The God Delusion - Chapter 4

Debate specific books

Moderator: Moderators

Locked
User avatar
otseng
Savant
Posts: 18571
Joined: Thu Jan 15, 2004 1:16 pm
Location: Atlanta, GA
Has thanked: 146 times
Been thanked: 212 times
Contact:

The God Delusion - Chapter 4

Post #1

Post by otseng »

What arguments does Dawkins present that God does not exist?
Are they valid arguments?

McCulloch's questions:
Does evolution by natural selection demonstrate that the argument from design is wrong? He suggests that a hypothetical cosmic designer would require an even greater explanation than the phenomena that they intended to explain.

User avatar
QED
Prodigy
Posts: 3798
Joined: Sun Jan 30, 2005 5:34 am
Location: UK

Post #71

Post by QED »

otseng wrote:
QED wrote:Bundled-up with this assumption of an intelligent designer are many other concepts like purpose and meaning -- all of which are eliminated if the design of living things is the product of Natural Selection.
I would not totally agree. There are many devout believers that subscribe to evolution and do not subscribe to creationism. Therefore it is possible to believe in natural selection and also in purpose and meaning to life.
Yet natural selection is a chaotic process that cannot have predictable outcomes -- with an estimated 99% of all species now extinct we really shouldn't expect any special immunity for our own. If the devout are subscribing to evolution then they are also signing-up for common descent and as such should appreciate the contingent nature of our own evolutionary path. This kind of thing transforms our relation with God who, as I mentioned elsewhere, at one extreme might have been the creator of a multiverse from within which we've selected our own suitable universe (a neat solution to the apparent fine-tuning question) -- yet such a God could hardly be seen in the same light as one who carefully assembled everything specifically with us in mind.

I still think you're slipping the Christian God in through the pantheistic back-door with your line of argument here. The scientific community speak of an overwhelming convergence of evidence for evolution by natural selection, and the identical use of DNA in all living things on this planet speaks volumes about a common descent for all it's inhabitants. Following from the reasoning I outlined above, this would transform the popular idea of our "Lord saviour as the giver of our daily bread" beyond all recognition.

We simply can't choose to believe that specific resources have been put in place for our specific needs when we see that the story of evolution is one of symbiotic adaptation. The general notion of providence in religious quarters is clearly placing the cart before the horse.
otseng wrote:
QED wrote:Dawkins life's work has been the study of this "modern" alternative to creation. I think he's entitled to talk about the non-existence of God in this respect.
I wouldn't really classify evolution as an "alternative" to creation. Creationism is much more broad than simply addressing evolution. For one thing, evolution only deals with biological life. Creation deals with life and non-life. Further, creationists do not totally reject evolution. Rather the main issue is the inadequate support for common descent.
Yet as an explanation for the origin of species, evolution is rejected by creationists. Even die-hard Creationists cannot deny a certain amount of evolution going on around them so they erect an artificial barrier dividing the scale of evolution into micro and macro -- to preserve their argument that intelligence is required for all the really heavy-duty design work. I hate to have to say it, but in the absence of any coherent principle which explains why evolution can only adapt organisms so far, I think we really ought to accept that the argument is, at best the product of a hunch, and at worst a sham to preserve a traditional way of thinking.

If we accept that genetic inheritance represents the transfer of a blueprint for each individual organism then we have accepted that organisms are equipped with ways to adapt to changing circumstances from generation to generation. Geographic separation promotes different types of adaptation and populations will eventually differ in radical ways. That doesn't sound unreasonable to me or to a great many other people since it was first described.

Once we recognize providence as adaptation I think the whole creation argument unravels in a new way. Thus evolution in a cosmological sense is also an alternative to creation in that it continually puts up barriers between an assumed provident benefactor and the assumed object of his generosity. It may seem ungrateful, but all the evidence I can see clearly shows that all life itself is collectively responsible in its entirety for the air we breath and the food we eat.
otseng wrote:
QED wrote:I think it's fair to say that science has never conducted any positive test for a non-pantheistic God, which is to say that God plays no known essential role in the workings of the world.
I'm not sure about "positive tests", but there are positive indications. And in the past several decades, science have been rapidly discovering such indications. And I predict that there will be many more such discoveries in the future.

