Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Disputing Dawkins III

I have previously argued that there is no reason to believe that we can measure the probability of God's existence. Let's ignore that for the time being; let's pretend that we can.

Dawkins suggests that, if we measure God's probability of existence on a spectrum, entering assorted data into the equation, then we will find that God's existence is extremely improbable.

I disagree entirely, and will in this post argue, even positing that measuring God's existence is possible, against Dawkins'

Argument for the Improbability of God's Existence.

Again, I feel manacled by the fact that I don't have a copy of the book to use. Maybe I'll download one. So I'm going by memory and by the (poorish) notes I took while reading. Apologies.

By page 14o of the chapter "Why There Almost Certainly Is No God," I'm quite willing to concede that biodiversity and life's existence do not logically require God's existence, granted a universe for them to exist in. I wasn't ever an ardent creationist anyway. Yet explanations for the origin of the world's phenomenon does not demonstrate that God's existence is improbable; it only demonstrates that creationism isn't necessarily true. This is a hugely important distinction.

After this, Dawkins seems to ask for an explanation for God's existence; this is usually known as the 'who made God?' question. Now, my natural inclination is to write this off as nonsense--no one made God. Sure, I don't understand how this could be. I don't expect to understand everything. I realize that this will not fly for the voraciously curious Dawkins, who insists that all questions he cares to ask are answerable (and, oddly, all questions that he doesn't care to ask are nonsensical). However, I want to point out that we don't know how the universe came about, either. I don't mean to play God of the Gaps, here; it's my guess that there will always be an infinite regress on determining the origins of the universe, but that's not the point. My point is that just as we may figure out how the universe could come into existence, someone may eventually come up with a brilliant and convincing account of how God has always existed. In other words, if I can't say, "Well, science doesn't have an answer for it," then Dawkins can't say, "Well, theology doesn't have an answer for it." I suppose we'll just have to wait for what the future comes up with (or doesn't). (And on another aside, I doubt Dawkins would be convinced with the answer, and not just because he's biased against it; the answer would likely be rationalist and not empiricist, and so he'd never be willing to accept.)

Then Dawkins addresses "other ways of knowing besides the scientific" (p 154). His answer seems to be that personal experience could be illusory, and that revelation would be measurable, and since we've never measured a revelation before, it can't have happened. Now, that personal experience could be illusory is certainly true; the major problem with Dawkins using this line of argument is that he offers no way of determining which experiences are illusory. Why are religious experiences hallucinations--or products of human bias and expectation--while scientific observations are accurate? The answer is pretty simple--that wouldn't help his argument at all. (And if you're of the scientific bent, you'll likely try to tell me otherwise. Go read Haraway. Go talk to some native elders. At the very least, read this story.) Further, I'm not sure why he insists that revelation ought to be measurable. Well, I think I know why; it's just wrong.

Think of it this way. Say God exists, a God who can communicate with humans. This God, as we believe it, operates beyond the known laws of the universe. If God is capable of this, surely God is capable of hiding the means of communication from our observation until it arrives in the human's minds. Why would God do this? Well, I'm not altogether worried about such a question--why anybody does anything isn't something I can know--but, for the sake of argument, I'd guess it might be so that we have the ability to choose whether to believe or not. That's a fairly common line of reasoning, so I don't think I need to outline it here. The point is that if God exists, and beyond humanly-knowable physics, there's no reason that God's communication with us need be measurable.

Dawkins also posits that a God that can communicate with all humans simultaneously, and answer all of their prayers, that God must be extraordinarily complicated. Well, perhaps. But perhaps not. C. S. Lewis anticipates this in Mere Christianity, and as Dawkins has indicated that he's read Lewis' book, it's a bit disappointing that Dawkins bothers to mention this. He does, however, and so I will say what C. S. Lewis said. That is, God is eternal, meaning not that he exists for all time, but that he exists outside of time. It's a bit of a brain-breaker if you're not familiar with this sort of thinking, but bear with me. Imagine the timeline as a line on a piece of paper, and along this line all things from the beginning to the end occur. You can jot down samples along the line if you care to. Now, you can draw on it the portion when you have existed and you can pinpoint the present along the line. As time progresses, the present slides along that line. It goes on inexorably, and doesn't go backwards. Theory of relativity does some interesting things with this sort of demonstration. I don't know much about this, but you could research it if you cared to. Theology also does some interesting things, and that's what I'm talking about here. See, God does not move along the line in some order, as the present does. God doesn't even hop along from one point to another like a time-traveler would. Instead, God exists out of the line. From this point, He can gaze upon any part of the timeline at will, in any order He wills. To say that God must communicate with all praying people simultaneously is silly. He only has to communicate with one at a 'time'. God experiences time differently.

