly to them. The reader should sort out legitimate arguments from the anger, the rhetoric, the anecdotal and ad hominem argumentation, the exaggerated claims (such as the God-science conflict), the red herrings and caricatures (e.g., all Christians are young-earth creationists), and so forth.

Christians of course, need to be well-grounded in their faith, being able to graciously respond to some very legitimate questions the new atheists raise. (Indeed, many Christians themselves have grappled with questions that about the Old Testament’s harshness and, in places, inferior moral standards that are permitted because of human hard-heartedness). Christians must also be clear-minded and discriminating about what in Scripture is normative and what is not, about what is enduring and what is temporary, of what springs from human sin and what is rooted in the character of God.

Christians also should carefully guard what is articulated in the Declaration of Independence – that all humans “have been endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” We are experiencing a crisis in the West as to what our moral foundations are. If God does not exist who has made human beings and thus nature’s mindless, valueless processes have produced us as merely advanced animals, then such a crisis of moral foundations will only deepen.

What appears to be the main claim(s) of the new atheists when it concerns Old Testament ethics?

The main claims of the new atheists are these: (1) They see the “Old Testament God” as mean-spirited, cruel, capricious (e.g., God’s command to Abraham to kill his son, God’s permitting slavery or commanding the killing of the Canaanites). (2) They consider moral standards and practices in the Old Testament to be repugnant and strange (e.g., Lot’s daughters having sex with their drunken father out of a desire to have children). (3) These new atheists make the faulty inference that to be thoroughly biblical means embracing the death penalty for adulterers or idolaters and, further that the Mosaic Law is the presumed enduring moral and legal standard for all nations. (4) The new atheists point out that we can know moral standards without needing to appeal to Scripture.

Why would the new atheists be interested in “Old Testament ethics” and the “Old Testament God”?

If the character of “the God of the Bible” can be rightly questioned, then one has all the more reason for rooting the standard of objective goodness in something natural rather than supernatural. Attacking Old Testament ethics appears to be the best way of making quick work of dismissing God altogether.

What sort of reasons and evidences are presented by the new atheists when they offer support for their main claim(s)?

The new atheists appeal to science, history, and reason/philosophy to make their case for a decent world without God. They seem unaware of how the Christian faith helped give birth to modern science and early on shaped the philosophical assumptions that scientists – theistic or atheistic – utilize today. The new atheists downplay the remarkable cultural/moral influence the Christian faith has played in the West, and they overplay horrors committed in the name of Christ while underplaying the destructive role of atheistic ideologies in the twentieth century. Finally, the new atheists are remarkably out of touch with, say, sophisticated theistic arguments for God’s existence. Their arguments against God tend to be very superficial (bordering on village atheist argumentation that is often ad hominem or hasty generalization) and often naively tout science as the arbiter of truth, following in the barren footsteps of their positivistic forebears.

Your Philosophia Christi article claims to offer a “nuanced response to the new atheists.” Please briefly explain your response and why you take it to be significant to this discussion.

The new atheists are skillful rhetoricians. They commonly use one-liners, distorted descriptions, and emotional zingers to make their points. They generally do not give an accurate, well-rounded picture of Old Testament ethical questions, but they score a lot of rhetorical points with many readers. I’m trying to respond to this strategy with more nuanced description and reasoning to put such criticisms in proper perspective. While I am not here responding in kind rhetorically, I want to give adequate, well-researched material that others can utilize in response to the new atheists’ witty, but weak, argumentation on Old Testament ethics. I hope to write a fuller treatment on Old Testament ethics that is more popularly accessible.

In the “Final Thoughts” section of your article, you offer three final claims against the new atheists. Please summarize them and say how they compliment your “nuanced response.”

First, the new atheists reject the very theistic foundations that have made modern science possible, that have shaped the direction of the West’s moral progress, and that stand as the basis of human rights and dignity. Theism affirms humans have value because they have been made in the image of God. A supremely valuable being – not valueless, mindless processes – has endowed us earthly creatures with dignity and value. To get rid of God is to get rid of the kinds of values that these new atheists would like to affirm.

