Copyright © Richard Barns 2009. All rights reserved.
How can you believe in the existence of something that you cannot see – indeed that you cannot detect by any means? I hope that by the end of this brief chapter I will at least have sketched an outline response to this question that lies at the heart of atheism’s challenge to belief in God.
I will take my definition of atheism from Richard Dawkins. In the first chapter of The God Delusion he describes an atheist as:
…somebody who believes there is nothing beyond the natural, physical world…(1)
“There is nothing beyond the natural, physical world.” Nothing exists but material objects interacting with each other. Material objects are composed of atoms, and atoms are made up of protons, neutrons and electrons. Actually things are rather more complicated than this. Protons and neutrons are themselves made up of lesser components and there are a variety of other, more esoteric, particles. Ultimately, all matter is believed to be composed of twelve fundamental particles – the different varieties of quarks and leptons.(2)
These material particles react with each other via the fundamental interactions (or forces): gravity, electromagnetism, the weak interaction and the strong interaction.(3) Gravitation and electromagnetism (including radio waves and light) are familiar from everyday life; the weak and the strong interaction are short-range forces that operate principally at the atomic level. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, “All the known forces of nature can be traced to these fundamental interactions”.(4)
Thus the fundamental particles interacting via the fundamental forces explain the behaviour of every material object and as Dawkins says “there is nothing beyond the natural, physical world”. If this is true it means that everything can be explained in terms of these particles and their interactions. All that exists is the void of space in which there are vast quantities of incomprehensibly minute fundamental particles. These particles interact with each other via the fundamental forces and that is the cause of everything that happens. What is love? It is the production of certain chemicals in the cells of the brain and the endocrine system. These cells and these chemicals are ultimately composed of fundamental particles interacting with each other, and that’s it. Every thought, every emotion, every ideal reduces to material particles interacting in space.
In the remainder of this section we will look at some of the outworkings of this belief.
Firstly, if only matter exists then there is nothing special about human life.
There is nothing special about the chemical elements in the human body. The body is composed principally of oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium and phosphorus with trace amounts of many other elements.(5) The oxygen, carbon, hydrogen etc in the human body are just the same as the oxygen, carbon and hydrogen found anywhere else – in the sea, soil or stones. The elements in the body may be arranged in a more complicated structure and may take part in more complicated interactions than they generally do elsewhere, but that doesn’t give life any value, it just means that it involves complex chemical reactions. The body is composed of the same fundamental particles interacting via the same fundamental forces as are found everywhere else. A human being thus has no more value than any other material object. Indeed the idea of value has no meaning other than as an entirely arbitrary personal or social assertion. This is not saying that human life is no more important than animal life, or even plant life, but that human life (or any life) is no more important than gravel. There is nothing special about it. There is nothing special about anything because there are no standards of specialness. There are no standards of anything. There are just material particles reacting with each other. Nothing but matter in motion.
Secondly, there can be no concept of “ought”.
What about human actions? They are of no more value or significance than the actions of any other material thing. Consider rocks rolling down a hill and coming to rest at the bottom. We don’t say that some particular arrangement of the rocks is right and another is wrong. Rocks don’t have a duty to roll in a particular way and land in a particular place. Their movement is just the product of the laws of physics. We don’t say that rocks “ought” to land in a certain pattern and that if they don’t then something needs to be done about it. We don’t strive for a better arrangement or motion of the rocks. In just the same way, there is no standard by which human actions can be judged. We are just another form of matter in motion, like the rocks rolling down the hill.
We tend to think that somewhere “out there” there are standards of behaviour that men ought to follow. But according to Dawkins there is only the “natural, physical world”. Nothing but particles and forces. These things cannot give rise to standards that men have a duty to follow. In fact they cannot even account for the concept of “ought”. There exist only particles of matter obeying the laws of physics. There is no sense in which anything ought to be like this or ought to be like that. There just is whatever there is, and there just happens whatever happens in accordance with the laws of physics.
