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How to respond to a young friend who has come under Dawkins’s spell

Neuroscientist Baroness Susan Greenfield makes an interesting critique of “scientism”

By on Friday, 30 November 2012

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I have recently been in email conversation with a young friend. He is a bright chap but to my dismay he seems to have become an ardent disciple of Richard Dawkins and his kind. He has become quite convinced that “science” has solved the question of “God” – that irrational and improbable deity dreamed up by people long before science came along to enlighten them and to explain to them how the brain works. I have tried to get him to see that the (entirely legitimate) pursuit of science is a different activity from that of theology; there is no reason why they should clash rather than offer mutual, though independent support. He is having none of it: it seems the creation of “Hamlet” is simply the result of lots of cells composing the grey matter being in a happy conjunction; indeed, he thinks the sorrows of the great apes are not far removed from our own. I am simplifying his argument but this is the gist of it.

For this reason, it was good to read “What science can’t answer”, an interview in The Tablet last week between Jack Valero, communications director of Opus Dei in Britain (and co-founder of Catholic Voices) and Baroness Susan Greenfield, a neuroscientist at Oxford University. Lady Greenfield is neither an atheist nor a straightforward believer; but she accepts there are questions which are outside the competence of science to answer. She rejects “scientism” which she describes as “this unshakeable belief, which is as strong as any religious belief, that science is the only approach to understanding the world around you.” She recognises that people can have an experience “that is above and beyond the material.”

Greenfield admits that she has not had this experience – yet. “I have a sense of the spiritual and glimmers of it from time to time, but I cannot say I am a believer in the sense of subscribing to any particular religion.” In 2008 she accompanied Valero and a very sick friend and his wife on a pilgrimage to Lourdes. This was Greenfield’s idea, though she is not sure where it came from. Believers might call it the unconscious prompting of the Holy Spirit. At any rate, the experience did not deter her, as it does some outside the Church, who notice all the souvenir shops full of religious kitsch and conclude the whole place is riddled with superstition and mere trade. Greenfield was deeply impressed by the fact that “sick people were the norm and that…everybody was a volunteer.” She adds that she was also greatly moved by, “the amount of love and altruism and removal from the normal things…people being kind to each other, rather than witty or hostile or defensive”.

In general she robustly rejects the idea that science and religion are in contradiction as “intellectually bankrupt”, mentioning scientists such as Francis Collins of genome fame, who “speaks freely and openly…about being a Christian.” She points out that much of science is not strictly logical but is approached by “a hunch and an instinct”. Science answers some questions but not others “such as the meaning of life, or what is love.” Of course, people might describe love as “when you have a rise in the hormone oxytocin ” – but this does not invalidate or detract from the subjective state.

Apart from her pilgrimage to Lourdes, Greenfield has been on a three-day retreat at Ampleforth. She told the monk looking after her that “I truly don’t know why I’m here”. This didn’t bother him; I suspect he might have heard that remark before, even among supposed believers. When she got home Greenfield felt “super-charged and super-detoxed…bursting with energy and positive.”

I am going to refer my young friend to this interview and see what he makes of it. To be or not to be a chimpanzee; that is the question.

  • jesus christ

    leave the kid alone and let him think for himself: your previous attempts at brainwashing him have failed and they`re not going to work again.

  • TreenonPoet

     1.
    Yes, that is the verse I meant. The man who repented is favoured over the one was diligent and had no reason to repent. Moral: It is better to do the wrong thing and repent than to do the right thing! (Elsewhere in the Bible there are suggestions that God helps those who cannot help themselves.)

    2.
    In the absence of an effective global government, I see trade measures as one ligitimate tool of persuasion if  the motives are good and the measures thought through. A discussion about what constitutes bad motives and what should be done about them might finally render my struggling browser unable to cope.

    The answer to most of your follow-up questions is no, but I am using my netbook to do things that might improve the situation, except that I also email my MP and if I get a reply, it is on high quality paper in a high quality envelope which together seem to be worth more than his response.

    The most pertinent evidence regarding population levels is represented by these data (PDF), but as Sir David Attenborough says, ”All our environmental problems become easier to solve with fewer people and harder — and ultimately impossible to solve — with ever more people”.

    3.
    It is not necessary for Dawkins’ opponents to be fixated on that sort of argument for Dawkins to focus mainly on it, only for that to be collectively the main argument of those to whom the book is targeted. Those who present such an argument might follow a religion that does not incorporate such an argument, or might not follow any formal religion. Dawkins does deal with other reasons for believing in God in Chapter 4 of TGD, though it it not well reflected in the section headings.

    The “Even non-contingent things are contingent upon being non-contingent” was meant to demonstrate the absurdity of using ‘contingent’ as an unqualified adjective.

    4.
    To follow a religion just because it is the religion of one’s parents, or the religion pushed by the school chosen by one’s parents, or the local favourite, is to be unquestioning about the reasons why that particular religion is better than the alternatives. A fair amount of questioning should allow all the main religions (at least), plus non-religious alternatives, to be assessed. If all pupils were given unbiased summaries of these options, one would expect to see an even distribution of the choices around the globe. The fact that this is far from the case indicates a lack of questioning (whether intentional or not).

