Misread or mis-thought?
Posted by aogTuesday, 27 February 2007 at 23:20 TrackBack Ping URL

While I have already given Mr. Burnett a blanket permission to discredit any quote from Richard Dawkins with only a “Dawkins? Pfft!”, I must say that this screed against him via Brothers Judd made me think that I wasn’t sufficiently dismissive of Dawkin’s work.

I think the author goes on far too long, where there is a far more direct and devastating counter argument to Dawkins, which is that his claim that God doesn’t exist because “anything that can create or design something must be at least as complex as the thing it can design or create” leads immediately to either

  • Evolution is impossible … or
  • Random processes can do things that are physically impossible for a sentient designer.

Ouch! Did the author completely misread Dawkin’s argument, or has Dawkins really descended to that level of incoherence? I value my own brain cells too much to investigate myself.

Comments — Formatting by Textile
erp Wednesday, 28 February 2007 at 12:45

AOG, That’s the same reason I ignore discussions about Darwin, the end of history, intelligent design, baseball and other esoterica that men seem to get so worked up about.

Jeff Guinn Wednesday, 28 February 2007 at 23:22

I believe the author misstated Dawkins argument, by neglecting why he posed it in the first place.

Which is really quite simple. Religionists say God must exist, because the universe is too complex to come into being without being designed. NB: the point under discussion is not evolution, but the universe itself.

Dawkins’ objection, which to my eye is quite sound, is that the religionists invocation of God makes no sense whatsoever, because God himself would be too complex without having been designed himself. (The article’s citing of Augustine’s assertion that God is simple amounts to nothing more than handwaving.)

In other words, the religionist objection to an undesigned universe falls afoul Occam’s razor whilst simultaneously stumbling into infinite regress: it is an answer that does not answer anything.

That said, Dawkins would have simplified things a great deal had he simply cited all the mutually exclusive assertions regarding God, by way of demonstrating it is impossible to say anything at all about God, then use that to show how baseless all religions are, regardless of what one thinks of God’s existence.

However, and I just checked my email, he did not ask my opinion.

Brit Thursday, 01 March 2007 at 03:11

Jeff is right. This Dawkins argument is sound.

Annoying Old Guy Thursday, 01 March 2007 at 09:16

I have never heard the argument that God is required because the Universe is too complex. But I would agree that if such a claim is out there, it is just swishing the dirt around as Mr. Guinn points out.

pj Thursday, 01 March 2007 at 10:56

I would agree that the argument that God is required because the Universe is too complex, if such an argument has been made, is unsound. But Dawkins’s argument seems to be no better.

Both arguments seem to be simply variations on the regression that “If the Universe came into being, it must have had a Creator,” and “If the Creator came into being, there must have been a Creator of the Creator,” and so forth. That way of stating it poses the issues starkly. I think we must confess ignorance on such questions; we can’t exclude the possibility of an uncreated Creator, for instance.

Similarly, Dawkins can’t exclude the possibility of a simple God who creates complexity. His exclusion of that possibility is mere hand-waving.

It seems to me that the article accurately describes the invalidity of Dawkins’s logic. It does take the form “We know of no irrefutable objections to its being possible that p; Therefore p is true.”

Annoying Old Guy Thursday, 01 March 2007 at 11:16

Now there’s an interesting theological question — must God be uncreated in order to be God? Or is it enough that He created this Universe?

Michael Herdegen Thursday, 01 March 2007 at 17:26

God was created, in a process similar to the one that we’re undergoing, and it’s enough that He created this Universe.

Jeff Guinn Friday, 02 March 2007 at 23:59

pj:

I would agree that the argument that God is required because the Universe is too complex, if such an argument has been made, is unsound.

That is precisely the argument ID/Creationists make, most famously with the blood clotting cascade, and bacteria flagellum. That argument fails for the reason you cite — it is too complex to have come into being on its own, therefore Designer.

we can’t exclude the possibility of an uncreated Creator, for instance.

No more than you can exclude the possibility of an uncreated universe.

Similarly, Dawkins can’t exclude the possibility of a simple God who creates complexity. His exclusion of that possibility is mere hand-waving.

