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Altogether—Unbelievable! Part 2

Christian radio interview with Francis Collins and Richard Dawkins

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Premier Unbelievable? / YoutubeFrancis Collins and Richard Dawkins 
UK Christian broadcaster Justin Brierley interviews Francis Collins and Richard Dawkins.

In part 1 we began our analysis of a video podcast in which Justin Brierley from Premier Christian Radio (UK) interviewed world-famous geneticist Francis Collins and outspoken atheist and evolutionist, professor Richard Dawkins (available as a YouTube podcast1). In this second part, we will hear them discuss the following: design arguments for the existence of God; whether God would use evolution; the origins of altruism, morality, and concepts of beauty.

COLLINS: … basically Richard, I am arguing not that the evolutionary process is incapable of generating complexity, I think it totally is, you and I are in the same place here [DAWKINS INTERJECTS: There’s no doubt about that!] … but you said that it happened just because of the laws of physics

John SanfordGenetic Entropy book by John C Sanford
The genomes of all living creatures are degenerating due to the accumulation of slightly harmful mutations.

Collins fudges the issue here. Creationists have long recognized natural selection (and mutation) leads to variety, but it’s not equivalent to ‘microbes to man’ evolution. However, such changes always come at a fitness cost (an essential measure of Darwinian evolution). Furthermore, these fitness costs, when analysed at the genetic level, are always associated with a loss, or corruption, of genetic information (genetic entropy); no new information has been produced. Collins’ claim that evolution can generate complexity is merely a philosophical belief. In reality, the complexity was already there—natural selection can eliminate, but never create, it can only tinker with the hand it is dealt. Collins seems oblivious (or ignores) the fact that “the laws of physics” cannot explain evolutionary development at all; in fact, they militate against it! Instead, he kicks the can down the road and asks Dawkins where the laws of physics came from?

BRIERLEY: And this has been one of your key arguments in your books Richard; positing God just leaves you with something more complex to describe something already.

It’s disappointing that Brierley misses an opportunity to hold both Collins’ and Dawkins’ feet to the fire about an alleged evolutionary mechanism, overlooking Collin’s side-stepping of biological design. Instead, he offers Dawkins another way out of the argument, one which he happily embraces:

DAWKINS: …you might convince somebody like me to be a deist … because of the [cosmological] fine-tuning argument. But then suddenly, we get Jesus Christ, and then we get crucifixion, then we get resurrection, we get virgin birth! That’s nothing to do with it! I mean that’s a possibly dishonest way of smuggling in what you really want—well, not you [referring to Brierley and Collins] but … what some Christians really want is—to bring in Jesus, or Allah and Muhammad, or Buddha. Whatever it is, you cannot do that. Either you’re going to stick with a fine-tuning argument, which is a good argument, or you’ve got to produce a really good argument for Jesus. But don’t think that because you’ve convinced somebody (of the fine-tuning argument) to be a deist, that therefore he’s got to believe in Jesus.

Recall that Collins had merely insinuated that, in his view, the alleged laws enabling evolution were insufficient without God. Dawkins gets carried away here and hopelessly conflates historical and scientific questions. Firstly, the fine-tuning argument is not a “good argument” when it pre-supposes and is built around big bang cosmology. Secondly, Dawkins raises a straw-man argument about the life of Christ which he knocks down for cheap points. Questions about Jesus are in an entirely different category; they’re historical ones, rather than cosmological/scientific ones.

Of course, no one would use the fine-tuning argument to prove the historical Jesus; one would turn to historical sources for that! Dawkins assumes Brierley or Collins wouldn’t wish to introduce Jesus in that way into the argument (and he may well be correct), but such an assumption needs to be qualified in any case; sadly, neither Brierley nor Collins do so (maybe because of time constraints, or embarrassment). Furthermore, no Christian would wish to prove Allah, Muhammad, or Buddha from fine-tuning arguments, but I will excuse Dawkins’ slip-of-the tongue here.

DAWKINS: The thing about God being outside time—and therefore ‘with one bound, Jack was free’—[is that] it’s so easy! I mean, it’s such a facile, easy way to do it! You just sort of say: we’ve got this problem of the origin of the universe, what came before the big bang? I know—let’s make God outside time, that’ll do it! And it’s just, too easy … I find that unimpressive!

