Richard Dawkins isn’t stupid. He’s a bright spark. This makes me think that his muddle-headedness about arguments for God’s existence can’t be written off as a dullard’s inability to understand. The confusion must surely be an intentional tactic to confuse matters, giving his fans the impression that arguments for God’s existence are just a bit of a mess. The (possibly kinder) alternative is that Dawkins exhibits an inexcusable laziness and hubris, pontificating about arguments that he has never taken the time to understand because he just knows that religious beliefs are a load of nonsense.
At a public event to discuss his recent book about himself this month, Dr Dawkins was asked what he considers to be the best argument for God’s existence. Naturally, he prefaced his answer with a reminder that he doesn’t believe in God or that there are any good arguments for God’s existence. But if pressed for the best argument out there, here is what he says:
He said, however, that the best argument he has heard of concerns a “deistic God, who had something to do with the fine tuning of the universe.”
“It’s still a very, very bad argument, but it’s the best one going,” he added, noting that a major problem with the argument is that it leaves unexplained where the fine tuner came from.
The main problem with the argument, Dawkins seems to think, is that the argument from fine-tuning doesn’t tell us where the designer came from.
This must surely be a case of mixing up different arguments for God’s existence. It sounds like a questionable retort to a form of the cosmological argument, namely an argument from the origin of the Universe: Whatever begins to exist has a cause. The universe began to exist. Therefore the Universe has a cause, etc. Someone might say in reply “Well then God must have a cause!” At this point we’d point out that the argument doesn’t say “everything has a cause,” but rather “whatever begins to exist has a cause.” We would only be committed to the claim that something caused God if we also claim that God began to exist – something no classical theist believes.
But it makes no sense to object to the argument from fine-tuning by saying “but that doesn’t tell us where the designer came from.” The argument from fine tuning is that the universe is so finely-tuned for the existence of intelligent life that the odds against it suggest design, rather than chance. “Oh yeah, well where did the designer come from?” is a question, but it’s clearly not a question the argument from fine-tuning sets out to answer. To reply this way would be like sitting through a talk about how the monuments on Easter Island show clear signs of being designed, and to stand up and shout “but you must be wrong, because your evidence that these monuments were designed doesn’t tell us where those designers came from!” Sit down. The evidence here isn’t being presented to tell you where the designers came from, it’s to tell you that these monuments were designed.
The same is true of the fine-tuning argument for God’s existence. All the argument is intended to do is to support the contention that there is an intelligence behind the universe. Whether or not that intelligence had to “come from” somewhere is an entirely different question. If you think the fine-tuning argument fails principally because it doesn’t answer that question, then what you’re really telling me is that it doesn’t fail at all.
Honestly folks, if Richard Dawkins is coming to a town near you, for the love of clear thinking please stop asking him questions about serious arguments about religion. We need to stop treating him like a fount of knowledge about this.