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Orr Attacks Dawkins

Casey Luskin

A number of scientists, most notably Richard Dawkins, are presently engaging on what is being called a “crusade against religion, not just intelligent design.” Richard Gallagher, editor of The Scientist calls it “thought-provoking and worthwhile.” But not so H. Allen Orr, who attacks Dawkins’ latest book as “an extended polemic against faith.”

Orr calls Dawkins “an enemy of religion” and says he is “is on a mission to convert.” But Orr is apparently not on such a mission, saying “I’m among those scientists who must part company with him.” Orr calls The God Delusion “badly flawed” because it “never squarely faces its opponents.” In short, Orr believes that Dawkins rejects religion too hastily and in too dismissive a fashion, saying, “You will find no serious examination of Christian or Jewish theology in Dawkins’s book.”

But one of Orr’s primary complaints strikes against an issue related to the scientific theory of intelligent design–namely, Dawkins’ extensive reliance upon the “who designed the designer” objection. Orr writes:

First, as others have pointed out, if he is right, the design hypothesis essentially must be wrong and the alternative naturalistic hypothesis essentially must be right. But since when is a scientific hypothesis confirmed by philosophical gymnastics, not data? Second, the fact that we as scientists find a hypothesis question-begging–as when Dawkins asks “who designed the designer?”– cannot, in itself, settle its truth value. It could, after all, be a brute fact of the universe that it derives from some transcendent mind, however question-begging this may seem. What explanations we find satisfying might say more about us than about the explanations. Why, for example, is Dawkins so untroubled by his own (large) assumption that both matter and the laws of nature can be viewed as given? Why isn’t that question-begging?

Orr is correct. The hypothesis that there exists in nature real design is a testable, scientific hypothesis which can be settled by data. Nature may show signs of real design even if we don’t know everything about the designer, such as where the designer originally came from. As far as intelligent design is concerned, in our experience high levels of specified complexity makes for a reliable indicator of intelligent design. Thus when we find high levels of specified complexity (such as in DNA or in the fine-tuning of the laws of the universe to allow for life), we can infer design. Design is testable, it has been tested, and it passes the test.

Orr concludes “I once labeled Dawkins a professional atheist, I’m forced, after reading his new book, to conclude he’s actually more an amateur.” He has a scathing conclusion:

One reason for the lack of extended argument in The God Delusion is clear: Dawkins doesn’t seem very good at it. Indeed he suffers from several problems when attempting to reason philosophically. The most obvious is that he has a preordained set of conclusions at which he’s determined to arrive. Consequently, Dawkins uses any argument, however feeble, that seems to get him there and the merit of various arguments appears judged largely by where they lead.

Casey Luskin

Associate Director, Center for Science and Culture
Casey Luskin is a geologist and an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution. He earned his PhD in Geology from the University of Johannesburg, and BS and MS degrees in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied evolution extensively at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. His law degree is from the University of San Diego, where he focused his studies on First Amendment law, education law, and environmental law.



H. Allen OrrRichard Dawkins