Anglican Samizdat

January 31, 2009

How to get up Richard Dawkins’ nose

Filed under: evolution — David Jenkins @ 5:13 pm

Disagree with him:

Poll reveals public doubts over Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. Belief in creationism is widespread in Britain, Add an Imageaccording to a new survey.

Prof Dawkins expressed dismay at the findings of the ComRes survey, of 2,060 adults, which he claimed were confirmation that much of the population is “pig-ignorant” about science.

“Obviously life, which was Darwin’s own subject, is not the result of chance,” he said.

“Any fool can see that. Natural selection is the very antithesis of chance.

“The error is to think that God is the only alternative to chance, and Darwin surely didn’t think that because he himself discovered the most important non-theistic alternative to chance, namely natural selection.”

It seems that Richard Dawkins thinks that the great unwashed  in the UK are pig-ignorant about science in much the same way as Dawkins is pig-ignorant about theology. Except that Dawkins displays his ignorance with more fanfare and gets paid for it.

As for “Natural selection is the very antithesis of chance”, the antithesis of chance is a plan; which means  Dawkins is claiming that natural selection is somehow planned. He goes to great lengths to ridicule the idea that life was designed and yet can’t bring himself to admit that it occurred through chance; which means it must have been planned and, therefore, designed. And he calls Christians illogical.

He has anthropomorphised natural selection, imbued it with purpose and intent and turned it into a god. A god that he worships.

Very scientific.



  1. Natural Selection is the antithesis of chance in the sense that the appearance of traits in organisms is not fortuitous, random or coincidental. Traits exist in the living populations because they confer, in one way or another, reproductive advantages. The only ‘plan’, purpose or intent here is survival and perpetuation of the species. That doesn’t mean there is a ‘mastermind’ behind all of it. Why do we so desperately need a god, when Natural Selection, which is a lot more parsimonious and elegant as an idea, works so well?

    Comment by annabones — January 31, 2009 @ 8:05 pm

  2. The underlying motivator that allows the trait that favours survival to develop is nevertheless chance.

    For example, if natural selection is alone responsible for life, it would have been entirely possible for life to have never existed on earth; nothing could have started the development of life other than chance. Although natural selection itself is a predictable mechanism, it is one that depends on chance to operate.

    A reproductive advantage can only come about because of change; natural selection does not cause the change, it depends on it and chance causes the change. So life, contrary to what Dawkins says, would be a result of chance.

    One could go a step further and argue that even natural selection itself has to exist either through design – which Dawkins would reject – or through chance, which he also rejects; if the laws of cause and effect exhibited in natural selection were not designed, they must be accidental.

    it is not so much a question of needing a God, more one of whether he is there or not. In my view, allowing that he is, explains more than the reverse.

    Comment by David — January 31, 2009 @ 8:26 pm

  3. Another problem for Dawkins: Recent scientific investigation suggests that natural selection is not the only process driving evolution.

    Comment by Scott Gilbreath — February 1, 2009 @ 7:47 am

  4. But what’s so strange about it being accidental?
    Many important scientific discoveries were made by accident, yet they’ve ben discovered and we use them every day. Imagine all the accidents that haven’t occurred and that would have provided a different course for life.. not everything needs intent behind it – I find that very comforting, but I can see why others wouldn’t.

    Note: I’m not a Dawkins worshiper, and am not defending his particular points of view, just sharing my thoughts.

    Comment by annabones — February 1, 2009 @ 9:01 am

  5. Anna,

    But what’s so strange about it being accidental?

    I do think life arising accidentally is strange, since the odds against it are astronomically large; this, one presumes, is why Dawkins is postulating that natural selection is an alternative to chance. To be consistent, though, someone who believes that natural selection is responsible for life must agree that it is a process that depends on accident. Dawkins tries to make the point that natural selection is an alternative explanation for the existence of life to God or chance but, since natural selection depends on chance, his position is irrational – yet he never tires of trumpeting the claim that he and science are rational and religion irrational.

    I am a Christian, so I believe that there is a design behind the universe; although I may not be a particularly good example of a Christian, I think my view is defendable as entirely rational; much more so than that of Dawkins above.

    Comment by David — February 1, 2009 @ 3:34 pm

  6. [#3],
    Interesting – thanks, Scott.

    Comment by David — February 1, 2009 @ 3:37 pm

  7. 1) mutations in organisms arise by chance, natural selection, the process that acts upon those mutations does not act by chance. i.e. lactose intolerance – the genetic mutation that allows us to drink milk past childhood, arose by chance, it got selected for by natural selection as generations went by because the people carrying those genes reproduced more/were more successful, thereby passing this mutated gene along to future generations. That’s not chance, but that’s not design either.

