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Re: Ch. 2 - THE GOD HYPOTHESIS
Quote:Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them; and no man ever had a distinct idea of the trinity. It is the mere Abracadabra of the mountebanks calling themselves the priests of Jesus.
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Ridicule, Malice and What Matters about God
TJ: Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions.
Hardly...ridicule is malice, and malice is not the only way to respond to human error. Unintelligible propositions may be malicious, thus making ridicule an intelligent response...but not all are; some spring from genuine curiosity, imagination, best guesses, and damned important hope. In these case ridicule would be stupid and dangerous...especially since malice so often requires dangerous stupidity.
TJ: Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them
Distinct ideas are important, and reason matters...but neither matter more than everything else; some things matter more.
TJ: no man ever had a distinct idea of the trinity
I don't think a distinct idea of the Trinity is possible: nor is it important...it doesn't matter, at least not as much as some argue.
Then again, I don't think it possible to get a distinct idea of oneself either: especially in relation to the rolodex of relations in your life...intimate friends, aquaintances, customers, bosses, strangers, the whole of human history...as it relates to you, and you to it...all of it matters. Better, in defining these endless relationships, you are defining yourself.
What matters about these relationships is why you matter.
What matters about the relationships of the Holy Trinity is why God matters.
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Re: Ridicule, Malice and What Matters about God
Just a quick thought, it's very frustrating that even though Dawkins claims he's going to examine the God Hypothesis as he defines it, he spends most of his time rambling on about things that have nothing to do with it.
Some much of what he includes is just padding, entertaining padding, so long as you're not the target of his tounge, but so far I'm getting the impression, that the whole book could have been cut down to a relatively short essay.
Yeah, I got pretty much the same thing from chapter seven where he launches into a seriously long rant about Biblical stories that are obviously immoral from contemporary Western points of view. It is not that his argument is fallacious, only that he could have accomplished the same thing in a paragraph or two (rather than pages) and without the mocking and derisive tone.
PS: I'm going to have to start concentrating on some of the good nuggets, though, or everything I have to say about the book will be negative...
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Re: Ridicule, Malice and What Matters about God
That's the problem, there's a lot of good stuff in the book, but it's difficult to get past the gaffs.
To be honest, I don't think anybody here on booktalk would get anything new out of the book, with the possible exception of the reverse argument from design, which I don't personally find very convincing.
I'd like to send copies of the book off to some fundies though, just to see if it might be possible to get them to try and think a little harder about the shit they spew. Then again, that little miracle might in itself invalidate the Dawkins' hypothesis.
Well, one of the problems with the good parts is if they aren't self-contained, that is, if they rely on any sort of external reference, you have to freaking check the reference directly to make sure old RD hasn't misrepresented his source material! (I have to wonder how much of the source material he has even read!)
Niall earlier made a point that the arguments Dawkins provides in this book are weak and one doesn't have to go far to find an example. Page 31 provides a definition of the God hypothesis referred to in the book's preface on page 2:
Quote:'the God hypothesis' is a scientific hypothesis about the universe, which should be analysed as sceptically as any other.
Here is how the hypothesis is defined on page 31:
Quote:there exists a super-human, supernatural intelligence who deliberately designed and created the universe and everything in it, including us
I'm going to overlook the deliberately designed redundancy -- is it possible to "accidentally" design anything? (I guess I didn't overlook it.)
Why super-human? Could anything about the putative creator of our universe be human?
Consider the definition of theist provided on page 18:
Quote:A theist believes in a supernatural intelligence who, in addition to his main work of creating the universe in the first place, is still around to oversee and influence the subsequent fate of his initial creation.
When I reread this section, the latter part of the definition, the part about God still influencing his (its?) creation startled me. I recognized that I have been defining a theist as someone who only asserts the existence of God. I checked the definition of "theist" in my dictionary (an American Heritage), and found that RD's paraphrase is surprisingly accurate -- I guess the difference between a theist and a deist, subsequently defined by RD in the same paragraph on page 18. So, a question: why doesn't the God hypothesis include the second part of the theist definition -- that God is still influencing our universe?
