Sunday, January 10, 2010

Luke Misses the Mark Again

Isn't it weird that the title of this post uses the names of two gospel writers? ; )

Anyway, if you can recall my post from Wednesday you should remember that Luke from common sense atheism criticized Richard Dawkins' ultimate 747 argument and I responded to it.

Anyway, Luke has made a follow-up post, and he is just as wrong as he was before. No offense Luke, I love your blog, but on this point I think you stand in need of correction.

Let's get down to it. Erik Wielenburg stated Dawkins' argument like so:

(1) If God exists, then God has these two properties: (i) He provides an intelligent-design explanation for all natural, complex phenomena in the universe and (ii) He has no explanation external to Himself.

(2) Anything that provides an intelligent-design explanation for the natural, complex phenomena in the universe is at least as complex as such phenomena.

(3) So, if God exists, then God has these two properties: (i) He is at least as complex as the natural, complex phenomena in the universe and (ii) He has no explanation external to Himself. (from 1 and 2)

(4) It is very improbable that there exists something that (i) is at least as complex as the natural, complex phenomena in the universe and (ii) has no explanation external to itself.

(5) Therefore, it is very improbable that God exists. (from 3 and 4)


Luke criticizes the argument:

"[P]erhaps Dawkins has in mind the definition of complexity he arrived at after an extended discussion in The Blind Watchmaker:

…complicated things have some quality, specifiable in advance, that is highly unlikely to have been acquired by random chance alone.

"But this gets us nowhere. If we plug this definition into Dawkins’ argument, then Dawkins misses his mark. It makes no difference whether God is complex in this sense, for theists do not assert that God acquired 'some quality… by random chance alone.' Rather, God is usually thought of as a necessary being, not one that contingently evolved by change from previous being."

How do theists know that a personal, omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent being is necessary? Well, they just do. Seriously, theists have tried to argue that a personal being with said attributes is necessary, but those arguments are all deeply flawed and I doubt Luke would disagree.

Still, couldn't theists dissolve Dawkins' argument by simply defining God as necessary without argument? No. They may not arbitrarily suppose that there is one and only one being who possesses the characteristics of omnipotence, omniscience, omnibenevolence, etc. and also possesses the characteristic of necessary existence. What if no possible being possesses the characteristics of omnipotence & etc. and the characteristic of necessary existence? Then we're left with atheism. What if ten beings possess the characteristics of omnipotence & etc. and the characteristic of necessary existence? Then we're left with polytheism. A mere assertion that there is one and only one being with omnipotence & etc. who exists necessarily is worthless because there is an infinite number of other possibilities with exactly the same justification.

I'd like to return to Dawkins' definition of complexity and Luke's comment on it:

…complicated things have some quality, specifiable in advance, that is highly unlikely to have been acquired by random chance alone.

"[T]his gets us nowhere. If we plug this definition into Dawkins’ argument, then Dawkins misses his mark. It makes no difference whether God is complex in this sense, for theists do not assert that God acquired 'some quality… by random chance alone.' Rather, God is usually thought of as a necessary being, not one that contingently evolved by change from previous being."

Dawkins isn't supposing that God evolved from a previous being. If it is true that we cannot prove God is necessary or simply assume God is necessary (as I've previously argued) then it follows that, if there is a God, he is a contingent, "brute" fact. There is no real reason that God exists rather than some other spiritual being(s). It follows that God's existence is or was highly improbable, since the brute existence of any other spiritual being(s) or a state of no spiritual beings at all was just as likely to be the case as God's existence. The odds of God's existence would be one out of infinity. That doesn't mean we could never conclude that God exists, it just means that we need some damn good evidence before we do, since 1 out of infinity is the smallest possible probability.

7 comments:

Shane said...

AIGBuster, we are at one. The problem for Luke is not that Dawkins' argument is invalid, but that he gives too much credit to the silly sophistical excuses the theists use to try to escape from it. Indeed, is Luke's argument with the logic, or with the premises? In which case Dawkins argument is valid enough; the question is over soundness, so we're back to the premises. And in that, it would seem that the pixies are in trouble, not Dawkins.

Good post :-)

ZDENNY said...

Actually, Luke sees the problem correctly.

If you argue that God is necessary, you then have a cause for the world which needs no explanation.

If an atheists argues that this simple necessary being is materialistic, then it necessarily becomes more complex (this defines the theory of Darwinian evolution as well as the Big Bang)

If you argue there is no necessary being that needs no explanation, there you are also arguing against a necessary materiality in the universe.

As a result, if you deny Craig his argument, you simply have destroyed atheism at the same time because both depend on a necessary being (or materiality) that is ultimately simple.

The argument between the two rests on which is more reasonable. A theists will argue that the design and the fact that a mind exist makes Theism much more rational and reasonable.

Dawkins argument was really dumb because he destroyed atheism in the process based on the evidence we currently now have.

God Bless...

SteveG said...

If we take "omnipotence" to mean "all power that exists" the problem is merely the identification of that which is meant by "god". Obviously Christians want to refer to their particular Bible god, but there is nothing in the metaphysical arguments that imply any such thing. And this argument about omnipotence and necessarily existing is pretty meaningless.

