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On Dawkins’s Atheism: A Response - Comments

Axeman33's Avatar Comment 1 by Axeman33

Having entirely read The God Delusion, I disagree with Mr. Gutting. Much like the Bible, if you pick and choose certain parts of the book, it can paint a different picture then reading the book as a whole.

Fri, 13 Aug 2010 17:01:41 UTC | #499890

Dr. Strangegod's Avatar Comment 2 by Dr. Strangegod

The premises (1-6), if true, show only that God cannot be posited as the explanation for the apparent design of the universe, which can rather be explained by natural selection. They do nothing to show that “God almost certainly does not exist” (189).

Oh fer chrissakes... just forget it, Gary.

In what sense does Dawkins think God is complex and why does this complexity require an explanation?

Ack! The stupid hurts!

Dawkins ignores the possibility that God is a very different sort of being than brains and computers.

Alright I'm done. I'll let the rest of you dice this one up. Jos? zengardner?

EDIT: Couldn't resist though...

His case is weak because it does not take adequate account of the philosophical discussions that have raised the level of reflection about God’s existence far above that at which he operates.

No, it does not take adequate account of the philosophical discussions you refer to Gary, because all of those "philosophy of religion" discussions amount to absolutely nothing. They have not raised anything to a higher level except the art of bullshit, of which you are a minor master. These discussions are not far above the argument of Dawkins, they are far below, deep, deep in... well, delusional bullshit.

Updated: Fri, 13 Aug 2010 17:15:48 UTC | #499895

Cartomancer's Avatar Comment 3 by Cartomancer

All of this puff misses the point entirely. Philosophical ponderings on such peculiar matters as simplicity, necessity etc. are entirely tangential to the issue at hand. I'm sure competent philosophers like Dan Dennett, AC Grayling and Anthony Kenney could put Mr. Gutting straight on the firm philosophical underpinnings of atheism (even if Hume, Spinoza and Nietzche haven't), but there's really not much need. The fact remains, there is no credible evidence for the existence of gods (quite apart from the fact the traditional definitions of gods entail numerous logical impossibilities).

No evidence. That's it. That's the bottom line. None. Not one whit. Nada. Zilch.

One can flap about trying to find definitions of "necessary" or "simple" that just possibly might be consonant with what we know about the world all one likes, but that does nothing to establish the existence of any putative entity. To establish the existence of a putative entity to any degree of certainty, one must use science. And that means evidence. End of story.

Because, and this deserves writing up in great big letters, THERE IS NO OTHER METHOD OF COMING TO KNOWLEDGE ABOUT THE WORLD. Or, at least, we have not discovered another one yet. Everything we know - absolutely everything - comes from a scientific process - the application of reason to evidence. If it is not backed up with evidence then we do not know it at all, and at best it is mere speculation. People are often afraid to say that science is the only means of knowing that we have. But what are the alternatives? There simply aren't any.

Hence we must assume the validity of materialism, because science has so far turned up nothing but the material AND WE DON'T HAVE ANY OTHER WAYS TO FIND THINGS OUT ABOUT THE WORLD. Claiming that materialism hasn't been demonstrated conclusively is utterly fatuous - it's just about the only philosophical position that HAS been demonstrated.

Oh, and people's thoughts and personal subjective experiences of gods are NOT EVIDENCE for the existence of those gods. Mr. Gutting should be embarrassed to have even entertained such speculations.

Updated: Fri, 13 Aug 2010 17:28:30 UTC | #499897

Cartomancer's Avatar Comment 4 by Cartomancer

Comment Removed by Author

Fri, 13 Aug 2010 17:17:35 UTC | #499898

Dr. Strangegod's Avatar Comment 5 by Dr. Strangegod

Carto - Wow, you nailed that, man. I ain't afraid to say it. THERE IS NO OTHER METHOD OF COMING TO KNOWLEDGE ABOUT THE WORLD. I've made the argument before that there are two types of thinking, reason and belief. One leads to knowledge and the other leads to fantasy. That's all. It really is that simple. You can't believe your way into knowledge any more than you can reason your way into fantasy. They are fundamentally opposite brain operations.

