The God Hypothesis

Chapter 2 of the God Delusion – Building a Case


building a case

“And then, see, once we have put it together, we’ll know exactly how to take it apart!”

(CARROLLTON – TX, Cradle of Civilization) (See First Post in this series) In Chapter 2, Dawkins begins by helpfully setting aside any need to address the God of the Old Testament because, “It is unfair to attack such an easy target” (p 51). As noted earlier, one can assume Dawkins has not read the entire Old Testament, and so of course it would be an easy target. It would be easy for me to explain how I would have prevented WWI by preventing the assassination of Arch Duke Ferdinand, especially easy since I don’t know anything about it and can proceed with my own assumptions and opinions, unencumbered by reality.

But, Dawkins does have a stated reason for dispensing with the God of the Old Testament, and actually every religion’s understanding of God: he is going to attack “The God Hypothesis.” I am sympathetic to this effort to some degree because it is pragmatic–he doesn’t want to get lost in the weeds over the various understandings of God as professed by the various religions. It would take multiple books to address each particular variant. No, he wants to get at the root, and proposes his God Hypothesis as essentially general enough to warrant lumping all understanding of God under this Grand Unifying Hypothesis. It is a valid approach.

He states his hypothesis as:

there exists a superhuman, supernatural intelligence who deliberately designed and created the universe and everything in it, including us.

He advocates, instead, an alternative view:

any creative intelligence, of sufficient complexity to design anything, comes into existence only as the end product of an extended process of gradual evolution. (Both quotes from p 52.)

While I don’t accept his stated God Hypothesis as representative of my understanding of God, his alternative nevertheless omits the most critical issue that his God Hypothesis addresses, namely the origin of the universe. I think I am right to say that his alternative view presupposes an existing universe. And if there is nothing before or outside this existing universe, then his alternative, as becomes clear, presupposes the absence of the supernatural.

But, I also think that his carefully worded alternative hypothesis is purpose built to evolve into what will be his actual target, the argument for the existence of God from the Intelligent Design standpoint. He saves that for chapter 4 and so will I. I will simply note here that it is sensible for him to focus on the argument for which his career provides the greatest amount of ammunition.

But before focusing almost exclusively on Intelligent Design in that chapter, he spends some time in Chapter 2 in a section titled Polytheism which section ends with his plainly stated intent:

I am not attacking any particular version of God or gods. I am attacking God, all gods, anything and everything supernatural, wherever and whenever they have been or will be invented. (p 57, emphasis mine.)

Please remember this thought, because it is easy to forget. Dawkins is attacking the supernatural. It is easy to lose sight of that, however. Why? Because in Chapter 2, nothing he says is an argument against the supernatural. In all cases it is an argument against religion. Whatever the merit of his attacks on religion, they are not attacks on the supernatural.

I am reminded of an article by Peggy Noonan titled Low Information Leadership. She is talking about Obama’s advisers, and notes something that can be applied to Dawkins’s presentation of religion:

From what I have seen the administration is full of young people who’ve seen the movie but not read the book. They act bright, they know the reference, they’re credentialed. But they’ve only seen the movie about, say, the Cuban missile crisis, and then they get into a foreign-policy question and they’re seeing movies in their heads. They haven’t read the histories, the texts, which carry more information, more texture, data and subtlety, and different points of view. (

Remember, Dawkins explicitly states he is not attacking any particular version of God on p 57, but rather the supernatural. But, he then immediately states on pp 58-59 that all three of the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) are indistinguishable, for his purposes, and so he will simply focus on Christianity, since that “is the version with which I happen to be most familiar” (p 58). His familiarity is of the ‘seen the movie but not read the book’ variety, since, as pointed out before, he does not need to read Pastafarianism.

Dawkins, however, spends most of the chapter discussing religion and Little Green Men, not the Christian God or the supernatural. (I don’t view God and the particular religious expression of belief in God, as being the same thing.)

He does discuss secularism and the founding fathers of America, agnosticism, 7 points along the spectrum from theist to atheist, tells us Bertrand Russell’s parable of the celestial teapot, quotes from his own books, regales us with anecdotes pitting Science against the Stupid, brings up the Flying Spaghetti Monster again, explains that theology has nothing to say about the real world, and, well you get the picture. All of these are assertions, there is no demonstration. For example, the celestial teapot parable, where there is proposed a teapot out in space that you can’t see, but which is asserted to exist, is more about whether or not you can prove the existence of God (or hypothetical teapots), than it is about disproving anything, including celestial teapots.

