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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.

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

    Demonstrate that a lie has been taught.

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

    Karl

    How do you derive a moral principle from natural selection? It sounds as though you are claiming to have solved Hume’s dilemma.

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

    Are you making the claim that Dawkins doesn’t propose that a form of evolution involving multiverses is an explanation of the origins of this universe?

    Has it occurred to you that Christians are all likely to read TGD in the same way and spot the same infelicities?

    A more reasonable approach for you to take would be to stop accusing your interlocutors of bad faith and dishonesty and to actually address their arguments.

  • karlf

    Example of lies taught: “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”

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

    What is your evidence to show that statement is untrue?

  • Jonathan West

    Are you making the claim that Dawkins doesn’t propose that a form of evolution involving multiverses is an explanation of the origins of this universe?

    Yes. He merely speculates about multiverses being a possible  explanation for what is called the “fine-tuning” problem. He does not talk about multiverses being the explanation for the universe. He also makes it clear that we don’t know the answer to the fine tuning problem, it may be that what appear to be arbitrary physical constants are in fact a reflection of underlying physical laws not yet discovered. If so, there would not be any scope for the physical constants to change, and the fine tuning problem disappears.

    Mind you, the fine-tuning argument isn’t much use to Christianity, since a God that does nothing more that fine-tune the physical constants of the universe isn’t remotely like the Biblical God of Christianity.

  • Jonathan West

    Science is at least making progress in finding things out, unlike religion.

    You haven’t discovered that God exists, you have decided that he exists, which isn’t the same thing at all.

  • karlf

    My evidence is the total and absolute lack evidence supporting it.
    “Their choice against God is definitive” ?? “They try to associate man in their revolt against God” ?? when? Where?

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

    Jonathan, I think we must be reading Dawkins’ section on the anthropic principle differently: he seems sold on Smolin’s proposition. I’d also add that each of the hypotheses that he presents just postpones the question of the first-mover.
    Again, your characterisation of a Christian God is rather dependent on all Christians having the same idea about God.

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

    You’re conflating what science and religion are for, Jonathan.

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

    In other words, Karl, your evidence is your own beliefs.

  • Jonathan West

    OK, let’s set aside the ethical issues of quote-mining. I’ll haul you up on it if you do it again mind you.

    And what does the claim of improbability rest on? “Any entity capable of intelligently designing something as improbable as a Dutchman’s Pipe (or a universe) would have to be even more improbable than a Dutchman’s Pipe.”

    Yes, it is just an assertion

    Not at all. It is s statement based on evidence. All the entities we know of that are capable of designing complex things are themselves complex, and moreover more complex than the things they design. If you want to offer evidence of a simple entity capable of executing complex designs, be my guest.

    (Response to Dawkins point 5.) The central admission here is that we’ve only got boot-strapping hypotheses at the moment.

    Perfectly true. The scientists have more work to do yet. But that doesn’t make God more plausible. 

    (Response to Dawkins point 6.) Assertion, again.

    Again not so. This is a statement based on evidence. The problem of the complexity of life was one which for hundreds or even thousands of years was considered to be a knockdown argument in favour of the existence of God the Designer. But we now know better. Do you really think that if and when the physicists finally work out the origin of the universe they are going to say “Hey, we’ve discovered the Christian God!”

    The argument of c.4 depends on all Christians being creationists, believers in ID, or the “God of the gaps”.

    Untrue. It depends only on Christians having a belief in a supernatural God who created the universe.

    The argument also makes an unjustified jump to demand that a complex universe demands a designer who, in turn, also demands a designer.

    Quite the reverse. Dawkins is arguing against the idea that the complex universe demands a designer at all.

    So it seems that you have a truly fundamental misunderstanding of what Dawkins is saying. Whether that misunderstanding is genuine or contrived I will leave it to you to decide. It doesn’t matter much either way, because all you have done is try and poke holes into a gross distortion of what Dawkins has said.

  • Jonathan West

    Dawkins has of course asked theologians about this issue of God’s complexity. Here is the relevant passage from Chapter 4, the section titles “An interlude at Cambridge” describing a Templeton-sponsored conference on science and religion.

