A Review of the Magic of Reality

Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters where we are diving into the ocean of truth. We’ve been going lately through the doctrine of Inerrancy, but tonight, we’re going to take a break to review a book that came out earlier this month called “The Magic of Reality” by Richard Dawkins.

Previously, I have reviewed “The God Delusion” and found it incredibly lacking. The reason some found it convincing was that they were unfamiliar with the arguments and thought that Dawkins knew them well. He doesn’t. Of course, one can look at my review to see my reply to his “arguments.” The Magic of Reality does not have anything new in argumentation.

Nevertheless, I consider it the most dangerous book that he’s written.

Remember that earlier Richard Dawkins has said we shouldn’t “indoctrinate” our children?

Apparently, the new atheists get a free pass.

“The Magic of Reality” is a book that could easily be a textbook and is recommended for young people who are Dawkins’s main targets. Dawkins is in this book a brilliant writer. One can easily imagine hearing his voice as one reads it as Dawkins is a good speaker and a good writer generally. For instance, while I did not believe The Blind Watchmaker, I did think Dawkins made an argument that was much more persuasive than The God Delusion. (Okay. That might not be saying much.) I think there were basic flaws in the arguments, but it was a well-written and well thought-out argument.

For this book, there is not the ranting going of The God Delusion, but I could not help but be reminded of The Green Book as talked about in C.S. Lewis’s book “The Abolition of Man.” In that case, a book on another subject was also being used to teach children philosophy and a child could go to do his lesson not learning much about grammar, but learning much about philosophy and already is a casualty in a war he had no idea was going on.

My concern with this book is that The God Delusion was written for adults to persuade them to be atheists. This one is written for children before they start grappling with the big issues to teach them to be atheists in their thinking in advance. This is preparation for an atheistic worldview.

There’s no doubt that much of the science in this book is very good and very fascinating. I found several parts simply remarkable and I would not deny learning much about science from reading this book. Unfortunately, I also learned much about Dawkins and also with the realization that while he goes to great lengths to make sure that he’s speaking accurately about science and can admit when he’s out of his expertise in a scientific area, he does not grant the same courtesy to religion. Dawkins is not an expert in theology, textual criticism, historical evidence, or philosophy of religion, but yet he speaks about them anyway.

It is my stance as a Christian that I will not comment on the scientific aspects of this work except as a layman. I do not claim to be an authority on science and I do not believe that Christians who are not trained in the science should comment on the sciences. Instead, we are to leave that to the scientists. We can evaluate arguments to an extent, but to do it effectively, we need to be reading in the relevant areas.

Dawkins would probably agree that Christians who do not know about science should not argue over it and should not used arguments along the lines of “If we came from monkeys why are there still monkeys?” However, Dawkins would not do the same with religion not realizing that the arguments he gives have been addressed by those more qualified than he and of course, Dawkins does not give any impression that they have been addressed.

Let’s start with the review itself. On page 13, Dawkins states that in defining reality, “we are only going to call something ‘real’ if we can detect it directly with one of our five senses.”

I would not seriously doubt that if something is detectable with the five senses, it is real. That is sufficient for its reality, but is it necessary. Dawkins does not give a reason why. He states that knowledge begins with what we sense, and I agree with that, but he does not go beyond that. His starting point and the end point are the same, although his starting point can be enhanced through tools and technology.

Does this mean however that things that cannot be detected with our senses cannot be real? What about universals such as human nature or triangularity? What about moral truths and mathematical truths? What about love and jealousy and joy? Now on the last group, Dawkins says that these are real, but that these are dependent on our brains for their existence. He does not explain this. In what way are these things real, especially given his earlier definition of real? If jealousy and joy cannot be detected by the five senses, then it would seem that Dawkins needs to change his definition.

