Dawkins’ Illusion: A Refutation of “The God Delusion”


More than a decade has passed since the release of the infamous The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. To call it influential would be an understatement, as the book sold more than three million copies in eight years and a number of different authors, including Alvin Plantinga, Michael Ruse, Richard Swinburne, William Lane Craig et al have exhaustively reviewed it. Despite such reviews, the question of where this work fits in theological and philosophical arguments on the existence of God, which questions it answers and which it leaves unanswered, remains under-explored.

I will first lay out Dawkins’ central argument denying the existence of God, then explain some parameters put forth for defining God, and finally, offer some refutations for Dawkins’ arguments in a manner that opens up philosophical debate to theological contentions. Dawkins’ book does not represent a triumph of the atheist intellectual capacity, but rather a failure of religious institutions of that time to reach out to their respective audiences and engage in effective dialogue.

The New Atheists and Modern Philosophy’s ‘God’ Conundrum

The New Atheist movement rose in popularity after 9/11, riding the waves of anti-religious sentiment. Four writers, popularly referred to as ‘The Four Horsemen’ of the Atheist community,  form the core of their thought: Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, and Richard Dawkins.

Philosophical theologian, David Bentley Hart, best describes their works as,

rhetorical victories against childish caricatures. [2]

These caricatures are the result of a cultural deprivation that began with the removal of philosophical discourse from modern education. Alasdair Maclntyre presents a thesis in his book on moral philosophy, After Virtuewhere he asks the reader to picture a scenario that is evidently applicable to the contemporary understanding of religion and God. Maclntyre proposes a world where, due to a crippling global disaster catalyzed by unchecked scientific advancement, the population rebels against all scientific knowledge and destroys any books or resources related to the subject. Later, when people realize they had made a mistake, they begin to collect remnants of this knowledge in the form of isolated pages and equations. The issue, however, is these are all de-contextualized: their meaning no longer apparent and the knowledge almost unusable. Our understanding of God and religion has similarly become fragmented and unintelligible, resulting in the strawman caricatures used to attack God by the New Atheist movement.

Dawkins’ Central Argument

Dawkins posits what he finds to be the greatest argument against the existence of God, which proceeds along the following basic line of thought:

  1. One of the greatest challenges to the human intellect has been to explain how the complex, improbable appearance of design in the universe arises.
  2. The natural temptation is to attribute the appearance of design to actual design itself.
  3. The temptation is a false one because the designer hypothesis immediately raises the larger problem of who designed the designer.
  4. The most ingenious and powerful explanation is Darwinian evolution by natural selection.
  5. We don’t have an equivalent theory like natural selection for physics, one that gives a plausible or intuitive explanation for how the universe came to be.
  6. We should not give up the hope for a better theory for physics. Indeed, such a theory must almost certainly exist.
  7. Therefore, God almost certainly does not exist. [3]

Dawkins correctly understands the explanatory power that evolutionary theory carries; indeed, it is the unifying principle under which much of biology makes sense. For years, evolutionary theory has been branded as the demystifying force that brought humanity out of the ignorance of spontaneous creation: the idea that God suddenly created all life forms on earth. For Dawkins, evolutionary theory represents the power of scientific theories to explain gaps in understanding that he claims eliminate the need for God. Dawkins thus believes that, one day, physics will also find its Darwin and advancements in physics will eventually fill in the gaps preventing us from knowing with absolute certainty that God does not exist.

One cannot help but lament Dawkins’ trivial understanding of God and the nature of reality. What Dawkins is unable (or perhaps unwilling) to account for – as David Bentley Hart suggests – is the idea that the universe is a totally self-sufficient entity, capable of sustaining itself, is not something that can be verified deductively or empirically [2]. In other words, the question of whether the universe is an independent entity is itself dependent upon the nature of the extra-universal environment, a setting that is surely out of the reach of scientific inquiry. For example, one would not be able to determine when standing on the inside of a wire, if the electric current within the wire is self-produced by the system itself or if it is supplied by an outside source of electricity. Similarly, Dawkins hopes for a grand cosmological explanation without understanding that the very question of existence and sustenance is outside the scope of science.

