Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The God Delusion - The God Hypothesis Part 2

I started looking at Chapter 2 of The God Delusion titled “The God Hypothesis” here. There I dealt with his sections on monotheism and polytheism specifically.
In this second look at the chapter I will consider Dawkins' thoughts on whether we can resolve “The God Hypothesis”. Can we prove or disproved whether "God" exists, or will we be left wondering?

Dawkins said in his preface, specifically to agnostics, "I hope that Chapter 2 will change your mind, by persuading you that 'the God Hypothesis' is a scientific hypothesis about the universe, which should be analysed as sceptically as any other".

He states “The God Hypothesis” as that:
"there exists a superhuman, supernatural intelligence who deliberately designed and created the universe and everything in it, including us."
His alternative view that he advocates in this book is that:
"any creative intelligence, of sufficient complexity to design anything, comes into existence only as the end product of an extended process of gradual evolution".
My initial feelings are that he won't really be able to prove or demonstrate this, and that he may be attempting to prove more than he should or could. His argument will revolve mainly around evolution, but evolution doesn't say that God couldn't create a world or universe in the first place. And it doesn't prove he is the not the cause of the order we perceive in nature - what we call the laws of nature, or the law of physics. Also on the origins of intelligence: he would at least be arguing something like: "intelligence" some how emerges from complexity. It is also intriguing by what he might mean by "creative" intelligence. Creative to me hints at a creator and some sort of ingenuity.
The other issue is the "only". If he can demonstrate that a "creative intelligence" can come from a gradual process, he hasn't proved the "only", i.e. that this is the only reason or cause. Also he hasn't proved that a "creative intelligence" must be caused.
He also states immediately after his alternate view, that
"Creative intelligences, being evolved, necessarily arrive late in the universe, and therefore cannot be responsible for designing it."
Now, obviously this is true if his alternative view is already given - I think it is mainly a restatement or corollary, but if he is giving an immediate reason why his view is true, then it is circular. Of course creative intelligences must come late, if you have defined it this way, and assume they are "evolved".

On the origins of religion, or "God" hypotheses, he says that they are "founded on local traditions of private revelation, rather than evidence".
Now, as far as I can tell, in the case of Islam, it does seem that the "revelations" to Muhammad were private (in a cave?), but does that mean that all are? If Jesus is God, as Christianity contends, Jesus speaking in public would tend to go against this "private". I can't speak for all religions, but Dawkins seems happy to believe this and pass it on as proven fact without argument or evidence.
In terms of the Bible being "revelation", the Old Testament  has a large proportion of narrative, including recording what people and God allegedly did, rather than purely quoted words or messages from God, and the Gospels and the book of Acts are also narratives. So Dawkins description is also a bit simplistic.
As to it being based on "revelation" rather than "evidence", this raises a number of questions.
Firstly, has he actually demonstrated there was no evidence, whether or not it is still available? We might leave this one for the next chapter "Arguments for God's existence.”
Secondly, what counts as evidence? And how strong does it have to be?
Thirdly, is revelation at odds with and mutually exclusive of “evidence”? Can't we have both?
And fourthly, is there anything necessarily wrong or bad with the concept of revelation in itself?
These last three are primarily philosophical questions, and it doesn't appear that Dawkins has seriously considered them.
And it is a big topic which I can't possible deal with properly here, especially the philosophical side. And I know what some people will say immediately about "revelation" which I won't address here in detail, but it might be useful here to say a few things about revelation and "prophecy" in the Old Testament/Jewish Scriptures.
Christianity and Judaism are not just based on “revelation”, but also God's action in history. And revelations often went along with by God's actions. Sometimes a prophet would bring a message from God to the people of Israel, often tied to some break in the Mosaic covenant/law, and might contain warnings of what might happen. And then the events happened, and then another message is given confirming that God did what he said. Also the Jewish law said that if a prophet suggests they are speaking from God, and what they say does not happen, then they should be put to death, treating the presumption to have a revelation from God as something not to be taken lightly.
Overall it seems Dawkins assumes his idea to be the case ( “private revelation, rather than evidence"). It's not surprising as this idea has been present in Western Culture for a while, and is already readily accepted. It seems he doesn't think it necessary to provide any evidence or reasoning let along sufficient evidence to prove his case. There is I believe a useful case for revelation, but that will have to wait for another day.

