Deconstructing Dawkins, Part 1

Richard DawkinsToday, I wanted to look at an argument from Richard Dawkins’ book “The God Delusion” where he says “[A]ny creative intelligence, of sufficient complexity to design anything, comes into existence only as the end product of an extended process of gradual evolution. Creative intelligences, being evolved, necessarily arrive late in the universe, and therefore cannot be responsible for designing it.”[1] Or to put it in the classic form of a syllogism:

Premise 1:  Creative intelligences are highly evolved.
Premise 2: Highly evolved components appear late in time.
Conclusion: Therefore, creative intelligences can’t be responsible for any design activity occurring early in time.

This might sound reasonable until we look closer at the original question and recognize Richard’s bait-and-switch. The question at hand is whether unguided processes like physical laws, random interactions, and natural selection are responsible for the current state of the observable universe, or if a creative intelligence (God) is instead responsible. So we are baited with a choice between the natural and the supernatural, but then Richard pulls a switch and says that creative intelligences also are the results of naturalistic processes only. We find the coin toss is rigged, for the coin he’s using is really naturalism on both sides. He does this by assuming naturalism is true in the premise in order to conclude that it’s true. Now let’s flesh out some terms in his argument to show precisely how it supports the premises with the conclusion.

Premise 1:  Creative intelligences are highly evolved the result of unguided, naturalistic processes (because naturalism is true).
Premise 2: Highly evolved components The results of unguided, naturalistic processes appear late in time.
Conclusion: Therefore, creative intelligences the products of unguided, naturalistic processes can’t be responsible for any design activity occurring early in time, so they must somehow still be responsible for originating everything that exists, but in a non-designed way. Therefore, intelligent design is false, leaving naturalism as the true alternative.

We would certainly agree that unguided, naturalistic processes aren’t responsible for any design (ever), as design is an inherently intelligent process relying on choice and purpose in the mind of a designer. But to redefine “creative intelligence” as a naturalistic product is to try to rig the game so as to ignore the original choice between mind and matter as the ultimate causative agent. But aside from that tactic, and his assuming that naturalism is true in Premise 1 to determine that naturalism is true in the conclusion, can his first statement about sufficiently complex creative intelligences evolving be true? Actually, no. Dr. Stephen Meyer has highlighted the extremely low amount of functionally specific information that can possibly be formed by unguided processes like this:

“In a nonbiological context and absent intelligent input, the amount of specified information of a final system, Sf, will not exceed the specified information content of the initial system, Si, by more than the number of bits of information the system’s probabilistic resources can generate, with 500 bits representing an upper bound for the entire observable universe.”[2]

Meyer limits his statement of a theory of conservation of information to nonbiological cases, but that is precisely what we are talking about here when Dawkins speaks of a creative intelligence not being available to design the universe. Evolution would only be available (in theory) once a self-replicating organism had formed.  So even if Dawkins were correct that creative intelligences were evolved, he is left with no reasonable explanation for how that first life originated, or how the universe originated tuned so precisely for life to even be possible. This fine-tuning of the universe represents far more than 500 bits of specified information, yet more information than that exceeds the probabilistic resources of the entire universe. Once we are confronted with biological entities, the problem is only magnified. By Dawkins’ own admission, an amoeba has more information in it than 1,000 volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica.[3] And we still have a long way to go before we get to the complex intelligence found in a human. Yet it’s highly unlikely that a human would be able to fine-tune the universe to the degree we observe. It truly is a fine-tuned system of interdependent fine-tuned systems. For the designer of the universe, we are talking about many orders of magnitude beyond that 500 bit limit. We simply have to have a Designer of incomprehensible abilities available, from the beginning (technically, from before the beginning of space-time), to account for the amount of information we find in the universe. This is none other than God, and it turns out to be Dawkins who is deluded in denying Him.


[1] Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, 2008, p. 52.
[2] Stephen Meyer, Signature in the Cell, 2009, p293-4. See here for a previous post looking at the Universal Probability Bound from which the 500 bit information limit is derived.
[3] Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker, 1996, p.116.

2 thoughts on “Deconstructing Dawkins, Part 1”

  1. it would seem an easier way to debunk Dawkins is to question his definitions. Many times he writes of the “appearance” of design.Doesnt that mean by definition, Dawkins must know beyond any reasonable doubt what the ACTUALITY of design is to provide the frame of reference to the “appearance” of design? And also, what is the distinctive between appearance and actuality in design, outside of worldview? Or if something presents the appearance of design, what would it look like if it were designed?

    1. Thanks for your comment! 🙂 My guess, from talking to other atheists, is that Dawkins assumes design to be a specifically human activity rather than simply an intelligent activity. On that basis, he would say he could know exactly how design appears because of all of the man-made objects observed. Yet, the presumption of human involvement seems unwarranted, to say the least. After all, we could easily imagine aliens designing objects, structures, and such. In fact, much of science fiction is centered around tales of aliens having designed more advanced things than humans, and our subsequent interaction with them. Once we admit non-human design as a possibility, we have to ask what the essential nature of design is, so that we can recognize it (if present) in non-human scenarios. That brings us back to the 2 critical requirements of human design – choice and purpose – which require intelligence and free will, which is characteristic of personhood, which eventually leads us back to a personal Creator as the only viable explanation for all of the non-human-initiated design we see. So yes, I would agree that there are likely some issues with his definition of design where he is sneaking in a human-focused worldview. Thanks again for taking the time to comment!

Leave a Reply to Jason Cancel reply