Re: Ch. 10 - A MUCH NEEDED GAP?
I finished reading the God Delusion this afternoon and have to say that Dawkin's final section, The Mother of All Burkas, is better than most of what comes before it in the book. Not that I thought the burka metaphor is that effective, it seemed strained and overly cute, but here at last is Dawkins on firm ground talking about science and scientific models of the natural world.
I am somewhat puzzled by the following bit on page 366, however.
The number of molecules per glassful [of water] is hugely greater than the number of glassfuls in the world. So every time we have a full glass of water, we are looking at a rather high proportion of the molecules of water that exist in the world.
The last part of this is surely mistaken? I mean, so what if there are more molecules of water in a glass of water than the total glasses of water in the world. The total molecular count of water in that glass is still a vanishingly small percentage of the total molecules of water in the world -- not the "high proportion" Dawkins indicates. It puzzles me how he could make such an elementary blunder.
The Wittgenstein question on page 367, "Well, what would it have looked like if it had looked as if the Earth was rotating," didn't phase me for a second. The answer is simple, it would have looked like the sky at night. The reason the sun seems to move instead of the Earth is that it is so apparently small in the sky. But, on a clear night, with the entire panoply of stars across the entire sky, the situation is totally different. Of course, people rarely spend more than a moment or two looking at the night sky. If you happen to spend the entire night, or a good portion of it, studying the night sky, the change in position of the constellations is dramatic. It's quite easy, in fact, to imagine the Earth rotating because the stellar patterns are so vast and detailed, covering, as they do, the entire sky.
The next paragraph lumps both the sun and stars into one group, asserting that they seem small compared with familiar landmarks. I can say with near certainty that this argument would never be made by amateur astronomers, both because of what I said above, and the fact that familiar landmarks are hidden in darkness at night.
This is not an insight that would occur to contemporary professional astronomers, who rarely ever spend any time under the night sky. In fact, listening to a lecture from a professional astronomer talking about the actual appearance of the night sky, or what can and can't be seen through a telescope, often results in some of the biggest howlers imaginable to people who spend a lot of time looking at the sky simply because they love to do it.