Second, the new atheists assume that theocracy or a nation ruled directly by God is the ideal when in actual fact a theocracy is simply one of several developments in Israel’s history. Indeed, the Old Testament itself looks beyond ethnic Israel as the true people of God to an interethnic, international body of believers who are the true Israel in Christ.

Third, as I noted earlier, the new atheists assume that the Old Testament proclaims and enduring moral standard for all nations for all time. However, we can rightly agree with Daniel Dennett, who thanks “heaven” that the numbers of those who believe this are dwindling!

So we can side with the new atheists on these last two points but without jettisoning God’s moral authority over humankind.

Can you recommend any other Christian responses or resources about the new atheists?

One can gain a lot from looking at Alister McGrath, The Dawkins Delusion?; John Haught, God and the New Atheism; John Lennox, God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God?; David Marshall, The Truth Behind the New Atheism; Francis Collins, The Language of God (to some degree); Dinesh D’Souza has debated new atheists such as Christopher Hitchens and Daniel Dennett (available at Youtube). See also Alister McGrath’s interaction with Daniel Dennett in The Future of Atheism: Alister McGrath and Daniel Dennett in Dialogue, ed. Robert Stewart (Fortress Press, forthcoming) – a book to which I have contributed on the topic of “Naturalism, Theism, and the Foundations of Morality”; and, as previously mentioned, Chris Hedges, I Don’t Believe in Atheists (though responding to the new atheists from a distinct vantage point).

If Christians are to effectively respond to new atheist challenges, can you offer recommendations and encouragement in this area?

I have tried to take seriously these sorts of challenges. My popular-level books True for You, But Not for Me, That’s Just Your Interpretation, How Do You Know You’re Not Wrong? and When God Goes to Starbucks have attempted to address many Old Testament ethical topics (and lots more!) in user-friendly, accessible ways. I’m working on another book that tackles Old Testament ethical issues specifically, again at a popular level.

In general, I would say that Christians need to be well-informed about their faith and its robust intellectual strength as well as common challenges to their faith. This will require turning off the TV and doing research and deeper thinking. We must also help equip the next generation of Christians to be more thoughtful about their faith rather than presuming upon the fading Judeo-Christian heritage that many Christians in our culture seem to cling to. Although the church throughout the world is growing dramatically, the church in North America is facing great challenges from within and without.

Along these lines, Christians need to see that much of the criticism directed toward the church stems from deeper problems such as hypocrisy, judgmentalism, anti-intellectualism, and a host of other concerns. I would recommend David Kinnaman’s helpful corrective, the book unChristian (Baker) – an excellent wake-up call to the church.

More of Paul Copan can be found at his website: He blogs at Parchment & Pen and recently posted “The Moral Indignation of Richard Dawkins.”

Antony Flew’s Deism Revisited

Antony Flew's Deism Revisited

There Is a God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind
Review Essay on There Is a God


Department of Philosophy and Theology
Liberty University
Lynchburg, Virginia

There Is a God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind.
By Antony Flew and Roy Abraham Varghese. New York: HarperCollins, 2007. 256 pages.

When preeminent philosophical atheist Antony Flew announced in 2004 that he had
come to believe in God's existence and was probably best considered a deist, the
reaction from both believers and skeptics was "off the chart." Few religious stories
had this sort of appeal and impact, across the spectrum, both popular as well as
theoretical.  No recent change of mind has received this much attention. Flew
responded by protesting that his story really did not deserve this much interest.
But as he explained repeatedly, he simply had to go where the evidence led.

Some Background

It was this last sentence, repeated often in interviews, that really interested
me. Having known Tony well over more than twenty years, I had heard him repeat many
things like it, as well as other comments that might be termed "open minded." He
had insisted that he was open to God's existence, to special revelation, to miracles,
to an afterlife, or to David Hume being in error on this or that particular point.
To be truthful, I tended to set aside his comments, thinking that while they were
made honestly, perhaps Tony still was not as open as he had thought.

Then very early in 2003 Tony indicated to me that he was considering theism,
backing off a few weeks later and saying that he remained an atheist with "big questions."
One year later, in January 2004, Tony told me that he had indeed become a theist,
just as quickly adding, however, that he was "not the revelatory kind" of believer.
That was when I heard him say for the first time that he was just following where
the evidence led. Then I remembered all the earlier occasions when he had insisted
that he was not objecting to God or the supernatural realm on a priori grounds.
I was amazed. Tony was indeed willing to consider the evidence!

