A Colorless, Odorless Gas With Lots of Potential

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In this centerpiece chapter, Richard Dawkins sets out to turn the tables on the creationists, and he wants to do so in an elegant way. His argument reminds me of a comment once made to my brother-in-law (a pediatric cardiologist) by another doctor, an atheist. He said that the liver was so complicated, God couldn’t even make one. And that settles that, right?

Anyhow, here it is. Dawkins keys off an illustration used by the great scientist, Fred Hoyle, who said that the probability of life happening on earth by itself was comparable to the probability of a hurricane, sweeping through a junk yard, having the luck to assemble a Boeing 747. I think Hoyle might be granting them too much here, but still, I sympathize with the sentiment.

Here is how Dawkins wants to turn this around. “However statistically improbable the entity you seek to explain by invoking a designer, the designer himself has got to be at least as improbable. God is the ultimate Boeing 747” (p. 114). Another way of putting this is “who made God?” or “how did God happen?”

Put another way,

Any “God capable of designing a universe, carefully and foresightfully tuned to lead to our evolution [or to create it, straight up, DW], must be a supremely complex and improbable entity who needs an even bigger explanation than the one he is supposed to provide” (p. 147).

Or yet another way,

The “designer hypothesis immediately raises the larger problem of who designed the designer” (p. 158).

Got that? This is the argument that answers the implied question in the title of this chapter, “Why There Almost Certainly Is No God.” Let me answer briefly, with two responses in ascending order of importance.

First, Dawkins’ argument depends upon God being complicated, like a universe-making machine would have to be. Now we accept the inference that God must be greater than the universe He made, and that He must be infinite, and omnipotent, certainly. But Dawkins spends a good bit of time in this chapter trying (unsuccessfully) to resist a central claim about God that Christians have made for centuries, i.e. that God is simple.

For a glimpose of the historic teaching of Christians on this, let me refer to the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

According to the classical theism of Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas and their adherents, God is radically unlike creatures in that he is devoid of any complexity or composition, whether physical or metaphysical. Besides lacking spatial and temporal parts, God is free of matter/form composition, potency/act composition, and existence/essence composition. There is also no real distinction between God as subject of his attributes and his attributes. God is thus in a sense requiring clarification identical to each of his attributes, which implies that each attribute is identical to every other one. God is omniscient, then, not in virtue of instantiating or exemplifying omniscience — which would imply a real distinction between God and the property of omniscience — but by being omniscience. And the same holds for each of the divine omni-attributes: God is what he has. As identical to each of his attributes, God is identical to his nature. And since his nature or essence is identical to his existence, God is identical to his existence. This is the doctrine of divine simplicity (DDS). It is to be understood as an affirmation of God’s absolute transcendence of creatures. God is not only radically non-anthropomorphic, but radically non-creaturomorphic, not only in respect of the properties he possesses, but in his manner of possessing them. God, we could say, differs in his very ontology from any and all created beings.

I don’t want to act as though an encyclopedia of philosophy is an arbiter of orthodoxy (even though there is a lot of really cool stuff in that definition). My point is simply an historic one. Dawkins’ argument depends upon God’s complexity, and this means his argument doesn’t apply at all to the triune God of the Christian faith, because Christians have claimed for many centuries that God is not complicated in the way that Dawkins’ argument requires. Alvin Plantinga does a really fine job dissecting Dawkins at this point in a recent review of The God Delusion in the latest Books and Culture.

My second response is related to this point, but looks at it from a few steps further away. God is I AM that I AM. The child’s question, “What did God stand on when He made the world?” is a question that presupposes that God is a contingent being, like we are, instead of the necessary being that the Bible claims He is. Christians do not just claim that God is there, but also claim that He is there as a particular kind of being. God’s aseity (another theological term) means that God’s existence does not require explanation. God’s existence is necessary; He requires no explanation beyond Himself. His existence (unlike our own) does not depend upon anything outside Himself. He is what He is.

Now as much as he would like to, Dawkins cannot have a problem with aseity as such — it is another “not whether but which.” It is not whether you are going to believe in something that is self-existent, it is which entity you are going to believe is self-existent. In answer to the philosopher’s question, “Why is there something rather than nothing at all?” there are really only two directions to go. You can postulate the eternity of atoms banging around, or the eternity of God — the aseity of matter and energy or the aseity of God. If you believe the former, the universe is eternal. If you believe the latter, only God is eternal, and He spoke the contingent universe into existence out of nothing, ex nihilo.

At some point, every worldview has to say “just because.” In every worldview, someone is going to back you up against your ultimate wall, and you will say, “this just is.” Dawkins believes that this just-is-ness should be asserted about hydrogen, a colorless, odorless gas that, given enough time, eventually turns into Richard Dawkins, not to mention his opponents. But we believe it should be said, with glad reverence and joyful simplicity of heart, about God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.

But I will give Dawkins this much. His argument does apply to the thesis that we were created by super smart space aliens. Of them it is reasonable to ask, “How did they get there?” But speaking of the triune God, it does not even begin to approach success as an argument that addresses anything at issue.

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