Sunday, July 01, 2007

Meeting Dawkins in the Betting Shop

I just spent the last few hours reading a little book called Deluded by Dawkins? A Christian Response to the God Delusion. It's well structured and moves at quite a pace through Dawkin's varied complaints and arguments. It dismisses those that are irrelevant, contends with those that are and acknowledges common ground where it exists. After eliminating the various diversions and the angry rantings Andrew Wilson reduces Dawkins arguments into 4 categories but having read these they seem to cluster more naturally into 3:
1. Evolutionary science - the subject Dawkins knows best. Sadly Darwin's observation of natural selection occurring in the world around us does not do a good job of addressing origins and neither does his disciple. 2. Biblical accuracy / errancy - the subject Dawkins knows least. Here we go off piste because whether the bible is true or not is important for Christians it has not bearing on whether or not God exists. A God other than the Christian God may exist. 3. Philosophical logic - a matter best approached with a certain amount of objectivity - which Dawkins as a fundamentalist atheist entirely lacks. I found this final section of the book the most interesting as I think its this area in which proper dueling can be done...
Wilson agrees with Dawkins that when it comes to explaining our existence there are 3 (well 2 and a half) main options available: A) An eternal God created us (whilst not inferring a literal Genesis interpretation) B1) We are the result of infinitely improbable coincidences or B2) The 'Multiverse' theory - which, put simply, suggests that our universe exists like a bubble in a bath of universe-foam made up of billions of other universes. This is a development of B intended to significantly increase the probablity of life emerging (whilst straying into the rather wacky implausibility implicit in A)
It seems to me that at the end of all this we find ourselves in a great cosmic Betting Shop. In the Red corner we have some kind of divine personality and in the Blue corner we have the biggest foam party you could ever imagine. We're left to choose which is the most probable of these two mind-blowingly improbable alternatives. Who are you backing?

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Anonymous said...

I've not read Wilson's book and it would appear you've not read Dawkins. Nevertheless I think your precis is valuable because it saves me wasting my time ;-)

On the question of evolutionary science I'd recommend Dawkins "Blind Watchmaker" or his Royal Society Christmas Lectures (if you can find them on video). These give a quite satisfactory explanation of the process of natural selection and human origins. The "God Delusion" does not seek to do so.

As for biblical accuracy it may not impact the existence of a god but it does say much about the biblical god. That entity is morally repugnant and Dawkins in his nice C-of-E educated way finds mych in the Old Testament quite shocking. Fair enough, the god described there is truly obnoxious, sexist, vain and brutal.

Some of the errors in the bible Dawkins points out are very interesting. Comparisons of contradictory passages and so on but no threat to Christians for whom the bible isn't subject to rational investigation.

Finally on philosophy I hope your precis is incomplete. To deal with your points:

The logical fallacy in explaining complexity by positing infinitely more complexity that cannot/must not be explained or analysed is obvious. Its certainly apparent to any child who asks "who invented God then?".

You also ignore the possibility of the universe always existing (although no longer a mainstream opinion in science - this was the dominant theory for a long time). It maybe that the cosmic microwave background is a left-over from the rapid expansionary phase but it maybe incorrect simply to draw a line straight back to 0 (when equations start sprouting infinities).

Chance is the only reason we're here but its not a random process. Natural selection is a process which favours success and so converges on successful outcomes. Other philosophical options allow god into this process to "guide" it (although as a scientist I reject such nonsense the argument should not be glossed over). Why did your Christian author reject this "Christian" explanation?

So to return to your analogy I'm betting that scientists are right. We may not yet have an unshakeable view of universal origins (cosmology is a young and evolving science) but we do know with a high degree of confidence how people came to be once our solar system had formed.

Finally you end up with a variant of Pascal's Wager (see wikipedia). Asked to gamble on a false dichotomy. Instead open your eyes and honestly assess the scientific and Christian world views.


stevie said...

> Philosophical logic - a matter best
> approached with a certain amount of
> objectivity - which Dawkins as a
> fundamentalist atheist entirely lacks.

I missed this swipe at Dawkins the "fundamentalist" atheist. What pish!

Dawkins is an atheist. Atheists don't believe in gods because there is not a shred of evidence that any such thing exists. Same category as fairies, elves and unicorns (actually there is more evidence that these exist - people used to parade their "horns" until they were discovered to be remains of narwhales). You probably agree with us except we believe in precisely 1 less god than you.

To use the perjorative "fundamentalist" here is both dishonest and insulting. Dawkins has opposed religious fundamentalism consistently. I feel pretty sure, your own faith aside, that you probably do not consider fundamentalism a good thing. Dawkins is a militant atheist and that can be disarming to those of faith. It can seem strident even but that is not because it is itself a faith. Its because there is no evidence on which to base any other view. I disagree with Dawkins analysis and method - I'm also an atheist - but I think you've decided to use language dishonestly here.

The other mistake is to assume that Dawkins philosophical position (atheism) somehow impacts his objectivity. Atheism is the result of an objective perspective and the most honest basis for an objective analysis.


Matt Wilson said...

Hi Stevie, thanks for stopping by my blog.
Firstly I need to point out the rider in my blog header, "The posts I create here are generally semi-processed reflections, observations and ideas, they are rarely conclusions or end points..." This is a place where I share my ruminations and allow others to offer feedback that will add to my learning curve.
You're right to suggest that the post leads towards a sort of Pascal's wager. Also in there, if you read between the lines or look at the direction of some of my previous posts, is the consideration that the way we explain our existence may indeed be quite subjective - almost a Wave/Particle duality if you will, i.e. there may, or even must, be both a scientific and a divine explanation for all we see and experience (I need to develop this line of thinking more fully). This leads me to the point I'd really like to pick up on which is the point about objectivity. True objectivity can only be achieved by first detaching yourself from the view you hold personally accepting that it may not be correct or complete. I have seen no evidence that Dawkins is able bring himself to do this. Call him militant, call him strident, call him fundamentalist, it's all semantics, but the guy is far from objective. He formed an entrenched worldview position many years ago and sees everything through that lens - which isn't objectivity.