Biological evolution is an understanding of life from within the universe. However, the coming into existence of the universe itself is a completely different question that requires a different set of tools to approach an answer. Dawkins’ strongest argument, then, becomes an incorrigible set of fantastic obfuscation. Even his faith in the evolutionary process is misguided, as he admits that modern evolutionary theory does not seek to explain the beginning of life [1].

God is not Zeus!

Having established reasonable doubt regarding Dawkins’ understanding about the universe, let us now explore the “god” that Dawkins seeks to refute. All great theistic traditions make a qualitative difference between the supreme transcendent being that sustains all of life and the contingent demiurge that exists within the universe. Even polytheistic traditions like Hinduism make this distinction between the eternal Godhead and the various avatars that exist in the world. Strangely, Dawkins doesn’t define God properly in his book, but hastily assumes a being that substitutes for scientific explanation.

The New Atheists, or caricature atheists, seek to refute god: a temporal, contingent being, who exists within time and space. These demiurge figures often represented in myths are powerful, splendid, and magnificent, but they are not self-sufficient entities and certainly not the “God” that all great theistic traditions describe. The bearded craftsman in the sky, replacing the laws of nature, and filling gaps of understanding essentially underlines this “god.” The concept of a demiurge is the focal point of the New Atheist critique. This galactic builder is responsible for constructing the world and then in splendid fashion, leaving his magnum opus for human spectating. This is why even intelligent people like Stephen Hawking made the categorical error of mistaking scientific explanation as an alternative for God.

God is the eternal Supreme Being, who is omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent, without beginning, without end, the one who has ever-lasting existence. All things receive their being from Him. All things are dependent upon Him and have no self-sufficiency except through Him, who is the eternal foundation upon which all things continue to exist. These positions are all generally agreed upon by almost all theistic traditions [2].

It would then be incorrect to reject the concept of “God” based on empirical investigation. God cannot be empirically verified, for if He were, He would be contingent and finite like the world. However, God is not contingent; he is the necessary being that actualizes existence and keeps it sustained. The search for God can then only be deduced via inductive, deductive means, and through spiritual experiences like revelations. Comparing this necessary metaphysical being to cartoons such as Zeus is a lamentable academic conclusion.

Hawking discards God, claiming the law of gravity explains the universe’s coming into existence. However, this way of thinking treats God as a prior cause in a temporal chain, whereas God is a reality, not a temporality, and is necessary for the emergence of all possible worlds and their related events [2].

Dawkins and the New Atheists construct and then deconstruct their own creation: a lesser, limited, and mangled god wholly removed from the theistic understanding of an omnipotent, transcendent God outside of the universe and above empirical measurement.

Dawkins’ vague presentation of his arguments against God’s existence is striking. His first target is a criticism of Aquinas’ five proofs. While I won’t tackle each of his criticisms comprehensively, I’ll make enough comments for the reader to understand the large amounts of subtleties that Dawkins ignores. Aquinas’ five proofs are as follows: 

  1. The Unmoved Mover. Nothing moves without a prior mover. This leads us to a regress, from which the only escape is God. Something had to make the first move and that something we call God.
  2. The Uncaused Cause. Nothing is caused by itself. Every effect has a prior cause, and again we are pushed back into regress. This has to be terminated by a first cause, which we call God.
  3. The Cosmological Argument. There must have been a time when no physical things existed. However, since physical things exist now, there must have been something non-physical to bring them into existence, and that something we call God.
  4. The Argument from Degree. We notice that things in the world differ. There are degrees of, say, goodness or perfection. However, we judge these degrees only by comparison with a maximum.
  5. The Teleological Argument or Argument from Design. Things in the world, especially living things, look as though they have been designed. Nothing that we know looks designed unless it is designed. Therefore there must have been a designer, and we call him God.

Dawkins dismisses the first three of these proofs simply because they all seek to answer the problem of an infinite regress by proposing God as the solution to terminate it. Dawkins suggests that while many things such as elements have their natural ends as atoms with a certain number of protons and electrons, God is not needed at any stage in the process.