    I am aware of many Catholics protesting that they have considered all the options and just happen to have settled on the one associated with their background. Not only do I question what subliminal influence that background may have had, but again I point to the evidence that the religion settled on tends to be the one that one might have expected based on geography.

  • TreenonPoet

     Seems every bit as bad to me.

  • http://catholicismpure.wordpress.com The Raven

    And from what cold, hard, solid fact do you derive your particular version of the Golden Rule, Acleron?

  • http://catholicismpure.wordpress.com The Raven

    1. I think that you’re carving a whole new path in biblical exegesis there: I’ve never heard this parable, which is a warning about pride and observing the letter of the law and not its spirit, used as a justification for claiming that we shouldn’t work to better ourselves before.
    2. Your description of trade measures sounds a lot like neo-colonialism to me.
    The data in your tables seems to throw up some very striking anomalies, in that it makes assumptions about average production and then applies them to landmass irrespective of the proportion of the landmass that can be cultivated. I also note that they are claiming a sustainable population for the UK of 17m, which suggests that there is something rather peculiar about their underlying assumptions.
    3. Sorry, Treenon, that doesn’t work: Dawkins’ claim is that he can almost certainly demonstrate that God doesn’t exist; if his argument only works in limited situations then it doesn’t work at all by the criteria that he, himself has set.
    I note that you don’t have an answer to the contingent/necessary point.
    4. If you can show that these people are following a “…religion just because it is the religion of one’s parents, or the religion pushed by the school chosen by one’s parents, or the local favourite…” then you have a case. Do you have that evidence?
    And I note that your argument essentially devolves down to a claim that religious people are less than truthful in their account of how they came to be religious.

  • Jonathan West

    By the way, my atheism isn’t a faith position, it is a consequence (and a relatively minor one at that) of basing my opinions as far as possible on the balance of the evidence. I was an atheist before TGD was published and I had already independently reached many of the conclusions Dawkins describes.

  • http://catholicismpure.wordpress.com The Raven

    I suspect that your pre-suppositions are affecting your reception of it.

  • Peter

    Jonathan West said:
    “It would appear that we are Talking past each other”
    This is because you turn your back on philosophical truth.  

    Science fails to solve the problem of existence because no scientific alternatives to a Creator are possible.  

    The hypothesis, for example, of eternal inflation is impossible, because the inflation that occurred an infinite amount of time ago could never feed through to the present, and therefore there would be no present.  The eternal cyclic universe (leaving aside entropy) and eternally colliding branes are also impossible for the same reason as, of course, is an infinite multiverse.

    Elegant theories full of impressive mathematics may support these hypotheses give them respectability, but fundamentally they all rest on a bed of corruption.

  • Peter

    “There is no direction in evolution, you would have to prove that a lifeform with the sentience equivalent to ours necessarily must evolve.”

    Your guru doesn’t seem to think so:

    “How is it that we find ourselves not merely existing, but surrounded by such complexity, such elegance, such endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful?
    The answer is this.  It could not have been otherwise, given that we are capable of noticing our existence at all, and of asking questions about it.”

    (Richard Dawkins: Greatest Show on Earth, p 426)

  • TreenonPoet

    In response to The Raven:-

    The data in your tables[ here (PDF)] seems to throw up some very striking anomalies, in that it makes assumptions about average production and then applies them to landmass irrespective of the proportion of the landmass that can be cultivated.

    The landmass that can be cultivated is unknown, just as it is unknown how much land will cease to be tillable, and what forms of agriculture may become viable or unviable. To say that a particular area of land has the potential to be cultivated is not the same as saying that it will be used that way, or even that it is a good idea to use it that way. Considerations such as biodiversity and water shortage cannot be ignored.

    I also note that they are claiming a sustainable population for the UK of 17m, which suggests that there is something rather peculiar about their underlying assumptions.

    That does seem low! The data on that line of the table are consistent (sustainable_population = actual_population * biocapacity_per_capita / eco_footprint_per_capita) and the per-capita figures reflect the those at http://www.footprintnetwork.org/en/index.php/GFN/page/trends/unitedkingdom/.

    Dawkins’ claim is that he can almost certainly demonstrate that God doesn’t exist; if his argument only works in limited situations then it doesn’t work at all by the criteria that he, himself has set.

    Dawkins does not claim that. And which of his arguments only work in limited situations? If certain arguments are addressed to certain groups of people it does not mean that those arguments are invalid when addressed to people who already accept those arguments, though the words used to express those arguments might have to change (to take account of different definitions of ‘God’, for example). After all, Dawkins is presenting a subset of the set of arguments that say that assertions not based on evidence are, at best, extremely unlikely to be true. (Remember that mental revelations are not evidence if there is no evidence of where they came from.)

    I note that you don’t have an answer to the contingent/necessary point.