Updated: Fri, 13 Aug 2010 17:25:51 UTC | #499899

Brian The Coyote's Avatar Comment 6 by Brian The Coyote

Well, at least he's pretty civil throughout. That's about all you can say for him. He actually makes an ontological gambit at one point:

Further, Dawkins’ argument ignores the possibility that God is a necessary being (that is, a being that, by its very nature, must exist, no matter what). On this traditional view, God’s existence would be, so to speak, self-explanatory and so need no explanation.

Well, there you go then. There is a god becasue I said so, nyaah!

There's a lot of talk about arguments for and against but nothing about evidence. That's more than a subtle difference.

It just goes to show you how philosphy has become so intellectually bankrupt in the past few generations. A bunch of smart people masturbating with semantic games. (apologies to any philosophers out there who haven't rejected empericism and positivism)

Fri, 13 Aug 2010 17:25:16 UTC | #499901

Ode2Hitch's Avatar Comment 7 by Ode2Hitch

Yawn.... 'of course there's a god, you're just not smart enough to understand what he is. I do..... feels great.'

"Dawkins ignores the possibility that God is a very different sort of being than brains and computers."

'Shall I tell you what he is? He's a cloud of a billions stars with fairies living on them and they.... no no wait.. he's a giant marshmallow unicorn who strokes my hair and makes me all gooey inside, I love him and and he loves me, and I love me and he loves me.'

Been a while since I read Phil. but I'm fairly sure that philosophers haven't reached any concensus that monotheism is the way forward.

Fri, 13 Aug 2010 17:26:16 UTC | #499902

lackofgravitas's Avatar Comment 8 by lackofgravitas

What is it with these people? They just don't get it do they? I have trouble believing that this was even published in the NYT. What happened to factual journalism? OK, so it's this muppet's response to RD, so I suppose it's an opinion piece. But it's a sloppy piece of work and looks like what it is; a hurriedly constructed argument against something he doesn't want to believe. The truth.

LoG

I think I need a drink after reading that drivel.

Fri, 13 Aug 2010 17:28:21 UTC | #499903

Logicel's Avatar Comment 9 by Logicel

Gutting deserves to be gutted for this:

On the other hand, the (individually) simple processes of natural selection can explain the apparent design of the universe.

Natural selection is what drives common descent, it does not have to do anything with the design of the universe. Am I missing anything here?

Updated: Fri, 13 Aug 2010 17:37:56 UTC | #499904

Logicel's Avatar Comment 10 by Logicel

What part of gradually climbing up Mount Improbable does this clown not get?

Updated: Fri, 13 Aug 2010 17:34:15 UTC | #499905

Cartomancer's Avatar Comment 11 by Cartomancer

Actually, I'd say that the most damning piece of evidence against theism of all is the fact that it can be explained away perfectly, in every detail, as the product of history, culture and human psychology. It looks exactly as we would expect it to look if it were just dreamed up by the pattern-seeking brains of human beings, and behaves in precisely the same way as every other cultural or intellectual trend in history. Theism simply makes the most sense as a mere product of human imaginings, when measured against the totality of everything else we know.

This, and this alone, is enough to comprehensively refute theism once and for all. The only way it can again become credible is if we find out that vast swathes of what we now know about science, culture and ourselves are fundamentally wrong on every level. In the modern intellectual climate, at this point in our species's progress, atheism is an utterly inescapable conclusion for the intellectually honest person.

Fri, 13 Aug 2010 17:38:31 UTC | #499907

Rich Wiltshir's Avatar Comment 12 by Rich Wiltshir

In summary:

"Look at me, I'm good, like these other authors, but I don't sell as many books. I strive to interrogate data in order to SUPPORT my opinion whereas Dawkins interrogates data in order to FORM an opinion - what's worse, he thinks the rest of us should, too."

Even if Dawkins’ arguments against theism are faulty, can’t he cite the inconclusiveness of even the most well-worked-out theistic arguments as grounds for denying God’s existence?

To which me must observe that despite millennia of assertions there are NO (zero, nil) well-worked-out arguments - religoon institutions rely on assertions, bullying, misrepresentations, and claims that tradition (from the times when kings and clerics bolstered each-others' reciprocal dominions) establishes credibility.