Since Dawkins is blinded by his own materialism, he cannot allow for the biblical God, whose nature is Spirit, not matter, and who is indeed outside of time. The Bible is clear that God created time (days, mornings, evenings), along with energy and the material universe (Genesis 1). Physicists tell us that time is inextricably bound up with energy and matter.2 Therefore, the universe had a beginning, and science cannot probe, or even conceive of a point before that beginning. By definition, if God began the Creation, then He must have been before time began, so is therefore ‘outside of time’ as Collins rightly recognizes (see part 1). Put another way, God has no beginning or end, as the Bible teaches (cf. Isaiah 46:10; Revelation 22:13). Collins responds by appealing to Dawkins’ emotions, asking:

COLLINS: Is it rationally indefensible, or is it just uncomfortable?

DAWKINS: I think it smacks of just … a sort of cop out, from actually providing a proper explanation!

BRIERLEY: … is the issue fundamentally, Richard, that you’ll never be satisfied with an immaterial explanation? You’ll always be, as a scientist and as a materialist, … [dis]satisfied with anything but a material explanation for the material universe we live in?

Of course, being a good scientist does not require one to embrace materialism. The two things are not synonymous; one is an anti-God philosophy (materialism), the other (science) is the practice of the experimental method (itself birthed in the biblical, creationist world-view). But Brierley is to be commended for asking a very pertinent question of Dawkins here.

DAWKINS: That’s part of it I suppose. Perhaps we both come at it with … a bit of presupposition. As somebody who’s deeply steeped in evolution, I am kind of ‘in love with the idea’ that it’s possible to explain complex things in terms of simple things. And that’s foreign to normal human nature. It’s a difficult thing for humans to grasp and Darwin’s great gift to us … is to show that big, complex things come into existence by an explicable, understandable, beautiful, elegant process of gradual, evolutionary change [Collins is seen to nod enthusiastically]. That’s such a beautiful idea that inventing a big complex thing, which God must be if He exists, throws a ‘ruddy great spanner’ in the whole works of the beauty of that Darwinian concept … and God’s got to be complex! I mean, I have come across theologians who say the beauty of God (Richard Swinburne) … is totally simple; that’s the beauty of it, you don’t need a complex God, He is simple. But that’s ridiculous, because if He is simple, He couldn’t invent the fundamental constants of the laws of physics.

Firstly, it is refreshing to hear Dawkins admit he has presuppositions and an emotional bias towards evolution, even admitting he is “in love with the idea” of unguided evolution to produce complexity from simplicity. Dawkins tacitly admits evolution is not a scientific idea but a philosophical one, driven by emotion and bias! And he even acknowledges that complexity developing from simple beginnings naturalistically is an idea that goes against common sense (even observational science)—it is “foreign to normal human nature.”

Dawkins rejects God (on emotional grounds, for his perceived sense of ‘beauty’) because he thinks God needs to be more “complex” than His creation. For Dawkins, that goes against the idea of simple-to-complex as demanded by evolution. Dawkins is an avowed materialist, not a theologian, so is an unsafe guide to understanding the nature of God.

The Bible is clear in its definition of God: He is Spirit (John 4:24), which is immaterial. ‘Complexity’ falls within the material realm; that being the case, God does not have material parts, so theologically speaking, God as Spirit is ‘simple.’ The ‘complexity’ of God is not the issue, rather it His revealed attributes as described in Scripture that qualify Him to be Creator of the universe—His omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence, as well as his moral attributes, like holiness and love.

Sadly, Brierley picks up on none of this.

BRIERLEY: … Richard… You would prefer that there be a sort of Darwinian explanation of the universe itself? … You don’t like the idea that there’s actually some kind of a mind behind it?

DAWKINS: Yes, that’s a fair summary of what I just said. On the other hand, I will say that I don’t think this is a trivial question. I think that whether or not there is a God is the biggest question you could ask… actually it’s a scientific question! Francis may disagree with that? I think of it as a scientific question.