There was an immediate outcry from many in the skeptical community. Perhaps Tony
Flew was simply too old, or had not kept up on the relevant literature. The presumption
seemed to be that, if he had been doing so, then he would not have experienced such
a change of mind. One joke quipped that, at his advanced age, maybe he was just
hedging his bets in favor of an afterlife!

One persistent rumor was that Tony Flew really did not believe in God after all.
Or perhaps he had already recanted his mistake. Paul Kurtz's foreword to the republication
of Flew's classic volume God and Philosophy identified me as "an evangelical
Christian philosopher at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University," noting my interview
with Flew and my "interpretation" that Tony now believed in God.[1]
Kurtz seemed to think that perhaps the question still remained as to whether Flew
believed in God. After explaining that Flew's "final introduction" to the reissued
volume had undergone the process of four drafts, Kurtz concluded that readers should
"decide whether or not he has abandoned his earlier views."[2]

In his introduction to this same text, Flew both raised at least a half-dozen
new issues since his book had first appeared in 1966, as well as mentioning questions
about each of these subjects. Included were discussions on contemporary cosmology,
fine-tuning arguments, some thoughts regarding Darwin's work, reflections on Aristotle's
view of God, as well as Richard Swinburne's many volumes on God and Christian theism.
Hints of theism were interspersed alongside some tough questions.[3]

Of course, book text must be completed well before the actual date of publication.
But several news articles had appeared earlier, telling the story of what Flew referred
to as his "conversion."[4]
Early in 2005, my lengthier interview with Flew was published in Philosophia
.[5] Another
excellent interview was conducted by Jim Beverly, in which Flew also evaluated the
influence of several major Christian philosophers.[6]

In many of these venues, Flew explained in his own words that he was chiefly
persuaded to abandon atheism because of Aristotle's writings about God and due
to a number of arguments that are often associated with Intelligent Design. But
his brand of theism – or better yet, deism[7]
– was
not a variety that admitted special revelation, including either miracles or an
afterlife. While he acknowledged most of the traditional attributes for God, he
stopped short of affirming any divine involvement with humans.

Along the way, Flew made several very positive comments about Christianity, and
about Jesus, in particular. Jesus was a first rate moral philosopher, as well as
a preeminent charismatic personality, while Paul had a brilliant philosophical mind.
While rejecting miracles, Flew held that the resurrection is the best-attested miracle-claim
in history.[8]

It is against this background that we turn to the latest chapter in the ongoing
account of Antony Flew's pilgrimage from ardent atheism to deism. Further clarifying
his religious views, especially for those who might have thought that the initial
report was too hasty, or suspected incorrect reporting, or later backtracking on
Flew's part, the former atheistic philosopher has now elucidated his position.
In a new book that is due to be released before the end of the year, Flew chronicles
the entire story of his professional career, from atheism to deism, including more
specific reasons for his change. Along the way, several new aspects have been added.

Antony Flew's Influence

Signifying his change of view, the cover of Flew's new book cleverly reads,
"There Is No God," but the word "No" is scribbled out and the word "A" is handwritten
above it. Flew terms this work his "last will and testament," noting that the subtitle
"was not my own invention" (1).[9]
The contents are nothing short of a treasure trove of details from Flew's life,
including his family, education, publications, and interactions with many now world-famous
philosophers, not to mention the long-awaited reasons for his becoming a deist.

The volume begins with a preface written by Roy Varghese,[10]
followed by an introduction by Flew. Part 1, "My Denial of the Divine," contains
three chapters on Flew's previous atheism.

The book opens with a reverberating bang. Varghese's eighteen-page preface sets
the tone for much of the remainder of the text. He begins with the breaking news
in late 2004 of Antony Flew's newly-announced belief in God. Varghese then notes

the response to the AP story from Flew's fellow atheists
verged on hysteria. . . . Inane insults and juvenile caricatures were common in
the freethinking blogosphere. The same people who complained about the Inquisition
and witches being burned at the stake were now enjoying a little heresy hunting
of their own. The advocates of tolerance were not themselves very tolerant. And,
apparently, religious zealots don't have a monopoly on dogmatism, incivility, fanaticism,
and paranoia. (vii – viii)

Varghese ends by stating that, "Flew's position in the history of atheism transcends
anything that today's atheists have on offer" (viii).

