Logical Fallacies of Dawkins
A common logical fallacy, the false dilemma, limits the number of options under consideration while in reality there are more. A common form of this fallacy is argumentum ad ignorantiam which assumes that since something has not been proven false, it is therefore true. Conversely, such an argument may assume that since something has not been proven true, it is therefore false. Dawkins commits argumentum ad ignorantiam here: "Either admit that God is a scientific hypothesis ... Or admit that his status is no higher than that of fairies and river sprites." Now one may be tempted to point out the hyperbole as an excuse but it is hard to locate quotes in his philosophy of religion that are not emotionally charged and fallacious.
Another fallacy is the slippery slope where, in order to show that a premise is unacceptable, a sequence of increasingly unacceptable events is shown to follow from that premise. An example from Lane: "When the concept of God is understood as imaginative rather than having actual existence, it becomes easier to question that which has been understood as from God, easier to doubt and examine that which might not be consistent with the ideals of integrity. That seen as "the word of God" can then more readily be doubted if it is suspected of being destructive. Since excessive self-righteousness may be associated with a commitment to God, such self-righteousness may be more easily avoided if the God concept is realized as imaginative."
We cannot logically suggest that if we want to avoid the destructiveness which flows from self-righteousness which in turn flows from dogmatism which in turn flows from a lack of integrity which in turn flows from a concept of God that suggests he exists, then we should use a concept of God that suggests He doesn't (none of which is addressing the FACT of His putative existence or not). Dawkins commits this fallacy when he suggests faith is "capable of driving people to such dangerous folly."
Nothing that Lane or Dawkins are saying here has anything to do with the actual existence of God or not. In fact, they compound their slippery slope fallacy with the fallacy of appeal to consequences, argumentum ad consequentiam, by pointing to the disagreeable consequences of holding a belief in God in order to show that this belief is false.
When Dawkins says "they saw it because they wanted to see it. They believed it because it fitted with their world - view. They were blind to the truth that was staring them in the face." or someone politely suggests: "May I kindly suggest that you got this impression from your cognitive dissonance protecting you from views that may challenge your faith???", they are committing the fallacy of attacking the person, argumentum ad hominem, whereby the person presenting an argument is attacked instead of the argument itself. The above are examples of the abusive ad hominem where instead of attacking an assertion, the argument attacks the person who made the assertion.
In another common ad hominem fallacy, the circumstantial, instead of attacking an assertion the author points to the relationship between the person making the assertion and the person's circumstances. Discounting a central tenet of a religion, such as the resurrection of Jesus on the basis that it is a Freudian product of wishful thinking, without investigating the legitmacy of the claims scientifically and historically, would be an example of the consequential ad hominem. Perhaps the most common ad hominem in religious debates is the tu quoque, where there is an attack on the person along the lines that a person does not practice what he preaches.
In the neurocognitive sciences, thefallacy of coincidental correlation or post hoc ergo propter hoc, meaning "after this therefore because of this", is common. Does brain activity monitored during mystical states of awareness cause these numinous experiences or is it merely correlated with same. Not even the scientists performing these experiments claim to know such an answer but uncritical naturalism assumes a priori that there is only a physical explanation for the experience.
Lane writes: "An openness to doubt and examination should supersede the commitment to faith in doctrine. Openness to doubt is one of the prime characteristics of integrity (and openness to doubt and examination are characteristic of the scientific outlook). In the fulfillment of fundamental value, the primary commitment of religion should be to integrity; commitment to doctrine should be secondary."
Is he suggesting that openness to doubt and examination are not ever characteristic of a religious outlook and that all religions require doctrinal faith which essentially excludes the possibility of doubt? What about Tillich's assertion that faith and doubt form one polar reality, that faith is not the absence of doubt but rather the state of ultimate concern? What about the assertion by the prominent Catholic theologian, Avery Dulles: "The Christian that thinks that his faith is sufficiently protected by his philosophy or theology or by any created institution - such a one is really insecure in his faith. Faith does not possess what it affirms. It is ceaselessly poised over the abyss of doubt."
