Review: “Why Us? How science rediscovered the mystery of ourselves” by James Le Fanu

Books like this are not written every day; actually, they’re hardly ever written. In Why us? How science rediscovered the mystery of ourselves, medical doctor James Le Fanu sets out to demonstrate how two indisputably phenomenal achievements of science – the mapping of the human genome and the deeper understanding of the human brain’s workings – are impossible to reconcile with the worldview of absolute materialism adamantly held and preached ad nauseam by scientists today. And it goes without saying that his criticism immediately targets Darwin’s theory of evolution and common descent, though it extends well beyond that.

Le Fanu’s central thesis is that the model of common descent via random mutation and natural selection cannot even begin to explain a) the surprising similarity between genomes of completely different species and b) the non-material nature of the human mind (as opposed to the brain), which does however exert very material effects (you reading this review is a good example).

Chapters overview

Science triumphant, almost

An overview of the history of scientific achievement, culminating in the recent mapping of the human genome and the findings of the Decade of the Brain. However, both have failed to reveal how life can be organised by mere genetic “chemicals” or how the human mind can function by mere “electrical firing” in the brain.

The ramifications of the seemingly disappointing outcomes of the New Genetics and the Decade of the Brain are clearly prodigious, suggesting that we are on the brink of some tectonic shift in our understanding of ourselves.

The Ascent of Man: A riddle in two parts

The art, social life and intellectual achievements of the earliest civilisation of Homo sapiens, dated around 30,000 BC, challenge the notion of human evolution.

…how and why twenty or more distinct species of hominid should, over a period of several million years, have undergone that wholescale anatomical transformation required for standing upright, and then followed it up with acquiring that prodigiously sized brain whose potential to comprehend the workings of the universe appears so disproportionate to the needs of a hunter gatherer.

The limits of science 1: The quixotic universe

Isaac Newton’s landmark discovery of the law of gravity gave us a Grand Unifying Theory of the universe, but left us with the question of how mass exerts its gravitational force over mind-boggling distances without any physical medium (e.g. planets in space). It is an example of the limitations of science and an absolutely materialistic worldview.

Thus, ironically, this most scientific of theories, grounded in the observation of the movements of the planets expressed in mathematical form, subverts the scientific or materialist view which holds that everything must ultimately be explicable in terms of its material properties alone.

The (evolutionary) ‘Reason for Everything’: Certainty

The history of Charles Darwin’s “On the origins of species” and the way it was received as the Grand Unifying Theory of life, despite contemporary and later scientific criticism. The mostly non-Darwinian fossil record and the mysterious Cambrian explosion have presented with the problem of “transitional species” (aka “missing links”), i.e. the conspicuous absence of the multitude of intermediate organisms demanded by gradualistic evolution.

…there are dangers in supposing the wonder and diversity of the natural world to be so much more rapidly explicable than it really is… Darwin’s evolutionary theory readily short-circuited serious intellectual enquiry as it could, in an instant, produce a reasons for (literally), everything.

The (evolutionary) ‘Reason for Everything’: Doubt

The experiments of Gregor Mendel introduced the concept of the gene. Although his own notion of genetic “fixity” seemed to contradict Darwin’s theory, the discovery of gene mutations provided a biological way by which speciation could occur via natural selection – except that random mutations are rare and almost invariably disadvantageous. Mathematical models attempted to solve this dilemma by shifting the locus of evolution from the individual to the species as a whole, but failed to actually provide a consistent answer. Furthermore, the fossil record failed to answer the problem of “perfection” of organs and organisms as well as the conundrum of limb homology.

Thus, as of the early 1980s, science no longer had an adequate materialist explanation for the history of life. The surprise perhaps is how readily refutable Darwin’s theory turns out to be, as if it must contain some hidden flaw that invalidates its scientific credentials – as indeed it does.

