Friday, 20 August 2010

The Doublethink of the God Delusion

Doublethink or The Ability to Simultaneously
Hold Two Contradictory Opinions.
This blog is a response to the challenge from @TweetMinistries on Twitter to comment on a blog by Gary Gutting, a philosophy teacher at the University of Notre Dame. The blog was a critique of, “The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins.

Gutting's orginal blog may be read at: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/08/11/on-dawkinss-atheism-a-response/

Gutting starts off badly and shows he hasn't understood what he is criticising by summarising Dawkins as saying natural selection explains the complexity of the universe. Dawkins only ever argues that natural selection accounts for the diversity and complexity of life, not of the universe. However, this is not the central argument of Gutting’s case.

The central argument is that Dawkins failed to take into account the theological argument that God is a special case and can be regarded as irrational, therefore it should be exempt from arguments aimed at showing there is no rational basis for a belief in one.

Gutting correctly points out that Dawkins' argument is that a creator god would necessarily be more complex than the universe it created, therefore the argument for a god from complexity is unsatisfactory in that it simply introduces another unexplained layer of complexity, so not only failing to solve the problem but actually making it worse.

He then complains that Dawkins never addressed the fact that, “philosophers from Thomas Aquinas through contemporary thinkers have offered detailed discussions of the question that provide intelligent suggestions about how to think coherently about a simple substance that has the power and knowledge attributed to God”.

This neatly sidesteps the problem of the necessary knowledge and information required to create a universe with all its complexity. The definition of God is shifted dramatically away from an omniscient, omnipotent god capable of emotions such as love and anger, able to formulate morality, hand down laws of behaviour and to monitor and record our thoughts, and in whose image we were created, to something much easier to fit into the debate at hand. This god is now a simple substance, presumably having no complexity whatsoever, yet still has the “power and knowledge attributed to it”.

In other words, this god has complexity without having complexity. Yep! That IS irrational, but that’s not a problem either. You see there is always “the possibility that God is a necessary being (that is, a being that, by its very nature, must exist, no matter what). On this traditional view, God’s existence would be, so to speak, self-explanatory and so need no explanation...”, something Gutting also complains that Dawkins didn’t take into account.

What Gutting is complaining of here is that Dawkins should have accepted the workarounds for the difficult questions which theologians have assiduously devised to help them ignore them, and that he cheated by not allowing for them.

Yes indeed, Dawkins, in his argument that there was no rational explanation for a god did not take into account that there is an irrational explanation which should have been regarded as rational because it’s not fair to subject it to rational analysis (because it would fail that test).

Gutting then attempts to support this view by reference to Bertrand Russell’s point that we would require very strong evidence to believe that there is a teapot in orbit around the sun. Dawkins agrees with Russell that an extraordinary claim such as that requires an extraordinary level of supporting evidence to justify its acceptance.

He points out that, if astronauts had reported a teapot shaped object in orbit and satellite data had strongly suggested that there was indeed a teapot in orbit, this would be sufficient evidence to at least cause us to allow for the possibility of the teapot hypothesis being correct.

Gutting then tries to argue that there is indeed just such strong evidence to support the god hypothesis. Unfortunately the only evidence he has to offer is, “There are sensible people who report having had some kind of direct awareness of a divine being”, neglecting to point out that none have ever produced evidence of a reality, and, “there are competent philosophers who endorse arguments for God’s existence”, as though arguments from authority are a good as real evidence.

What Gutting is attempting to do here is to suggest that somehow, the subjective interpretations of perception and the opinions of philosophers should be place on an equal footing with scientific data and independent eye-witness accounts. This is, of course, nothing more than special pleading again. The god hypothesis will only work if you exempt it from the normal tests you apply to other hypotheses, therefore it should be granted these exemption without further justification.

Gutting reinforces this claim with, “But religious believers will plausibly reply that science is suited to discover only what is material (indeed, the best definition of “material” may be just “the sort of thing that science can discover”). They will also cite our experiences of our own conscious life (thoughts, feelings, desires, etc.) as excellent evidence for the existence of immaterial realities that cannot be fully understood by science”.

