Thu 24th Apr 2014 | Last updated: Thu 24th Apr 2014 at 14:34pm

Facebook Logo Twitter Logo RSS Logo
Hot Topics

Comment & Blogs

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

Atheist advertising campaign launched

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.

  • Peter

    “I’m afraid this is just changing the facts we know to fit a belief.”

    On the contrary, free will has been an element of human kind since the dawn of history.

    “What evidence would you accept that disproves your type of god?”

    The only evidence that disproves a Creator is the absence of creation.  But then I wouldn’t be around to accept it as disproof.

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

    Jonathan

    How is Dawkins’ argument anything other than an argument from personal incredulity? And, for that matter, how is your own argument any different?

  • Jonathan West

    It only counts as the Argument from Personal Incredulity if others can find and have found an explanation. But in the case of God, you haven’t. you’ve simply said that God is non-contingent and that by definition no explanation is possible. 

    So in fact you are agreeing with Dawkins to a far greater degree than you really want to admit, and you’re clothing it with words such as “non-contingent” and “necessary” which make it all sound as if it is philosophically respectable. People would simply laugh in your face if you were to come out with the bald (but true) statement that God doesn’t have and can’t have any explanation, but you’re going to believe in him anyway.

  • Peter

    More games?

    You may observe randomness at the quantum scale with the uncertainty principle, but the laws of nature at higher scales are fixed.

    If they were not fixed, but altered randomly in their operation, the universe could not exist.

    The reason why one event occurs when another does not, giving the appearance of a chance occurrence or non-occurrence, is because conditions  are not identical.

    Minor events over time can have an enormous cumulative impact on an occurrence which would otherwise have turned out differently.

    This is nothing to do with chance, but the simple application of fixed natural laws.

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

    Sorry, you’ve completely lost sight of the meaning of the word “unquestioning” again; Jonathan’s attempt to redefine the word is no more convincing and no more honest than your own.
    And I stand by my description of his use of the phrase.

    The part of this that surprises me the most about your argument is that, if you drop the word “unquestioning” from Dawkins’ argument (as you seem so desperately keen to do), you kick the legs out from under his argument that mainstream religion makes the world safe for fundamentalism: you’ve just made his argument ridiculous.
    Conclusions are not facts, Treenon, conclusions are, at best, hypotheses: the underlying facts may be evidence, but the conclusions themselves aren’t. Your quoted definition isn’t using the word “observations” in the sense of an Edwardian amateur detective, it’s using it to describe observed phenomena.
    I agree: the default assumption is that other writers are using the word as commonly defined, not in their own personal sense, which seems to be a real problem in this conversation, as you seem to be making very free with key terms like “questioning” and “evidence”.
    The fatal problem with you final paragraph is that you are comparing belief in God with belief in an entity that you *know* to be a fiction.
    We do not know, and have no reason to suppose that God is a fiction, therefore how does your argument apply?
    And let’s face it, your argument is not really much more than God seems unlikely to you.

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

    Karl

    Your questions aren’t following any kind of logical sequence.

    You’ve quoted a couple of paragraphs from the Catechism; I’ve pointed out to you that the conclusion that you’re drawing from them isn’t representative of the teaching of the Church and pointed out that there is a very large corpus on moral theology.
    The problem that you have is that you are attempting to enlist me to make an argument for you: you’d be less frustrated if you just played your hand instead if trying to get me to do it for you.
    From what you’ve hinted at so far, you seem to believe that we just see humans as beings pushed around by demonic forces: that would be to deny our own vices, inclinations and culpability. That’s hardly a representation of Catholic moral theology!

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

    Jonathan,

    The dreary truth of the matter is that I get the strong impression from these conversations that atheists spend a lot of time thinking up perjorative labels to apply to other people’s arguments and then carving out exceptions when we show that they can be equally applied to your own arguments.
    We’re talking about the origins of the universe, remember? No one has conclusively demonstrated anything about that yet: we have simply hypothesised a reasonably coherent model of that origin, which has some fundamental limitations attached to it. Your and Dawkins’ arguments really don’t add up to more than the expression of your own subjective incredulity at the suggestion that God does exist.

  • Jonathan West

    We’re talking about the origins of the universe, remember? No one has conclusively demonstrated anything about that yet: we have simply hypothesised a reasonably coherent model of that origin, which has some fundamental limitations attached to it.

