I know what you’re all thinking… “He’s never going to get to Part II of the post”. That’s what you were thinking, right? Go ahead and admit it. Okay… I flatter myself by even thinking that anyone reads this blog anyway. Well, never mind. It’s on to Part II of “Dawkins on Trial”.
In chapter four of “The God Delusion”, Dawkins sets out to prove conclusively, (or as conclusively as anything can be proven to not exist), that God as a personal, supernatural deity does not exist. His argument was, to say the least, weak. If I were a person with the tact (or lack of tact) of Dawkins, I would more likely call it something along the lines of stupid, sophomoric, childish, idiotic, small-minded, devoid of reason… well, that’s enough insulting adjectives for now. On to the real thing.
Before we launch in to the heart of Dawkins’s argument, let me first summarize the argument which Dawkins himself is attempting to answer. Dawkins refers to it as “The 747 Gambit”, an argument originally used by Intelligent Designers but which Dawkins supposedly turns on its head. It goes something like this.
To get from the first living cell at the very bottom of the tree of life up to human, at least 600 changes had to occur in the genetic code. It’s probably more than just 600, but 600 is a nice, round number that’s easy to work with. Also, each of these changes must occur in order in order for them to do the organism any good. Next, we assume that with each mutation, there is a 50% chance of making the right mutation. Now, using statistics and the premises we just stated, we can conclude that the odds of a bacteria evolving into a human are approximately 4.1 times 10 to the 180th. In other words, one out of every 4.1 times 10 to the 80th bacteria will evolve into a human.
Now, to figure out the actual chances of this occurring in our universe, we take the number of particles in the universe, assume that each one of those particles is actually a cell, and assume that all those cells are mutating and reproducing at a rate of 10 to the 43rd times per second. Then, we take those numbers and multiply them by the supposed age of the earth, (15 billion years), and we get the total number of chances for a bacterium to mutate into a human. The answer is 10 to the 140th changes. Now, that seems like a huge number, but it isn’t nearly as huge as the number of chances necessary for life to evolve.
In the end, this argument concludes that the odds of life evolving anywhere in the universe are about 10 to the -30th. Now remember, we started out assuming that there were billions of little cells right at the beginning of time. We didn’t even calculate the odds of the first cell forming. (Actually, I have, and it bumps the number from 10 to the -30th to something like 10 to the -100th… some astronomical figure). So the intelligent design argument goes something like this: How can we conclude that life evolved against such incalculable odds driven merely by random chance? Sounds reasonable, right? Wait ‘till you hear Dawkins’s “brilliant” reply.
Dawkins’s argument basically boils down to this. He says that no matter how unlikely it is for humankind to have evolved from dirt and “primordial soup”, the chances of any being complex enough to have designed humans existing are even less.
Or, put another way, Dawkins says this. Human beings are complex. Fair enough. That means their chances of coming into existence are very slim. But then God must be more complex than human beings, because he created them. Therefore, the chances of God coming into existence are even slimmer! After all, if humans are complex enough to necessitate a designer to explain their existence, then surely the designer himself must be far more complex, and, as a result, must need its own designer even more than humans themselves. But then God’s creator must be even more complex than God, therefore God’s designer needs a designer. And so on and so forth, in a never ending chain of logic. This is the argument that Dawkins has termed “The Ultimate 747 Gambit”.
Now, I’m not sure if I even need to go through much logic to convince most of my readers how bad of an argument this is. I mean, it struck me as absurd from the time I first read it, and I have a hard time understanding how Dawkins ever got such nonsensical rubbish past his editors and publishers, etc. But obviously he did, which means that there are still some people out there who actually buy into Dawkins’s pathetic excuse for an argument. Therefore, I feel compelled to refute it for the sake of those who have had the colloquial wool pulled over their eyes by Mr. Dawkins.
I’m sure there are multiple, multiple ways to refute this argument. In fact, there have been whole books written purely as refutations of Dawkins’s book. I don’t intend to take an exhaustive look at all of them, firstly because I believe that for any logical and reasonable person, one really good argument should be enough to remove any acceptance of Dawkins’s faulty argument, and secondly because I simply don’t have the time to go through all the fallacies of Dawkins’s reasoning here and now. Rather, I will present the two arguments that first came to mind when I read this chapter.