Additionally, this isn't about presenting grounds for denying a god's existence; the burden of proof rests on those making the claim; and they've had long enough to deliver significant evidential, reasoned and persuasive arguments that any reasoned, rational and informed individual would acknowledge.

My definition of god; an infinite, self-existent being (ie no start, no end, no dependance) this is taken from my 6th form text books of John Hick in the late 1970's. Methinks it's a perfectly workable definition, I've found no conflict between it and the claims of religoons.

Another non-evidential assertion:

There are sensible people who report having had some kind of direct awareness of a divine being, and there are competent philosophers who endorse arguments for God’s existence.

Prof Cutting's piece strives to defend, but lacks the robust reasoning that it claims. Every piece of writing can be critiqued for length, brevity, content or style but Prof Guttings' words have the feel of someone striving to assert the supremacy of his profession over the works of this interloper, Dawkins.

Sorry, Prof Gutting.

Of course, I could be wrong but the notion that existence of a god is a "big" question results wholy from the unreasonable, influence of the rancid institutions that claim so. Without the influence of such bodies, this question would remain a dinner party topic on a par with Bigfoot, Nessy and the weather. Sports, Entertainment, Business and the gay "Teletubby" are much 'bigger' subjects than bronze-age heirarchical control myths.

Fri, 13 Aug 2010 17:45:33 UTC | #499910

alaskansee's Avatar Comment 13 by alaskansee

Thanks again Cartomancer, reading this drivel it's hard to retain cognitive thought and consciousness.

Fri, 13 Aug 2010 17:48:08 UTC | #499911

The Plc's Avatar Comment 14 by The Plc

Can't be bothered going through the entire article point by point so here are my two cents:

I wish theists would provide a concrete definition of the word "God". The word is so ambiguous that it makes discussions about God a pointless exercise in meaningless semantics and question begging. It's clear that the God Dawkins was arguing about was the tremendously powerful, personal, tyrant interventionist god a la Yahweh of the Old Testament or Thor or the millions of other primitive Mountain or Volcano type gods. The God of what David Hume described as "Natural Religion" that most religious people actually believe in and always have done throughout history, not "Traditional Religious thinking" as this guy claims.

The entire article is based on the question begging "possiblity" that a particular conception of god is that it outside the realms of scientific enquiry and reason and thus can't be rationally proven or falsified. How convenient!

It makes me wonder if this guy has actually read the God Delusion, such are the distortions of Dawkins position. Methinks he has constructed a massive strawman. Throughout the article, it is written as though Dawkins is a flat-out atheist as opposed to an agnostic, despite one of the most novel sections of the book being about the scale of disbelief in gods, where Dawkins described himself as "technically agnostic".

"It follows that they have no good basis for treating the existence of God as so improbable that it should be denied unless there is decisive proof for it. This in turn shows that atheists are at best entitled to be agnostics, seriously doubting but not denying the existence of God. "

This section of the article particularly annoyed me:

He can if he has good reason to think that, apart from specific theistic arguments, God’s existence is highly unlikely. Besides what we can prove from arguments, how probable is it that God exists? Here Dawkins refers to Bertrand Russell’s example of the orbiting teapot. We would require very strong evidence before agreeing that there was a teapot in orbit around the sun, and lacking such evidence would deny and not remain merely agnostic about such a claim. This is because there is nothing in our experience suggesting that the claim might be true; it has no significant intrinsic probability.

But suppose that several astronauts reported seeing something that looked very much like a teapot and, later, a number of reputable space scientists interpreted certain satellite data as showing the presence of a teapot-shaped object, even though other space scientists questioned this interpretation. Then it would be gratuitous to reject the hypothesis out of hand, even without decisive proof that it was true. We should just remain agnostic about it.

Does this guy not know how Science works or what evidence is? It doesn't matter if "reputable space scientists" claim they saw something, what matters is the evidence and what can be empirically verified. What matters are the facts. Science is an absolute bitch of taskmistress, if you even get one comma wrong in a scientific paper, or write even one sentence of subjective anecdote or opinion, the paper will quite rightfully be thrown out the window. Scientists don't argue from anecdote or authority.