    That’s more than you have done with regard to God. And there’s a pretty good amount of evidence for it, so it is more than merely hypotheses, which again is more than you can say for God.

    Your and Dawkins’ arguments really don’t add up to more than the expression of your own subjective incredulity at the suggestion that God does exist.

    By calling God non-contingent, you’re hardly giving anybody reason to change their minds about that. No evidence, no explanation: that’s not really a sound basis for a hypothesis!

    If you come up with evidence, then fine, we can examine it. If you change your mind about there being no explanation, then again, let’s look at the explanation you come up with and see what evidence we could find that would either support or contradict it.

    I’m open to all suggestions, but you haven’t offered any.

  • Jonathan West

    You may observe randomness at the quantum scale with the uncertainty principle, but the laws of nature at higher scales are fixed.

    No. They merely appear that way because there are rather a large number of atoms, and the individual variations tend to even out.

  • Peter

    Whether the laws of nature are, or appear to be, fixed, they still operate in predictable manner, which renders the basis of your comment meaningless to start with.

  • Jonathan West

    The operate in a predictable but probabilistic manner. The universe does not consist of atoms acting as predictably as little Newtonian billiard balls, which they would have to do for your idea of a wholly deterministic universe to be true.

  • Peter

    Jonathan West said:

    “They [laws of nature] operate in a predictable but probabilistic manner. The universe does not consist of atoms acting as predictably as little Newtonian billiard balls, which they would have to do for your idea of a wholly deterministic universe to be true”

    For the universe to unravel as the Creator intends, all the laws of nature have to do is operate as they are designed, that is, in a predictable manner, irrespective of whether it is probabilistic or otherwise.

  • Jonathan West

    You were going a step further and claiming that the universe also operates in a deterministic manner. The evidence doesn’t support this.

  • TreenonPoet

    In reply to The Raven:-

    Sorry, you’ve completely lost sight of the meaning of the word “unquestioning” again; Jonathan’s attempt to redefine the word is no more convincing and no more honest than your own.
    And I stand by my description of his use of the phrase.

    Again, referring to wiktionary, ‘unquestioning’ is defined as ”1. Believing without question; having absolute loyalty; faithful; doubtless, or 2. Naive.”. You claim that the faithful are not really faithful because they have questions and doubts, but I have pointed out that those questions and doubts are side issues, not direct challenges to the faith, and are answered in terms of what happens to be consistent with the faith. It is you who is trying to distort the meaning of ‘unquestionable’. My understanding of the word, which I would think matches Dawkins’ and Jonathan West‘s understanding, is consistent with the above definition. Am I meant to prefix every comment with the above in order to be sure that you will not accuse me of losing sight of its meaning?

    You stand by your description of Jonathan’s use of ‘unquestioning faith’ even though, as I pointed out, a search of this thread proves that it is a lie! This illustrates your make-it-up-and-ignore-the-evidence mentality.

    The part of this that surprises me the most about your argument is that, if you drop the word “unquestioning” from Dawkins’ argument (as you seem so desperately keen to do), you kick the legs out from under his argument that mainstream religion makes the world safe for fundamentalism: you’ve just made his argument ridiculous.

    It would make no difference to Dawkins’ argument because it would be clear from the context what he meant by faith. If my understanding is correct, the question that Jonathan West is asking is, in effect, “if there is no explanation why God exists, what is the basis of believing that God exists other than religious faith – i.e. unquestioning faith?”. To indicate that such faith is virtuous is to give licence to fundamentalism.

    Conclusions are not facts, Treenon, conclusions are, at best, hypotheses: the underlying facts may be evidence, but the conclusions themselves aren’t.

    I am saying that if the premises are factual and the conclusions are a result of pure reasoning from those premises, then those conclusions are factual. As in a lot of your comments, you seem to think that merely asserting otherwise is a sufficient counter-argument. You could have tried to give a simple example of a false conclusion drawn rationally from two facts (except that, if you understand what rational means, you will not be able to produce a single example). The laws of logic are just as universal as the laws of arithmetic, but both rely on agreed definitions. If your ‘plus’ is my ‘minus’, then we will never agree on what two plus two makes.

    I agree: the default assumption is that other writers are using the word as commonly defined, not in their own personal sense, which seems to be a real problem in this conversation, as you seem to be making very free with key terms like “questioning” and “evidence”.