He then has a section on "Secularism, the founding fathers and the religion of America". I won't go into this in too much detail - obviously this would be of greater interest to Americans.
He is basically saying the founding fathers were secularists (I think in the modern sense) and almost atheists.
I would say that the meaning of "Secularism" has changed over time, and one should be careful reading to much of our thinking back into the ideas of yesteryear. Never the less, their secularism and morality sprung from a Christian world view.
I'll also leave the debate over who they were and what their views were as well.

He has suggested many ignoble reasons for the growth of Christianity, which I have addressed a little previously. Here he says that the growth of religion in an America, which is "legally secular", was due to religion becoming an enterprise. I agree that it wasn't tied to the state, which is itself a significant point, but being due to enterprise makes any sense only for the late twentieth century. This "enterprise" aspect is probably more indicative of the increasing materialism of the current times, hence I don't see any reason for it of earlier times.  It is true of some parts of the "church" today, but is the generalisation true? This is not representative of Biblical Christianity of course. Paul make his motives clear number of times why he is preaching - not for money (and even refuses for there to be any expectation of need in some cases, but instead worked on the side to support his case, particularly in contrast to expectations of some of much of the culture, e.g. in Corinth, if you were worth something you would demand a large sum)
Also add odds to Dawkins thinking, growth in the 18th century in England and America was tied to the “Great Awakening” and the preaching of Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield and others and the birth of “Evangelicalism”. A large number of African Americans also became Christians in this time frame.

A lot of this writing is not well organised. In this secularist section much of it again becomes a criticism of Christianity, mainly by quoting one or two of what the more anti Christian founding fathers said, with no justification, analysis or evidence given. For example "Christianity is the most perverted system that ever shone on man", " ... the cross. Consider what calamities that engine of grief has produced!" and he goes on quoting.
He also says, "anecdotes of such prejudice against atheists abound...",
Interestingly, surveys are now indicating that presently Christianity is the most persecuted "religion", and possibly more persecuted than before.
Yet how much are we to make of his "anecdotes" in general? And it seems a lot of his writing and criticism are just anecdotes?
Yet, probably unconsciously, he may be fostering prejudice against Christianity by his own anecdotes.
I'm starting to get the impression that Dawkins says a lot of things, but doesn't go into much depth, let alone do it rigorously, or in an academic manner. I guess this is partly understandable, given he is righting for a popular audience. But then how much are we putting our faith in Dawkins words. He criticises religion for having no evidence, but doesn't provide evidence for his case.
Also some parts of his style make it harder to read. His habit often quoting of others' opinions, doesn't really seem to help his case. Only rarely are they experts in a relevant field, and his practise seems to make his case weaker. Maybe Dawkins writes the way he talks. It is sort of meandering the way he does it.

He then has a section on “The poverty of Agnosticism,” where he gives a sort of backhanded compliment to Christians who at least have courage and a backbone to stand up for what they believe, in contrast to the wish-washy Agnostics who sit on the fence. He does say that it is okay to be an Agnostic on an issue if we do lack evidence, but I think there are many who assume there is little or none, but haven't consider much of what they could in terms of evidence, and are possibly lazy, arrogant or ignorant.
He makes a good distinction between two kinds of “Agnostics”, temporary ones and permanent ones. He labels the first TAP for Temporary Agnosticism in Practise where they currently lack the evidence to make a decision. I would say they “don't know”. The other sort he calls PAP for Permanent Agnosticism in Principle, where the view is taken that they will never have an answer. I would call this “can't know”. On this aspect some people go further, with the "we can't know in an absolute sense". But this can run into philosophical problems. Once you say this you can be making truth claims about God yourself, which is just what they are trying to avoid. This is similar to the further claim of a relativist – there is no absolute truth – which is again a truth claim, but this isn't doesn't seem to be Dawkin' problem, being an Atheist.
Dawkins then suggests that PAP might be a valid position on some issues, but on the issue of God, he says, only the TAP category is reasonable, since he is confident that one day we may know the answer.

