Wednesday, July 4, 2007

The God Delusion, Part 4, Why there is almost certainly no God

I am not the only blogger who is discussing The God Delusion. If you want a view that is really different from mine you can go to the Apologetics homepage where you will find comprehensive criticism of Richard Dawkins latest book. Deepak Chopra whom I recently criticized for his abuse of quantum physics also taken the challenge of trying to break the arguments put forth in The God Delusion. Needless to say I don't think that the Apologetics or Chopra are able to break the very strong message in the God delusion, but that should be up to you readers to decide.

After having met the many arguments or proofs for God, one by one, in chapter four Richard Dawkins goes on to describe not only why we do not need a God to describe our world but also why such a God in fact is quite implausible.

He starts out by explaining why the alternative to a creator God, Charles Darwin's (see picture) Theory of Evolution, is not, as many people tend to think, the same as blind chance. It is really quite wearisome to hear people say "so you think we just popped into existence" when you say you believe in evolution, but I have already written about this issue in my blog post Evolution is NOT blind chance. Dawkins also points out that to call upon a creator in order to explain complexities which we have not yet understood does not solve nothing, all it does is to invent another complexity that needs to be explained. I would like the ID proponents to suggest an empirical test, similar to the one below, which if it succeeded would support their "theory" and if it failed would falsify it. Dawkins writes:

"Darwin himself said as much: 'If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down. But I can find no such case.' Darwin could find no such case, and nor has anybody since Darwin's time, despite strenuous, indeed desperate, efforts. Many candidates for this holy grail of creationism have been proposed. None has stood up to analysis"

Another common tactic used by religious people is "The worship of gaps". Whenever there is something science cannot explain such as for instance language, certain religious people take this as proof of God's existence. After all, if science doesn't have the explanation, then it has to God right, right?

"The logic turns out to be no more convincing than this: 'I [insert own name] am personally unable to think of any way in which [insert biological phenomenon] could have been built up step by step. Therefore it is irreducibly complex. That means it is designed."

But what about the Universe and what about us humans? Why should there be a Universe? Why should we exist? Surely someone must have wanted us to exist? No not of necessity. Though I am still merely an amateur astronomer (I am trying to help that by following a lecture series by Professor Alex Filippenko available at Berkeley's webcast), I know that there are theories out there which could potentially elucidate why our Universe looks the way it does. There are also good attempts to explain how the first cells arose. These theories I admit can sound a bit far fetched an even unlikely. However, it seems that we are also relatively lonely in our Universe and so the unlikely event of a cell (see below) forming spontaneously from various organic constituents only had to happen once for us to exist. If you throw a dice billions and billions of times you are likely to at least once get say 10 sixes in a row even though the probability of this series is as low as 0.00000002.

We humans are also ill equipped to accept hard nosed scientific theories instead of explanations that invoke an agent such as God. Humans have a natural tendency to see agents everywhere. Dawkins writes:

"Maybe the psychological reason for this amazing blindness has something to do with the fact that many people have not had their consciousness raised, as biologists have, by natural selection and its power to tame improbability. J. Anderson Thomson, from his perspective as an evolutionary psychiatrist, points me to an additional reason, the psychological bias that we all have towards personifying inanimate objects as agents. As Thomson says, we are more inclined to mistake a shadow for a burglar than a burglar for a shadow. A false positive might be a waste of time. A false negative could be fatal. In a letter to me, he suggested that, in our ancestral past, our greatest challenge in our environment came from each other. 'The legacy of that is the default assumption, often fear, of human intention. We have a great deal of difficulty seeing anything other than human causation.' We naturally generalized that to divine intention."

In summary, chapter four in The God Delusion, bring up a few quite important points. It is shown that a creator God is really an inadequate answer since it merely brings up another problem namely who created the creator, or who designed the designer? The best theory we have to explain our own existence without invoking an agent is the beautiful and simple Theory of Evolution.


Asa L said...

For me, what really highlights the reality of evolution and the delusion of creationism is something Stephen Jay Gould once discussed in one of his many essays (can't remeber which right now):
The evidence for evolution is not near-perfect adaption, like in some orchids masquerading as insects or angler-fish with baits looking almost like the real thing. The evidence lies in the fact that there are many, sometimes hundreds, of versions of these organisms that are NOT perfect. They use a similar, but simpler mechanism - a dark colouration or a piece of skin - that works well enough to ensure survival, but is a lot easier to picture as evolving through random mutation. If it gave an edge, it stayed. From these inital changes, more could happen - but the "simpler" versions are still around because they work well enough!

