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5th July, 2010

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You see, I must be right: Why, I admit it myself

I really hate to pick on Richard Dawkins, but he does lead with his chin. Not to mention (which I'm doing) his august position as celebrity extraordinaire, even if not the darling, of the entire evolutionary establishment. His pronouncements are treated by his fans as having all the authority a papal bull has for good Catholics, a situation which beggars belief when their content is subjected to logical analysis. You see, a lot of what he says fails at the most basic level of logic. If you have done a course on logic and clear thinking you will understand the importance of boiling down wordy arguments to their most basic syllogistic form. A bit of practice along these lines enables even the person of very ordinary intellect to recognize nonsense when he hears it.

As a classical example of Dawkins's illogicality, consider the very heart of his gospel message - living things were never designed by a Master Designer, they only appear to be designed. He has even coined a term to describe the phenomenon of apparent design: designoid. He forcefully asserts that,

Designoid objects look designed, so much so that some people - probably, alas, most people - think that they are designed. These people are wrong.1

Herein lies the very crux of everything he stands for. He acknowledges a simple truth: living things have all the earmarks of thoughtful design. He even concedes that living things are so exquisitely, so perfectly fitted to their world and lifestyle that they "create an almost perfect illusion of design". Leaving aside the oft-alleged imperfections of design, Dawkins acknowledges that the prima facie evidence powerfully suggests intelligent design. But, he insists, they are not designed, and anybody who thinks they are is just plain wrong.

Now for his fall from logical grace. When you read his writings critically in search of his line of reasoning you will make a shocking discovery. To prove his contention that living things did not come out of some magnificently powerful intellect he does only one thing: he argues that nature will weed out any forms that can't cut the mustard of survival. Any creature that mutates in such a way as to produce a structural feature that just won't "work" will perish, while beneficial new features will survive. (Yes, I know: Darwinism pure and simple.) Can you see the problem? Let's render the argument into a set of premises and conclusion:

Living things have all the hallmarks of intelligent design;
Nature can weed out inefficient designs that occur through random mutation;
Therefore, living things were not designed.

Am I misrepresenting the logic? All I can do is plead with you to read his works and see for yourself. Dawkins, like his hero, Charles Darwin, before him, commits a logical blunder of the worst kind: he is suggesting that merely providing an alternative explanation to the staring-you-in-the-face explanation establishes the alternative explanation as the correct one. He is saying that when the evidence fits a theory (as long as it is the theory he advocates), then the evidence favors that theory. Design features appear to be explainable by - drop on your knees now - natural selection. Therefore, natural selection must be the correct explanation. If creationists wish to fight fire with fire they could use exactly the same erroneous argument in the opposite direction:

Living things show how nature can impose constraints on structural innovations;
Intelligent design can explain the design of living things;
Therefore, living things were designed.

Stop and think. Suppose you have a set of worrying symptoms - headaches, giddiness, nausea and diarrhea - and your local doctor diagnoses you as having liver failure. (I just plucked that one out of the ether.) He even shows you his medical books, which support his diagnosis. But when you visit another physician for a second opinion you discover that those symptoms are also consistent with. I don't know. sleep apnea. Who in his right mind will accept the second alternative as the final say on the matter? No. One would probe further to find out which of the two (or maybe even a third or fourth) alternative is the correct one. Richard Dawkins is like the second doctor who insists that you need not even consider other possible conditions that have the same symptoms. His second opinion automatically negates the first diagnosis.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not suggesting that just because living things look designed that settles the matter. That would be a case of Rod the Pot meeting Richard the Kettle. One needs to sift and weigh all the evidence. Just remember this one vital fact: not a single fact of nature falsifies creation theory. Absolutely everything about the natural world comports perfectly nicely, thank you, with the theory of creation by an all-powerful, all-intelligent Creator. Evolution theory, on the other hand, faces innumerable difficulties.

1Climbing Mount Improbable, p. 4

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