In Defense of Richard Dawkins And On Being Right

John Smith posted this quote on his FB Page by Michael Ruse, atheist philosopher of biology: "Dawkins's book The God Delusion would fail any introductory philosophy or religion course & it makes me ashamed to be an atheist. New atheists do the side of science a grave disservice, a disservice to scholarship." Others followed suit, including philosophers Tom Morris, Trent Doughtery, Ron Morales and Jonathan Blocker. I, on the other hand, have defended the so-called new atheists.

I responded: There is something grossly wrong about these evaluations. It fails to give credit where credit is due. Dawkins has been a defender of unguided evolution which destroys Christian philosophy in one fell swoop! So what if he tried reaching the masses, by-passing the elite philosophers? They are never convinced otherwise by other elite philosophers. Why can't Dawkins speak as a laymen philosopher like others? The one thing he has done is to change the minds of a massive number of people who are now former believers. People can talk about his lack of understanding if they want to, but if you don't think this world is in a better place because he wrote his book, then you fail to understand we are in a global crisis that can best be met with fewer believers in it.

Matthew Flannagan responded to me:

John W. Loftus it sounds like your saying something like this: so what if Dawkins work isn't of a decent intellectual calibre, it works in persuading lay people. Which is basically claiming to be a dishonest propagandists.

I responded back to him:

Matthew Flannagan let's say I've seriously studied the Christian faith at the highest levels for the longest time, and that I conclude it's bunk. Let's also say I've concluded the Christian faith causes significant harm. So I know it's bunk, and I know it causes significant harm. From this perspective what matters is that Dawkins and others are correct, regardless of whether they can adequately argue the case or not. I would prefer, by far, that they argue the case adequately, but it's enough if they don't. I defended this view in chapter 8 of my book, Unapologetic: Why Philosophy of Religion Must End. It's titled, "It is Enough Just to Be Right!"

I have said a few things in defense of Dawkins at Academia. So far I've silenced them all. Here are a few key paragraphs from it:

Richard Dawkins has been widely criticized for his Gambit since he was supposedly ignorant of the fact that God is believed to be a metaphysically simple being, not a complex one.

Atheist philosopher of religion Erik Wielenberg makes that point and then says:
"A central element of my critique is that Dawkins’s Gambit provides no reason at all to doubt some of the most widely-held versions of the target of his attack, the God Hypothesis. I do not know exactly how much theology one needs to know to disprove the existence of God, but one needs to know at least enough theology to understand the various widely-held conceptions of God. In general, in order to argue effectively against a given hypothesis, one needs to know enough to characterize that hypothesis accurately. Furthermore, if one intends to disprove God's existence, it is hardly reasonable to dismiss criticisms of one’s putative disproof on the grounds that God doesn't exist anyway. Thus, the central atheistic argument of The God Delusion is unconvincing."13
Dawkins did not respond to these types of criticisms for a decade until Reason Rally was held in Washington, DC, in 2016, a gathering of atheists. In a video-taped message he said this:
Some of our best theologians, if indeed theology is a subject that can be good at all, if theology is a subject at all, some of our best theologians prophetically tried to argue that “far from being complex, god is simple.”

There is no limit to the explanatory purposes to which the simple god’s infinite power is put.

Is science having a little difficulty explaining X, no problem. Don't give X another glance. God's infinite power is effortlessly wheeled in to explain X along with everything else. And it’s always a simple explanation, because after all, there is only one god. What could be simpler than that?

The effrontery of it is beyond astounding. This supposedly simple god had to know how to set the nuclear force 1039 times stronger than gravity. He had to calculate with similar exactitude the requisite values of half-a-dozen critical numbers--the fundamental constants of physics. Do you, with your prodigiously complex brain, understand quantum mechanics? I don't! Yet god, that paragon of ultimate pure simplicity, not only understands it, but invented it. Plus special and general relativity, plus the Higg's boson, and dark matter.

Finally, the icing on the cake, on top of being the ultimate mathematics and physics genius; this "simple" god has enough bandwidth to listen to the prayers of billions of people simultaneously in all the world's languages. He hears their confessed sins and decides which should be forgiven. He weighs out which cancer patients shall recover, which earthquake victims shall be spared; even who shall win a tennis match or a parking space. God may be almighty, all-seeing, all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving. But the one thing he cannot be, if he is even to minimally meet his job description, is all-simple. The statistical argument against the divine designer remains intact, and inescapably devastating.
What Dawkins meant was not some statement about God's metaphysical being. He was asking about the mind of God, that is, how and where did God get all of his knowledge? It's utterly incomprehensible to the point of refutation to believe God has always held true and utterly comprehensive propositional knowledge about everything, even of himself. I still cannot understand how this God chose his nature, or how the trinity came to be joined at the hip. Imagining just one eternal being who knows everything that can be known is incomprehensible on its own, but now there are three such divine persons who have this knowledge and never disagreed within the Godhead. It's clear that obfuscationist philosophers are making shit up as they go to save their Christian faith from refutation, since the only basis for believing this crap are some ancient pre-scientific writings.

It’s also clear there are some atheist philosophers of religion who refuse to extend the principle of charity to "unsophisticated” atheist critics like Dawkins. All they would have had to do is criticize the notion of God's simplicity, and/or ask and drive home the sorts of questions Dawkins did.

Atheist philosopher of religion Graham Oppy, for instance, argued he cannot make any sense of a God who doesn’t have any properties, which is what divine simplicity entails.14

Why didn’t atheist critics do that? Dawkins surely was on to something even if it wasn't sophisticated enough for them.


Edit: Dr. William Patterson also defends a few arguments in Dawkins's book!

This paper was published in the Journal of Liberal Religion. The file is safe to open.