In doing so, Dawkins, again, presents erroneous refutations to misinterpreted arguments. He does not understand that proofs (2) and (3) are not the same, making his claim that they all lead to a termination of infinite regress insufficient. There are two common arguments put forth for the emergence of the cosmos: the first being the oft-cited Kalam cosmological argument and the second known as the Leibniz cosmological argument. The first requires an end to an infinite regress, hence a first cause. The second, however, doesn’t necessarily require a first cause, but instead argues that there must be an explanation for a particular state of affairs. Even if the universe was infinitely old, or part of an infinite regress, it doesn’t explain how why there is a chain in the first place. This principle is known as the Principle of Sufficient Reason, and while it could be contested, it nonetheless is defendable.

Dawkins strangely asserts the Cosmological argument is untrue without addressing its premises in a coherent way. It is beyond the scope of this review to show why either the Kalam or Leibniz Cosmological argument is valid and defendable, but a cursory view of the literature on the subject affirms that the matter is not nearly as simple as Dawkins would have us believe [4] [5] [6].

Thomist philosopher, Edward Feser, has best criticised Dawkins’ objections, affirming that Dawkins does not understand Aristotelian metaphysics. Feser argues that although all three proofs eventually lead to God, they begin in different ways. If you look at the first proof (1), it mentions motion, another way of describing change. What Aquinas is describing is the actualization of potentiality, meaning if something is logically possible, i.e. has the potential, then what actualizes it, or makes that potententiality real, or come into being, is God.

The second begins with the idea of efficient cause. This would be something external/other to the thing being changed: namely, something that interacts as an agent (reason) with the thing to be changed: a primary source for the change. For example, an engineer could be the efficient cause for the development of a car.

The third proof argues from the idea of contingency. Something is contingent if in theory it can fail to exist. You and I are both contingent, as we can fail to exist. This is in stark contrast to necessary truths or beings. A necessary truth, for example, is that one plus one equals two or the statement that a part cannot be bigger than a whole.

Dawkins then attempts to address Aquinas’s fourth and fifth proofs. I will refrain from commenting in too much detail regarding Aquinas’s fourth proof. What I am more interested in however, is the teleological argument (fifth proof), more commonly known as the design argument. For Aquinas, the design argument does not rest on biological complexity, but on things far more rudimentary. The fact that there exist regularities, such as the laws of nature and causes that precede effects, is sufficient evidence for his fifth proof.

Dawkins’ arguments against the existence of God are caricatures and void of any meaning or legitimate research. He resorts to refuting the “argument from religious scientists,” an argument not used by any serious theist, and Dawkins is guilty for utilizing the very same thing for atheism, affirming his weak understanding of religious philosophy and theology.

Promulgating Islamic Arguments in Debates on God

There is exhaustive literature on many of the arguments presented here, including those specifically targeted at Dawkins’ book, but few analyse the sociocultural changes that brought us here. 9/11 galvanized an emotional reaction from people and gave impetus to the New Atheist movement to contextualize their point in light of these events. Religion was the scapegoat for society’s problems and purportedly, an easy escape from humanity’s chaos and disorder: a barrier to human progress. The true source of this ignorance, however, is more sinister and dangerous: cultural deprivation.

As a teacher, I interact with my students on a regular basis regarding questions of God and atheism. The responses I receive from them are often inadequate. Most of them focus on mythology, presenting religion as collection of imaginary stories that are relegated to nothing more than building blocks in our historical tradition. Few can coherently formulate an argument for or against God. Philosophical thinking and rigour have become depraved and absent in early education.

Muslims must revisit our extensive scholarly corpus. The recent rise of apostasy is not fueled by worthy arguments, as most of today’s atheists are nothing compared to atheist thinkers across the millennia. The Islamic tradition has always held the necessary tools to deal with such questions. Basic texts in Aqeedah (Islamic creed) address the question of what God is, far from the caricature Dawkins seems to attack.

