Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Dawkins' 747: A Response to Luke

Luke over at 'Common Sense Atheism' has written a post about 'naive reasons for being an atheist':

I think there is a great deal of naive atheism that is worth debunking. We can begin, for example, with Dawkins’ central argument against theism, found in chapter four of The God Delusion.

Dawkins says:
To explain [something] by invoking a supernatural Designer is to explain precisely nothing, for it leaves unexplained the origin of the Designer.

Luke seems to think that William Lane Craig's reply to this point was adequate:

Dawkins says that you cannot infer a Designer of the universe [from] the complexity of the universe because this raises a further question: namely, “Who designed the Designer?” [But] this argument is quite inept, because philosophers of science recognize that in order to recognize an explanation as the best explanation, you don’t have to have an explanation of the explanation…

Let me give you an example. Suppose archaeologists digging in the earth were to come across artifacts looking like arrowheads and pottery shards… it would obviously be justifiable to infer that these artifacts were the products of some lost tribe of people, even if the archaeologists had no idea whatsoever who these people were or how they came to be there.
Similarly, if astronauts were to discover a pile of machinery on the back side of the moon, they would be justified in inferring that these were the products of intelligent design, even if they had no idea whatsoever where this machinery came from or who put it there…


Craig's response is inadequate. I don't think Dawkins did the best job articulating what he was trying to say, but I think his objection to God as a designer is that, if we are trying to find an ultimate explanation for the existence of complexity, then the exlplanation cannot itself be complex or it does not (by definition) truly explain complexity. If we are allowed to posit complex things as unexplainable brute facts then why not posit the universe as a brute fact rather than God as a brute fact? And if we aren't allowed to posit complex things as brute facts, then that completely does away with positing God (who, by definition, cannot have an explanation besides metaphysical necessity).

I've actually read a lot of criticisms of Dawkins' work and I do not believe any of Dawkins' critics have made an adequate response to him. 'God is simple' is false (as I tried to show in my recent debate), and simply asserting that God is necessary, without argument, overlooks the fact that atheists could simply assert that the universe is necessary, or that some nontheistic entity brought the universe into existence (Stephen Hawking's 'Wave-Function'?) and was/is necessary.

However, Dawkins' argument, as he formulated it, is flawed. I believe that Dawkins was wrong in asserting that a designer must be 'at least as complex' as whatever he designs. I'm going to quote from an unpublished essay I wrote on the subject:

"Given an infinite amount of time (or at least several billion years), a human being would be capable of tinkering with every possible arrangement of matter, and therefore it might create something more complex than itself (if such things are possible). Of course this is not how theists typically think of God creating, but nevertheless it is a conceptual possibility which defeats Dawkins’ sweeping assertion.

"There is another way that a creative being could bring about a creation more complex and more improbable than its creator. Suppose that we accept Dawkins’ assertion that a being must be at least as complex (and therefore, as improbable) as whatever it seeks to explain. At the risk of sounding anthropocentric, let us also suppose that human beings are the most complicated animals in the universe. If a being was complex enough to create a human being, could it not create all of the less-complex animals, plants, and bacteria? It would seem so. This is relevant for the following reason: If we did not have any explanation for the origin of the complexity of life other than sheer chance, it could still very well be the case that an intelligent designer might act in reducing the improbability we faced, therefore acting as a good explanation. By Dawkins’ own criteria the designer only needs to be as complex as the most complex things that he designs. Therefore he is no more improbable than the most improbable thing he designs. It follows from that that in the example above the designer would only have to be as improbable as human beings originating by sheer chance. This would be more probable than all plants, animals, and bacteria originating independently by sheer chance."

Even though one of Dawkins' assertions (a designer must be at least as complicated as his designs) is false, my own meditations on the subject have led me to believe that Dawkins has stumbled on a sound proof that the existence of God is incredibly, devastatingly improbable a priori. I've tried to formulate this argument as best I could in my recent debate, although I feel it is quite difficult to articulate and very easy to misunderstand.

Anyway, those are just a few of my thoughts on the subject. What do you guys think?

11 comments:

John D said...

Interesting. Of course this phenomenon is encountered all the time in robotics and computer programming. I'd wager that Deep Blue was far more complex and sophisticated (when it came to playing chess) than any of its programmers.

I would add that if the creation is more complex than the creator, it's unlikely that the creator has the ability to intervene and alter it as they would wish. So bye-bye to Christian salvation.

Is that a legitimate addition?

Jon Voisey said...

I disagree with the argument against what Dawkins said.

The person you quoted is absolutely right that an explanation need not explain what came before. For example, gravity need not explain where mass came from, evolution need not explain where life came from and the Big Bang need not explain where the primordial atom came from.

However, in all of those cases, it's because the criteria for the theories to work simply doesn't apply or breaks down. We don't need to explain it for those theories because they can't. With evolution and gravity, it's an entirely separate question. With the Big Bang we just can't because the laws of physics as we know them fall apart.

With Creationist arguments, their arguments have not been shown to suddenly be inapplicable for the designer. For what reason can they not apply the very same arguments of complexity to the designer? It's the same question and it's not been shown that the reasoning is invalid for reasons similar to that of the Big Bang.

Thus, their rules must still apply and the analogy the person you quoted uses is inaccurate.

mikespeir said...