The limits of science 2: The impenetrable helix

The discovery of the double-helix structure of DNA led to a progressive understanding of the genetic code, culminating in the mapping of the entire human genome in 2001. In light of this, genetic information could no longer be thought of as a chain, but rather as an intricately complex network between genes. This further minimised the impact of a single random mutation in driving evolutionary diversity. Further, vastly different species share hosts of identical genes, often in relatively similar numbers. Finally, identical control (“master”) genes produce entirely different variations of an organ (such as the Pax 6 gene for the eye), further compounding the problem. The gap from genetic material to genetic information cannot be bridged by strictly materialistic means.

The Double Helix fails the further test of scientific knowability because, like Newton’s gravitational force, it imposes the order of ‘form’ on life without there being any evidence of some scientifically measurable objective means by which it might do so.

The Fall of Man: A tragedy in two acts

In The descent of Man (1871), Darwin explained away the human mind by evolutionary means. The ripple effect of his theory had virtually unavoidable consequences on the way humans viewed themselves, setting the stage for racism, eugenics and other reprehensible forms of “genetic oppression”. Further, this “sociobiology” brought about the new discipline of evolutionary psychology that sought to “naturalise” human virtues like altruism.

We need, in short, a fuller, more rounded view that acknowledges the core reality of the human experience which sets us apart – the sense of the autonomous, independent ‘self’ not as some shadowy, elusive entity, but something real and tangible that explains the force of character and the personality that is within each of us.

The limits of science 2: The unfathomable brain

The human mind is obviously non-material, and yet it exerts material effects. The history of brain research has given us many tremendous insights into how our brains interact with the outside world. However, the purely scientific approach has left us with five seemingly insurmountable mysteries: subjective awareness; free will; the richness and accessibility of memory; human reason and imagination; and the Self.

Might neuroscientists discover how the electrical activity of the neuronal circuits of the brain gives rise to the non-material mind, and confirm as ‘mere illusion’ our perception of ourselves as free autonomous beings? The answer… must be ‘no’.

The Silence

An evaluation of the role of science in understanding the dual nature of reality (material and non-material). Some history of philosophy, looking at the way materialistic thinking overtook religious worldviews during the Enlightenment and the rise of modern science. However, the scientific inaccessibility of the genetic code and the human mind demand an alternative approach in defining the world and decisively challenges the claim of science as the absolute means of knowledge.

We can no longer be certain, as we might have been till recently… ‘that is all there is to it’, because we cannot, by definition, comprehend the nature of that potent non-material realm with its power to conjure the wonders of life from the bare material bones of scientific knowledge.

Restoring Man to his pedestal

Looking to the future, we realise that we have reached a tipping point for science. We realise that the long-held theory of evolution fails spectacularly to fit the evidence, and a worldview of materialistic reductionism is no longer sustainable. Instead, the author calls for a new paradigm of science; one that can accommodate notions of extraneous (or even intelligent) design in nature and the non-material dimension of the human mind. In particular, the exceptionality of the latter must drive us to an understanding of man that goes against Darwin’s Descent. Just as Marx and Freud failed to provide a “Theory of Everything” for history and human behaviour respectively, so does Darwin ultimately fail to provide an overarching explanation of life.

It now seems deeply irrational for materialist science to deny the exceptionality of the human mind and to insist that the sense of self and free will are no more than illusions generated by the workings of the brain. It is certainly irrational to assert the truth of the evolutionary doctrine (‘the mystery of our existence is a mystery no longer because Darwin solved it’) in the face of all the scientific evidence that would contradict it.


There isn’t really much left to say after the above. As a scientist, I think this is a powerful book and an inspiring call for science to do what it does best: self-correct – in this case, before it’s too late.

The fact that Le Fanu does not have an obvious religious context behind him (at least as far as I can see) means that, for once, a strong critique of Darwin might actually be taken seriously by the scientific community. Having said that, we cannot overlook that he does utilise many arguments (fossil record, comparative anatomy and irreducible complexity, to name a few) that have been previously posited by openly religious writers who, in turn, have been largely ignored or dismissed as ‘the crazies’. What that says about the scientific world, we leave the reader to decide.

