Wednesday, February 28, 2007

A bad review of The God Delusion by AiG

There has been a number of reviews of Dawkins, quite a few of them bad, but now comes the objective review we've all waited for. A review by one of the creationists from Answers in Genesis.

Paul Taylor of Answers In Genesis critques[sic] 'The God Delusion'

Why don't I think the headline uses "critiques" (however the spelling) in the meaning of a neutral look, but rather uses it in the every day usage of a negative look?

Have you ever wondered why an atheist believes what he/she does? Richard Dawkins wants you to know why he is an atheist. Dawkins, the Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science, is arguably the world's best known atheist.

With the publication of his new book, The God Delusion, we now have an expanded version of his atheist manifesto. One would have at least hoped that he would have taken the opportunity to present a more intellectually rigorous case. Indeed, some Christians may have been afraid of opening the book, in case the sheer weight of evidence might have destroyed their faith. For my part, I was looking forward to getting to grips with an intellectual argument. I was to be disappointed.

Given the fact that the sheer evidence of the age of the Earth, the supporting evidence for the Theory of Evolution, and a number of other things, including the self-contradiction of the Bible, haven't been able to convince you that a literate reading of the Bible is nonsense, I don't think it's actually possible to show you anything that might convince you of anything.
And I am not certain that you would recognize an intellectual argument if you saw it.

Dawkins' arguments, far from having intellectual clout, are mostly like this example: "The argument will be so familiar, I needn't document it further."

Dawkin's paucity of argument is best illustrated by his poor use of logic.

Someone from AiG saying that others use poor logic? This gotta be good.

Poor Logic

Examine this extraordinary sentence.

Although Jesus probably existed, reputable biblical scholars do not in general regard the New Testament (and obviously not the Old Testament) as a reliable record of what actually happened in history, and I shall not consider the Bible further as evidence for any kind of deity. (p97)

Look first at the use of the word "probably" in "Although Jesus probably existed". Why is Dawkins doubting this fact? There is no question that Jesus existed. It is illogical to add the word "probably".

Given the fact that there is no other evidence of the existence of Jesus than the books of the New Testament (and the testaments rejected when the New Testament was put together), written decades after the facts that they were supposed to document, I personally find it quite reasonable to use the word "probably" - not only do I find it reasonable, I even find it (dare I say) logical.

Personally, I would used the word "might" instead of "probably", but that would certainly not have be better in the eyes of Taylor.

Look next at the use of the word "reputable". What is a "reputable biblical scholar"? The test of reputation has been left undone by Dawkins. Presumably, a "reputable biblical scholar" is one who agrees with Dawkins' attempts to rubbish the Bible. Such people can be found, though whether the adjective "reputable" is appropriate for such people is a matter of opinion. In the opinion of Answers In Genesis, a "reputable biblical scholar" is one who approaches the Bible with respect, believing it to be the inspired, inerrant and authoritative word of God, from the very first verse.

A reputable biblical scholar is someone who does research on the subject in a scholarly way, ignoring their own feelings, and take historical evidence into account. They then publishes works that are generally accepted in the field, and shows a willingness to correct any mistakes that might come to light.
In other words, they don't let their faith come in the way of facts.

They don't have to agree with Dawkins, and indeed many of them don't, but they are willing to admit when facts are on Dawkins' side.

There is a good reason why AiG isn't the arbitrator of what is good biblical scholarship. They are unwilling to let facts get in the way of their faith.

Thirdly, why is it "obvious" that the Old Testament should not be regarded as reliable? He has clearly not read a detailed apologetics of scriptural inerrancy, such as that provided by Brian Edwards in his masterly book, Nothing But The Truth. That is again down to his presupposition, that evolution is true so Genesis is wrong. Merely making a statement, or using the word "obvious", does not make a statement true, when it is not true. Just from these three points, we see that there is no logical reason given by Dawkins for rejecting the use of the Bible as evidence.