    Given that I agree with the wiktionary definitions, what would you say is wrong with those definitions?

    The fatal problem with you final paragraph is that you are comparing belief in God with belief in an entity that you *know* to be a fiction.
    We do not know, and have no reason to suppose that God is a fiction, therefore how does your argument apply?
    And let’s face it, your argument is not really much more than God seems unlikely to you.

    If (as I stipulated) the made-up being is feasible, then I cannot know for sure that, by an amazing coincidence, the being does not exist in reality. If you claim that God is not fictional because the Bible was inspired by God (a perfect God, according to Catholicism), then I would ask why you disregard basic flaws in the Bible (such as its description of the sky as being like a tent), but accept as fact some of its most far-fetched claims. As far as I am concerned, God is as fictional as the wizard Harry Potter. I presume you believe that the Gods of other religions are fiction. How would you convince their followers that yours is not?

  • TreenonPoet

     Please see my unnested reply.

  • Peter

    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, because the laws of nature operate as they are designed, that is, in a predictable manner, so that the universe unravels as the Creator intends.
    Is that any clearer for you?

  • Jonathan West

    Yes, you’re saying the universe is deterministic. The evidence is that it isn’t. If you want to believe things contrary to evidence, that is your right, but I’m not going to join you.

  • karlf

    You asked me “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?” My answer to you is that the Church believes that human behaviour is influenced or manipulated by devils and demons. This is an indisputable claim that, for some reason, you seem reluctant to acknowledge.

  • Peter

    The evidence is that the laws of nature are predictable.  Consequently there is only one history.  Looking back from the top down you will see that the state of the universe determines the laws of nature which lead to its present state, and demonstrates that these laws have been reliable and predictable in reaching that state.

    If you want another set of outcomes, another history, you are looking at another set of laws, in accordance with the top-down approach, but as I said, our history selects out the laws which determine it. 

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

    What does the word “devil” or “demon” signify to you, Karl?

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

    Forgive me, Jonathan, but you’ve come here to witness and make converts, not me. I don’t have to demonstrate anything: the onus is on you to change minds; so far you haven’t offered anything but presuppositions and your subjective incredulity.
    Unlike you, I really don’t see any problem with there being coherent hypothetical descriptions of the time following creation, the plain fact that we have no hypotheses about the time before the “big bang” nor for the cause thereof (other than God) really does undermine your argument: you have no hypothesis to elucidate, reasoned or unreasoned.

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

    I mentioned no limit. What limit do you think I have placed?

    You conclude that the origins of God are unexplainable, as opposed to unexplainable in terms that are presently known to us.

  • Jonathan West

    Not at all. What I have done is pointed out that this is the descripton of God adopted by the theologians and by several contributors here. It is the religious who claim that God is unexplainable, not me. I was merely pointing out the arbitrary limits placed on human knowledge by the religious.

  • karlf

    The Devil and the other demons are spiritual or angelic creatures created by God in a state of innocence, and they became evil by their own act. Do you agree?

  • Jonathan West

    the plain fact that we have no hypotheses about the time before the “big bang” nor for the cause thereof (other than God) really does undermine your argument: you have no hypothesis to elucidate, reasoned or unreasoned
    I can make any number of hypotheses. The fact is that I don’t have any evidence on which to base them. That includes the God Hypothesis.The key difference between us is that I accept my ignorance on this point, and hope that it may one day be remedied by new scientific discoveries.You don’t. You hide your ignorance (possibly even from yourself) and call it God, You treat anything unexplained as being explained without evidence by God and then say that God is itself non-contingent and beyond explanation. It wouldn’t matter what the universe is like, you could still say that a non-contingent God started it. There is literally no scientific discovery which can disprove a statement to the effect of “The universe is the way it is, therefore God exists”.The trouble with statements which have the initial appearance of being able to explain everything is that when you analyse them in more detail, it turns out that they actually explain nothing.And you still haven’t found any passage in Chapter 4 of The God Delusion that you can demonstrate contains a logical or factual error that undermines his conclusions.

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

    Looking forward to reading your explanation for there brings God.

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

    What does that mean for you and I, Karl?

  • Acleron

    So you are just making a claim without evidence. A claim that has to be made to fit the rest of your hypothesis.