For the author of The God Delusion, Dawkins’ admission that the question of God’s existence is the ‘biggest scientific question one can ask’ is quite startling! Dawkins has previously been coaxed to admit that intelligent design is an allowable scientific question, but only when that intelligence is material and extra-terrestrial, and is considered to have evolved by Darwinian means that no divine intelligence is allowed! Dawkins’ admission is completely counter to materialist thought; which a priori dismisses God! Hence, how could God’s existence (Who is Spirit, and not material) be a ‘scientific’ question, when materialists only admit the existence of matter and material processes to explain all things? However, this big admission/contradiction from Dawkins simply wafts over Brierley’s head.

BRIERLEY: …you have this famous quote Richard, which I’ll quote back to you now, which is: “the universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is at bottom no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.”[3] Now is that the universe you observe?

Brierley should recognize that things like ‘purpose’, ‘evil’, ‘good’, ‘blind pitiless indifference’ are not scientifically observable, or measurable quantities, rather, they are metaphysical, only experienced or believed by moral beings like us. Furthermore, Dawkins is claiming his moral description observation holds true for the entire universe, which is a grandiose claim! However, design can readily be detected and described in the observable, biological world, despite Dawkins’ efforts at hand-waving it away. From a biblical worldview, the natural evil we experience, death and suffering, are only accounted for in relation to the Fall and Curse of God’s perfect creation after sin entered the world. This is the crux of the argument, but it is fatal to theistic evolution, which is why neither Brierley or Collins choose to go there.

DAWKINS: Well, as a biologist it certainly is [a pitiless universe], yes, and I suspect that … I intended that to be general, I still do. But it’s evolutionary biology that gives me the impetus to maintain that. I don’t have the knowledge of physics to be so confident.

Rather, as a materialist, and despiser of the divine, this is what Dawkins reads into his study of biology. He entirely ignores the staggering complexity of the cell, the impossibility of abiogenesis, that animal altruism points to creation, or that inherent beauty speaks of a Creator; instead he favours supposed ‘bad design’ and natural evil.

COLLINS: Can I jump in and propose an alternative to that very famous sentence of Richard’s? I would argue that the universe has exactly the properties you would expect if it was put there by God, who desired creatures like us to exist—who could be morally responsible, who can love and care for each other, who can appreciate beauty, and who will know the difference between good and evil and will ultimately seek a relationship with God. The universe has those properties.

At face value, many Christians will say a hearty Amen to this. However, we need to take into account that Collins rejects the clear teaching of Scripture when it comes to the Fall and the origins of death and suffering. So the ‘universe’ Collins is referring to is one where the ‘god of evolution’ included death in his creation process. Collins therefore cannot answer the charge of why a good God allows suffering, which is the raison d’être of Dawkins’ argument. They are really talking past each other. Dawkins then proceeds to deliver a somewhat clumsily constructed challenge to both Collins’ and Brierely’s worldview:

DAWKINS: But then, what about all the horrible, horrible parasites and predators … If you’re going to set natural laws in place, including evolution, to ultimately result in something amazing and beautiful—creation—it’s going to also do other things along the way, and God can’t step in every ‘whip stitch’ and avoid parasites—it’s all part of the fact… But then, Francis, you can’t have it both ways … when you believe in miracles! I mean, you cannot have a God who does miracles on the one hand and yet who has this sort of ‘let’s let the laws of physics play themselves out without interference’ on the other. You’re having it both ways when you believe in miracles.

Dawkins makes a good point. He is inferring, in a very round-about way, that the god of the theistic evolutionist behaves like an indifferent, deist god, who created using evolution, a haphazard, wasteful process—so why would this god then step into history to perform miracles? And if he did it once, why wouldn’t he do it all the time, hence a disorderly universe? However, since Collins does not share Dawkins’ strictly materialist worldview, he attempts to side-step the challenge:

COLLINS: I think I can have it both ways! If God was the author of natural laws, and in every instance except extreme exceptions where God has a message for people that He cares about, then God chooses to interfere with His own natural laws, and something like the resurrection happens. I don’t find that to be intellectually inconsistent.