Here is the next part of the argument on page 31:
Quote:This book will advocate an alternative view: any creative intelligence, of sufficient complexity to design anything, comes into existence only as the end product of an extended process of gradual evolution.
Of course, that assertion is based on causal observations of the natural world: that the same causal relationships apply to a supernatural realm is presumed by RD with no proof. I'll let that go because the next statement is the real howler.
Quote:Creative intelligences, being evolved, necessarily arrive late in the universe, and therefore cannot be responsible for designing it.
What in the heck does this statement have to do with God? God, being supernatural, would not be part of the universe. If he did create the universe, he must have existed before it did. If it was necessary for God to evolve, why is it that the evolution could not have taken place before our universe was created? Of course, there is no empirical way to test or observe any of this but so what? The underlying assumption here (MadArchitect is laughing already, I'm sure) is that if we don't have empirical proof of something it couldn't have happened. Really? And how would one prove that? This isn't a rational argument. In fact, it's not an argument at all.
The final assertion, that "God, in the sense defined, is a delusion" is meaningless because an argument concerning the recent development of creative intelligence in the natural world cannot be meaningfully applied to a supernatural creator. So, in fact, the title of this book rests on a meaningless argument. Impressive.
Quote:Of course, that assertion is based on causal observations of the natural world: that the same causal relationships apply to a supernatural realm is presumed by RD with no proof.
I don't think this is a very good criticism of Dawkin's argument. For instance, let's phrase it in terms of something more secure, in order to see why the objection is so startlingly wrong:
Let's say that I assert that A=A and A cannot equal ~A ever. Someone responds to me arguing that this assertion is only based upon my being part of a "logical" world--I assume without reason that the same logical relationships would apply even to an "alogical" world.
Of course, I think Dawkins misses this finer point because he doesn't really go to any depths with his argument. Essentially, it is not an objection to say, "But this argument doesn't apply in 'magic realm' where 'causality/logic/whatever' does not apply." It is not an objection for the same reason that it is no objection to the person who asserts that A can never equal ~A for one to remark that maybe the laws of logic don't apply in some mystical land of illogic. What reason do you even have to bring up such a realm of existence? Does it even make sense? Can one conceive of an "illogical" existence or a "supernatural" existence?
Quote:an argument concerning the recent development of creative intelligence in the natural world cannot be meaningfully applied to a supernatural creator
I think that the point Richard is making is one that is frequently made in debates concerning contingency and necessity in regards to existence. The question asked is, "Why does something exist rather than nothing?" And the answer is supposed to be that God explains this. But then we are left with the question, "Why does God exist rather than nothing?" and the stock response is that this question does not apply to God, it would only apply to contingent matter and energy.
In terms of Richard's point, the question is, "Why does complexity exist", and the answer critiqued is "God creates complexity." Richard is essentially arguing that this doesn't really answer that question, because God himself must be pretty complex. Instead of answering the question, the theist is essentially saying, "Complexity doesn't need to be explained, I can posit a being that lives in a realm that dodges these explanations". Does this mean that Dawkins' argument doesn't apply? Not really. He at once proposes an answer to the question verified by experience and all we know, "Complexity exists because it is the end product of selective pressures and random changes", and at the same time shows how the "God hypothesis" doesn't really answer the question at all, and instead just avoids it.
The fact that God is complex, that God is not nothing, only goes to show that positing him isn't a very good explanation for ultimate existence or the order of the universe. Why posit a complex entity outside of the world we know when we can posit entities within our experience that fulfill these functions--we can explain complexity with evolutionary functions and we can explain existence by making "energy" a necessity (it can't be destroyed or created) or else noting that seeking a "necessary" existence isn't really...well...necessary.
Quote:Let's say that I assert that A=A and A cannot equal ~A ever. Someone responds to me arguing that this assertion is only based upon my being part of a "logical" world--I assume without reason that the same logical relationships would apply even to an "alogical" world.