    And now you are saying that anything we find out about the origin of the universe that contradicts a god will be ignored. Not really surprising, you are ignoring known facts to get as far as you have.

  • Acleron

    The behaviour at the quantum world is not so remote as you state. The quantum randomness of  radioactive decay can have a devastating macro effect. Point mutations in reproductive cells can spell either death for the future individual or a benefit in terms of survival

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

    Boring, Jonathan. You’ve just presented a strawman and called it my argument: I don’t accept the argument from design, remember?
    Even if I did accept the argument from design, Dawkins argument from c.4, the argument from complexity, nimbly leaps over the fact that he does not demonstrate that we need to attribute complexity to God: that is entirely Dawkins’ unevidenced proposition.
    Stop repeating yourself and make an argument: how do you justify Dawkins’ belief in the argument from complexity?

  • karlf

    For me it means that the Church maintains and promotes irrational, superstitious claims to the causes of human behaviour. For you I suppose it means yet more attempts to wriggle out a tight spot with claims of allegory and metaphor, when clearly this tack would be blatantly disingenuous.

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

    Treenon, lets go back to Dawkins’ original claim: that mainstream religion makes the world safe for fundamentalism by teaching unquestioning faith is a virtue.

    You’ve not managed to prove that, within the ordinary meaning of the word, mainstream religion teaches that unquestioning faith is a virtue, so you have fallen back on a highly tendentious and, frankly, mendacious reading of an on-line dictionary.

    By the way, feel free to carry on defaming me by accusing me of lying: your repetition of the charge doesn’t make it any more truthful. A search of this thread will reveal that Jonathan’s definition of “unquestioning” is no more substantial than the one that you are advocating.

    I note that you are repeating Jonathan’s error: we currently have no explanation for the existence of God; as we are not omniscient and do not know what is around the corner, we cannot use our present lack of knowledge as an argument against the existence if something that we cannot currently explain.

    And I reiterate: questioning is inimical to fundamentalism; by wishing away the word “unquestioning” you are making Dawkins’ argument ridiculous.

    May I remind you that you are the one asserting that a conclusion can be a fact? I note that you have given up claiming that a conclusion can be evidence.

    If we have a set of facts and you draw a conclusion from them (based on impeccable reason) the only fact that we will have (other than the underlying evidence) will be that you have drawn a conclusion from those facts; the conclusion itself will be nothing other than a hypotheses until it can be demonstrated to be true.

    Legal history is stuffed with perfectly rational decisions, based on facts, that have proven to be entirely untrue: we need *all* of the facts to turn a conclusion into more than a hypothesis, and on the question of God, or even science, we have still only just started gathering the facts.

    To be clear, I agree with Wiktionary, too; I just don’t agree with your reading of it.

    Your last paragraph: goodness. Did they omit the New Testament in the version that you read?and how does your personal expression of incredulity really advance anything?

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

    No, Karl, what do you think “devils and demons” actually means?

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

    Jonathan

    You are putting up a good smokescreen around the “argument from incredulity” point.

    The logical or factual fallacy that you are defending is that you are dependent on your argument from complexity: there is nothing in your or Dawkins’ argument that convincingly demonstrates that we need the complexity that you are positing nor that the corollary of a complex God is a created God.

    The argument that you are defending also depends heavily on your opponent relying on a “God of the gaps” analysis, it falls a long way short of the claim that Dawkins himself makes for his argument.

  • karlf

    I have told you already. They are supernatural creatures. What is your point?

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

    My point is to find out exactly what role you’re ascribing to devils and demons and what attributes you’re imbuing them with.
    Your comment suggests that you believe that we are taught to fill the world with them and attribute all of our inclinations and failings to them. Is that a fair representation of your opinion?

  • Jonathan West

    Reply to The Raven

    The logical or factual fallacy that you are defending is that you are dependent on your argument from complexity: there is nothing in your or Dawkins’ argument that convincingly demonstrates that we need the complexity that you are positing nor that the corollary of a complex God is a created God.

    But Dawkins doesn’t say that, and therefore you’re accusing him of a logical fallacy which he hasn’t actually committed.

    I notice that in all your attacks in Dawkins, you haven’t quoted a single paragraph containing a line of reasoning or a fact stated by Dawkins which you are contesting. I’m coming to suspect you haven’t actually read The God Delusion, but instead are relying on other people’s commentaries on it, commentaries which severely distort what he has said.