Collins’ argument is consistent with the God of the Bible, however, it is not consistent with the god of evolution in whom he believes, so Collins is being inconsistent. Hence, Dawkins is at liberty to counter-challenge:

DAWKINS: But ‘god’ is betraying his own principles—if his principle is: “I’m going to give them free will; I’m going to let it all happen; I’m not going to interfere when there’s a hurricane; I’m not going to save this child’s life…” [then] on the other hand, you’re saying that sometimes he does step in—so isn’t that inconsistent?

COLLINS: … [When] something really critical needs to be conveyed to God’s people, yes as the author of natural laws, I believe God is entirely able to decide to briefly suspend them. But if He was doing that every time there was a hurricane, think of the chaos around us? How would we ever possibly manage to cope with this world, if we had no predictability of how matter and energy was going to behave?

DAWKINS: Well, I think that’s your problem!

How one responds to this exchange depends on whether one is thinking of the ‘god of evolution’ or the Creator God of the Bible. Dawkins is surely right to try to expose the inconsistencies of a theistic evolutionary position. But his amusing retort belies his strict materialism, in that he does not allow the Creator to intervene in His own creation. However, the founding fathers of science all believed it was God’s prerogative as sovereign Creator to intervene in His own Creation according to His own character and nature. And that precludes the kind of capricious and random intervention that Dawkins raises as a straw-man argument to knock down.

Brierley changes tack slightly to further explore Collins’ theistic evolutionary viewpoint:

BRIERLEY: …Francis, given that you both believe … evolution drives these forces … For you, this doesn’t sit well with the idea that there’s a God on top of this whole thing? But for you, you’re really happy to say it’s actually the … sharp end of the deal we’ve got … as ‘embodied conscious agents’? That this is the kind of world God had to put us in, in order for us to be the kind of people we are? Is that what you’re saying?

This sets Collins up for a defence of theistic evolution, which he is more than pleased to accommodate:

COLLINS: That’s what I’m saying. And to follow natural laws and order in the universe, just as tectonic plates must slip, in order for this planet to be what it is, and so viruses must come into being if evolution is going to run all of the programs that it has capable of doing to generate interesting biological outcomes. … I come back to Polkinghorne’s concept that those things could be called “physical evil” when they actually harm and take the lives of innocent people. But they are a component of the fact that we are in a universe that follows laws and I don’t think we’d want to be in one that didn’t.

The law that Collins is referring to is the law of “sin and death” (Romans 8:2) which causes the whole creation to “groan” (Romans 8:22). This law came into effect at the Curse after the Fall of Adam and Eve due to sin (Genesis 3:17-19). This law was not in operation before the Fall in God’s creation which He proclaimed “very good” (Genesis 1:31). Collins denies the Genesis Creation account, along with the historical Adam and Eve, with its clear teaching on the origins of death and suffering due to sin, in favour of evolution, with its accompanying billions of years of death and suffering.

That is why Collins is happy to accept “physical/ natural evil” (appealing to the ‘authority’ of Sir John Polinghorne) as opposed to God’s Word, when it comes to things like earthquakes produced by plate tectonics. Many creationists place tectonics at the Flood; certainly, tectonic forces are a feature of this fallen world, and did not cause earthquakes and “harm and take the lives of innocent people” before the Fall. It is worth stating that, post-Fall, there are no innocent people in the sense of sinless people (e.g. Romans 3:10-12). Collins is effectively saying such things are “very good” from God’s perspective. Whether or not theistic evolutionists realise or acknowledge it, the idea that God would have created a world where “physical evil” led to human harm and fatalities is a blasphemous slander against the goodness and holiness of God. This is why Dawkins is not happy with the inconsistencies of Collins’ theistic evolution:

DAWKINS: … that would be a consistent position to take were it not for your belief in miracles … you can’t have it both ways! God should not be doing miracles, if what you say about earthquakes is correct—He’s betraying his own principles …

Unfortunately, Dawkins fails to define for Collins what those ‘principles’ are. Probably, he has in mind that, if Collins’ god used the principle of evolution (involving human death and suffering), it is contradictory for that god to arbitrarily act to heal and protect people. Dawkins’ argument works against the deist god, who at creation, supposedly ‘lit the blue touch paper and stood back’, in other words, the deist god does not perform miracles. It works especially against theistic evolutionists like Collins; they allow that God did do miracles in history, as described in the Bible, except in the ways described in Genesis 1, which is inconsistent. Dawkins could and should have used the “no death before the Fall” argument to score heavily against Collins.