    I challenged the theologians to answer the point that a God capable of designing a universe, or anything else, would have to be complex and statistically improbable. The strongest response I heard was that I was brutally foisting a scientific epistemology upon an unwilling theology. Theologians had always defined God as simple. Who was I, a scientist, to dictate to theologians that their God had to be complex? Scientific arguments, such as those I was accustomed to deploying in my own field, were inappropriate since theologians had always maintained that God lay outside science.

    I did not gain the impression that the theologians who mounted this evasive defence were being wilfully dishonest. I think they were sincere. Nevertheless, I was irresistibly reminded of Peter Medawar’s comment on Father Teilhard de Chardin’s The Phenomenon of Man, in the course of what is possibly the greatest negative book review of all time: ‘its author can be excused of dishonesty only on the grounds that before deceiving others he has taken great pains to deceive himself.’ The theologians of my Cambridge encounter were defining themselves into an epistemological Safe Zone where rational argument could not reach them because they had declared by fiat that it could not. Who was I to say that rational argument was the only admissible kind of argument? There are other ways of knowing besides the scientific, and it is one of these other ways of knowing that must be deployed to know God.

    The most important of these other ways of knowing turned out to be personal, subjective experience of God. Several discussants at Cambridge claimed that God spoke to them, inside their heads, just as vividly and as personally as another human might. I have dealt with illusion and hallucination in Chapter 3 (‘The argument from personal experience’), but at the Cambridge conference I added two points. First, that if God really did communicate with humans that fact would emphatically not lie outside science. God comes bursting through from whatever other-worldly domain is his natural abode, crashing through into our world where his messages can be intercepted by human brains — and that phenomenon has nothing to do with science? Second, a God who is capable of sending intelligible signals to millions of people simultaneously, and of receiving messages from all of them simultaneously, cannot be, whatever else he might be, simple. Such bandwidth! God may not have a brain made of neurones, or a CPU made of silicon, but if he has the powers attributed to him he must have something far more elaborately and non-randomly constructed than the largest brain or the largest computer we know.

  • karlf

    How ridiculous! There is absolutely zero evidence for what the Church is claiming to be true. How is that just my own beliefs?

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

    There is no evidence that it is untrue, either, Karl: whether we believe it or not is a matter of belief.

  • karlf

    We judge whether things are true or not. How do you make a judgement to believe in these undetected supernatural creatures?

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

    In other words, Karl, you apply your own subjective judgement: if you come to a different conclusion to me and teach someone something that contradicts my beliefs, are you lying?

  • karlf

    Can’t tell me how you came to the conclusion that these evil, supernatural creatures are a reality? After all, I have told you how I arrived at my conclusion.

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

    Karl, your argument is that the Church is immoral because it is teaching lies, remember? If I tell you something that I believe to be true, am I morally culpable?

  • karlf

    I didn’t say the Church was immoral.
    Please tell me how you came to the conclusion that these evil, supernatural creatures are a reality.

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

    Jonathan, human beings are already designing things that greatly exceed our own abilities and we are starting to employ computer programmes to design even more complex programmes: in other words, we have instances of creations that are more complex than their creator.
    Dawkins assertion of improbability rests on his subjective view that he cannot conceive of a God capable of the act of creation, nothing more: the quotation that you’ve set at the head of this thread demonstrates this – he can only conceive of intelligence in terms of things that he has already experienced: “bandwidth”, “CPUs”, “brains”.
    The fact that we’ve only got boot-strapping hypotheses at the moment doesn’t make God more plausible, but it demonstrates a central failure in Dawkins’ argument: scientism doesn’t have a better explanation on which to base its assertions; there are no grounds on which we should prefer the claims of scientism to those of religion.
    On Dawkins’ sixth point, this is pure assertion: he begins with a Micawberish prayer that cosmologists will come up with a better crane and concludes by saying that the mixture of unevenly convincing skyhooks that we are using now are better than God: that’s called an assertion in most places.
    And you are incorrect in claiming that Dawkins’ argument applies to all Christians who believe in God as creator: his argument for a complex God fails within its own terms if one does not make an argument from design (I am tempted to go so far as to argue that the doctrine of free will is inherently contradictory to the argument from design).
    I am aware that Dawkins is arguing against the idea that the complex universe demands a designer at all, but his justification, that a complex God needs a designer in His own right is an unevidenced assertion.
    From where I’m sat, the arguments made by Dawkins can be criticised because:
    1. They demand that all Christians analyse God as a designer or micro fiddler in His creation;
    2. They strongly rely on Dawkins’ own incredulity that a creator-God could exist; and
    3. They further rely on an unjustified assertion that a complex God would, Himself, require a designer.
    You say that I am misrepresenting Dawkins arguments, but I can only go on the written word on the page: I am not sufficiently invested in his argument as to want to excuse it by giving it an undeservedly charitable reading to correct its errors.
    Given your earlier attempts to use decontextualised quotes from scripture on this thread, I don’t really think that you occupy sufficiently high ground to criticise my use of quotations.

