Back to The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. If you're interested part one is here.
First off, in my review of the first three chapters I talked about how there's no real argument given, or at least not much of an argument given. Mostly just blustering and casually brushing aside arguments for god, well, in chapter four Dawkins finally gives his argument for "why there almost certainly is no god." He attacks the "Ultimate Boeing 747" concept as fallacious, citing Natural Selection as NOT blind chance, rather a step-by-step ascent of "mount improbable." He also, rightfully attacks the concept of "god of the gaps."
I don't hold to Dawkins' intimation that theists/religious people are afraid of or somehow all have enmity towards science. He says again and again that theist love these gaps in scientific knowledge and that theists cling to things that science cannot (yet) explain. Again, bad logic in over-generalization/stereotyping. Just because there have been instances of people that feel that way and their foolishness has been put on display doesn't mean that theists are all foolish when it comes to science. I don't claim any special knowledge when it comes to science/mathematics I've never had an interest in them (above a cursory curiosity). I prefer philosophy, logic, language, linguistics, etc. Just because I have faith doesn't mean that I'm afraid of a scientific explanation, but that's not what Dawkins gives. He doesn't give "scientific" explanations for these "gaps" he gives atheistic speculations. The gaps that even Dawkins admits science cannot bridge are the formation of life, the formation of the eukaryotic nature of cells, and the emergence of consciousness. But, in answer to all these gaps, his argument is the Anthropic Principle.
So, if you're not familiar let me sum up the anthropic principle as Dawkins describes it, though he calls the principle to action in all the cases where science cannot give an answer. It's something like this, given the number of stars we know exist, even with a one in a billion chance for life to evolve on a planet (though I've read the odds are actually in the trillions), given the estimate of a billion-billion planets in the universe it had to happen, not once but many times. There are several problems with this idea. I'm not a mathematician so I could be wrong on this, the issue is probability. Take a coin toss. If you flip a coin 100 times you should get 50 heads/50 tails. However, you could flip a coin 1,000 times and get heads every time. Odds don't mean that if you do something enough times all the options will present themselves, just that they should or are like to present themselves. So, it holds that even with a billion-billion possibly earth-like planets, life could have only happened one time and only here on this planet. Philosophically the anthropic principle is even more fallacious.
The anthropic principle set out as a philosophical idea sounds something like this:
1) It is highly improbable that life could exist without outside interventionReally? Putting it another way: life could exist without god, we're alive, therefore it did. The amazing thing to me is that he doesn't just use this principle for the alignment of planets to set up a planet on which life might evolve (the so-called, Goldilocks zone). He applies this principle to all the mysteries of science! Like the Big Bang, why are the cosmological constants in perfect setting to allow for a universe that is capable of producing planets that are capable of producing life? As a side note I watched an interesting (banned) TED talk that claims they might not be constant after all. There's no need to ask "why" because we're here, therefore it must have happened. This particular use of the principle might strike people as odd, because think about it, to apply the principle there must be millions to billions of options, or at least enough that the odds are overcome; this means that there must be millions upon millions of universes, either in the past, or multiverses/parallel universes.
2) We're here, alive, thinking about that probability
3) It must have happened
Moving on to chapter five about the roots of religion Dawkins again displays his prejudice: "...it only raises the question of why a mind would evolve to find comfort in beliefs it can plainly see are false" (pg. 168). He then tries to give his Darwinian evolutionary explanation of how religion could have come about. He starts off with the idea that we've evolved in such a way that obedience of one's elders is a good thing. The older people obviously know how to survive and if one listens to the elders' advice one will (presumably) survive better but here's how religion comes into play from that notion. "The child cannot know that 'Don't paddle in the crocodile-infested Limpopo,' is good advice but 'You must sacrifice a goat at the time of the full moon, otherwise the rains will fail,' is at best a waste of time and goats" (pg. 176). One of the many problems with this theory, is where did the elder get that idea? There cannot be an infinite regress. Someone accidentally sacrifices a goat on the full moon and the rains came, or someone didn't happen to have a goat on a full moon and there was a drought? How could a primitive mind, that can't recall enough data to make even basic tools be asked to recall and relate one day with a whole season wherein the person probably would have died. How does that lead to survival? Someone who accidentally sacrificed a goat and then lived through a season with rain survives and passes down this superstition? I have serious doubts in all these kinds of speculative answers because I see this kind of statement all the time, not just in Dawkins' writing.
The problem in this whole bit about the evolutionary source for religion, which he gives similar guesses in later portions of the text for other questions, but I'll deal with the idea in general here. All these guesses or theories about evolutionary processes bringing about X result, boil down to this type of argument: 1) this is how X trait could have been passed on through evolutionary natural selection ∴/therefore 2) it was passed on through natural selection. Basically, if I can explain how something could have happened without god, that's how it must have happened. I saw this in two different YouTube (two links "You" and "Tube") videos about the beginnings of the universe (though neither mentioned god). They basically laid out how the universe could have expanded from a subatomic particle that popped into existence from nothing with such and such characteristics, then ballooned out to become the entire universe. They (both videos) seemed to be speaking authoritatively about these theories, like, this is a possible explanation of how it could have happened without citing god, therefore it must be correct.