6. Thus, it is necessary that our lord have (1) existence, (2) Pre-existence, then (3) everlastingness extended (to infinity).

7. (4) Dissimilarity from His creation; then (5) self-sufficiency And (6) absolute oneness: [There is] no toil [in what God does]

8. (7) Power, (8) will, furthermore (9) life And (10) knowledge. Proof [of these attributes] is the creation of existent things. [8]

The poem, “The Creed of Deliverance,” by Muhammad Ibn Ja’far Al-Kattani above is an aqeedah text is taught at the elementary level to children in Morocco and Mauritania. A cursory view shows how the concept of God portrayed in these verses aligns with the concept of God I discussed above. Though there are volumes of work dealing with God’s existence, written by Imam Fakhrudin Razi, Ibn Sina, Imam Al-Ghazali, Shaykh Ibn Taymiyya, etc. what is missing is the ability to convey and relate these in the modern context.

People like Dawkins have gained popularity because Muslims haven’t fully explored their own conceptions of bridging theology with other fields. We are in a desperate need for an Islamic philosophy of science, psychology, sociology, the nature of cause, etc. Future articles on Traversing Tradition will explore the concept of bridging science and theology, specifically focusing on God and causality and highlighting how thinkers like Ali Sedad Bey have already contributed significantly to fields such as physics and theology from the Islamic perspective [9].

Key Terms:

  1. Causal principle: Every event has a cause.
  2. Principle of sufficient reason: For every fact F, there must be a sufficient reason why F is the case.
  3. Teleological argument: Also known as design arguments, suggest that certain features of life, or/and our universe are so complex that they must point towards an intelligent designer/cause.

Works Cited:

  1. Dawkins, R., 2016. The God Delusion. Random House. (page 77)
  2. Hart, D.B., 2013. The Experience of God: Being, consciousness, bliss. Yale University Press.
  3. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OVEuQg_Mglw
  4. Hawking, S., 2011. The Grand Design. Random House Digital, Inc.
  5. http://alexanderpruss.com/papers/NewCosmo.html
  6. Necessary Existence.Alexander R. Pruss and Joshua L. Rasmussen 2018
  7. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/cosmological-argument/
  8. http://qadriyya.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/Dr.-UFA-Aqidah-Course.pdf
  9. Occasionalism Revisited: New Essays from the Islamic and Western Philosophical Traditions Nazif Muhtaroglu. 2017.

About the Author: Anas Malik is a biochemistry graduate currently pursuing his Master’s in Neuroscience. He also studies Maliki jurisprudence and Arabic part time. His interests include science, religion, and the philosophy of mind.

Disclaimer: Material published by Traversing Tradition is meant to foster scholarly inquiry and rich discussion. The views, opinions, beliefs, or strategies represented in published articles and subsequent comments do not necessarily represent the views of Traversing Tradition or any employee thereof.

11 thoughts on “Dawkins’ Illusion: A Refutation of “The God Delusion”

  1. Thank you for this thoughtful piece. Atheism falls victim to its own central arguments. Basically, that God (and religion) is a man-made construct that should be rejected and replaced with science. What I’ve noticed though is that when science becomes your God it’s theories become your religion. Dawkins claims that if Darwinism were proved wrong it’s adherents would immediately accept this new reality. Does anyone believe the religion of Atheism would do so? Atheism offers an intellectual escape from the reality of the human condition, our true place of subservience to a creator and the consequences of that relationship.

  2. As a Christian I agree with much of the article and how it is presented however it neglects to mention some of the most damning evidence against a non-personal God. Many of the same questions that atheists are at a loss to explain are the same ones they present as augments against a personal God. I would wager that the “Big Bang Theory”, as it postulates a single beginning, poses more problems for an atheist than a theist world view. No longer can they claim that this universe has no start. As above either they claim the universe started from nothing and was its own cause or they postulate that it was caused by something we have not observed. Both these concepts would require a measure of “blind faith” as they have little evidence for them. I say “little evidence” as by discerning what is in the universe we can still extrapolate the nature of what causes or maintains the universes existence. The universe in addition to having matter and substance in it also has life in it. It has people in it that are intelligent enough to be capable of questioning their own existence. What does these attributes of the universe tell us about the probable attributes of the uncaused cause that has created (or is creating) the universe? Although an atheist could claim that more complex beings “could” have come from more simple building blocks what governs those simple building blocks? What is it in the right mixture of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen and trace elements that produces something that can look at the stars and wonder their place in the universe? What is it that ensures that 1 + 1 = 2? I don’t think that anyone should be able to claim that there are unseen universes that are completely illogical should then be able to label themselves “rationalist” (usually this is done with a huge helping of the Pauli exclusion principle)

