Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Blinded with Science

"If a dishonest creep wants to tap dance, give him the spotlight ---- and a mirror." - Vonna Bonta

The past few weeks I have been chugging through the first half of Dawkin's The God Delusion. Chugging is the appropriate word. It is a heavy word, pregnant with all the intensity this haughty book deserves. But, four weeks after purchasing it, I'm only half way through it even though I have sat down for countless hours to chug through it.

To bring you up to speed, Dawkins is an evolutionary biologist who holds the Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University in England. (Now that's a big business card!) His progression through his scientific pursuits has led him, he believes, to the inevitable conclusion that a supernatural being, such as we call God, in the highest sense of probability does not exist. On his scale of 1 to 7, 1 being that God definitely exists, and 7 being that God does not exist, Dawkins characterizes himself as a "6". I guess you would call him a 6 point atheist. He does this on the basis of his collective intellect and reason, which, he claims, neither demands nor needs a god.

His book is condescending, calling atheists "smart people" and religious people "lower educated people." He even quotes the statistics to back it up. His reported stats show that the average intellectual and academic degrees of proclaimed atheists is higher than those who identify themselves as believers in any form of god. This, he concludes, is proof that high intelligence breeds atheism and, apparently, is superior to religious believers who have lower intelligence. (I think to be fair to Dawkins, "intelligence" is best understood as mental acumen coupled with rigorous training and thought, and expounded systematically, consistently and rationally resulting at a minimum in agnosticism but inevitably atheism.)

In response to great scientists of the past like Newton, Pascal, Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo and Mendel, who were trained theologians and expressed personal faith in Christ, Dawkins dismisses them as men of their times for whom, without the lip service to the church, would not be able to ply their trade and indulge their intellect. If they were avowed atheists, they would lose their funding.

Earlier academics and scientists were overwhelmingly professed Christian but that was because they had to be in order to do their science? But, modern academic studies show overwhelmingly that scientists are either atheists or agnostics?

Really, Mr. Dawkins? Let's be consistent.

Your positions suggests only that "intelligent" people of the past were mere con men, but "intelligent" people of the present are now honest and free and have integrity. (Let's forget for a second what religious cost Galileo paid for his scientific endeavors.) Could it be that modern "intellectuals" cannot show faith because to do so would sound the death knell of their careers? Would they lose their academic funding in a society of academics which disdains faith? Would they face the scorn of men like you who would view their achievements as suspect for nothing more than that they are people of faith? Or, perhaps, is it because the intellectuals of today are much smarter than the intellectuals of yesterday? At the same age you were learning to drive a car and hit on girls, Pascal was completing his treatise on theoretical geometry.

It is mighty cavalier to dismiss the beliefs of an entire class of learned men by excusing their "ignorance" as "men of their times." Your statistics only suggest that modern scientists are "men of their times" and to extrapolate further is inconsistent. Excuse me, but your snobbery is showing.

Dawkins makes too short a work of the "reasonable proofs" for the existence of God as set forth by such people as Thomas Aquinas and Blaise Pascal. (I do acknowledge that Dawkins is writing a populist piece, not a detailed philosophical exposition of these matters.) For instance, he dismantles, not quite appropriately, Blaise Pascal's "Wager".

Pascal, one of my favorite 17th century scholars, was known as the father of modern economics and of geometry, the later of which he had written his foremost treatise by the ripe old age of 16. Pascal was a man whose intellect Dawkins (and I) only wish he had. Nutshelled, Pascal's "Wager" placed probabilities on the existence of God being low, but the consequences of betting against his existence were exceedingly more dreadful (eternal damnation) than the consequences of betting he does exist. Therefore, Pascal would say that even though the probabilities are low of God's existence, a person should still believe because the trouble of living as though you do believe and being wrong is less than the trouble of not believing and being wrong.

Dawkins correctly hits the problems with "the Wager," but adds nothing new to the observations. Pascal's Wager incorrectly assumes that we have the power to create faith in God on the basis reason by the weight of probability and bad consequences, and further, the Wager by itself incorrectly assumes that the god you should believe in is the Christian god, which is an illogical leap from the premise of the Wager itself.