How do these things depend on the brain? We don’t know. Dawkins doesn’t tell us. Is this an epiphenomenon? Is it entirely material? Dawkins leaves it unclear. Is there a reality of such a thing as mind that interacts with the brain or is it all brain? The student does not know, but the problem is also that he doesn’t know to ask either. These questions are not being discussed and the student has not learned science here as much as philosophy. Dawkins also says jealousy and joy could exist on other planets but only if they contain brains. No argument is given for this. It is merely an assertion, which is odd considering Dawkins’s insistence on evidence for beliefs. Apparently, the rule is that all beliefs have to have evidence, except for beliefs of the new atheists.

Dawkins also in this part describes three kinds of magic. The first he calls supernatural magic, and uses as examples fairy tales and miracles, a classic case of poisoning the well. Dawkins says he will address miracles later. For now, these two are tightly connected with no explanation. For those who are curious, the other kinds of magic are stage magic and what he calls poetic magic, the wonder that we feel at the universe.

In describing stage magic, Dawkins tells about people who claim to be able to bend metal, stop clocks, or contact the dead as charlatans. Now it could very well be the case that all of them are. I have not examined them, but for the sake of argument being of a skeptical mindset, I will gladly grant that every case that has been examined thus far has proven to be false in someway. The problem is that it does not follow from this that there are no such works. It is no proof that psychic powers cannot be real or the dead cannot be contacted.

An analogy could be shown from UFO’s. Most people think that at least the majority of all UFO cases are serious mistakes of some sort. They do not believe the others even though they’re not sure how to explain them. This is fine because any worldview has some difficulties explaining some matters and some UFO cases we’d have a hard time knowing what to say. However, if it was the case that all UFO cases were shown to be hoaxes or something of that sort, does that mean that Dawkins would say “Very well! We must concede we have absolute proof that there are no aliens out there!”

Now realize that I am not saying necessarily that one can contact the dead or have psychic powers. I am saying that Dawkins cannot say that because the cases we have have been shown to be hoaxes or inconclusive, that we can conclude that the reality does not exist. It can justify our skepticism, but it cannot prove our skepticism. Unfortunately, the young student reading this does not know this. Naturally, I agree with Dawkins that it is a shame that some people scam others in this way. However, I also think it’s a shame that students are being told what to think this way instead of a lesson on evaluating data and exactly what conclusions can be drawn.

On page 23, Dawkins says the supernatural can never be a true explanation. The reason for this is because the supernatural is beyond natural explanation. It is beyond science and the scientific method that has caused a huge increase in knowledge. To say it is supernatural is to say we don’t understand it and we’d better not even try.

But this just begs the question. Why should it be assumed that everything has a “natural” explanation? It cannot be known by science or the scientific method, but neither can jealousy or joy which Dawkins admits are real. Neither can mathematical or moral truths or universals like triangularity. The argument assumes that all knowledge is scientific or can be discoverable by the scientific method, which itself is a knowledge claim that is not scientific or discoverable by the scientific method.

Furthermore, science has increased our knowledge, but that knowledge is specifically scientific knowledge and what kind of knowledge would it be expected to improve upon? Science progresses differently than philosophy or theology since its subject matter is, well, matter. To do the necessary studies, you have to have better and better technology and to have better technology, you have to have better science, and on and on. Science and technology help build one another. Ptolemy could not have known about a particular planet without a telescope he did not have and the technology needed to be there to build it first as well as the leisure time and ability to build it.

Philosophy and theology however rely more on foundations and the rest of the time is spent working out what those foundations mean. Plato and Aristotle are still arguing against one another. Neither school denies the other school exists, but both schools have different starting metaphysical principles and outworkings from those. For the sciences, the disputes are largely philosophical as well. There is probably little disagreement on data, but much interpretation on what the data means.

For instance, some young-earth creationists point to the low level of moon dust on the moon as evidence of a young-Earth. Old-Earthers do not dispute that, but they do not interpret that data as meaning the Earth is young. They have another explanation. Old-Earthers who are not theistic evolutionists can likely agree on what fossils are left in the fossil record, but have different ideas on how to interpret the data.