The first argument is one of a simple nature that I’m sure many people like myself have thought of, but nevertheless is very sound. It goes something like this. If we are created beings, created by some sort of supernatural entity, then it stands to reason that our mental capacities should be far less than that of the entity that created us. Therefore, since we are so limited in our thinking, there are bound to be things about our creator that we are for all practical purposes incapable of understanding. In fact, we as created beings would be arrogant to presume that we should be able to understand all aspects of the very thing that created us. Since then, we know that there are things about our creator that we will never be able to comprehend; we should not be surprised that we do not understand how our creator came into existence. After all, we, compared with our hypothetical creator, are incredible feeble minded. We therefore should not expect to be able to understand all things about our creator, among which is how he came into existence.
This is such a simple argument that it hardly needs to be explicitly stated; nevertheless, Dawkins apparently overlooked it when he penned his book. Dawkins, when writing his book, seems to assume that we humans, with our feeble, pathetic (relatively speaking, of course), minds should be able to grasp every aspect of God and his nature. How arrogant and small minded! Can Dawkins not see that human beings should not necessarily be able to understand everything about the nature of our universe and creator?
As I said before, this is such a simple argument that I shouldn’t even need to state it explicitly. Nevertheless, it needs to be said because there are apparently those to whom it has not yet occurred. But there are those to whom this argument may not be totally convincing. After all, most of the atheists I have encountered are quite unwilling to accept the prospect that there are things in the universe that humans are incapable of understanding. This seems to be built right into the atheist frame of mind. So, as a result of this predisposition against anything beyond the human range of understanding, the above argument, logical as it may be, will most likely carry very little weight with most of the hardened atheists such as Dawkins. Therefore I believe that a second, auxiliary line of reasoning is in order.
For this second argument, I don’t intend to draw on any new logical principles. Rather, I would like to take Dawkins’s “Ultimate 747 Gambit” to its final logical conclusion, which turns out to be the death of truth and reality as we know it.
Let us now look at the world through Dawkins’s 747 glasses. That is, we now assume that anything we see in the world around us is more likely to have evolved or come about by random chance than to have been designed. Let us first look at, say, Stonehenge. Certainly, Stonehenge has the appearance of being designed. The circular arrangement of the stones clearly indicates that there was an intelligent agent behind its construction.
But now, let us look at Stonehenge through Dawkins’s 747 glasses. We are now forced to conclude something very different. “Yes,” Dawkins’s reasoning will tell us, “it looks as though Stonehenge was designed. But remember, the chances of Stonehenge coming about as a result of random chance, as slim as they may be, are much better than the chances of a designer having evolved. Therefore, we must conclude that Stonehenge is actually a result of random chance.”
We will get the same results if we look at the Easter Island heads. They look designed, but in reality they must have come about by random chance. After all, as unlikely as their creation at the hands of random chance may be, the chances of any intelligent agent existing to design them are far worse. Therefore, the Easter Island heads must also be the result of random wind, sandstorms, hurricanes, etc.
We can also reach the same conclusion if we look at the pyramids of Egypt, or the Great Wall of China. Yes, archeological evidence seems to say that those things were designed and built by intelligent, thinking beings, but the chances of those intelligent beings even existing are so low that it is more probable that the archeological evidence itself is a result of chance.
Now, if you are holding your sides with laughter or rolling your eyes at the absurdity of this argument, that’s good. It shows you’re thinking. What every logical person reading this post should be saying at this point is that my argument is absurd. Why? Well, we know that human beings exist, right? So as long as human beings exist, then we no longer have to worry about the issue of where the designer came from. Right?
Well, not so fast. Let’s take the trail of Dawkins’s logic further, and see where it leads. You probably interact with intelligent, thinking beings every day. Now, according to Dawkins’s reasoning, there are two possibilities to explain their existence. Possibility 1 is that they actually do in fact exist, and that they evolved by random chance. Possibility 2 is that they actually do not exist at all, but are rather simply the result of your imagination; random neurons in your brain firing in random patterns which cause you to perceive things which actually are not there. Now, which is more probable?
At first glance, you may start laughing or rolling your eyes again. After all, this is getting more absurd all the time. What are the chances that you actually imagine everything around you? Pretty slim, right? I mean, how on earth could your brain construct such a detailed reality, purely by random chance?
Well, here’s the bottom line. However slim the chances are that you are simply imagining all of reality, the chances that reality actually exists and evolved from random chance are much, much slimmer. Therefore, you, according to Dawkins’s reasoning, must conclude that you are the only thing in the universe that really exists. Everything else must be a construct of your imagination.