Fri, 13 Aug 2010 17:53:15 UTC | #499914

Rich Wiltshir's Avatar Comment 15 by Rich Wiltshir

Sorry world, did I promote Mr Gutting to Professor?

Just the opposite of what so many tv presenters do to Professor Dawkins, and they don't seem to correct themselves or apologise.

Fri, 13 Aug 2010 17:54:55 UTC | #499916

Stafford Gordon's Avatar Comment 16 by Stafford Gordon

If he hasn't already done so, Mr Gutter needs to read God is Not Great.

For me Hitchens's book along with Jerry Coynes's Why Evolution is True are clinchers.

Together with TGD the three volumes present an amazingly convincing case against any kind of supernatural entity existing or having ever existed.

S G

Fri, 13 Aug 2010 17:59:55 UTC | #499919

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 17 by Steve Zara

Comment 3 by Cartomancer

Superb comment, as always. I would like to add just one thing.

It doesn't matter if materialism is true or not. It doesn't matter what the nature of reality is. Science is still the only conceivable way that fallible beings with imperfect minds can attempt to discover what is true. Even if theism were true, we would need science. Even if electrons were moved about by fairies, we would need science. Science is based on the acceptance that our personal experiences and memories aren't reliable, and ideas have to be tested. Science so far seems to indicate that reality is stable and follows a few rules. But its validity as an approach does not depend on that - even if science turned out to be of no use, it's still the only way to try.

Fri, 13 Aug 2010 18:01:17 UTC | #499921

The Plc's Avatar Comment 18 by The Plc

The claim that God exists is much closer to this second case. There are sensible people who report having had some kind of direct awareness of a divine being, and there are competent philosophers who endorse arguments for God’s existence. Therefore, an agnostic stance seems preferable atheism.

I guess we might as well revive the dead field of Alchemy, one of the favourite pursuits of a man who we surely all agree was a competent intellect, Sir Isaac Newton. Agnosticism about Alchemy is seems more preferable than regarding it as pure nonsense supported by no evidence.

But what is the evidence for materialism? Presumably, that scientific investigation reveals the existence of nothing except material things. But religious believers will plausibly reply that science is suited to discover only what is material (indeed, the best definition of “material” may be just “the sort of thing that science can discover”). They will also cite our experiences of our own conscious life (thoughts, feelings, desires, etc.) as excellent evidence for the existence of immaterial realities that cannot be fully understood by science.

This guy's a Professor of Philosophy and he still seriously suggests that methodological dualism is a serious enterprise? Has he never heard of Neuroscience, Psychology or Cognitive Studies? Fields that are providing real understanding about "thoughts, feelings and desires"? Obscurantist waffle.

Fri, 13 Aug 2010 18:07:23 UTC | #499925

Cartomancer's Avatar Comment 19 by Cartomancer

Even if electrons were moved about by fairies, we would need science.

I thought fairies WERE responsible for electromagnetism? Are you going to tell me that the gravity gnomes and nuclear orcs (strong) and goblins (weak) aren't real now too?

Fri, 13 Aug 2010 18:20:39 UTC | #499930

Stafford Gordon's Avatar Comment 20 by Stafford Gordon

I couldn't care less whether there's a god or not. If there is we find out soon enough, if not, it's irrelevant.

What irritates me beyond words is the bleating and whining of believers when their beliefs are questioned.

This article is a typical example of the contortions they twist themselves into when trying to cling on to their fantasies and dogmas.

And they seem to be absolutely incorrigible.

S G

Fri, 13 Aug 2010 18:22:43 UTC | #499932

BoltzmannBrain's Avatar Comment 21 by BoltzmannBrain

I recall the exact same posters expounding the exact same points on the front page of this website several years back.

There's such a thing as moving on, you know. Dozens of people chanting to themselves the same mantra, over and over agan, doesn't have happy implications, to my mind.

Updated: Fri, 13 Aug 2010 18:43:49 UTC | #499937

Neodarwinian's Avatar Comment 22 by Neodarwinian

This is why I never argue with these people. Argument not supported by evidence is lacking completely in convincing me of anything except your a great arguer, or a sophist. Show me the evidence, or shut up!