Here he reconnects with his alternative hypothesis. He believes that the idea of the existence of God is a question which science can answer. "Either he exists or he doesn't. It is a scientific question." The first bit is true obviously, but on the second most philosophers and philosophers of science I think would say this is a question outside the realm of science in general. It is a question about reality, but possibly not a "scientific" question. God does or doesn't exist, and this would have consequences, but is the question wholly or mostly of the domain of science.
I think Dawkins believes that science is the only path to knowledge, and that it has the ability to access all knowledge potentially. This is often called scientism. Yet science relies on ideas and assumptions outside what science has proved.
I would say science is a great tool for understanding our world. But I can't see how science can necessarily prove or disprove God directly. If God is the source or cause of all the order and "laws of Physics" etc that we see, then our "science" can only investigate the order he has created, not God himself. If we could use science to prove of disprove God, then God might not be God if he can be tested like this (but this may be more the thinking of experimental or lab science). If we recognise science as empiricism, what we can discover with our senses, then it is limited to what we as humans can do. I'm not saying science can't find or test evidence for God, for that might be the opposite error, which is not Dawkins issue here. If God does interact with the world and people, such as the Bible suggests, then this can be investigated by historical methods at least. I get the impression that Dawkins use of the term science is quite narrow, and doesn't include this area.
It might be that Dawkins in only thinking of God in the sense of his more pantheistic version of him, where God is no more that the laws of physics. If we find them, then that is our God.
Dawkins says "God's existence or non-existence is a scientific fact about the universe, discoverable in principle if not in practice". He then implies that we may not be able to prove or disprove God in absolute terms. But says we can talk about the probability of his existence. While I think it is reasonable to talk about probability in some sense, since there are many things, including science which doesn't prove things 100%, another way the question could be framed is in a legal sense i.e. on balance of evidence, or beyond reasonable doubt. Dawkins says we wouldn't need to talk about probabilities "If he existed and chose to reveal it ... unequivocally." Interestingly Christians would say he sort of did this in the person of Jesus Christ. As Paul says (in Acts 17), "God has overlooked such ignorance in the past" ( wilful agnosticism?), "but now ... he has given proof by raising Jesus from the dead."
On the issue of probabilities, he criticises those who believe 100% calling it "faith".
This is his core difference between "religion" and "Atheism".
The "nature of faith that one is capable ... of  holding a belief without adequate reason to do so".
and "Atheists do not have faith". I think Atheist generally tend to believe this idea about "faith", but many don't realise that they can be self-deceived in the same way are Christians are accused of being. The word faith seems to be used only in the sense of blind faith, and assume that people of religion have no reasons or evidence for their faith - but this misunderstands what faith or belief is, and why many people of religion believe as they do. An example of faith: we might believe that our husband or wife loves us, but we might not be able to prove it. Is something we have faith in, that we rely upon, and we can point to much evidence to back it up, but we can't prove it in a mathematical sense. I think in all cases, some people have good reasons, or possible poor reasons to believe what they do, whether it be Atheism or a religion. Very often, people choose what they want, and then justify it, sometimes with very good or even clever reasons, when necessary, even if the very good reasons are just used for convenience.
Regarding the idea of "scepticism", it's not only Atheists who are sceptical, and people should be sceptical of any "reason" or idea.
It seems Dawkins and many others assume the scepticism leads from God, and they avoid the question of whether there is a good reason to suspect there is a god. We should be sceptical of atheism as well, and people's justification of it, or probably more to Dawkins liking, we need to be sceptical about agnosticism. Too much of Dawkins arguing is without evidence. Is he encouraging blind faith? Does he want us to have to have faith in him? Can he be trusted?
Interesting enough, the Bible suggests people don't want to worship God, and then go and make up religions to replace him (obviously without reason), and resulting in a blind faith in the imitation Gods they have made. This sounds a bit like poly-theism ... or if I am part of God - pantheism.
Also many modern Christians are confused, and start to believe that the Bible and Christianity is about "faith" entirely in this modern sense (without reason etc), and that we need to trust feelings and not our heads, because they think our heads (and reason) will lead us away from God, as it appears to have done so for the rest of society. This really tends to entrench this idea of the opposition of faith and reason.
Many thoughtful Christians have sort to correct this false thinking. For example one theologian David F. Wells addresses this lack of "thinking" among Christians in his book "No Place for Truth, or, Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology."