The strength of Le Fanu’s arguments lies especially in the fact that they are up-to-date. His research is solid, both from a literary and scientific point of view. The writing flows and never becomes bogged down with the technical language that often plagues this genre (‘public communication of science’). His ability to clarify and simplify complex concepts is enviable, and certainly makes the book accessible to a wide audience (I particularly enjoyed his two-page description of gene coding).

Of course, the very nature of the book calls for a non-scientific evaluation. For people of religious conviction this will leave a few gaps. Despite his call for a non-materialist approach to knowledge, Le Fanu is careful not to lend ammunition to those who would accuse him of being a ‘creationist’, whatever that means anymore. He certainly gives scientific credence to the Design hypothesis, but with qualifications:

There is, of course, nothing in the new paradigm that can be interpreted as direct evidence for a Creator, or that would resolve the insuperable difficulty for many of conceiving of his existence and purpose. But while it is hard to imagine him hard at work designing several thousand species of beetle, there is vastly greater evidence for ‘design’ – for those who would wish to interpret it as such – than the supposition that the vast panoply of nature should be the incidental consequence of those numerous genetic mutations that the genome projects have so unequivocally failed to identify.

Overall, this is an important book in more than one ways. Its purpose is to raise awareness on the shortcomings of Darwin’s evolutionary theory, which has further stagnated in light of recent scientific discovery. But where the book really succeeds is in opening a bold way in which religion and science can find a realistic common ground. For those of a religious persuasion and especially Christians, who have been particularly shunned and berated by scientific materialism, this can only be good news.

Why Us? calls for scientists to free themselves from the bonds of Darwinism or risk corrupting the very essence of science itself. In my opinion, the book does this persuasively, though it is certain that the more vocal members of the evolutionary camp will proceed (and already have) with the usual accusations of “bad science” and “quote-mining”, followed by nit-picking that misses the big picture.

Of course, this will do nothing more than prove Le Fanu’s point: Adhering to (macro)evolution is no longer rational, but demands virtually religious faith. Ironically, the evidence leads us further and further away from Darwin; the problem is that science is desperately clinging on instead of looking for a new direction. But what that direction may be lies beyond its current materialistic borders.

“Science’s Blind Spot”: thoughts on the Creation/Evolution debate

Every now and then, a strange thing happens in the world of books. Powerful, thought-provoking works go largely unnoticed, while moronic and juvenile scribbles hold the world captive. Truly, we have some twisted values.

Here I’ll break the rules: I’ll talk about a book I’m currently reading; one which I haven’t finished yet. The reason I’ll dare such hubris is two-fold: First, I’ve almost finished it and second, it has shifted so much of my thinking, that it just can’t wait.

The book is Science’s Blind Spot: The Unseen Religion of Scientific Naturalism, by Cornelius G. Hunter. Hunter is a biophysicist, and is known for his previous books, Darwin’s God: Evolution and the Problem of Evil and Darwin’s Proof: The triumph of Religion over Science, both of which offer some of the most intelligent skepticism on the Theory of Evolution.

There – after dancing around the subject, it finally appears openly on the Microscope.

I’m a Christian. I’m also a biologist, actively working in research. There are people today who will consider both those roles mutually exclusive. I have seen fellow Christians wince as if I told them that I work for a drug cartel (well, I have worked in pharmaceutical industry, ha ha). And even though today there are many new pebbles that scar the smooth interface of Science and Religion (see stem cells, cloning, abortions, LHC, euthanasia), the question of how we all got here is still Hot Topic Number One. And rightly so, since that question determines the direction all the others will go: It’s not strange that Darwin’s Grand Idea is invoked at the very beginning of current debates on life, death and even “sexual preference” issues. It’s clear: if we are the lucky outcome of random mutations over a long period of time, then there is no Greater Morality over our heads except whatever we invent at any time to suit our particular purposes and preferences. But if we were indeed created according to the image of a Higher Person, then things are diametrically different. If God made us, then we ought to take that into serious consideration.

