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More of Dawkins’ same old tired rhetoric

Review of Outgrowing God by Richard Dawkins
Random House, New York, NY, 2019

Reviewed by

book-cover
Published: 24 September 2019 (GMT+10)

Oh boy.

Dawkins is at it again.

Atheist evangelist Richard Dawkins is on the crusade again with his latest book Outgrowing God1 to win more converts to his religion of atheism. His book is to appear in September, published by Random House Books, so CMI had an opportunity to review his book before it hits the market so that our readers will be prepared for arguments used from it.

As a teenager, Dawkins de-converted from (nominal) Christianity to atheism since he was unsure as to which god was the right god out of hundreds or even thousands of candidates. He lists a variety of gods that different cultures believe in, ranging from the Scandinavian gods to the millions of Hindu gods. It obviously didn’t occur to Dawkins that it might be possible that one of the theistic religions might be the one true religion as opposed to atheism. In other words, a multitude of different possible gods still does not validate belief in none. In fact, some atheists even claim that if God doesn’t exist, then we humans are our own individual gods. These atheists swallow the devil’s lie from the garden of Eden that “you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5).

Atheists would have to look in every nook and cranny of the universe to show that there is no god of any kind. But proving a negative is one of the most difficult things to do in logic.2 Another key element in Dawkins’ de-conversion experience is his belief in evolution, which convinced him that seemingly designed elements really evolved over long periods of time.

This is not the first time he has written a book specifically attacking God. See Atheist with a Mission. When questioned as to why he particularly focuses on criticizing Christianity, he defended his actions by stating it is because it is the religion he is the most familiar with, no doubt due to his upbringing. This book review examines Dawkins’ arguments about good and evil as well as his arguments against design.

Good and evil

In the first half of the book Dawkins raises eternal questions about good and evil. Is God really good? Is the Bible really true? Do we need the Bible and God to be good?

Dawkins once again accuses the God of the Bible of heinous crimes involving several characters, such as Job, Abraham, Moses, and Jephthah. This way, Dawkins argues, we do not have to listen to what God tells us, since by Dawkins’ standard, God is immoral.

One of the accusations Dawkins hurls at God deals with how a man in the camp of the Israelites was stoned to death unfairly in Numbers 15, merely for collecting sticks on the Sabbath. But one needs to look at this in a wider perspective. Back in Genesis 2:16–17 we read: “And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.’” Just like the man collecting sticks on the Sabbath, Adam was also punished by death for eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

Sin is sin, even though it may involve something only as small as collecting sticks when God explicitly orders us not to. Sin involves nothing less than flagrant rebellion against the will of Almighty God. Sin cuts us off from the living God entirely. This is no trifling matter. God, as our Creator, would be perfectly righteous in sending every one of us to death for our sins. It is only by God’s grace that He doesn’t do so. In fact, the problem of our eternal, sinful separation was so bad, that God sent His Son Jesus to die for our sins on the cross (see also Dawkins’ dilemma: how God forgives sin).

Who is good? What is good?

Can Dawkins really judge God? Dawkins unwittingly makes himself out to be god by putting himself above the God of the Bible. What standard of morality can Dawkins use to judge the Creator of the universe? If atheism is true, how can the movement of mere mindless matter produce morals? Since at best Dawkins has only relative morality, in reality he has none.

Dawkins’ ethic is a culturally relativist one. In chapter 6 (“how do we decide what is good?”) Dawkins describes how humanity has improved over the past decades and centuries. Problematically though, the way he defines morality constantly changes from one time period to the next, in other words, it becomes a relative and subjective morality. The proper study of ethics is not about what people do, but rather what people ought to do, once they know what the truth is. In this regard, Dawkins’ ethics merely describe what people think and do in different historical eras but don’t even touch upon what people ought to do. According to Dawkins’ ethics, the morality of a particular people is nothing more than what it is at the present moment. In this case, the truth or falsity of their morality cannot even be determined.3

For example, it is apparent from Dawkins’ fictitious dialogue between Abby the absolutist and Connie the consequentialist (pp. 133–138) that Dawkins does not condemn abortion in some cases. On his own blog he was criticized by fellow evolutionists and many of his supporters for advocating the early termination of fetuses diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome.4 Dawkins arbitrarily claims that feeling pain is the basis of being human. Since babies don’t feel pain before a certain stage, it is therefore not immoral to terminate them. This is very strange, since just before Dawkins excoriates the God of the Bible for ordering Jephthah to sacrifice his daughter (although it’s more likely that she had to live the rest of her life devoted to temple service, which is why she mourned her virginity not her death). Dawkins uses a double standard.