The discoveries have even been such as to knock several well known people out of their atheism. These people realize that a natural cause is insufficient to explain certain observations that we see in the world. Though they haven't all moved to full blown theism, some could be classified to at least moved to deism.
I think you're referring to Anthropic Coincidences and the effect they have had one or two popular science authors. I'm as unsurprised at this as others are baffled. Sufficient ambiguity exists due to the various Anthropic Principles such that it continues to be a matter of interpretation. Neither line of reasoning is closed down by any currently held data and it suits some to win prestigious financial rewards for saying the right words. Dawkins addresses this himself on p.154
Dyson could easily refute the implication of these quotations
from his Templeton acceptance speech, if only he would explain
clearly what evidence he finds to believe in God, in something more
than just the Einsteinian sense which, as I explained in Chapter 1,
we can all trivially subscribe to. If I understand Horgan's point, it
is that Templeton's money corrupts science. I am sure Freeman
Dyson is way above being corrupted. But his acceptance speech is
still unfortunate if it seems to set an example to others. The
Templeton Prize is two orders of magnitude larger than the inducements
offered to the journalists at Cambridge, having been
explicitly set up to be larger than the Nobel Prize. In Faustian vein,
my friend the philosopher Daniel Dennett once joked to me,
'Richard, if ever you fall on hard times . . .'
If the only scientific ammo for God is the Anthropic coincidences and all the resulting appearance of providence that they generate, you'll have to excuse me from getting too excited. The simple observation that this universe is a process and that whatever process it may be, it may be repeatable (with variations) in some sense, solves a great number of conceptual difficulties to do with how the intelligent creator got to be so clever in the first place. At the end of the day, any scientist who sees it differently is faced with this ultimate non sequitur, although I guess $1.4 million would ease the pain a little.

bunyip
Student
Posts: 54
Joined: Thu Feb 17, 2005 7:01 am
Location: Ottawa, Canada

Post #72

Post by bunyip »

> "The discoveries have even been such as to knock several well known people out of their atheism. These people realize that a natural cause is insufficient to explain certain observations that we see in the world. "

It's not clear to me who those "well-known" people are, but the mysteries of Nature often lead humans, even well-educated ones, to attribute "agency" to their underlying causes. Ask any working biologist about quantum or string theory and you're likely to receive pretty vague responses. The reverse is also true.

What is commonly forgotten in all these discussions is how much we've learned in a very short time. In my Granpa's day, the "universe" was The Milky Way and chromosomes had only recently been identified. In my father's day, it was realised that there were a host of galaxies out there and DNA was "the stupid molecule" because nobody could discern a function for it. Now, we realise the galactic population is beyond counting, and DNA is the underpinning of how life works.

These jumps in understanding lead many to want ALL the answers RIGHT NOW. When they're not forthcoming immediately the tendency is to assign agency to the things we don't understand. The only agency readily at hand is the supernatural. You may call it "deism", but in my view it's merely selfish mental laziness.

the bunyip

bunyip
Student
Posts: 54
Joined: Thu Feb 17, 2005 7:01 am
Location: Ottawa, Canada

Post #73

Post by bunyip »

> "I wouldn't really classify evolution as an "alternative" to creation. Creationism is much more broad than simply addressing evolution. For one thing, evolution only deals with biological life. Creation deals with life and non-life. Further, creationists do not totally reject evolution. Rather the main issue is the inadequate support for common descent."

This statement leaves me utterably confused. If natural selection posits that the "fittest" survive and the less fit don't, is that not concern with "non-life"? Extinction is forever, as the saying goes. And if you ain't fit, there will be no descendents carrying your genetic message. The lost messages are "non-life" by any definition.

> "I would not totally agree. There are many devout believers that subscribe to evolution and do not subscribe to creationism. Therefore it is possible to believe in natural selection and also in purpose and meaning to life."

