Richard Dawkins – Why There Almost Certainly Is No God

Richard Dawkins

Why There Almost Certainly Is No God

America, founded in secularism as a beacon of eighteenth century enlightenment, is becoming the victim of religious politics, a circumstance that would have horrified the Founding Fathers. The political ascendancy today values embryonic cells over adult people. It obsesses about gay marriage, ahead of genuinely important issues that actually make a difference to the world. It gains crucial electoral support from a religious constituency whose grip on reality is so tenuous that they expect to be ‘raptured’ up to heaven, leaving their clothes as empty as their minds. More extreme specimens actually long for a world war, which they identify as the ‘Armageddon’ that is to presage the Second Coming. Sam Harris, in his new short book, Letter to a Christian Nation, hits the bull’s-eye as usual:

 It is, therefore, not an exaggeration to say that if the city of New York were suddenly replaced by a ball of fire, some significant percentage of the American population would see a silver-lining in the subsequent mushroom cloud, as it would suggest to them that the best thing that is ever going to happen was about to happen: the return of Christ . . .Imagine the consequences if any significant component of the U.S. government actually believed that the world was about to end and that its ending would be glorious. The fact that nearly half of the American population apparently believes this, purely on the basis of religious dogma, should be considered a moral and ¬intellectual emergency. Does Bush check the Rapture Index daily, as Reagan did his stars? We don’t know, but would anyone be surprised?My scientific colleagues have additional reasons to declare emergency. Ignorant and absolutist attacks on stem cell research are just the tip of an iceberg. What we have here is nothing less than a global assault on rationality, and the Enlightenment values that inspired the founding of this first and greatest of secular republics. Science education – and hence the whole future of science in this country – is under threat. Temporarily beaten back in a Pennsylvania court, the ‘breathtaking inanity’ (Judge John Jones’s immortal phrase) of ‘intelligent design’ continually flares up in local bush-fires. Dowsing them is a time-consuming but important responsibility, and scientists are finally being jolted out of their complacency. For years they quietly got on with their science, lamentably underestimating the creationists who, being neither competent nor interested in science, attended to the serious political business of subverting local school boards. Scientists, and intellectuals generally, are now waking up to the threat from the American Taliban. Scientists divide into two schools of thought over the best tactics with which to face the threat. The Neville Chamberlain ‘appeasement’ school focuses on the battle for evolution. Consequently, its members identify fundamentalism as the enemy, and they bend over backwards to appease ‘moderate’ or ‘sensible’ religion (not a difficult task, for bishops and theologians despise fundamentalists as much as scientists do). Scientists of the Winston Churchill school, by contrast, see the fight for evolution as only one battle in a larger war: a looming war between supernaturalism on the one side and rationality on the other. For them, bishops and theologians belong with creationists in the supernatural camp, and are not to be appeased.The Chamberlain school accuses Churchillians of rocking the boat to the point of muddying the waters. The philosopher of science Michael Ruse wrote:We who love science must realize that the enemy of our enemies is our friend. Too often evolutionists spend time insulting would-be allies. This is especially true of secular evolutionists. Atheists spend more time running down sympathetic Christians than they do countering ¬creationists. When John Paul II wrote a letter endorsing Darwinism, Richard Dawkins’s response was simply that the pope was a hypocrite, that he could not be genuine about science and that Dawkins himself simply preferred an honest fundamentalist.A recent article in the New York Times by Cornelia Dean quotes the astronomer Owen Gingerich as saying that, by simultaneously advocating evolution and atheism, ‘Dr Dawkins “probably single-handedly makes more converts to intelligent design than any of the leading intelligent design theorists”.’ This is not the first, not the second, not even the third time this plonkingly witless point has been made (and more than one reply has aptly cited Uncle Remus: “Oh please please Brer Fox, don’t throw me in that awful briar patch”).Chamberlainites are apt to quote the late Stephen Jay Gould’s ‘NOMA’ – ‘non-overlapping magisteria’. Gould claimed that science and true religion never come into conflict because they exist in completely separate dimensions of discourse:To say it for all my colleagues and for the umpteenth millionth time (from college bull sessions to learned treatises): science simply cannot (by its legitimate methods) adjudicate the issue of God’s possible superintendence of nature. We neither affirm nor deny it; we simply can’t comment on it as scientists.This sounds terrific, right up until you give it a moment’s thought. You then realize that the presence of a creative deity in the universe is clearly a scientific hypothesis. Indeed, it is hard to imagine a more momentous hypothesis in all of science. A universe with a god would be a completely different kind of universe from one without, and it would be a scientific difference. God could clinch the matter in his favour at any moment by staging a spectacular demonstration of his powers, one that would satisfy the exacting standards of science. Even the infamous Templeton Foundation recognized that God is a scientific hypothesis – by funding double-blind trials to test whether remote prayer would speed the recovery of heart