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

    Do you want to re-express your “Point 1″ in that case?

  • karlf

    “The Church is going wrong by telling untruths” – but believes them to be true.
    Now, please tell me how you came to the conclusion that these evil, supernatural creatures are a reality.

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

    How can it be morally wrong to reach something that you believe to be true?

  • karlf

    Exactly! – I didn’t say the Church was immoral.
    Now, please tell me how you came to the conclusion that these evil, supernatural creatures are a reality.

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

    So we’re agreed that the Church is not morally impaired from teaching morality?

  • karlf

    I will agree to that. And your answer to my question?

  • Peter

    You challenged us to find fault with Ch.4 of the God Delusion and I have discovered a gaping hole big enough to sink the chapter and the entire book.

    The impossibility of the multiverse as an alternative to the Creator blows the anthropic principle out of the water, leaving Dawkins adrift with only the theory of evolution left to cling to.

    However, the theory of evolution will not prevent his credibility from foundering.

    Unsupported by the anthropic principle, evolution by natural selection returns to its default role as secondary cause of creation, instead of being hijacked by neo-atheists to disprove a designer God that no-one believes in.

  • Peter

    “If gravity arises from a state outside spacetime or it arises from interaction of dimensions as in Brane theory it still doesn’t require a start or a finish, it can be eternal.”

    If you rely on M-Theory to make the above assertion you ought to beware, because the same M-theory produces a multiverse with finite number of diverse universes.

    Of course, 10>500 universes each with different laws is a vast unimaginable number, but it is not infinite.

    If the multiverse were eternal, its diversity would be infinite.  It would have an infinite number of universes with different laws., simply because it has had eternity to produce them.  

    Clearly the multiverse will have had a long existence to produce the vast number of different universes proposed by M-theory.

    However, though vast, the number is still finite which means that the multiverse and everything in it including gravity, cannot have existed for eternity.

  • Jonathan West

    Jonathan, human beings are already designing things that greatly exceed our own abilities and we are starting to employ computer programmes to design even more complex programmes: in other words, we have instances of creations that are more complex than their creator

    You clearly have no idea how complex the human brain really is. We haven’t even got close to its complexity in terms of our designs.

    Dawkins assertion of improbability rests on his subjective view that he cannot conceive of a God capable of the act of creation, nothing more: the quotation that you’ve set at the head of this thread demonstrates this – he can only conceive of intelligence in terms of things that he has already experienced: “bandwidth”, “CPUs”, “brains”.

    That is how science works – you base your ideas on evidence.

    Dawkins assertion of improbability rests on his subjective view that he cannot conceive of a God capable of the act of creation, nothing more

    Not at all, he has offered a line of reasoning, to the effect that a God with all these capabilities has to come into existence by one of two routes, either being designed and created by a meta-God, or by a lengthy process analagous to the evolution by natural selection that has produced us. The meta-God solution only pushes back the problem into an infinite regress, the evolution by natural selection route is ruled out by the definition of God made by the religious themselves.

  • Jonathan West

    Reply to The Raven

    You’re conflating what science and religion are for, Jonathan.

    I know what science is for, learning things about the universe around us, including the characteristics of God if he exists. As for your claims of Micawberism, I’d suggest that the hope that we will someday find out things we do not know now is preferable to the call to ignorance that is involved in labelling the unknown non-contingent and therefore unknowable.