If there was an all-mighty creator, why make 10 types of angler-fish and 100 types of isect-copying orchids in different stages of "perfection"? Why make hundreds of wasps-species that live as parasites on other organisms in painful and horrible manners? Because nature works according to survival and adaptation - not as a pretty background for human lives.

rasmussenanders said...

I agree with you, that is a very strong argument in favour of evolution. Do you know how Behe and the rest of the ID proponents are responding to that argument? Would be interesting to know

ArchAsa said...

Well, for most Iguess the standard response is "God loves diversity". On the surreal Answers in Genesis site there is a text on "microevolution" of finches:

It turns out that some creationists have come to terms with the fact that there exists variation within populations and that this can be the cause of some changes in appearance different populations. For instance the famous Galapagos' Finches and breeding of dogs. Their claim is that this can never result in major changes enough for new species, or evolution of fur or feathers on early vertebrates.

It is a narrow line they tread, as they are themselves aware, because if microevolution can cause significant changes i bodies and also behaviour, how can you claim that it never goes further?

ArchAsa said...

The link is:

rasmussenanders said...

Thank you for that clarification. You would think that they had been given up by now considering the experiments which have verified that individuals in a species do change if you apply natural selection to them...

furiku said...

I agree with asa and would add that even stronger evidence against a designer is all the _imperfections_, that can easily be explained by means of evolution but would be downright stupid if they had been designed.

Z said...

Some "answers" came about today

Lim Leng Hiong said...

Hi, you've been tagged.

It's optional. *shrugs*

gitxofbrasil said...

Hey Anders! I'm a big fan of your blog as I am a big fan of Dawkins and everything related to science, religion, philosophy and psychology all put together.

Have you read "A short history of nearly everything" by Bill Bryson?I'm quite sure you have, but if you haven't, I'm positive you would like some of the topics in the book about our universe...


rasmussenanders said...

Hello Gitx,
Thank you for that note of appreciation, and yes, I have read a short history of nearly everything (I actually gave my wife to be a copy for her birthday this year). Have you read Bryson's travel books as well, they are the best!

I hope that everything is going well for you, and thanks for reading my blog ;).

Z said...

A special gueststar (my husband)
has written some Anselm-defense:

gitxofbrasil said...

Really? hahaha, that's great! Yes I read that book too - I specially like how Bryson describes his visit to Sweden. Highly entertaining and pretty precise. I had a good laugh!! =)

lots of hugs

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kyle said...

The counterargument "who created the creator?" is no more problematic for the theist than for the atheist. That is to say, it is a problem for both. For the naturalist, why do matter and energy exist? Why do the laws of physics operate as they do?

There is an unanswerable question: why is there something instead of nothing? It seems we shouldn't be here, but here we are.

Taken far enough back, something odd and irregular happened. Matter, energy, and the laws of physics spontaneously came into being; a creator came into being or had existed eternally; who knows? We can't quite wrap our heads around the unlikeliness that anything should exist at all.

Beda said...

I've commented a bit on this on my own blog (somewhere in the pages of text!): but I think that Dawkins really has the wrong end of the stick here.

The trouble is that Dawkins insists on seeing religion and God as a "hypothesis" - like a scientific one, but really bad and discredited. And of course, the IDers have played along. But what people like Anselm and Aquinas are doing is something different. Both of their arguments point to the fact that God is something radically different from 'things'. Hence, the line of causality from God to the universe is not like a "thing to thing" sort of causality (eh, whatever that is!). God is, in Kant's language, "noumenal" rather than "phenomenal".
Dawkin's argument thus seems to me to be like this: suppose God is a sort of thing. Then, he would have to be a very complex thing, and thus need explaining.
There is nothing wrong with this argument - except that I (and indeed, everyone else!) should reject the premise: God is not a kind of thing. After all, God is meant to have made all things, so there would be a flat contradiction here. And just because of this, the rest of the argument fails too.
Of course, this sort of (annoying?) argument makes us want to say: "of course, God is not like a chair or a peacock or a hedge-cutting machine! But he must still be like *something*". But this line of reasoning is just misleading. We see the same mistake when people try to "reify" the soul; philosophers of old asked if the soul was a substance, where it was etc, as if it was like matter, but just rather ethereal and airy. But this seems like a mistake. All we can say - and what we should say - is that we have a "point of view": we have a sense of self, and of unified action. But to talk about something "lying behind that" gets much much more problematic. I am not saying that we cannot think it - we can - but we can't say anything about it at all: it is the wrong sort of thing to talk about. We cannot weigh the soul, or determine its colour, or anything else. This is what Wittgenstein is talking about when he says first that "The world is everything that is the case." and then "whereof one cannot speak one must remain silent".
These theological proofs, then, are not so much proofs, but more demonstrations of where the walls of the limits of what language and science can achieve (and Kant, in his own way, famously explored these too). What these arguments do is bring us face to face with these silences: and, to some religious thinkers, it is this abrupt and disturbing encounter that is the religious experience.
Perhaps this sounds wacko, but it is indeed, perfectly orthodox, as exemplified by e.g. Gregory of Nyssa, the fourth century bishop, and others:

