• Answering the New Atheism, by Scott Hahn & Benjamin Wiker: A Refutation, Part 2

    Chapter 3: Dawkins’ Fallacious Philosophy

    In this chapter Hahn and Wiker attempt to point out holes in Dawkins’ arguments against god. In the beginning of the chapter they cite a few individuals, such as Alvin Plantinga, who criticized Dawkins’ arguments as being “sophomoric.” [12] Of course, it’s not as if these authorities’ insults do anything to disprove Dawkins or prove their god.

    While they disagree with much Dawkins has to say they do give him kudos on a very few points he made in The God Delusion. For example, “To his philosophical credit, Dawkins sees the same kinds of problems that St. Thomas did.” [13] However, their criticisms fail to hit their intended mark.

    The authors begin by discussing Dawkins’ claim that in biology things seem designed, but in reality, they were simply crafted by the blind hand of natural selection. But the authors question why Dawkins would deny a creator when design is implied in nature, in favor of the natural explanation of natural selection:

    “As he notes in his God Delusion, ‘We live on a planet where we are surrounded by perhaps ten million species, each one of which independently displays a powerful illusion of apparent design.’ Since things in nature give the strong appearance of having been made by ‘a superhuman, supernatural intelligence who deliberately designed and created the universe and everything in it, including us,’ we are naturally inclined to believe in God.[…] That puts Dawkins in an interesting position, quite the reverse of the one he implied. Since complicated biological things at least appear to be designed by an intelligent being, then it would be foolish (until one had better evidence) to believe that they were not.” [14]

    This question is easy to answer. While organisms in nature do seem designed, there are many flaws that would cast serious doubt upon that claim of design. There are too many examples to cite, but why would a “supernatural intelligence” create organisms that get diseased far too easily? Why do so many organisms contain vestigial organs? Why are there animals who have wings but cannot fly; who have eyes but are blind? This “supernatural intelligence” seems to be playing a cruel joke upon the animal world with its crazy designs. But, this is exactly what a purely natural world would look like; one that was crafted by the blind hand of natural selection.

    Beginning on page 56 the authors make use of the same argument Dawkins mentioned in The God Delusion, when theologians dismissed the “Great Prayer Experiment” by claiming that god “answers prayers only if they are offered up for good reasons.” [15] Just like Oxford theologian Richard Swinburne, whose quote from The God Delusion is cited above, Hahn and Wiker offer up their own illogical rationalizations.

    They argue that Dawkins’ reasoning is fallacious because god is “being unjustly subjected to a humiliating attempt to manipulate Him by an experiment.” [16] Because god is not like a “genie” [17] who grants requests on a whim; god has his own will and can deny a prayer request if he wants. [18]

    They elaborate on the above theme:

    “As fathers or mothers, we don’t grant every request made by our children, even though we have the power to do what they ask; in fact, we deny quite a few requests because we know that answering them would not be good for the child and, since we love the child, we don’t want any harm to come to him or her.” [19]

    They claim that they will return to this claim later on about god’s “benevolence” [20] but I have to wonder what argument they will use, because why would god not want to grant a request to help his child avoid pain, as even Hahn and Wiker claim about a loving parent? And wouldn’t the authors feel that god is like a loving parent? I will get to their argument once I get to it, but until then, it seems to me that they just shot themselves in the foot because that’s what those experiments were testing: To see whether or not the patients had much pain and/or complications during their surgery, but god simply allowed them to have those complications and pain regardless of the prayers asking for them to be avoided.

    Next, Hahn and Wiker argue that Dawkins’ claim of a god needing a designer is flawed because Dawkins’ idea of god is skewed. Dawkins, according to the authors, falsely believes that god is no superhuman, who thinks like Richard Dawkins himself might think. [21] But, argue Hahn and Wiker, god is “purely spiritual” and is “outside of physical contingency.” [22] Therefore, he is not a material being who must abide by the laws of natural selection, as Dawkins believes all things must arise from this natural process. Because of this, Dawkins is trying to force this materialistic explanation upon god, an immaterial being, at least according to the authors.

    Wow, what a convenient argument! Once again, how can the authors apply attributes to a being whom they can’t even prove to exist? To be blunt, this is simply Wiker and Hahn’s illogical rationalizations to excuse their god from helping people in need and causing their god to be immune to evidence and argument. Second, an immaterial world has yet to even be proven, so falling back on that argument gets these authors nowhere.