It’s a vicious battle. And if you were hoping that in this post you’d find a quick “warrior’s manual” for either Creationism, Intelligent Design, Theistic Evolution or Naturalistic Evolution, I’m afraid I will have to sadly disappoint you. Maybe in the future – I’m always studying – but for now, all I can do is share some fruits from what I’ve been growing.

There are a few things that I can point out with a degree of certainty. First, there has been a lot of damage done to the debate from both sides (Creationists vs Evolutionists, or the new fashion, Atheists vs Theists). Fair enough. It’s an emotional topic. Right or wrong, Religion is a HUGE aspect of mankind as we know it, and is deeply ingrained in our minds and cultures. We all agree with that, and we also agree that you can’t just pluck it out like a thorn in your shoe.

But I don’t know if all that justifies the inimitable stupidity (I use that term with all its academic force) that is often displayed by many who engage this debate. A great example was the “Does God exist?” debate between the “Rational” “Response” Squad (atheists) and the Way of the Master Radio members (Christians) that took place in 2007 on prime-time US television (I wrote about it before). Most of what was on display from both sides could never qualify as “debate” (watch it for yourself on YouTube), but, in particular, the arguments for and against Evolution did no justice whatsoever to the Sapiens part of our species. Why? Because none of those debating had any proper understanding of Darwin’s theory – or if they did, they hid very well.

And this is painfully frequent example of how this debate goes between people on both sides who really haven’t done their homework. Evolutionists are constantly trying to patch the holes in their hypotheses and models (as all good scientists should – that’s not the problem) and Creationists (mostly Christians) are still utilising regurgitated arguments from the ’70s.

The point is not that it is not a reasonable argument (even Darwin had issues with it), but that, in the eyes of many scientists, it has been answered successfully and alternatives have been long suggested. Not to mention that the recent spotlight on the Tiktaalik fossil has actually revived the “intermediate species” view (which was, of course, previously doubted). In short, it seems to me as if most of the Creationist side seems to be constantly lagging a few years behind, or to not be up-to-date with trends in evolution theory. And that doesn’t help anyone.

I know what you’re thinking: “So you’re saying that we are supposed to keep up with every trend in evolution theory?” Well, yes – if you want to debate a theory that is based on Science, make sure you first understand the science. Ignorant accusations, wild theorising and outright fanaticism does not get you heard. And I say that, openly, to BOTH sides.

Now, there are many resources out there that cast skepticism on evolution, ranging from conservative Creationist (e.g., to intermediate Creationist (e.g., to theistic evolution, which attempts to reconcile evolution to the text of the Bible basically suggesting that shouldn’t take its first three chapters too literarily (and maybe a few others too while we’re at it). One thing I can say with some certainty is that the dividing line runs firmly between the biblical account of Creation and Darwin’s theory of Nature playing dice, and trying to fuse the two together doesn’t seem to satisfy anyone so far.

And here I return to the book. The first reason I found it to be so interesting was that its claims were substantiated, with frequent and clear references to actual, peer-reviewed research papers and books. As a scientist, I like to know how you know what you know, and I was thus delighted for once to see a responsible, properly researched piece on the topic.

Secondly, the book makes a very significant claim, one that most of those involved in the Creation/Evolution debate actually ignore (myself included). And that is that the Theory of Evolution originated not so much from empirical observation of data (as a normal scientific hypothesis), but rather as an attempt to answer theological concerns.

