Sunday, January 02, 2000

Dawkins Summarized: companion to "Part 2"

To read the other essays in my Richard Dawkins series:
The previous essay. Table of contents. The next essay.

Soundtrack: hit play and start reading. Dishwalla: Counting Blue Cars

Summaries of Dawkins Italicized; Direct quotes in Block Quotes.
If you're thinking of engaging in a debate on the comment board (all comers welcome), I recommend you read the Dawkins.

Now, most of the first half of Mr. Dawkins' book concerns how a godless universe could have come into being. He gets ahold of all the standbys I learned in my apologetics class to prove God's existence. Pokes'em all full of holes. For the nitty-gritty, read the book.

Then, he throws down the gauntlet in Chapter Four, with his "Ultimate Boeing 747 Gambit" which basically states that positing a creator God does not solve the mystery of origin anyway, because it simply leads us to ask "Well if it's improbable that the universe could have sprung into existence on its own, isn't it even MORE improbable that, before the universe began, a being smart, powerful, and complex enough to CREATE a universe like ours would spring into existence on its own?" Essentially, he asks, "If God made the universe, then who made God?"

Dawkins then discusses "how the heck the universe got here in the first place" without any finally satisfactory theories, but argues (convincingly) that science is working on it, and that having a series of possibilities that could be proven or disproven under certain conditions (that is, a path outlined along which progress could be made) is more hopeful than simply positing a god of creation, and then shrugging our shoulders and no longer trying to learn anything about the universe's origin.

This is a very valid point against intelligent design: Dawkins cites theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who argued that there is a deep danger in Intelligent Design Theory, to jump on every gap where science is not sure of something as "the space where we can see God's hand at work," and that this fetishization of the things we don't know runs the risk of lapsing into anti-intellectualism, wherein we treasure ignorance, because the areas we don't understand, of course, are where God moves, and so, learning as little as possible would lead to the greatest possible amount of faith! As you can see, this kind of attitude will never lead Christians to feel any desire to study, much less contribute, to science.

[Roboseyo here:] Not to mention, if God only exists in the gaps where humans can't explain how we got from A to B, then we're handing science the tools to effectively kill God: just close all the gaps, and S/He's dead!

Dawkins also suggests the wonder and awe of seeing how beautifully the universe works is a deep and satisfying spiritual experience in its own right.

Here (from page 188-189 of "The God Delusion") is the summary of Mr. Dawkins' central, atheistic argument.

1. One of the greatest challenges to the human intellect, over the centuries,
has been to explain how the complex, improbable appearance of design in the
universe arises.

2. The natural temptation is to attribute the
appearance of design to actual design itself. In the case of a man-made artefact
such as a watch, the designer really was an intelligent engineer. It is tempting
to apply the same logic to an eye or a wing, a spider or a person.

The temptation is a false one, because the designer hypothesis immediately
raises the larger problem of who designed the designer. The whole problem we
started out with was the problem of explaining statistical improbability. It is
obviously no solution to postulate something even more improbable. We need a
'crane', not a 'skyhook', for only a crane can do the business of working up
gradually and plausibly from simplicity to otherwise improbable complexity.

4. The most ingenious and powerful crane so far discovered is Darwinian
evolution by natural selection. Darwin and his successors have shown how living
creatures, with their design, have evolved by slow, gradual degrees from simple
beginnings. We can now safely say that the illusion of design in living
creatures is just that -- an illusion.

5. We don't yet have an
equivalent crane for physics. Some kind of multiverse theory could in principle
do for physics the same explanatory work as Darwinism does for biology. This
kind of explanation is superficially less satisfying than the biological version
of Darwinism, because it makes heavier demands on luck. But the anthropic
principle entitles us to postulate far more luck than our limited human
intuition is comfortable with.

6. We should not give up hope of a better
crane arising in physics, something as powerful as Darwinism for biology. But
even in the absence of a strongly satisfying crane to match the biological one,
the relatively weak cranes we have at present are, when abetted by the anthropic
principle, self-evidently better than the self-defeating skyhook hypothesis of
an intelligent designer.

And now that you have the background, here's the Roboseyo part:

To read the other essays in my Richard Dawkins series:
The previous essay. Table of contents. The next essay.

1 comment:

Wayne0714 said...

thanks for the thoughtful essay.
One of my favorite intellectuals and writers, Arthur C. Clarke was never particularly kind to organized religions as you probably know. Here are some of my favorite quotes:

"I have encountered a few creationists and because they were usually nice, intelligent people, I have been unable to decide whether they were _really_ mad, or only pretending to be mad. If I was a religious person, I would consider creationism nothing less than blasphemy. Do its adherents imagine that God is a cosmic hoaxer who has created that whole vast fossil record for the sole purpose of misleading mankind?"

"The greatest tragedy in mankind's entire history may be the hijacking of morality by religion."

I always thought that it is very hypocritical for religion to teach humility when in fact religion itself is always so overbearing, dogmatic, and condescending. As for creationism, wouldn't it be an insult to our Creator (assuming that whoever created the universe is petty enough to be insulted by human-beings with little brains) for creationists to claim that God only has enough imagination and skills to design the laws of physics and life in such a primitive way as the Intelligent Design? Isn't evolution a much more elegant and sophisticated (therefore "god-like"?) process for creating life? Isn't quantum physics much more mysterious and awe-inspiring than a myth involving a man and a woman and a talking snake, a story which could have been conceived by a child?
I wouldn't go so far as to call religion "a necessary evil in the childhood of our particular species"; maybe a necessary step in mankind's evolutionary journey.

Dawkins does sound often to harsh on religion and dogmatic himself but I think it's only because he feels atheists and agnostics like himself have been pushed around far too long by people who believe that religion should be insulated from any criticisms at all. I once had a blind date with a girl who I thought was smart and sassy up until the conversation turned to religion. It went something like this:
Me: I think Jesus Christ was a great man with a great philosophy.
My date: (with a blank stare) Jesus was not a man! He was a son of God!

I had to change the subject.