In his book The God Delusion (pg. 158-9 I believe), Richard Dawkins proposes what he finds to be the greatest argument against God, that being that by invoking the existence of a cosmic designer, you are immediately lead into the question of who designed the designer?
William Lane Craig has responded to this argument here but I’m going to make a few points on it as well. There are a couple ways in which Dawkins and the other new atheists use this argument. One way is in response to the claims of the Intelligent Design camp in terms of their attempts to give evidence for the existence of God via the complexity of certain things in nature, and the other is against various philosophers and apologists who use cosmological arguments or philosophical arguments to argue for the existence of God.
There are several problems with this argument, many of which Craig either explains or hints at during that interview. First, the argument leads to an infinite regress. If there needed to be a designer of the designer, then you would also need a designer for the designer of the designer, ad infinitum. At this point I could hear someone saying “see! that’s the point! God can’t exist that way!” and I think that would be misunderstanding the objection. The whole concept of God is that He is uncreated, otherwise He wouldn’t be God. So you could say that Dawkin’s objection doesn’t even make sense. I could also hear an objection to that being something like “well, that’s cheating” only put more eloquently. However, if you are to actually debate something, you have to debate the actual position, and not a straw man. Another interesting point is that atheists which hold to the multiverse theory seem to be entirely ok with other lines of reasoning so long as God isn’t involved.
Like a child always asking the “why” question, one could ask where the multiverse came from. Or, depending on which multiverse theory you want to go with, where the first universe which spawned into existence the other universes came from. Interestingly, I haven’t heard a claim of eternality on the part of the multiverse, but only infinitude. That is an interesting choice because if you are dealing with a truly infinite number of universes, then the argument falls apart. If you get a mental picture of a timeline, infinity goes forever in both directions right? The problem is that you start running into logical absurdities. For example: if our universe suddenly explodes into nothingness, how many universes would be left? Or, if half the universes were destroyed, how many would be left? The answer, of course, is still infinity, even though there are now less than there were before. Secondly, it is impossible to traverse an actual infinite. If you think again on the timeline, you have the left side going to the past and the right side going to the future. If the number of universes is truly infinite, that means that they have to be going on forever in both directions right? But if they are going on forever on the left side of the line, then how is it that our universe is here? You couldn’t get to the current point (say, the middle of the line for the sake of argument) if you were still going forever into the past. When it comes to physical, natural, existence, there can be nothing truly infinite for those reasons among others.
Another point on the nature of this argument is that it misunderstands the nature of a necessary being, seemingly. William Lane Craig argues from the existence of contingent beings and realizes that this can’t extend backwards forever (infinite regress again) and so therefore there must be something which is not contingent on anything else for its existence. Aquinas argues similarly when he writes about the unmoved mover etc. I’ve heard objections to this similarly based on the previous objection of “well, then who designed/created/moved God?” but again, this misunderstands both the nature of God and the argument. Essentially, something cannot come from nothing, and if you acknowledge that there can’t be an infinite regress (nobody really argues for an eternal universe, but some go with the multiverse above) then you have to see that eventually there must be a stopping point. The chain of contingent beings/objects cannot go back forever.
This leads to how the argument is used against the Intelligent Design camp (there is some crossover as to how it’s used). Basically, the ID guys propose that there are certain things in nature that are best explained by some sort of designer, and they have some criteria as to when you can infer design and when you can’t. Now, there are several different arguments brought against the ID movement, but for the sake of this blog I’ll try to stick to just this one. Now, we’ve discussed above why the more straight forward question of, “well, then who designed the designer?” doesn’t work, but there is another step that Dawkins takes toward this particular argument from design. The argument goes something like this: “ok, suppose you’re right. but even if you are, the being who designed all this complexity must be astronomically more complex than what it designs.” On the surface, this doesn’t really seem to be a question or an objection or anything, but you have to understand that the concept of complexity is equated with the concept of improbability. The reason for this, is because the whole point of the complexity argument is to show that the best explanation for it would have to be an intelligent designer, and therefore it couldn’t be best explained by evolution by natural selection. The idea being that an undirected process (claiming it’s directed by natural selection is merely wordplay) like evolution couldn’t come up with it, the probability is simply to great.