Now, while this may be an excellent lead-in to post-modernism, it is really a ridiculous proposition that people by and large are unwilling to accept because they know it to be false. Therefore, we must conclude that Dawkins’s argument, which led us to this absurd conclusion, is indeed flawed and therefore cannot be used to prove the non-existence of God. Reductio ad absurdum.
Of course, a logical exercise such as this will hardly be enough to convince most atheists, I’m sure. When reading an article such as this, the average atheist will undoubtedly hunker down in the bunker of Darwinian evolution or natural selection. In fact, Dawkins himself hides within the proverbial fortress of natural selection for the remainder of the chapter. I assume this is because he realizes how faulty his argument is. But whatever the reason, we shall see that logic can tear down the walls of the fortress of evolution, just as it tore down the artificial barrier of Dawkins’s “Ultimate 747 Gambit”.
The very next section of the chapter is entitled “Natural Selection as a Consciousness-Raiser”. In it, along with the rest of the chapter, Dawkins’s sweet refrain is “Not chance, natural selection!” I would explain what he means by this, but I fear that those who have not read Dawkins’s book would be incredulous and not believe that he actually wrote such gibberish. So, instead of explaining Dawkins’s refrain, I will let Dawkins do it himself.
(Discussing the Venus’ Flower Basket) No indeed, chance is not the likely designer. That is one thing on which we can all agree. The statistical improbability of phenomena such as the Euplectella’s skeleton is the central problem that any theory of life must solve. The greater the statistical improbability, the less plausible is chance as a solution: that is what improbable means. But the candidate solutions to the riddle of improbability are not, as is falsely implied, design and chance. They are design and natural selection.
Design is not the only alternative to chance. Natural selection is always a better alternative.
See? I told you that you would be incredulous. I was too. Again, I can’t imagine how such garbage ever made it past the editors. But unfortunately, I find that many people are actually taken in by this deception, thus, I feel obliged to point out the obvious mistake in Dawkins’s reasoning.
Dawkins seems to think that chance and natural selection are two independent things. He presents natural selection as an alternative to random chance. Now, we all know what natural selection is, of course. It is the principle which Darwin developed that is the primary means of evolution. Basically it says that those who are more fit and able to survive in a given environment will survive, while those who are less fit will die off. Thus, the species as a whole will gradually become better and better as it becomes more fit to survive.
If you still do not see the glaring flaw in Dawkins’s argument, you are probably a hardened atheist for life, and I have my doubts that you will ever change. All the same, I again feel obligated to point out the glaring flaw in Dawkins’s argument. That is this: There is no natural selection without random chance!
Natural selection and random chance must necessarily go hand in hand with one another. Without random chance, there is no natural selection. Let me illustrate what I mean with an analogy.
Imagine a factory that produces bicycles. Now, in one part of the factory, you have the machinery that actually constructs and assembles the parts. Then, at the end of the assembly line, you have quality control. Quality control is there to ensure that no defective bicycles get shipped out to the distributors. Quality control, necessary as it may be, cannot create a working bicycle. It can only eliminate those that don’t work.
Now, let’s apply our analogy to evolution. In the grand scheme of evolutionary theory, natural selection is the “quality control” of life. It makes sure the defective products get thrown out, while the properly constructed products survive. But if natural selection is the quality control, what serves as the machinery that puts the product together? Enter random chance. Random chance is the machinery that puts together living organisms, while natural selection eliminates the ones that don’t work.
Now hopefully you can see why Dawkins’s reasoning is so utterly absurd. Natural selection, by itself is utterly incapable of creating anything. It must have random chance (or some other engine, I know of no others suggested by evolutionists), in order for it to have anything to naturally select! Natural selection, by its very name, implies that there must already be an organism to select. And the only way for evolution to produce those products is through random chance.
So as you see, natural selection is really no alternative at all. It is a means of eliminating faulty designs only. It cannot create, it can only destroy. Thus, we are still faced with the dilemma which Dawkins told us was faulty: chance or design? Dawkins himself admits that it is absurd to think that chance is responsible for the incredible complexity of life we see around us, therefore the only alternative left is in fact design.
As I said before, I am truly perplexed as to how such gibberish ever got past the editors. But Dawkins at least makes some effort to redeem himself later on in the chapter, although in reality he turns out looking more foolish than before. What I am referring to is his so-called explanation of how we got the first living cell.
Dawkins is at least not so foolish as to suggest that natural selection was responsible for the first living cell, (showing that he does in fact understand some aspects of natural selection after all). Rather, he employs the anthropic principle.
