Sunday, October 2, 2011

Richard Dawkins Does Not Think: Therefore, I Exist

--The fool says in his heart, "There is no God." (Psalm 14:1)

Too many books and blogs by atheists in my reading diet lately produced the need for an antidote. The result is the following exercise, which I offer for whatever worth others may find in it. It is in two parts: first an explanatory preface, and then the exercise proper. (A print version with endnotes may be accessed here.)

I. A Preface to the Exercise that Follows

Your Curmudgeon suggests a new variation on René Descartes' famous cogito, ergo sum:

Davidulus1 non cogitat, ergo sum.

-- or, in English: "[Richard] Dawkins1 does not think: therefore, I exist."

1 "Dawkins" is an old English variant on a pet form of "David" ("Davykins"), hence "little David", or in Latin: "Davidulus".

To explain: "It takes a living, thinking human being to be aware of what is left out of Richard Dawkins' atheist-inspired reasoning. Thus if you can grasp in what manner Dawkins does not -- and will not -- think to the fullest, then you may know that you are a living, thinking human being."

There is, however, little worth in attacking the man's unthinking adumbrations about a world he cannot see. Many others have already done so, and as some of those have pointed out, it is rather like shooting fish in a barrel. No, what I propose to do here is to respond to Prof. Dawkins in a way which it is calculated will most effectively disarm what he has labored to construct. It will, I hope, prove an antidote for Christians to the emptiness one encounters in all the current atheist literature.

Let us first pose twelve fundamental questions about existence and belief. Next let us juxtapose two kinds of answer to each question: the one that Prof. Dawkins and his ilk would give, based on views expressed in print and on the Web2, and the other a traditional answer, as the subject has always and nearly everywhere been understood by people who call themselves Christians.
2 I have been as careful as I can below to portray the gist of what the currently so voluble crop of atheists offers in response to these age-old questions. If I have in any way erred, I trust that the Internet will supply the needed corrections.
My purpose here, I stress, is not to attack Prof. Dawkins or his positions. If you have come here to read a refutation of his views, you have come to the wrong place -- as I say, you can search for books about "Dawkins" at and find a plethora of books that do just that (after going to at least the second page of results).
What I propose instead through the question-and-answer format is an exercise: I ask you, the reader, (a) above all, to be completely honest with yourself; and then (b) to decide in your heart and your mind which of the answers given below -- the traditional ones, or those of the atheist -- resonate with you when you read and reflect upon them. (Hopefully, both your heart and your mind will be in agreement -- if not, you might want to study the topic and think about it further.)

If you are like Richard Dawkins, then I will not take it amiss if you identify and resonate with each one of the atheistic answers I credit below -- indeed, just the opposite is the case. By doing so, you will demonstrate one of the main points of this exercise: namely, that those who will not, under any circumstances, allow themselves to entertain for even a moment the idea that there could be a God/Creator of the universe, are impervious to all convictions based on any kind of metadata.3
3 Metadata are data of the kind which, while not directly discernible or measurable by any instrument in any laboratory, nonetheless comprise a considerable part of our being humans who are made in God's image. (Deny that fact, of course, and you deny yourself access to all such metadata -- and you will not find anything of interest here.) By providing part of the definition of what it means to be a human being, such metadata are therefore accessible to all who will sincerely look within, next look without, and then will make the connection -- between what they see without and all around them, and what they feel and experience within, at the same time. In one magnificent ancient metaphor, metadata are the things we find "written on our hearts." They become fully meaningful in relation to what we perceive and understand of the world around us, and how we act upon what they reveal to us.

Because this point is so crucial, let me restate it one more time. This exercise is not intended to convince or convert atheists or agnostics to become deists, theists, Christians, or whatever. What convinces you (or has failed to do so) has already convinced you (or, again, has already failed), "far above my poor power to add or detract."4
4 It bears restating also that there can be no rewards here for atheists, since the exercise has been designed to confirm them in what they already claim to know -- and please understand me when I say that in my view, and in all humility, such a confirmation is no reward, but rather a demonstration. If you are indeed confirmed even more in your beliefs by what you read here, or even if you conclude you want no part of what is being offered below, then you will know that all your defensive systems are up and working as you, in your own free will, intend them to work. Nevertheless, as the saying goes, chacun à son goût -- the very free will with which the Creator has blessed you is the gift by which He also freely allows you to deny Him. In His infinite mercy and love, He will not have any come to Him but those who of their own free will choose to do so.