He has ignored the fact that neurophysiology is material and so consciousness, thoughts, feelings, etc, are not evidence of the immaterial at all (‘plausible’ seems to mean ‘convenient’ in this context). And there again is that plea of special status for the god hypothesis. Now the reason is that this god should be exempt from ALL tests of existence because it is now assumed to be immaterial and so beyond the reach of science.

In summary then, Gutting is arguing that Dawkins was wrong to argue that there is no rational basis for belief in a god because belief in god is irrational and Dawkins should have accepted that as er... rational.

Presumably this form of 'logic' is perfectly acceptable in theological circles.

We also have here yet another example of the special pleading which theologians use to defend their god hypothesis. Their little hypothesis wants to play with the big boys of science and compete on an equal footing, but it needs affirmative action and special assistance to get by. It’s not fair that it should have to take the same tests scientific hypotheses have to pass. It’s perfectly fair to claim it is as rational as scientific hypotheses even though it is irrational.

This compartmentalised doublethink is a perfect example of Dawkins’ God Delusion.

It's really rather sad that humans, in attempting to create a god, have only managed to create a seriously handicapped one.


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Thursday, 19 August 2010

Refuting the Arguments For God

These arguments for God appear on http://snapshotsofgod.com/evidence.htm .

This blog examines them one by one and shows the fallacy behind them.

“If you live in a desert and never leave it, you won't find a shred of evidence for the existence for polar ice caps or polar bears.”

True, but if you had never heard of polar icecaps and bears, why would you even think of looking for them? You won’t find any evidence of Martians either but is that a reason to believe they exist? Of course not. Whilst absence of evidence is far from being proof of absence, it is most certainly supporting evidence for the idea of absence.  It is a very long way from being proof or even evidence of presence.

The extraordinary thing is that the blogger opens his blog with what amounts to a claim that the absence of evidence is in some way evidence of presence!

The temptation is to walk away right now.  Let’s hope things get better...

“If you live a world apart from God and never venture beyond it, you won't find a shred of evidence for God.”

Crikey! So, if you accept any ‘evidence’ a priori as evidence for God, whatever and wherever it might be, you will er... find evidence for God. Now why didn’t I think of that when I was doing biological research? “Look professor! If only you would accept a priori any evidence as evidence that my hypothesis is correct, you will see that I have validated it. Why won’t you be reasonable and agree with me?”

It would have made life SO much easier not having to bother with actual evidence or logical interpretation of results.

It’s nonsense of course. This is an example of special pleading. The God hypothesis can’t be expected to stand the same rigorous test that science requires of other hypotheses. It has special needs.

“A universe that is very precisely tuned to support life, from the very unique properties of carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen and other elements that form life to the physical laws that allow matter to exist in a delicate balance between black holes and plasma.”

Intelligent life, capable of formulating questions about the origins of life and of the universe, and asking questions about why the universe is as it is, can ONLY exist in a universe in which it is capable of existing. This simple truism means that you can only ask why the universe supports intelligent life in a universe which supports intelligent life.  In other words, the universe is not as it is so you can question it, but rather you can question it BECAUSE it is the way it is.

Now, as to the science behind the universe which makes it capable of supporting intelligent life, this may be because of  the initial conditions at the moment of the Big Bang.  Quite simply, we do not yet know why the initial conditions in the Big Bang were as they were and we don’t yet know whether they were inevitable or not, however, as the Feynman equation seems to show, it is entirely likely that all possible universes came into existence in a so-called quantum foam, each with its own self-contained space-time. The fact that we can ask these questions means we MUST be in a universe in which the intial conditions were those necessary to allow the evolution of intelligence.

