Richard Dawkins, based at Oxford University, officially operates under the title of Charles Simonyi Reader and Professor of the Public Understanding of Science. Unofficially, he may be the best-known atheist in the world, partly as the result of his best-selling book The God Delusion, published in 2006. With these credentials, we should expect Dawkins to answer the title of this article with a resounding yes, and he does not disappoint us. In a 1999 BBC Television programme Soul of Britain, he stepped up to the plate and let fly with his trademark panache: “I think science really has fulfilled the need that religion did in the past, of explaining things; why we are here, what is the origin of life, where did the world come from, what life is all about…science has the answers.”
If Dawkins is right, religion is an outdated indulgence and God an irrelevant myth. But is he right?
The simplest way to answer that question is to test each of his four claims to see whether they can be substantiated.
Science explains why we are here.
In context, the word why can have one of two meanings: either “How did we get here?” or “What is our purpose in being here?” As the final claim touches on the second of these, let us look at the first — and Dawkins has no doubt as to the answer: “It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is stupid, ignorant, or insane (or wicked, but I’d rather not consider that).” Having dispatched all opposition with a single sentence, he then endorses the idea that Homo sapiens is the state-of-the-art product of a vast sequence of tightly related species and kinds, beginning with the first living cell and moving on through invertebrates, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, furry quadrupeds, and ape-like mammals.
All atheists are evolutionists, and this is the default setting for the model they promote. If they are right, we should expect to find our planet teeming with fossils of intermediate life forms — but they are simply not there. Writing about such evolutionary links, Colin Patterson, senior palaeontologist at the British Museum of Natural History says, “I will lay it on the line. There is not one such fossil for which one might make a watertight argument.” On the other hand, if God created fully formed and separate kinds, we should expect to find the remains of countless fully formed specimens, all without any apparent ancestors — and that is exactly what we do find.
In the early chapters of Genesis the creation narrative comes to a climax with the words: “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27), a statement that resonates with all we know about our unique and astonishing properties. If the full text of Encyclopædia Britannica had arrived on earth from outer space it would be regarded as unchallenged proof of extra-terrestrial intelligence. As human DNA houses vastly more organized information than the Encyclopædia Britannica, it points powerfully to the truth of Nobel laureate Arthur Compton’s conviction that “a supreme intelligence brought the universe into being and created man.”
Science explains the origin of life.
In what he calls the central argument of The God Delusion, Dawkins claims that while so many things give an appearance of having been designed, the impression is a false one, because it raises an unanswerable question: Who designed the designer? Two things need to be said in response. First, where is the scientific proof that the appearance of design is deceiving us? There is none — and to deny design before discussing the issue is on a par with declaring that miracles are impossible before finding out whether any have taken place. This illogical approach might be expected from someone at grade school, but hardly from an Oxford don. Second, can science prove that the designer must have been designed, in other words, that the ultimate Creator must have been created? Is there any branch of science that can definitively rule out any possibility of there being a supernatural, uncreated person?
As Ludwig Wittgenstein, the leading analytical philosopher of the twentieth century, said in his monumental Tractatus: “The solution of the riddle of life in space and time lies outside space and time.” This synchronizes precisely with the Bible’s teaching about God being “from everlasting to everlasting” (Ps. 106:48) and its unanimous testimony that this transcendent and eternal Creator “gives life to all things” (1 Tim. 6:13).
Science explains where the world came from.
The origin of the universe has fascinated people ever since they first begin thinking about the subject, and scientists have come up with an endless raft of theories. Yet science can never go any further back than the moment at which the laws on which it leans began to operate. As Edgar Andrews, emeritus professor of materials at the University of London, notes, “Science, even at its most speculative, must stop short of offering any explanation or even description of the actual event of origin.”
This seems pretty obvious, yet there are atheists who try to evade the issue with a flurry of phrases. Peter Atkins, an atheist professor of chemistry at Oxford, claims that the entire universe is “an elaborate and engaging rearrangement of nothing” in which “space-time generates its own dust in the process of its own self-assembly.” Those who hold to this idea, more formally known as the quantum fluctuation hypothesis, were neatly upended in New Scientist: “First there was nothing, then there is something…and before you know it they have pulled a hundred billion galaxies out of their quantum hats.” In A Brief History of Time, the renowned theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, with no religious axe to grind, has a much more reasonable approach. Commenting on the odds against the universe’s incredibly complex and perfectly balanced array of fundamental factors coming into existence by chance, he wrote: “It would be very difficult to explain why the universe should have begun in just this way except as the act of a God who intended to create beings like us.”
Richard Dawkins not only dismisses the biblical account out of hand, but ranks it with the Hindu myth about the world being created in a cosmic butter-churn and the West African notion that the world was created from the excrement of ants, but this hardly qualifies as serious thinking. C.S. Lewis came to a very different conclusion: “No philosophical theory which I have yet come across is a radical improvement on the words of Genesis, that ‘In the beginning God made heaven and earth.’” Claiming that science rules this out is ignorance masquerading as intelligence.
Science explains what life is all about.
It is curious that Dawkins should make such a claim, as he denies that human life has any purpose, describing such an idea as “a nearly universal delusion.” In a 1995 issue of London’s Observer newspaper, he dismissed a question about the purpose of life by saying, “Well there is no purpose, and to ask what it is is a silly question. It has the same status as, ‘What is the color of jealousy?’”
Elsewhere he claims that life is “just bytes and bytes of digital information” and that human beings are “survival machines — robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes, but this is hopelessly inadequate. It offers no explanation of the fact that as humans we are self-conscious, thinking beings, with an insatiable desire to evaluate data, develop ideas, exercise imagination, and make decisions. Nor does it explain our unique sense of dignity, our aesthetic tastes, our ability to compose and enjoy art, music, and literature, our moral dimension, and our spiritual longings. As the distinguished modern thinker Francis Schaeffer pointed out: “No one has presented an idea, let alone demonstrated it to be feasible, to explain how the impersonal beginning, plus time, plus chance, can give personality.”
Sir John Eccles, a Nobel Prize-winning pioneer in brain research, presses the point home: “Science cannot explain the existence of each of us as a unique self.” Even Steve Jones, a passionate atheist and professor of genetics at University College, London, frankly admits, “Science cannot answer the question: ‘Why are we here?’” The Bible can — and does so in the words of those who cry to God, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God…for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created” (Rev. 4:11).
Science is the ongoing search for truth in the natural world, and we rightly rejoice at the countless benefits that science and technology have brought into our lives. To go beyond that and claim that science has got rid of God is to promote nineteenth-century fantasy to the status of twenty-first century fact.