This last comment serves as an entree to two of the more interesting arguments
in the book. Considering Flew's impact in the history of modern atheism, Varghese
argues initially that, "within the last hundred years, no mainstream philosopher
has developed the kind of systematic, comprehensive, original, and influential exposition
of atheism that is to be found in Antony Flew's fifty years of antitheological
writings" (ix). He then considers the contributions to atheism produced by well-known
philosophers such as A. J. Ayer, Bertrand Russell, Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus,
and Martin Heidegger. Varghese finds that none of these scholars "took the step
of developing book-length arguments to support their personal beliefs" (x).

More recent writers are also mentioned, among them Richard Rorty, Jacques Derrida,
J. L. Mackie, Paul Kurtz, and Michael Martin. While they might be said to have contributed
more material on behalf of atheism, "their works did not change the agenda and framework
of discussion the way Flew's innovative publications did" (x).

But Flew's writings like "Theology and Falsification" ("the most widely reprinted
philosophical publication of the last century" [vi – vii]), God and Philosophy,
The Presumption of Atheism, and other publications set the philosophical
tone of atheism for a generation of scholars. Along with Flew's many other books
and essays, one could hardly get through a contemporary philosophy class, especially
in philosophy of religion, without being at least introduced to his theses.

Varghese also raises a second crucial topic in the history of twentieth-century
philosophy – Flew's relation to logical positivism. Many works treat Flew's ideas,
especially those in "Theology and Falsification," as a more subtle, analytic outgrowth
of positivism. Sometimes it is thought that Flew attempted to refurbish a less dogmatic
application of the discredited verification principle, popularized by Ayer's
Language, Truth, and Logic

However, Flew did not interpret his essay in this manner. In 1990, he explained
his thinking that logical positivism made an "arrogant announcement" that sought
to rule out theology and ethics in an a priori manner. The resulting discussion
had often become stagnated. Flew wanted to provide an opportunity for the free discussion
of religious issues: "Let the believers speak for themselves, individually and severally"
(xiii – xiv).

In an article in 2000, Flew explained that his purpose in first reading the paper
at a meeting of C. S. Lewis' Socratic Club, was that "I wanted to set these discussions
off onto new and hopefully more fruitful lines."[12]
In another interview that I did with Tony in Oxford in 2005, Flew attested that
he saw his essay as slamming the door on positivism at the Socratic Club. He attests
that the purpose of his essay "was intended to simply refute the positivistic stance
against religious utterances. It succeeded in that, but then its influence spread
outside of Oxford."[13]

These two topics – Flew's influence on the philosophical atheism of the second
half of the twentieth century and his purpose in first presenting his essay "Theology
and Falsification" – are key chapters in the life of this major British philosopher.
Varghese does well to remind us of Flew's influence. As he concludes, it is in
this context that "Flew's recent rejection of atheism was clearly a historic event"

Flew then begins the remainder of the book with an introduction. Referring to
his "conversion" from atheism to deism, he begins by affirming clearly that, "I
now believe there is a God!" (1). As for those detractors who blamed this on Flew's
"advanced age" and spoke of a sort of "deathbed conversion," Flew reiterates what
he has said all along: he still rejects the afterlife and is not placing any "Pascalian
bets" (2).

In a couple stunning comments, Flew then reminds his readers that he had changed
his mind on other major issues throughout his career. He states, "I was once a Marxist."
Then, more than twenty years ago, "I retracted my earlier view that all human choices
are determined entirely by physical causes" (3).