Dawkins even goes so far as to suggest breeding people for high quality traits, such as musical or athletic capabilities. This is nothing less than eugenics, an idea that was also used by Hitler and the Nazis to breed superhumans, and to eliminate undesirable people with handicaps.

Dawkins also claims that as opposed to believers, many non-believers can be very charitable. Therefore, God is not necessary to be good. Such people include Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and George Soros (p. 101), who gave a lot of money to the poor in Haiti. But Dawkins forgets that these people have also given a lot of money to Planned Parenthood and abortion.5,6 Also, the (atheist) Communists arrested thousands of innocent citizens in the Soviet Union between 1918 and 1956 and sent them to the Gulag for absolutely nothing.7 Dawkins has no reason to complain against God. He also conveniently omits that the last century was the most bloodstained in all of human history, and directly and unquestionably at the hands of genocidal evolutionists.

Was Hitler a Christian?

Dawkins also brings up the “Christianity” of Adolf Hitler. This is a question which must be laid to rest permanently. It is one thing for Dawkins to quote Hitler referring to his “faith” in Jesus as Lord and Savior (p. 91). It is true that Hitler refers to a kind of “belief” in God in his book, Mein Kampf 8 (“My struggle”). But one must realize that Adolf Hitler was an astute politician, who said things to sway Germany to his side in the 1920s and 30s. But by the 1940s (when the Nazis were already in power) Hitler condemned Christian pastors and repudiated Christianity, and had an active plan to exterminate Christianity. During his reign his regime assassinated members of the White Rose group. This was a student activist group motivated by their Christian beliefs who openly condemned Hitler for use of the word “God’ when trying to justify his actions as a form of nationalist righteousness.9 Hitler was inconsistent in his message in Mein Kampf. For each time he mentions his belief in God, he also refers at least a dozen times to blind Fate. “As Fate would have it” is a common phrase used by Hitler dozens of times in Mein Kampf. Dawkins conveniently omits many of these details to support his own cause against Christianity.

Hitler was more of a pagan and an evolutionist, who believed in the strength of what he saw as the superior Aryan race.10 Hitler considered Christianity to be a “puerile” religion with a weak Christ.11 In contrast Hitler wanted a strong Germany which would crush its former oppressors of the previous world war. That is why he favored more warlike religions, such as Islam or the religion of the Japanese, and that is exactly why the Nazis also made pacts with these countries. Hitler himself may have been a nominal Roman Catholic at very best. But his secretary, the third man in the Reich was Martin Bormann, who was a strident atheist. Bormann used to give bad reports about Christian ministers to Hitler to get them into hot water with the Fuehrer.8 If we research the details, we can see that Hitler had little to do with Christianity.

Alleged biblical contradictions and errors in the Bible?

Dawkins makes several allegations of contradictions in the Bible. For this, he one-sidedly relies upon scholarship of liberal theologians, while writing derisively about conservative theologians. Yet, as we have shown, he also criticizes liberal theologians who support evolution as being ‘deluded’. So, he is being hypocritical by using these same ‘deluded’ experts to support his cause. In this manner, Dawkins can hardly be acknowledged as being open-minded in his argumentation.

Dawkins makes an astonishing allegation about a supposed mistranslation between the Hebrew word עַלְמָה (almah) and the Greek word παρθένος (parthenos) (p. 30). In Hebrew, the word almah can mean a woman who is a virgin. In Greek, parthenos refers to a woman who is only a virgin. As an atheist Dawkins cannot be faulted for not knowing the theological languages, but as an academic he should know his limits in such a field and not quote as if he is an expert. In Hebrew, a word may denote several things, such as the word almah. But Greek is an entirely different language, and the usage of the word parthenos is restricted only to the meaning virgin. This is somewhat like the word das Tier in German, which in general refers to an animal, whereas in English the cognate of this word has become restricted to only one single species of animal, the deer.