    If we are to continue any further with this, I need for instance to know which specific paragraph(s) of Chapter 4 you are referring to when you talk about “the complexity argument”. You see, that is not a phrase that occurs in the book, and I’m not going to play guessing games with you about which bit of the book you mean.

  • TreenonPoet

     

    I note that you have given up claiming that a conclusion can be evidence.

    A conclusion can be evidence.
    Do I have to keep stating that in every post too? Of course not. Just because I don’t repeat it does not mean that I have given up on the claim. And if I did repeat it, you would write that repeating it does not make it true! Your assertion that I have given up claiming it is an example of how you make stuff up – you read what is not written. This appears to be exactly what you are doing with Dawkins…

    When I read TGD, I thought I understood what he was saying without difficulty, and I thought it made good sense. I have a Christian friend who reported the same thing, but is strangely unswayed. I am aware of some for whom it was instrumental in their loss of faith, so they must have thought Dawkins’ arguments were persuasive. My point is that there are a number of people who think (rightly or wrongly) that it makes good sense, and while this is not proof that there are no major flaws, it shows that it is not rubbish. My confidence in the book is boosted when I read serious attempts by theologians to discredit the book and find that they have to resort to false criticism. Lund’s document that you linked to was very powerful in this respect because it is packed with fallacies…

    Now, I do not regard you as an idiot. You have detected errors in my comments on the CH site more than once, and I was impressed by your comments on the Overshoot Index data that I linked to (and I hope you accepted my response to those comments). So I can only think that you are reading Dawkins and Lund differently somehow, and when I say what I think that Dawkins is saying, you disagree because it is not what you understand by reading the same thing. If that is the case, I can’t see how I can convey my point of view on the ‘unquestioning faith’ passage. Perhaps you read Dawkins with the determination that he is wrong?

    Perhaps you also read the New Testament with the determination that it is right? When I read ”the stars shall fall from heaven” from Matthew 24:29 (which does not read as if it is meant to be allegorical) I regard it as evidence that the Bible is wrong. Why is it evidence? Among other reasons, because of the facts that the stars have greater mass than the Earth and it is the less massive object that is said to fall towards the more massive – two factual premises from which I draw a conclusion that I use as evidence. The author of Matthew was behind the times in considering the stars to be points of light in a tent-like sky. I contend that the book of Matthew is now behind the times regarding the possibility of the existence of God.

    You also seem to be reading your own version of what you said about Jonathan West that I complained about, even though you wrote it yourself!

  • Jonathan West

    The Bible is stuffed full of admonitions to faith. There are stories of people’s sins being forgiven because of their faith, of their faith having cured illness. Jesus regularly castigates those whose faith is lacking, “O ye of little faith!” has become part of the language even amongst those who don’t know which bit of the Bible it came from.

    And faith very conveniently even has a direct definition in the Bible, Hebrews 11.

    Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.

    By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.

    Hebrews 11 goes on to describe striking instances of faith: Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah,

    Then it goes on to say 

    All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.

    The message is that you don’t expect to see evidence of the things you have faith in until after you die.

    In what way is this not a call to unquestioning faith?

  • Jonathan West

    I note that you are repeating Jonathan’s error: we currently have no explanation for the existence of God; as we are not omniscient and do not know what is around the corner, we cannot use our present lack of knowledge as an argument against the existence if something that we cannot currently explain.

    And so we are down to the last resort of the faithful, the claim that you can’t prove that God doesn’t exist.

    Doesn’t it strike you as being a rather weak argument that the best you can say for it is that you can’t actually disprove it?

    By the way, you’re also (again rather desperately) ascribing views to me that I do not hold, specifically that God is forever beyond explanation. As any reasonable reading of my comments will show, I was pointing out that this is not my own view, but rather the view of theologians such as Swinburne, and which you have agreed with.

    Dawkins merely states that the balance of evidence is strongly against God, that on the current evidence there is no plausible explanation for God’s existence, and therefore that “he almost certainly” does not exist.

    By declaring God to be non-contingent, you actually go further than Dawkins, and don’t merely state that there is no plausible explanation for God’s existence, but that no explanation for his existence is or ever will be possible even in principle. In other words, you provide an even stronger reason for not believing in God than Dawkins does.

    And yet you still believe.