The first observation I would make about this argument is you are comparing an analytic statement (A=A etc.) with a synthetic statement about a hypothetical supernatural world. You next invoke "logic" which is fundamental to analytical statements. In fact, you couldn't have an analytical statement without logic. But logic is not fundamental to synthetic statements (only to the analysis of synthetic statements). In other words, natural laws are alogical. Supernatural laws can be assumed to be equally alogical.
Although I may not have made this clear, my intent was to suggest that a supernatural realm might reasonably be supposed to operate by other laws than our natural universe. In fact, this argument is no different than arguments about alternative universes posited by string theorists which operate according to laws totally different from those governing our own universe.
Quote:What reason do you even have to bring up such a realm of existence? Does it even make sense? Can one conceive of an "illogical" existence or a "supernatural" existence?
Let's turn this around. Why is it more reasonable to assume the Big Bang was uncaused than caused? Either position rests on foundational assumptions which cannot be proved.
Can one conceive of an "illogical" existence? Sure. Dissident Heart...
Can one conceive of a "supernatural" existence. Well, er, yes. We have about a zillion religions demonstrating that fact. Not to mention a whole raft of horror stories (RD doubtless includes the Bible among their number), fantasy stories, supernatural tales, etc.
Quote:I think that the point Richard is making is one that is frequently made in debates concerning contingency and necessity in regards to existence. The question asked is, "Why does something exist rather than nothing?" And the answer is supposed to be that God explains this. But then we are left with the question, "Why does God exist rather than nothing?" and the stock response is that this question does not apply to God, it would only apply to contingent matter and energy.
The debate over contingency and necessity is an interesting and vexing problem for theists and non-theists alike, but since Dawkins does not reference the problem in his argument on page 31, I see no reason to include it in a critique of that argument.
Quote:In terms of Richard's point, the question is, "Why does complexity exist", and the answer critiqued is "God creates complexity." Richard is essentially arguing that this doesn't really answer that question, because God himself must be pretty complex.
Quote:Instead of answering the question, the theist is essentially saying, "Complexity doesn't need to be explained, I can posit a being that lives in a realm that dodges these explanations".
Some theists make this argument, which I agree is illogical. However, the argument isn't necessary to theism per se. Here's what I mean:
Quote:"Complexity exists because it is the end product of selective pressures and random changes"
That is only partially correct because "selective pressures and random changes" must occur within a framework of natural laws to operate. Science is well equipped, in fact perfectly equipped, to understand natural laws. But science cannot offer an explanation for why there should be natural laws in the first place. Ignoring the question because science can't answer it is metaphysical naturalism, pure and simple. It is not an unreasonable position, but it is also not the ONLY reasonable position. Asserting that a question must be ignored because an empirical answer is not possible is a philosophical position, not a fundamental truth.
Finally, you haven't responded to the real show stopper in Dawkins' argument, which is that he confuses natural creative intelligences that evolved in the natural world with a hypothetical supernatural intelligence which, by definition, could not have evolved in the natural world. That's what makes the argument meaningless. I don't object that other arguments can be made, but RD didn't make them on page 31, which is where he explicitly concludes that God is a delusion.
The problem I have with that whole idea, and, in fact, the title of the book, is that belief in God cannot shown to be false.
Ultimately, what RD is trying to do on page 31 (what he promised to do on page 2) is demonstrate that belief in God is a scientific hypothesis. I would say his demonstration fails. Utterly.
One thing Dawkins does get right in the God Delusion is stating that Miller cleans the ID crowd's clocks in Finding Darwin's God. But, he doesn't mention that Miller goes on to make a sophisticated argument for theism in harmony with science. Here is a bit from chapter 7, "Beyond Materialism" (p. 213).
Quote:Remarkably, what the critics of evolution consistently fail to see is that the very indeterminacy they misconstrue as randomness has to be, by any definition, a key feature of the mind of God. Remember, there is one (and only one) alternative to unpredictability -- and that alternative is a strict, predictable determinism. The only alternative to what they describe as randomness would be a nonrandom universe of clockwork mechanisms that would also rule out active intervention by any Supreme Deity. Caught between these two alternatives, they fail to see that the one more consistent with their religious beliefs is actually the mainstream scientific view linking evolution with the quantum reality of the physical sciences.