Dawkins also makes an allegation about a discrepancy between Jesus’ descent from David through the line of Mary and of Joseph. There are 25 ancestors listed between Mary and King David, whereas there are 41 listed between her husband, Joseph and David. This alleged discrepancy has actually been dealt with on the CMI website (which also demonstrates that Dawkins does not conduct serious research on such issues). The gist of the argument is that Matthew, being a Jew, desired to prove to Jewish readers that Jesus was legally descended from King David. The Jews have been known to omit generations in their genealogies.12 This way Matthew lists fewer numbers of generations than Luke, because he tells his readers that he is deliberately selecting three groups of 14 generations between Jesus and King David. On the other hand, Luke gives Jesus’ genealogy all the way back to Adam, to show that Jesus is a member of the human race, and therefore He is the Savior of all mankind.

© Mohammed Fathyramesses-1
Depiction of King Ramesses II conquering the Hittite army in the temple of Abu Simbel

As another example, Dawkins writes on pp. 50–52 that there is no evidence for the enslavement of the entire Jewish people and their subsequent migration out of Egypt as recorded in the book of Exodus in the written or archaeological record. Therefore, he claims that the Bible must be historically inaccurate. But Dawkins reveals his ignorance of the way Egyptians reported history. The Egyptians’ temples were solely devoted to glorifying their gods and their pharaohs. Even if they had dealings with friendly foreigners, they depicted them in a disparaging manner because they felt that their own country and their pharaohs were a favoured nation by the gods (of their own making, ironically). For example, King Ramesses II is depicted at the ancient temples of Abu Simbel as conquering and slaying the Hittite army at the Battle of Qadesh. However, the truth was that he barely evaded a trap during this battle (figure 2), and subsequently drew up a peace treaty with the Hittites. In the eyes of their people, the pharaohs could not lose or be wrong, particularly if they were living incarnations of their gods. This meant they often played fast and loose with the truth, and were masters of disinformation. Anyone who has seriously studied Egyptian history should know this. Thus, it would be no surprise if the Egyptians left no records of the Jewish people, who were their slaves, particularly on temples (which is primarily what is left from this period of Egyptian history) which deified their gods and kings. So, one would not even expect to see a record on the Egyptian defeat during the Exodus on their temples.

Finally, Dawkins also makes some gross errors about Christianity demonstrating that his knowledge of this religion is inadequate. Therefore, it is questionable as to whether he has the authority to criticize Christianity. For example, Dawkins claims that both Christianity and Islam are derived from Judaism (p. 6). It is customary to speak about the Judeo-Christian religion, since Christianity is the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies. If one has even read the Qu’ran, then they would know that Islam is really an amalgamation of different religions in the sixth century, including Judaism, Christianity and some pagan religions. He also states that the split between the Roman Catholic church and the Eastern Orthodox church happened early in church history, when it is a well-known fact that this happened in the year 1054 (p. 8). Furthermore, Dawkins makes the oft-asserted claim that the council of Nicea decided which books were to be put into the canon of the Bible (p. 26). At Nicea, Christians merely stated their consensus viewpoint on this subject, and it was not a definitive declaration.13

Evolution versus design

The second half of Dawkins’ book deals with his attempt to undermine the concept of intelligent design, using natural selection and evolution as an alternative explanation. Not wanting to sound trite but as a scientist he should be aware of the Ockham’s Razor approach to science. For even Dawkins himself has previously stated “Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose”.14 So, even as an evolutionist, Dawkins is forced to acknowledge how certain structures in the animal kingdom appear to be designed. His examples include the color pigments of the octopus, the tongue of the chameleon, and the legs of the cheetah, or the feathers of birds (p. 36).

According to Dawkins natural selection causes certain organs to develop and evolve over time. If the thorns of flowers get sharper and the legs of cheetahs get longer, then these traits will be selected for. However, Dawkins does not explain how legs can turn into wings or leaves into thorns. Neither does he name a single gene which would be responsible for such mutations as a practical example. In short, Dawkins misrepresents the way natural selection happens in nature. Natural selection is efficient in explaining how anatomically different structures in organisms lead to differential survival. But it does not explain how the structures themselves arise.

Design is not an anti-scientific idea. People readily recognize cases of intelligent design in automobiles, buildings, books, statues, or hieroglyphs. Therefore, DNA serves as a plan for the whole entire body of an organism. Even a simple signal sequence such as Morse code counts as evidence for intelligent, extraterrestrial life-forms by SETI (Search for Extra-terrestrial Intelligence) researchers, who are scouring the universe for signs of intelligent beings.