  • karlf

    Personally I think devils and demons are fictitious, but the Church believes that human behaviour is manipulated by devils and demons to some degree – I would be surprised if this was stated as an exact figure?

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

    I’ve enjoyed our conversation, Treenon, and I am sorry to leave it here: my commitments this week mean that I shan’t be able to give you the courtesy of prompt responses this week.
    I think that you have hit on the key dividing line between those of us who are impressed with TGD and those who are not: there is a fundamental difference in our readings of the book and the success of its claims.  I expect that this is why your Christian friend can admire the argument of the book without being convinced by it.  I too have heard people say that the book was the turning point of their journey to atheism, but the few that I have met were already well on that road before they read the book.
    I suspect that the underlying issue is that Christians don’t find Dawkins’ account of their faith convincing because we don’t use faith or religion in the ways that Dawkins appears to think that we do.  Christians, myself included, have clearly failed to articulate what faith “does” or is about and we are not helped by a historical picture in which religion was used to fill lacunae in scientific knowledge (an unfortunate side effect of the first people “doing” science being clerics too).  I suspect that an outside observer’s position is complicated because there are many people wearing the label “Christian” who do have a very wide variety of beliefs and the fringes often do have a louder voice than the orthodox mainstream.
    A clear example of this is the verse from Matthew that you have cited: it hasn’t occurred to me that it should be read as anything other than a part of an extended metaphor; although I am sure that you could find Christians who would insist that we should read that passage as absolute, literal truth.
    No doubt we will correspond again in the new year, but I hope that your principles don’t preclude a hearty dinner with friends and family tomorrow and I hope that you enjoy the day.

  • TreenonPoet

     Thank you. I wish you a joyful and reflective day.

  • http://www.facebook.com/helen.pluckrose.1 Helen Pluckrose

     Hi. I am not sure what you mean. Why should someone with strong views on the negative impact of religion talk only to other people of the same opinion? Do you not think it more useful to talk to people who think religion is a good thing and try to understand why and get them to understand why I disagree?

     I ended up here because I have a google alert for various terms which interest me and one of them is Richard Dawkins – that brought me here.

  • http://www.facebook.com/helen.pluckrose.1 Helen Pluckrose

     What are you talking about, please? Atheists are people who do not believe in gods. That is all. There is empirical evidence that people exist and I am a person. Knowing how the brain works does not make the experiences we perceive with our brains less affecting. Why would that be? If you learned how your eyes work, would nature suddenly become more beautiful? And what does this have to do with disbelief in gods. You yourself disbelieve in thousands of gods – thousands more than you believe in, probably – does this disbelief make you feel you are not human?

  • Peter

    Acleron says:

    “And now you are saying that anything we find out about the origin of the universe that contradicts a god will be ignored.”

    On the contrary.

    To paraphrase Louis Pasteur, a little science takes us away from the Creator, a lot of science brings us back.

    The Creator could have miraculously brought us and the world into existence a few thousand years ago, as creationists believe, but I don’t think so.   I believe he used the evolution of the universe to create us, so that we would want to learn and understand the unfolding of our origins and, in doing so, begin to know the Creator.

    A good example of this is top-down cosmology, where the beginning of the universe was marked by the superposition of initial quantum states corresponding to a vast range of different potential histories, so vast in fact that, according to M-theory, there were at least 10>500 of them each with their own unique set of natural laws. 

    From our own reality we observe the history of our universe, and in doing so we select out the particular set of laws which brought the universe to its present state which includes us.  The laws are observed to be reliable and predictable in their operation, and yet they are only one out of a possible 10>500 different set of laws that could have applied to our universe in its initial quantum state.  Had any of the others been applied, we would not exist.

    What does this tell us?   Some would say that it is merely a random occurrence, pure chance, that our set of laws was applied and that we exist.  But I do not accept that, because the odds are far too great, almost certainly improbable.  They are, after all,  1 in 1 with 500 zeros after it!  

    But the clincher is when you factor in the result of those laws which is the sentient human race which, by its nature, is driven to discover its origins and seek out its Creator.   

    When you combine the almost certain improbablity of one particular set of laws with the product of those laws which is a sentient race seeking its Maker, the outcome becomes less a matter of chance and more a matter of choice.

