Friday, August 17, 2007

Delusion IV - Chapter 2 part 1

I Object! In this part of the chapter, Dawkins lays out his hypothesis amongst a litany of transparent "proof by ridicule" tirades. He justifies giving offence to religions which is acceptable to me as long as he is aware that he is opening the door to evangelicals ridiculing historical sciences (such as evolution) for the same purposes of winning over the uncommitted and as an affirmation for those already convinced. By laying out a hypothesis he is implying that he aims to disprove it using science and logic. Via correct mathematical logic he would assume it true and with progressive mathematically acceptable steps would arrive at a contradiction. He knows that is how hypotheses are disproven and he knows it wouldn't work if he did that, so instead he debates a litany of positions that religions take on this hypothesis and rules them invalid one by one. One critical assertion he makes is that the existence of God can be proven (via "miracles") and another is that science could theoretically disprove the hypothesis. Now these two assertions are hypotheses in their own right, and I feel they are disprovable. Let us assume that the existence of God can be proven. No matter how amazing the phenomenon that is called a miracle, it is a tenable position that it is a natural phenomenon that we don't as yet understand. God could shift mountains, destroy the Earth and bring it back again, could consign you to hell forever, but there is nothing that can't be attributed to either a much higher alien technology, or mass hypnosis (or both). Besides which, practically all monotheistic believers define a God that will not allow himself to be tested. This is a contradiction because any proof is not an acceptable proof of the "supernature" of the phenomenon. Alternatively, let us assume that we have proven the last aspect that had been previously attributed to God. One can easily (and automatically) generate a new question that is yet to be answered by science, that can be easily assumed to be answerable by reference to God. Thus, no matter how far science reaches, there will always be a new why? to try and answer. Interestingly, I would have thought that any scientist or intellectual would accept that logic and conclude that talk of probability of there being a God is meaningless as far as logic can obtain. Thus he has got it completely backwards. The existence or non-existence of God is not something we should have an expectation to be provable, and we should be very confident of the non-provability of God, and regard the existence or non-existence as one of the most basic axioms of any belief system. Any talk of proof or dis-proof can only be a circular argument, or proof by ridicule, or a call to our instincts for seeing the bleedingly obvious. I know that as humans, it is in our nature to come to a conclusion one way or the other, but we get there through relating to our experience of the universe, not as a response to evidence.

11 comments:

winstoninabox said...

What does it take to question that an unprovable thing exists?

Would you similarly defend any nonsense assertions as unprovable simply because there is a “this is beyond proof” clause built into the assertion?

Look at the Flying Spaghetti Monster that Dawkins is so fond of. We know its made up. I can even read about Bobby Henderson the person who made it up. But to quote Bobby Henderson on wikipedia what we're really talking about is “logical conjecture based on overwhelming observable evidence.”

So it's an argument of anorexic thinness that God's existence is unprovable when there is no observable evidence for His existence at all. And Him being beyond measurement there never will be.

So if God can't be measured to give a smidgen of proof for His existence, then surely His phenomena should be measurable? Well the Creation that were once attributed to Him is now being attributed to natural processes. That leaves the more supernatural phenomena – miracles. Dawkins cites a study that shows prayer has no effect, and miracle seem to be of such irregular and fleeting existence that they, like God, seem to be unmeasurable.

It is no wonder a scientist like Dawkins comes to the conclusions he does.

Marco said...

Would you similarly defend any nonsense assertions as unprovable simply because there is a “this is beyond proof” clause built into the assertion?

I would agree with you if Dawkins wasn't implicitly doing the same thing with his assertions. His assertion that "God is in principle provable" is one such case. He has a "this is beyond proof" clause built into it. He has not accepted Huxley's reasoning that the assertion is nonsense. He has only appealed to our "common sense", much as evangelical Christians do when they assert that we could not have happened "by chance".

winstoninabox said...

Regardless of Dawkins I'm still unsure as to your opinion about unprovable things existing simply because their existence is defined as being unprovable?

Dr. Clam said...

What we're really talking about here is "logical conjecture based on an absence of observable evidence".
Meta-evidence suggests that more exists than is actually or potentially observable. The assumption "we have all the information we need to solve the problem; this is a closed system we are looking at" has been shown by experience to be wrong again and again and again.
A serious atheist thinker would not just dismiss "what is the nature of self-existent being?" as a meaningless question because the relevant data is not observable. A serious atheist thinker would also not waste time mocking the Kansas Board of Education with Flying Spaghetti Monsters, but would get out there and wrassle with Aquinas and Maimonides. That would be a book worth reading.

Marco said...

Regardless of Dawkins I'm still unsure as to your opinion about unprovable things existing simply because their existence is defined as being unprovable?

