Monday, June 04, 2007
Is there "almost certainly no God"?
Over on the eBay Atheist blog, Benjamin Ady mentions a pastor who claims that Richard Dawkins and other popular atheist polemicists fail to offer cogent arguments for not believing in God. Not having fully read Dawkins' books (or Harris', Hitchen's or Dennet's for that matter) I can't say with certainty whether or not they do. However, I do know that Dawkin's central argument against the existence of God found in his most recent book, The God Delusion, is not particularly convincing. Based on summaries of this argument I've read online, I'd briefly summarize his logic thusly:

  1. A Creator God would be extremely complex. But…
  2. Darwinian science tells us that complexity develops naturally from simplicity, not vice versa. Therefore…
  3. God must have developed from something less complex and thus isn’t God.
  4. Therefore God almost certainly does not exist.

Of course, the weakness of this particular argument is in point #3. Dawkins seems not to realize that classical theistic belief has always posited that God has eternally existed “outside” the natural order (i.e. apart from both space and, more importantly, time), so rules about how things work within nature (i.e. moving from simplicity to complexity) do not necessarily apply to God. Clearly Dawkins has never peeled back the curtain of this space-time continuum to see whether these laws of evolution hold true “outside” the universe, so on what basis can he claim that “God must have developed from something less complex"? Indeed, if “time”, and therefore “development", only has meaning within the universe (as several atheists have pointed out to me, there was no “time” before the Big Bang) then it is meaningless to talk about something outside the universe “evolving” from simple to complex in the first place.

Either Dawkins is unaware of the classical theistic definition of God, or he deliberately misrepresents it so as to help his argument (since his argument only works if one thinks that God somehow exists “within” his own creation - in which case he is not the theistic God of Christian belief). Either way, this argument is not a very good one.

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posted by Mike Clawson at 2:47 PM | Permalink |


5 Comments:


At 6/04/2007 08:20:00 PM, Blogger Michael Krahn

Hey,

I'm working my way through The God Delusion at posting on it at:

http://michaelkrahn.wordpress.com/richard-dawkins/

There's been quite a response so far... it's tough to keep up with the comments.

 

At 6/04/2007 11:15:00 PM, Blogger justin

He phrases it more as a counter to the "irreducible complexity" argument of Intelligent Design proponents. As such, I'd summarize it more like this:

1. According to ID proponents, structures such as the bacterial flagellum and the eye are too complex to have arisen through natural selection.
2. That is, they are so complex that it is highly improbable they could've happened naturally (e.g., "Is it probably that a tornado in a junkyard could assemble a 747?").
3. The more complex a structure or organism, the more improbable it is.

Dawkins extends this by saying:

4. God, being the most complex, is the most improbable being of all.

An additional point is that the rebuttal: "God has eternally existed" is a request for special pleading. If one entity--God--can eternally exist, then why not the universe instead? This would be more parsimonious because it includes one fewer entity and explains just as much.

 

At 6/04/2007 11:48:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

I'm not sure how it is "special pleading" if that has been the standard definition of God all along. It's not like God's eternity and transcendence was some argument cooked up recently in order to respond to Dawkins.

As for the universe eternally existing, that's certainly one possibility. Of course it has the unfortunate problem of not being true - at least according to current scientific knowledge. As far as we can determine, the universe as we know it (that is, space and time and the natural laws of matter and energy that operate within it) did have a definite beginning. And so we are still left with the ultimate questions of "why is there something rather than nothing?", and "how did it get this way?" There are several possible answers to this question, of which God is one. (Multiple universes is another, though whether that is any less speculative and unprovable than the existence of God seems unlikely to me.)

But irregardless, Occam's Razor seems like a rather inadequate tool when we are talking about the nature of ultimate reality. Even everyday experience can easily show that the simplest answer is not always the correct one.

 

At 6/05/2007 07:14:00 AM, Anonymous Kullervo

Yeah, Occam's Razor may be a useful tool, but it's not a kind of infallible law.

And who says God is even subjest to human logic?

 

At 6/05/2007 11:35:00 PM, Anonymous Miko

There are several possible answers to this question, of which God is one. (Multiple universes is another, though whether that is any less speculative and unprovable than the existence of God seems unlikely to me.)

I sometimes wonder whether the word "exist" even has meaning when applied outside of the context of our universe. Or to philosophical speculations like saying every fundamental particle in our universe is its own universe; unless we can interact with it, I don't even see how a theory like that can mean anything.

But irregardless, Occam's Razor seems like a rather inadequate tool when we are talking about the nature of ultimate reality. Even everyday experience can easily show that the simplest answer is not always the correct one.

I don't think that's the correct interpretation of Occam's Razor. I'd phrase it is "the simplest answer is the one you should go with." Even if it isn't correct, you shouldn't add complexity until you need to because you may be adding in the wrong direction. If the simplest theory isn't correct, it'll eventually break down and need to be complexified. Two thousand years ago, Occam's Razor would have suggested that we accept creationism, but as evidence started building against it, exploring alternatives became simpler than trying to explain all of the inconsistencies.

Have you seen the latest research on the expansion of the universe? New results suggest that 100 billion years from now, space will be accelerating so fast that the light from one galaxy will never reach another one. If there's a species of astronomers at that time, they'll conclude via Occam's Razor that there are no other galaxies and be wrong. However, if they were to speculate on what the other galaxies were like without seeing any evidence of them, they'd likely be even more wrong.

 

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