Apart from the issue of "meaning to life" being a specious question, just what do those "devout believers that subscribe to evolution" believe in? If those people understand the universe is nearly 14 billion years old and life progresses with infiinite slowness down that ages, what is the foundation of their faith? That a deity launched all this then went off on a pub crawl with a chorus girl while things worked themselves out? The deity of those "believers" has been pushed farther back out of the picture of life over the past four centuries. Now that it resides in some conceptual backwater, what is its role?

the bunyip

User avatar
otseng
Savant
Posts: 18571
Joined: Thu Jan 15, 2004 1:16 pm
Location: Atlanta, GA
Has thanked: 146 times
Been thanked: 212 times
Contact:

Post #74

Post by otseng »

QED wrote:If the devout are subscribing to evolution then they are also signing-up for common descent and as such should appreciate the contingent nature of our own evolutionary path.
I see problems with that stance as well and do not believe in it.

However, people such as Michael Denton believe that it was built in to nature that man would ultimately be the outcome, even though the evolutionary process is chaotic (this was discussed in Nature's Destiny).
The scientific community speak of an overwhelming convergence of evidence for evolution by natural selection, and the identical use of DNA in all living things on this planet speaks volumes about a common descent for all it's inhabitants.
And as Denton argues, DNA is the optimal method for conveying biological information. So, the fact that all life uses DNA can also speak for design. So, DNA does not only speak for common descent. Denton also issues a test for this. If life is found on other planets, he predicts that it will also use DNA. If DNA was not optimal and just one of many possibilities of conveying information, then other life forms will most likely not use DNA.

As for the convergence of evidence for evolution, could this not also result from the fact that evolution is the only naturalistic explanation in the scientific community? Since it's the only theory, of course it then would garner all of the evidence.

Recently, there has been a growing body of evidence to challenge evolution. But, even though weaknesses have been raised against evolution, there is still no naturalistic alternative. So, there is nothing else that most scientists can accept.
Even die-hard Creationists cannot deny a certain amount of evolution going on around them so they erect an artificial barrier dividing the scale of evolution into micro and macro -- to preserve their argument that intelligence is required for all the really heavy-duty design work.
I do not believe that creationists are the only ones to divide between micro and macro. Rather, this is an accepted division among almost all biologists.
Antievolutionists argue against macroevolution so loudly that some people think they invented the term in order to dismiss evolution. But this is not true; scientists not only use the terms, they have an elaborate set of models and ideas about it, which of course antievolutionists gloss over or treat as being somehow problems for evolutionary biology.
http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/macroevolution.html
I think you're referring to Anthropic Coincidences and the effect they have had one or two popular science authors. I'm as unsurprised at this as others are baffled.
Yes, this is the main one. But I would not say it's just one or two popular science authors. I've mentioned Denton earlier and I would not consider him a popular science author. And with Antony Flew being knocked off his atheistic pedestal, I would not consider him a popular science author either.
and it suits some to win prestigious financial rewards for saying the right words.
Including the Nobel prize?
If the only scientific ammo for God is the Anthropic coincidences and all the resulting appearance of providence that they generate, you'll have to excuse me from getting too excited.
With the sheer number of anthropic coincidences, I don't think they can all be easily dismissed away. Just looking at one coincidence, the critical density value, shows an amazing precision to the universe.

User avatar
otseng
Savant
Posts: 18571
Joined: Thu Jan 15, 2004 1:16 pm
Location: Atlanta, GA
Has thanked: 146 times
Been thanked: 212 times
Contact:

Post #75

Post by otseng »

bunyip wrote:These jumps in understanding lead many to want ALL the answers RIGHT NOW. When they're not forthcoming immediately the tendency is to assign agency to the things we don't understand. The only agency readily at hand is the supernatural. You may call it "deism", but in my view it's merely selfish mental laziness.
Not so. I've mentioned Nature's Destiny earlier. And that work is definitely not a result of of mental laziness.
The lost messages are "non-life" by any definition.
Evolution deals only with how plants and animals evolve. It doesn't deal with how life arose in the first place. It also doesn't deal with anything outside our biosphere.