The same fallacious thinking is apparent in Dawkins' writing, here's how it might have happened without god, therefore that's what happened. I like the original Ockham's Razor argument as it was explained to me many years ago: you walk into a room and the window is open, you ask yourself why the window is open. There could have been a microburst of wind that happened to blow at just the right angle to open the window, or there might have been an earthquake that shook in just the right manner to rattle the window open, or on and on, but the most basic answer, that is someone left it open, is the correct answer. So, I ask you, in all this theorizing, if such and such variables might have come aligned at just the right way to bring about X trait is the more simple answer, or is it more simple to say, Someone put them that way? Not that postulating a Supreme Being is more simple in every instance, but in this particular argument, it seems to be straightforward.
Sorry for the length but I only have one more chapter to cover!
In chapter six Dawkins seeks to provide an answer to the idea of mankind being good without God. As such, he starts off with pointing out the evil in the letters that he and fellow atheists have received from religious people. Don't get me wrong I hate seeing things like this and I wish I could have worked with those people on how to rewrite their grievances without insults. Nevertheless, they're out there. I'm not going to argue that religious people are all civilized that's clearly not true. I'm not even going to try to narrow the definition of "true religion" that's just a no-true-scotsman fallacy. The only thing I have to say is to not judge religion by the outspoken few that give it a bad name.
There is one letter that Dawkins attempts to address that claims that evolutionary theory leads to nihilism. He rebuffs the claim by throwing out there that natural selection is not random. I think he's missing the point of the issue. It's not whether the evolutionary process is random (which by the way it requires at least random mutations, so there is an element of randomness in the whole theory) or not; the issue is whether it's a guided process or unguided. It's about purpose, meaning, and goals. Not about randomness. Natural selection has no goal, no guiding principle other than basic survival. As such it is hopeless despite how Dawkins brushes that claim aside.
Dawkins offers a guess about how natural selection could lead to kindness to one's kin, but then kills his goal of giving meaning within the natural selection schema by likening any altruism outside one's own kin to an accident. I ca't that one could accept this kind of argument. Basically, he's saying that while we're not produced via random processes our kindness to anyone other than kin (which is logical), is accidental. Tell me how this doesn't have a nihilistic conclusion? "We can no more help ourselves feeling pity when we see a weeping unfortunate (who is unrelated and unable to reciprocate) that we can help ourselves feeling lust for a member of the opposite sex (who may be infertile or otherwise unable to reproduce). Both are misfirings, Darwinian mistakes: blessed, precious mistakes" (pg. 221). Tell me how a mistake is better than random when it comes to showing purposefulness.
On thing occurred to me as I was reading his claim about determining that we all have a shared moral compass because of the evolutionary process, I thought of the "famous violinist" argument for abortion. Based on simple moral tests, we see that everyone agrees one should submit to helping the helpless. The analogy holds absolutely no weight in the argument about abortion, but it does point to the idea that people often agree on ethical dilemmas. I love the mention of Harvard biologist Marc Hauser mentioned on page 222 and following. It's proving C.S. Lewis' arguments from Mere Christianity one survey respondent at a time. Again Dawkins shows prejudice and dogmatic thinking and shows why he and most of those he references should not be trusted: "For Kant it was a moral absolute. For Hauser it is built into us by our evolution" (pg. 224). If one starts off with the dogmatism that there must be no god and that everything is explicable by evolution/natural selection, of course your conclusion is going to agree.
Plantinga calls this sophomoric philosophy (I didn't read that review in full before starting my reading/review, I'll probably read it when I'm done with the book), but here's another example from the latter portion of ch. six: "The main conclusion of Hauser and Singer's study was that there is no statistically significant difference between atheists and religious believers in making these judgements. This seems compatible with the view, which I and many others hold, that we do not need God in order to be good - or evil" (pg. 226). So many problems with this and I've taken up way too much of your time so I'll try to be brief. First, attacking religion is a strawman. The issue isn't religious faith, it's the existence or non-existence of a deity. So, saying that either side of the issue is good or bad has nothing to do with the actual question. Secondly, and he attempts to make some response to this, is that the question isn't about the ethical or unethical behaviour of people. The issue is moral objective standards. He takes a stab at that question, but more or less brushes it away as not really at stake here. He claims to answer it in the following chapter but after a small sneak peak, he's more or less going to stay on the track that religious people do bad things therefore religious belief is actually negative towards being good. He's already hinted at that conclusion by pulling out statistics relating the conservative states in the US versus the liberal states in crime statistics. Wow, talk about twisting statistics to suit one's needs. Basically, his argument was something like, there is a higher crime rate in certain cities within predominantly contain Republican Party voters, therefore religious people are actually more evil than atheists. As to the concept of absolutist morality, he basically brushes it aside because he's believes in a consequentialist view of morality, so seeking a moral absolute is unnecessary.