Who Says The Watchmaker Has to be Blind? - the arguments of Richard Dawkins fall short

I have read the book "The Blind Watchmaker" by Richard Dawkins.  ["The Blind Watchmaker - why the evidence of evolution reveals a universe without design" by Richard Dawkins (1986) W.W. Norton & Company, New York.]

Although the book is intended to argue for atheism, it falls far short of this mark.  Instead it could be more accurately described as arguing for evolution and against creationism.  However, most Christians and most types of Christian theology do not have any problem with evolution - indeed, many Christians see evolution as a necessary part of God's design. 

Just as I cannot prove the existence of God, neither can Dawkins disprove it

In "The Blind Watchmaker" Richard Dawkins uses examples of the complexity of life to argue against a designer, instead arguing that these complexities came about through evolution.  Indeed it reads more as a carefully thought out popular-science book on evolution, than as an argument promoting atheism.  Just as I cannot prove that God exists, neither does Dawkins manage to disprove the existence of God.  Dawkins does not even manage to successfully illustrate that God is 'unlikely' - Dawkins instead runs on an unrelated academic track which neither proves nor disproves the existence of God. 


Dawkins' arguments can be summarized thus:

  • Biology is complex and cannot have arisen spontaneously in a 'pre-designed' manner
  • Biological design has developed very appropriately for its purpose (e.g. echolocation in bats)
  • Natural selection and evolution occurs on both a macroscopic and microscopic level
  • Small changes have been going on for many years and continue to go on today
  • Blueprints for biology are present in the DNA (which is also subject to natural selection and change over time)
  • [Observation of the complexity of the physical world 1]
  • [Observation of the complexity of the physical world 2]
...
  • [Observation of the complexity of the physical world N]
  • Therefore a creator such as God cannot exist

The issue here is the final statement, Dr. Dawkins' conclusion that a creator (God) cannot exist.  It appears as an unrelated statement here.  From a Christian theology point of view, Dr. Dawkins' final statement has nothing to do with the complexity or simplicity of the natural world.  Indeed, from a Christian point of view, God created evolution.  Dr. Dawkins makes observations about the natural world and its laws (albeit in a scientifically rigorous manner).  Merely observing the natural world will not tell you if there is a God who created this world.

Dawkins fails to consider God operating in any dimension other than that which we can easily detect
Even though "The Blind Watchmaker" is an argument only against creationism, Dawkins claims it is also an argument against the entire existence of God.  However, this is not borne out in the main text of his book, where everything could still be explained by modern Christian theology suggesting that God designed the world in such a way that evolution is allowed to occur, just like all of God's other natural laws that He created. 

It is true that toward the end of the book, Dawkins attempts to deny the existence of God (even in a way where evolution could be considered part of His natural laws).  Dawkins' main argument there is thus: just as it is improbable for things to come together spontaneously to form an animal, for instance, it is also improbable for a deity to come together to exist in the first place (as this would require an even greater amount of spontaneous organization).  However, there is a fallacy here.  This is a bit like if characters in a book, having been created by an Author, noticed how complex the plot and setting were, and considered this evidence that the book must have come together on its own: something as advanced or complex as an Author is too unlikely to have arisen spontaneously.  In other words, Dawkins presumes to understand exactly how his Author may have come about, even though his level of understanding would be that of a character in a book. 

And just like these characters in a book, Dawkins here has a fairly narrow view of the world.  He restricts the world only to that which has been physically detected so far by us.  Indeed, had he lived prior to telescopes, Dawkins may have restricted 'our world' to be simply Earth.  Luckily we live in a post-telescope era so Dawkins is aware of the Universe.  However, will years of future science reveal that there more to detect than the Universe itself?  Dawkins' downfall is that he completely fails to consider God operating in any dimension other than that which we can easily detect physically.

God operating in or from another dimension

In addition to the physical world, Christians also believe there is a spiritual dimension in which God operates.  This is not an airy-fairy hand-wavy type of existence.  It simply means a dimension which we are not easily equipped to detect with our physical instruments.  This extra dimension need not be an actual physical dimension, although it could be.  Consider the book "Flatland" for example, by Edwin Abbott. Flatlanders live in 2 dimensions and do not conceive of a 3rd dimension. The reader however, is very aware of the 3rd dimension and is tempted to exhort the Flatlanders to move 'up' or 'down' out of their plane. 

It is very interesting that Dr. Dawkins, a scientist, would presumably accept the theoretical possibility of string theory (with its many dimensions some of which are too difficult to detect physically), yet reject the idea of God or a spiritual dimension.  Spiritual need not mean ephemeral or delicate - indeed it can mean a more real, more solid existence than a physical one, but one which is difficult for us to detect physically.  We should not mistake the difficulty of detecting something physically for an inference that it does not exist.  If that was the case, string theory ought to be rejected out of hand.  Yet I believe that string theory remains an entirely valid possibility. 

Dawkins' mindset

Although not specifically stated, Dawkins seems to have the automatic inference that if God exists, then paradoxically, He would hate the natural laws of science which He created.  This would include evolution.  In fact, if God did exist, Dawkins seems to assume that God would be constantly sticking his fingers in every pie, interfering here there and everywhere, to create a somewhat chaotic existence.   He does not appear to consider the alternative (see The Christian Mindset below).

Dawkins has the mindset of a 'bottom up' approach, where the physical world is seen as complex and interrelated enough from atoms to humans to outer space that there is simply 'no room' for God.  However, we should note that just because God is not 'needed' to explain natural phenomena does not constitute any kind of proof that God doesn't exist. 

The Christian mindset

The Christian mindset of a 'top down' approach says that God created everything, including the natural laws of the universe.  God has foresight of the end result, but allows the events of evolution to 'play out' according to His natural laws.  He does not 'meddle' and stick his finger in here and there to stir things up (apart from very rare and important occurrences which are called miracles).  God has foresight of the future; we have Free Will, which affects the course of events (which remember, God can still foresee).  If I punch someone tomorrow, it is because of my Free Will, not because God's physical laws have decided I should punch someone tomorrow. 
And just because God foresaw (and indeed, intended) the evolution of the badger, for example, doesn't mean that he was meddling at every step in order to produce a badger.  God created the natural laws that allowed a badger to come into existence.

Conclusion
The arguments of Richard Dawkins in "The Blind Watchmaker" fall far short of arguing against the existence of God.  In practice, the book is merely an argument against Creationism. And just as I cannot prove the existence of God, neither can Richard Dawkins disprove it.

Consider two human figures in a beautifully executed painting talking to one another.  They speculate on the existence of a Painter.  But after looking around them, at the bright colors and the beautiful scenery within which they exist, they decide that a Painter is not necessary to explain their surroundings.  They are complex enough to have arisen spontaneously.  "A Blind Painter!" they announce.  But who says the Painter has to be blind?  And more importantly, who is blind here: the Painter, or the figures?

If you found this post interesting, you might also like these related posts on this blog:

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

You are always with me, and everything I have is yours

An open letter to atheist parents of young children

A Bible verse that is incredibly powerful