“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” – John 12:24
“The last enemy to be destroyed is death...Death is swallowed up in victory.” – 1 Corinthians 15:26, 54
"The greater the sin, the greater the mercy, the deeper the death and the brighter the rebirth.” - C. S. Lewis
"This story...has the very taste of primary truth." - J. R. R. Tolkien

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Thoughts on Dawkins' The God Delusion, Ch. 4: "Why There Almost Certainly Is No God"

Dawkins' main argument against the existence of God is a philosophical extrapolation of the simple-to-complex pattern seen in evolution. Again and again, very complex organisms have been accounted for as things that have evolved from simple organisms by means of natural selection. This "simple-to-complex" pattern describes not only biological processes, but the physical world in general; chemistry and physics have allowed us to describe the simplest living organisms in terms of even simpler things: molecules, atoms, particles, fields, etc.  The complexity we see grows out of the interactions between these simple entities.

Now, Dawkins describes God as a "super-intelligence," an omniscient and omnipotent being who interacts with millions of people simultaneously by answering prayers. Such a being would have capabilities far beyond that of any human, and since the human brain is incredibly complex, such a God would have to be extremely complex. Why, when science has succeeded again and again in explaining complex phenomena in terms of simple laws, would we hypothesize such a super-complex first cause? "We need a 'crane', not a 'skyhook', for only a crane can do the business of working up gradually and plausibly from simplicity to otherwise improbable complexity" (p. 188).

This is Dawkins' central argument that there is no God, and he makes a very strong point here, one that should be a serious concern for Christian readers. We certainly do need a "crane," that is, a simple starting point, a seed from which the tree of reality can grow. Dawkins' God, an omniscient, omnipotent "super-intelligence," is no crane, but I find this to be a rather flat, two-dimensional theology; merely naming some characteristics doesn't really get to the heart of what God is like. Let me explain by proposing an alternate view of God.

It may be that God's complexity emerges or is "generated" from his simplicity. We know that the complex human brain is "generated" from simpler organisms; over billions of years, particles came together in increasingly complex ways, and in the end, the human brain emerged. The universe looks complex, but it's basic rules and building blocks are simple. Perhaps God is fundamentally simple in a similar way, and perhaps the simple "core" of his nature generates a beautiful complexity (facets of which include his omniscience, omnipotence, etc.), not as a process within time, but as an eternal event within Himself. And if the patterns of God's creation are based on those of his own nature (see "The Pattern of Reality"), one would expect this "emergence of complexity" in God to share similarities with the corresponding pattern in the universe (see NOTE below). I offer some speculative thoughts on this "emergence" in a post on how "Creation Reflects the Pattern of the Trinity." It is important that one needn't think of the emergent reality as ontologically dependent on the simple "seed." In fact it may be impossible to separate them - that is, saying that the simple "core" of God's nature is just "there" may really be the same as saying that God in all his apparently complex fullness is just "there."

If you look only at the "surface" of God, you may see a complex super-intelligence, as Dawkins does. If this is your idea of God, you may rightly agree with Dawkins that it is highly unlikely that this "God" just happened to exist eternally. But if you use your imagination and consider how deep and mysterious God's nature might really be, you might begin to find words like "super-intelligence" less helpful. God is not static and fixed, but dynamic, moving, perhaps even growing in a sense (yet also constant and unchanging, paradoxically, but all these words lose much of their meaning when we try to apply them to God). The ocean of his being is wider and deeper than we can know, and the foundational simplicity Dawkins seeks may still be there, hidden beneath the surface.

NOTE: You may be thinking, "this God sounds a lot like the universe; why not call the universe God and forget about anything beyond it? and in that case, why not drop the word God altogether?" Good question...and one that opens the door to the biggest question of all, "why is there something instead of nothing?" Something deep lies beneath the mystery of existence, and our experience is a signpost guiding us towards the answer, but not all the way. I for one find that the universe as we know it does not give much explanation or illumination of its own existence. To me, it makes more sense to think that there is a greater reality beyond the universe, from which it came and for which it, and we, were made. This "other" reality, this ultimate truth, this center of everything, is why there is something instead of nothing. This, and not the universe, we call God.

And if we are still going to use the word "God" as it is usually used (and not in the Einsteinian sense that Dawkins describes in chapter 1) we must maintain that everything about God - the simple foundation, the patterns within His being, the glorious whole of the Trinity - is self-existent and uncreated, and that everything else, such as the universe, from its basic building blocks to its complex parts, is created by God and dependent on God. That is, we must maintain an ontological gap between God and the rest of reality (see "The Idea of Creation").

1 comment:

  1. You should google "divine simplicity" !