Dawkins – Four Years Later Part 3

This is part three of my interaction with Dawkins’ book The God Delusion. It deals with Chapter 4, Why There Almost Certainly is no God. This, Dawkins says, is the main conclusion of the book the rest being mainly mopping up operations. I will publish one more article, on chapter 5 as I think it deals with an important question: Where did religion come from, if evolution is true? If everything evolved, what evolutionary purpose does religion serve?

In chapter 4 Why There Almost Certainly is no God, Dawkins uses as his proof a variation on a creationist favorite, The 747. This line attributed to physicist Fred Hoyle is summarized, Hoyle said that the probability of life originating on earth is no greater than the chance that a hurricane, sweeping through a scrapyard, would have the luck to assemble a Boeing 747 (p113). This is a creationist favorite (to my embarrassment many of the things he says are claimed by Christians are somewhat claimed by Christians, given Dawkins’ self-serving slants, fortunately what is true is true no matter how many ignoramuses one can quote supporting it.) which he adapts, what he calls the Ultimate 747, by noting that created things are less complex than those who create them (horseshoes do not make blacksmiths, but the other way around) so if god created, he must be more evolutionarily complex than what he created. Design is not a real alternative (explanation for life) at all because it raises an even bigger problem: who designed the designer? (p121) This, he says is an “infinite regress” and proof that it is unlikely god exists. He then uses this in subsequent questions to dismiss god as an answer. Design certainly does not work as an explanation for life … it takes us back along the Ultimate 747 infinite regress. (p141)

One issue I have with his reasoning is that it assumes god to be a product of natural processes. Dawkins does quote people (not in this chapter, but earlier in the book) saying god is “uncreated” but ridicules them and calls the idea “nonsense”. He does not interact with the idea, assuming I should take his word on that being nonsense. We are back to Dawkins commitment to only natural explanations and the circular reasoning “there is nothing supernatural so I don’t accept any supernatural explanations so that proves that the supernatural does not exists.” From my side, given that there is a creator, then it was he who created natural processes and it was not natural processes (or, at least not the ones to which we are subject) which created him.

Another fault is that he wishes to speculate that given for the sake of argument there is a God, then he must be an end result of processes. In other words, God must be just like us, only different. So even in his “concession” for the sake of argument Dawkins still demands to set all the rules, and the rule is “natural explanations only” (It is his way of saying “evolution, infinity”). “God must be just like us” (or what? Somebody’s cheating?). It can, no doubt, be declared speculation either way, but if you go along for the sake of argument, you owe the other side a little better hearing than Dawkins offers. To use other’s terminology but with the meaning changed to something other than what the others mean by it is the Fallacy of Equivocation.

The first argument in the chapter, the Ultimate 747, is a faulty one. To those who believe in a creator, he says that if anybody designed the universe, he must be more highly evolved or designed than the universe is. So, who designed the designer? This is not the slam dunk he says it is. If there is a designer of the universe, he is by definition not subject to the natural forces he created, so you cannot talk about His “evolution” in the same way that you would talk about ours. In other words, if someone designed our universe, he is not part of that universe (at one point, I suggested that the Universe was the model train set in God’s basement). So, Dawkins’ line “Creative intelligences, being evolved, necessarily arrive late in the universe, and therefore cannot be responsible for designing it.” doesn’t even make sense. “There is no creator of the Universe because the Universe is not old enough to evolve someone capable of creating it.” It is not valid, neither on the basis of this is it valid to dismiss any hint of a designer by chirping “infinite regress”.

The chapter depends on the concept of probabilities (hence the “almost certainly” in the title). Dawkins, quite rightly in my opinion, says that it is irrelevant to discuss the “odds against” evolutionary processes ending up with us, since we are here. The illustration he gives is of a man who is to be shot by a ten man firing squad. If he were to be asked later “what were the odds that all ten would have missed”, he would say “regardless of the odds, they must have all missed or I wouldn’t be here.” Yet, Dawkins turns around and wishes to discuss the probability of God, an exercise to which this same charge of irrelevance applies. As I said previously, either God exists and his existence is a brute fact or he does not exist and his non-existence is a brute fact.