    I have given an answer, but also pointed out why the question is absurd. I note that you did not respond by saying exactly what God was supposed to be contingent upon when you accused Dawkins of assuming a contingent God. (I suspect that you think it is perfectly OK to assume that the universe is contingent upon something or other.)

    I note that your argument essentially devolves down to a claim that religious people are less than truthful in their account of how they came to be religious.

    That is a gross distortion of what I wrote. Free will is an illusion and it is impossible to be sure of all the factors that led to a particular subjective stance, however honestly one might try to describe them. It may seem that a stance has been reached through reason, but if that cannot be backed up then the reasons have been forgotten or were invalid. The latter may be due to a lack of information at the time the stance was reached. (This is extremely likely to be the case if the stance was reached at age 7. But earlier you seemed to deny, in effect, that any children of that age are encouraged to be religious.)

  • TreenonPoet

     Please see unnested reply.

  • http://catholicismpure.wordpress.com The Raven

    Karl

    Vanity was the description I gave, not the explanation.

    I quite agree that if we could devise an experiment to show that babies were, indeed afraid of the dark, it would be interesting, but what lesson do you want to draw from that?
    Why do you believe that it is the desire of the Church is to maintain and promote irrational, superstitious claims to the causes of human behaviour?
    I don’t need to defend the promotion of irrational claims about human behaviour because your portrayal of the Church does not reflect the true state of affairs.
    I’m not sure what the middle part of your comment was addressing. All that I’ve done is point out that your account of the teaching of the Church on human behaviour does not particularly resemble the actual teaching of the Church.
    In what specific instances have theories about the evolutionary origins of human behaviour been successfully applied to improve the steps we take to address it?
    As I am not familiar with Danish culture or media, I haven’t got a clue why or if they’re less interested in the trash that seems to keep English people quiet.
    Finally, having worked in the criminal justice system for a short while, my observation is that thugs are keen to cling on to anything that can be used to keep them from taking responsibility for their own actions (I came to the conclusion that anyone using the phrase “it’s not my fault” should be punished whether or not it was actually their fault). If you tell a thug that he is behaving like his animal ancestors, he’ll just turn around and say “it’s not my fault I’m behaving like this, it’s evolution, innit?” The more sociopathic thugs will delight in being told that they are behaving animalistically; why do you think so many of them sport bulldog tattoos?

  • Jonathan West

    Elegant theories full of impressive mathematics may support these hypotheses give them respectability, but fundamentally they all rest on a bed of corruption.

    Thank you for finally disclosing your true position.

  • Peter

    They all rest on a bed of corruption in their presumption to substitute the Creator, as does the premise that evolution by natural selection substitutes the Creator.On the contrary, evolution by natural selection actually vindicates St Thomas Aquinas – the Angelic Doctor – who 800 years ago maintained that all things, animate and inanimate, are kept in constant existence by the Creator with their powers and properties to act as secondary causes of creation.

    Evolution by natural selection does just that, with each and every creature and species in the evolutionary ladder being the cause, both passive and active, of new creatures and species.

    The philosophy of St Thomas is further vindicated by cosmological findings which show that galaxies and stars are secondary causes of creation, where stars forge the elements of life in their bowels and scatter them, seeding the cosmos with life-creating ingredients.

    That all these processes were predicted by St Thomas almost a millenium ago is nothing short of astonishing, and ranks up there with the older prediction of the Church, equally vindicated, that the universe had a beginning.

  • Jonathan West

    All he’s saying is that it has happened that way, and we know that because we are here doing the observing.

    Note that it he most carefully is not saying that it was inevitable that evolution would end up with us if it were to be run all over again. I rather suspect you are doing a bit of selective interpretation.

  • Peter

    Again from your guru, same publication:

    “We are surrounded by endless forms, most beautiful and most wonderful, and it is no accident, but the direct consequence of evolution by non-random natural selection…”
    For men to be thus surrounded means that men must exist.  Therefore man’s existence is “the direct consequence of evolution by non-random natural selection.”

    How more specific do you want Dawkins to be, for goodness’ sake?

  • Acleron

    Sorry I missed your previous reply but Trenonpoet answered it and more elegantly than I could.

    There is quite a lot in that statement.

    If we exist and we evolved the degree of intelligence to interpret our feelings of our environment then we will have positive feelings to that which we like and negative feelings to those parts we don’t like. We have interpreted those feelings as like, satisfaction or even beauty. Why we have such feelings expressed as appreciation of beauty to objects which don’t directly affect our survival is interesting. Some have speculated we have an attraction to a certain level of complexity within a symmetrical framework to extend our curiosity which does have a positive survival value. It will be fascinating to see how that part of science develops. Theologians have claimed that the appreciation of beauty is some sort of proof that their particular deity exists, philosophers have claimed that appreciation of beauty is the type of question that science cannot investigate. As usual the scientific approach is the only one with any hope of being able to explain the phenomenon and along the way generate new knowledge.

    What Dawkins is not saying is that there is any certainty that man had to evolve, there is nothing in the ToE that can allow anyone to come to that conclusion.