He does one thing, and it becomes habitual as the book progresses. Both with Stephen Jay Gould and Pope St. John Paul II, he says they can’t mean what they wrote. Dawkins provides a quote from Michael Ruse in which Ruse specifically says that Dawkins calls the Pope a hypocrite for endorsing Darwinism. I can only assume that Dawkins affirms this statement by his inclusion of the quote (p 92). It is as if Evolutionists belong to an elite club, and Popes and the like can’t be allowed in because ‘we don’t allow your kind in here.’

But my real point is this: When Dawkins doesn’t like what someone says, but he can’t safely argue against what they actually said (why would he argue against the Pope endorsing Darwinism?), he simply says they can’t have meant what they said. He would much rather argue against the opinion he wants them to have, and he will simply assert they have that opinion against even the evidence of their own published statements. It’s difficult to wipe the smug off after reading the book for too long.

The only time he approaches an argument against the supernatural is when he brings up the great prayer experiment. Basically, if that experiment proved anything, it proved that prayer does not ‘work.’ But it did not demonstrate that there is no supernatural. I think that Dawkins cannot really explain why he thinks there is no supernatural because for him it is self-evident. He simply accepts it a priori, and goes on from there with all manner of Science. His approach is the time-honored, “if you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, then baffle them with bull-shit.”

Which will win you points with the frat-boys that you practice religion baiting with, but regardless fails to demonstrate. Dawkins does one lengthy attempt to demonstrate the power of science in refuting… something. He starts by talking about agnosticism, and whether or not that is a valid position. Basically, he thinks it is not, because, as he will demonstrate in Chapter 4, the probability that there is no God is so high that you can set aside agnosticism and embrace atheism. What follows is a tour de force in, well, you decide.

Contra agnosticism, Dawkins brings up the Drake Equation, the attempt by collecting probabilities to estimate the likelihood of advanced civilizations existing elsewhere in the universe. He is trying to make a point about agnosticism. I will bullet point his argument, and I want you to see the fascinating conclusion:

  1. There are seven components to the Drake Equation which must be multiplied together
  2. Examples are the number of stars, the number of Earth-like planets per star and “the probability of this, that and the other” which he does not list because they are all unknown, or estimated with “enormous margins for error”
  3. The result “has such colossal error bars that agnosticism seems a very reasonable… stance”
  4. We now have direct evidence of many ‘solar systems’ and as of the printing of this book we know of about 170 Jupiter sized planets
  5. This means one piece of the Drake equation has been quantized a bit, which Dawkins says permits a significant, if moderate (?) easing of our agnosticism
  6. Dawkins then spends some time listing what we might try to look for that would provide signs of the existence of intelligent life elsewhere with a nod to Sagan’s novel Contact
  7. He then explains that if we saw such evidence, given the distances involved, we would be seeing signs of life that had no doubt evolved way beyond the level of scientific achievement that we have currently achieved.
  8. His conclusion (this is a quote from p 98): “Whether we ever get to know about them or not, there are very probably alien civilizations that are superhuman, to the point of being god-like in ways that exceed anything a theologian could possibly imagine.”  (Emphasis mine.)

I laughed out loud. Go back and read that progression again. Where did the agnosticism go? It was replaced by blind faith. In Little Green Men.

I have to digress a bit. Since we are talking about probabilities, and since probabilities are based on large statistical samples, it depends on if you are a ‘glass half empty’ or ‘glass half full’ kind of person as to whether or not finding 170 planets helps or hurts your position on life on other planets. See, before, we knew of 9 (or 8 depending on the definition of the moment) planets, of which we knew for sure life existed on one. So, you could say for example, the chance for intelligent life on a planet is one in 9. But now we know of 170 planets, and we have no evidence of advanced civilization on those planets, so our observed stats are now one in 179. Is that better or worse odds than when we started? Should I be more or less agnostic? The real answer to that, of course, is that we simply don’t have a large enough sample to draw any conclusions at this time. But, that does not stop Dawkins, as he has clearly left agnosticism behind: “there are very probably alien civilizations…”  (p 98).

His closing paragraph of this chapter is very nearly incoherent, and so I will simply state, no demonstration against the supernatural is to be found in this chapter. The HDL, aka Men On Books, will meet this Thursday to discuss Chapters 3 and 4. (Next: The Arguments for God’s Existence)



2 responses to “The God Hypothesis

  1. Pingback: Asking the Wrong Question | The Spiritual Advocate

  2. Pingback: Why There Almost Certainly Is No God | The Spiritual Advocate

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