Dawkins asks a correct question about the Wager, which god should you believe in if you take the bet? What if he bet on the wrong God and it is actually Baal, or Vishnu, or Krishna by a nose and he (or she) is pissed? Wouldn't he be better off not believing in any god than believing in the wrong one?

But Dawkins is no theoretical statistician. He incorrectly makes the assumption that if god exists, there is no evidence that he would reject a person who failed to see him and therefore the probability of dire consequences is even lower than the probability of the existence of god. In short, he doesn't believe in God, but if he exists, the probability is low that he would give eternal damnation to human creatures who were relying on the natural order to understand who he is.

Really, Mr. Dawkins? Let's be consistent.

We shall grant you the latitude to not believe in the god you choose not to believe in, even a god who probably doesn't exist and probably doesn't send people to hell. But be consistent. Probability must be based on some known variable, and while the probability of God's existence you concede is based on known unknowns, the probability of his attitude toward nonbelievers in him is an unknown unknown and thus not subject to probability. You cannot know the nature of a god you claim you cannot know.

Dawkins finds many supporter for this view in theological circles. It is not an uncommon theological trend in this day is to say, "I don't believe in a God who would send people to hell." Now, certainly, it is not fair to discredit those who hold this view by lumping them with Dawkins. But certainly they share the sentiment of Dawkins' attack on Pascal, and fall into the same predicament. Each makes god into the image they want him to be.

For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate." (I Cor. 1:17-19).

Perhaps much to Dawkin's consternation, so far the book leaves me not doubting my faith, as both the proponents and opponents of the book have suggested as a probable outcome of reading the book. Rather, it leaves me doubting Dawkin's snide apologetical outline of the religion of Reason, one that is passing away even as we speak. Perhaps, in the second half of the book, Dawkins drops his bombshell. Somehow, I doubt it.

Dawkins makes some good points that are well worth pondering, particularly in the realm of creative design and some particularly bad arguments made by Christians. But, for the sake of boredom of those who are reading, I will pass on elaboration right now but do more in the future.

Here's your mirror, Mr. Dawkins.



Crissy said...

I admire your stamina. And your observations. Thanks for the treat.

Kimmi said...

thank you for making me think. i love exercising my brain.

Malinor said...

originally my comment was overly detailed so I am making it into a post on my blog, read the rest of my thoughts on Dawkins at my blog if you please.

I listened to the Dawkins V. Lennox debate held at UAB recently and though I dont remember many details of the debait, I do remember that Dawkins was getting his lunch ate. Partially due to the format, and partially because ee is not a philosopher or theologian and doesn't see ideas all the way through. He is an Evolutionary Biologists and that says it all for me.

Because of a handful of debunked experiments and especially due to one experiment using a synthesized atmosphere (now know to be inaccurate) representing the primordial earth that produced amino acid like chemicals:
he finds it easy to believe that life sprang up by chance as a product of its enviroment.

the problem with Evolutionary Biology is irreducible complexity. they always skirt around this, or site one aberration in which there exists a system that is only half as complex or so forth...Straw Man.

My father in law once said:
if you take all the necessary pieces and parts to make a whole house, nails, shingles, studs, flooring...put them in a big cargo plane and dump them over your home site, what are the odds that they will fall into place and make a ready to use house? 1/infinity !!

the system needs things put in place in a certain order, it cant happen all at once it is irreducibly complex, statistics cant manufacture this even over a bazillion years.

Zack said...

I would highly recommend you read this article by Alvin Plantinga, who is one of the world's top philosophers and also a reformed Christian. This is truly a case of somebody "eating Dawkin's lunch" :-P


4theluv said...

I have read Plantinga and find his writing interesting. One argument he makes regularly is that the very theory of evolution calls into question a naturalistic worldview, ie., if humans evolved by survival characteristics then the human brain is geared to survival and not truth, and thus, cognitive thought cannot be trusted as evidencing truth, only for survival.

Another writer whose book I am just now starting is Francis Collins, who was head of the human genome project. His book, "The Language of God" came out a few years ago but I have not had the time to read it.

Dawkin's book really was a disappointment. I had expectations that were much beyond what he delivered. For a smart man, he seemed to be writing only to preach to the choir adding absolutely nothing to anyone's understanding of his beliefs. I think he was trying to sell books.