    Instead of blind chance creating a freak species, I am more inclined to believe that it was a specific choice out of almost infinite possibilities to create a sentient race that would seek out the One who made that choice., the One who is so powerful as to have so many possible possibilities in the first place, and so personal as to specifically choose one of them.

  • Acleron

    In response to the question of what would change your belief, your answer was nothing. So whatever we find out about the origin of the universe will be irrelevant to your belief.

    You have already demonstrated this by claiming that free will suddenly appeared with the origin of Homo sapiens, although as usual you have no evidence that free will actually exists or that it started at some point when a species on a rather insignificant rocky world, orbiting a pretty average sun in a rather average galaxy, appeared.

    Your application of probability could do with a dose of Douglas Adams puddles.

    You have a belief that contradicts known facts, that’s fine but please don’t subvert the knowledge we have painfully acquired to bolster the irrational. As an exercise, look at the facts without your belief. If you could honestly do that, you would be able to see why the conclusions of the physical laws describing our universe are what they are.

  • Peter

    “you
    have no evidence that free will actually exists”

     

     

    The
    Creator freely chose to bring the universe into existence when it was
    unnecessary, freely chose a particular set of laws leading the universe to its
    present state out of countless other possibilities, freely chose to empower
    created things to act as secondary causes of creation, and freely chooses to
    keep everything in the universe in existence from one moment to the next.

    And
    as a sign that mankind is the outcome desired by the Creator, the Creator has
    given mankind the same free will which he himself possesses, making mankind (as
    far as we know) unique in the universe. 

     

     

     

    “As
    an exercise, look at the facts without your belief”

     

     

     

    If we posit a multiverse, it cannot be
    eternal for reasons I have stated several times before.  Therefore the multiverse must have a
    beginning in time.  But if that were the
    case, the multiverse could not exist.  
    This is because the multiverse represents the total of all spacetimes,
    everything there is, so that there would have been nothing from which the
    mutliverse could have begun.  Therefore
    it would not have begun, and would not exist.

     

     

    However, it does exist (or at least one
    universe within it does), which means that, by default, it must have begun out
    of an absence of spacetime, however counter-intuitive that may be.  

  • Acleron

    So no evidence will ever sway you. You have claimed that your entity created the universe then ‘sustained’ it. You have alternatively claimed it is not part of the universe and doesn’t alter it. Now you are saying that somehow, in a random situation where prediction becomes less certain inversely with distance but linearly with time, that the appearance of a particular population of base pairs created free will. Just who told you this?

    You always get stuck on the part that if there was nothing and then there was something, then it is impossible. Well it isn’t impossible, it is clearly predicted in quantum mechanics. Strangely the result arises because of the random nature of reality at that level, another fact you have to disregard for your belief.

    What is counter-intuitive to me is someone who cannot appreciate the beauty of reality and requires to complicate it with an extra forces/energies and then deny what we have already seen. 

  • Peter

    “You always get stuck on the part that if there was nothing and then there was something, then it is impossible. Well it isn’t impossible, it is clearly predicted in quantum mechanics.”

    The zero-energy virtual particle-pairs, allegedly responsible for creating our visible universe from the nothingness of zero energy, need something to pop out from.  They require a gravitational field which fluctuates at the quantum level in accordance with the uncertainty principle.  As Hawking says:  “because there is a law like gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing” (Grand Design p.180).  Technically that is wrong because a law like gravity is not nothing, but something very precise which requires explanation.

    To overcome this glaring inconsistency the multiverse concept is invoked, where each universe is randomly allotted a different set of laws making the laws of our universe, such as the law of gravity, a local phenomenon with no fundamental meaning.

    But this brings us back to square one.  How does one explain the each of the universes that allegedly make up the multiverse?   Dawkin’s collaborator, Krauss, says: “The apparent logical necessity of the First Cause is a real issue for any universe which has a beginning.  Therefore on the basis of logic alone one cannot rule out such a deistic view of nature”.

    Even Krauss admits the possibility of an intelligent deistic Creator, but he emphatically rules out a personal theistic Creator worshipped in religion.

    So the battle lines are redrawn.  The focus between neo-atheists and believers has returned to what it was two hundred years ago, a battle between Deists and Theists which has its origin in the Enlightenment.

    Dawkins, Krauss and the rest are no longer atheists; they are Deists.  And it is science combined with Philosophy which has brought them to this conclusion.