The straw man fallacy may be the most common and egregious atheistic fallacy of them all, wherein the detractors of God attack a God-concept which is different from the God-concept of Christianity in its very essence. St. Thomas Aquinas would not recognize the Dawkinsian Imago Dei and would truly wonder: "Whose idolatrous godde is this that Dawkins seems to be continuously and iconoclastically driving out of the temple where scientism worships?"
When Dawkins and others advance that class of arguments which suggest that, on one hand, faith is unevidenced belief, or on the other hand, that it does not include an intrinsic element of doubt, they are not engaging the authentic claims of Christian theology.
Lane's mischaracterization of faith above is a straw man, too. There is no such thing as faith without doubt except in perverted forms of dogmatism and fideism. Here, he is also engaging the fallacy of misuse by suggesting that the abuse of faith is an argument against the use of faith, the abuse of a nonimaginative God-concept is an argument for an imaginative God-concept. Dawkins explicitly commits this fallacy when he says: "faith seems to me to qualify as a kind of mental illness... powerful enough to immunize people against all appeals to pity, to forgiveness, to decent human feelings."
The gods and dogmatisms under attack by Dawkins et al are directed against a 'straw' version of Christianity, one which the orthodox would not wish to defend.
He further refuses to acknowledge that Christianity proclaims, in principle, that God lies outside of space-time-matter-energy, but then bases most of his cosmological arguments against God on scientific tests and applications of probability theory. Others advance related arguments based on rules of evidence using legal metaphors such as burden of proof, unusual claims, preponderance of the evidence. Still others invoke Occam's Razor and the law of parsimony to a metaphysical problem of ontology that Christians recognize as insoluble in principle and nontheists see as an imaginary problem which they then set about solving!
What is most curious, however, is that Dawkins et al attempt to solve this metaphysical problem of ontology at all inasmuch as a materialist monist reductionist could be considered to need no ontology, at least not a "physical" one which is, in a word, "meta".
Since the issue of "why there is something rather than nothing" is insoluble, in principle, it makes little sense to then set about proving or disproving ontological hypotheses.
This brings us to the next atheistic fallacy, the untestable hypothesis. Hypotheses are tested by means of its predictions. Neither the existence of God nor the competing worldview "nothing, as a system, is unstable and has a tendency to decay into something" can be tested by cosmology. The God hypothesis and the no-God hypothesis carry no weight as explanations and there is no way to test these hypotheses. Their main premises are certainly not self-evident. Perhaps the major appeal of the God-hypothesis is that, in principle, in theory, it may be directly verified eschatologically. This eschatological dimension gives it the verifiability dimension that makes the hypothesis testable, hence vaild, therefore rational. It is the lack of any testability, in principle, which renders the nontheistic hypothesis unverifiable both pre- and post-eschatologically, hence invalid, therefore irrational, which brings up the next fallacy, petitio principii.
Begging the question, petitio principii, is a fallacy wherein the truth of the conclusion is assumed by the premises. In considering what Hans Kung calls the paradoxical fundamental trust in uncertain reality, as held by those who reject the God-hypothesis, there is an implicit form of question begging. By not adverting to a ground of reality and a ground of reason, one does not thereby evade the question of groundedness. Atheism can not suggest why it trusts uncertain reality without engaging the additional fallacy of circular definition, trusting being itself while giving no satisfactory accounting for either its trust or for being, its definitions always self-referentially making an appeal to themselves.
Dawkins uses a class of arguments that include meme theory, a metaphor of religion as a 'mental virus' and the supposed readiness of the young to believe anything they are told. Whether one uses sociobiology or biotheology to explain how ideas and concepts originate and are transmitted, using explanations from evolution, brain chemistry and culture, whether sociologically or psychologically, they are simply explaining the spread of concepts and ideologies. Such explanations have nothing to say about the truth or falsity of the beliefs themselves. They don't make the God-concepts under consideration true or false even as they are examining the processes by which they are formulated and modified.
