Well, sort of. Chapter 4 of “The God Delusion”
By FRATER BOVIOUS
“I call it the law of the instrument, and it may be formulated as follows: Give a small boy a hammer, and he will find that everything he encounters needs pounding.” – Abraham Kaplan
(CARROLLTON, TX – Cradle of Civilization) The above is one version of a quote that reportedly originated in a speech given by Professor of Philosophy at UCLA, Abraham Kaplan. The occasion was a banquet speech given at conference of the American Educational Research Association. It was reported on in the Journal of Medical Education in June of 1962; I provide a quote from that report below:
The highlight of the 3-day meeting, however, was to be found in Kaplan’s comment on the choice of methods for research. He urged that scientists exercise good judgment in the selection of appropriate methods for their research. Because certain methods happen to be handy, or a given individual has been trained to use a specific method, is no assurance that the method is appropriate for all problems. He cited Kaplan’s Law of the Instrument: “Give a boy a hammer and everything he meets has to be pounded.”
I start with this because it is evident from The God Delusion that Richard Dawkins has a school girl crush on Natural Selection. Natural Selection is the be-all and end-all for Dawkins, and he imbues it with powers and abilities that transcend biology and enter into, well, everything. He sees the hand of Natural Selection, or some non-biological analog of it, literally everywhere.
The second thing I want to point out is a consequence of how his love affair with Natural Selection, leads him into confirmation bias, resulting in a particular misquote that bears some serious scrutiny as it speaks to his willingness to accept an outrageous quote as factual, when it is instead an egregious example of “quote mining”.
We see quote mining all the time in advertisements for movies, where a sentence is taken completely out of context from a scathing review of a movie, and used as if it was praise from a movie reviewer. Here is an example.
Live Free or Die Hard. Blurb: Jack Mathews, New York Daily News: “Hysterically…entertaining.” Actual written line: “The action in this fast-paced, hysterically overproduced and surprisingly entertaining film is as realistic as a Road Runner cartoon.”
Note the ellipses in the above, between “hysterically” and “entertaining.” At least they had the integrity to let on that the quote was edited.
However, in Chapter 4 of The God Delusion, in a section titled The Worship of Gaps Dawkins introduces, in his words, an imaginary “intelligent design theorist” into whose mouth he puts all manner of nonsense, such as “if you don’t understand how something works, never mind: just give up and say God did it.” (p 159.)
This is followed by the below quote, with no ellipses:
St Augustine said it quite openly: ‘There is another form of temptation, even more fraught with danger. This is the disease of curiosity. It is this which drives us to try and discover the secrets of nature, those secrets which are beyond our understanding, which can avail us nothing and which man should not wish to learn.’ (quoted in Freeman 2002) from (p 159.)
It’s pretty powerful statement, right? He describes an imaginary person saying something idiotic, then backs it up with a Doctor of the Church.
Now, I’ve actually read some St. Augustine, and studied his thought a bit. And that quote simply smelled bad. So, I did some checking. In approximately 3 seconds, I found this post on Dawkins, and he referred this post with a link to the actual text. What Augustine actually wrote is in The Confessions, Chapter X.
Allow me to summarize. First, between the somewhat inaccurately quoted “fraught with danger” and the also inaccurately quoted “this is the disease of curiosity” there are 447 words missing.
Quote mining is sometimes called “contextomy”, meaning, like with an appendectomy, where an appendix has been cut out, that in quote mining, the context has been cut out. Suffice to say, excising approximately 50 sentences effectively removes the context. As one of the links I provided above notes at the end of his post, the dishonesty in this misquote is Freeman’s, the intellectual laziness and shoddy scholarship is Dawkins. But, as a reminder, Dawkins has canonized shoddy scholarship. Remember, he needn’t read or understand the arguments in opposition to his, since, “nanny nanny boo bobby.” Ok, that’s my translation of him saying he needn’t read tracts on Leprechauns to refute the existence of same, therefore, he needn’t actually be conversant with, say, Augustine, to refute what he has to say.
As to what Augustine is saying, he is saying that idle curiosity is bad for the same reason that a steady diet of Cheetos is bad. He is not saying that studying nature is bad anymore than eating healthy food is bad. But don’t take my word for it. Read The Confessions of St. Augustine. It is a free Kindle download from Amazon.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch…
Suffice to say, this bit of fact checking has me looking at everything that Dawkins says about anything with a raised eyebrow. Can we trust his scholarship? Can we trust his conclusions? More to the point, is he addressing actual arguments, or are they all the type of argument with which he introduced his Augustine misquote? That is to say, how many times will we see him present for our consideration an imagined apologist for God, have that person say things that no one says, and then tie it in with a misrepresentation of the position of someone that does exist?
I have no idea. But, let’s briefly look at why there is almost certainly no God.