  • Jonathan West

    The fact is that we don’t know the first mover, whether there is a single one or a generalised process for uncaused causes. That is something the physicists still have to find out.

    The logical error you are making is to think that in the absence of evidence as to the first cause, you can assume that the answer is “God”, when in fact you have no more evidence of God than of any other speculative possibility regarding the first cause.

  • Jonathan West

    The matter is really very simple. Dawkins knows that we don’t know the answer to the question of the origin of the universe. Therefore what he is doing in the chapter is speculating as to the regions in which the answer may lie, basing his speculations on current speculations by the physicists.

    You are making the incorrect assumption that he has concluded that a particular one of those speculations is true.

    In other words, you are assuming that Dawkins is doing exactly the sort of thing you would do in the circumstances – choosing an option in the absence of evidence.

  • Peter

    “The fact is that we don’t know the first mover, whether there is a single one or a generalised process for uncaused causes. ”

    As a series of actions, the generalised process for uncaused causes would itself need a cause, otherwise then actions would not take place and the process would not exist.

  • Jonathan West

    Is God a person? Does he have a mind? Did he create the universe and decide how it should be? If you believe the answer to those questions is “yes”, then I suggest you believe in exactly the kind of designer God you are trying to deny.

  • Acleron

    As I gave two hypotheses to the presence of gravity how can I be said to be relying on one of them? But whichever way you cut it, gravity could be eternal. The fact is at the moment we don’t know. That’s a statement that lies at the heart of science and one that theologists cannot consider. It is the difference between being rational and rationalising. Because you are rationalising it has led you to try and pick holes in a single theory. Why did I use the word try? Well, there is nothing in  any particular theory gives rise to a non-eternal universe.

    There is no doubt that we do not as yet fully understand the beginning of this universe, it may also be a problem with our understanding of time. But nothing in physics points to a creator and every creator capable of interfering with the universe that has so far been described would show up. 

    There are plenty of hypotheses that have never been shown to be correct that we have discarded. When we are shown a hypothesis that is changed and fine tuned continually to avoid evidence, such as your god hypothesis, isn’t it time to discard that as well?

  • Jonathan West

    You don’t know that. You’re deciding that a generalised process is impossible, instead of waiting to discover whether that is true.

  • Peter

    The God I believe in is neither a highly complex hands-on tinkerer (complexity being a phenomenon of spacetime) nor has miraculously intervened in time to add to the material complexity of his creation.  
    It is therefore not the God that evolutionists think they are disproving by showing that evolution by natural selection does the very same things that such a God would do.The God I believe in set the parameters of our universe out of countless other possibilities, so that sentient races such as ourselves would arise through secondary causes of creation, and once arrived, begin to learn about our origins.  This way we would come to know the Creator.Evolution by natural selection does not disprove the God I believe in, but actually supports his existence by demonstrating itself as a secondary cause of creation which, together with other secondary causes such as stellar nucleosynthesis and cosmic rays, led inevitably to the creation of mankind.

    The parameters of our universe are not a random set of occurrences out of an infinite number of possibilites present in a multiverse.   Both logic and science tell us that a multiverse can be neither infinite nor eternal, but would need a beginning in time and therefore a cause for its very own existence.

    Faced with this stark reality, faced with the necessaity for a First Cause,  the neo-atheist has no option but to accept the notion of a deistic Creator, totally separated from his creation, and in no way resembling the theistic Creator of religious belief.

    Such a deistic Creator would have established the multiverse with a vast but not infinite set of possibilities, leading to the propagation of countless universes at least one of which has the properties conducive to mankind.

    However, the fundamental drawback of this approach is that the universe needs to be continuously created from one moment to the next to keep it in existence.  It needs the Creator to continuously originate actions at its smallest scales otherwise actions at higher scales would not take place and the universe would discontinue.

    Far from a disinterested deistic Creator who has no contact with his creation, we have a theistic Creator who demonstrates that he has specifically chosen the set of parameters which lead to mankind, by electing to keep those parameters operative at every moment, without which they and the universe they produce, including man, would cease to exist.

  • Peter

    What is a process if it is not a series of actions?  An action cannot exist if it is not caused.