Also, the foundations of science are rooted in Christian theism as it was believed that since the universe came from a rational mind, then it could be understood rationally. Scientists who were “filling the gaps” did not see themselves as limiting God but rather in giving more glory to God. I’m of the belief that the idea of “God of the gaps” is a straw man position that has been created by atheists for Christians to defend themselves from when really, the Christian church has historically wished to fill in the gaps. (The retreat of a number of fundamentalists from academia in response to evolutionary theory is a sad example of what we ought not to do.)

We have the same on page 31 again stating that evolution is a real explanation as a counter to a supernatural explanation. The assumption is that if there is an evolutionary explanation, there cannot be a supernatural one. (Although I question the so-called natural/supernatural dichotomy.) This does not follow. My stance on debate is that I am more than happy to grant macroevolution to the atheist. I think this was a great mistake of the Christian church in that we wanted to be reactionary to evolution rather than just saying “Wait and see what the evidence says and then respond.” Evolution could be true and Jesus still rose from the dead. Evolution is at best an instrumental cause rather than an efficient cause. Dawkins has committed an either/or fallacy.

(Interestingly, the paragraph where he derides the supernatural is the one quoted on the back of the book. Left out is the derision of the supernatural. Could it be because many parents would not buy it then?)

At the start of chapter 2, Dawkins says he is aiming to give the best possible answers to questions, which is the answer of science. I’m sure that is the case for some questions, but it does not follow that it is for all. When we want to know if it is wrong to commit adultery, we do not use the sciences to determine. If we want to know what a line of Shakespeare means, science is not the way to answer the question. If we want to know what the square root of 4,096 is, we do not go to science. Dawkins is again poisoning the well giving students the idea that the best answer is always found in science and that in turn, the only questions that matter are scientific questions. (Note that in his debate in Mexico that Dawkins said that questions of a “Why?” sort are often meaningless questions.

Dawkins also presents in chapter 2 a view about the Garden of Eden. He tells of two creation accounts. Naturally, he means Genesis 1 and 2, but he gives no argument that Genesis 1 and 2 should be seen as what he refers to as two versions. The former account is simply a cosmic account. The second account is a more in-depth account at one particular spot of creation with a focus on preparing us for chapter 3 and what follows. He also says that Adam and Eve ate the fruit acquiring knowledge, losing their innocence he supposes. The problem was not knowledge as Adam was to subdue the Earth which would include learning about it, but going apart from God.

Dawkins tells us on page 52 that we all share a common ancestor. We know this because we all have some genes in common. This does not follow however. All cars have something in common, but it does not follow they all have a common ancestor. They do all have a common designer in that all cars are designed by men. All creatures having some genes in common could be because of a common ancestor or because of a common designer or it could be a sign of both. Unfortunately again, the student has the answer given to him before he even knows there is a relevant question.

On page 74 and 75 Dawkins tells us that when we see an animal and when we look in the mirror we need to realize that we are looking at a survival machine for genes. One wonders what the moral implications will be for this if it is embraced. If I am just a survival machine, why should I care about these other machines provided I get my genes taken care of? As has been asked, why not rape and pillage and get those genes passed on? Others might not like it? Who cares?

On page 95 after talking about microscopic organisms, Dawkins tells us that none of this information is included in so-called holy books given by an all-knowing god. In fact, none of them tell how big the universe is, or about gravity or electricity or any modern advances. If these were works of God, wouldn’t we expect to see that in them?

Well, no.

I immediately think of Proverbs 25:2 where it is the glory of God to conceal a matter and the glory of kings to find it out. I think God did not tell us these things because He wanted us to discover them on our own and do our homework. The things He did tell us are things that we could not know on our own or at least not know easily and things that were necessary for our salvation.

Besides, do we expect Paul to be writing an epistle and then say in the middle “And in the 20th century since the first advent of Christ, expect a disease called AIDS that attacks something called the Immune System. One only wonders what Peter would have said to say about Paul’s writings then! This was to be copied down for centuries without anyone having a clue what relevance it had to anything, a large distinction from that of prophecy such as that of the coming Messiah in the Old Testament.