Dawkins lists several cases of organs in the human body, which he cites as examples of bad design. For example, Dawkins refers to the recurrent laryngeal nerve15 as an example of faulty design, something that he believes a good designer never would have created. In fish, this nerve goes straight from the brain to the gills, without any kind of reverse loop. However, in mammals, such as the giraffe, this very same nerve descends all the way down to one of the main arteries of the heart and then turns around and goes back up all the way to the larynx. Dawkins here reveals his ignorance of anatomy since, as CMI has written about this in the past, the recurrent laryngeal nerve gives off side-branches to the heart, mucous membranes, and esophagus. This is why the nerve has to descend to the level of the heart. It is only that this nerve’s main target is the larynx but has several secondary targets as well.

Top down versus bottom up

Morphological structures can be coded in either a top-down or bottom-up manner, as Dawkins suggests. A top-down design involves a blueprint, such as for a house, or DNA code for an organism. However, Dawkins claims that simple rules at a basic level could be responsible for forming large-scale, emergent structures at a more complex level. This is how Dawkins explains, for example, termite mounds, which interestingly resemble the structure of cathedrals, the way flocks of birds fly in unison, and the fine structure of snowflakes. This kind of self-assembly is called bottom-up organization. Dawkins even claims that embryonic development, with its hundreds of genes taking part in it at precise times, is a case of bottom-up development.

geneticliteracyproject.orgtermite-mound
Termite mound (left), La Sagrada Familia Cathedral (right).

If we search for the term “termite mound cathedral” on the Internet, we will find an image of a termite mound, which indeed somewhat resembles, as Dawkins says (pp. 212–214), the La Sagrada Familia Cathedral in Barcelona (Figure 1). However, we cannot really take this comparison seriously, since a cathedral is a highly complex structure with doors, glass panes, wooden structures, spires, statues, ornaments, carvings, stones, bolts, screws, hinges, etc., all things which termites do not make.

Flocks of birds fly in unison. Craig Reynolds, a computer programmer designed the program “Boids” to simulate the flight of birds. Reynolds programmed a single bird to react to its neighboring birds following a set of rules. Reynolds then cloned the birds, which then produced a type of bottom-up behavior, by flying in unison, very much like real birds (p. 215). This may well be very impressive, but the question remains, where did the boids themselves come from? The instructions for the boids to imitate their neighbors during flight is a form of intelligent input, and not something which arose by random chance. And how do starling brains compute the average three-dimensional vectors to its six or seven nearest neighbours?

Lastly, snowflakes are ice crystals, made up of frozen water molecules (H2O). These crystals have a repetitive structure as opposed to the DNA macromolecule, which stores information in its sequence. This is a huge difference; snowflakes cannot be used to store information like DNA does. All in all, Dawkins doesn’t have a case here for the emergence of complex structures based on random chance.

The nature of science

In the last chapter, Dawkins describes how some scientific discoveries have been made in very counter-intuitive ways. As opposed to his fellow evolutionary propagandist T.H. Huxley, who claimed that science is “trained and organized common sense”, Dawkins claims that some scientific discoveries come contrary to what we may think is the truth. For example, the idea that two bodies of different mass hitting the ground at once, or that atoms are largely made up of space, or that South America and Africa were at one time joined were once ridiculed as preposterous. But now they are accepted as scientific fact.

Dawkins understands that the Earth is fine-tuned for life to exist on its surface. If the Earth were just a little too close to the Sun, then it would be too hot for life to exist. On the other hand, if it was just a little too far, then it would be too cold for life. Furthermore, if the gravitational constant, G were even just a little different, then life could not exist on Earth. This is something called the anthropic principle, namely that Earth, and even the universe seems to have been designed especially for human life.

Therefore, in response, Dawkins posits the multiverse concept (pp. 277–278). The multiverse concept is something that CMI has also already addressed on our website. This concept states there are millions or even billions of universes, parallel with our own, each defined by its own laws and physical constants. Therefore, according to the law of big numbers, even though the great majority of these universes may all be devoid of life, a very small percent of them may still be finely tuned to allow life to appear.