In essence, this argument is another fallacious ‘god of the gaps’ argument, which says that, if there is something science hasn’t yet explained, it will never explain it, and the only explanation MUST be that [insert your favourite god] must have done it. The argument is fallacious for two reasons:
  • Because science hasn’t YET explained something does NOT mean it’s beyond explanation. Note here the dishonest implication that science has discovered everything discoverable.  No scientist has ever made that claim.
  • Even if this WERE true it would not prove the only explanation is the one claimed. This is the false dichotomy fallacy and betrays again the underlying dishonesty of the religious argument.  The argument is never about whether the conclusion is supported by the evidence and the logic but about whether it arrives at the desired conclusion.
What the blogger needs to show is that a natural explanation for the universe being the way it is, and for living things to have evolved in this tiny part of it, is impossible. Only then is it logical to look for a supernatural explanation. Of course he has done none of that but is merely relying on the reader's underlying cultural assumption that a supernatural explanation must be required because he/she can't think of a natural one.

And we haven't even considered which of the infinite array of hypothetical supernatural explanations it might be. Again, there is the dependence on cultural assumption, in this case that the only possible supernatural explanation is the locally popular god. This is nothing more than a cynical attempt to use the reader's ignorance to pull the wool over his/her eyes.

“Life itself, which is not just a mere assemblage of the right chemicals, but a system of hundreds of interrelated components working in harmony to create the miracle we call life, all precisely coded in the DNA of every cell.”

This is simply a statement of the obvious. There is no mystery to be explained here and nothing which requires a supernatural explanation. I suspect the blogger either believes, or wants you to believe, that living things are thought by science to have arisen, fully formed, in their present state, so is asking us to explain how this could all have happened ‘by chance’.

Of course, science says no such thing. The theory of evolution explains why living things appear to be designed. They ARE designed by a natural, unthinking and undirected, yet inevitable, process called natural selection which, at every generation acts as a filter to ensure those best able to reproduce successfully are those more likely to produce offspring which inherit those abilities.

Design CAN be natural and undirected, and, given the huge timescale over which it operates, can produce amazing refinement, but the design is only and always towards improving the ability to replicate in a changing environment.  Most evolutionary chains eventually lead to extinction so one thing we can say with some degree of certainty is that species are NOT designed for indefinite survival.  Evolution does not have goals.  Just as a falling stone is not intentionally trying to reach the ground, so evolving life it not trying to reach any particular design criterion.  It is being driven by an unthinking yet inevitable force. 

The notion that somehow evolution is directed towards a particular goal is a manifestation of anthropocentrism - the notion that the purpose of everything is to allow humans to exist.  This is a religious, not a scientific point of view.  There is no requirement for science to explain it in those terms.

Living things are essentially vehicles for the replicators they play host too. These replicators, in turn, have evolved vehicles capable of replicating them.

This argument is either
  • the argument from ignorance fallacy – I don’t know how it happened so it must have been done by my favourite god
  • the argument from design fallacy – If something looks as though it was designed, and it wasn’t designed by a human, it must have been designed by my favourite god.
And then, of course, there is the ever-popular false dichotomy fallacy which always concludes with, ‘so it must have been my god’.

“Innate and unique characteristics of human beings which are not readily explained by adaptation, such as artistic creativity, a sense or moral right and wrong which often contradicts "survival of the fittest" and a desire to seek answers about God, even among those who say they do not believe.”

Er... except that they are if we include memetic evolution. Again, though, we have the argument from ignorance combined with our old friend, the false dichotomy.

“Veracity of Scripture in prophecy, history and scientific information “

Such a shame the blogger didn’t see fit to back up this assertion with authenticated examples, but that’s probably asking too much, even for a book which was written or edited AFTER the events it purports to prophesy. In fact, any reading of the Bible will reveal a very large number of prophesies which didn't come true, including a prediction that the Nile would dry up and Egypt would be destroyed.

“People and events in the Bible which have been corroborated by historical and archeological (sic) evidence.”

Right! So every book which mentions actual people and/or events is gospel truth is it? This would be a laughable claim if it wasn’t made so frequently and in all seriousness by otherwise intelligent people. Even so, it is factually incorrect in many instances. There is no archaeological evidence nor Egyptian historical records, for any of the events described in Exodus, for example. The archaeological evidence shows that the town of Jericho never had walls in the period when it was allegedly captured by the Israelites, for example. The Census at the time of Jesus supposed birth occurred in 6 CE. King Herod died in 4 BCE, etc, etc.

