Is Apologetics Possible? Richard Dawkins' Objection

05 October 2020

God is so very great and good. He fathers us with wisdom, patience, kindness, discipline, grace, and understanding. As a perfect father, He listens to our prayers, and grants our requests when they are ultimately good for us or part of His will. God loves us dearly, more than any other person ever could; and He is always there for us.

Now, one of the roles of Christian apologetics is to defend the view that God exists. But it seems like many apologetic or philosophical arguments in favour of God's existence do not establish many of His characteristics, such as how wonderfully He fathers us. Some people think this is a serious problem for apologetics.

For example, Richard Dawkins, who is perhaps the most popular evangelist for atheism, attacks cosmological arguments on similar grounds. While discussing Aquinas' cosmological argument, Dawkins protests:

Even if we allow the dubious luxury of arbitrarily conjuring up a terminator to an infinite regress and giving it a name, simply because we need one, there is absolutely no reason to endow that terminator with any of the properties normally ascribed to God: omnipotence, omniscience, goodness, creativity of design, to say nothing of such human attributes as listening to prayers, forgiving sins and reading innermost thoughts ...[I]t is more parsimonious to conjure up, say, a "big bang singularity", or some other physical concept as yet unknown. Calling it God is at best unhelpful and at worst perniciously misleading.[1]

So, this objection may be applied to apologetic arguments in general. Since such arguments do not conclude to a being who has all the attributes traditionally ascribed to God, it is unclear how such arguments are, in fact, arguments for God's existence. That is to say, even if successful, these arguments do not conclude to a god who possesses all the properties ascribed to a particular God and, therefore, such apologetic arguments fail to prove God.

However, this common objection to apologetics is no good. First, some philosophical arguments do conclude to a God who has all the traditional attributes ascribed to God, such as omnipotence, omni-benevolence, omniscience, necessary existence, aseity, and maximal greatness or ultimate perfection. Just consider, for example, the ontological argument, or the greatness argument (hopefully, we will discuss these arguments in the near future). But the point is that some of these arguments are out there.

Second, in order to prove that something exists, we do not need to prove each of its attributes or produce an argument for what, exactly, the thing is like. For example, in order to prove that Donald Trump exists, we do not need to first prove or discover all of his attributes, including his length, weight, blood type, fears, dreams, desires, or how he treats his children. Simply proving that a person exists who has some of the essential attributes ascribed to Donald Trump is sufficient to prove that Trump exists. And the same goes for God: in order to do successful apologetics, we simply need to show that there exists a being who has some key godlike attributes.

Finally, the objection fails to appreciate cumulative case arguments for God's existence. The objection assumes that, because each individual argument cannot conclude to a being possessing the core properties ascribed to God, it is not possible for a group of such arguments together to conclude to such a being. But this is wrong-headed because a few successful arguments presented as a cumulative case for God's existence may conclude to a particular theistic God. For example, if the ontological argument, cosmological argument, moral argument and argument for Jesus' resurrection are sound, then together they may conclude to a being who is self-existent, spaceless, timeless (or at least not dependent on time), beginningless, immaterial and personal, who has maximal power, knowledge and goodness and also who has revealed Himself in Jesus of Nazareth. Therefore, if such a cumulative case is sound or successful, then we do have a good case for the existence of the Christian God.

In conclusion, even if apologetics cannot establish certain truths about God, this is not a problem because a sound apologetic can establish enough for us to conclude that God exists.


NOTES

  1. Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion. London: Bantam Press, 2006, 77-78.