Does Richard Dawkins, professor of evolutionary biology at Oxford University, know what a hypothesis is?
Dawkins, author of the new book The God Delusion, is featured in last week’s Time Magazine cover story, “God vs. Science.” It’s great that Time has been taking on important religious issues, and even better that for this particular article, they avoided the temptation of finding Dawkins’ ideological opposite for a debate, but instead paired him up with Francis Collins, Director of the National Human Genome Research Institute. Still, like Time’s previous exploration of the “Prosperity Gospel” phenomenon of American Evangelicalism, the article fails to be fully illuminating because the author appears not to understand Christian theology well enough to ask the right questions.
There is a difference between faith and science, and here Dr. Collins’ expertise could have been very useful; instead, he is left to repeat variations on a theme of, “Evolution doesn’t disprove the existence of God.”
He does, however, get a chance to cut right to the heart of Dawkins’ misunderstanding of faith – and science.
“The question of whether there exists a supernatural creator, a God, is one of the most important questions we have to answer,” says Dawkins. “I think that it is a scientific question. My answer is no.”
I guess Dawkins wasn’t paying attention to last year’s national debate over “intelligent design.” If the existence of God were, in fact, a scientific question, then it should be part of the science curriculum, no? Especially if, as Dawkins argues, it is “one of the most important questions.” But it’s not, because the existence of God cannot be proved or disproved through scientific methods.
Furthermore, as many Christians will tell you, there is no “proof” of God, nor will there ever be, because the freedom to choose belief is the essential component of salvation. We are asked to believe in spite of an absence of hard evidence; that is the core proposition. If we could find God in a laboratory, that would be a fundamental challenge to Christian thinking that would dwarf evolution. What would happen to ideas about free will? Who would willfully choose not to worship a God who’d been scientifically proven to exist?
Dawkins’ hypothesis is that God does not exist. But how is this a scientifically testable assertion? As a tool for evaluating the merits of faith, it’s irrelevant, because faith specifically means belief in the unprovable.
Dawkins would call this response a “cop-out,” as he frequently describes Collins’ answers (one reply is even labeled “the mother and father of all cop-outs”). But the cop-out is Dawkins’ own attempt to define God using methods that simply don’t apply. He has reached a predetermined conclusion, and then selected methods which are guaranteed to be non-responsive to his inquiry. The resulting lack of evidence Dawkins interprets as proof of his non-scientific assumption.
“The difference,” explains Collins, “is that my presumption of the possibility of God and therefore the supernatural is not zero, and yours is.”