Don’t panic. Darwin and his friends were no devout Christians. But it is naïve to think that the man set out on the Beagle to look at some birds at the Galapagos Islands and one day “it all just came together”. Nope – read his “(On) The Origin of Species” (6th edition, preferably) if you don’t believe me, and you’ll find him often doing something that few scientists have the maturity to do: Tell his readers how his theory could “be taken apart” (e.g. in the context of incomplete fossil record). It doesn’t mean that Darwin didn’t believe his own ideas. But it does mean that the conclusions he penned down were not purely the result of what we’d call today “scientific observation”.

In his book, Hunter suggests that Darwin’s thinking sailed on a stream of theological angst that was trying, essentially, to separate God altogether from the physical world. Hunter names this “theological naturalism”, and, in my opinion, he’s right.

Hunter finds the origins of theological naturalism in the works of Thomas Burnet (d. 1715), but admits that even those have roots in the thinking of Immanuel Kant, who promoted the slicing between the “Noumenal and Phenomenal” realms. The general idea went something like this: The world as we perceive it is imperfect, asymmetrical, and laden with pain and destruction; thus to assume that God was and is intimately involved in its creation and maintenance is blasphemy, since God is perfect; thus it is better to understand that God merely created the natural laws under which the entire universe and all of life came to be, quasi-randomly. Now, keep going a bit further on this line of logic and you’ll arrive to that cliché of today, propagated by a certain Oxford professor: “God doesn’t exist because we don’t need Him to explain the world”.

Hunter’s point is that it is grossly mistaken to assume that the Theory of Evolution is mere science as opposed to something requiring a degree of “faith”. In fact, I can’t help but think that Richard Dawkins would find this interesting, given his absurd position (of many) that scientists cannot be religious and that evolution is somehow definitive proof that God “probably” doesn’t exist (and people ask me why we call it “new” atheism).

In any event, Hunter’s is an interesting view, and I think it’s worth our attention. If anything, it very accurately explains the virtually religious dogmatism and fanaticism of evolutionists today: It’s not just science. It began with religious concerns and it is constantly pushed, changed, re-changed, modified and evolved even in the face of significant evidence (of which the book gives a good overview).

Despite its 170 pages, Science’s Blind Spot is not an easy read. The writing is often dry and reads like a PhD thesis – not a problem for this kind of subject material, but it certainly doesn’t make the book engaging to a wider audience. It could really benefit from an extensive re-write, expanding and emphasising the key points. Having said that, the constant repetition of those points makes them stick and provoke some thinking outside of the traditional Creation/Evolution debate box. And although it seems targeted mostly to scientists and those literate in the debate, I think there is much in there that many on both sides would find beneficial.

I realise that this isn’t a comprehensive review, and after reading this post I find that it’s not as coherent and informative as I’d like it to be, so I hope you’ll forgive me for that. The Creation/Evolution debate is a huge topic with ramifications on many levels. Here, motivated by Hunter’s interesting and thought-provoking book, I just wanted to share some thoughts on the subject in the hope that you’ll find something helpful in there.

The New Atheism

Last Friday marked a historical landmark for this blog: the blogpost with the shortest life-span.

It was simply a humorous list of 21 “instructions” that aimed to point out some characteristics of the attitude and apologetics of the New Atheists. I admit that the tone leaned a little towards the sarcastic, but certainly no more than what is allowed in this blog, and definitely nowhere near than the usual vitriol fired by the New Atheists when they attack those who are “simple-minded” enough to still hold onto theist positions.

It didn’t fly. Within an hour of posting the list it was obvious that it wasn’t going in the right direction: one atheist blogger commented in counterattack sarcasm, one guy wrote something that sounded supportive but didn’t make any sense, and five hours and an “astonishing” 18 hits after the blogpost went up, I thought it wiser to take it down. Trouble is inevitable and well-expected with the content of what I usually write, but trouble because of the tone of what I write is something we can all live without. So, apologies to all atheist readers who I unwillingly offended – I didn’t mean to, but that’s hardly an excuse.