"The Greek Fathers affirm in their apophatic theology, not only that God is above human language and reason because of man's fallen inadequacy, but that He is inaccessible in Himself. Human knowledge concerns only "beings," i.e., the level of created existence. On this level, therefore, it can be said that "God does not exist." For the pseudo-Dionysius, God is "non being" (mē on). This is the theme of the famous Chapter 5 of Dionysius'
Mystical Theology. "
Byzantine Theology: Historical Trends and Doctrinal Themes. Contributors: John Meyendorff


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Anonymous said...

"Dawkins also points out that to call upon a creator in order to explain complexities which we have not yet understood does not solve nothing, all it does is to invent another complexity that needs to be explained."

Agreed, but science has the same problem. It is not enough to simply accept the fact that objects fall to the earth. We need to explain that with gravity, then we need to explain gravity with GR theory and of course we need to know why matter warps space and so on and so on.

Those who say it's simply God's will and God needs no explanation can get on with more important business like feeding the hungry or curing cancer.

Peter Doyle said...

Dr. William Lane Craig ( has thoroughly refuted Dawkins' silly "central argument":

"So Dawkins' argument for atheism is a failure even if we concede, for the sake of argument, all its steps. But, in fact, several of these steps are plausibly false. Take just step (3), for example. Dawkins' claim here is that one is not justified in inferring design as the best explanation of the complex order of the universe because then a new problem arises: who designed the designer?

This rejoinder is flawed on at least two counts. First, in order to recognize an explanation as the best, one needn't have an explanation of the explanation. This is an elementary point concerning inference to the best explanation as practiced in the philosophy of science. If archaeologists digging in the earth were to discover things looking like arrowheads and hatchet heads and pottery shards, they would be justified in inferring that these artifacts are not the chance result of sedimentation and metamorphosis, but products of some unknown group of people, even though they had no explanation of who these people were or where they came from. Similarly, if astronauts were to come upon a pile of machinery on the back side of the moon, they would be justified in inferring that it was the product of intelligent, extra-terrestrial agents, even if they had no idea whatsoever who these extra-terrestrial agents were or how they got there. In order to recognize an explanation as the best, one needn't be able to explain the explanation. In fact, so requiring would lead to an infinite regress of explanations, so that nothing could ever be explained and science would be destroyed. So in the case at hand, in order to recognize that intelligent design is the best explanation of the appearance of design in the universe, one needn't be able to explain the designer..."

Peter Doyle said...

ArchAsa said:

"It turns out that some creationists have come to terms with the fact that there exists variation within populations and that this can be the cause of some changes in appearance different populations."

I gotta say, the comment above is tiresomely silly, ignorant and patronizing.

I think ArchAsa (and others) could do with a visit to this webpage:

For instance, I wonder whether ArchAsa & Co have ever heard of a creationist chap called Edward Blyth?

I reckon they'd be frightfully surprised to find that Edward thought of, and, wrote extensively about natural selection decades BEFORE the publication of Origin of Species.

rasmussenanders said...

Thank you Peter for your comment,

Concerning the designer argument I would say that it is ok to invoke a designer if that does not create more problems than before.

In the case of humans we have a far better explanation than invoking a creator i.e. evolution, and just like we would have to explain were the designers of a piece of junk on the moon came from we would have to explain were the designer that created the humans came from (or at least have a plausible guess)...

Peter Doyle said...

Mate, you've completely missed the point.

You see, the point is: We DON'T need to explain where the designer of the moon junk came from to conclude that the moon junk was, in fact, designed. (Just because you don't know the designers name or source, doesn't mean you automatically conclude that the moon junk is the result of a naturalistic process!)

Can I suggest you have another read of Dr Craig's argument...

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H.S.Pal said...

I want to put this question to those who do not believe that there is a God, and hope to get an answer:
Why should a man-created, imaginary God have to be spaceless, timeless? To satisfy what basic needs of man was he one day compelled to create a God of his own with these particular attributes?