Richard Dawkins is certainly incendiary, and it’s not just because he makes free use of acerbic anti-Christian language. It’s also because he would advocate prior restraint on free speech (chapter 1); considers religious teaching to children to be child abuse (chapter 9); and lays violence at the feet of religion while excusing the bridle-high materialist bloodshed of the 20th century (chapter 7). Dawkins is not content to agree to disagree. In his mind, people of faith are irrational and should not have the space to follow their wrong-headed views.
Here are a few things to be on the look-out for.
One, he doesn’t make a materialist hypothesis and then set out to prove it. In his mind, disproving the God hypothesis amounts to the same thing. Rather than letting fair-minded people evaluate the materialist claim to reality on its own merits, Dawkins like other professional atheists takes pot-shots at the religious point of view, while inviting you to join in the scoffing.
Two, atheist writers often set up a straw-man argument, to the effect that science doesn’t provide evidence of God, therefore God doesn’t exist. Dawkins is quite explicit about this. He says that God’s existence “is a scientific hypothesis like any other.” Really? God’s existence or non-existence is a scientific question? Every dictionary definition of “science” and every discussion of science by scientists like Dawkins rests upon science being confined to the study of material, physical things. Science cannot prove non-material reality, by definition. Dawkins like other atheist writers is necessarily making this argument: the study of material things does not prove the existence of non-material things, therefore there are no non-material things. Suppose a theologian said that inquiry concerning heaven does not prove the existence of Dawkins. Perhaps not, but so what? Dawkins does exist, and he deludes many. He does it by assuming the truth of materialism in order to prove the truth of materialism.
Three, a central flaw in Dawkins’ thesis is that the “uncaused cause” explanation for God fails because of infinite regress: If God created the universe, what created God? Dawkins repeatedly returns to this theme, like a dog to its vomit. The idea is simply that for everything we witness about us in (ahem) creation, there must have been a creator. Dawkins’ pitch against this is, essentially, “if God is the uncaused cause, then what created God? Nyah, nyah.” The schoolboy taunt is my addition, of course, but it accurately reflects Dawkins’ tone. Throughout his book he pops up with his “infinite regress” stop sign, in order to truncate further inquiry. Dawkins writes that it is an “unwarranted assumption” that God is immune to the regress. He doesn’t refute the theist point of view. He just doesn’t understand it. That God is immune to the regress is what makes him God! Now there’s more to God, certainly, but the notion of regress requires, at a minimum, that God is. The materialist version of reality fails precisely because of the regress. So it is with the infinite nature of this regress. How could there be no beginning? We observe the arrow of time in changes to physical reality, minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day. One thing causes another. Infinite regress does not explain the absence of God. It explains the necessity of God.
Four, Dawkins camps out on his arguments for evolution. But that’s curious. Evolution does not explain the beginning of all life, as Dawkins acknowledges. Nor does it explain the origins of the material universe. Why Dawkins treats his readers to an argument for evolution is only because, in his view, it “raises consciousness.” If evolution turns out to be the counterintuitive explanation for the origin of species, he says, then perhaps there is a similarly counterintuitive explanation for material reality in general. Make of that what you will. Dawkins makes far too much of it.
Five, Dawkins acknowledges the Big Bang as “the standard model of our universe,” and the presence of apparent fine-tuning of physical variables that allows for its existence. But there’s a problem with this, for atheists: it implies a beginning. So Dawkins launches into wild speculation to suggest why the big bang might not actually be a beginning, or might not be unique. Perhaps there are multiverses. Perhaps there is a bang, a contraction, and then another bang; a multiverse in serial form. There’s something to Dawkins’ approach here that would be easy to miss, if we’re not looking for it. If atheists insist on ignoring philosophical argument on the grounds that it is not “evidence,” then they should be consistent and not resort to it to prove atheism. But that won’t happen. Philosophical speculation is fine for atheism, but it is rejected as not being “evidence” for theism.
(See Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Houghton Mifflin, 2006))