He makes reference to the teapotism of Bertrand Russell, where he envisions a tea pot floating between Earth and Mars, that we cannot prove or disprove because our telescopes are not powerful enough. As Dawkins says, the original point of Bertrand Russell, was that Christianity (or God) is no different to this celestial teapot. Other's have criticised this analogy elsewhere so I won't go into it. Anyway, Dawkins says his use of the teapot idea is different to Russell: even if there are plenty of hypothetical "objects" or "gods" that are not disprovable, it doesn't mean they are equally probably. This is a good point Dawkins makes - we can't just use this idea as an excuse for eternal Agnosticism. Again this raises the question "Are there good reasons to suspect there is a God?"

He then goes onto consider people like Stephen Jay Gould who suggest that science can't prove of disprove God. Gould calls this idea "NOMA" for "non-overlapping Magisteria" meaning that he sees that science and religion deal with different topics or spheres of operation: "science covers the empirical realm: what is the universe made of (fact) and why does it work this way (theory)". "The magisterium of religion extends over questions of ultimate meaning and moral value".
Stephen Jay Gould is not the first to think along these lines (one Dawkins cites is Thomas Huxley). Dawkins doesn't mention it here, but the late Stephen Jay Gould was a biologist who argued regarding evolution, for different mechanism or paradigm, since he couldn't see how micro-evolution could produce "macro-evolution", that is, he didn't accept that life had evolved purely by the gradual accumulation over time of small individual mutations.
This idea of NOMA is not acceptable to Dawkins: if science can't answer a question, why do we think religion can? I think this response comes more from his mindset or assumption about the nature of religion. Quoting another NOMA friendly scientist, "The pre-eminent mystery is why anything exists at all. What breathes life into the questions, and actualised them in a real cosmos? Such questions lie beyond science, however: they are the province of philosophers and theologians". Dawkins, as mentioned previously, obviously doesn't agree that these questions are the province of theologians, but more surprising is his admission that there are significant things that do lie out side of science: "Perhaps there are some genuinely profound and meaningful questions that are forever beyond the reach of science." But if it is beyond science, then why would religion be helpful, he asks. It seems here his thinking already assumes the reason why. If religion is simply made up by people. Then how could if fare better than science (which is done by people).
What is religion good for then? His response is telling: "We can all agree that science's entitlement to advise us on moral values is problematic, to say the least." "But does Gould really want to cede to religion the right to tell us what is good and what is bad?" - something which Dawkins doesn't want to do. He does give some common issues on why he doesn't like the Bible, or finds it problematic, mainly regarding the place of the Old Testament Law. I'm not sure he has really sat down to see if the Bible is an answer that makes sense - it does take a bit of work to understand how the Bible fits together, and if you don't get one bit, then other parts won't make sense.
He asks if we should pick the religion that suits us? That's a good question. I would continue with: do we believe something because of the evidence, or because we want to or it appeals to us; and then do we justify it using many reasons etc. to satisfy ourselves, or maybe just enough to answer others when we are pushed, or feel threatened, or to appease conscience. Dawkins should also ask the question of himself, as we all should. Is he just so smart that he has done a brilliant job of convincing himself to not accept the idea of God.
I don't know if he tackles "moral values" again in the book - it is commonly regarded as a problem with Atheism as a philosophy to provide a solid basis for morals (yes, there are a range of philosophies/world views connected to this belief).

Still on the question of whether "religion" is a different realm to science, he ventures onto the issue of miracles. Was Jesus mother a virgin at his birth? Did Jesus come alive after three days after being crucified? "There is an answer to every such question, whether or not we can discover them in practise".
Obviously I agree with him here. It's a very good question, which has vital relevance to Christianity. If the answers to these were demonstrably false, then I would be following Dawkins probably. As I might have already said, Paul makes it clear to the Corinthian church that the fact (or not) of Jesus resurrection is crucial. No resurrection, no Christianity. (By the way - I'm just picked up a sizable book on a historiography approach to the resurrection.)
Dawkins says "There is an answer to every such question, whether or not we can discover it in practise, and it is a strictly scientific answer". The first part I heartily agree, though on the second part I think it would the broadest possible definition of "science". It would mostly be the realm of historical research - did it/they happen? Though, I don't think Dawkins has seriously considered evidence for the resurrection.

He has a go at many theologians who like the NOMA idea, but says they would jump up and down if they found "scientific evidence", instead of maintaining "religion" and "science" are different realms.
Yet, I think there is a more middle way, which I think Dawkins would possibly accept. That God is outside of direct scientific investigation, except where "he" enters into history (which is what Christians would argue). This would mean that "religions" would vary on the ability to prove or disprove them directly in relation to science etc, based on whether there are historical aspects that are central to them, like Christianity.

