Sunday, July 1, 2007

The God Delusion, Part 3 – Arguments for God’s existence


In the third chapter of The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins meets all the most famous arguments that theologians through time have put forth to validate their belief in God. On the first few pages Dawkins goes through Thomas Aquinas (see picture) five proofs of God. The first three are essentially the same and all says that something cannot be created from nothing, ergo God. The response here is simply that God is also something and therefore, according to the logics, cannot come from nothing so this is not really a solution. Dawkins also finds space to cite what I think was a funny little paradox that Karen Owens once posted.

Can omniscient God, who Knows the future, find The omnipotence to Change His future mind?

An omniscient God must know what will happen in the future, including what he will, himself, do. If the entire future is already spelled out, then it should be pretty hard to change your mind right? Aquinas also gave the argument from degree which is not really an argument and then he posed an argument from design which I have already dealt with in a previous post.

A little sidetrack… In the most recent number of my favorite magazine "The Skeptic", there was an article about ID in which an aspect that I have not previously thought about was brought up. Christian proponents of the ID theory in are in a sense shooting themselves in the foot. Since they have not and of course cannot name their own God as the designer God, there is an opening for all religions to claim their place in the classroom, and they have. There is nothing the Christians can do to hinder this. If they say that, no it can only be Yahweh, then ID is no longer a "scientific theory" (as if it ever was), and as long as there is just a anonymous designer it might as well be Zeus or Odin…

Next there is the argument which was put forth by St Anselm of Canterbury, which I have discussed a little bit on Z's blog. Translated into playground language it is as follows. Dawkins writes:

'Bet you I can prove God exists.'

'Bet you can't.'

'Right then, imagine the most perfect perfect perfect thing possible.'

'Okay, now what?'

'Now, is that perfect perfect perfect thing real? Does it exist?'

'No, it's only in my mind.'

'But if it was real it would be even more perfect, because a really really perfect thing would have to be better than a silly old imaginary thing. So I've proved that God exists. Nur Nurny Nur Nur. All atheists are fools.'

I will admit that I did not myself find the fallacy in this argument. I thought it sounded wrong from the beginning, but it is hard to point out the exact fallacy (Bertrand Russell thought so too). The fallacy of this argument lies in the fact that something is not "better" because it exists. Imagine your dream house. Now is that house a better house if it exists? What a meaningless question right? "Betterness" is not a dimension that can be applied to this distinction between mental and real things.

Personal experience is often used as a proof of God. This reminds me of once when I got a tape from a religious woman who was probably trying to save my soul. On the tape there was a number of interview with people who had "found God". Most of them could recall a particular episode in their life when God first spoke to them and I think there was no doubt in their mind about God's existence. Such "I spoke to God" arguments I don't find very convincing. Maybe they are making it up, maybe they are hallucinating or maybe they are just interpreting inner speech which we all have as the voice of God. It also seems strange that people from different religions always have revelations about their own God. If there was only one true God, one would that people from different cultures would experience the same God…





Perhaps more convincing are the so called miracles where many people have seen something seemingly supernatural. For example, the miracle of the sun in which the sun reportedly fell towards the earth, was observed by fifty to a hundred thousand people in Portugal and was also covered in the newspapers. It is admittedly hard to explain how such a mass delusion could possibly occur. One person may be crazy and perhaps two persons can by chance get a similar illusion simultaneously, but thousands? Just doesn't seem so likely… However, it seems even more unlikely that the rest of the world would fail to notice that the sun was heading towards earth. Furthermore, I would suppose that if the sun would suddenly start to move in an unexpected way it should have some noticeable astronomical consequences, none were observed.

Many more arguments are discussed and eventually dismissed in chapter to of the God delusion, but I will limit myself to the ones I have presented here because I fear that people will get bored. If someone feels I have excluded an argument that proves that God exists then feel free to post that argument as a comment…

32 comments:

Z said...

Allright, but what if existence is a property? ;)
Then the property of existing both in fantasy and in real life could be better than only existing in fantasy....

rasmussenanders said...

Perhaps existence is a property though I guess that simply depends on how you define it.

According to Dictionary.com a property is "an essential or distinctive attribute or quality of a thing", which I doesn't think makes things simpler. But even if existense is a property is it necessarily better to have it than not to have it. In what sense is something that exists better than something that doesn't exist?

Z said...

I'm currently writing a review on a Danish anthology on Darwin & intelligent design.

One of the authors, Jan Faye, defines all of us believing in God as ID-folks, referring to the God of the gaps, with the ultimate gap:
"Why does anything at all exist?"

I have to admit to him, that one cannot use the total concept of existing as a "gap". Atheists have the right to receive answers from believers.
Faye's qs:

1. "Why would He exist?"
and
2. "Why did He create the universe?"

My answer is not good enough, but at least i try and don't ignore it:

1. His existance is necessary
2. Because He wants it to exist.

Z said...

by the way, i also have problems with the "i spoke with God"-statements. I mean, why don't they tell us what happened, what they heard, what they felt, what day it was, the time, how long it took in reltime....etc.