  • karlf

    So is that all the Church has to say about the pernicious human drive to achieve status and ‘specialness’? It’s just vanity, and that’s all you need to know? Just imagine how much wickedness in this world is the result of these desires. Funnily enough however, we observe that animals also possess strong drives for status, but I would have to assume that you’d think this association was not a worthwhile subject for investigation. After all, you tell me that gaining knowledge about innate human fears would make no useful contribution to the understanding of human nature – how have our irrational fears ever been of any consequence? Why bother considering such things when the Church has it all wrapped up so well? – is this what you really believe?

    A few quotes from the Catechism itself:
    414 Satan or the devil and the other demons are fallen angels who have freely refused to serve God and his plan. Their choice against God is definitive. They try to associate man in their revolt against God.
    397 Man, tempted by the devil, let his trust in his Creator die in his heart and, abusing his freedom, disobeyed God’s command. This is what man’s first sin consisted of. All subsequent sin would be disobedience
    toward God and lack of trust in his goodness.
    1237 Since Baptism signifies liberation from sin and from its instigator the devil, one or more exorcisms are pronounced over the candidate.
    407 The doctrine of original sin, closely connected with that ofredemption by Christ, provides lucid discernment of man’s situation and activity in the world. By our first parents’ sin, the devil has
    acquired a certain domination over man, even though man remains free.
    And I could go on, but I think that pretty much covers it.

  • http://catholicismpure.wordpress.com The Raven

    Dawkins:

     ‘If the argument of this chapter is accepted, the factual premise of religion – the God Hypothesis – is untenable. God almost certainly does not exist. This is the main conclusion of the book so far.’

    That sounds awfully like my account of Dawkins’ claim.  

    Dawkins’ argument hinges on the argument from design: his reasoning being that the designer of the universe must, of itself be complex and therefore the designer needs a designer, but that leads us to an infinite regression, which is daft. 

    The problem with that argument is that, if one doesn’t make the argument from design, the initial stages of the universe were, we are told by the cosmologists, pretty straightforward: creation was, to start with a simple proposition. As Darwin described, complex forms ultimately can arise from very simple antecedents – the basic premise of a God, whose complexity demands the search for a designer of its own, doesn’t hold up. 

    All Dawkins is doing is making life uncomfortable for creationists and the ID crowd, who are outliers. 

    As I say, if his argument is only decisive against one set of facts, it doesn’t work at all within the terms that he himself set out. 

    On your next point, I don’t believe that God is contingent at all, that He is contingent is Dawkins’ argument, not mine. 

    Treenon, honestly, don’t accuse another of distorting your argument and then distort theirs in the same paragraph, it’s not good form to do so, you know!  

    I am quite sure that children are encouraged to be religious, but the point of our argument was whether they are taught that “unquestioning faith is a virtue”: you broadened the definition of that term so as to exclude the normal meaning of the term “unquestioning”, remember?

    I am amazed by your claim that free will doesn’t exist: who programmed you to be an atheist? 

  • http://catholicismpure.wordpress.com The Raven

    Karl

    You’re just making assertions instead of trying to make arguments or even replying to the points that I’ve made to you.
    The collection of behaviours that I have described as “vanity” are a component of pride: you’ll find that it has an entire literature devoted to it and our need to overcome such behaviour.
    I don’t need to imagine how much wickedness arises out of vanity and pride: it is very well attested in the moral teaching of the Church.
    And you’re making a fundamental mistake: I think that looking at the behaviour of animals or innate behaviours is entirely worthwhile, I just don’t think it helps us to deal with questions of human behaviour: my challenge to you stands – show me where that sort of research has helped us to address a question of human behaviour.
    You’ve picked out some lovely metaphorical and allegorical descriptions from the Catechism, perhaps you ought to read the rest of it?

  • karlf

    Metaphorical and allegorical!? So now you are telling me that the Catholic Church does not believe in the reality of the devil and demons? I take it that you won’t have much problem in proving this to me? Wonderful!

  • TreenonPoet

     Dawkins’ argument does not hinge on the argument from design; it hinges on the fact that none of the arguments put forward to support the existence of God (the main one being the argument from design) stand up to scrutiny. (This is not to say that nobody will come up with a good argument, despite centuries of failing to do so.)  

    If you continue to use ‘contingent’ as a stand-alone adjective, I will continue to regard those sentences as meaningless.

    If you accept that young children are encouraged to be religious, then you must accept that they are encouraged to regard such belief as a virtue. Perhaps I was assuming that you also accepted that young children are not capable of understanding all the main religions. I thought that this was a reasonable assumption because of the number of RE teachers who say they do not understand them either – and who can blame them when faced with contradictions and with grammar-boggling concepts such as the Trinity. Once a faith is instilled, it can be very difficult to change or lose. (I have read accounts of some people for whom it took decades to completely lose their faith, though I guess that changing between similar faiths would be easier.) In theory, it may be possible for a person to change or loose their faith at an age when they might be expected to be able to generally make mature decisions, but our thoughts are very much dependent on experience, and the experience of daily worship over a number of years might be overwhelming – the very capacity to question being compromised. (By the way, I am not deliberately broadening the definition of ‘unquestioning’; I am trying to use it in the sense that I think Dawkins intended.)