patients. It didn’t, of course, although a control group who knew they had been prayed for tended to get worse (how about a class action suit against the Templeton Foundation?) Despite such well-financed efforts, no evidence for God’s existence has yet appeared. To see the disingenuous hypocrisy of religious people who embrace NOMA, imagine that forensic archeologists, by some unlikely set of circumstances, discovered DNA evidence demonstrating that Jesus was born of a virgin mother and had no father. If NOMA enthusiasts were sincere, they should dismiss the archeologists’ DNA out of hand: “Irrelevant. Scientific evidence has no bearing on theological questions. Wrong magisterium.” Does anyone seriously imagine that they would say anything remotely like that? You can bet your boots that not just the fundamentalists but every professor of theology and every bishop in the land would trumpet the archeological evidence to the skies.Either Jesus had a father or he didn’t. The question is a scientific one, and scientific evidence, if any were available, would be used to settle it. The same is true of any miracle – and the deliberate and intentional creation of the universe would have to have been the mother and father of all miracles. Either it happened or it didn’t. It is a fact, one way or the other, and in our state of uncertainty we can put a probability on it – an estimate that may change as more information comes in. Humanity’s best estimate of the probability of divine creation dropped steeply in 1859 when The Origin of Species was published, and it has declined steadily during the subsequent decades, as evolution consolidated itself from plausible theory in the nineteenth century to established fact today.The Chamberlain tactic of snuggling up to ‘sensible’ religion, in order to present a united front against (‘intelligent design’) creationists, is fine if your central concern is the battle for evolution. That is a valid central concern, and I salute those who press it, such as Eugenie Scott in Evolution versus Creationism. But if you are concerned with the stupendous scientific question of whether the universe was created by a supernatural intelligence or not, the lines are drawn completely differently. On this larger issue, fundamentalists are united with ‘moderate’ religion on one side, and I find myself on the other.Of course, this all presupposes that the God we are talking about is a personal intelligence such as Yahweh, Allah, Baal, Wotan, Zeus or Lord Krishna. If, by ‘God’, you mean love, nature, goodness, the universe, the laws of physics, the spirit of humanity, or Planck’s constant, none of the above applies. An American student asked her professor whether he had a view about me. ‘Sure,’ he replied. ‘He’s positive science is incompatible with religion, but he waxes ecstatic about nature and the universe. To me, that is ¬religion!’ Well, if that’s what you choose to mean by religion, fine, that makes me a religious man. But if your God is a being who designs universes, listens to prayers, forgives sins, wreaks miracles, reads your thoughts, cares about your welfare and raises you from the dead, you are unlikely to be satisfied. As the distinguished American physicist Steven Weinberg said, “If you want to say that ‘God is energy,’ then you can find God in a lump of coal.” But don’t expect congregations to flock to your church.When Einstein said ‘Did God have a choice in creating the Universe?’ he meant ‘Could the universe have begun in more than one way?’ ‘God does not play dice’ was Einstein’s poetic way of doubting Heisenberg’s indeterminacy principle. Einstein was famously irritated when theists misunderstood him to mean a personal God. But what did he expect? The hunger to misunderstand should have been palpable to him. ‘Religious’ physicists usually turn out to be so only in the Einsteinian sense: they are atheists of a poetic disposition. So am I. But, given the widespread yearning for that great misunderstanding, deliberately to confuse Einsteinian pantheism with supernatural religion is an act of intellectual high treason.Accepting, then, that the God Hypothesis is a proper scientific hypothesis whose truth or falsehood is hidden from us only by lack of evidence, what should be our best estimate of the probability that God exists, given the evidence now available? Pretty low I think, and here’s why.First, most of the traditional arguments for God’s existence, from Aquinas on, are easily demolished. Several of them, such as the First Cause argument, work by setting up an infinite regress which God is wheeled out to terminate. But we are never told why God is magically able to terminate regresses while needing no explanation himself. To be sure, we do need some kind of explanation for the origin of all things. Physicists and cosmologists are hard at work on the problem. But whatever the answer – a random quantum fluctuation or a Hawking/Penrose singularity or whatever we end up calling it – it will be simple. Complex, statistically improbable things, by definition, don’t just happen; they demand an explanation in their own right. They are impotent to terminate regresses, in a way that simple things are not. The first cause cannot have been an intelligence – let alone an intelligence that answers prayers and enjoys being worshipped. Intelligent, creative, complex, statistically improbable things come late into the universe, as the product of evolution or some other process of gradual escalation from simple beginnings. They come late into the universe and therefore cannot be responsible for designing it.Another of Aquinas’ efforts, the Argument from Degree, is worth spelling out, for it epitomises the characteristic flabbiness of theological reasoning. We notice degrees of, say, goodness or temperature, and we measure them, Aquinas said, by reference to a maximum:Now the maximum in any genus is the cause of all in that genus, as fire, which is the maximum of heat, is the cause of all hot