I asked for my readers to share some of the worst arguments against Christianity … and they did not disappoint. In this article I’m going to begin a series working through those arguments.
First up, we have Adam Omelianchuk who takes issue with Richard Dawkins’ central argument against God as presented in Dawkins’ massive bestseller The God Delusion. (For a fuller rendition of the argument see chapter 4 of the book.) Adam summarizes Dawkins as follows:
1. The more complex something is the more improbable its existence is.
2. God is the most complex being there could be.
3. Therefore, God is maximally improbable.
He then provides the following quote from page 138 of The God Delusion where Dawkins summarizes his claim:
“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.”
The first thing to note is that Dawkins’ argument is how it is extremely limited in scope. Given the centrality of the argument in the book, you’d be led to believe it aims to demonstrate that God is a delusion. On the contrary, the argument is in fact a rebuttal to the argument from design. Consequently, even if Dawkins’ argument against the argument from design is, as he opines, “unanswerable”, it would only apply to those who ground theistic belief in an argument approximate to the one he is rebutting. And here’s a simple fact: the number of theists who base their theism on an argument from design is minuscule.
Fair enough, the argument may be far more limited in scope than Dawkins would have us believe. But that would just mean that argument is oversold. Why think it is bad?
First, the argument assumes that God is complex. God may indeed be “complex” in the way that calculus is complex (i.e. “hard to understand”). But as Richard Swinburne has argued, as an explanatory posit (which is the manner of complexity relevant to this discussion) God is surprisingly simple. For a good introduction to Swinburne’s reasoning see Is there a God? rev. ed. (Oxford University Press, 2010). In chapter two Swinburne summarizes four key criteria that define a simple explanation. In the following chapter he demonstrates how God satisfies those criteria. Thus, the claim that God is a complex hypothesis is false. (Of course, Dawkins could always try to mount a rebuttal to Swinburne. But until he does so, his claim that God is complex must be rejected.)
Second, Dawkins’ argument is based on a fallacious assumption that one must be able to explain a cause before one can invoke that cause to account for an effect. This is false. Consider the example given by William Lane Craig. Imagine, Craig proposes, that we were to discover a spaceship on the dark side of the moon. Any cause of the spaceship would be more complex than the spaceship. And yet, it is patently obvious that it would be sensible to posit an intelligent causal explanation (i.e. an alien intelligence) to explain the origin of the spaceship.
For these two reasons, Dawkins’ argument is indeed a very poor argument. How depressing to consider that it is the centerpiece of a book that sold over two million copies.