Which is why he scarcely mentions any of the erudite theology he is criticized for ignoring in The God Delusion. It is all hand waving. Need a simple God to create a universe that also can pull off miracles, be a real estate agent and speak to prophets? You got it.

You are right that Dawkins logic fails in the way you describe, but his at least one step better than his opponents, which goes something like this: We say p, therefore p.

This is why I would have advised Dawkins to completely avoid the whole question of God’s existence: it is a completely empty argument without any possible line of reasoning that is not self-contradictory, or faced with the bottomless chasm of infinite regress.

Dunnoism is the only intellectually honest answer.

Michael Herdegen Saturday, 03 March 2007 at 04:24

No, it isn’t, unless you’re talking about the nature of God.

As to the mere existence of the supernatural, “Dunnoists” are simply advertising the fact that they lack the sixth sense. Honest, as you say, but not the only honest answer.

Jeff Guinn Saturday, 03 March 2007 at 06:48

Micheal:

No, it isn’t, unless you’re talking about the nature of God.

And desires, plan, etc.

I’d settle for that right there: the widespread admission that every statement about the nature of God is not fact, not truth, but, at best, one hypothesis among many.

But it is true in even the wider Dunnoist sense. Since it is impossible to distinguish between completely contradictory statements regarding the supernatural, then Dunnoism is the only intellectually honest answer.

No matter how convinced I am that the material is all there is, I must admit it is not possible to assign any superior truth value to that statement, compared to the wife of a friend of mine who insists she has seen ghosts.

That makes me a Dunnoist. If she is honest, she should be too regardless of her personal opinion about the matter.

Peter Burnet Saturday, 03 March 2007 at 08:46

Brit/Jeff:

As David would say (and say and say and say), you are misapprehending Creation. Your notion of God is akin to Santa in his workshop. (Is Santa necessarily more complex than an Ipod?)

You two have a tendency to paint “Dunnoism” (can’t you come up with a term that doesn’t onomatopoeiacally suggest a half-wit?) as a 50/50 flip of the coin. What about the multiple universe theory Dawkins and others hang their hats on to answer the anthropic principle argument of Hawkings, et. al? Do you say that is equally plausible?

Philosophical proofs at this level aren’t akin to scientific proofs but rather to lawyers’ proofs, which is why Dawkins’s hammering away on evidence is misleading and selective. It’s about probability, plausibility and persuasion based upon knowledge, experience and sense defined broadly, not lab results, and if Dawkins’s answer is to postulate some wild theory about multiple universes so he can deal with mathematical and statistical objections on probability, surely he is conjuring. Francis Crick recounts a wonderful answer some philosopher made to the multiple universe theory when he imagined a prisoner before a firing squad of fifty marksmen. They all aim, shoot and miss, and the prisoner walks. Discussing how this happened, one fellow suggests that maybe an infinite number of executions were going on all over the world that day and it was a statistical probability approaching certainty that everybody would miss at one of them. The other suggests somebody ordered them to miss. Would a Dunnoist say they are equally plausible and that anyone who comes down for the latter is simply not being honest?

Robert Duquette Saturday, 03 March 2007 at 13:01

Now there’s an interesting theological question — must God be uncreated in order to be God? Or is it enough that He created this Universe?

Yes. That is part of the traditional list of attributes associated with the word God. Arguments about God that don’t stick to agreed to definitions are intellectually vacuous. It’s like saying “do cats have to meow in order to be cats? Or is it enough that they have paws” (thereby letting in the possibility that dogs are cats).

If “God” is not a word that conveys a set of attributes, if it is not a proposition, then it is useless to talk about him/it. Statements to the effect that “I can’t say anything about God, other than the fact that I know he exists” (Andrew Sullivan)are unintelligible. If you can’t say anything about the word God, then you can’t use the word. It’s a marker for nothing. It’s like a broken hyperlink. It stands for nothing.

cjm Saturday, 03 March 2007 at 17:54

one has two choices on this issue: believe in a creator, or believe that inanimate matter can spontaneously “come alive”. in the latter scenario, it is much more likely that machines would spontaneously appear :) i am curious about who believes what, amongst the regulars here (woodhead, we know what you believe, so take it as read).

