Wednesday, June 27, 2007

More Dawkins Fallacies

I can't remember another author, attempting to write persuasive argument, who crams more muddled thinking--a greater number of logical fallacies--into a single page or chapter than Richard Dawkins does in The God Delusion. A quote I included in my last post gives me opportunity to discuss (at least) two logical fallacies. Here's the quote...
All [the Gospels] have the status of legends, as factually dubious as the stories of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table.
The first fallacy here is what's known as circular reasoning (also called 'begging the question'). This occurs whenever the conclusion of an argument is contained in one of the premises. An example would be
'The Bible is the Word of God.'
'How do you know that?'
'Well, the Bible says it is.'
'But why should I believe what the Bible says?'
'Because it's the Word of God.'
This is obviously a circular argument. But that is just what Dawkins is doing. His premise is that the historical accounts about the events of Jesus' life are mere legends. Why? Because they include miracles and claims to being a divine Being, and these things don't have a place in Dawkins' naturalistic worldview. But proving that naturalistic worldview is the point of arguing that Jesus isn't really God in the first place! In the form of a syllogism, it looks like this:
Premise 1: Miracles don't occur, and God does not exist, because we live in a world in which naturalism accurately describes reality.
Premise 2: The Gospels claim for Jesus the title of God, and credit him with miracles.
Conclusion: The Gospels must, therefore, be legend, and so provide no evidence contrary to naturalism.
It's nothing but a circular argument, and thus fallacious and a waste of ink. But in addition, it commits the fallacy of the Faulty Analogy. An analogy is faulty when the superficial similarities between the two things being compared are less important than their critical and relevant differences. And such is the case here.

Dawkins' claim is that the Gospels and the Arthurian tales share the characteristic of being legend. This, of course, is mere opinion--Dawkins doesn't attempt to support it and, as we saw in my last post, others who are better qualified to judge come to an opposite conclusion. But a more obvious problem is that there are glaring, significant differences that make this analogy break down.

For starters, the Arthurian tales make no claims to being actual history; rather, they are given to us as legends. By contrast, the Gospels present themselves as accurate accounts of events that actually took place in the space/time of this universe (see, e.g., Luke 1:1-4 and John 20:30-31).

A second significant difference is the effect of the two different sets of stories. There are (today) those people who love the tales of King Arthur. Some of them from time to time write a new fictional account of those halcyon days; most satisfy themselves with reading as many of the tales as can be found. Some will even dress up (generally once a year) and come together to feast, mock joust, and sing ballads and recite poetry. Even this extreme example of devotion to the Camelot theme is, however, limited to a very few people in recent times and select few areas of the world. By contrast, the Gospels changed the course of Western history. Devotion to Jesus is (and has been for the past 2000 years) central to the lives of individuals and nations throughout the world, and that without regard to socioeconomic status. Christianity has been the primary force in promoting literacy, establishing universties, hospitals, and orphanages. It was Christians who birthed modern science, abolished slavery, and founded democracy. Whereas encountering the fictional tales of Camelot may provide one with a few hours a year of comfortable entertainment, the disovery of the Gospels--and the One about whom they are written--has cured alcholics, saved marriages and families, changed careers, and led to life-long, comprehensive personal commitments that have included self-sacrifice and even martyrdom. This last aspect alone is sufficient for demonstrating the fallaciousness of Dawkins' analogy: no one has ever willingly died for the sake of defending the truth of Arthur's kingship.

It is clear that Richard Dawkins doesn't like the fact that the Christian message continues to have such a central role in the lives of individuals and nations; that, after all, is the reason for his book. But far from showing Christian theism to be an erroneous worldview, Dawkins' efforts toward this goal merely provide us with a veritable treasure store of errors in critical thinking.


Anonymous said...

Have you considered trying to email and start a dialogue with Mr. Dawkins? I would think your insight through these blogs would spur a definite reaction from him and perhaps instigate a lively debate!

Anonymous said...

By the way, his web site is

Rick Gerhardt said...

Dear Anonymous: Thanks for reading!

I appreciate your suggestion, and will seriously consider it. My initial response, however, is this...

Richard Dawkins is not open to the truth on this issue. He has done very well for himself (tenured professor at one of the top universities in the world, author of best-selling books, author of the year award, etc.) by promoting this radical atheism with a dogmatic closed-mindedness. I do not feel called--nor do I believe myself able--to change his mind. My more modest goal is to demonstrate--to doubting Christians, open-minded skeptics, and anyone who does care about truth, evidence and good reasoning--the utter failure of Dawkins to present an argument for his position.

A perusal of his website confirms that he is in total control of what gets published there. This is, of course, his perogative, and perfectly reasonable. But it is clear to me that opposing viewpoints are not given space there.

The point of my blog is to provide a well-reasoned defense of the Christian worldview in the face of objections and contrary worldviews. Although I myself am a biologist, I did not set out to spend most of my posts discussing the problems with evolution. To the extent that I have, it's because atheistic naturalists (including Dawkins but also many less extreme) have successfully kidnapped the entire field of science (and biology in particular). They have redefined science to reflect their own religious/metaphysical philosophy (naturalism) and silenced all fellow scientists critical of their presuppositions, their interpretation of evidence, their conclusions, or all three.

That being the case, we who disagree have little recourse. Thus, blogging and writing op-ed articles remain one of the few good options. Our hope is that reason, evidence, and truth will eventually win the day, despite the fact that our dogmatic opponents control the mike at this time.

This is a long way of saying that I'm less interested in changing the mind (of course, he doesn't even believe in the existence of mind) of Richard Dawkins, but in offering better reasoning (than he)to those who read him.

Thanks again.

B said...

Your examples of logical fallacies are awesome, wish I could have attended the class. =)