The universe that we are in obviously does exist. How what we observe and know about came about is an open question, but since it was caused it necessarily exists. If we consider "all that exists" as the "cosmos" - which may be far more than the universe we are in (our observable universe), the cosmos necessarily exists and be definition is "omnipotent" (all power that exists).

But that is not what Christian theists and other theists mean. These metaphysical arguments like this are intended by theists to lend credibility to their religious beliefs in their particular gods, but they simply do not do any such thing.

If someone wants to make the statement "God is a necessarily existent being" it isn't saying anything except slapping a word label "God" on the fact that we already know that the cosmos necessarily exists because our universe exists, because we're in it so we know it. It tells us absolutely nothing about what "God" is supposed to be other than what we already know about our universe and the cosmos beyond our universe, which is what makes it a vacuous label and shows that theists use it in this manner precisely for the tactic of trying to lend credibility to their religious beliefs. It's mere word games.

SteveG said...

@ZDENNY,

The problem is that you must merely assert that "Mind" is contingent to "necessarily contingent being", based on a prior assertion that conscious thought in material beings cannot develop through natural processes. In other words, you're begging the question. Embedding a "We don't know X, therefore God did it" into an argument gives a negative improvement to any argument in which it is used or presumed.

Seriously, these theistic arguments are really nothing more than mere word games - they are used by theists to try to conjure up a god in the absence of any scientific justification for such beliefs in the first place.

Here is what we know about the real world, based on the relevant scientific information: Consciousness exists. "Advanced" (this is a relative term) consciousness exists in human beings. Human beings developed (through biological evolution) from previous species of animals whose consciousness was not as advanced. We observe and study natural processes and the effects of natural processes all the time. We study claimed supernatural effects all the time and when studied carefully in a rational scientific manner we find a million bogus claims of "supernatural" and no clear-cut evidence of anything genuinely supernatural. No angels, no demons, no demigods, no god, no one genuinely healed by a god through the hands of Benny Hinn, no miraculously weeping "Virgin Mary" statues, and no power of prayer beyond the known "power" (effect) of subjective suggestability which is certainly not unique to prayer but is also used by snake oil salesman.

Saying "We don't yet comprehend the detailed biomolecular mechanics that can produce the emergent properties of consciousness" is not an argument for a god. If we don't know something, we don't know something, and any god-of-the-gaps argument is not a sound argument.

The issue is that Dawkins argument is not "dumb" precisely because we don't have to play any word games at all to try to conjure up what we already know exists - namely, the universe, the world we are in, and the natural processes, which we observe.

The theistic argument is self-exploding, because its answer to its own argument against atheism is to contradict itself. If it is impossible for the mind of a trilobite to have developed through natural processes (including biological evolution) because such a thing is too complex to have done so, then the mind of a god is far, far more impossible than this.

"But God didn't evolve, but is a necessary being." But this is retreating back to mere assertion. This whole argument rests on asserting the design argument without backing it up. In other words, it's begging the question.

The theistic design argument about God being necessary to explain consciousness is ironic because of how the theists sense it to be impossibly overwhelming to scientifically investigate the development of consciousness as the emergent product of processes that we already know about occurring in the world that we already know exists, yet they don't bat an eye at asserting the existence of a far, far, far more complex consciousness for which there isn't any scientific evidence at all - and say "We don't need to explain it because... well, because it's just necessary."

Yeah, that's pretty dumb. ;-)

Badger3k said...

As Vic Stenger points out, philosophical/logical arguments tell about the validity of the argument based on the assumptions/premises, not whether the argument has any truth to it.

If you argue that biblegod is necessary, then why not argue that the universe is necessary and avoid the extra step? We know the universe exists, we have no evidence for any being outside of the universe, whatever that means. Why go with no evidence over evidence?

Craig's idea of a mind existing that is not physical makes (some) sense in the dualist viewpoint, but we have no evidence for a mind without a brain, and a lot of evidence that mind is something the brain does - look into neuroscience to see that. Again, it's a case of computing probabilities based on evidence (corporeal-based mind) vs no evidence (immaterial mind) - which is more probable? If you think the latter, show your work. It's impossible. You have nothing to base it on. Minds arise out of complex brains - we have no evidence for any other - so to go with the evidence, minds are complex. But Craig thinks god has a simple mind. From where I sit, Craig is the one with a simple mind.

When listening to Plantiga or Craig "debate" I constantly yell at the speakers for the presumptions they make when they have no evidence, and when they contradict what we know in science (Craig is good at this). All the arguments are fun as an intellectual exercise, but until there is evidence for why we should take them seriously, there is no need to do so.

I made a comment at Luke's site - I think the issue is Luke is looking at it through philosophy, while Dawkins and others are looking at the argument through science and evidence. When trying to get to the truth and the facts, I know which one gets results, and which one has evidence.

Steven Carr said...

'Rather, God is usually thought of as a necessary being, not one that contingently evolved by change from previous being."'

So Jesus of Nazareth , being fully human, cannot be a necessary being?

Oh I forgot. Something can be fully human and fully God - just like something can be contingent and necessary.

Steven Carr said...

In Christian theology, God is very simple.

There is just one being, who is both the Father and the Son.

How simple is that!