things . . . Therefore, there must also be something which is to all beings the cause of their being, goodness, and every other perfection; and this we call God.That’s an argument? You might as well say that people vary in smelliness but we can make the judgment only by reference to a perfect maximum of conceivable smelliness. Therefore there must exist a pre-eminently peerless stinker, and we call him God. Or substitute any dimension of comparison you like, and derive an equivalently fatuous conclusion. That’s theology.The only one of the traditional arguments for God that is widely used today is the teleological argument, sometimes called the Argument from Design although – since the name begs the question of its validity – it should better be called the Argument for Design. It is the familiar ‘watchmaker’ argument, which is surely one of the most superficially plausible bad arguments ever discovered – and it is rediscovered by just about everybody until they are taught the logical fallacy and Darwin’s brilliant alternative.In the familiar world of human artifacts, complicated things that look designed are designed. To naïve observers, it seems to follow that similarly complicated things in the natural world that look designed – things like eyes and hearts – are designed too. It isn’t just an argument by analogy. There is a semblance of statistical reasoning here too – fallacious, but carrying an illusion of plausibility. If you randomly scramble the fragments of an eye or a leg or a heart a million times, you’d be lucky to hit even one combination that could see, walk or pump. This demonstrates that such devices could not have been put together by chance. And of course, no sensible scientist ever said they could. Lamentably, the scientific education of most British and American students omits all mention of Darwinism, and therefore the only alternative to chance that most people can imagine is design.Even before Darwin’s time, the illogicality was glaring: how could it ever have been a good idea to postulate, in explanation for the existence of improbable things, a designer who would have to be even more improbable? The entire argument is a logical non-starter, as David Hume realized before Darwin was born. What Hume didn’t know was the supremely elegant alternative to both chance and design that Darwin was to give us. Natural selection is so stunningly powerful and elegant, it not only explains the whole of life, it raises our consciousness and boosts our confidence in science’s future ability to explain everything else. Natural selection is not just an alternative to chance. It is the only ultimate alternative ever suggested. Design is a workable explanation for organized complexity only in the short term. It is not an ultimate explanation, because designers themselves demand an explanation. If, as Francis Crick and Leslie Orgel once playfully speculated, life on this planet was deliberately seeded by a payload of bacteria in the nose cone of a rocket, we still need an explanation for the intelligent aliens who dispatched the rocket. Ultimately they must have evolved by gradual degrees from simpler beginnings. Only evolution, or some kind of gradualistic ‘crane’ (to use Daniel Dennett’s neat term), is capable of terminating the regress. Natural selection is an anti-chance process, which gradually builds up complexity, step by tiny step. The end product of this ratcheting process is an eye, or a heart, or a brain – a device whose improbable complexity is utterly baffling until you spot the gentle ramp that leads up to it.Whether my conjecture is right that evolution is the only explanation for life in the universe, there is no doubt that it is the explanation for life on this planet. Evolution is a fact, and it is among the more secure facts known to science. But it had to get started somehow. Natural selection cannot work its wonders until certain minimal conditions are in place, of which the most important is an accurate system of replication – DNA, or something that works like DNA.The origin of life on this planet – which means the origin of the first self-replicating molecule – is hard to study, because it (probably) only happened once, 4 billion years ago and under very different conditions from those with which we are familiar. We may never know how it happened. Unlike the ordinary evolutionary events that followed, it must have been a genuinely very improbable – in the sense of unpredictable – event: too improbable, perhaps, for chemists to reproduce it in the laboratory or even devise a plausible theory for what happened. This weirdly paradoxical conclusion – that a chemical account of the origin of life, in order to be plausible, has to be implausible – would follow if it were the case that life is extremely rare in the universe. And indeed we have never encountered any hint of extraterrestrial life, not even by radio – the circumstance that prompted Enrico Fermi’s cry: “Where is everybody?” Suppose life’s origin on a planet took place through a hugely improbable stroke of luck, so improbable that it happens on only one in a billion planets. The National Science Foundation would laugh at any chemist whose proposed research had only a one in a hundred chance of succeeding, let alone one in a billion. Yet, given that there are at least a billion billion planets in the universe, even such absurdly low odds as these will yield life on a billion planets. And – this is where the famous anthropic principle comes in – Earth has to be one of them, because here we are.If you set out in a spaceship to find the one planet in the galaxy that has life, the odds against your finding it would be so great that the task would be indistinguishable, in practice, from impossible. But if you are alive (as you manifestly are if you are about to step into a spaceship) you needn’t bother to go looking for that one planet because, by definition, you are already standing on it. The anthropic principle really is