But even if this were not the case, something which produces complicated things does not necessitate that that thing is itself complicated. Dawkins, in fact, provides an excellent example. The process of Darwinian evolution is, in its fundamentals, very simple, and yet it has produced very complicated things.

And then Dawkins claims to have proved that God is monstrously improbable. On pages 157-158, he generates a list that summarizes his 'arguments' and comes to the 'conclusion' he wants. I'll paraphrase the items here:

1) Humanity's greatest intellectual challenge is to exlpain complexity in the world.
2) Natural temptation is to posit 'design' as the answer.
3) The natural temptation is fallacious, as we get to the "Who designed the designer" question; therefore, "design is not a sufficient answer to the question is #1; we need what Dawkins calls a crane, which builds gradually from simplicity to complexity.
4) Most ingenious and powerful crane created so far is Darwinian evolution; design is an illusion; evolution is cummulative.
5) There is not yet an equivalent crane for physics; could be mulitverses, a Darwin-like theory; heavier demands, but anthropic principle allows for more luck then our intuition is comfortable with.
6) We should not give up hope for a crane in physics; current weak cranes are self-evidently better than the "self-defeating skyhook hypothesis of an intelligent designer."

And then he says, "If the argument of this chapter is accepted, the factual premise of religion--the God Hypothesis--is untenable. God almost certainly does not exist. This is the main conclusion of the book so far."

Which is utterly preposterous.

He does not provide ANY ANSWER WHATSOEVER to the following question: Why must the first cause be simple? Phrased differently, why must a complex God be the result of a cummulative process?

Now, it doesn't take a person trained in logic to see that his list of premises isn't an argument, because each step does not build off of the previous one. Namely, #4 goes against his conclusion, and then #5 flatly denies #4. There's no proof or argument, but simple assertion. And then all he does is demonstrate that God's existence is not necessary to explain the existence of the world. The closest he comes to demonstrating that God is unlikely is to ask the "Who made God?" question, which fundamentally presupposes a rational materialist framework, and if you're willing to believe in God, you might as well go whole-hog and say God exists outside of that framework. The problem is, Dawkins is unwilling to give up his rational materialism even in limited contexts, or to acknowledge that a rational person could.

Now, there are other big problems with his argument that sit in his fundamental presuppositions: that humans can grasp the universe using logic alone; that humans can grasp the universe at all; that humans can use logic effectively; that the universe follows logical laws; that rationality is the best measure. These problems are laced into the one above, as you can see, so it's harder for me to tease this argument out of these. However, let's just simplify for a second and see where I've come so far.

If we can measure God's existence along a spectrum of probability, I'm willing to concede that the complexity of the universe is not going to push the probability any closer to 100%. That being said, the "Who made God?" question isn't going to push it any closer to 0%, either. And that's where Dawkins leaves us--right where we started. He most certainly doesn't get us within sight of "almost certainly does not exist."
As he argues that a rational person ought not believe in God because of this improbability, and that we therefore must only deal with religion in its this-world effects, and that, since religion's real-world effects are (according to him), negative, we must do away with religion. If God's existence is not improbable, however, then the rest of the argument falls apart.

Of course, I disagree even further back; I don't think we can even measure God's probability. But I will always try to argue this way, and attack each part as individually as possible. That is always the best way to argue.

As a note, I'd like to say I'm less satisfied with the arguments on the post here. While I'm sure all of it's true, some of it feels like a cop-out to me. Specifically, my refutation of the "Who made God?" question feels a little weak. This being said, I'm absolutely certain that that question is nonsensical. I just don't feel I argued it well. My apologies for that.

Go to the Dawkins Directory

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