    Nobody programmed me to be an atheist. That was my default position. I was never given a good enough reason to change this position. I would not say that I was not open to persuasion because I used to think that it was my stupidity that prevented me from ‘getting’ what everyone else around me seemed to get. Ignoring neurological corruption and randomness, all my thoughts and memories are an involuntary combination of new experiences with the thoughts and memories I had a moment ago.

  • http://catholicismpure.wordpress.com The Raven

    I’m not telling you any such thing, Karl, I’m just pointing out the use of metaphor in the Catechism.

  • http://catholicismpure.wordpress.com The Raven

    “Contingent” means “requiring some other factor for something to be”, this is very simple: if God’s existence is not dependent on other factors then God is non-contingent. Dawkins does not succeed in providing a rational argument that God is contingent, which is the central contention in his argument: this is the gaping fallacy at the heart of Chapter 4.
    Chapter 4 simply doesn’t address any of the arguments for or conceptions of God other than that of the “designer” (and I don’t really feel especially convinced by his argument there, for the reasons given above). All Dawkins’ book really achieves is to tell us that Dawkins does not personally think it particularly likely that there is a God – this is a lot less than he is claiming for his argument.
    I note that you’ve once more managed to lose the word “unquestioning” in your discussion of religious education, which is a shame, because it is essential to Dawkins’ argument about mainstream religion being as pernicious as fundamentalism: he tells us that mainstream religion makes the world safe for dangerous fundamentalism by teaching that unquestioning faith is a virtue; his emphasis is emphatically on that word “unquestioning”, because a questioning faith is utterly inimical to fundamentalism. I am sorry, but I really do think that you are trying to minimise an unsustainable claim that he is making, but which is absolutely central to his argument.
    The report that you’ve highlighted makes me surprised that anyone learns anything about any religion other than atheism in British schools.
    You’ll have to qualify your final paragraph: it comes across as saying “religious people lack free will, but I have free will”.

  • Peter

    Allegedly random genetic mutations, the drivers of evolution, are caused by radiation, from the earth itself, from the sun, from other stellar bodies within our galaxy and, crucially, from other galaxies, some very distant.

    It took an entire universe to make us and you call that random? 

    If cosmic rays which set off from distant galaxies billions of years before the arrival of man, struck the earth and were instrumental in man’s evolution, then the arrival of man cannot have been random since his evolution was pre-ordained billions of years before.

    If you want to argue that man is random, you have to argue that the universe is random, which means a multiverse, but as I have said on another post, the multiverse hypothesis as an explanation of existence is impossible.

  • Jonathan West

    Dawkins’ argument hinges on the argument from design: his reasoning being that the designer of the universe must, of itself be complex and therefore the designer needs a designer, but that leads us to an infinite regression, which is daft.

    This shows that either you haven’t read the whole chapter or you haven’t understood it. Moreover, simply quoting the conclusion and saying you disagree with it doesn’t even come close to demonstrating a flaw in Dawkin’s reasoning or facts. if you’re going to have a try at that, you need to go back in the chapter and quote some point in the line of reasoning that leads him to the conclusion and explain what he’s got wrong, such that the rest of the reasoning (and therefore the conclusion) is unreliable.

  • Jonathan West

    “Contingent” means “requiring some other factor for something to be”, this is very simple: if God’s existence is not dependent on other factors then God is non-contingent. Dawkins does not succeed in providing a rational argument that God is contingent, which is the central contention in his argument: this is the gaping fallacy at the heart of Chapter 4.

    In the philosophy of religion, the opposite of “contingent” is “necessary”.

    Richard Swinburne in his book “The existence of God” went on at some length about “necessary”, particularly “necessary existence”. The definition of God he used for his book was as follows.

    There exists necessarily a person without a body (i.e. a spirit) who necessarily is eternal, perfectly free, omnipotent, omniscient , perfectly good, and the creator of all things.

    He goes on to describe “necessarily” at greater length.

    The theist holds that God possesses the properties described in some sense necessarily, and that he is in some sense a necessary being. That is to say, God could not suddenly cease to be (for example) omnipotent. While God is God, he is omnipotent; nor could he cease to be God while remaining the same individual (as for example, the Prime Minister can cease to be Prime Minister while remaining the same person).

    So with regard to properties, Swinburne states that God is necessarily omnipotent, because if he wasn’t omnipotent, he wouldn’t be God.

    But that deals with God’s properties, if he exists. but that doesn’t say anything about God’s existence itself being “necessary”. In this context, Swinburne doesn’t take “necessary” to be a synonym of “inevitable” but rather to be a synonym of “non-contingent”. Precisely the kind of non-contingent God you are talking of. And this is Swinburne on necessary (i.e. non-contingent) existence.