As an analogy to what I am talking about, think of a small pond -- into the middle of which a pebble is cast. From the point of view of the pebble, there is a splash, and immediately a ripple, before it sinks to the bottom. Now there are those who may choose to take the pebble's point of view, focus on that splash and first ripple, and claim that the resulting picture is "all there is" -- it is all that needs to be considered in order to get a full explanation of what happened. Such people are the materialists, the ones who deny that any kind of metadata exist, or that we humans could be aware of them if they did exist. (Note that there is no quarrel with their picture of reality -- it is fully accurate as far as it goes. The argument instead is whether they are justified in their claim that their picture "is all that there is.")

There are those, however, who will be just as comfortable with taking a wider point of view -- the one from above. Those persons will see not just the first ripple, but the next, and the next -- until the entire surface of the pond is filled with them. It is those people for whom the exercise below is intended. The first answer -- the one given by atheists like Dawkins -- is the one that is akin to the picture perceived by the pebble just before it sinks. The second answer is the equivalent of taking in the metadata of the entire pond from above, with all its ripples. And the exercise asks, simply: with which of the two pictures (answers) are you more comfortable? Which one resonates with you the more, and gives you what you believe is a better grasp of the whole picture?

With that necessary preface, let us begin. As you read the opposing answers given to the following fundamental questions, look deep within yourself to learn which ones your heart truly leaps up to embrace, and gauge your future course accordingly.

II. An Exercise in Metaphysics and Faith

Below is a series of questions, posed to two individuals, Materius and Salviatus, along with their respective answers. Materius is intended to represent the views of the currently vocal atheists, as shown by some hyperlinks (not exhaustive). Salviatus represents the traditional Christian view.

1. Why is there something, rather than nothing?
Materius: We don't know for certain. The something which there is may have come from nothing, since it does not appear to have existed before the Big Bang, but it is all there is -- we cannot go behind the Big Bang with our current theories.
Salviatus: The reason that there is something, rather than nothing, is that there is a loving Creator, who created the world in which we now find ourselves.

2. Since there is something, rather than nothing, what is the purpose of bringing it into being?
Materius: There is no purpose -- it is all just there. There is no scientific evidence of anything that lies behind it.

Salviatus: The reason there is something rather than nothing is that we, the beings so created, could discover from creation our Creator's love, and so learn ourselves to love Him and others, as He loves us.

3. Is there any such thing as truth?
Materius: Truth is different depending on who perceives it, at what time and under what circumstances. Even we scientists can know only as "true" that which can be repeated by anyone else under comparable conditions, and hence has not yet been proven false. In consequence, it must be true that there can never be any such thing as absolute truth, but only what we think we know at the time.

Salviatus: Yes, Virginia, there is such a thing as truth: you know it because it is eternal, always the same, and unwavering, like the answers I gave to the first two questions.

4. How can we know what is right from what is wrong?
Materius: Like "truth", all morality is relative, and depends on the individual and the situation. (That, by the way, is another absolute truth.)

Salviatus: We can know what is right, and hence also what is wrong, because we can know that absolute truth exists (see the previous answer). Such absolute truth, or logos, has to be always and everywhere right -- otherwise it could not be absolute.

5. Does God exist?
Materius: What you are calling "God" is a dangerous delusion. Of course God does not exist -- how could he, since all truth reflects only what is known for certain at the time, and thus must be relative to the one who perceives it at that given time? And if you propose to hypothesize a God, then I have to ask you: who (or what) created your "God"? If not you yourself, then there must be another God behind that God, and so on ad infinitum, which would be ridiculous.

Salviatus: Yes: since we can know that absolute truth exists, we likewise can know that God exists, because God is the eternal, unchanging truth; they are one and inseparable.

