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Countering Richard Dawkins on Al-Jazeera

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

To listen to Richard Dawkins, or read his book The God Delusion, you would get the idea that belief in God is a dangerous delusion, even a kind of virus of the mind. Dawkins finds absolutely no rational sense in theism, and moreover, he insists that science stands firmly behind him.


Given this, one would think that Dawkins would be eager to debate the best advocates for God, in the firm confidence that he could defeat them. Why should an advocate of the round-earth have any hesitancy in debating an advocate of the flat-earth? Surely a round-earth man should be able to prevail in such debates every single time.

Shortly after the publication of my book What’s So Great About Christianity, I invited Dawkins to debate me. Since that time I’ve debated many of the leading atheists—Christopher Hitchens, Michael Shermer, Daniel Dennett, Peter Singer. Yet despite my several invitations, Dawkins has always refused to agree to a debate.

Imagine my surprise when a television producer for al-Jazeera (yes, that al-Jazeera) called to say that Richard Dawkins has agreed to appear with me on the Riz Khan show, broadcast to more than 20 million viewers worldwide. Al-Jazeera had asked me several weeks earlier to come on the show and debate the War on Terror, and I had told them I’d rather debate a leading atheist. They found Dawkins.

But apparently al-Jazeera had booked Dawkins without telling him the name of his opponent. When he found out it was me, he called the producer and said he would only appear on the show if he and I were interviewed in separate segments, and moreover, he had to go second. I suppose he was worried that if he went first I might be able to rebut some of his statements. He insisted on a format in which he could rebut what I said but I couldn’t rebut what he said.


The show went well and despite the format, the issues were engaged. (If you’d like to see the interviews they are now posted on Youtube.) I argued that it is reasonable to ask scientifically about the cause of the universe. Effects require causes, so what is the cause for which the universe is the effect? It seems unreasonable in the extreme to say that even though nature had a beginning, somehow nature is the cause of itself. So God is the name we give to the supernatural being that is the cause of nature as a whole.

In his segment that followed, Dawkins responded this way: "This leaves open the question of where did the creator come from?" Since the creator is this "great big complicated thing," what good does it do to invoke one complex thing to explain another? "If you postulate a designer you haven't explained anything." Basically what Dawkins is saying is that there is no point in using complex explanation A to account for complex phenomenon B if you cannot account for A.

This is a fallacy. We can see this by applying the logic to evolution itself. The logic of evolution is a "great big complicated thing" with all its elements of replication, natural selection, mutations, genetic drift, and so on. Yet it is invoked to explain another complicated thing: the exquisite fit between living creatures and their surroundings.


How reasonable would it be to argue: "We are invoking one complicated thing, namely evolution, to explain another, namely living things. Yet this leaves open the question of where evolution came from. We have no idea how and why evolution originally started. Since we cannot account for evolution, our explanation is useless. Simply to postulate evolution is to explain nothing." This is precisely Dawkins's argument regarding God, and here we can see how it boomerangs on evolution!

But consider the argument itself more closely. Is it really true that Complex Explanation A for Complex Phenomenon B only works if we can give a full account of A? Actually it is not true. Gravity may account for why objects fall at a certain pace, but this does not require that we give an account for where gravity comes from or why it exists in the first place. If we find various signs of intelligent life on another planet we can conclude that there are aliens on that planet without having any idea of who created them or where they came from. In summary, the best explanation for something does not require that we also provide an explanation for the explanation.

The problem I think for Dawkins is that his trademark snorts and sneers only work against weak opponents who do not do much more than hurl Bible verses at their opponents. When he is confronted with history, philosophy, and logic, Dawkins seems to have very little to say. And perhaps this explains his peculiar insistence that I be given no chance whatever to respond to his statements on the Riz Khan show.


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