A good example of the Courtier's Reply.
All evidence supports the theory of evolution, the age of the Earth etc., while none supports a literate reading of the creation story in Genesis (which of the two creation stories should we go with BTW?).
The stories in the Bible are not supported by historical evidence, biological evidence or by science in general. The story of the Ark alone, has so many problematic issues that TalkOrigins has an entire page dedicated to them. has a list of biblical contradicitions and errors, which includes listing bats as a type of bird.

Do you really want to claim this to be the "inerrant and authoritative word of God"?

Articles on the use of logic are easy to find on the website. An important element in the use of logic is to recognise logical fallacies. Dawkins has committed several of these.

So far I haven't been impressed with the quality of Taylor's logic, so it would seem like he should re-read those articles.

Ad Hominem

This sort of fallacy involves attacking the opponent instead of the argument. In the UK, this is referred to as "playing the man instead of the ball" - a soccer reference, implying that the tackler has deliberately aimed to kick his opponent, rather than attempting to kick the ball.

There are several examples of this. There is a particularly nasty attack on a schoolteacher, who happens to be a creationist. Notice, on page 95, how Dawkins describes certain American educational establishments.

He moved up the hierarchy of American universities, from rock bottom at the "Moody Bible Institute", through Wheaton College (a little bit higher on the scale, but still the alma mater of Billy Graham) to Princeton in the world-beating class at the top. (p95)

Why are the three institutions arranged hierarchically? What is the basis for Dawkins assessment of standards at each place? He doesn't say, but we assume that it is to do with belief in the Bible. Why is it implied that, because they number Billy Graham among their alumni, that this is a negative for Wheaton College?

The book is full of such examples.

Interesting that Taylor doesn't actually provide any examples of the ad hominem attacks.
Attacking someone for being a creationist is not an example of ad hominem, unless they were discussing something irrelevant to this (for example his opinion on taxes). For example, to say that a creationist is unqualified to teach biology is not an ad hominem attack, since his stance shows a lack of understanding of the fundamental principles of biology.

Ranking American universities might not be very relevant, but again, it's not an ad hominem attack. Impling that counting Billy Graham as an alumni counts against Wheatin College is more properly called "guilt by association", and has absolutely nothing to do with an adhominen.

Straw Men

The well-known "straw man" logical fallacy occurs when the debater invents their opponent's position for them, then argues against their own invention, rather than the real position of the opponent. An example of this is seen in the mocking tone used, as he attempts to dismiss arguments based on intelligent design.

I [insert own name] am personally unable to think of any way in which [insert biological phenomenon] could have been built up step by step. Therefore it is irreducibly complex. That means it is designed.

Although Dawkins uses this argument frequently, it is a complete misrepresentation of the intelligent design position. A biological mechanism is not labelled as irreducibly complex, because it is complicated and the labeller cannot think how it could have evolved. It is so labelled, because it can be shown that it is not possible for it to have evolved.

Given how often we encounter the argument from incredulity, and that it's basicly what Behe's irreducibly complexity reduces to, I can't see that this is a strawman. A strawman is a position that the opponent doesn't hold after all.

Every biological mechanism labelled "irreducibly complex" so far, has as a matter of fact not been shown impossible to evolve. As a matter of fact, the evolutionary path for all of them have been since been demonstrated. In other words, they were labelled "irreducibly complex" because the labeller couldn't understand how it could have been evovled, and thus decided that it couldn't - the very definition of an argument from incredulity.


The God Delusion is far from being a reasoned argument for atheism, it is a hysterical rant. Maybe there will one day emerge a book that has a little more intellectual rigour. Dawkins' new book is weak, even by atheist standards. We note that Dawkins is now planning to send atheist material to government schools in the UK. That might be a good opportunity for British school pupils to exercise their critical thinking!

Did anyone notice any relevant critique of the content of the book? Taylor attacked Dawkins' logic (rather poorly), but didn't actually address any of the book's points. Not only didn't he do that, his entire critique was based upon the premise that the bible should be read literately - a minority position, even among the religious.

Note on comments: People are very welcome to disagree with me, but personal attacks and comments that just amounts to links to AiG (or similar pages) will get deleted without hesitation.

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Blogger beepbeepitsme said...

How abput a link to my site instead? :)

February 28, 2007 10:39 AM  

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