    2) of course religion isn’t rational – and I’ll stay away from pointing out the obvious – it’s just a question of the line of thought. In Religion, you have to think backwards, you are given ‘truths’, either through scriptures, or stories, and then you have to fit the world around you into those notions – like, first of all, god exists – and if the things you see or hear don’t fit with the idea of god or with everything else that you’ve been told, then they must be wrong and you must reject them. In science you go the other way around, you start with evidence and then you build theories, you test hypotheses, and you get results, never truths, just probable truths/theories. If these theories stand the test of time (i.e. if more and more evidence seems to corroborate the theory – like the theory of gravity, of the earth going around the sun, etc) then they come very close to being facts. If the evidence clearly shows that an idea that has been held as a probable truth, even for hundreds of years, is wrong, then it’s wrong and we move on to building new hypotheses and testing them. This is what is called being rational. If one day the evidence points out that there is a God, through a rational and scientific thought process, then I’ll gladly surrender to it. You on the other hand, as a religious person, can never accept that the evidence pointing to there being no god, as that is your starting point in the first place.

    Comment by annabones — February 1, 2009 @ 9:08 pm

  8. Point 1: We appear to agree that natural selection depends upon chance to produce change; if we do, then you would also have to agree that, without God, life must have originated by chance, since natural selection had nothing to operate on. Natural selection did not create life. From a scientific perspective, the possibility of life developing by chance is infinitesimally small; this makes design a more plausible explanation.
    On natural selection itself, when you say That’s not chance, but that’s not design either, I don’t think it is a linguistic contrivance to claim that it has to be one or the other: I can agree that it is effectively a program sequence, but if there is no programmer, it is an accidental construct. If the program is accidental so are the results it produces.

    Point 2: Both science and religion argue from unprovable starting points. Science begins with a number of axiomatic assumptions, among others:

    There are objective scientific laws governing the universe that can be perceived and understood by man.

    Scientific observation is reliable.

    Induction is reliable; something unproved and beyond science insofar as science depends on it.

    The human mind itself is reliable; if thinking and reason are simply electro-chemical phenomena, reliance on them is necessarily axiomatic.

    Religion also starts with axioms – or revealed truth. The major one is that God exists. With that as a starting point, all of the above in point 2 become logical results of his design; without him you have to make a number of leaps of faith before science can even sensibly begin.

    Comment by David — February 1, 2009 @ 10:08 pm

  9. David said “since the odds against it are astronomically small” Did he really mean that the odds against it are astronomically large?

    Comment by Ron Holmes — February 2, 2009 @ 11:32 am

  10. Ron [#9],

    That didn’t make much sense, did it; you’re right, I meant “astronomically large” – I’ve changed it…. thanks for pointing that out.

    I shouldn’t use so many “infinitesimals” and “astronomicals” together.

    Comment by David — February 2, 2009 @ 11:45 am

  11. The probability of giving birth to quintuplets is one in 55 million, and of having octuplets much much higher, yet a lady gave birth to octuplets last week. And I don’t think she ‘intended’ or planned for that to happen.
    The odds of rolling 5 Yahtzees in a row is also very improbabl, but I rolled them last night. I also didn’t sprinkle any magic dust on my dice to make it happen.
    The odds of all the conditions to be united in order for life to evolve are n’th times as high, yet here we are.
    Probabilities are just probabilities, they don’t eliminate the fact that P-1 does occur.

    If some people are more comfortable ‘knowing’ that there is a magical hand and a greater purpose behind all of this, then that’s that.
    From an anthropological and evolutionary point of view, it makes perfect sense why humans would have the need for ‘faith’ and superstitious beliefs – groups that have religious systems are generally more likely to cooperate and strive than groups that don’t. It’s well accepted that religion is an evolved behaviour, there’s a whole line of study dedicated to this.

    On the other hand, from a psychological point of view, it’s a very appeasing idea, the thought of our lives mattering to a greater being, especially in the face of our own mortality. My father has recently started to surround himself with religious objects, I suppose when I grow older I will find the need to do so as well. Too bad for me I will do so with full knowledge that these behaviours are all a product of many millions of years of natural selection acting on my brain…

    Comment by annabones — February 2, 2009 @ 1:26 pm

  12. Anna,

    The octuplets were, as I imagine you know, the result of artificially implanting 8 embryos, not chance. The other probabilities you mention are simply not in the same league as those required to accidentally produce life.