This entire chapter is a pitting of Intelligent Design (ID) against Natural Selection. Now, a problem here, for me, is simply this. I am not an ID guy. I don’t find the argument compelling, I almost see it as special pleading. And, Dawkins, being a materialist, isn’t going to see anywhere an argument regarding the supernatural that is immaterial, and he is clearly (blissfully?) unaware (based on his laughable treatment of Aquinas) of the concept of simplicity as it would apply to an immaterial All. Instead, he sees any hope of a defensible argument of God being one that deals with a highly complex being.
Clearly we have terminology issues. But this is why, on page 151, Dawkins concludes that the idea of Irreducible Complexity, while it would wreck Natural Selection, would also necessarily wreck God, since God is necessarily irreducibly complex. Here, look at this paragraph:
In any case, even though genuinely irreducible complexity would wreck Darwin’s theory, if it were ever found, who is to say that it wouldn’t wreck the intelligent design theory as well? Indeed, it already has wrecked the intelligent design theory, for, as I keep saying and will say again, however little we know about God, the one thing we can be sure of is that he would have to be very very complex and presumably irreducibly so!
Because Dawkins is a materialist he simply can’t or won’t see this idea: God, being immaterial is necessarily simple. For God to be complex, even irreducibly complex, would require that God be material. It would also require that God be made by an Intelligent Designer, or perhaps, Natural Selection. Complexity requires matter, discrete matter, parts, if you will, working together in some way. To be immaterial is to be simple. No parts. This is not part of Dawkins’s God Hypothesis, and so it doesn’t factor in to any of his arguments. And it gives rise to the snarky, “Oh yeah, so who made God? In your face Bozo!” retorts that are thought to be so, umm, smart?
Here is another misunderstanding (or misrepresentation, it is hard to know which) regarding the concept of mystery. “Mystics exult in mystery and want it to stay mysterious” (p 152) meaning the earlier noted idea that if we don’t understand it, just say God did it. Like that was ever an actual argument.
Now, there may be some folks that hold that position. But, it isn’t an authentic position. Mystery is the subject of knowledge. Mystery refers to a reality so large, and so intelligible (yes, intelligible), that we will never exhaust it, though there is no theoretical end to how much we can understand. Let that sink in a bit.
So, lets look at the sections in this chapter, keeping all of the above in mind.
In the section titled Irreducible Complexity, he gives us the parable of Mount Improbable. This is an argument about probabilities, the linchpin of the whole chapter, hence the title of the chapter. Another way of saying “Why there almost certainly is no God” is “Why there is probably no God.” So, he’s taking a scientific approach. Based on probability. Like his approach, based on probability, where he concluded that “very probably” advanced alien civilizations exist (p. 98.)
So, Mount Improbable is this mountain with a sheer cliff face on one side, that is all but insurmountable. The ID folks say, “You just can’t get from the floor of the valley up that sheer wall in one leap. Therefore Intelligent Design.” (Insert caveat regarding taking anything Dawkins represents as an argument from his opposition being at least questionable in its accuracy, viz. Augustine misquote above.) Anyway, natural selection doesn’t climb the sheer face. See, on the other side of the mountain, which ID proponents are too stupid to see, is a gently sloping path along which Dawkins invites us to wend our leisurely way up the mountain to the summit, be it an eye, or wing, or some other supposedly irreducibly complex thing. We have replaced a virtual impossibility with a series of only mildly improbable changes brought on by natural selection. No intelligent design necessary.
The section on irreducible complexity ends with the quote from p. 151 reproduced above. This then led into The Worship Of Gaps, which includes the astonishing misquote of Augustine.
He gives an interesting example of a Penn and Teller magic trick where they apparently shoot each other, and each catches the bullet in their teeth. He says that, rather than think, “A miracle!” we should think, “Wow, they are world class illusionists, and I just can’t figure it out.” This he says should be the proper way we respond to apparent irreducible complexity. I don’t think he intended it this way, but he kind of said we should shout “Wonder workers!” instead of “Miracle workers!” I would hope what he really meant was “We should admire their skill and ask ourselves, ‘How did they do it?'”
He then spends most of the rest of this section on irreducible complexity and intelligent design and why natural selection solves every problem he can think to throw at it. There is also a lot of talk about consciousness raising. We should embrace natural selection because it will open our minds to heretofore unimaginable vistas of rationality.
How this demonstrates why there is almost certainly no God is unclear to me. So far he has mounted an argument against ID, supposing it to be the strongest argument for the existence of God, or at least that is my assumption. So, if you take out the strongest argument, well, you’ve taken out the strongest argument. You have failed to demonstrate why probability precludes God.
So, then we go to the section titled Anthropic Principle: Planetary Version. Here he gets at a more interesting question. Set aside all the development of life, how did life begin? Fasten your seat-belts.
He starts here:
The root of evolution in non-biological chemistry somehow seems to present a bigger gap than any particular transition during subsequent evolution. And in one sense it is a bigger gap. That one sense is quite specific, and it offers no comfort to the religious apologist. The origin of life only had to happen once. We therefore can allow it to have been an extremely improbable event, many orders of magnitude more improbable than most people realize, as I shall show (p 162).