“The consistency of the message found in the scriptures of almost all religions. The Bible, for instance, was written by 40 diverse men who lived over a span of 1,500 years, kept separate records and recorded events independently, yet it tells a remarkably consistent story.”

Consistent, as in forbidding killing then ordering it? Consistent, as in telling us to take an eye for an eye AND to forgive our enemies and turn the other cheek? Consistent, as in telling us to honour our mother and father AND to forsake them?

And, as Bart D. Ehrlman shows in his book, "Jesus Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible", a horizontal reading of the Bible shows it is remarkably inconsistent and often contradictory with the Gospels often making diametrically opposite claims, even about the very fundamentals of Christian belief such as the nature of Jesus and how to get to Heaven.

This is the cherry-picking fallacy. Because I can find some bits in the Bible I agree with it must have been inspired (or written) by my favourite god, and especially if I ignore the bits which don’t support my argument. And of course, where the Bible IS consistent in its morality, it is merely plagiarising Humanist morality, found in all cultures at all times, and claiming it as its own. The idea that people habitually murdered one another and stole their neighbours goods until a god told them not to is idiotic. Human societies have always had cultures which sanctioned cooperation and mutual support and in which selfishness is penalised.

“Prophecies recorded in scripture that were fulfilled in detail hundreds of years later, most notably in the life of Jesus Christ.”

No examples again. And again the apparent, or feigned, ignorance over the history of the Bible itself. And of course, no recognition of the fact that the stories about Jesus were written by people who knew these prophesies and who had an interest in presenting Jesus as having fulfilled them.

“Revelations in scripture about scientific facts that were not discovered by mankind until recently. As an example, practices to control infectious diseases that were not discovered by science until the late 1800's were recorded as laws given to Moses by God in Leviticus around 1400 B.C. The Quran also contains many references to knowledge that was not discovered by science until many centuries later.”

Well, well! By 3,500 years ago man had learned to associate cleanliness with health. And this is evidence for a god how, exactly? Well it's evidence because the blogger asserts it is, that's how.

Of course, neither the Bible nor the Quran explain infection in terms of microscopic bacteria or viruses; neither of them enunciate Koch's Postulates; neither of them mention antiseptics or antibiotics; and nowhere is there any discussion of immunity, vaccination or how to produce vaccines. In short, neither of them actually deal with the science of infection and infection control, but why spoil a good claim with evidence, eh?

There is no instance of anyone ever reading the Bible or Qur'an and forecasting the next scientific discovery. There is a very good reason for this. They are only good for 'forecasting' past events, and then only with an enormous stretch of the imagination often bending the meaning of words to breaking point.

“The account of the life of Jesus Christ. Many, even atheists, who have studied the gospels have come away concluding, based on reason and historical evidence, that the best explanation is that Jesus is indeed the Messiah, the Christ, sent by God to reveal Himself to mankind.”

Argumentum ad assertum. No evidence of these converted atheists is necessary. We are just expected to believe they existed and were converted. But, for every claimed converted atheist there are probably hundreds of former Christians who became atheists, many of them BECAUSE they read the Bible and stopped just accepting what they were told it contained. Instead of the inspired and inspiring word of an omniscient and inerrant loving god they found:
  • a muddle of old origin myths involving a volcano god
  • the ramblings of schizophrenics
  • some early attempts to formulate laws for living in the desert in a misogynistic and brutal society which regarded half its members as sub-human and all other peoples as lesser being
  • a story of Egyptian origins which the Egyptians seem not to have noticed despite an alleged mass-slaughter of children in a single night and the entire destruction of the army
  • a brutal and often arbitrary set of rules which would result in arrest and imprisonment in any civilised country for anyone who tried to follow them today
  • some romanticised histories of early kings
  • a collection of obviously plagiarised, but often contradictory and confused accounts of one or more Jewish rabbinical activists, embroidered and tailored to meet the needs of the ruling class of an empire in terminal decline, by incorporating it with other popular cults such as Mithraism and the various animist cults popular in Rome, Constantinople, Antioch, Alexandria and other centres of the old empire
“Personal experiences of prayer, healings, spiritual encounters and changed lives.