When Dawkins writes of the God of Design, he commits an ambiguity fallacy of equivocation, in essence using the same word, explanation, with two different meanings: "The only thing he [Paley] got wrong - admittedly quite a big thing - was the explanation itself. He gave the traditional religious answer to the riddle, but he articulated it more clearly and convincingly than anybody had before. The true explanation is utterly different, and it had to wait for one of the most revolutionary thinkers of all time, Charles Darwin." In theology, our explanations for cosmogenesis lie outside of space-time, as even St. Augustine knew. It is not so much that Paley got anything wrong per se but the fact that his "proof" has a straw man character and that contemporary theology would not be providing explanations in the same realm and of the same order as evolution. It is explicitly acknowledged in Christian theology that the classic proofs of God, those being the moral, teleological, ontological and cosmological arguments of Anselm, Aquinas, even C.S. Lewis and others, are not logically coercive. Those elements do become integral in a more comprehensive belief-system which is being judged for internal consistency, logical coherency and external congruence. The Coulson God-of-the-Gaps argument has no currency in dismissing the supernatural and was, in fact, coined by a Christian! We already know its lessons. The materialists are in more danger of dismissing all anomalous experience as being a priori reducible to matter and energetic causation than Catholics are in danger of too readily claiming a miracle at Lourdes (which, when they do, are merely attesting that it has no scientific explanation).
Moving on, there is the fallacy of composition where, because the parts of a whole have a certain property, it is argued that the whole has that property. In every religion there is creed, code and cult, hence doctrine, law and ritual --- and members who may be dogmatic, legalistic and ritualistic. How often this category error is invoked in the very process of building straw men and painting all believers with the same brush.
In closing, perhaps one of the biggest logical inconsistencies occurs when some atheists decry the Feuerbachian anthropomorphic projections of God utilized in some people's God-concepts (and this is a perfectly legitimate argument). The inconsistency comes when the very same atheist begins with his litany of theodicy issues which he or she feels that any God should be dealing with and apparently is not. Well, folks, I'd imagine He or She would see it anthropocentrically but ... as you know ... you shouldn't anthropomorphize It.
We have set forth some Category Errors, Syllogistic Errors, Causal Fallacies, Missing the Point Fallacies, Fallacies of Distraction, of Appeals to Motives in Place of Support, of Changing the Subject, of Ambiguity, of Explanation, and of Definition as found in various arguments in support of nontheistic hypotheses. None of this is to suggest that those fallacies are some type of support for a theistic hypothesis --that would be a fallacy all its own. The other most common fallacies are the Inductive Fallacies, but we are all familiar with what takes place in the fury of debates: hasty generalizations are made where the sample is too small to support an inductive generalization about a population; unrepresentative samples are cited: the sample is unrepresentative of the sample as a whole; false analogies are made: the two objects or events being compared are relevantly dissimilar; and the fallacy of exclusion is maybe most common: evidence which would change the outcome of an inductive argument is excluded from consideration.
The work-product above includes a great deal of unannotated and liberal paraphrasing from the materials listed below:
Stephen Downes, University of Alberta, The Logical Fallacies Index http://www.datanation.com/fallacies/index.htm , who wrote: permission is granted to use, abuse and reproduce this document in any way you wish provided (a) you don't claim copyright over it, (b) you don't charge anyone for using it, and (c) you indicate its original authorship.
A Critique of Aspects of the Philosophy and Theology of Richard Dawkins
Richard Dawkins: Reply to Michael Poole
Michael Poole: Response to Richard Dawkins' Reply
all found in articles in: _Science and Christian Belief_
Addendum: the Twenty-four Points
summarizing the book "God Unmasked" by Ernie Lane (C) July 2001