    We speculate that our universe emerged from the nothingness of no-energy virtual particle-pairs which popped out of a pre-exsting gravitational field within a multiverse.

    Outside the multiverse there is no pre-existing gravitational field.   There is in fact absolutely nothing because the multiverse represents the absolute totality of spacetimes.

    We know virtual particles can pop out from energy fields within spacetime; we speculate that virtual particles pop out of the gravitational field of spacetime, but you are now claiming that virtual particles can pop out from absolultely nothing, from no field whatsoever to create the first universe of the multiverse.

    You need to have a lot of faith for that conviction, more faith than I need to believe in the rationally coherent notion of a Creator.

  • Jonathan West

    The God I believe in is neither a highly complex hands-on tinkerer (complexity being a phenomenon of spacetime) nor has miraculously intervened in time to add to the material complexity of his creation.
    So you don’t believe he sent Christ to die for our sins?

  • Peter

    In what way did that add to the material complexity of creation?

  • Jonathan West

    Well, i would call that a miraculous intervention in creation, and I would definitely call it an example of hands-on tinkering.

    In addition, do you think God answers prayers or reads innermost thoughts?

  • Peter

    “and I would definitely call it an example of hands-on tinkering.”

    You can call it what you like, but one thing it is not.

    It is not the hands-on tinkering with the creation process, which neo-atheists claim has been made redundant by the theory of evolution.

    That’s because there has been no hands-on tinkering with the creation process, which renders evolution by natural selection powerless as a means to disprove God.

    That,s why Dawkins is wasting his time and why his book is a waste of time.

  • Jonathan West

    You really have completely failed to understand what Dawkins is saying. He has never claimed to disprove God.

    What is more, if the best argument you have for god is that his existence can’t be disproved, then I suggest you are on pretty weak ground.

  • Peter

    Using evolution by natural selection, Dawkins sought to disprove as much as is humanly possible the fundamentalist Christian God of Creationism and Intelligent Design.

    However, he went a step too far and tried to invoke the cosmological anthropic principle to disprove the Creator of the universe.
    This has backfired badly because there is no cosmological anthropic principle in a multiverse that has a beginning.Dawkins may have succeeding in his secondary aim of disproving as much as is humanly possible a creationist/intelligent design God.However, he has failed miserably in his primary aim to disprove the Creator of the universe. 

  • Jonathan West

    (Reply to Peter)

    Using evolution by natural selection, Dawkins sought to disprove as much as is humanly possible the fundamentalist Christian God of Creationism and Intelligent Design

    Firstly, that is not the only variety of God that Dawkins goes after. His version of the “God Hypothesis” is as follows.

    “There exists a superhuman supernatural intelligence who deliberately designed the universe and everything in it, including us.”

    He ensured that the definition was understood to be sufficiently wide to cover all versions of God as understood by all religions by adding the following clarification

    “This is as good a moment as any to forestall an inevitable retort … ‘The God that Dawkins doesn’t believe in is a God I don’t believe in either. I don’t believe in an old man in the sky with a long beard.’ That old man is an irrelevant distraction and his beard is as tedious as it is long. Indeed, the distraction is worse than irrelevant. Its very silliness is calculated to distract attention from the fact that what the speaker believes is not a whole lot less silly. I know you don’t believe in an old bearded man sitting on a cloud, so let’s not waste any more time on that. I am not attacking any particular version of God or gods. I am attacking God, all gods, anything and everything supernatural, wherever and whenever they have been or will be invented.” (my emphasis)

    However, he went a step too far and tried to invoke the cosmological anthropic principle to disprove the Creator of the universe.

    I don’t think you have read the chapter, or even understood its title. Do you recall those words “almost certainly” in it? That means he’s not attempting to disprove God, merely to make an assessment of the probability of his existence.

    However, he has failed miserably in his primary aim to disprove the Creator of the universe.

    I think it is worth stating what his alternative hypothesis is.

    “This book will advocate an alternative view: any creative intelligence, of sufficient complexity to design anything, comes into existence only as the end product of an extended process of gradual evolution. Creative intelligences, being evolved, necessarily arrive late in the universe, and therefore cannot be responsible for designing it. God, in the sense defined, is a delusion.”