I would not agree that Deep Blue was more complex than even one of the programmers or engineers who worked on it, and much less complex than the combined complexity of all of the designers who worked on it. Simply comparing counts of the component parts would go some way toward proving that, I imagine. (For instance, each of us have many trillions of cells, any of which is staggeringly complex alone.)

Now, whether that shows we're ultimately incapable of creating systems more complex than ourselves, I don't know.

Steven Carr said...

Surely Dawkins logic is circular.

It is like asking who fathered the Father?

According to Christian doctrine, the Son had a Father, but , by definition, the Father had no Father, although the Son and the Father are One Being.


So Dawkins question is like asking who fathered the Father? It can have no answer.

Christian doctrine doesn't make sense, so it is illogical to expect questions about it to have answers.

Steven Carr said...

According to Craig, if we saw machinery on the Moon, we would naturally assume that no God designed this machinery.

Why? Why does Craig suddenly rule out God as an explanation?

mikespeir said...

"According to Craig, if we saw machinery on the Moon, we would naturally assume that no God designed this machinery.

Why? Why does Craig suddenly rule out God as an explanation?"

Oh, man. I hadn't thought about it that way.

Steven Carr said...

Yes, why would people laugh at claims that 'God did it' was an explanation of the Easter Island statues?

According to Craig, that would be a perfectly adequate explanation that needed nothing added to it.

Steven Carr said...

CRAIG
...it would obviously be justifiable to infer that these artifacts were the products of some lost tribe of people, even if the archaeologists had no idea whatsoever who these people were or how they came to be there.

CARR
What? Archaeologists have literally 'no idea' how people came to be in various places?

There is the 'Out of Africa' idea, and also the From China idea.

But Craig thinks science is stuck with the 'No F***ing Clue where these people came from, perhaps Mars??' idea.

josef said...

"then why not posit the universe as a brute fact rather than God as a brute fact"

This, right here, is the point. The purpose of this kind of pro-theism criticism is that it opens up a space for God as a valid explanation.

It's not that all explanations themselves necessarily require further explanation- but that if you are going to reject the universe as a brute fact you are no better off by asserting God as a brute fact. Dawkins doesn't, I think, believe in this kind of requirement for explanation, he just shows how it is self defeating in the context of an argument for theism, and how it is unmotivated in all other contexts.

Jonathan said...

Given an infinite amount of time (or at least several billion years), a human being would be capable of tinkering with every possible arrangement of matter, and therefore it might create something more complex than itself

The entity described here is a creator, not a designer. It did not abstractly formulate anything. It merely used a brute force mechanism to go through all possibilities. This thing is not a deity. It is probability. It's not God, it's his dice. It is the apotheosis of evolution.

It's also a fairly good, though anthropomorphic, description of the early Universe. The early Universe was so dense, quantum mechanics dominated. This allowed the Universe to be amorphous in the truest sense. All possible states that the Universe could exist in existed simultaneously. Some parts were more dense; some parts were less dense. Some parts were hotter; someparts were colder. Some parts had stronger gravity; some parts had weaker gravity. Here's the thing; any part of the Universe where the conditions were right for expansion would grow exponentially. Thus, is a fraction of an instant, that area of the Universe would grow to dozens of orders of magnitude greater size than all the other possible arrangements of the Universe. Any Universe capable of expansion would need to be tuned similar to ours.

...By Dawkins’ own criteria the designer only needs to be as complex as the most complex things that he designs. Therefore he is no more improbable than the most improbable thing he designs...

(Note: That was a long paragraph and I didn't want to repos all of it.)

But the argument is that complex things cannot come from simplicity. Thus, a god as complex as a human would require a designer just as complex as it. So then what designed the god?

There are only three responses to this. The "turtles all the way down" argument, "God has always existed", or "God is the simplest answer." The first one precludes an omnipotent being. There would necessarily be an infinite number of other deities with greater or equal power. The first one is easily eliminated by Occam's Razor. If a complex being like God can always exist, then why couldn't complex things like a Universe with humans always exist without needing God? It's a simpler proposition, so theists would have to provide evidence that their God exists or this would be begging the question. The third acknowledges complexity can come from simplicity. Again Occam's Razor would lead to elimiating God in favor of a natural evolution from simple origins. "Molecules to morality" if you will. ^_^

Shanon said...

The "finding arrowheads" analogy really bothers me. We know about arrowheads (or artifacts in general), we are satisfied with the explanation that it was made by people --not because it "requires no explanation" --far from it! We find the explanation reasonable because we have seen people make things. We can reproduce the making of those things to infer something about how they were made. Nothing about the explanation violates our direct knowledge of things being made by people which we can see measure and reproduce and even in the absence of those three things we can also find that that assumption is predictive of other things we can see. We don't say "Well these are made by people because... no reason at all!"

In other words... we HAVE a very good explanation of our explanation, moreover we can and do infer a reasonable explanation for that as well!

But it's lack of veracity isn't it's only problem. Dawkins is arguing from the deist's argument. It's not his contention that complexity requires a more complex designer. That's the creationist's argument. He's saying, if that's your explanation of how things are then here's a pretty gaping obvious place in your supposed universe where things totally aren't. The creationist's "argument by design" introduces a massive contradiction in the form of the "designer" that has to be very conveniently ignored for it to make any sense at all.