Fri, 13 Aug 2010 18:43:40 UTC | #499938

Wuht2Ask's Avatar Comment 23 by Wuht2Ask

To me, your article misrepresents the ideas presented by Dawkins, much to your discredit Gary Gutting. Dawkins does not believe that he nor anyone else has rationally proven that god does not exist. Conversely, neither you nor anyone else in the history of the world, has rationally proven that god does exist. It is currently a standoff! Increasingly the educated people of the world, backed by an increasing awareness and trust in, scientific inquiry with evidence, is reducing the dependence on, faith without evidence, as the deciding criteria.

Are you confident that publishing arguments attempting to discredit authors who argue against the existence of a god, does anything worthwhile to prove the existence of that wished for god?

Fri, 13 Aug 2010 18:59:24 UTC | #499942

Logicel's Avatar Comment 24 by Logicel

Well, Boltzmann, make sure you come back in several years to say the same thing! This place would not be the same without your observations.

Updated: Fri, 13 Aug 2010 19:00:34 UTC | #499943

chawinwords's Avatar Comment 25 by chawinwords

To me, the question of the existence of God is simple. In everyday life we deal with every day existence based upon natural reality. For instance, in a court of law, evidence is expected and given upon the assumption that some cause and effect exists (set aside the swearing of truth-telling on the Bible). I can't imagine someone offering some impossibly unsubstantiated facts as evidence simply with/by the following statement: "It is so because I choose to believe it is so." Even with scientific opinions, such must be evidenced by a litany of cause and effect factual explanation (and it may be wrong, but is has a rational basis). Simple belief used as evidence would turn a courtroom into an anarchy free-fall. Just once I would love to see any of the multitude of religions in a courtroom, offering evidence for the existence of a "spirit world" other than "I believe I believe because I choose to believe." I don't argue religious believers because I was taught as a youngster that when a person argues with a fool, after some time, the audience can't tell who is the fool. Why should anyone give credence to a "I believe I believe because I choose to believe" argument in the natural world.

Fri, 13 Aug 2010 19:07:29 UTC | #499947

chawinwords's Avatar Comment 26 by chawinwords

To me, the question of the existence of God is simple. In everyday life we deal with every day existence based upon natural reality. For instance, in a court of law, evidence is expected and given upon the assumption that some cause and effect exists (set aside the swearing of truth-telling on the Bible). I can't imagine someone offering some impossibly unsubstantiated facts as evidence simply with/by the following statement: "It is so because I choose to believe it is so." Even with scientific opinions, such must be evidenced by a litany of cause and effect factual explanation (and it may be wrong, but is has a rational basis). Simple belief used as evidence would turn a courtroom into an anarchy free-fall. Just once I would love to see any of the multitude of religions in a courtroom, offering evidence for the existence of a "spirit world" other than "I believe I believe because I choose to believe." I don't argue religious believers because I was taught as a youngster that when a person argues with a fool, after some time, the audience can't tell who is the fool. Why should anyone give credence to a "I believe I believe because I choose to believe" argument in the natural world.

Fri, 13 Aug 2010 19:08:42 UTC | #499948

jac12358's Avatar Comment 27 by jac12358

To be honest, the author is doing his best to meticulously scour Dawkins' book for logical fallacies, and in this sense he is acting as an editor would to whom Dawkins, should he deign to respond, might do so as undefensively as possible, and rather gratefully thank him and make the appropriate corrections and shoring up of his arguments.

I do see the logic when Gary says: "As formulated, this argument is an obvious non-sequitur. The premises (1-6), if true, show only that God cannot be posited as the explanation for the apparent design of the universe, which can rather be explained by natural selection. They do nothing to show that “God almost certainly does not exist” "

What Dawkins' argument says at it stands at best is that god, if he exists, is certainly nothing like what anyone including theists might imagine him to be. Since nobody can imagine what that could possibly be it seems almost pointless to even suggest that something we know so little about and can't prove would nevertheless actually exist.

I should also point out that simply because Gary has found fault with Dawkins' logic it does not follow that "therefore, god exists." The theistic victory does not lie solely within its opponents inability to convincingly disprove it, as if they have a very short-term memory with regard to the "you can't disprove a negative" clause and "burden of proof" fallacy.