    Notice that the description is very precise “any creative intelligence, of sufficient complexity to design anything”. We are a creative intelligence of sufficient complexity to design something. If God designed the universe, then Dawkins’ argument is that God could only have come about by “an extended process of gradual evolution”.

    If God does exist, then the means by which he came into existence remains unknown. The Raven (following in the footsteps of Swinburne, though he did not realise it) gets round this by defining God as being simple and non-contingent (i.e. without explanation). Never mind that God’s definition doesn’t match God’s capabilities.

    I realise that you similarly claim God to be outside spacetime, immaterial and therefore also simple by definition. Your definition also doesn’t match God’s capabilities. This personal God, this God with a mind, is apparently by the continued and repeated exercise of his will, able simultaneously to keep every single atom, every single subatomic particle in existence according to the physical laws which he has designed (so much for your claim that God is not a designer).

    I’m going to stop here and not contribute any further to this thread. I realise that there is nothing I can say that would persuade either you or The Raven round to my point of view, and I never seriously expected otherwise. My aim was to ensure that other readers of this thread were made aware of what Dawkins has actually said on the subject rather than being misled into believing the distortions you were purveying. I’m sure you were being entirely honest, and genuinely believed that you were correctly characterising Dawkins’ argument, but it quickly became clear to me that you had misunderstood it in a very fundamental way.

  • Peter

    “We are a creative intelligence of sufficient complexity to design something. If God designed the universe, then Dawkins’ argument is that God could only have come about by “an extended process of gradual evolution”

    You and Dawkins are making the fundamental error of conflating what it means to create.

    In its profound sense, to create means to bring into existence out of nothing, which is how we define the Creator who brings the universe/multiverse into existence out of nothing.

    In its superficial sense, to create means to fashion something out of pre-existing materials which is what we as humans do.

    As humans we fashion complex things out of pre-existing complex things.  We have acquired sufficient complexity in our own right to recognise such complex components, to determine that they are necessary, and to be able to handle them to make even more complex products.  (For instance in cosmic terms basic raw materials like iron and silicon are highly complex, requiring very specific conditions of stellar nucleosynthesis)

    The Creator did not fashion the universe out of pre-existing complex materials and consequently did not need to acquire the necessary complexity in his own right to recognise and handle that material to achieve the end product.

    Nor did the Creator fashion the universe/multiverse from simple pre-existing energy and radiation since these spacetime phenomena do not exist outside the spacetime of the universe/multiverse

    This tells us what the Creator is not, but not what he is.  It tells us that the Creator is not at all like humans who needed to acquire complexity themselves to be able to assemble complex arrangements of pre-existing matter into more complex arrangements. For this reason, unlike humans, the Creator did not need an extended process of gradual evolution.

    The Creator brought the universe/multiverse into being out of absolute nothingness.  This is not just a biblical truth but a logical truth too.  The universe/multiverse must have a beginning and yet it represents the totality of spacetime, so its beginning must have taken place in the absolute nothingness of no-spacetime.   It must have because it exists (or at least one universe within it does).

    Just as we recognise a distant invisible planet from the slight dimming of its star as the planet orbits around it, and just as we recognise an invisible small star in a binary by the wobble of its larger partner, so too do we recognise the existence of the Creator by his effects.  Just as we cannot see and describe the planet and small binary star, we cannot see and describe the Creator.

    The parent star has no reason to dim repeatedly unless it is being orbited; the partner binary has no reason to wobble unless it is gravitationally attracted, and the universe/multiverse has no reason to exist unless it is brought into existence and kept there at every moment.

  • Peter

    Acleron says:

    “As I gave two hypotheses to the presence of gravity how can I be said to be relying on one of them? But whichever way you cut it, gravity could be eternal.”

    I have already responded how it is not possible for gravity be eternal in your colliding brane hypothesis based on M-theory.  Your other hypothesis that gravity arising from a state outside spacetime can be eternal is also impossible.

    If you take baby universes budding from a mother universe, or in other words baby spacetimes budding from a mother spacetime, then it is clear that the baby spacetime will have relied for its origin on a gravitational field outside of itself, which would be the gravitational field of the pre-existing mother spacetime.