The Making of an Atheist

Part 1 ("My Denial of the Divine") consists of three chapters, intriguingly titled,
"The Creation of an Atheist," "Where the Evidence Leads," and "Atheism Calmly Considered."
This material is simply a delightful read, consisting of many autobiographical details
regarding Flew's career and research, along with many enjoyable as well as amusing

In chapter 1, Flew reviews his childhood and early life. This includes detailed
references to his father: an Oxford University graduate, with two years of study
at Marburg University in Germany, who had become a Methodist minister very much
interested in evangelism, as well as a professor of New Testament at a theological
college in Cambridge. It was from his father that Tony learned, at an early age,
the value of good research and of checking relevant sources before conclusions are

Flew even stated in some of his atheist publications that he was never satisfied
with the way that he had become an atheist – here described as a process that was
accomplished "much too quickly, much too easily, and for what later seemed to me
the wrong reasons." Incredibly, he now reflects on his early theism that changed
to atheism: "for nearly seventy years thereafter I never found grounds sufficient
to warrant any fundamental reversal" (12 – 13). Nonetheless, it was an aspect of
the problem of evil that affected Tony's conversion to atheism. During family travels
to Germany, he witnessed first hand some of the horrors of Nazi society and learned
to detest "the twin evils of anti-Semitism and totalitarianism" (13 – 14).

Chapter 1 also includes accounts of Flew's basically private education at a
boarding school along with his years at Oxford University, interspersed with military
service during World War II, as well as his "locking horns with C. S. Lewis" at
Socratic Club meetings. He was present at the famous debate between Lewis and Elizabeth
Anscombe in February, 1948 (22 – 4). Flew also met his wife Annis at Oxford. For
all those (including myself) who have wondered through the years about Tony's incredible
notions of ethical responsibility, he states that while he had left his father's
faith, he retained his early ethics, reflected in his treatment of Annis before
their marriage (25 – 6).

In Chapter 2 ("Where the Evidence Leads"), Flew reflects on his early tenure
as "a hotly-energetic left-wing socialist" (33), and narrates his early philosophical
interests: parapsychology, Darwinian social ethics and the notion of evolutionary
progress, problems with idealism, and analytic philosophy. More details on the Socratic
Club introduce some of the philosophical reactions to Flew's "Theology and Falsification,"
along with his writing of his epic God and Philosophy, his "systematic argument
for atheism" (49). Flew discusses reactions from Richard Swinburne, J. L. Mackie,
and Frederick Copleston. His conclusion today, as Tony has told me on several occasions,
is that God and Philosophy is "a historical relic," due to changes in his
thinking which arose from other's response to his writing. These changes are set
forth in this volume (52).

Flew also discusses in chapter 2 his well-known volumes The Presumption of
and Hume's Philosophy of Belief. Philosophical reactions are
recounted from Anthony Kenny, Kai Nielson, Ralph McInerny, and especially Alvin
Plantinga, whose thoughts Flew calls, "By far, the headiest challenge to the argument"
of the former volume (55). The chapter concludes with Flew's changes of mind regarding
some of Hume's ideas, plus his holding and then abandoning compatibilism (56 –

Ending his section on his atheism, Flew's third chapter is "Atheism Calmly Considered."
Here he notes a number of his debates and dialogues over the years, both public
and written, with Thomas Warren, William Lane Craig, Terry Miethe, Richard Swinburne,
Richard Dawkins, and myself. Two conferences are also mentioned. The first ("The
Shootout at the O.K. Corral") occurred in Dallas, Texas, in 1985 and featured four
prominent atheistic philosophers, playfully called "gunslingers" (Flew, Paul Kurtz,
Wallace Matson, and Kai Nielson) dueling with four equally prominent theistic philosophers
(Alvin Plantinga, Ralph McInerny, George Mavrodes, and William Alston). The second
conference at New York University in 2004 notably included Scottish philosopher
John Haldane and Israeli physicist Gerald Schroeder. Here Flew stunned the participants
by announcing that he had come to believe in God (74).

There Is a God

The second half of the book consists of the long-awaited reasons for Flew's
conversion to deism, titled "My Discovery of the Divine." It includes seven chapters
on Flew's religious pilgrimage, along with the nature of the universe and life.
Two appendices complete the volume.

"A Pilgrimage of Reason" (chapter 4), is the initial contribution to this section.
In this essay, Flew chiefly makes the crucial point that his approach to God's
existence has been philosophical, not scientific. As he notes, "My critics responded
by triumphantly announcing that I had not read a particular paper in a scientific
journal or followed a brand-new development relating to abiogenesis." But in so
doing, "they missed the whole point." Flew's conversion was due to philosophical
arguments, not scientific ones: "To think at this level is to think as a philosopher.
And, at the risk of sounding immodest, I must say that this is properly the job
of philosophers, not of the scientists as scientists" (90).