As for his issue with "An intelligent designer of the universe would be a highly complex being" stems likely from the problem of defining complexity. Certainly complexity is not a "thing" but a concept; a highly subjective assessment of the quality/quantity of an arbitrary subset of an open system within the universe (whether a galaxy or a brain). The problem with complexity is that it has no problems itself or with itself. A hydrogen atom does not hesitate, become anxious or make a "mistake" because it is acting within a complex system versus a simple one. No, it is only brains which have a problem with complexity, a name given to something that gives IT anxiety and jumps to premature conclusions because it is too much to contemplate and understand completely or correctly.

With this change in regarding complexity, does this alter whether or not a hypothesized god would require it? Mind you, regardless of the answer, I would say to Gary, that without any proof, the whole argument is moot since YOU have not provided any evidence for god's existence, and for those who think I was a little hard on Dawkins here, I might remind them and Gary that Dawkins is doing a great favor by even attempting to take up the burden of proof by formulating his arguments when it should be YOU doing that!

One final take on this:

Life and evolution are biology, correct, and biology is chemistry and chemistry is physics, no? If so, the "prequels" to life continue to take place around and within us, namely the physical laws of the universe. A covalent bond between two atoms to produce a molecule is certainly a precursor to life, and yet is it not a much "simpler" action/law than those governing the replication of DNA? Thus, if "god" is actually "physics" then could not one argue that the life-generating power of god/physics is more simple than life itself?

I know physics is not the traditional god of the bible, but since nobody knows who this god person really is, it is as legitimate assumption as any in the absence of any evidence. As such I wonder how both Gary and Richard would respond to this idea (or the posting public in their stead)...

Updated: Fri, 13 Aug 2010 19:46:16 UTC | #499957

Jos Gibbons's Avatar Comment 28 by Jos Gibbons

My August 1 essay ... was primarily addressed to religious believers. ... Interestingly, many of the most passionate responses came from non-believers who objected to my claim that popular atheistic arguments (like popular theistic arguments) do not establish their conclusions. There was particular dismay over my passing comment that the atheistic arguments of Richard Dawkins are “demonstrably faulty.”

That he aimed to speak to theists speaks volumes, as does his hiding the fact that the specific nature of the complaint regarded his simply asserting, without so much as a sentence to back it up, that popular atheistic arguments (including those in TGD) were bad. It was noted as especially egregious for him not to give the adverb “demonstrably” the defence it demands. If the arguments are demonstrably faulty, demonstrate they are faulty! From Gutting’s opening, you would not know any of this. But he (hereafter GG) has here risen to showing us of what he thinks such a demonstration consists. I in turn prove otherwise. The first thing I noticed while reading it was that my long–standing provisional empirical observation that RD’s critics on the subject of religion do not accurately represent what he has said has gone unfalsified yet again:

the core of [RD’s] case ... 1. There is need for an explanation of the apparent design of the universe. 2. The universe is highly complex. 3. An intelligent designer of the universe would be even more highly complex. 4. A complex designer would itself require an explanation. 5. Therefore, an intelligent designer will not provide an explanation of the universe’s complexity. 6. On the other hand, the (individually) simple processes of natural selection can explain the apparent design of the universe. 7. Therefore, an intelligent designer (God) almost certainly does not exist. ... (1-6), if true, show only that God cannot be posited as the explanation for the apparent design of the universe, which can rather be explained by natural selection.

A more accurate account of RD’s argument would be 2 and 3 together with the relation between complexity and improbability, which GG clearly does not understand as clearly shown at length later in his latest piece, and which I will discuss in greater detail as my next point. Long story short, it is this complexity which makes God even more improbable than it would be for all the complexity of our universe to arise “just by chance” (i.e. not by “cranes” (to borrow Dennett’s terminology) such as natural selection – and note GG fails to appreciate the existence, and RD’s knowledge, of other cranes). GG’s next attempt to respond to one of RD’s arguments (which are rendered in GG’s, not RD’s, phrasing – of course) makes more explicit GG’s poor understanding of complexity:

  1. If God exists, he must be both the intelligent designer of the universe and a being that explains the universe but is not itself in need of explanation 2. An intelligent designer of the universe would be a highly complex being. 3. A highly complex being would itself require explanation. 4. Therefore, God cannot be both the intelligent designer of the universe and the ultimate explanation of the universe. 5. Therefore, God does not exist. ... premise 2, at least, is problematic. In what sense does Dawkins think God is complex and why does this complexity require an explanation? ... Dawkins ignores the possibility that God is a very different sort of being than brains and computers. His argument for God’s complexity either assumes that God is material or, at least, that God is complex in the same general way that material things are (having many parts related in complicated ways to one another).