There are great difficulties with the multiverse concept. What physical evidence is there for billions of other universes? Is it even possible for us to know of other universes? As such, this is not a scientific concept. Even if there happened to be other universes out there, how do we know that there are billions of them? Also, how do we know that they come into being independently from one another to have differing parameters and physical laws?

Lastly, Dawkins and other evolutionists attack design as unscientific. However, we see intuitively, that design is scientific. For example, if engineers designed sonar systems from bats, what kind of supernatural intelligence created bats? Design can easily be inferred from simple observation of nature. Dawkins needs to use extra, convoluted arguments to explain that biological structures evolved as opposed to being simply designed. By applying the principle of Ockham’s Razor, we can reject Dawkins’ evolutionary arguments and accept the principle of design. Dawkins should not reject intelligent design but acknowledge it as a viable scientific argument for the origin of life.

Summary and conclusion: Poor science and poor theology!

In summary, Dawkins recycles old village-atheist arguments against the Bible, some of which have been refuted previously on the creation.com website. He admittedly relies one-sidedly only on the scholarship of liberal theologians, who already agree with his view that the Bible is just a myth and ridiculing conservative scholars. Dawkins also has to resort to convoluted arguments to prove evolutionary theory over the simple, intuitive argument from design. Dawkins also reveals fundamental ignorance of Christian theology and elements of anatomy.

Even though Dawkins is a long-standing critic of Christianity, we should expect his arguments to have gotten better, even more so since he has been writing books for decades. That is why we have put together this review of his book before its publication so that readers can be made aware of the poor quality of Dawkins’ work, and how to answer people who may read the book and raise the issues described therein.

References and notes

  1. Dawkins, R., Outgrowing God, Random House, New York, NY, 2019. Return to text
  2. Cserhati, M., Atheism Unraveled, Credo House Publishers, Grand Rapids, MI, 2016. Return to text
  3. Holmes, A.F., Ethics, Approaching Moral Decisions, Second Edition, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, 2007. Return to text
  4. Dawkins, R., “Abortion & Down Syndrome: An Apology For Letting Slip The Dogs Of Twitterwar”, https://www.richarddawkins.net/2014/08/abortion-down-syndrome-an-apology-for-letting-slip-the-dogs-of-twitterwar/, accessed 16 July, 2019. Dawkins provides a more detailed explanation here: “For what it’s worth, my own choice would be to abort the Down fetus and, assuming you want a baby at all, try again. Given a free choice of having an early abortion or deliberately bringing a Down child into the world, I think the moral and sensible choice would be to abort.” Return to text
  5. Flanders, N., Bill Gates and Warren Buffett spend billions to control minority populations, liveaction.org/news/bill-gates-warren-buffett-population-control/, accessed 5 July 2019. Return to text
  6. Daley, K., and Kerr, A., Pro-Abortion Billionaire George Soros Spending Millions to Defeat Brett Kavanaugh, lifenews.com/2018/07/16/pro-abortion-billionaire-george-soros-spending-millions-to-defeat-brett-kavanaugh/, 5 July 2019. Return to text
  7. Solzhenitsyn, A.I., The Gulag Archipelago, 1918–1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation, Harper & Row, New York, NY, 1974. Return to text
  8. Hitler, A., Mein Kampf, 1924; English Edn, Houghton Mifflin, Boston, MA, 1999. Return to text
  9. The White Rose, holocaustresearchproject.org/revolt/whiterose.html, 16 July 2019. Return to text
  10. Weikart, R., Hitler’s Religion: The twisted beliefs that drove the Third Reich, Regnery History, NY, 2016. See also the review by Woodmorappe, J., Hitler the evolutionist; Hitler the pantheist (Hitler the atheist—Yes), J. Creation 31(2):31–34, 2017. Return to text
  11. Speer, A., Inside the Third Reich, Simon and Schuster, New York, NY, 1970. Return to text
  12. Thomas, R.L. and Gundry, S.N., The NIV Harmony of the Gospels, Harper Collins Publishers, New York, NY, 1988. Return to text
  13. Gonzalez, J.L., The Story of Christianity, vol. I, Harper Collins Publishers, New York, NY, 2010, pp. 77-78. Return to text
  14. Dawkins, R., The Blind Watchmaker, W.W. Norton & Company, New York, USA, p. 1, 1986. Return to text
  15. A nerve is recurrent if it reverses direction and goes backwards. Laryngeal refers to the larynx, or voice box. Return to text

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