To understand my position, one must understand my analogy from mathematics. Euclid's fifth axiom can neither be proved nor disproved just starting with the other four axioms. This does not mean that the axiom is "truth", nor does it mean that an "opposite" axiom is "false". The usefulness comes from the calculations that follow and how they relate to other mathematical issues. Usually Euclidian geometry is appropriate. Other times non-euclidian geometry is appropriate. If one starts with the assumption of the non-existence of God - one comes up with science. If one starts with the assumption of the existence of God - one comes up with theology. Science and theology answer different sorts of questions better than the other. This does not make either of them any more "true" than the other.

winstoninabox said...

Meta-evidence suggests that more exists than is actually or potentially observable.

Well if this is wrong then one day God will be found, or not.

And if this is right then so what? It doesn't negate following science and the scientific method to determine the nature of the universe. Debate about the unknowable isn't philosophy, its an appeal to an authority of one - oneself.

In all of these comments I'm yet to get any idea of what God is. Are you suggesting that God is that which we'll never be able to observe?

Even if that is your idea of God He still has, at least according to His believers, effects in this world. He speaks to believers, He creates miracles, He intercedes in the affairs of people... These things are observable. And the influence of God in these effects is measurable.

The prayer experiment Dawkins talks of is an example of this. I'm sure someone sometime will start measuring brain patterns of believers who are being communed with. And what happens when these God effects are shown to have natural origins. When prayers are shown to have no appreciable effects, when the mental state of believers is shown to be the same as people craving chocolate, then what then?

The assumption "we have all the information we need to solve the problem; this is a closed system we are looking at" has been shown by experience to be wrong again and again and again.

And again so what? Being wrong is part of gaining knowledge. Science is repeatedly wrong, but keeps looking for the answers. It keeps trying to find a better model. I hope people keep challenging science to find where it is wrong.

From what I see from believers, when they are wrong they say, well that's not the God I believe in. I'm reminded of your Adaptive Aye post dr clam. Belief is adaptive, but unlike science it is not progressive. It doesn't become more robust because of errors, it just morphs into a new state of least resistance.

winstoninabox said...

If one starts with the assumption of the non-existence of God - one comes up with science. If one starts with the assumption of the existence of God - one comes up with theology.

But one doesn't start with an assumption. One doesn't begin with "God exists" and progress from there any more than one begins with "Flying Spaghetti Monsters exist" and then start making up its Gospel. Using that logic we could dream up anything into existence, and then we could have a jolly old debate about its features. I'm eagerly awaiting the first Pastafarian synod that will determine the nature of the pasta of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Be he wholemeal or not?

One starts with what is observable, then makes assumptions about it. Then tests those assumptions with more observations. Then modifies the assumptions.

Using the above how can the question of God's existence be any different from the question of whether there is a teapot on the table or not? You speak not of logic but storytelling.

Dr. Clam said...

What have you done with winstoninabox, you fiend? You seem to have spirited away that kindly and noble fellow who read so carefully everything that Andrew Rilstone and myself wrote. *He* would be coming over to comment on my post about Spinoza, instead of going on about Flying Spaghetti Monsters.

*Debate about the unknowable is too philosophy, so there.

*Of course it doesn't negate science and the scientific method for examining the universe. But the universe is almost certainly not the Universe, defined as 'all that exists'.

*Dawkins is claiming that the universe is identical to the Universe, or that it can be understood fully without reference to the Universe, so the proper response to my potted history of the historical sciences should really be more susbstantial than 'So what?'.

*One always starts with assumptions. "These sense impressions correspond to an external reality" is one we all made. "The universe is explicable by rational laws" is another: the laws did not just congeal in people 's minds from a pile of facts by a process of Baconian induction: we went looking for them because we made the assumption they were there.

I am glad you are back! The blogosphere has suddenly come back to glorious life.

winstoninabox said...

I'd love to comment on Spinoza, but I haven't read him 8-(. But from reading Wikipedia about him(ooops, now there's a mistake) I'm really not so keen. I've come back with my brain cooked from lying in the sun. Damn it is hot here. And I've come back with an increased disdain for armchair philosophy.

Spinoza's "substance" blah, blah, blah. While philosophers are sitting around talking about what they think is going on, there are scientist out there actually trying to find out by interacting in the real world. I was really taken with that quote of Dawkins about arriving at great ideas without the input of any real world data.

The FSM is totally relevant. If he's unpopular here then we can replace him with Russel's teapot. The assumption I'm talking about is "God exists". Where is the real world data? How is it a different assumption from "Unicorns exist"?

Dr. Clam said...

The assumption I'm talking about is "God exists". Where is the real world data? How is it a different assumption from "Unicorns exist"?

(1) The assumption "unicorns exist" is an assumption about what is inside the universe.

(2) The assumpton "God exists" is an assumption about what the universe is inside.

Do you believe the universe is self-existent? If not, what is? That's the first question- er, questions- and neither the FSM nor Russell's teapot have much bearing on it.

(I am not ignoring the rest of your comment, and promise to collate my own statement of 'what is this God I believe in' soon in one handy post. But now there are work things that I really, really ought to be doing!)

winstoninabox said...

(2) The assumpton "God exists" is an assumption about what the universe is inside.

Finally some sense.