This is simply untrue. Firstly, the complexity of an entity is the information needed to specify it, design creates entities containing information, and said information is entirely contained also previously in the designer, as is that part of the designer putting that information into the form of a now actually existing entity; thus, the designer is more complex. Secondly, an entity’s probability is related to said quantity in a very simple way: b bits of data have probability 1/2b. There is nothing more to the complexity–probability relation than this. The sad facts that GG has no awareness of this, and many other philosophers and theologians follow suit, is clear from the rest of his paragraph and the whole of the next one, in which the practitioners exhibit novel approaches to avoiding this relation. But while the philosophy of religion may often have new ideas, sadly it never leaves behind any piece of nonsense, as is seen from the fact that GG then attempts to flog what should in philosophy be an utterly dead horse, and which should disqualify him from serious attention:

the possibility that God is a necessary being (that is, a being that, by its very nature, must exist, no matter what).

Does GG reference a logically necessary being? A being X such that “X exists” is necessarily true? In other words, “X does not exist” is a self–contradiction? Except it isn’t. As boring a mathematical theory as it is, the one–axiom theory “there is no X such that X = X”, in which nothing whatsoever exists, is not logically impossible, although we happen to know it to be false. And any other sense of necessity GG may consider is strictly weaker and is avoidable in some logically possible world. As before, the rest of the paragraph shows how creative the philosophers of religion and theologians have been in trying to get away from this. It is the existence of such efforts, for both of these examples, which leads me to think little good of these endeavours. GG, on the other hand, imagines that RD et al must read these nonsensical pieces before being able to dismiss them. But however erudite hey may be, we have already seen they cannot succeed. I need not read any “proof” of how to square the circle, or study blueprints for a perpetual motion machine. But you wouldn’t know this from

The basic problem ... treatment of philosophical issues.

Why should we bother reading these pieces, GG?

Because, successful or not, philosophers offer the best rational thinking about such questions.

To claim that philosophy, a subject in which no position has ever truly died, in which we will forever have to discuss several flavours of the ontological argument in our textbooks however many centuries pass (whereas phlogiston needs no reference in modern chemistry), is the true best way to answer any question, as opposed to the scientific “Believe in that for which evidence exists, otherwise recognise the idea as unreasonable” approach, is to make a claim for which the entire defence rests on the fact that, in principle, philosophy is the study of good reasoning. But this does not change the fact that pretty much every philosopher in history has been guilty of serious howlers, i.e. that they have resisted the state of mind it is their business to study. Nor is it surprising; students of disease are not routinely ill.

But another potential failing of philosophy is how big a deal it may make of people rather than arguments. To forget where one’s priorities lie is a mistake GG makes in his treatment of Russell’s teapot:

suppose that several astronauts reported seeing something that looked very much like a teapot and, later, a number of reputable space scientists interpreted certain satellite data as showing the presence of a teapot-shaped object, even though other space scientists questioned this interpretation. The claim that God exists is much closer to this second case. There are sensible people who report having had some kind of direct awareness of a divine being, and there are competent philosophers who endorse arguments for God’s existence.