6. If God exists, what are the consequences for us as humans?
Materius: The consequences are far greater if God does not exist than if He exists. For if God does not exist, then everything is permitted. And since science shows that God cannot exist, then science shows that everything is indeed permitted. {N.B.: in this one instance, I may have gone farther than Dawkins himself cares to go in print -- but other atheists, such as Jean-Paul Sartre, do not flinch from the logic of that conclusion.}

Salviatus: The consequences are enormous. Since He has made us in His image, we deny Him whenever we exercise our free will to put our own wills above His.

7. Where did life come from?
Materius: Life as we know it now is just the latest end-product, over billions and billions of years, of the random collisions of atoms to form molecules, and of molecules to form proteins, RNA and DNA, and then of their interactions so as to create ever larger and larger cellular structures. We may not have worked out all the details, but give us sufficient time, and we will.

Salviatus: God created life, because life does not arise spontaneously from inanimate matter. Life comes from life, and ultimately can come only from the Creator.

8. If there is a God, why does evil happen?
Materius: Scientifically speaking, there is no evil, just as scientifically speaking, there is no "good" -- those are value judgments. All things, including what you choose to call "evil", happen by chance and the laws of physics.

Salviatus: Wait, Materius -- to give a complete answer to that question, one has first to distinguish between what philosophers call "natural evil" and "human-caused evil". There can be no God-caused evil, because God is eternally good, and is thus incapable of generating evil -- but He can, and most certainly does, punish.5
5 It is not good for one in authority never to punish, just as it would not be good for such a one always to punish, without mercy. People who accuse God of commanding "evil" in His name -- particularly with reference to the Hebrew scriptures -- fail to take sufficient account of His using human agents to achieve earthly punishment, or of His direct interventions to that end, as in the case of Noah's flood, or of Sodom and Gomorrah. Frequently they also fail, in presuming to ascribe a motive to God from what is narrated, to take sufficient account of the sheer distance in time and cultures which separates us from the authors of those scriptures.

9. Why would God allow what you call "natural evil" to happen?
Materius: Balderdash -- there is no God, and "natural evil" is a tautology. What happens is what happens -- get over it.

Salviatus: This question requires a more extended answer.

So-called "natural evil", with all due respect to the philosophers who first made such a distinction, is a misnomer. It is no more than a logical consequence of our limited human perspective in a vast universe, and a natural consequence of the physical laws that govern it. We humans presume, from our minuscule but self-important perspective, that God "allows" earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, landslides and all the other natural evils to take thousands and thousands of lives -- when at the same time we ignore the pedestrian fact that, in just the same sense, God "allows" thousands and thousands of people to die, from all kinds of causes, every day. So which is it? You cannot accuse Him of the one without accusing Him of the other, and then the accusation becomes a trivial complaint about human mortality.

A moment's thought would show that if there were no such destructive physical phenomena in our world, then the world as we know it would be entirely different. Miraculously, gravity would reverse itself before we could plunge to our deaths; the earth would never shake, or its waters never rise to cause a flood, or drown anyone. Life would be entirely without danger, without risk, and we would all be permanent couch potatoes, somewhat like the passengers on the space ship Axiom in Wall-e.

10. Why should God create humans who are capable of causing evil?
Materius: Again, I say, since there is no God, the question is meaningless. What some humans choose to call "evil" may be only right in other humans' eyes -- witness the Israelis versus the Palestinians. One man's evil is another man's righteousness, and there is no absolute way of judging the difference -- see my answer to Question #4 above.

Salviatus: God created humans in his image, which means that humans have freedom of will, because God has free will. But since God is eternally good, He is incapable of choosing -- using free will -- to do evil to anyone, as explained in my answer to Question #8 above. Instead, humans -- who have free will, but who are also fallen6 -- can as freely choose to do evil as to do good. And when humans freely choose to do their will over God's will, they more often than not bring about evil. The human-caused evil that results is thus appropriately named.

6 The best demonstration I have seen of this unarguable fact is this simple observation of the French philosopher Blaise Pascal (I have added the emphasis):
Man’s greatness is so obvious that it can even be deduced from his wretchedness, for what is nature in animals we call wretchedness in man, thus recognizing that, if his nature is today like that of the animals, he must have fallen from some better state which was once his own.
See also my series of posts on Adam and Eve, linked from this page, which builds on Pascal's insight.