Creationism encompasses other areas besides biology, such as cosmology and geology.
Apart from the issue of "meaning to life" being a specious question, just what do those "devout believers that subscribe to evolution" believe in?
It's a wide range of beliefs. But as one example, Francis Collins, former head of the Human Genome Project, espouses Biologos.

bunyip
Student
Posts: 54
Joined: Thu Feb 17, 2005 7:01 am
Location: Ottawa, Canada

Post #76

Post by bunyip »

> "Not so. I've mentioned Nature's Destiny[/url] earlier. And that work is definitely not a result of of mental laziness.

Although i haven't read "Nature's Destiny", i've read Denton before. In my schooling, "a priori reasoning" was deemed intellectual laziness, and Denton relies on that with depressing regularity.
The lost messages are "non-life" by any definition.
Evolution deals only with how plants and animals evolve. It doesn't deal with how life arose in the first place. It also doesn't deal with anything outside our biosphere." . . . "Creationism encompasses other areas besides biology, such as cosmology and geology."

That's all evolutionary biology is supposed to deal with. However, there is a science out there called "cosmology" which does investigate farther afield. Neither science accepts the idea of supernatural cause for any aspect of its work. Creationism simply uses a priori reasoning [again!] to postulate cause from its own particular source.

Which again raises the question of why it's only "Christian creationism" that says iit's the sole voice of supernatural forces [yes, i know certain Muslims are now on the bandwagon. but they are only mouthing what they've derived from the Christian propagandists]..

> " But as one example, Francis Collins, "

If Frankie Collins is all you have, then it's a pretty skimpy quiver you're drawiing from. He uses the same "if I can't explain it, then it must be a deity" arguement that's been forwarded all too often.

the bunyip

User avatar
otseng
Savant
Posts: 18571
Joined: Thu Jan 15, 2004 1:16 pm
Location: Atlanta, GA
Has thanked: 146 times
Been thanked: 212 times
Contact:

Post #77

Post by otseng »

bunyip wrote:Although i haven't read "Nature's Destiny", i've read Denton before. In my schooling, "a priori reasoning" was deemed intellectual laziness, and Denton relies on that with depressing regularity.
I'd suggest reading Nature's Destiny then before accusing him of intellectual laziness.
That's all evolutionary biology is supposed to deal with.
Of course, and that's precisely my point.
Creationism simply uses a priori reasoning [again!] to postulate cause from its own particular source.
The only assumption that creationists have is that both the natural and the supernatural can be viable explanations for things observed. A supernatural solution is not automatically assumed beforehand for all cases. It would only be for cases which have the marks of design and that no natural explanation is viable.

So, actually, it would be naturalists that uses a priori reasoning. They assume that only a natural explanation is possible. Therefore no supernatural explanation can be possible.
Which again raises the question of why it's only "Christian creationism" that says iit's the sole voice of supernatural forces [yes, i know certain Muslims are now on the bandwagon. but they are only mouthing what they've derived from the Christian propagandists]..
Actually, one of the oldest arguments for a creator is the Kalam cosmological argument, which has an Islamic origin.
If Frankie Collins is all you have, then it's a pretty skimpy quiver you're drawiing from.
I have no idea what you mean. You asked "Apart from the issue of meaning to life being a specious question, just what do those 'devout believers that subscribe to evolution' believe in?" I presented one such view. Is there a requirement that I present all the various views from believers that subscribe to evolution?

User avatar
QED
Prodigy
Posts: 3798
Joined: Sun Jan 30, 2005 5:34 am
Location: UK

Post #78

Post by QED »

otseng wrote:
QED wrote:If the devout are subscribing to evolution then they are also signing-up for common descent and as such should appreciate the contingent nature of our own evolutionary path.
I see problems with that stance as well and do not believe in it.