Men’s actions are therefore merely the result of the laws of physics that govern the behaviour of the particles that make up the chemicals in the cells and fluids of their bodies and thus control how they behave. It is meaningless to say that the result of those physical reactions ought to be this or ought to be that. It is whatever it is. It is meaningless to say that people ought to act in a certain way. It is meaningless to say (to take a contemporary example) that the United States and its allies ought not to have invaded Iraq. The decision to invade was just the outworking of the laws of physics in the bodies of the people who governed those nations. And there is no sense in which the results of that invasion can be judged as good or bad because there are no standards to judge anything by. There are only particles reacting together; no standards, no morals, nothing but matter in motion.
Dawkins finds it very hard to be consistent to this system of belief. He thinks and acts as if there were somewhere, somehow standards that people ought to follow. For example in The God Delusion, referring particularly to the Christian doctrine of atonement, he says that there are “teachings in the New Testament that no good person should support”.(6) And he claims that religion favours an in-group/out-group approach to morality that makes it “a significant force for evil in the world”.(7)
According to Dawkins, then, there are such things as good and evil. We all know what good and evil mean. We know that if no good person should support the doctrine of atonement then we ought not to support that doctrine. We know that if religion is a force for evil then we are better off without religion and that, indeed, we ought to oppose religion. The concepts of good and evil are innate in us. The problem for Dawkins is that good and evil make no sense in his worldview. “There is nothing beyond the natural, physical world.” There are no standards out there that we ought to follow. There is only matter in motion reacting according to the laws of physics. Man is not of a different character to any other material thing. Men’s actions are not of a different type or level to that of rocks rolling down a hill. Rocks are not subject to laws that require them to do good and not evil; nor are men. Every time you hear Dawkins talking about good and evil as if the words actually meant something, it should strike you loud and clear as if he had announced to the world, “I am contradicting myself”.
Please note that I am not saying that Richard Dawkins doesn’t believe in good and evil. On the contrary, my point is that he does believe in them but that his worldview renders such standards meaningless.
Thirdly, there is no such thing as “mind”.
There is no such thing as “mind” except as a synonym for “brain”. A person’s mind is simply the result of the electrochemical reactions between the cells in his brain and that is ultimately the result of the reactions of the sub-atomic particles. That is all. Everything we feel, desire or know is the result of the forces of attraction and repulsion between those particles. It is not that your mind exists as a reality and is somehow encoded in these physical reactions. Rather your mind does not exist at all; it is merely a name you give to the effect of physical reactions between particles in your brain. If only matter exists then everything reduces to material particles and the forces between them. Non-material things such as God, spirit, mind, laws, justice do not exist. They are an illusion – only arbitrary mental or social constructs that are ultimately false and meaningless.
There are many differing religions in the world, just as there are many differing atheistic philosophies, and I am not going to be advocating all of them, nor some sort of lowest-common-denominator general theism. Dawkins says that he opposes all gods,(8) but his arguments are particularly aimed in one direction. The God for whose existence I am contending is the God whom Dawkins particularly opposes, that is the God of the Bible.
What is this God like? There is an obvious place to find out:
God is holy: But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy…(9)
He has great power and wisdom: Great is our Lord, and of great power: his understanding is infinite.(10)
He is a spirit: God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.(11)
He is the creator: In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.(12)
He made man in his image: And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…(13)
He reveals himself to those who seek him: Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you…(14)
That is a very brief outline of the position that I am arguing from; it is this teaching that forms the background and foundation of what I have to say. My aim is to show not only that Dawkins’ arguments against God are invalid but that Dawkins lives, and indeed argues, in a way that is inconsistent with atheism but is perfectly consistent with Christian theism. The existence of God is not something “very very improbable”(15) as Dawkins asserts but is actually inescapable – even for Richard Dawkins.