"Answers to prayer which go beyond anything that can be rationally attributed to chance or coincidence."


"Unexplained medical healings that occur in conjunction with spiritual experiences."

"Accounts by rational, mature individuals of hearing a voice within that is beyond their own thoughts, of seeing angels or of having visions."

"People whose lives have been dramatically changed through experiences that they can only describe as having been touched by a power beyond themselves, or as one of experiencing God."

"These are at least evidences of God, are they not?”

No. They are evidence only of some people’s ability to place whatever interpretation they want on events, in order to reinforce their own sense of self-importance. God answered my prayer because he likes me; God healed me because I’m special; my ‘voices’ mean I’ve been chosen by a god, etc, etc, etc.

The argument that it must have been my god because it can’t have been [insert whatever you don’t want it to have been] is not an argument for a god; it is an argument for the god delusion.

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Friday, 6 August 2010

Biblical Contradictions

For a long list of Biblical contradictions please see  http://www.evilbible.com/Biblical%20Contradictions.htm

Also see http://skepticsannotatedbible.com/ for an annotated Bible pointing out the errors and contradictions.  Something like 1616 of them in all.

The Special Needs God of Creationism

Science works by applying a set of agreed fundamental requirements, based on the principles of logic, mathematics, and established accepted scientific axioms, to all hypotheses. All competing hypotheses must meet these basic requirements and each will stand or fall according to how well or badly the presented supporting evidence, when view according to these principles, supports the hypothesis. No serious scientist would expect to get away with pleading that his favourite hypotheses should be exempt from, say, an accepted fundamental law and least of all from one which is fundamental to his hypothesis.

For example, imagine a scientist who is proposing a new hypothesis explaining flight and claiming it is a much better account of how an aircraft flies than any other. In fact, it is so brilliant that it utterly destroys the science of aerodynamics and will require the fundamental laws of physics to be re-written.

He has rightly pointed out that a fundamental requirement of any aerodynamic theory is that it must explain how an object in flight in air is apparently defying gravity and is able to move up and down in a controlled manner in a gravity field. However, it has been pointed out to him that, applying HIS hypothesis would not actually explain anything. If it were true, no object would actually be able to leave the ground, let alone move up or down in the air, in a controlled manner or not.

Imagine the reaction from his fellow scientists when he retorted that this was not a problem for his hypothesis because it was a special case and was exempt from any principle or principles which rendered it false. How long do you think this scientist’s credibility would last? About as long as it took his fellow scientists to stop laughing and persuade their incredulous colleagues that he had really made that claim - and was not even joking!

Now, consider the Creationist hypothesis concerning causality. They will argue that all things must have a cause (ignoring things like spontaneous decay of radioactive isotopes, which don’t, but let’s ignore that with them for the time being). The argument goes that, since everything must have a cause, there must have been a prime cause for all things and that the only possible prime cause must have been their favourite god. They also argue that this is an absolute universal law of logic from which nothing can escape and to which all scientific theories must be subject, with absolutely no exceptions.

We can also ignore the fact that, even if this was true, it would not establish that this prime causing is their favourite god, or anything even remotely like it. Assume for a moment that creationists have established somehow that the need for a prime cause IS an absolute and immutable fundamental law of the universe and that any such prime cause can only be their god.

“Ah!” You’ll no doubt now be saying, “What was the cause of the creationist god?” And you’d be entirely correct. Applying our universal immutable law to which all things must be subject, the creationist god must also have had a cause. The ‘prime cause’ is not prime at all.

Okay, so let’s hypothesise a cause before the prime cause (a sub-prime cause?). In fact, we now have to hypothesis an infinitely regressing continuum of pre-pre-pre- (ad infinitum) prime causes. In fact our prime cause hypothesis does not explain causality at all. The prime cause hypothesis has just collapsed under its own absurd logic. It has spectacularly falsified itself, something only possible for the more absurd hypotheses.