However, people such as Michael Denton believe that it was built in to nature that man would ultimately be the outcome, even though the evolutionary process is chaotic (this was discussed in Nature's Destiny).
Yet natural selection is a modelleable process, and I've often drawn your attention to the novel designs that such models can generate. The principle of operation is very simple to understand and hence it's easy to see that there is no guidance other than testing nature by trial and error to obtain the fittest solution to the problem of survival. That this is the same in nature is well supported by the constant turn-over of (apparent) design which has all but eliminated every species at one time or another. Nature keeps on innovating and filling every potential niche, only lingering when a good solution to a stable environment presents itself.

I'm sorry to have to put it so bluntly, but there is simply no way we can look at evolved products through natural selection and make anything but the most general statements about "ultimates" -- to single out one species from the rest and make a specific claim like this is utterly nonsensical. The principle behind the process and the dynamic nature of the environments available for living things is inherinently unamenable to finalities of the sort Denton imagines.
otseng wrote: And as Denton argues, DNA is the optimal method for conveying biological information. So, the fact that all life uses DNA can also speak for design. So, DNA does not only speak for common descent. Denton also issues a test for this. If life is found on other planets, he predicts that it will also use DNA. If DNA was not optimal and just one of many possibilities of conveying information, then other life forms will most likely not use DNA.
Seeing as how natural selection is an optimising process (or more precicely one that tends towards optimisiation) it should be no suprise that it has developed particular molecular chains to convey information. All constraints on life being equal, we migth be intruiged but not amazed if it were to show-up elsewhere. No further information could be gleaned from such a coincidence and any suggestion that intelligence is implied would only be pointing to the pseudo intelligence afforded by the self-organizing principles of natural selection.

I'm utterly baffled by the number of times that the appearance of intelligence in a system leads to the reaction that it must be of the same kind as we are used to wielding. I think it's fair to say that the whole ID argument is one of mistaken identity. But then you might ask if it's me that's got it the wrong way round -- which is why I keep on referring to Genetic Algorithms as they provide ample evidence that the logical principle identified in natural selection IS one which is capable of generating novel designs (novel information) without the same kind of mental consideration that we're more familiar with.

otseng, I think it's only reasonable for you to lay your cards on the table at this point: I would like you to either dismiss the notion that there is a potential source of apparent intelligence embodied within the principles of Genetic Algorithms (of which natural selection represents one instance of such an algorithm) or accept the fact that appearances of intelligent design do not always constitute evidence for the same kind of contemplative intelligence that we employ.

Accepting the latter means that pointing to any number of apparently clever selections does not build a necessary case for the intervention of the same kind of contemplative intelligence owned by humans (and assumed superhumans).
otseng wrote:As for the convergence of evidence for evolution, could this not also result from the fact that evolution is the only naturalistic explanation in the scientific community? Since it's the only theory, of course it then would garner all of the evidence.
Convergence is more than just ramming things together. The theory, it's modelling and its predictions are a good match to the data we have and continue to gather. It soon becomes apparent when things don't fit because researchers are constantly on the look-out for any fresh areas that open-up due to such inconsistencies. Unlike many of us armchair spectators, the real zoologists and biologists are mostly interested in being able to make a name for themselves by fitting together the correct jigsaw puzzle regardless of how the overall picture comes out. When pieces are rammed into postion where they do not belong -- reat assured that there are plenty of mercyless critics on hand to point it out.

That no other scientific theory has emerged is, in my opinion, a strong indicator that the theory is right one. In fields like theoretical physics there are many competing theories which sugests to most of those involved that none of the present theories are correct. It would be very wrong to suggest that because everything delivered by science is tentative any theory is nothing more than a guess.
otseng wrote: Recently, there has been a growing body of evidence to challenge evolution.
That's not something that I've seen in any mainstream publication. If it were true I would be expecting to see a vigorous response from the community of researchers working in that field. I think the most accurate description of the situation is that the internet has collected a great many (mostly US) religionists and generated a market serving their common interests with books like Dentons. The resistance to Darwinian ideas has always been there, but the chorus of scientifically untrained Church-goers has been drowned out by the greater media access afforded to mainstream scientific publications. The "cottage industry" phenomenon of the internet seems to be redressing this balance, but who has the better credentials is something we would obviosly differ over.