Dawkins then goes into the anthropic principle. I will paraphrase briefly. It seems that things are incredibly fine-tuned, even at the atomic level, such that even a slight variance would preclude the laws of nature as we know them today, and conceivably, life, or even existence, itself. In other words, things have to be just like they are in order for us to exist. Well, that just kind of seems self-evident to me. Yes it is true that things have to be just like they are for us to exist. But my own almost gut response to the question, “What would happen if something were different?” is:
- If things were different but we still existed, then we would be correspondingly different. Maybe silicon based instead of carbon based, for example. But would I still be me? How can I know? Things are as they are and we cannot test differences in say, how the nuclear forces work at the atomic level. Does the question have any meaning?
- Or, we wouldn’t exist at all, and so we wouldn’t be asking about it.
I have always been basically uninterested in the argument. Now, Dawkins believes that the anthropic principle works against ID, since he sees it as an alternative theory. I guess that depends. I can see an ID supporter saying, “It had to be designed this way” and maybe throwing in irreducible complexity to boot as support. Nevertheless, Dawkins has simply decided that ID folks can’t use the anthropic principle, I guess because it is too scientific and they’re just not allowed. Because, you see, the anthropic approach “is very different, and it has a faintly Darwinian feel” (p 163.)
He then intends to show why they are mutually exclusive. He provides two views, using the so-called Goldilocks Zone (This orbit is too far out, this orbit is too close in, but this orbit is just right) as an example. ID says that God made the universe and put the earth in the Goldilocks Zone so that life could be supported. The anthropic principle says, no, no design involved, that’s just how it worked out, because, statistics.
He then actually says, on page 165, “Scientists invoke the magic of large numbers.” He picks one in a billion as the chance that life arises on a given planet in the Goldilocks Zone, and states that there are a billion billion planets in the Goldilocks Zone. He concludes that “If the odds of life originating spontaneously on a planet were a billion to one against, nevertheless that stupefyingly improbably event would still happen on a billion planets.”
He then states that his statistical argument “completely demolishes” any suggestion that we should postulate design to fill the gap (p 166.)
As I have already noted, I am not an ID guy, but, Dawkins’s statistical argument is a farce because he just can’t look at someone and say, “you can’t use this as part of your design argument.” Of course they can use the anthropic principle as part of an ID argument. He has not demonstrated that the anthropic principle is simply off limits for ID theorists. What a stupid conclusion.
Here is the richest part of his scientific and statistical tour de force regarding the anthropic principle:
The origin of life, by contrast, lies outside the reach of that crane (he refers to Darwinian Evolution as a “crane” that lifts our consciences), because natural selection cannot proceed without it.
Here I agree, natural selection presumes life, it does not explain why there is any life. But, wait, there’s more:
Here the anthropic principle comes into its own. We can deal with the unique origin of life by postulating a very large number of planetary opportunities. Once that initial stroke of luck has been granted – and the anthropic principle most decisively grants it to us – natural selection takes over: and natural selection is emphatically not a matter of luck (p 168.)
The anthropic principle decisively grants us luck.
A moment of reverential awe may be inserted here. May I suggest we all listen to this before we continue?
Another stupid conclusion near the end of this section: “…design certainly does not work as an explanation for life, because design is ultimately not cumulative and it therefore raises bigger questions that it answers…”
So, all you designers out there, as you work on things, and build models, and then adjust your design to account for heretofore unknown variables revealed by your models, just remember, all those design changes made to make your project perform as you have envisioned, well, that’s not cumulative.
So, it goes on an on. His chapter on The Anthropic Principle: Cosmological Version is especially rich. He says things like
A God capable of calculating the Goldilocks values for the six numbers (Martin Rees, in a book titled “Just Six Numbers”, has come up with six fundamental constants required for life as we know it – FB) would have to be at least as improbable as the finely tuned combination of numbers itself, and that’s very improbable indeed. This is exactly the premise of the whole discussion at hand.
This appears to be Dawkins’s explanation as to why there almost certainly is not God. Because God is at least as improbable as the fine tuning necessary to have life in the first place.
Dawkins explanation of why the universe is the way it is, is much more scientific. It involves the multi-verse. Seriously, see page 173. The multi-verse. In the multi-verse, those universes with the six numbers dialed to life will… will… will mean that we are in one of them.
Lastly, on page 177, Dawkins addresses the idea of a simple God. He says that someone named Swinburne asserts, “without justification” that God is a single substance. Dawkins simply asserts on page 178 that a God capable of controlling the individual status of every particle in the universe cannot be simple.
Therefore, almost certainly, no God.
That’s his argument. God is too complicated to have been evolved, therefore, he probably does not exist. That’s the summation. It is based on his God Hypothesis, which I noted does not include the attribute of being immaterial, and then works from there. The rest of the book is about why, since God probably does not exist, we should dispense with religion.
Dawkins whole chapter on the probability of God amounts to mere opinion. He prefers luck.
If you find his arguments compelling, let me know.