  3. MashaAllah, very good points made.

    I don’t understand though, why you defend Aquinis’ arguments; by themselves they are incomplete and paint an inaccurate picture of God. The ultimate power reached by his arguments need not be living, intelligent, or one based on the arguements alone. Furthermore, taking the “chain” approach found in the first 3 suggests that God is far removed from what happens now and make the universe seem to have some self sufficiency after God’s initial action.

    Indeed there is no need to view the universe as a chain. At every moment, the universe is composed of some particles and energy in some orientation; they are completely impotent when it comes to action because they have no innate ability to change themselves or each other. Where would such ability come from if they are truly fundamental? Thus, at every instance God has complete power over the universe as each moment must move to the next marked by change and Something other than the universe must change it. The change “It” causes must have will behind it and the will must thus be inspired by intelligence. The reason this otherness needs no explanation about its existence is because it is, but definition, other than this universe and thus any questions coming from our limited observation of the universe is limited in its scope to understand the changer. The changer must be one because the equally powerful changers allows the ability to conflicting decisions about how to change, which has no logical resolution.

    This isn’t complete obviously but doubt anyone reads this far anyway. Those who say that theists never bear the burden of proving God’s existence are too lazy to read Ghazali and other sources you listed; of course they’re not going to be satisfied if they only look at pop-articles and such.

  4. “God is the eternal Supreme Being, who is omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent, without beginning, without end, the one who has ever-lasting existence. All things receive their being from Him. All things are dependent upon Him and have no self-sufficiency except through Him, who is the eternal foundation upon which all things continue to exist. These positions are all generally agreed upon by almost all theistic traditions [2].” How can any homosapien possibly know this? Oh, and this being has a gender?! How convenient that men find themselves the superior and women denigrated. Popularity does not support facts or truth. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, of which there is none, and the classic righteous dismissive is to say belief does not require any. Believers always carry a sense of haughty belligerence to having to prove anything. This is supreme magical thinking and the love of man made supernatural natural dictatorship extraordinaire. Why would any reasonable human want to believe it? Let me equal your condescension to state that you would find yourself “over your head” in a debate re: does a god exist with Christopher Hitchens.

    1. Lol quoting a fraud like Christopher Hitchens. No wonder u don’t understand what is going on. The article points out correctly that atheists now days have 0 understanding of a theistic god. It literally says the article it is a concept beyond the physical world

  5. I read The God Delusion about about 4 years ago and came to the EXACT SAME CONCLUSION — the God he argues against is not aligned with any form of classical theology. He basically argues against a “big man in space”.

    He has an argument he calls the “Undefeatable argument”, where he basically said that God was type of complex being whose formation would be too improbable. Even if I was an atheist, I would be embarrassed. Muslims (and btw, Hindus, non-Protestant Christians, Jews, etc) have argued from day 1 that God is not composed of parts and wasn’t some natural phenomena.

    Its just stupid. And we should use the word ‘stupid’.

  6. Masha Allah beautifully constructed and layed down ideas. I can see that a lot of thought and effort has gone into this.
    Jazakumullahu khair.

  7. This is an interesting article and I think the crux of the argument is summarized with this quote:

    “Dawkins and the New Atheists construct and then deconstruct their own creation: a lesser, limited, and mangled god wholly removed from the theistic understanding of an omnipotent, transcendent God outside of the universe and above empirical measurement.”