The problem with this analogy is that it confuses competent people in the second case with competent inquiry in the first. Never mind how often these individuals have their heads on right; the notable fact is that every attempt to defend theism is threadbare. Whereas images taken from satellites are a form of empirical evidence obtained with equipment carefully designed to practise empiricism at its best, the arguments for God are pathetic. That they rely so heavily on unempirical methods, whose scope is limited to proving logically necessary truths, which no existence claim ever can be, should be an especially frequently occurring alarm bell for people like GG. It is clear, for example, that the ontological argument, and the notion of a necessary being on which it relies in some formulations and which is refuted above, boil down to failing to understand the implications of existence not being a predicate. You can prove no triangle has four sides; that is, you can prove some sets of predicates are mutually exclusive, so that it is logically impossible for a single thing possessing them all to exist. This is where logic precludes a proposed type of entity. But you cannot do the exact opposite. If some predicates are incompatible with nonexistence, what does that mean? It means that nothing can exist with those predicates and with nonexistence. But this is trivially true of any predicates, and does not mean anything exists with those predicates; and, while the ontological argument (especially the version of it due to Descartes) is the most glaringly obvious failure to appreciate this, anyone who tries to prove anything to exist with logic is clearly in this same position of befuddlement. And not only do philosophers of religion and theologians make this mistake all the time, but even when they do not they nonetheless fail to produce anything sensible, however much of an effort it may make to be genuinely empirical.

As always, we have a very simple point which GG only does not get (or at least pretends not to get), but which he tries to avoid by raising unnecessary questions. On this occasion he does not direct us to his colleagues’ works, but instead launches an attack on materialism. He sees a need to do this because he expects RD to declare God immaterial and the latter improbable. But the claim that logically possible entities merit classification as material or immaterial is one born of the those advocating the existence of things science can’t find (the so–called immaterial), and the term is otherwise pretty much empty. GG half–notes this, but it doesn’t help his case:

what is the evidence for materialism? Presumably, that scientific investigation reveals the existence of nothing except material things. But ... science is suited to discover only what is material (indeed, the best definition of “material” may be just “the sort of thing that science can discover”).

What this definition of the dichotomy does is to reduce the position he wishes to refute, and which he accuses others of holding, to the view that the undiscoverable is unlikely. But this is really not what anyone claims, as my discussion of probability above illustrates; probability is an objective, calculable concept of information theory. GG has so far misunderstood RD, probability and information, logic and when to trust someone’s position (long story short: rather than classifying individuals as warranting trust or not as a shortcut, he should judge the arguments themselves). He now goes on to misunderstand evidence:

[Theists] will also cite our experiences of our own conscious life (thoughts, feelings, desires, etc.) as excellent evidence for the existence of immaterial realities that cannot be fully understood by science.

Recall GG defines the immaterial as that which science cannot discover. Is it not true that science can and has shown that people report these feelings, that they correlate very precisely with specific brain states, that which mind states correlate with which brain states are as universal across users of a common language as are the scopes of their words in general, that non–mental accounts of these brain states are available and are reducible to ordinary physical and chemical concepts such as action potentials and electrochemical gradients, that there are several respects in which we hitherto thought we knew our own minds but science has shown it knows better (e.g. that a decision is determined before the conscious is informed what it is, that the brain’s various parts work on their own projects without reporting to or through a central processor, and that many mental states, including perhaps most notably near–death and religious experiences, can be made in the lab through physically/chemically manipulating the brain), that all of this has helped us design better computing and AI, and that many of these findings have a systematic mathematical foundation within the rest of our physics? And even if all this were not so (and it is) and science did not understand these things well yet, how does this prove it never will and never could? In other words, the undiscovered is not necessarily the undiscoverable.

Fri, 13 Aug 2010 19:34:38 UTC | #499959

Letsbereasonable's Avatar Comment 29 by Letsbereasonable

Comment 3 by Cartomancer :

Oh, and people's thoughts and personal subjective experiences of gods are NOT EVIDENCE for the existence of those gods.

A demonstrative statement, but you are probably right - probably right. What, then, do you suppose people's thoughts and personal subjective experiences, not necessarily of gods, are evidence of? Can they be quantified scientifically? If so, how?

Fri, 13 Aug 2010 19:37:19 UTC | #499960

Ryosuke1208's Avatar Comment 30 by Ryosuke1208

Can someone tell why why cant i find some really good arguments against the book of the god delusion? Yeah i found some justifiable critisisms in small points for example that Dawkins fails to cite sources regarding of psychological child abuse about the fear of hell. But overall i found that most of the arguments of the god delusion stand strong.

Fri, 13 Aug 2010 19:38:31 UTC | #499962