“No!” Creationists will retort. “My hypothesis is a special case and is exempt from its own fundamental law! Everything else is obliged to pass the test of my first cause hypothesis, but my god is exempt. It is a special case to which special laws apply. It is not fair to expect it to compete with science on an equal footing”.  And they are not even joking. Special pleading is a fundamental part of almost all theology!

The creationist’s god is like a special needs child which can’t be expected to compete on an equal footing with normal children. It needs affirmative action and special provisions to be able to lead the semblance of a normal existence. These sentiments would be quite understandable, even laudable from the point of view of parents who have such an unfortunate child, but why have creationists created a god with so many handicaps and challenges that it needs to be treated as a special needs child?

The answer of course, is that they had no choice. Their problem is that their god IS handicapped. These handicaps were inherited from its parents. It was created by people who find reality difficult to understand and so constantly strive to live in an alternate one: one with simplistic answers, carefully constructed so as to be amenable to people with little or no learning and who take comfort in ignorance.

So of course it too can’t cope with reality either.  Imaginary friends are only as good as the minds that imagine them.


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Thursday, 5 August 2010

The False Dichotomy Fallacy - Creationism's Moral Failing

Read any serious scientific paper and you will see evidence and discussions which support the hypothesis or theory under consideration. The authors may refer to opposing or alternative hypotheses but only to compare and contrast their results or arguments. Any evidence against any opposing hypothesis is completely irrelevant to that task, as are any deficiencies in that evidence.

The authors know that their hypothesis will only stand if they can show firm evidence supporting it, or if they don’t they will quickly learn from the peer review process which will give their paper short shrift. The humiliation of having a paper rejected on the grounds that ‘the author has presented no evidence supporting his/her conclusions nor his/her underlying hypothesis’ is not a good career move in an ambitious young scientist, who will never be an old scientist unless they learn better science.

Now compare that to a reading of any ‘creation science’ article – which is never subjected to the peer review process by submitting it to respected fellow scientist regarded as experts in the particular field. Almost invariably, the entire thrust of the article will be attacking established science, and in particular, established science which conflicts with the creationist view. There will rarely be a presentation of hard evidence supporting creationism or ‘intelligent design’ to give it it’s alternative name.

It’s as though the author wants you to believe that there are only two possible hypotheses: the established scientific view with all it’s supporting evidence, or the creationist view. You are expected to believe that, if they can cast doubt on the scientific view, their own view will somehow gain strength from it and if they can destroy it, their preferred view will automatically be accepted as the correct one.

A moment's thought should lead you to see the fallacy there. There are not just two possible alternative hypotheses. In fact there are an almost infinite number, limited only by human imagination. Each hypothesis must stand (or fall) on its own. If no evidence is available to support it, it falls by default. No single theory, no matter how fond it's proponents are of it, has the special distinction of being accepted as the right one in the absence of any supporting evidence.

But that is exactly what the author wants you to believe. This is the false dichotomy fallacy. It is the scientific and intellectual equivalent of a deliberate lie designed to mislead. Creation ‘scientists’ use this fallacy for two reasons:
  • They have no evidence for their creation hypothesis, so have none to present and no conclusions to draw from it.
  • They want to mislead you into believing their hypothesis even though they have no evidence for it.

This neatly illustrates the intellectual dishonesty of creationism. It is the technique of the confidence trickster who has identified his mark and is playing to his weaknesses.

It is dishonest in it’s pretence of using scientific methodology. Just using scientific-sounding words and aping a scientific style of writing is not science. It is dishonest because:
  • it deliberately sets out to mislead and to deceive and so reveals a hidden agenda that the writer wants to conceal from you.
  • it exploits an assumed ignorance and/or lack of critical thinking ability in its target readership.
  • it betrays an awareness of this ignorance and intellectual deficit, yet fails to correct it. Instead it assiduously seeks to perpetuate and exploit it it.

Creation science shows the intellectual and moral bankruptcy of creationism. Not surprisingly, proponents of it are loud in their claim to occupy the moral high-ground, as they shout out from the moral gutter in which they live.





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