    To say that ‘God exists’ necessarily is, I believe, to say that the existence of God is a brute fact that is inexplicable – not in the sense that we do not know the explanation, but in the sense that it does not have one.

    So, according to Swinburne, God has no explanation, we just have to accept it on faith. This sounds very much like the kind of “unquestioning faith is a virtue” that Treenon was referring to and which you were denying. It’s a call to ignorance.

  • Acleron

    ‘Allegedly random genetic mutations, the drivers of evolution, are caused by radiation, from the earth itself, from the sun, from other stellar bodies within our galaxy and, crucially, from other galaxies, some very distant.’

    There is nothing alleged about it, we can not only observe it but we can see that it comes from the very theory that has been tested to greater precision than any other theory of nature. Mutation as in chemical change to the nucleotide is not solely caused by ionising radiation but also by pure chemical changes and is not itself the only driver of evolution.

    ‘It took an entire universe to make us and you call that random? ‘

    This is your belief is contra to the facts. The universe has a large degree of randomness, Under very slightly different circumstances our species may not have evolved at all, we are, so far, an extremely minor footnote in the history of the universe. For all our much vaunted intelligence we may be destined for extinction at our own hands. The universe will carry on regardless.

    ‘If cosmic rays which set off from distant galaxies billions of years before the arrival of man, struck the earth and were instrumental in man’s evolution, then the arrival of man cannot have been random since his evolution was pre-ordained billions of years before.’

    That works only if the photons were sent on their way with the express intention of causing such a mutation. I see that Trenonpoet is showing you that various deities would have to be complex. For this photon to be sent in the right direction, the right amplitude, the right frequency and at precisely the right time to intersect with billions of other mutations in spacetime, the computational power required for this would lead to a very complex deity. In addition it would have to interact with the universe. But strangely this entity remains undetectable.

    ‘If you want to argue that man is random, you have to argue that the universe is random, which means a multiverse, but as I have said on another post, the multiverse hypothesis as an explanation of existence is impossible.’

    To start with I don’t have to argue that the random nature of the universe leads to a multiverse, I merely have to show it is random and we have plenty of evidence for that. Just for you to say that it is impossible is just you saying it, it doesn’t mean it is correct. Physicists of the stature of David Deutsch think that the multiverse is the only explanation for what we observe, forgive me for accepting the views of a highly qualified scientist who has examined the facts over yourself.

    If there is one major difference between the theologian and the scientist it is the scientific method. As Richard Feynman once remarked, ‘If it’s onion skins all the way down, it’s onion skins’. See the scientist looks at the facts and constructs the best solution to those observations. The theologian looks at his/her belief and then tries to shoe-horn the facts into the belief and that always ends in disaster. I feel that is your problem in trying to argue in this area.

  • Peter

    Jonathan West said (to The Raven):

    “It’s a call to ignorance.”

    Belief in a Creator is not a call to ignorance.  On the contrary, it is a call to reason, requiring subtlety of thought.

    Spacetime depends for its existence on actions at its extreme limits being originated beyond those limits.  If such actions which take place within the limits of spacetime are not originated beyond those limits, they will not take place and spacetime will not exist.

    Whatever originates these actions originates spacetime itself, where spacetime would otherwise not exist.   Therefore whatever originates these actions creates spacetime, and that which creates is a creator.  Such a creator, being beyond the limits of spacetime, has no beginning and no end and thus no cause.  

    We call such a creator God because he keeps us in existence at every moment when it is not necessary for him to do so.

    It is of course counter-intuitive to imagine some creative agency outside space and time originating actions which take place within space and time.  This is natural because our experiences and perceptions are limited to spacetime phenomena. 

    But cold reason must supercede intuition.

    Very simply, spacetime exists and has limits.  Actions at those limits cannot rely on  a cause at more extreme limits because such extreme limits do not exist.  But the actions still take place, and therefore must rely on a cause which is not within the limits of spacetime.  By default, the cause must be beyond those limits, for if it is not, spacetime will not exist.

  • Peter

    “For this photon to be sent in the right direction, the right amplitude, the right frequency and at precisely the right time to intersect with billions of other mutations in spacetime, the computational power required for this would lead to a very complex deity.”

    But it has happened because we are here.

    All the variables were just right for cosmic rays to contribute to the evolution of man, just as all the variables were right to create the elements of life which make up his body and supporting biosphere.

    All these variables are determined by the laws of the universe, and therefore by claiming that the variables are random, you are claiming that the laws of the universe are random.

    If laws are applied randomly to many different universes, so as to make the laws of our universe a random local phenomenon, you have to prove that different universes exist.

    But even if they do, they cannot be an infinite number, and being a finite number, even they will have a beginning.

    If your multiverse has a beginning, an explanation will be needed for all the diverse laws within it.   

    But the multiverse respresents everything there is, the sum total of spacetimes.  How can it have a beginning if there are no more spacetimes to begin from?

    By default, because it allegedly exists, the multiverse must have a beginning outside spacetime, where there is no complexity.

