The next chapter of Dawkins’ book concerns the arguments for God’s existence. He addresses, in turn, the traditional Thomist arguments, the ontological argument, the aesthetic argument, the argument from personal experience, the argument from Scripture, the argument from admired religious scientists, Pascal’s wager, and a Bayesian argument involving probability calculations.
Not surprisingly, since Dawkins is an atheist, he finds none of these arguments compelling. But it is not enough to flip it around and assume that a Christian would have to find them all compelling. Some of them are quite bad, and all of them are misplaced.
The problem is the set up. If we assume some sort of neutral zone in which we do not know whether God exists or not, and then we set ourselves the task of reasoning our way out of this zone into some kind of conclusion, for or against, we have already conceded something that no consistent Christian should grant. We have conceded that it is theoretically possible for us to be here and God not to be here. This is not just false; it is incoherent. More on this in a moment.
Given the fact of the living God, what are we to do with these arguments? Some of them fail even though their conclusion is true — using the language of the logicians, the fact that the conclusion is true doesn’t make the argument valid. If I were to argue that George Washington was the first president because (and only because) I had buttered toast for breakfast this morning, I am reasoning badly. I don’t help matters by giving my non sequitur a pious sheen by arguing that God’s exists because I had buttered toast this morning. Which I didn’t, by the way, but work with me here. Poor arguments from the list above would include Pascal’s wager, the Bayesian argument, and the argument from admired religious scientists. When Dawkins has his fun with them, who am I to deny him a bit of sunshine and jollity in his otherwise blinkered existence?
The remaining arguments are fine, but why do I say they are misplaced? I don’t accept that it is legitimate for us to go into some neutral zone, put the question of God up for grabs, notice that the sunset is beautiful, and come to the conclusion that God exists. I grant that the sunset is beautiful, and it is beautiful because God exists, and if God didn’t exist, it wouldn’t be there to be beautiful. But God is always the foundation, the premise, never the conclusion. He is not the one we travel to; He is the one in whom we live and move and have our being. Another way of saying this is that the aesthetic argument doesn’t prove God’s existence, but rather the fact of the triune God establishes the aesthetic argument.
The same kind of thing with the ontological argument, and the argument from design and so on. St. Paul says plainly enough in Romans that God’s majesty is plainly visible in the things that have been made, but this is only because He created them and put them there. The (neutral) argument from design is simultaneously true and insolent. And because such arguments are frequently pursued by men who want a pretence of objectivity (which they can only have if the possibility of getting either answer is guaranteed), this puts the one presenting or listening to the argument in the position of the judge. But this inverts everything. God is the only judge. And He says (in Scripture) that unrighteous men suppress the truth. Their knowledge of God is like a giant beach ball that they have been holding under water for their entire time in the pool, and their arms are getting all trembly.
When I knock on the door of the neutral zone, Dawkins opens the door, all smiles. Another Christian. “Sure, let’s discuss it,” he says. “Let’s hear your argument for God’s existence. But I have to warn you — I think I have heard just about everything.”
“Oh, I don’t want to argue for the existence of God,” I say.
He looks surprised. “Why did you come here then?”
“I saw the sign on the door — neutral zone. I have always wanted to know what one of those might be. So I guess I am interested in hearing your arguments for the existence of a neutral zone.”
“Well, this is a bit unusal, but the neutral zone is the place where we agree to reason together about ultimate questions . . . like the existence of God.”
“Reason. What’s that?”
“Reason is the process of identifying rational inferences from true and established premises.”
“Is this reason authoritative? Do we have a moral obligation to obey it?”
“Because to do otherwise would be . . . unreasonable.”
“I have questioned your Scriptures, and didn’t you just defend them by pointing to a Bible verse?”
“So you are opposed to reason. Is that right?”
“Well, no. I am happy to follow reason wherever it goes. But before we follow it anywhere we have to know where it came from first. I am interested in the preconditions of reason. You have said that reason is the rule to follow in this neutral zone. But what is this neutral zone resting on? What is the foundation? Have you ever gone down into the crawl space under this neutral zone with a flashlight? To see what it is resting on?”
“I have no idea what you are talking about.”
“Well, I know that. You devoted 32 pages of your book to the arguments for God’s existence, and you completely ignored the transcendental argument. It is as though you had never heard of it, which is inexplicable in a writer of your stature. You teach at Oxford, after all, and not at Cow Tech. You would think that you would be able to identify your own presuppositions — and what they are resting on.”
“What do you say they rest on?”
“Well, what else? The rest on the Incarnation, the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. And before we reason any further about it, I really think we should ask the Lord to bless our endeavors.”
“You are begging the question.”
“I know. That’s inescapable with all ultimate questions. So let’s ask God to bless that too.”