DAWKINS: … We have a sense of beauty … [for example] peahens have a sense of beauty—which is why peacocks look the way they do. … it’s wonderful, and it requires explanation, but it has an explanation. In the same way as beauty is something which we can understand, the same way peahens have a sense of beauty, we can too. I don’t see that evil is anything different really from that?

Had Dawkins checked out creation.com, he would have been informed of scientific evidence against this example of sexual selection! It is not ‘proof’ of a sense of beauty in peahens—and it is even more unjustified to then extrapolate that to (biologically unrelated) humans!

Shawn Hempel/123RFPeacock with feathers on full display
Evolutionary explanations fail to account for the intricate design in peacock feathers.

Charles Darwin was keenly aware of the ‘problem’ of beauty for evolutionary explanations, which are reductionist and tediously utilitarian in their approach. He admitted in a personal letter to Asa Gray that: “The sight of a feather in a peacock’s tail, whenever I gaze at it, makes me sick!”4 They seem to be so ostentatious, making it futile to explain them in evolutionary terms. Darwin theorised that, for some reason, peahens preferred males with beautiful plumage, and so selected males with beautiful plumage. But that is begging the question! What made peahens prefer beautiful plumage? How did they know what beauty is? And, why and how did the peacock produce beautiful feathers to begin with? The idea is poppycock! Researchers testing such ideas found that peahens made no discernible choice for partners with more, or less patterned feathers.

Dawkins’ attempts at giving materialistic answers to non-material concepts—such as human ability to discern and take pleasure in beauty, or know right from wrong—is bankrupt as an explanation of the origin of such things. Evolutionary, reductionist ‘just-so-stories’ don’t begin to answer such questions.

Conclusion

Justin Brierley’s interview with Francis Collins and Richard Dawkins has demonstrated the inadequacy of both atheistic and theistic evolution to answer fundamental questions regarding the appearance of biological design, altruism, the appreciation of beauty, the origins of morality, or why humans and animals suffer and die. All these concepts are answered in Genesis chapters 1-3 which explains humans as being created especially in God’s Image and likeness, to be in relationship to Him, and to be His representatives over Creation. Genesis 3 details the real, historical events of Adam and Eve’s Fall into sin, and God’s accompanying Curse, thus plunging all creation into a state of ruin, and separating Mankind from their Creator.

What evolutionists see as the fruit of millions of years of natural processes, biblical Christians understand is a false history: Creation was placed under judgement: humans are now subject to the law of sin and death, and the whole creation is in bondage to death and decay. Theistic evolution offers no advantage over atheistic evolution. Instead, it dismisses the Genesis Creation account as history, preferring instead an alternative history of billions of years of evolutionary processes involving death and suffering before sin and the Fall.

Solomon once stated: “All is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 1:2) which describes the state of people who turn from the source of all truth—God’s Word. When this happens all becomes vanity (meaningless), including humanistic accounts of origins, which is when the wisdom of this world is turned into foolishness (1 Corinthians 3:19).

Published: 8 September 2022

References and notes 

  1. For interested readers the whole show can be seen on YouTube, Premier Unbelievable? The Big Conversation, Episode 1, Season 4, youtu.be/SQ3EU58AzFs, 20 May 2022. Return to text.
  2. Consider that matter, space, and energy can only exist within the confines of time—time can be considered as a fourth dimension. Matter and energy are inconceivable without time and space. Return to text.
  3. Dawkins, R., River out of Eden, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 1995, pp. 133. Return to text.
  4. Darwin, F., (Ed), Letter to Asa Gray, dated 3 April 1860, The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, D. Appleton and Company, New York and London, Vol. 2, pp. 90–91, 1911. Return to text.

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