    Of course, the authors later answer that god not only attends to the physical needs, but spiritual needs as well, and because he knows all he can see the larger picture, so all of his decisions are really for the best and has everyones’ interest at heart:

    “Given this much larger spiritual, eternal context, we can see again why it is difficult to assess whether God had indeed answered the prayers of petitioners in light of their true good, present and future, as inextricably bound up with the good of an infinite number of others.” [23]

    Once again, to be blunt, that’s a crock of theological nonsense.

    The authors next pull out the ‘evolution leads to social Darwinism’ card by claiming that, “On [Dawkins’] own terms, that is, in the context of evolution, death is a way of weeding out the unfit, and the destruction of individuals is fully in accord with the larger evolutionary and environmental whole […] If Dawkins found himself on the other side of the prayer experiment, in charge of affirming or denying petitions, he would have to take all this into account, and this includes decisions about life and death, since in general people want to go on living when it might be better, from a purely material medical and evolutionary view, that they die.” [24]

    I’ve covered this absurd – no let me call it what it is: nonense – claim in the past that by following some “evolutionary view of morality” there is no reason to help those in need. Well, needless to say these ignorant theists need to do their homework. [25] Our innate compassion for others could also likely cause us to be more moral than this god so many worship, who allows untold numbers to needlessly suffer.

    The last argument I shall cover can be found on pages 68-70 regarding Dawkins’ arguments against St. Thomas Aquinas’ five proofs. Hahn and Wiker claim that Dawkins misunderstands the argument of Aquinas. They say,

    “[Dawkins] dismisses three of them [Aquinas’ five proofs] because ‘they make the entirely unwarranted assumption that God himself is immune to regress.’ This criticism misses the point of the proofs.

    Each of St. Thomas’ three proofs makes the exact same kind of assumption that was made by scientists in the 20th century who inferred from the present state of the universe’s expansion, that if one ‘played’ the expansion backwards, one would come to a ‘singularity,’ a ‘point’ which has to be considered an origin but which is outside of space, time, and the domain of the laws of nature, and which itself must either be a cause or have a cause because the universe cannot come from nothing. […] If St. Thomas is wrong in using this kind of proof, then Dawkins must likewise reject the kind of reasoning that led to the revelation of the Big Bang.” [26]

    If the authors wish to criticize Dawkins for a slight lack of understanding some of the finer details of Aquinas’ arguments, then I am more than justified in pointing out the flaws in the understanding of the Big Bang that the authors (in fact most theists) make. The Big Bang does not infer some ultimate “origin” or even a “cause.” Recent research is showing that the universe may be eternal, which is consistent with all of the laws and theories we currently have discovered and proposed. [27]

    Regardless if Dawkins didn’t understand every facet of Aquinas’ arguments, Dawkins’ entire point is that using god to fill in the gaps in our knowledge about the universe is a useless exercise, and Hahn and Wiker did nothing (at least not yet) to refute this very logical conclusion of Dawkins’.

    12. Answering the New Atheism, by Scott Hahn and Benjamin Wiker; 52

    13. Ibid.; 68

    14. Ibid.; 55

    15. The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins, Houghton Mifflin, 2006; 64

    16. Answering the New Atheism, by Scott Hahn and Benjamin Wiker; 57

    17. Ibid.; 58

    18. Ibid.; 57

    19. Ibid.; 58

    20. Ibid.; 59

    21. Ibid.; 63

    22. Ibid.; 64

    23. Ibid. 67

    24. Ibid. 68

    25. I have refuted this claim most notably in two places. One was my review of David Marshall’s book The Truth Behind the New Atheism and the other was a piece summarizing the research into our innate morality that evolution is responsible for. Something these ignorant theists don’t seem to have a clue about. The book review can currently be found here: The Truth Behind the New Atheism: The Definitive Refutation. My post about our innate morality can currently be found here: Altruism in Primates and Humans

    26. Answering the New Atheism, by Scott Hahn and Benjamin Wiker; 69

    27. Endless Universe: Beyond the Big Bang, by Paul Steinhardt & Neil Turok, Doubleday, 2007

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    Article by: Arizona Atheist