Does Atheism Break Down Here?
[This is a reply to a reader’s comment on my posting “The Greatest Scientific Mind.” The full text of his comment can be found by clicking “comments” under that essay, which appears below.]
Richard Dawkins makes the precise argument you advanced in your comment. In Chapter 4 of The God Hypothesis he says: “… the designer hypothesis immediately raises the larger problem of who designed the designer. The whole problem we started out with was the problem of explaining statistical improbability. It is obviously no solution to postulate something even more improbable.”
In the margin beside that statement I wrote: “But can’t we explain something complex and amazing (the play Hamlet) by pointing to a cause even more complex and amazing (Shakespeare)?”
In the same chapter Dawkins says: “To suggest that the first cause, the great unknown which is responsible for something existing instead of nothing, is a being capable of designing the universe and of talking to a million people simultaneously, is a total abdication of the responsibility to find an explanation. It is… thought-denying skyhookery.”
Hiding Weakness with Rhetoric
That is a rhetorically forceful statement; many are convinced by it. But if you examine it closely it is not a refutation of the First Cause argument – it is mere intellectual name calling with no rational substance. Pasting the label “abdication” and “skyhookery” on a solid argument that threatens his position, shows how weak the position is, and how illogically Dawkins, for all his brilliance, tries to hide such weaknesses.
To say the wondrous world could not have had a still more wondrous creator is to deny the obvious. An inventor is greater than his machine. DaVinci was greater than his paintings. To say the more wondrous creator must have had a creator is simply untrue. The argument that a creator must have had a creator, who must have had a creator, who must have had a creator, etc., etc., ad infinitum, is to involve oneself in an infinite regress, which keeps begging the question and solves nothing.
A Rational Way Out
The only way out of an infinite regress is to posit that it stops somewhere, and that the end-of-regress is the First Cause of all that is, itself uncaused. Yes, there could have been a starting point, a Being that always existed, before time began, whose intelligence and powers are not limited, as ours are, but are vast beyond our imagining. Who created the universe and set it in motion, perhaps by making the singularity that exploded with a Big Bang, giving birth to the galaxies, our planet, life, evolution, and all of history, human and natural. That kind of an all-sufficient starting point in no way violates logic. In fact logic requires it. And common sense regurgitates the theory of an infinite regress.
Dawkins, again in Chapter 4, says that “any God capable of designing a universe… tuned to lead to our evolution, must be a supremely complex and improbable entity who needs an even bigger explanation than the one he is supposed to provide.”
Again, that’s flatly untrue. A supremely complex cosmic intelligence, existing from all eternity, does not require a bigger explanation. Nor does it “explain nothing.” In fact, it explains everything about the origin of the universe. It’s the most adequate explanation there can be. It’s where the need for an explanation ends. You may not like it. If you hate the idea of God you’ll hate the argument. But don’t say it explains nothing, and smear graffiti on it like “abdication” and “skyhook.”
In fact, it’s such a powerful and comprehensive argument, I’m not sure how we get around it. Is infinite regress the best we can do? Or is “the singularity just happened” the best? Is there a real rebuttal? Help me! My agnosticism is tottering. This looks like a proof.
The Believing Agnostic