F Rosa Rubicondior: August 2010

Friday 20 August 2010

The Doublethink of the God Delusion

Doublethink or the ability to simultaneously hold two mutually 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...

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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