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What’s Up, Dawk? The Dawkins Dilemma

Richard Dawkins has recently argued that God is a delusion, but a vicious problem attends his case: if God is a delusion, then so is Dawkins and everything else.

  • Anthony Rogers
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Richard Dawkins has recently argued that God is a delusion,1 but a vicious problem attends his case: if God is a delusion, then so is Dawkins and everything else.

As the creator of heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible, God is both the ontological source of all that is, as well as the epistemological starting point necessary to account for the world as something that is both non-delusory and intelligible. To the extent that Dawkins presupposes his own and the world’s existence and intelligibility, he has also presupposed the existence of God, contrary to his own thesis. This means that Dawkins is not only deluded about the nonexistence of God, but he is self-deluded.

Competing Claims of Self-Deception

The live possibility that a person can be self-deceived or self-deluded about the existence or nonexistence of God is recognized by Dawkins early in his book. In the preface he says, “There are many people who know, in their heart of hearts, that they are atheists but dare not admit it to their families or even, in some cases, to themselves” (p. 3). This is simply the ad hoc, atheistic equivalent of what the apostle Paul said millennia ago, but without the punch: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them” (Rom. 1:18–19 nkjv).

Paul goes on to say, and here is the punch missing in Dawkins’ counterclaim, that certain God-ordained, judicially imposed consequences follow from exchanging the known truth about God for a more palatable, self-flattering lie: God gives such people over to a reprobate mind and to all manner of sinful and self-degrading behavior, or at least to the approval of such practices, such as an unnatural desire for the same sex. The punch lands, as we can see, for Dawkins likens those who are theists by profession but atheists deep down in their hearts to homosexuals who need to come out of the closet (p. 4), a practice he roundly approves of (pp. 289–291). Thus atheism and homosexuality go hand in hand, according to Dawkins. How is that for disproving what the Bible says about God?

The Evidence of Self-Deception

Dawkins never gets around to showing any evidence that people who believe in God are self-deluded, secretly believing in atheism, as it were, all the while telling themselves that God exists. However, in the process of arguing that theists, especially Christian theists (his preferred targets), are simply deluded and that God very probably doesn’t exist, he does give abundant evidence of his own self-deception—that is, that he in fact knows what he claims is “almost certainly” not true. From start to finish, Dawkins’ argumentation shows not only that he surreptitiously believes in God, but that he secretly relies and even must rely upon Him. Dawkins’ own existence, and any and all ability to make it intelligible, wholly and completely depends upon God.

The evidence for self-deception that can be offered is of various sorts. In the first place there are certain unwitting expressions and unguarded comments that belie Dawkins’ atheism, such as when he chides C. G. Jung for believing “that particular books on his shelf exploded with a loud bang” (p. 51).2 Christians of course would agree with Dawkins, and for obvious reasons, such as their presupposition that God created the world, but what presupposition is at the bottom of Dawkins’ criticism of Jung? It must be more of the same, for surely it can’t be Big Bang cosmology.

A second and more devastating line of proof that Dawkins is deceiving Dawkins is that he has a firmly entrenched belief in and claims knowledge about the world—for example that the doctrine of creation is false and evolution theory is true—but then he gives us a philosophy that, if he really and faithfully held to it, would undermine any possibility of accounting for his belief in the external world or the knowledge he lays claim to. You simply can’t claim any right to believe in an extra-mental reality or insist that others share your peculiar outlook on human experience and at the same time say things like the following (unless of course you are self-deceived):

Our eyes don’t present to our brains a faithful photograph of what is out there, or an accurate movie of what is going on through time. Our brains construct a continuously updated model: updated by coded pulses chattering along the optic nerve, but constructed nevertheless. (pp. 88–89)

What we see of the real world is not the unvarnished real world but a model of the real world, regulated and adjusted by sense data—a model that is constructed so that it is useful for dealing with the real world. The nature of that model depends on the kind of animal we are. (p. 371)

The problems with this are many, not the least of which is that for Dawkins there is nothing else to go on but perception. If perception is as unreliable as he says, then the only thing anyone has, including Dawkins, is self-imposed models of the way things are, and even this depends upon the accident of what kind of animal we were born as, along with a long chain of other accidents leading up to that kind of animal. This can’t be the same platform that Dawkins is standing on when he looks out upon the world and concludes from the evidence that God “almost certainly does not exist,” for artificial mental constructs foisted on otherwise brute sense data do not yield solid conclusions but ephemeral—need I say it?—delusions. Things aren’t the way they appear to Dawkins, and it’s his own brain’s fault. If Dawkins is right in saying that all we have are inaccurate, unreliable images of reality constructed by our own minds, then why should we pay any attention to his unreliable image of reality? Worse, how can we be sure of anything at all? By his own admission, Dawkins is the victim of intrapersonal deception.

The final and most devastating example of self-deception is that on Dawkins’ espoused atheistic assumptions, not only would it be the case that God is a delusion, which Dawkins insists on, but it would also be the case that Dawkins himself is a delusion, which he implicitly denies all throughout his book and in his every waking moment. Throughout his book, Dawkins speaks of his own past and present, as well as certain expectations he has for the future, all of which assume some continuing personal identity, but then he tells us that persons are more like waves than permanent things, for none of the atoms that make up our bodies are the same today as when we were born, nor will we have the same atoms in the future that we have today (p. 371).

It shouldn’t be missed: this problem cuts through everything, for if Dawkins goes, then the world goes, too, at least as far as it concerns him. If Dawkins is just an ever-changing collection of atoms—i.e., if it is a delusion to believe that there is any such person as Richard Dawkins who persists through all of these changes—then all “his” thoughts and arguments about God, man, and the world are delusory as well.

Will the Real Delusion Please Disappear?

Dawkins has argued that God is a delusion, and as it turns out, the only way he would be able to do so is if his argument is false: his God-denying assumptions lead inexorably to a denial of all knowledge, even knowledge of his own personal identity. So it is either the case that both Dawkins and the world are delusions, or God exists. This is the dilemma; which will Dawkins choose?

In light of these observations, my exhortation to Dawkins is twofold: first, either repent of your self-inflicted delusion and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father, or else live up to your own foolishness and disappear. Second, go talk to Daniel Dennett and Sam Harris about these things, as I suspect there is more than a little bit of self-deception going on over there as well.

The delusion of atheism is widespread, and you know what they say: “When one person suffers from a delusion, it is called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion, it is called Religion” (p. 5). Atheism is a religion, and not a very good one at that: it deludes those who buy into it.

1. Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006).

2. As the story goes, Jung was once arguing with Freud about psychic phenomena when an inexplicable event happened: the books on his shelf exploded with a loud bang. Neither Jung nor Freud had any rational explanation for this event (chance, irrationalism, etc.). It is far from clear how Dawkins’ dismissal of this comports with his underlying philosophy of chance and acceptance of the doctrine of the Big Bang.

  • Anthony Rogers

Anthony Rogers attended Christ College in Lynchburg, Virginia, and is an elder at Christ Covenant Church in Las Vegas, Nevada. He is married and has three children.

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