11. Is there life after death?
Materius: Life being life, there can be no life after death, which is the end of life. The notion of life as somehow continuing after death is what I call "the God delusion." Grow up, become a man, and die to eternal blackness -- which you will never perceive or have to experience, anyway, so why be concerned about it?

Salviatus: Based on my answers to the previous ten questions, I would have to be a blind fool to think that our Creator brought us into this existence only so that we could die and exist nevermore. To love someone fully (and our Creator can do no less) is to want to be with them forever. Because our Creator loves us (see answers to Questions #1 and #2 above), of course there is life after "death" -- it is, if we freely choose it, with the Creator.

12. What, then, is hell?
Materius: A particularly nasty myth spread by so-called Christians to scare people.

Salviatus: Hell is the free choice of those who choose to live without God. For Christians who truly repent and confess their faith in Christ Jesus, it is the worst of fates conceivable -- which is why we pray for God's grace, repent with all our heart, and confess our faith.

Thank you -- and now, your last words, please. What advice would you like to offer to others, as your colophon?

Materius: That's easy. Hopefully, you have lived a good and prosperous life, so be thankful for what you briefly enjoyed, and accept your fate. And if you were not so fortunate, what difference will it make in the end, anyway? When you are gone, you're gone, and that's the end of it.

Salviatus: My answer may not be considered as exactly traditional, because there is no advice I need to give to those who accepted my earlier answers: they have their faith, and as our Lord assures us, will not be left comfortless.

To the atheists and agnostics, I say simply this: You are free to believe what you believe while you are still alive: no one proposes to force you to do otherwise. However, if you take no other advice from a Christian, then please listen: if, after you die to life on earth, you are nonetheless still somehow aware that there is a "you" which has continued to exist, in some way which you cannot yet fathom, then the best thing you can do in that event is to start immediately to pray, in these or similar words:
Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.
If you can't remember that, then pray in words of sincere repentance, and ask forgiveness from your Maker -- "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner."

From the Gospel according to John, ch. 3:
3:16 For this is the way God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. 3:17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world should be saved through him. 3:18 The one who believes in him is not condemned. The one who does not believe has been condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the one and only Son of God. 3:19 Now this is the basis for judging: that the light has come into the world and people loved the darkness rather than the light, because their deeds were evil. 3:20 For everyone who does evil deeds hates the light and does not come to the light, so that their deeds will not be exposed. 3:21 But the one who practices the truth comes to the light, so that it may be plainly evident that his deeds have been done in God.

[Please take note: I am highly aware of the potential for comments on this post to get sidetracked. Be advised that comments which are not respectful to others, or which do not further the dialog, will not survive moderation.]

1 comment:

  1. Dear Mr. Haley,

    A most illuminating exercise. When I read your question #7, I was immediately reminded of a book which I recently read at the suggestion of a Polish Dominican priest who was visiting Seattle to attend a conference at the Discovery Institute. He has just in the past week finished his doctoral dissertation on the Catholic interpretation of creation from an Intelligent Design perspective, and he sent me an outline of his work on Friday.

    His approach is historical-theological as opposed to scientific. But more importantly, the book he recommended is Darwin's Black Box by Michael J. Behe, a Professor of Biochemistry at Lehigh University. You might find it an interesting read. The history of the Darwinian gradualist approach to evolution displays just how "faith-based," as opposed to scientific, are the opinions of the Darwinists, among whom I believe Dawkins is counted. Prof. Behe has an earlier book, The Edge of Evolution, but I haven't read that one (yet).

    Black Box goes into very substantial, but still accessible, detail about Behe's argument from what he has termed irreducible complexity and gives a number of examples of why such observed biological phemonena as human blood clotting, vision, the flagellum, the cilium, to cite three examples could not have evolved in accordance with the mechanisms which Darwin proposed and which are still offered by modern evolutionary theorists. Professor Behe is a Roman Catholic, but nowhere makes any reference, direct, indirect or oblique, to Catholicism in his arguments against Darwinian gradualist evolution. Given your interest in the topic from the standpoint of Adam and Eve, I thought it might be of use and of interest to you.

    Pax et bonum,
    Keith Töpfer