I have been accused of being unfair to Dick Dawkins. Well let’s look at what Dawkins calls “the central argument of my book” (The God Delusion, 187). He summarizes it in six steps. Steps 4-6 are not directly relevant to the core of the argument against God, so I’ve only reproduced steps 1-3 (see The God Delusion, 188):
1. One of the greatest challenges to the human intellect, over the centuries, has been to explain how the complex, improbable appearance of design in the universe arises.
2. 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 designer. It is tempting to apply the same logic to an eye or a wing, a spider or a person.
3. The 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 improbabiilty. 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 up gradually and plausibly from simplicity to otherwise improbable complexity.
The pivotal step is the final one and so that is where we shall focus. Unfortunately this is so poorly worded that it is tough to know where to begin picking it apart. I’ll work backwards through it and identify three overlapping problems.
To begin with, there is ambiguity throughout. For instance, Dawkins appears to hold the view that any explanation must work “up gradually and plausibly from simplicity to otherwise improbable complexity”. What is the definition of “simplicity” here? He doesn’t tell us, but presumably it includes “undirected process”. In other words, Dawkins assumes that ultimate metaphysical explanations must ultimately be simple meaning undirected or non-agential. But that completely begs the question at issue. He isn’t arguing that non-directed processes are the best ultimate metaphysical explanation. Rather, he simply stipulates a priori that all ultimate explanations must be of this type. So his argument against the existence of God stipulates that a metaphysically necessary agent can have no explanatory purchase. This is called begging the question at issue.
Next, Dawkins says here that the hypothesis that everything is ultimately due to the designing intelligence of a mind is more “statistically improbable” than the alternative explanation that it arose through non-intelligent processes. But how does he know this? He doesn’t. Again, he simply stipulates a priori that the existence of such a being is improbable. There goes Dick begging the question again.
Finally, we work our way back up to the top. Dawkins is limited ultimately to the village atheist retort of “who designed the designer”? His argument here seems to be this:
an intelligent mind is more complex than the things it is invoked to explain so it begs the question to invoke intelligent minds to explain less complex systems and processes.
Really? So let’s say the NASA’s Spirit rover on Mars rolled up to a strange object sitting on the surface of the red planet. Made of some strange substance and of unknown purpose, it nonetheless consisted of a vast collection of finely tuned parts working together briskly and making a high pitched whirring sound. Of course the first task for the NASA scientists would be to explain what this thing was and what intelligent mind made it. Imagine the idiocy of Dawkins appealing to premise 3 in this argument: “You can’t appeal to a mind because that would have to be more complex than the strange machine itself!”
Yet another good example of why specialists should stick to what they know.