If we're fighting dogma with dogma, then I think its fair to say that your interpretation is mainly influenced by the traditions of religion which are based on revelatory material -- which you would argue was divinely inspired, and I that it represented a very strong (and almost universal) human hunch. I think that hunch is a highly understandable misinterpretation of our situation and the reason I go with that is because I know that non-intelligent selection can nonetheless generate the appearance of design, and that natural mechanisms are either in place and identifiable (in the case of biology) or not a great strain on the imagination (in the case of cosmology).
otseng wrote: But, even though weaknesses have been raised against evolution, there is still no naturalistic alternative. So, there is nothing else that most scientists can accept.
The weaknesses that you allude to are far from having the ability to bring down Darwinian selection, so naturally there is nothing else that needs to be accepted. I continue to be amazed that you seem to view the fact that there's only one scientific theory as a weakness for that theory.
Even die-hard Creationists cannot deny a certain amount of evolution going on around them so they erect an artificial barrier dividing the scale of evolution into micro and macro -- to preserve their argument that intelligence is required for all the really heavy-duty design work.
I do not believe that creationists are the only ones to divide between micro and macro. Rather, this is an accepted division among almost all biologists.[/quote]
But it's usage is entirely different: it's acknowledgeed to be an arbitrary divide like the division of Physics into chemistry, biology etc. the creationist interpretation is that it
Antievolutionists argue against macroevolution so loudly that some people think they invented the term in order to dismiss evolution. But this is not true; scientists not only use the terms, they have an elaborate set of models and ideas about it, which of course antievolutionists gloss over or treat as being somehow problems for evolutionary biology.
http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/macroevolution.html
I think you're referring to Anthropic Coincidences and the effect they have had one or two popular science authors. I'm as unsurprised at this as others are baffled.
Yes, this is the main one. But I would not say it's just one or two popular science authors. I've mentioned Denton earlier and I would not consider him a popular science author. And with Antony Flew being knocked off his atheistic pedestal, I would not consider him a popular science author either.
and it suits some to win prestigious financial rewards for saying the right words.
Including the Nobel prize?
If the only scientific ammo for God is the Anthropic coincidences and all the resulting appearance of providence that they generate, you'll have to excuse me from getting too excited.
With the sheer number of anthropic coincidences, I don't think they can all be easily dismissed away. Just looking at one coincidence, the critical density value, shows an amazing precision to the universe.[/quote]

bunyip
Student
Posts: 54
Joined: Thu Feb 17, 2005 7:01 am
Location: Ottawa, Canada

Post #79

Post by bunyip »

> "Actually, one of the oldest arguments for a creator is the Kalam cosmological argument, which has an Islamic origin."

Not quite. The Greeks, Persians, Egyptians and Indian peoples had "cosmological arguements" long before Islam came into being. In all their varying forms, creation myths are all "cosmological arguements" because they all postulate a "first cause" before anything material.

If Frankie Collins is all you have, then it's a pretty skimpy quiver you're drawiing from.

> ""I have no idea what you mean. You asked "Apart from the issue of meaning to life being a specious question, just what do those 'devout believers that subscribe to evolution' believe in?" I presented one such view. Is there a requirement that I present all the various views from believers that subscribe to evolution?"

You're correct. I've imposed a horrendous task on you. But then, it wasn't me that said "many". If you want a briefing on some of those views, try Robert Pennock's "Tower of Babel" who put in an astonishing amount of research into those views. How he managed to avoid ending up in a room with soft walls is astonishing to me. He deserves all the kudos he can get for his effort.

the bunyip

User avatar
otseng
Savant
Posts: 18571
Joined: Thu Jan 15, 2004 1:16 pm
Location: Atlanta, GA
Has thanked: 146 times
Been thanked: 212 times
Contact:

Post #80

Post by otseng »

bunyip wrote:If you want a briefing on some of those views, try Robert Pennock's "Tower of Babel" who put in an astonishing amount of research into those views.
Sounds like another candidate for a book debate.

Locked