Thus, if scientists want to get into the fray, they "will have to stand on their
own two philosophical feet" (90). Similarly, "a scientist who speaks as a philosopher
will have to furnish a philosophical case. As Albert Einstein himself said, "�The
man of science is a poor philosopher'" (91). Flew ends the chapter by pointing
out that it is Aristotle who most exemplifies his search: "I was persuaded above
all by the philosopher David Conway's argument for God's existence" drawn from
"the God of Aristotle" (92).

The fifth chapter, "Who Wrote the Laws of Nature?" discusses the views of many
major scientists, including Einstein and Hawking, along with philosophers like Swinburne
and Plantinga, to argue that there is a connection between the laws of nature and
the "Mind of God" (103). Flew thinks that this is still a philosophical discussion.
As Paul Davies asserted in his Templeton address, "science can proceed only if the
scientist adopts an essentially theological worldview," because, "even the most
atheistic scientist accepts as an act of faith the existence of a lawlike order
in nature that is at least in part comprehensible to us" (107). The existence of
these laws must be explained. Flew concludes that many contemporary thinkers "propound
a vision of reality that emerges from the conceptual heart of modern science and
imposes itself on the rational mind. It is a vision that I personally find compelling
and irrefutable" (112).

Chapter 6 ("Did the Universe Know We Were Coming?") discusses fine-tuning arguments
and the multiverse option as another angle on the laws of nature. Among the opponents
of the multiverse option, Flew lists Davies, Swinburne, and himself, in part because
it simply extends the questions of life and nature's laws (119). Regardless, Flew
concludes, "So multiverse or not, we still have to come to terms with the origins
of the laws of nature. And the only viable explanation here is the divine Mind"

Chapter 7 ("How Did Life Go Live?") continues what Flew insists is a philosophical
rather than a scientific discussion of items that are relevant to God's existence.
He discusses at least three chief issues: how there can be fully materialistic explanations
for the emergence of life, the problem of reproduction at the very beginning, and
DNA. Although science has not concluded these matters either, they are answering
questions that are different from the philosophical issues that Flew is addressing
(129). Flew concludes by agreeing with George Wald that, "The only satisfactory
explanation for the origin of such �end-directed, self replicating' life as we
see on earth is an infinitely intelligent Mind" (132).

In the title of chapter 8, Flew asks, "Did Something Come from Nothing?" In spite
of our twenty years of friendship, I was still not prepared to see Tony developing
and defending a cosmological argument for God's existence! In an essay published
back in 1994, Flew had raised questions about David Hume's philosophy and its inability
to explain causation or the laws of nature (139). Then, works by philosophers David
Conway and Richard Swinburne convinced him that Hume could be answered on the cosmological
argument, as well. Buoyed by these refutations of Hume, Flew was now free to explore
the relation between a cosmological argument for God's existence and recent discussions
regarding the beginning of the universe. Flew concludes that, "Richard Swinburne's
cosmological argument provides a very promising explanation, probably the finally
right one" (145).

In chapter 9, "Finding Space for God," Flew begins with his long-time objection
to God, that a concept of "an incorporeal omnipresent Spirit" is incoherent
– something
analogous to talking about a "person without a body" (148). But through the 1980s
and 1990s, theistic philosophers in the analytic tradition enjoyed a renaissance.
Two of these, David Tracy and Brian Leftow (who succeeded Swinburne at Oxford),
answered Flew's questions. Flew now concedes that the concept of an omnipresent
Spirit outside space and time is not intrinsically incoherent (153 – 4).

In "Open to Omnipotence" (chapter 10), Flew summarizes that his case for God's
existence centers on three philosophical items – the origin of the laws of nature,
the organization of life, and the origin of life. What about the problem of evil?
Flew states that this a separate question, but he had two chief options – an Aristotelian
God who does not interfere in the world or the free-will defense. He prefers the
former, especially since he thinks the latter relies on special revelation (156).

Closing the main portion of the book with some further shocking comments, Flew
states, "I am entirely open to learning more about the divine Reality," including
"whether the Divine has revealed itself in human history" (156 – 7). The reason:
Everything but the logically impossible is "open to omnipotence" (157).