My personal experiences have only been theese: big despair "suddenly" relieved after prayer.
That's it; no voices in the night, i'm afraid.
(maybe i'm just jealous)

rasmussenanders said...

Thank you Z for your comments, as always they are very welcome.

"1. His existance is necessary
2. Because He wants it to exist."

To me this sounds somewhat circular since the second statement requires that he exists in the first place.

To believe in God because of the Gaps that are apparent in science today seems to me strange because of the fact that gaps have been filled throughout the history of science. Perhaps there are gaps that can never be filled because of limitations in our measuring instruments, but that still doesn't mean that there is a God. Just becuase there is no adequate scientific explanation available doesn't make the alternative true...

normdoering said...

If you would like to see a search for the name "Al Sharpton" turn up the phrase: "Al Sharpton admits the Bible is a bunch of crap" on Google, then the next time you use the name "Al Sharpton" make it a link to my blog post here:

http://normdoering.blogspot.com/2007/07/al-sharpton-admits-bible-is-bunch-of.html

Or, write your own Sharpton blog with a similar title and I'll link you.

Z said...

Sorry, forgot to answer your question

"In what sense is something that exists better than something that doesn't exist?"

I cannot answer with an answer, only by some thoughts:
Do you think it would better if you didn't exist?

Ok, so maybe that can't quite be answered, but:

Do you think it would be better if the entire universe didn't exist?

rasmussenanders said...

I think there is a suttle difference there. What you should ask is whether the real me is "better" than me in someones mind, an imagined me, and there my answer is no, they are equally good, it is only that one is imagined and one is real. The same goes for the Universe. It is not "better" because it exists, compared to if it just existed in someones mind. Of course it is nice to live and everything but that is beside the point I think.

furiku said...

If existence is a property of an object, and if a "perfect" object has to exist to be perfect, then surely I should have a perfect life, a perfect boyfriend, a perfect car, a perfect degree, and so on ad nauseam? Because I can imagine all these things, and yet - GASP! - they do not miraculously come to be!

Oh btw, I don't think Zeus was supposed to have created the world. In fact he was born quite a bit after that, to Chronus and Rhea. Chronus in turn was fathered by Uranus and Gaia, the sky and the earth. Uranus was Gaias son, and Gaia arose from Chaos, nothingness. In short, the greek creation myth says the world just popped into existence. ;)

rasmussenanders said...

Thank for the comment Furiku, and its nice to see you "back in action".

I apoligize for my ignorance when it comes to Greek mythology, I just assumed that they had some creation theory like most other religions. I do not have my magazine right here so I cannot say which religious groups claimed that their God(s) where the creator. The point was I guess, that ID proponent have no valid argument for saying that schools should study the bible and not the koran, or any other religious book that describes creation.

About the "perfect matter" I guess that Anselm meant that two objects which are equivalent in every respect except that one existed in reality and the other was just in someones mind, then the former is better. That does not allow the conclusion that everything that exists is perfect. I think that it is not very meaningful to say that something which exists is better than something which is just in someones mind...

Z said...

Good point, furiku
but there doesn't have to be an equivalence.
If a perfect object has to exist in order to be perfect,

then that does not automatically mean the other way around; that all existing objects are perfect or have perfect lives.

furiku said...

Anders, no worries! I used to be a bit of a mythology geek when I was a kid so I still got some of it stowed away in some crevice of my brain. ;)

z, That's not what I said either. I just said that if imagining that "god" is perfect means that god must necessarily exist, because only an extant object can be perfect, then the same should go for any other object that I imagine should be perfect.

Anonymous said...

I notice that you and many others when referring to the Miracle of the Sun in Fatima, Portugal, conveniently fail to mention why there were 70,000 people at the Cova Da Ira on that day in 1917.

It was because a miracle had been specifically predicted to take place by Our Lady through the children and they had announced this. They had announced it in ADVANCE.

Admittedly, some of those attending would have been religious nuts hoping to see something, some would have been thrill seekers, but some would have also been skeptics like yourself fully believing that they would see nothing and be able to laugh and mock the incredulity of religious people.

As far as I am aware there are no first hand reports from people who claimed to have seen nothing. There ARE reports from people who went as non-believing skeptics (including the journalists from an anti-Catholic newspaper) and did see the Sun move, rotate, "dance" in the sky.

A "miracle" on random day is one thing. A predicted miracle which happens on the day it was predicted is something else entirely.

rasmussenanders said...

The fact that a religious leader has predicted a particular miracle does not, in my view, necessarily strenghten the case. It could influence the crowd to interpret whatever they see as the predicted miracle. This effect of expectations is very real and for this reason scientific experiments are often blind.

Addintionally, my previous point still holds. If the sun had come crashing down towards earth, then it is very strange that it was just discovered by the 70000 people in portugal... Such an event, had it happened, should have been noticed all over the world... I see a mass hypnosis as more likely...

Bill said...