With that background, the issue now seems to be more of an objection. If the complexity is too improbable to be explained by evolution, then to explain it via design means that the designer needs to be incalculably more complex, and therefore improbable. Interestingly, this could also be stated like this “if you’re saying evolution can’t do it, then nothing can.” However, even without brining it to that pejorative level, there are still issues with arguing like this. First, there is again a misunderstanding of the nature of God, as the historic Christian position has always been that God is simple, and not complex. That is to say, that God is not made of parts (more on this later). Interestingly, Dawkins (and others) won’t appeal to the ID proponents’ own definition of complexity to try and argue for God’s complexity. Seemingly, that would be the best way to go about it, if they have a definition of complexity, why not use what they already accept and apply that to the thing you’re trying to disprove? I’ll show you what I mean by borrowing from Alvin Plantinga’s review of Dawkins’ book called “The Dawkins Confusion”.
“More remarkable, perhaps, is that according to Dawkins’ own definition of complexity, God is not complex. According to his definition (set out in The Blind Watchmaker), something is complex if it has parts that are “arranged in a way that is unlikely to have arisen by chance alone.” But of course God is a spirit, not a material object at all, and hence has no parts.5 A fortiori (as philosophers like to say) God doesn’t have parts arranged in ways unlikely to have arisen by chance. Therefore, given the definition of complexity Dawkins himself proposes, God is not complex.”
Again, you could say something like “that’s cheating!” but if you do not take your opponents definition of the thing you are opposing, you are making a straw man of the argument. If you defeat a straw man argument, you have accomplished nothing. This is philosophy 101. I strongly encourage reading Plantinga’s review as it shows the severe philosophical inadequacy of Dawkins as well as his theological ignorance. However, as several people have pointed out the later portion (theological ignorance), Dawkins has responded by saying “do you have to read up on leprechology before disbelieving in leprechauns?” with the obvious answer being no. However, this assumes what Dawkins is not simply doing. Does he disbelieve in God? Absolutely. Does he stop there? Absolutely not. If all Dawkins did was disbelieve in God, nobody would know who Dawkins was. The fact is, Dawkins lectures, writes, debates etc. that God doesn’t exist, and further still that people who believe in God are delusional, irrational, dangerous etc. If you are going to be doing these things, you cannot hide behind that arrogant quip quoted above. If you are going to be doing the things Dawkins does, you need to be reading up on what you are disbelieving and encouraging others to disbelieve and attempting to disprove.
To that point, Dawkins states in his book that the only theologians he needs to deal with are ones who seriously have doubts about their position, but write about it anyway. That is a very strange (also arrogant) position to take. This is another example of Dawkins proving absolutely nothing by going after easy targets. I have often used the example to this point that no self-respecting atheist would take me seriously if I claim to disbelieve in evolution without having read Darwin or some of the more modern proponents like Dawkins etc. They would probably laugh at me and point out that I don’t correctly understand evolution, and therefore cannot speak to it or against it. They would be correct in doing so, but that same reasoning needs to be applied to God and theology.
Truthfully, I don’t see how Dawkins (and several others) find this to be much of an argument, let alone the most powerful argument against God. There are several other objections to this argument but I think I’ve provided enough of them to prove my point. On a final and somewhat related note, another thing you will hear from the Dawkinsian camp is that invoking God stops science. This is absurd. Claiming that God created the universe doesn’t mean that we stop investigating the universe (as they claim). In fact, scientists used to be called natural theologians, and were thought to be thinking God’s thoughts after Him. They were propelled in their work because they assumed that since God created everything, that it was therefore knowable and could be known by them. This does not mean that atheistic scientists cannot make advancements and discoveries in science, far from it. What it does mean is that the objection doesn’t do anything or prove anything. It’s simply false. Nobody stops doing science or stops thinking about the world or stops making discoveries or advancements simply because they believe God exists and created everything.