It is not surprising, then, that all cultures are theistic in some way. Although some atheists claim that man is born an atheist and has to be indoctrinated into theism(16) there are no atheistic cultures except where ideological atheists have brutally suppressed theistic beliefs and tried to indoctrinate people into atheism. Even then such cultures have been short-lived. Man knows that God exists, and though that knowledge can be corrupted, leading to varieties of theism and polytheism, or suppressed, leading to atheism, it is very hard to entirely wipe it out.
The existence of God is vital to us, it is imprinted upon our nature. There are so many things that we take for granted and often do not even think about that depend upon the existence of God. Those things start to fall apart if one tries to be a consistent atheist. The belief that only matter exists cannot account for the real existence of anything that is immaterial and this has very serious consequences as we have already begun to see.
In the Christian theistic view the foundation of existence is not material particles and the forces between them, but the infinite, perfect, all-wise, personal God. And thus it is simple and straightforward for theism to deal with those immaterial issues that atheism cannot handle. For example consider the three points we looked at in the previous section:
Firstly, human life is special because man is made in the image of God. Man is not just another material object, he is to be treated in a special way as is made clear by God’s law, which brings us to the next point.
Secondly, there is such a thing as “ought” and the rights and justice that flow from that concept because God has given us a moral law that we are required to live by. God is our maker and as such he has an authority that no man has. Not only can he tell us what to do but he has put a knowledge of morality in us by nature. This is why, although we may corrupt the standards of God’s law, we can never fully escape from the idea that moral standards do exist. The existence of God accounts for the reality of standards not simply because it means that immaterial things exist but because God has the authority to set standards.
Thirdly, man being made in the image of God has a mind, not simply a physical brain. Indeed man has a spiritual nature including his mind which survives the death of the body.
It is not hard for the theist to be consistent to his worldview because his worldview accounts for both the material and immaterial aspects of existence, including the standards that flow from God’s authority.
Dawkins asserts that theists are following a delusion, but who is really delusional here? The logical outworkings of atheism lead to a belief system that he is unable to live by. Its radical materialism destroys the notions of right, wrong and justice – indeed the reality of any concept or idea relating to values or standards. “There is nothing beyond the natural, physical world” says Dawkins and yet he talks about good and evil in his arguments against God. Standards of good and evil are not material – they are something beyond the natural, physical world and therefore, if Dawkins is right, they cannot exist. When Dawkins says that theism is a force for evil he is denying his own assertion about the fundamental nature of existence. Thus even his own arguments for atheism contradict atheism. It should be apparent, even at this early stage, that Dawkins is caught in a trap of his own devising.
In the following pages we will look first at Dawkins’ arguments against God (chapters two to five and part of chapter six) and then at the evidence for God’s existence and the way in which Dawkins himself lives as if God exists (chapters six to nine).
To read the rest of The Dawkins Proof buy the book or download the pdf file.
1. Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, Bantam Press, London, 2006, p14 (BACK)
2. Protons and neutrons are made of “up” and “down” quarks so everyday matter is composed of these two quarks and the electron. However, other particles have also been discovered. In total there are six types of quark: up, down, charm, strange, top and bottom; and six leptons: electron, electron neutrino, muon, muon neutrino, tau and tau neutrino. For more details see:
(both downloaded 24/04/09) (BACK)
3. Encyclopædia Britannica, Fundamental Interaction, (2008). http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/222177/fundamental-interaction
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4. ibid. (BACK)
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6. Dawkins, The God Delusion, p251 (BACK)
7. ibid. p262 (BACK)
8. ibid. p31 (BACK)
9. 1 Peter 1:15 (BACK)
10. Psalms 147:5 (BACK)
11. John 4:24 (BACK)
12. Genesis 1:1 (BACK)
13. Genesis 1:26 (BACK)
14. Matthew 7:7 (BACK)
15. Dawkins, The God Delusion, p109 (BACK)
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