Dawkins would condemn many fundamentalists who think they are to find messages especially for them in the Bible, but he has done the exact same thing in thinking that the Bible should have been written with his time in mind if it came from God. Considering how in the time of the Bible paper was valuable and one would not write more than they had to, it is not a shock. Furthermore, prophecy is not meant to be just God showing off, but God showing who He is for the benefit of His people. Today that has been done in Christ and that message is the one to be given.

Finally, what does that have to do with science? Nothing. Dawkins has made a theological claim in a book about science. If Dawkins was just wanting to write a science textbook, there would be no need to mention such a thing. No. Dawkins writes this with a goal in mind of getting students to be atheists. Now I think that is perfectly fine for him to do. He has all freedom to do that. I also have the freedom to write a response to what he has said. Parents also have the freedom to decide if they want their child to be taught atheism or science. The two are not identical.

On page 123, Dawkins tells of how in the Hebrew account, YHWH created light on the first day, but did not create the sun until the 4th day and says that we are not told where the light came from on the first day. It is not mentioned that young-earthers, old-earthers, and theistic evolutionists who hold to the Inerrancy of Scripture all do have answers to this objection. Some may work and some may not, but they are there. The student does not know this. One could even say “Well it could be Genesis is not Inerrant, but that would not disprove Christian theism.” To be sure, losing Inerrancy would change our approach to Scripture were it to happen, and for the record I am an Inerrantist, but it would not be the end of Christianity. Proving a contradiction in Genesis does not prove that the gospels and epistles are in error in all they say.

At the start of chapter 7, Dawkins starts with telling about flood stories and begins with Gilgamesh and then says the story should be recognizable to children reared in Christian, Jewish, or Muslim countries. It’s the story of Noah’s Ark with one or two minor differences.

For those unaware, let me tell some minor differences

In Gilgamesh, the boat is not seaworthy. In Noah, it is.
In Gilgamesh and in Noah, the length of time and flooding and receding is much different.
In Gilgamesh, the flood takes place because the gods can’t sleep. In Noah, it is for punishment of sin.
In Gilgamesh, it is polytheistic. In Noah, it is monotheistic.
In Gilgamesh, the hero gets immortality in the end. In Noah, the hero gets drunk.

These are just basic differences. A whole list can be found here

On page 208 and 209, Dawkins talks about earthquakes and uses Sodom and Gomorrah along with Jericho as examples. I would have no problem with these being the results of earthquakes. In this case, these would be second-class miracles in that the miracle was not the event itself but that the event happened when it did. Dawkins seems to think that if a natural explanation of something is found, then it can no longer be the action of God, but this does not follow. Dawkins also tells of how a real story could have eventually become the folk legend of Joshua, but his analogy is simply a telephone game. Were the accounts of the events written years afterwards? Dawkins says so, but he does not give a reason why. Unfortunately, the student has got a lesson on oral tradition and historiography, but not on science. He has also learned that lesson from someone who is not an authority.

Finally, one eventually gets to the last chapter on miracles. What does this have to do with science? Who knows. Dawkins acts as if any miracle will destroy science. As he says on page 263, it would never be right to call something we cannot understand or explain a miracle. That would end discussion and further investigation. This does not follow and in fact, let us assume for the sake of argument that Jesus really did rise from the dead and did not do so by naturalistic means. To say “We will keep searching until we find the naturalistic means” is to say “We will search in futility.” Because one wants a naturalistic means does not mean there is one. At the same time, because one wants a supernatural explanation does not mean that there is one. What we need is to be open to miraculous and non-miraculous explanations.

On page 254, Dawkins says miracles would be disturbing to science since that would involve breaking a law of nature. However, while I do not agree with the definition of breaking the laws of nature, does this not entail that there are laws of nature still? If I pick up a box, I have gone against gravity in a sense, but it does not mean I have violated science. God just has more means to do things than I do. The laws of nature can be intact and still allow for miracles. In fact, it is because we believe in laws of nature that we know about miracles.

How so? A miracle is seen as an exception to that which is “natural.” The reason we believe a virgin birth would be a miracle would be because we know that it takes sex naturally to make a baby. The reason we consider the resurrection of Christ to be a miracle is because we know dead people naturally stay dead. Those who believe in miracles do not dispute scientific facts. We know that water does not instantly become wine. We know that it takes sex to make a baby. We know people don’t walk on water naturally. We know dead people stay dead.