We need not ask if the nature of quantum physics proves the existence of a Supreme Being, which it certainly does not. Quantum physics does allow for it in an interesting way, and certainly excludes the possibility that we will ever gain a complete understanding of the details of nature. We have progressed so much in self-awareness and understanding that we now know there is a boundary around our ability to grasp reality. And we cannot say why it is there. But that does not make the boundary any less real, or any less consistent with the idea that it was the necessary handiwork of a Creator who fashioned it to allow us the freedom and independence necessary to make our acceptance or rejection of His love a genuinely free choice.
Committed atheists like Richard Dawkins would attack with ridicule any suggestion that room for the work of a Deity can be found in the physical nature of reality. But Dawkins's personal skepticism no more disproves the existence of God than the creationists' incredulity is an argument against evolution.
Miller is not setting out to prove the existence of God, just to demonstrate that the existence of God is not contradictory to modern science, and the fact that he is a professional biologist, as well-versed in the subject matter (if not more so) than Dawkins, makes his counterpoint to the latter's claims all the more interesting.
Quote:All Miller is really pointing out is that so long as there are gaps in our knowledge, a God of the gaps can be used to fill them.
You haven't read the book, have you? Miller, in fact, does not argue for a God of the gaps and specifically demonstrates why such arguments fail and are unnecessary. How is it, do you think, that he so successfully demolishes Intelligent Design arguments as Dawkins states on page 131 of The God Delusion?
All Miller is really pointing out is that so long as there are gaps in our knowledge, a God of the gaps can be used to fill them.
I'd like to point out how wonderful the God of the gaps hypothesis has been for phenomenon like weather (God creates rain, drought, etc.), complex biological creatures (God apparently had to create differing species), and so on.
I'd argue that committed atheists wouldn't outright state that there isn't room for a God--unless, of course, like me, they felt the whole concept of God was internally contradictory as well as conceptually meaningless--but instead that there is simply no reason to believe in God, and in fact plenty of reasons to disbelieve in God, both pragmatic and otherwise.
Quote:"Creative intelligences, being evolved, necessarily arrive late in the universe, and therefore cannot be responsible for designing it."
This is NOT what theists are asserting, and it very definitely does confuse naturally evolved intelligences with a hypothetical supernatural intelligence.
I realize that this is not what theists are asserting. However, Dawkins' point is that, regardless of what they are saying, their argument is self-defeating because it entails that God himself has to be explained. They are saying one thing, but actually examining the issue leads us to see that what they are saying is misguided.
Dawkins doesn't make it as explicit as I do, which is fine considering that this is supposed to be a popular book written for the average reader. Ultimately, though, I think you are missing the finer points of the argument.
Now, part of the God hypothesis is that God explains the existence of complexity, correct? Of course! This is one of the main justifications offered for God's existence. Dawkins is responding that this argument fails because it posits an entity more complex than the complexity it was meant to explain. If the theist backpedals and remarks that God's complexity does not need to be explained, then essentially what he is saying s that, at some level, complexity need not be explained. Here's the important part: Because God's existence was invoked to explain complexity in the first place, the admission that complexity need not be explained destroys the only reason given to think that this being exists.
Dawkins realizes, as I do, that those who take the route you are advocating--to argue that God's complexity doesn't need an explanation--are essentially shooting themselves in their feet. They say that complexity needs to be explained, posit a complex God to explain it, and then say, "Oh, nevermind, complexity doesn't really have to be explained." His point is that those who choose not to take this self-defeating route also reach a dead-end, because they are positing something just as complex as the complexity they are seeking to explain. Dawkins views the attempts to argue that God is "outside" of explanation, logic, or whatever is merely a cop-out--which it is--that stifles legitimate inquiry into the question.
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