Robert Duquette Saturday, 03 March 2007 at 20:04

believe in a creator, or believe that inanimate matter can spontaneously “come alive”.

There are a whole slew of possibilities that aren’t covered by your false dichotomy. But let’s start by clarifying your terms. What attributes qualify something to be a creator? Are conscious and personal necessary attributes? Or is any force that sets events in motion good enough?

There is no difference between animate and inanimate matter. A hydrogen atom that isn’t part of a living organism is no different than a hydrogen atom that is part of a complex organic molecule in a living organism. But anyhow, we don’t need to speculate whether inanimate atoms can become part of animate organisms, because we witness it everyday. You can watch it happen in a microscope.

Jeff Guinn Saturday, 03 March 2007 at 21:36

Peter:

As David would say (and say and say and say), you are misapprehending Creation.

And as I would say just as incessantly, his assertion is untainted by meaning: it is impossible to misapprehend that which is not apprehensible.

Every argument about creation face plants before its shoelaces are tied. Tossing God into the mix accomplishes nothing beyond begging for infinite regress, avoided only by arbitrary definitional hand-waving, along the lines of “Hmm … I know, God has always existed. That’s the ticket.” Conversely, leaving God out completely sidesteps the whole issue.

Neither is an answer, although the former pretends to be one far more often than the latter.

You two have a tendency to paint “Dunnoism” (can’t you come up with a term that doesn’t onomatopoeiacally suggest a half-wit?) as a 50/50 flip of the coin.

Here you have completely misconstrued Dunnoism. At its heart, it is providing an unanswerable question with the only response it deserves.

Every statement about God, or Creation, is a pure faith statement, because the truth value of any faith statement is completely indistinguishable from all the others.

There is nothing 50-50 about it, and certainly no coin toss: all those statements are worthless.

What about the multiple universe theory Dawkins and others hang their hats on to answer the anthropic principle argument of Hawkings, et. al? Do you say that is equally plausible?

Plausible? You must be joking. Multiple Universes, just like the whole swarming herd of creation myths, is pure conjecture tarted up as an explanation.

The Anthropic argument itself is completely empty, as it extrapolates from a single data point: it is an intellectual headless vector, all speed and no direction.

Let’s grant that the arrangement of physical principles is tuned to a jaw droppingly improbable fare-thee-well.

Is this universe the only trial? One in an endless succession of serial trials? One in an endless number of parallel trials?

Not only is the answer to those questions unknowable, answering yes to any of them gets you nowhere in comparison to the rest.

So the answer to each is “Dunno.”

which is why Dawkins’s hammering away on evidence is misleading and selective. It’s about probability, plausibility and persuasion based upon knowledge, experience and sense defined broadly …

I do not wish to defend Dawkins rationale for atheism, because he is providing an affirmative answer where Dunno is required. But that gets me back to the original point of this thread: I think Dawkins is misread, as he was turning the argument theists make back upon itself — they made it first, and ID/Creationists continue to make it.

Going beyond that to prove atheism is merely to reiterate the original mistake in the opposite direction.

They all aim, shoot and miss, and the prisoner walks. … Dunnoist say they are equally plausible and that anyone who comes down for the latter is simply not being honest?

A Dunnoist would point out the fallacious analogy. We have no end of experience with firing squads, so we would not be extrapolating from a single data point. We know the before and and after states, and we would be able to collect evidence: where did the bullets go?

Most succinctly, though, until there was evidence available to answer the question — is supernatural intervention really a better solution? — then a Dunnoist is going say: “I dunno. And you don’t, either.”

Peter Burnet Sunday, 04 March 2007 at 20:11

Sorry, I meant Collins, not Crick.

Steven Wood Thursday, 22 March 2007 at 16:31

(woodhead, we know what you believe, so take it as read).

Lol. :) This is not a topic I actually give a great deal of though to although I have considered the claims of religions which all claim a monopoly on knowledge of God. Dunnoism despite being “a term that doesn’t onomatopoeiacally suggests a half-wit” (greate description !!) seems like a perfectly reasonable intellectual standpoint to, although I prefer being called a sceptic.

Anyway, this program wont write itself, I better get on with it.

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