The big shock is also that the ancient people knew that too! That is why they recorded these as miracles. That they believed in these miracles is not because they were ignorant of science. Certainly they did not know all we know about science, but even if they could not explain the interaction between the molecules in one’s feet and that in water to explain how someone could not walk on water, they knew that someone could not. They recognized these as miracles because they knew these facts already even if they didn’t know the main details of these facts. They buried their dead because they knew their dead were staying dead. Joseph sought to divorce Mary because he knew what it took to make a baby and he knew he had not done that.

The only way you could have exceptions then is if there is a natural order. If there was no natural order, there could be no miracles because all would be random. It is only because there is a natural order that there are miracles.

Dawkins’s argument against miracles is Hume. There is no mention that pretty much every Christian philosopher and their mother has commented on Hume. There is no mention that Hume said that past experience cannot be used to prove future events. If you release a stone and it falls 1,000 times, that will not prove it will fall the 1,001st time. If that is the case, then it would seem Hume himself has destroyed any basis for trusting the laws of science. Of course, Hume was sure it would fall, but he was making a claim on how that could be known, or rather not known.

The answer to Hume is that he was essentially begging the question. Hume assumes that all has occurred naturally and we know this because miracles have not occurred. How do we know that they have not occurred? Because all has happened naturally. The question of if a miracle has taken place is a historical question. The question of if they can is a philosophical and theological question. Neither is in the domain of science.

On page 262, Dawkins describes the turning of water into wine saying it only occurs in one gospel, which is true enough, but then says all four gospels were written long after the events they describe and not one of them by an eyewitness, so it is safe to conclude that they are not accurate. No mention is made that the history of people like Alexander the Great was written centuries after and not by eyewitnesses. No mention is also made that Dawkins’s own claim is disputed, notably by someone like Richard Bauckham in “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses.” Again, the student has been given a lesson on historiography and not science, and Dawkins is not a historian.

As I finished the book, I pondered that the title is about how we know what’s really true, but Dawkins did not tell us that. Dawkins no where gives an epistemology. He affirms the scientific method, but does not say how we’d know it to be valid, especially for truths that are not scientific. Dawkins does not really define what it means to be true either. One could say there is a close parallel between that and real, but that needs to be explained.

No doubt, as I said, much of the science is good and fascinating to read, but the parts I highlighted here are those that show Dawkins has something different in mind than just teaching science, something he would condemn by Christians. I recommend we need to follow C.S. Lewis’s advice here. Lewis wrote once that what needs to be done is that the main authorities on academic matters need to be Christians. They do not need to be Christians necessarily writing apologetics works, as good as those are, but Christians just wishing to pass on knowledge. A Christian can write a book on how to do history without seeking to show his Christianity at all. He can write on doing medicine without having to quote Scripture. He can write on astronomy without having to talk about the grandeur of God.

In fact, I would prefer he write in those ways so it can be that he is not writing seeking to tell readers what to think but how to think and when it comes out that he is a Christian, well the community realizes Christians can be great thinkers. What if it was the case that all best-selling books on subject matters like this were by Christians? What would it mean if we could re-enter the academy in that regards and be the authorities not on the details of the matter but on how to do the work of the matter. A Christian is the one who knows the most facts about medicine. A Christian is the one who has the most knowledge of how to best use a spectroscope. A Christian is the one who best knows how to do a sum in geometry.

The response to this book then is not to run from the academy. It is to enter it with full force. It is to meet the enemy head-on and engage. Dawkins has done in fact in a sense what we should have been doing. Christians are to be in pursuit of knowledge just because it is knowledge. This is God’s world and we need to know all that there is to know about it. We also need to be educating our children on the value of their minds and encouraging them to read everything they can on what interests them, and read both sides. I want my children to read Dawkins, and I want them to read what disagrees with Dawkins so they can know what to choose and make an informed decision.

If we believe the facts are with us, and they are, we need not be afraid.