    The agency responsible for the multiverse, and for the array of diverse laws within it, from which our own universe acquired its own particular laws, must exist outside spacetime and therefore cannot be complex. 

  • Jonathan West

    But it has happened because we are here.

    “You know, the most amazing thing happened to me tonight. I was coming here, on the way to the lecture, and I came in through the parking lot. And you won’t believe what happened. I saw a car with the license plate ARW 357. Can you imagine? Of all the millions of license plates in the state, what was the chance that I would see that particular one tonight? Amazing!”
    - Richard Feynman

    I’ll leave it to you to work out the applicability of that quote. If you can’t understand it for yourself, then after all the discussions we’ve had, no amount of explanation will enable you to get it.

  • Peter

    There are many number plates that we know of.   There is only one example of sentience that we know of.

    The number plate we know of is one of many which exist for a purpose – to identify vehicles – and their existence is therefore not random.

    Even if there is more than one example of sentience in the universe – if there are many – they too would exist for a purpose, just as the number plates do, and therefore would not be random.

    Far from highlighting the randomness of sentience, your analogy actually confirms that the existence of sentience, just like the existence number plates, is not random but has a purpose.

  • PaulThibodeau

    I apologize if I’ve missed your statement of what you believe Dawkins’ argument to be here in chapter four Jonathan. Treenon for example states below that:

    Dawkins’ argument does not hinge on the argument from design; it hinges on the fact that none of the arguments put forward to support the existence of God (the main one being the argument from design) stand up to scrutiny.

    Do you agree with Treenon’s statement? Another statement?

    Perhaps it would be best to begin with your own articulation of Dawkins’ position. For example, in the same way you outlined Swinburne, I recommend that you briefly outline what you believe to be Dawkins’ position here with the relevant citations that you are challenging someone to find an error of fact or logic in. That will eliminate a lot of pointless discussion here guessing the position you are defending.

  • PaulThibodeau

    It appears to me that Swinburne here and for example Anthony Flew are arguing philosophical positions. You believe they are sustaining that ‘unquestioning faith is a virtue’?

  • Jonathan West

    If you are expected to have faith in something for whose existence they acknowledge no explanation is possible, what other construction can I reasonably put on it?

    In essence, the position is, “God exists. No explanation of how he is exists is possible even in principle. Get over it.”

  • Jonathan West

    You don’t get it.

  • Jonathan West

    My challenge to you is to find an error of fact or logic in Chapter 4 of The God Delusion, such as to render his conclusions unreliable.

    Note that I’m asking you to find an error in the chapter itself, not in my interpretation of it. Go and read the book.

    Then when you have read the book, come back here, quote some specific bit from Chapter 4 that you think is wrong either in fact or reasoning, and then explain what you think the error is.

  • Peter

    Jonathan West says:

    “You don’t get it.”

    It’s a sad state of affairs if you have to resort to playing games to salvage a desperate situation.

    Are you reluctant to spell out your argument in your own words for fear of it being shot down in flames?I’ve no time or inclination to play games.  If you can’t  present your argument clearly, don’t bother.

  • PaulThibodeau

    I do not see how the concept of necessary being entails that ‘unquestioning faith is a virute’.

  • Jonathan West

    Do a Google search for “ARW 357″ and understand what that is really all about. Basically, you have got completely the wrong end of the stick.

  • Peter

    Sorry, I still can’t see how the analogy is relevant.

    The evolution of human complexity marked the arrival of free will in the universe, which is a radical departure from a universe dominated by natural laws.

    The analogy you describe is based upon choices taken by free will, without which nothing in your analogy would take place or even exist!

    On the other hand, events leading from the inception of the universe to the arrival of human complexity, occurred in a universe devoid of free will and completely subject to the laws of nature.   

    The natural laws of the universe are fixed in such a way that only one set of outcomes is possible from the moment the universe begins.   Human complexity is one such inevitable outcome.

    As I have said before, the only way you can claim that outcomes such as human complexity are random is to claim that the laws of nature themselves are random.

    You must demonstrate that natural laws are applied randomly to different universes, with one universe having one set of laws and another universe having another set, so that universes governed with different sets of laws will have different sets of outcomes.

  • TreenonPoet

     I agree with what Jonathan West wrote on contingency. (I had been intending to take the path of determining exactly what words are being used to mean, but I shall drop that approach.) I suggest that when you make an argument in favour of the existence of ‘God’, you check that the same argument cannot be used in favour of the existence of ‘irrefutable proof that God does not exist’. (Of course, this irrefutable proof is ‘necessary’ and cannot be explained.) I thought that Bertrand Russell trounced Fr Coplestone on the subject of contingency in this debate.

    Dawkins’ book does a lot more than tell us what Dawkins personally thinks. It gives the reasoning behind those thoughts – reasoning that anyone is at liberty to verify independently. Reasoning that his opponents seem to feel free to distort for their own purposes (eg. by redefining his words) or lie about (eg. by claiming that Dawkins omits issues that it is plain to see by reading the book he does not omit).