    But this is not what we find in Islam. What we find in Islam is Muhammad’s personal god. A god that intervenes willy nilly to tell Muhammad’s wives off and threaten to replace them for being naughty and not accepting the sad situation they were in. A god that actually comes and tells his dinner guests that Muhammad was getting annoyed and they should leave right after dinner.

    A god that pretty much seems to be following the arbitrary cultural norms of Ancient Arabia such as “Do not marry your foster sisters.”

    A god that confirms superstitious nonsense like magic is real, that evil eye is a thing you need to protect yourself from.

    A god that repeats ancient fables such as Gog & Magog being trapped behind a great dam that nobody seems to have found, and Dhul Qarnayn going to the place of sunset and sunrise (which is impossible).

    The god that this article describes seems more like the god of deism, a powerful non-personal being that is responsible for the creation of the universe.

    Sorry, but that is not the Islamic god Allah.

    1. Hi Abdullah,

      Thank you for taking the time out to share your thoughts. We always appreciate feedback here on Traversing Tradition.

      I’m afraid I don’t see the contradiction in what you’re claiming? The theistic conception of God as a transcendent, immaterial, necessary being, is very much similar in almost all religions. It is on further theological issues that we have disagreement.

      The idea of a personal God doesn’t seem to contradict the notion of being personal at all. One can perfectly be of all the qualities I have described and be personal with His creation? What you’ve seem to have done is conflated two very separate issues.

      The first has to do with what qualities are absolute necessary for God. If these aren’t fulfilled, we aren’t talking about “God” but something else. The second issue – which you’re alluding to – is the idea of particular actions being compatible with these qualities. As far as I’m concerned, none of the things you’ve described logically contradicts the idea of a transcendent being.

      Effectively, God can choose to whatever He wishes, what would be an actual “logical” contradiction is something like God becoming human and then being simultaneously temporal and non-temporal, or to put in the words of Kierkegaard, absurd. You would effectively have to show that everything you’ve mentioned logically contradicts with a theistic/personal God.

      I must stress once more that the basic conception of “God”, is still fundamentally the same in most major theistic religions. You can think of this concept as a hierarchal pyramid, with the base representing the absolute necessary qualities for a being to be God, of course with more specificity we will begin to differentiate between say Christian, and Muslim perspectives, and even others, but the fundamentals remain the same.

      What I’ve noticed in your response is a lot of emphasis on moral decision making by God. You seem to object that certain notions can not be from God as they seem absurd to you. That was not the intention of this article, nor was it to prove that Islam is true, but rather that what “God” actually is has not really been refuted by new atheists by the likes of Dawkins.

      Your point about all of this being compatible with the God of “Deism” is worth noting. I think it’s somewhat plausible, however I’d argue theism is much stronger, although that’s the topic for a much longer discussion.

      Lastly just a few points on what you’ve said like, “A god that confirms superstitious nonsense like magic is real, that evil eye is a thing you need to protect yourself from.” This automatically assumes a naturalistic conception of the universe where no other reality can exist, so there’s not much point addressing it if the worldview doesn’t match in the first place.

      Needless to say with the comments on Gog and Magog, and other things you’ve mentioned, I believe we’ve strayed away from the main theme of the article. But hopefully in future posts we can discuss your queries and complaints in more exhaustive detail.



    2. Sameer, you didn’t have a single argument in that rant.

      You basically threw a list “why X and not Y? Therefore, that is not the Islamic god Allah”. But you failed to present even a weak inductive reason to your arbitrary conclusion.

      Here, let me generalize it. If I said, “Why is the universe 13.8 billion years old and not 12.8 billion years old? Seems arbitrary. Therefore, monkeys used to fly.”

      As for Deism vs a God with attributes, this is perhaps the single most discussed topic in Islamic theology. Short answer, no he’s not describing a Deistic God.

      The author basically echoed what people before him have echoed – that Dawkins has no idea what he’s talking about.

  8. Ali bhai, while God may or may not be empirically verifiable, his impact on the world should be. Even if Dawkins may have been unable to disprove the existence, religion or any implicit evidence has not been able to prove the existence. The burden is still there.

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