Richard Dawkins defines God as follows: “There exists a superhuman, supernatural intelligence who deliberately designed and created the universe and everything in it.” (Dawkins 2006, 52) Dawkins spends the rest of his book attempting to explain that this God does not exist. Good for him, because I don’t believe this god exists either.
Some might say Dawkins provided a reasonable definition of God, but in fact this definition is deeply flawed. The first problem is that this definition is anthropocentric; it defines God in terms of humanity. We were created in the image of God; Dawkins’ definition creates God in our own image. Second, Dawkins’ definition is materialistic; it defines God in terms of the material order. The definition makes humanity and the material central, and pushes God to the periphery.
The term superhuman is a description of a comic book character, not God. Likewise, the term supernatural is a working definition of the paranormal, and therefore not applicable to God. A god who is defined in terms of the created order is part of the created order, and not its creator. Thus, Dawkins’ definition of god is contradictory. The God who creates cannot therefore be adequately described or defined in terms of His creation.
The god Dawkins is arguing against is not the God who reveals Himself in the Bible. The relationship between God and man is not commutative; it matters Who comes first, Who initiates, and Who defines the relationship. The God of the bible created the cosmos, crafted human beings, reveals Himself to humanity, and initiates the relationship. By way of contrast, Dawkins’ definition creates a god in the image of man, which leads him to an understanding of god as created by and subordinate to humanity.
Dawkins’ definition of god is inherently dualistic, positing a natural order that is foreign to God — a natural order from which God exists at a great remove; a natural order in which the works of god are inherently foreign. In this “two-story universe”, god works through “temporary violations of his own otherwise grandly immutable laws.” (Dawkins 2006, 82) When we define miracles as violations of the natural order, we have strayed far from the God of the bible into the realm of philosophy. It is said that Immanuel Kant claimed one had to deny knowledge in order to make room for faith, an idea fundamentalists and scientists like Dawkins have taken to the extreme. (Metzger 2014)
Thus we arrive at Stephen Jay Gould’s faulty concept of “non-overlapping magisteria”, one used by many well-meaning apologists for religion. (Dawkins 2006, 78-79) Gould postulates a magisteria of empirical science and a magisteria of moral values and ultimate meaning (religion). While Gould suggests the two realms do not overlap, this is in fact not the case. As Dawkins points out, the question of the virgin birth and the bodily resurrection of Christ are scientific questions (or would be if we had had samples upon which we could perform scientific experiments.) Dawkins then mentions that apologists for religion are quick to cite science when it supports their truth claims, and then reject science when the two disagree. (Dawkins 2006, 83) Clearly some overlap exists; the question is how much overlap exists, and is the overlap uni-directional?
The biblical concept of a God who “is all, and in all” (Col 3:11), is foreign to the idea of “non-overlapping magisteria”, and foreign to the idea of a divorce between reason and faith. The biblical concept of “divine revelation” is foreign to the idea that God is removed from His creation. The idea of miracle as a violation of natural law is foreign to the Bible. The biblical words translated as miracle refer to “signs” and “mighty works”, both of which serve to validate the divine message (and the messenger). Thus a miracle need not be a violation of natural law, but merely something that provides access to the divine.
Gregory Rocca describes God as “eternal, immeasurable, immutable, omnipotent, incomprehensible, and ineffable” (Rocca 2005, 68). In our arrogance we expect God’s essence to be accessible and apprehensible through the application of human intelligence. However, as Paul Evdokimov makes clear, there are practical limits to the apprehension of God: “The logical intelligence can apprehend God only in his intelligible attributes.” (Evdokimov, Orthodoxy 2011, 181-182) Thus we can apprehend God according to His self-revelation, which is provided in a manner suitable to us. We can discuss God in our human language, knowing that the mysteries of God are greater than can be hymned by the tongues of man. This is the God who is both transcendent and immanent, the God whose very being is beyond comprehension, yet made visible in the created order, and especially in the faces of humanity, those created in the image and likeness of God.
Richard Dawkins is arguing against the wrong God.
Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion. New York: Mariner Books, 2006.
Evdokimov, Paul. Orthodoxy. Translated by Jeremy Hummerstone and Callan Slipper. Hyde Park: New City Press, 2011.
Metzger, Paul Louis. Are We Really More Than Matter? Reflections on Kant’s Two Story Universe. February 11, 2014. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/uncommongodcommongood/2014/02/are-we-really-more-than-matter-reflections-on-kants-two-story-universe/ (accessed February 15, 2014).
Rocca, Gregory P. Speaking the Incomprehensible God. Washington DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2005.