    Instilling religious faith in children who may see no reason to question what is happening, thus rendering them much less able to question impartially when they mature, has got everything to do with the cultivation of an unquestioning flock. Why is it so absolutely essential to teach them religion at an age when they cannot hope to be able to understand it? Why is it essential to not just teach it, but reinforce it day after day? Why the clamour for 100% selection for Catholic schools? The answers to these and many similar questions are obvious to me, and you say I have managed to lose the word ‘unquestioning’!

    Atheism is not a religion. Schools do not, and should not, teach atheism as such, but should be honest, up to date, and comprehensive in what they teach. That ought to mean being honest about the complete lack of evidence for the existence of deities. Sadly, successive British governments have favoured collective worship in schools instead.

    I stated that my thoughts and memories are involuntary. I don’t know how you have managed to interpret that as claiming that I have free will as my intention was to convey the opposite.

  • PaulThibodeau

    Then there is no reason to take your challenge seriously.

  • Acleron

    ‘But it has happened because we are here.’

    That doesn’t explain anything.

    ‘All these variables are determined by the laws of the universe, and therefore by claiming that the variables are random, you are claiming that the laws of the universe are random.’

    If you are saying that the laws are randomly selected then no I haven’t claimed anything like that. I am claiming that we can see randomness and explain it. You are claiming that randomness doesn’t happen and everything is preordained from the beginning of time. You do realise that this precludes free will. So it doesn’t matter what your god wants it will just happen anyway.

    But that is an aside, we can explain lots about the universe by incorporating the observations we make into our theories. If you leave out that degree of randomness then not a lot makes any sense. Basically you want a universe that doesn’t make any sense.

    Well that is almost a sensible question. We can propose hypotheses for various scenarios and test them. This is science. What we can’t do is just make up something to fit our beliefs such as:-

    ‘By default, because it allegedly exists, the multiverse must have a beginning outside spacetime, where there is no complexity.’

    There is no reason a multiverse has to have a beginning, let’s find out instead of just choosing an area where science has not yet been successful and claiming that as your latest god. Who says that this is the only spacetime? And who has evidence of the complexity of the multiverse?

    As others, I feel there is little point in discussing this further, You have clearly delineated our differences, I want to find out what the universe is like, you want a god at the expense of any facts or logic.

  • Peter

    “The multiverse may seem extravagant in sheer number of universes.  But if each one of those universes is simple in its fundamental laws, we are still not postulating something highly improbable”(Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, p.176)

    The multiverse is finite and therefore not eternal. It must have a beginning, and yet it represents everything there is. 

    A multiverse with a begiining is impossible since there is nothing for it begin from, everything there is being contained within it.

    The multiverse is more than highly improbable; it is impossible!

    If you eliminate the impossible, the alternative, however counter-intuitive, must be the truth (i.e.God).

  • http://catholicismpure.wordpress.com The Raven

    I note that you only read the first paragraph of my comment.

  • http://catholicismpure.wordpress.com The Raven

    Thank you for pointing me to Swinburne. I will leave him to defend his own argument, would you care to address mine?

  • Peter

    Please see my posts above which would cover all your points.

     

  • karlf

    In those quotes from the Catechism, please can you tell me what is metaphor and allegory , and what is meant as a statement of fact, as I really can’t tell from here.

  • http://catholicismpure.wordpress.com The Raven

    You should have noticed by now that I have concentrated on the flaws in the argument against God, I haven’t made an argument in favour of God.
    As you may have spotted, I wasn’t wholly impressed with Jonathan’s refutation of a random third party’s arguments. I would also point out that Swinburne’s thesis is that God is contingent, not necessary, which makes Jonathan’s citation of him somewhat otiose.
    As for Russell v Copleston, I had it scored the other way, which tells us both something.
    Dawkins’ book may well tell us what Dawkins’ reasoning was, but it’s still a subjective account of one man’s opinions. I’d point out that the only person seeking to shy away from Dawkins’ language in this conversation is his partisan, not his opponent.
    What evidence can you present to demonstrate that teaching by teaching mainstream religion to children we are “rendering them much less able to question impartially when they mature”? That is, frankly an enormous assertion that you have repeated at least twice: you need to give some evidence to support it.
    I disagree: “new” atheism fits the criteria very well: it is no more evidence based than any other belief system (and as some people, myself included, disagree with the assertion that “there is no evidence for a God”, one might even say that there is less evidence for atheism than for any other system of religious belief); it sends out missionaries to witness and to gain converts (which is what you and the others are attempting to do now); it has scriptural texts (TGD and Grayling’s Atheists’ Bible). In fact, I’d align it with those awful fundamentalist religions that we keep hearing about, because it is deeply intolerant of other faiths.
    If a school was to follow your educational prescription, it would be teaching your faith based belief that there is no evidence for a God: that would be teaching atheism. You seem to be confusing atheism with a neutral position.
    I am sorry if I have misunderstood your comments about your own faith journey.