    But that in no way means that the gravitational field is eternal because at its inception the mother spacetime will itself have relied on the gravitational field of another pre-existing spacetime.    What you then have is a regression of gravitational fields, but such a regression is by no means an infinite regression, making gravity eternal.

    If the multiverse were an infinite array of successive universes we would not exist.  The reason is simple logic.  The offspring of a mother universe universe existing an infinite number of generations away would, because of that infinite distance, never manage to reproduce to more recent universes.   Our universe, for instance, could not be formed because its early ancestors were infinite generations away – an infinite chasm that could never be traversed – meaning that their recent descendants, such as our universe, could never be born. 

    But our universe does exist which must mean, by the same logic, that the multiverse is not eternal, that it is not an infinite series of successive universes, but that it had a beginning in its own right with the first universe.  If the multiverse is a finite series of universes, it is a finite series of spacetimes, and therefore it is a finite series of gravitational fields, which means that it is not possible for gravity to be eternal.

  • Peter

    “I am attacking God, all gods, anything and everything supernatural, wherever and whenever they have been or will be invented.” 

    The problem is that you and Dawkins have a twisted understanding of God.

    God is not an entity that inhabits a particular domain, such as outside spacetime.  God is the entirety of that domain.  God is everything, except that which he creates such as the finite, transient spacetime, of our universe or of an array of universes.  And even though that which is created is not God, it depends for its existence on God from one moment to the next.

    Therefore God pervades the extreme limits of our reality, beyond its smallest extreme and beyond its greatest extreme, beyond its beginning and beyond its end.  

    To call such a God a delusion is absurd.  The existence of such a God is neither contrary to reason nor contrary to evidence.  Why God exists instead of not existing remains unknown, but if God did not exist, the universe/multiverse would not exist.  

    The universe/multiverse comes into existence out of the total absence of spacetime.  No scientific hypotheses are possible to explain this because all they will do, as scientific discovery advances, is push back the frontier of a First Cause.

    Given that material explanations are impossible, and given the reality of a universe/multiverse which exists with a beginning in time, the least unparsimonious explanation is a creative force outside of spacetime.

    In the complete absence of spacetime, where nothing of any spacetime exists to assist it, there is absolutely no reason for spacetime to come into being, absolutely no reason at all.  Yet spacetime comes into existence.  This alone ought to tell us that the creation of spacetime is not a natural occurrence.  Instead it is a non-natural or supernatural occurrence which takes place outside of spacetime.   

    We call that supernatural creative force God, who chooses to bring the universe/multiverse into existence for absolutely no reason other than his choosing to do so.

    A supernatural Creator capable of choice is the most parsimonious explanation for existence, and consequently the most reasonable, despite the fact that we do not know why such a Creator exists in his own right.  

    Such a Creator is by no means a delusion as Dawkins claims.  It is Dawkins himself who is suffering from delusion by stubbornly resisting the evidence of reason.

  • Acleron

    The point about gravity is that it may not be a factor inherent in space-time. That you claim you have explained the point means just that, a claim, but still no evidence for the increasingly complex hypothesis you are having to construct and I notice you are still ignoring in other sub-threads the facts that we know about.

    For your fourth paragraph you seem to have fallen into the trap of Zeno’s paradox. At the same time you appear to forget that the causality you are desperately clinging to is not present at all if the time element of spacetime is missing.

    Therefore your fifth paragraph is incorrect.

    All the way through this conversation you make the same mistake repeatedly. Rather than look at the data and produce a hypothesis, you have transferred your belief to a sciencey sounding hypothesis and then tried to bend everything from the rules of logic to actual observations to fit that belief. By doing so you have had to claim that your god is simple even though he would have to be complex to even formulate the ideas that you have. A random universe, which we have observed doesn’t fit your hypothesis so you claim it doesn’t happen, an added complexity. You claim there is such a thing as free will but that doesn’t fit the idea that the universe was deterministic so suddenly free will appeared at the time that Homo sapiens appeared, even though there is no definition of the alleles that form any generation of Homo sapiens that would distinguish a previous generation, see, another complexity. William of Occam described this phenomenon.