So, having said all that, I’d still like to return to the subject, and occupy our minds a little with the rise of the New atheism today. What we’ll say below will actually still echo elements from that list of contentions, but I will try to steer clear of forming “straw-men” as I was accused.

It’s no news that atheism is currently seeing a new day in the sun. Aggressively propagated by eminent academics like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett and Christopher Hitchens, the idea that God does not exist is crossing rapidly from its old elitist intelligentsia home right into the world of mainstream thinking. It’s no longer something discussed at philosophical symposia in incomprehensible German terminology; it is now vehemently debated and defended in the public square.

Of course, geographically speaking, this isn’t really news to us who live in the Old World. Western Europe has been progressively secularised in terms of social structure and worldview since the Enlightenment, and even the famously religious Victorians embraced a strange, moralistic form of atheism (“I’m a Christian in my body, but not in my mind”).

Thus, I wonder if the alarms sounding from all fronts about the New Atheists don’t have more to do with the sudden spread and wide appeal of their ideas in the US; even though hyper-modernised as a country, even Richard Dawkins finds it necessary to specifically address the “religiosity” of his US readers in “The God Delusion”. But whatever the reason, what is most interesting is the reception of these ideas by a much wider audience than before.

In the following paragraphs I don’t aim to put forth a full-blown apologetic against every single argument of the New Atheism. Others, much more knowledgeable and intelligent have done so, and, even though there is much left to answer, I will give some references throughout. This article will just take an overarching view of New Atheism and pick up some of what I think are its more stringent arguments – in particular, as a scientist, I am interested in the way the New Atheists argue their case by claiming that atheism is the only place that science can lead us.

Before we start, it’s probably best to understand why we refer to this as the New Atheism. Here I will summarise the eight distinctive characteristics of the New Atheism that Dr Albert Mohler gives in his recent book Atheism Remix: A Christian confronts the New Atheists (pp 54-63):

1. It is marked by an unprecedented new boldness.

2. There is a clear and specific rejection of the Christian God of the Bible.

3. There is a rejection of Jesus Christ with a new explicitness and intensity.

4. It is specifically grounded in scientific argument.

5. There is a new refusal to tolerate moderate and liberal forms of belief.

6. There is an attack on religious toleration, which seems to include religious freedom of speech.

7. There is a questioning of the right of parents to inculcate belief on their own children.

8. There is the argument that religion itself must be eliminated in order to preserve human freedom.

Now, discussing the roots of the New Atheism is always an interesting conversation. It usually instigates emotional accusations from both theists and atheists, and – in my personal opinion – demonstrates very quickly the understanding that a person of either camp has on the subject. But it does bring two things into focus:

1) A perceived failure of theism/religion to respond to the modern (and post-modern) concerns. In human words, this means that people today feel that the notion of a God cannot satisfy our big questions. Under this I would tentatively put the general negative-to-hostile feeling that has been generated by the abuses of organised/institutional religion and the often-extreme conduct of the members of various religions (whether such extremism and fanaticism is actually allowed or justified by the core theology of their religion is something that seems unhelpfully ignored by the New Atheists).

2) A perceived uselessness of theism/religion in current ideological models. This is best demonstrated in the current vicious Evolution/Creation debate, which, essentially, runs much deeper than the fossil record and is a great example of how the interpretation of scientific data can quickly transform into a philosophy on the actual purpose of our existence. As a personal note, it saddens me as a scientist to see the almost intentional blurring of the de facto boundaries of Science; boundaries that even Prof Dawkins has admitted in a recent debate with his main critic Alistair McGrath. Pure, real, unadulterated Science can only look with a degree of confidence for the what, when, where and how of our existence as a cosmos; the why has always been outside of its scope because it must be beyond its grasp if it still wants to be called Science and not Metaphysics.

