Richard Dawkins: the failure to explain God’s origin and existence is a theist “cop-out”

November 5, 2006 | By | 6 Replies More

It is not an explanation to assert that something happened as a result of magic or miracles.  By definition, magic and miracles are not subject to explanations.

Legitimate explanations are invitations to continue the investigation and the discussion using the scientific method.  Asserting that Someone created the universe thus comes with the responsibilty to explain that Someone in a way that can be tested.  Anything less is a power play to use the word “God” to stop inquiry dead in its tracks.  Invoking an unexplained God is a refusal to explain.

Time’s November 5, 2006 cover story is titled “God vs. Science.”  It features the following exchange between Richard Dawkins and Francis Collins, a theist who has served as Director of the National Human Genome Research Institute.

COLLINS: My God is not improbable to me. He has no need of a creation story for himself or to be fine-tuned by something else. God is the answer to all of those “How must it have come to be” questions.

DAWKINS: I think that’s the mother and father of all cop-outs. It’s an honest scientific quest to discover where this apparent improbability comes from. Now Dr. Collins says, “Well, God did it. And God needs no explanation because God is outside all this.” Well, what an incredible evasion of the responsibility to explain. Scientists don’t do that. Scientists say, “We’re working on it. We’re struggling to understand.”  . . .  To me, the right approach is to say we are profoundly ignorant of these matters. We need to work on them. But to suddenly say the answer is God–it’s that that seems to me to close off the discussion.

TIME: Could the answer be God?

DAWKINS: There could be something incredibly grand and incomprehensible and beyond our present understanding.

COLLINS: That’s God.

DAWKINS: Yes. But it could be any of a billion Gods. It could be God of the Martians or of the inhabitants of Alpha Centauri. The chance of its being a particular God, Yahweh, the God of Jesus, is vanishingly small–at the least, the onus is on you to demonstrate why you think that’s the case.


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About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (6)

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  1. Jason Rayl says:

    The answer to is there a god is probably yes–but the next question is on which side of the skull does it live?

    As a kid I read a Robert A Heinlein novel called "Stranger In A Strange Land" which dealt with a lot of theological speculation, among other things, and one of the sayings that came out of it (besides "I grok") is "Thou are god." The idea being that god is a kind of emergent property of what we might call "spirit" which is in each of us, from each of us–and which we tend to recognize in each other even while attributing it to something "outside." I've never gotten over the suspicion that this is really where it's at, to use a Sixties expression, and that the inescapable essence we sense as an ephemeral uber-consciousness is really just that element inside us all, comingling in communities, which some people feel compelled to name and attribute all kinds of other properties to in order to explain the universe.

    (Which is the likely reason the nature of "god" changes over time–because we do.)

  2. The truth is you nor anyone else is going to take my word for it. I am barely quailified to ascertain the matter for myself, and what serves me for evidence will not serve you accept for entertainment. Fortunately, God is perfectly capable of speaking for Himself.

    I can tell you {repeat to you?} what God has said about His own existence, what He is doing in the world, the outcome that He has promised to bring about and our place in it. Is that good enough for you? If I tell you what He says about Himself? The fact that He takes credit {and blame} for the world as it is.

    Perhaps He only offers a certain level of proof at this time because He wants a certain level of trust to be given. If this is the case for me to attempt "prove" it would be a dis-service. It certainly seems to irritate some people.

    "If you have only a hammer you treat everything as if it were a nail." Abraham Maslow {are you hammering in a screw?}.

  3. grumpypilgrim says:

    "The answer to is there a god is probably yes–but the next question is on which side of the skull does it live?"

    LOL! Well said, Jason!

  4. Cathy says:

    Isn't it strange the way so-called Believers always refer to God as He? Given that all of Nature is about the balance between the Masculine and Feminine (Yin and Yang) it would make more sense to refer to God as IT – or better still, Her – since Mother Nature/Mother Earth is the stuff that actually sustains our very existence?

    Of course, the reason why the god of Organised Religion is always a male, is because all organised religions are patriarchal (macho) structures.

  5. gatomjp says:

    Cathy wrote: "…it would make more sense to refer to God as IT – or better still, Her"

    Absolutely! That's exactly what I got in trouble for doing in the volatile Bart Erhman discussion. The Fundies don't take well to busting of their paradigms and I was accused of having a psychological trauma in my past that caused me to distrust men when in fact it is they who most often distrust women and their power…sexual and otherwise.

    If there is a god I prefer to think of her as female. I very much like the idea of a warm nurturing female god rather than the stern male god of the Old Testament.

  6. grumpypilgrim says:

    Cathy writes: "…it would make more sense to refer to God as IT – or better still, Her…."

    Indeed, throughout nature, the female of the species is the one that gives birth to new life, so this would seem a far more apt description for a supernatural being that gave birth to all life on our planet. Alas, Western religious tradition seems to have more to do with ambition and power than with spirituality.

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