Further, "As I have said more than once, no other religion enjoys anything like
the combination of a charismatic figure like Jesus and a first-class intellectual
like St. Paul. If you're wanting omnipotence to set up a religion, it seems to
me that this is the one to beat!" (157; see also 185 – 6). He ends the chapter a
few sentences later: "Some claim to have made contact with this Mind. I have not
– yet.
But who knows what could happen next? Some day I might hear a Voice that says, �Can
you hear me now?'" (158).

Two appendices close the book. The first is an evaluation of the "New Atheism"
of writers like Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and Sam Harris. The author of the
first appendix, Roy Varghese, argues that "five phenomena are evident in our immediate
experience that can only be explained in terms of the existence of God" (161). These
five are rationality, life, consciousness, conceptual thought, and the human self,
each of which is discussed. Varghese concludes that by arguing from "everyday experience"
we are able to "become immediately aware that the world of living, conscious, thinking
beings has to originate in a living Source, a Mind" (183).

The second appendix is an essay on the self-revelation of God, written by New
Testament theologian N. T. Wright, with brief responses by Flew. Wright argues very
succinctly that Jesus existed, was God incarnate, and rose from the dead (187 –
213). Flew precedes this treatment by commenting that though he does not believe
the miracle of the resurrection, it "is more impressive than any by the religious
competition" (186 – 7). Flew's final reflection on Wright's material is that it
is an impressive argument – "absolutely wonderful, absolutely radical, and very powerful."
In the end, Flew remains open to divine revelation, since omnipotence could act
in such a manner (213).


As I have indicated, Flew's new book was a delightful read. This especially
applies to the many autobiographical details. The intersection of his life with
some of the best-known philosophers in the previous half century was nothing short
of exhilarating.

It will be no surprise to anyone who has followed my published debates or dialogues
with Tony that the clarification found in this volume was more than welcome. For
one thing, many of his comments here were also made in our published dialogue in

Philosophia Christi
. Most of all, this book should clear up the rumors as
to the nature of Tony's "conversion." He indeed believes in God, and while from
the beginning rejecting special revelation along with any religious affiliation,
his view of God's nature is otherwise quite robust. Indeed, his deism includes
most of the classical theological attributes. Further, Flew is also clear several
times that he is open to special revelation. As Tony told me just recently, he "won't
shut the door" to the possibility of such revelation or even to hearing a word from
the Deity.[14]

Of course, I predict that various skeptics will still have profound problems
with the book's content. They will not be satisfied with its proclamations. I can
only imagine the nature of the complaints. If I am right about this, it may even
confirm further Varghese's charge of the vociferous nature of this community's
response to the original announcement (viii). If Varghese is also correct that Flew
had produced the most vigorous defense of philosophical atheism in the last century,
a guess is that some skeptics are still stung by the loss of their most prominent
philosophical supporter.

I would like to have seen further clarification on a few issues in the book.
For instance, it would have been very helpful if Tony had explained the precise
sense in which he thought that "Theology and Falsification" was an attempt to curtail
the growth of positivism. That has remained unclear to me. I, too, was taught that
the article was a defense of an analytic position that only softened the force of
the positivistic challenge.

Another potential question surrounds Tony's excellent distinction between giving
philosophical as opposed to scientific reasons for his belief in God. However, a
discussion or chart that maps out the differences between the two methodological
stances would have been very helpful. Philosophers are used to these distinctions.
But I am sure that others will think that Tony is still providing two sorts of arguments
for God: Aristotle plus scientific arguments like Intelligent Design scenarios.

As Tony has said several times in recent years, he remains open to the possibility
of special revelation, miracles like Jesus's resurrection, and the afterlife. In
this volume he also continues to be very complimentary towards these options. I
cannot pursue further this topic here. While mentioning evil and suffering, I did
wonder about Tony's juxtaposition of choosing either Aristotle's deism or the
free-will defense, which he thinks "depends on the prior acceptance of a framework
of divine revelation" (156). It seems to me that the free-will defense neither asks
nor requires any such revelatory commitment. So I think that it could be pursued
by a deist, too. If so, that is one more potential defeater to the evil and suffering
issue. I will leave it here for now.