So in those two elements there is immediately much to find and understand about the New Atheism and in particular the growing hostile, militant attitude of its proponents. For the New Atheists God is not only dead, He is also useless. Theism, and in particular biblical theism, is not just passively pointless, it is dangerous, a disease; a mental virus that infects the entire human consciousness. So it logically follows that religious people are also dangerous (as Christopher Hitchens would have it), and ample evidence of that can be found from the Crusades to every suicide bomber attack today. Archibald MacLeish’s J.B. lamenting “If God is God He is not good; if God is good He is not God” still echoes through this idea, which some would – unjustly – simplify like this: “I can’t believe that there is a God because there is so much evil in the world”. But clichés aside, it is important to understand that the effects of believing in God today are seen as an active threat.

Nor are they perceived as useful either, as we mentioned above. In fact, Religion and Theism are seen as downright debilitating. Religion is the Big Leash; it’s holding us back with its viral epidemic, making people comfortable with the Unexplained and complacent with the world’s defects and problems. In the greater scheme of things, the New Atheists would argue, belief in God is holding us back from spreading our evolutionary wings, of “becoming all that we can be” in terms of human evolution. Religious belief might have had some evolutionary benefit once (though what that could be has not been proposed by the New Atheists to my knowledge) but it is time to grow out of our infantile minds, as Nietzsche would say, and let Nature take us to the next step.

I always get some flak when I’ve replied to this last one, and not unjustly. Because it is unavoidable that this sort of language immediately evokes some spine-chilling terminology used by some very “destructive” forces in the recent past – namely Nazism and Stalinism. Now, if we disagree with the straw-men attacks of the New Atheists, we really ought not to do the same and accuse them all of wanting to bring about a Fourth Reich. But isn’t it fair to at least mention that their assertion that a completely evolutionary worldview is needed to “save” mankind has been experimented with in the past with far-from-salvific consequences we are still reaping decades later? As a biologist, I am not aware of any new dimensions in the Theory of Evolution and Darwinism that would prohibit such a “logical evolution” in the future. Isn’t it practically an axiom that without a God there is no absolute; that without absolutes morality is relative, and a relative morality can easily redefine itself to anyone’s whim? What honest Evolutionist could argue that whatever Greater Good we devise under a completely naturalistic (and thus, atheistic) worldview will stand forever without fail?

But that, the atheist camp would argue, is irrelevant (hence the flak). Arguments from moralism don’t prove anything – and I fully agree. Besides, religious regimes also have volumes of dark pages in the books of History, and we’d be naive to think that Religion is a safe and proven way to social bliss. Thus, like Prof Dawkins would argue, whether or not we like the Darwinean/Nietzschean dystopia has nothing to do with reality. In other words, if the truth is that God doesn’t exist and evolution/naturalism is all we have, who cares about who likes what and what is right or wrong? Or, put differently, God doesn’t exist just because we’d like Him to (conversely, of course, we can say that God doesn’t not exist just because we’d like Him not to). The existence or not of God must be an absolute – He’s either there or He isn’t. This is why, I think, the New Atheists don’t particularly support the postmodernist philosophy, which decries any claim to propositional truth – including that God exists or does not.

The major question then, to my mind, is whether or not the “God hypothesis” is true or false, since it is from here that all other – theistic and atheistic – arguments follow. Now, in The God delusion Dawkins creates a scale of 7 degrees of belief in God:

1. Strong Theist: I do not question the existence of God, I KNOW he exists.

2. De-facto Theist: I cannot know for certain but I strongly believe in God and I live my life on the assumption that he is there.

3. Weak Theist: I am very uncertain, but I am inclined to believe in God.

4. Pure Agnostic: God’s existence and non-existence are exactly equiprobable.

5. Weak Atheist: I do not know whether God exists but I’m inclined to be sceptical.

6. De-facto Atheist: I cannot know for certain but I think God is very improbable and I live my life under the assumption that he is not there.