His argument is strung out over a number of pages, so unfortunately I will simply have to summarize rather than letting you read Dawkins’s own words. Basically, Dawkins argument goes like this:
We know that for life to exist, it has to be formed on a planet favorable to life, (e.g. it has liquid water, it is the right distance away from a star, etc.) Now, let us assume that the odds of a planet that is favorable to life existing are one in a billion. Staggering, right? Now, let’s assume that the odds of a cell spontaneously generating on such a planet are, again, one in a billion. Again, staggering. That means that as a whole, the odds of life forming on any given planet are one in a billion billion. How could this ever have happened by random chance? Well, hold on to your hats ladies and gentleman, because this will blow you away. It turns out that there are at least a billion billion planets in our universe! So therefore, statistically speaking, a cell will form on at least one of them! And earth happens to be the lucky planet! Ta-da!!! (Not actually taken from “The God Delusion”, but still an accurate summary.)
Again, I wish I didn’t even have to point out the glaring flaw in the argument. It makes me sad to see people actually buy in to such hog-wash. But unfortunately, people have, so I must do my best to show why Dawkins is wrong.
Dawkins says that the probability of life emerging on any given planet is one in a billion billion, or 10 to the -18th. But since there happens to be 10 to the 18th planets in the universe, everything all works out. Well, perhaps Mr. Dawkins should have done some research before opening his mouth.
It turns out that for the first cell to be formed, there had to be at least 250 proteins. Now, a protein is made up of a chain of hundreds or sometimes thousands of amino acids. There are about 20 amino acids that would be essential for building a protein, and they all must be arranged in exactly the right order for one protein to be formed. Let us assume that the first 250 proteins were fairly simple, say 100 amino acids each. Now remember, each of those amino acids must be arranged in just the right order. And with the addition of each amino acid, there is a one in 20 chance of getting the right amino acid, or put another way, a 19 in 20 chance of getting the wrong amino acid. If we run the numbers, we can actually calculate the odds of one protien forming as a result of random chance. It turns out that the odds of even one simple protein being formed by random chance are 20 to the 100th, or 1.26 times 10 to the 130th.
What does this number mean? Well, let me see if I can explain. Basically, in order for us to conclude, statistically speaking, that just one protein should be formed somewhere in the universe, there would have to be one quadrillion, quadrillion, quadrillion, quadrillion, quadrillion, quadrillion, quadrillion, times as many planets as Dawkins supposed. And that is just for one protein to form, not 250.
I’m forced to wonder if Dawkins even realized how utterly foolish he sounded when he proudly declared that:
…My earlier calculation (referring to the one in a billion for a cell spontaneously generating) demonstrated that even a chemical model with odds of success as low as one in a billion would still predict that life would arise on a billion planets in the universe. And the beauty of the anthropic principle is that it tells us, against all intuition, that a chemical model need only predict that life will arise on one planet in a billion, billion to give us a good and entirely satisfying explanation for live here. I do not for a moment believe that the origin of life was anywhere near so improbably in practice.
Even accepting the most pessimistic estimate of the probability that life might spontaneously originate, this statistical argument completely demolishes any suggestion that we should postulate design to fill the gap.
Poor Mr. Dawkins! Do you not realize that your “pessimistic estimate” is so absurdly optimistic that you sound like a complete and total fool?!? The very notion that the odds of life spontaneously generating are one in a billion is so absurd, so naive, so ridiculously stupid, that I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.
There’s more to the chapter than that, all filled with the same kind of rubbish. For example, Dawkins applies his beloved anthropic principle to the cosmos, and attempts to explain why our universe is so perfectly suited to life as it is. I didn’t consider any of the rest of it really worth repeating, because it is mostly speculation and so is impossible to refute with empirical evidence.
As you can hopefully see, Dawkins came absolutely no closer to proving that God does not exist. If anything, his supposition that the odds of life spontaneously emerging are as generous as a billion, billion to one did more to convince me utterly of the fact that the first life must have been designed, rather than convince me that life is a product of random chance.
The rest of Richard Dawkins’s book is built upon the “fact” that God does not exist, which is really rather unfortunate, as Dawkins has hardly offered so much as one semi-convincing argument against his existence. Even so, it may still be valuable to examine the rest of his book, regardless of the fact that we have already completely undermined in this post what the rest of the book us built upon. And that is what I intend to do in Part III of “Dawkins on Trial”.
Note: This is part 2 of this post. You can read part 1 here.