    The astronomer Fred Hoyle in the 70s calculated the probability of the spontaneous generation of the proteins in a cell as one in ten to the 40 thousandth power against. He did not calculate the chance formation of the DNA, RNA, nor the cell wall that holds the contents of the cell together.

    Evolutionist H.P. Yockey calculated the chance appearance of a molecule involved in cellular respiration and wrote, “With regard to the appearance of a single molecule of the cytochrome c family, even the deus ex machina needs 10 to the power 36 chances with just the right conditions and 1 billion years.

    Harold Morowitz, distinguished Yale biophysicist and former master of Pierson College, wrote in his book, Energy Flow in Biology, that the evolution of the theoretically simplest cell, requiring no less than about 124 proteins, would be an incredible probability of 1:10 to the 340,000,000 power. This is not probability. This is a calculation of improbability, or better yet, impossibility.

    The odds of life being accidental are so low as to make the idea preposterous. Even Dawkins, in a moment of desperation, conceded that life appeared to be designed – in his view, by visiting aliens.

    I certainly don’t subscribe to the idea that one should believe in God’s existence because it is comforting; the only reason that is needed, or sufficient, is that it is true. And, as I attempted to show above, accepting the existence of God is one act of reasonable faith entirely consistent with the clear evidence of design; adhering to science without a belief in God requires many more acts of faith, none of them provable or scientific.

    Comment by David — February 2, 2009 @ 2:14 pm

  13. Anna, one thing i noticed is that you say there is no scientific evidence for the existence of God. What I would encourage you to do is go to google or another search engine and find books like The Case for Christ by a man named Lee Strobel who have provided the contrary idea. He also was an atheist who started this book in an attempt to disprove Christianity but it became the book it is today when he was confronted with the evidence and could not deny the existence of God any longer. So all i have to say is that there is lots of scientific evidence for God.

    Comment by Geoffrey — February 3, 2009 @ 5:25 pm

  14. […] headline was picked up and promoted by some other anti-evolution blogs (e.g. Popularity Poll; How to get up Richard Dawkins’ nose; Survey suggests a third of the UK population believes a god created the earth within the last […]

    Pingback by 78% of Britons support Darwin? « Open Parachute — February 4, 2009 @ 7:00 am

  15. “But what’s so strange about it being accidental?”

    Everything we know and think about is simply because we have a complex enough brain to think about it with. Being an accident makes no difference to me. I am here and that’s all I know. Some people find it offensive to be considered an accident, but I think they just get caught up in the rhetoric of the word “accident”. Something that implies inferiority, dumbness, a train wreck, not meant to happen etc. I see accident in a different way. The universe is basically a giant lottery, and some mix of ingredients somewhere is bound to win (ingredients and conditions for what we call life perhaps). WE won, because we are all here to think about it and discuss it. We think nothing of it though really. All those other lotto losers, aren’t even losers. (planets that didn’t have the right settings for life etcc) They never even existed, so those things had nothing to lose in the first place. The only losers are really imo, places that had life going (if life is the difining feature of winning,,ptttt) and had it swiped away by changing conditions. Maybe mars once had robust life on it and it lost. Earth will loose too I suppose. MEh, whatever. A robed magician has likely nothing to do with this universe. I have faith there is no designer.

    Comment by zom — January 27, 2010 @ 6:37 pm

  16. zom,
    I have faith there is no designer.

    I’m glad you recognise that your belief that there is no Designer is an act of faith.

    From my perspective, I have faith that there is a Designer and my faith is reinforced by the fact that a Designer seems to me to be the best explanation for – among other things – the order of the natural universe.

    Comment by David — January 27, 2010 @ 8:30 pm

  17. . . . but I think they just get caught up in the rhetoric of the word “accident”.

    Just like you get caught up in the rhetoric of “win” and “lose”; words that should have no meaning to you if you were in the least bit consistent. Isn’t it frustrating how you’re trapped into using the language associated with philosophies you supposedly reject? I bet you look both ways when you cross the street.

    Oh, and I have an axe to grind with you (and about 80% of the rest of the population): LOOSE DOESN’T MEAN THE SAME THING AS LOSE!!! Sheesh!! (rant off)

    Comment by Warren — January 28, 2010 @ 1:57 am

  18. After loosing that tirade I thought you might be losing your composure.

    Yes, it is high on the list of Internet Irritants.

    Comment by David — January 28, 2010 @ 9:04 am

  19. Warren,
    Of course I would never do it, but when it becomes generally known that something really bugs someone, it miraculously happens more frequently.

    Comment by Jim Muirhead — January 28, 2010 @ 12:47 pm

  20. Ain’t that the truth.

    Comment by Warren — January 28, 2010 @ 2:23 pm

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