7. Strong Atheist: I am 100% sure that there is no God.

Dawkins classifies himself as a number 6 on the scale, saying that no sane person can say with absolute certainty that God exists or does not exist. He does, however find that God is highly improbable. His view is rather peculiar (to say the least) since he reaches this conclusion by way of a philosophical fallacy (in my untrained eyes): Dawkins rightly states, in several places, that the designer of a thing must be at least as complex as the thing itself, if not more, and complexity is inversely proportional to probability. Thus, he extrapolates and says that God – the ultimate Designer of all things – must be so vastly complex that He inversely becomes vastly improbable as a being.

This is where things become intensely philosophical – and it is important to understand this. If, for example, you read through Alvin Plantinga’s in-depth critique of The God delusion, your head will spin – not because of pretentiousness, but because of necessity: Dawkins himself opened Pandora’s box (good for him, of course) by understandably thinking that he could dismantle theism by taking apart every historical argument for the existence of God, including Anselm’s ontological argument (a God that exists in reality is greater than a God who exists only in our imagination; we imagine/understand God as the greatest being of all; thus God cannot exist in our imagination/understanding only, He must exist in reality as well).

So what is Dawkins’ fallacy concerning the improbability of God? Simply put, the whole argument assumes that God would also be part of His creation, where the inverse relationship between complexity and probability applies. But, by definition, God, would transcend His creation, or otherwise He would not be God. Furthermore, there’s the question of whether or not God should be thought of as complex in the Dawkins sense of being composed of multiple parts. In classical theology (e.g. Thomas Aquinas), God has been thought of as simple in that He is immaterial and in that He is without “distinction of thing and property, actuality and potentiality, essence and existence, and the like” (Alvin Plantinga – see link above). In this sense again we can say that a simple, immaterial, spiritual God would not, by definition, fit into the complexity-probability model, even though His creation might.

But what is of particular interest to me is Dawkins’ own declaration that the “God hypothesis” is, by its very nature, an untestable scientific hypothesis (i.e. there is no experiment we can devise and perform to equivocate it), there is no good reason to accept it as true. Now, this might ring like the right tune to our “rational” ears, but I think that it has a central flaw: Since the “God hypothesis” is by nature untestable, it cannot, by nature, be treated as a regular testable hypothesis (according to Karl Popper’s definition). In other words, since God, by definition, must transcend the material world (and thus transcend the realm of Science), what makes anyone think that God should be “discovered” by any scientific means? In fact, if He could be conclusively discovered by a microscope or telescope, then He wouldn’t, by definition, be God – certainly not a God any theist would believe in.

I’m sure this argument won’t dismantle the New Atheism machine, but I hope that it demonstrates two things: First, that one of the central arguments of the New Atheism makes a very mistaken assumption (that God is part of His creation) and second, that the perceived division between Science and Religion seems more artificial than real.

I’ll have to end this “lengthy discourse” here, but I hope that it will stimulate some thinking and discussion. The New Atheists have put forth more arguments than the ones we’ve briefly touched upon here, and hopefully we’ll be able to address more of them in time.

Furthermore, I appreciate that I haven’t even touched upon the arguments from Evolution and how all that fits into the conversation of the New Atheism. This was intentional, mostly because there simply isn’t enough space here. But I do plan to revisit the whole issue and we can look at it in some depth, hopefully in the context of the current Creation-Evolution debate. Here I just aimed to introduce the New Atheism and dissect it a little. We also haven’t looked at the other New Atheists, but I thought that looking at Richard Dawkins would cover some good ground. In the same way, I’m also aware of the fact that we haven’t looked at John Lennox, an Oxford mathematician who has raised some substantial arguments against Atheism’s claims through the Philosophy of Science. All that at a later time.

Finally, I’d also like to recommend Peter S. Williams’ extensive critique on The God Delusion, which you can find here.

For now, I’d like to close with the Bible’s calm, confident, and very unpretentious way of responding to atheism – in my mind, the Bible itself is the ultimate proof that a personal God does exist:

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. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. – Rom. 1:18-23