Also, Dr Dawkins himself gets involved in his own infinite regress by suggesting the “Accordion theory” of the universe or possibly multiple universes, “like bubbles in a plastic wrap” (p145) to explain the odds evolution has to overcome. He doesn’t necessarily endorse these theories, but places them out as options. In other words, anything but God.

So, the argument of The God Delusion has to do with two things, the falseness of the God Hypothesis and that God is a delusion (and that is the word Dawkins chose, not “illusion” or “fairy tale” or any others). To the first claim, Dawkins has not proved it false. He attempted to prove God highly improbable which is an irrelevant observation as Dawkins knows when dealing with other odds of existence. To the second, that God is a delusion (a persistent false belief held in the face of strong contradictory evidence), he has not presented any strong contradictory evidence, merely his own strong personal distaste for religion (a quite different entity than God). Now, some random thoughts and interactions:

In the original series, a couple of people pointed out that there is a (at least perceived) difference between religion and spirituality. I think this issue is the key problem which I have with Dawkins book. In my last post, and in others, I observed that Dawkins uses that confusion (between faith and religion) for his benefit. The whole faith/religion thing does not exist for him. It is all the same, and all of it he hates and rejects. This thread being my thoughts concerning Dawkins’ book, I am somewhat confined to what he writes about. His book crosses so many boundaries as if they were all the same country. It is frequently illogical and undisciplined (sometimes hysterical) in its argumentation. (I guess that is to be expected from a zealot)

Repeatedly, when I quoted Dawkins someone posted that I misrepresented him or built a straw man when, in fact, I was quoting him. It reminds me of the head of the Washington press corps who was frustrated with Reagan because every time I quote him accurately, I get accused of mudslinging. When it seems I am ignoring the difference between faith and religion, it is because I am trying to fairly represent the views of someone for whom the distinction does not exist. I have raised this issue repeatedly in my response to Dawkins. The “confounding of faith and religion” is a major tactic of Dr Dawkins’ book and I would like to see Dr Dawkins address this issue you are talking about.

Another interesting exchange came when people challenged my not accepting Dawkins’ Infinite Regress argument. How, they wondered, can I accuse Dawkins himself of the fallacy? I responded, I would say the infinite regress is in the speculation. In the wiki link for infinite regress, the example they gave is the child who asks “why?” to everything which is said. In this instance, Dawkins wants to ask “and who designed this designer” to every mention of a designer.

Looking at Dawkins’ scenario, Why is it important to know who created the first universe – totally speculated with no evidence of existence other than one’s imagination that it might be so – before we can accept a creator for this universe – the only one we do know about? This seems to be begging the question. It further has the apparent underlying motive that if there is some being who created us, he isn’t the only game it town, so he’s no deal. So, it is another “anything but God” option.

To which another responded, I agree with this. It’s not an underlying motive. It’s the core of the idea. If God is not unique, he’s much less interesting. If there are several of them, I would rather search for the origin of the group than of our particular one.

My Response was, Thanks for your frankness here. In the past when I have observed the misotheism (haters of god) of humanity (myself included), people dismissed the idea. It has greater bearing on the nature of anyone’s “search for God” than most people realize. While somewhat of a dodge, I still believe it is an accurate and important observation.

Finally, There are anachronisms which often inhabit this discussion. Dawkins wishes to declare the conquest of Canaan “ethnic cleansing” evoking, as if equivalent, modern atrocities such as Rwanda, Sudan and Bosnia and our responses to them. The point often seems to be that our present scruples are standards for the rest of history. That we, in this age, consider slavery wrong and so all historical examples of slavery are reprehensible – even though not all slaveries were created equal – and that Scriptures are reprehensible for not declaring 21st century morés concerning slavery.

Instead, God has chosen to work through history to bring about the eschaton. God reveals progressively. Though “thy word is eternal”, God’s plan moves through time. History coming, perhaps, to the belief that the death penalty is wrong, do we then dismiss or condemn all people who have lived in a society which executed criminals? I have seen this applied, though of course in a very self-serving way. The political leader I do not like is a butcher, while equally involved leaders I like are not. Another example from Christianity, some people argue that Calvin was an evil man who lost his salvation because he murdered Servetus, not because of the facts of the case or the place in history where the execution took place, but ultimately because the one who argues such despises the theology called “Calvinism”.

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