The "Skeptic Magazine" article's author makes a mistake that many other people make, too. He doesn't distinguish between an ide and its object, between an idea and what the idea is about. Many skeptics talk about many Gods when they may need to talk instead about various ideas about only one God if there is only one God.

Keith Donellan is a philosopher of language who gives an example about a chamapigne glass to prove that a false description can pick out the correct object.

Mr. Rasmussen, imagine that we're at a cocktail party when you say, "Bill, Richard Dawkins is the man who's holding the glass of champaigne. I see the man you're talking, he's holding a champaigne glass, and he's Richard Dawkins. But your dscription of him is false because his champaigne glass is full of ginger ale, not of champaigne.

The same sort of point can apply when various people describe God. If there's a God, a false description may pick him out. Even if there's only one God, various people may have various opinions about him or else about fictional objects.

Saint Anselm may not be distinguishing between an idea and the thing the idea pick out if it does pick out something.

Bill said...

There are whole books about what happened in Fatims, "Fatima in Twilight" and "The Devil's Final Battle," say. In the "Devil's Final Battle," I've read that the 70,000 were only some spectators who watched the miracle. Others saw it from other places. If the other descriptions jibed with descriptions from the crowd members, and if the people in the other places hadn't heard the prediction, that credibility to the testimonies of the others. Why? Because the crowd-members hadn't talked with the others, the ones who watched the miracle from elsewhere.

rasmussenanders said...

Yet it still seems strange that the sun could start to move without us seing it in the astronomical data, and that the large majority of the earths population did not notice that the sun came crashing toward the earth.

I see it as more likely that thousands of people have shared the same halucination and then convinced other people to say that they also had seen it...

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Beda said...

Hmm.

God is not a something, so to talk about his complexity is a category mistake (e.g. like saying "the thought was green" or something). God is not a thing at all, in fact. Dawkins "argument" would only work if God was just another, older chunk of the universe. But God is not at all like that, by definition (the creator of all things is not a thing). Dawkins is right to say that in the sense he means it God probably does not exist: but this is not the sense that is required. So I think the whole thing is just a distraction...:-)

Cheers

Beda

rasmussenanders said...

Hello again Beda,
Dawkins has received this question many times and he does provide an answer which I think is good. See this video for example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qR_z85O0P2M&feature=related

In short, claiming that God is not a "thing", is a cheap way of getting around all the problems. If he is not a thing what is he then? Nothing (guess that is my belief)? Something which is just in your head like a fictional character or something? What is he, if he is not a thing?

Beda said...

Hi Anders...

Oh dear, I hope I am not being too argumentative...

Let us take Dawkins' "God hypothesis" which he explicitly discusses in the "God Delusion". I want to know what this hypothesis is meant to be *of*.

Is it the hypothesis of a God made out of energy/matter - specifically quarks, or strings, or somesuch, set in time and space? If the answer to this is *yes*, then one wants point out that such a thing cannot be the creator of time and space etc.

On the other hand, if the answer is *no*, then why does Dawkins think that the rules of how time and space behave apply to God?

I hope you can see from this sort of line of questioning that whenever we start asking "what sort of thing is God?" we are already taking a wrong step, because the question takes its basis the assumption that God is part of the world. But no-one thinks this is what we mean by "God".

Perhaps Dawkins thinks that the only possible God would have to be a god of the first sort (god1). Saying this is equivalent to saying that the god of the second type (god2) is analytically impossible, ie it involves some internal contradiction.

But I do not think it does; or rather, no-one has ever shown that to be the case, and certainly not Dawkins. Rather, the task of understanding god2 seems hopeless rather than contradictory.

We can express this problem in the language of Kant by saying that while the world is phenomenal, and thus full of things; God is noumenal.

The outcome of all this is that God turns out to be profoundly and radically mysterious: and not just as a sort of thing we cannot understand (the sort of argument of convenience that Dawkins is attacking) but by God’s very nature. Indeed, God becomes the “mysterium tremendum”, that we become sort of asymptotically aware of by considering the limits of our understanding. We cannot at all capture God’s essence by thought or experiment. Trying the futile task of trying to grasp God like this is dizzying and unsettling; and this experience is indeed what our experience of God is like: because it is the experience of our own finitude too. It is like an existential shock. And indeed, this is how the ancient fathers of the church saw God too.

Any case, to round off, I’d like to pose the same question to you: what sort of god is the Dawkin’s formulation of god meant to be?

Jesse L. Teshara said...

God exists because I am God.
I think, therefore I am, I think.
-God's Blog: The Jesse Journal

Jason said...

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http://creationontheweb.com/content/view/1851

Anonymous said...

"Imagine your dream house. Now is that house a better house if it exists?"

Yes, and it is even better if I live in it. Duh! I think you have shown a good example of how your personal bias can cloud your reasoning.

rasmussenanders said...

Thank you for the comment Anonymous,

Indeed it seems that personal bias can play a role in reasoning...

By what measure does a house get better if it exists? It may be nicer for the person who live in it, but the house is not "better".

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