Yet he goes on, "I suspect that alleged miracles provide the strongest reason many believers have for their faith." Hmmm, not sure this is true in my experience, if I understand him correctly. He doesn't mention whether they are the alleged miracles recorded in the Bible, or stories or experiences from their own life or time.
He continues with "Miracles by definition, violate the principles of science". I think here he is admitting his philosophical naturalism - that there is just the world, the universe and some "laws" governing it, yes, miracles are in contradiction to this, following David Hume.
But science doesn't prove there are laws in an absolute sense, and and it can't prove that there can't be variations or "violations" of the "laws". Science is, in one sense, humans attempts to find and explorer order, and our "laws" are simply our best description of the order we seem to find. Yet it is possible that we can fail at finding order. And I don't think anyone has given a reason why there should be an order to discover. Yet as we have already said, miracles can, in a historical sense, be analysed if they leave any evidence of happening. We can actually look for evidence of miracles because there is an order.
Now after all this, he makes his claim, that both the theistic and deistic God is a scientific hypothesis. Apart from the miracles aspect, he "reiterates" though he has varied his initial claim: "a universe in which we are alone except for other slowly evolved intelligences is a very different universe from from on with an original guiding agent whose intelligent design is responsible for its very existence". This seems to be closer to what I have heard as his main argument.
He will deal with this in his forth chapter, where he believes the argument to be "close to being terminally fatal to the God Hypothesis".

But he doesn't want to go there now. He has a little go at what was called "The Great Prayer Experiment", the idea that if we do a study to see if prayer makes a difference, using control groups, for example people who are very sick or terminally ill etc. I hadn't heard of this one before, but tome  it initially strikes as misunderstanding the nature of prayer, and treats God as a merely a genie in a bottle. Who says God wants to play ball, as if we can control him. He really wouldn't be God then.
This experiment didn't work obviously - there was no difference. Dawkins later quotes others that say that God would only answer prayers if they were offered for a good reason - which at least starts to go in the right direction. He then ventures very briefly onto the existence of suffering (why wouldn't good heal etc), and hints at some suggestions by Richard Swinburne that to him sound obnoxious: that there might be good reasons to allow suffering. I won't deal with it here, as Dawkins only touches on it, but to understand what the Bible says on the the topic of evil and suffering, one needs to see the big picture, and see what is says as a whole, and not take just one piece of the puzzle that might look odd by itself.

But if God exists, why wouldn't he give us more evidence, Dawkins asks. Why doesn't he fill the world with miracles?  He quotes one theologian, Richard Swinburne, as saying on one hand "there is quite a lot of evidence" but on the other hand "too much evidence might not be good for us". This is too much for Dawkins of course.
Maybe a few comments on this will suffice. First, if the world was filled with miracles then they wouldn't really be miracles by definition, since they would be the norm, or maybe there would be no "norm". Would that be greater evidence for God, or possibly point in the opposite direction?
Secondly, Swinburne might be implying that evidence is not really the problem - we are already biased and prejudiced. And maybe more evidence would further confirm us in the opposite direction. That's a question Dawkins might need to deal with. Why don't people accept the "truth" when it is obvious, what ever it is? Is the whole issue really just about evidence?
Also, what if the world is like the matrix, and the truth is there in the background if we look, but to do so goes against the system, and people are comfortable as they are, and blinded yet wilfully. This is an interesting idea to explore, but would need it's own post.

I won't cover the last two topics of this chapter, as they don't even seem to me to really progress the argument, or else we will be here even longer than I planned.

To try to summarise, Dawkins does believe this is a scientific question, that is possible to answer, but we will have to wait for Chapter 4 to see what he presents. But I don't think he is convincing that it is entirely "scientific". He also seems to stay away from more philosophical questions. Also it isn't clear if he is open to all possible evidence and reasoning, and how much his own possible biases lead away from God. Yet he is correct to admonish agnostics to the extent they are lazy in exploring the question and possible reasons and evidence. And it is good that he expects many questions to have answers, and at least in theory, wants to find evidence for or against, though he may be blind to evidence for God, as he does already seem biased against Christianity.

The next chapter (3), he tackles arguments for God's existence, which might possibly be "non-scientific" evidence for God. It will be interesting to see what he does with it. I first tackle the "argument from scripture".

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