rather elegant. By the way, I don’t actually think the origin of life was as improbable as all that. I think the galaxy has plenty of islands of life dotted about, even if the islands are too spaced out for any one to hope for a meeting with any other. My point is only that, given the number of planets in the universe, the origin of life could in theory be as lucky as a blindfolded golfer scoring a hole in one. The beauty of the anthropic principle is that, even in the teeth of such stupefying odds against, it still gives us a perfectly satisfying explanation for life’s presence on our own planet.The anthropic principle is usually applied not to planets but to universes. Physicists have suggested that the laws and constants of physics are too good – as if the universe were set up to favour our eventual evolution. It is as though there were, say, half a dozen dials representing the major constants of physics. Each of the dials could in principle be tuned to any of a wide range of values. Almost all of these knob-twiddlings would yield a universe in which life would be impossible. Some universes would fizzle out within the first picosecond. Others would contain no elements heavier than hydrogen and helium. In yet others, matter would never condense into stars (and you need stars in order to forge the elements of chemistry and hence life). You can estimate the very low odds against the six knobs all just happening to be correctly tuned, and conclude that a divine knob-twiddler must have been at work. But, as we have already seen, that explanation is vacuous because it begs the biggest question of all. The divine knob twiddler would himself have to have been at least as improbable as the settings of his knobs.Again, the anthropic principle delivers its devastatingly neat solution. Physicists already have reason to suspect that our universe – everything we can see – is only one universe among perhaps billions. Some theorists postulate a multiverse of foam, where the universe we know is just one bubble. Each bubble has its own laws and constants. Our familiar laws of physics are parochial bylaws. Of all the universes in the foam, only a minority has what it takes to generate life. And, with anthropic hindsight, we obviously have to be sitting in a member of that minority, because, well, here we are, aren’t we? As physicists have said, it is no accident that we see stars in our sky, for a universe without stars would also lack the chemical elements necessary for life. There may be universes whose skies have no stars: but they also have no inhabitants to notice the lack. Similarly, it is no accident that we see a rich diversity of living species: for an evolutionary process that is capable of yielding a species that can see things and reflect on them cannot help producing lots of other species at the same time. The reflective species must be surrounded by an ecosystem, as it must be surrounded by stars.The anthropic principle entitles us to postulate a massive dose of luck in accounting for the existence of life on our planet. But there are limits. We are allowed one stroke of luck for the origin of evolution, and perhaps for a couple of other unique events like the origin of the eukaryotic cell and the origin of consciousness. But that’s the end of our entitlement to large-scale luck. We emphatically cannot invoke major strokes of luck to account for the illusion of design that glows from each of the billion species of living creature that have ever lived on Earth. The evolution of life is a general and continuing process, producing essentially the same result in all species, however different the details.Contrary to what is sometimes alleged, evolution is a predictive science. If you pick any hitherto unstudied species and subject it to minute scrutiny, any evolutionist will confidently predict that each individual will be observed to do everything in its power, in the particular way of the species – plant, herbivore, carnivore, nectivore or whatever it is – to survive and propagate the DNA that rides inside it. We won’t be around long enough to test the prediction but we can say, with great confidence, that if a comet strikes Earth and wipes out the mammals, a new fauna will rise to fill their shoes, just as the mammals filled those of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. And the range of parts played by the new cast of life’s drama will be similar in broad outline, though not in detail, to the roles played by the mammals, and the dinosaurs before them, and the mammal-like reptiles before the dinosaurs. The same rules are predictably being followed, in millions of species all over the globe, and for hundreds of millions of years. Such a general observation requires an entirely different explanatory principle from the anthropic principle that explains one-off events like the origin of life, or the origin of the universe, by luck. That entirely different principle is natural selection.We explain our existence by a combination of the anthropic principle and Darwin’s principle of natural selection. That combination provides a complete and deeply satisfying explanation for everything that we see and know. Not only is the god hypothesis unnecessary. It is spectacularly unparsimonious. Not only do we need no God to explain the universe and life. God stands out in the universe as the most glaring of all superfluous sore thumbs. We cannot, of course, disprove God, just as we can’t disprove Thor, fairies, leprechauns and the Flying Spaghetti Monster. But, like those other fantasies that we can’t disprove, we can say that God is very very improbable.

Richard Dawkins is the Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society, and the author of nine books, including The Selfish Gene, The Blind Watchmaker and The Ancestor’s Tale. His new book, The God Delusion, published by Houghton Mifflin, is a NEW YORK TIMES bestseller, and his Foundation for Reason and Science launched at the same time (see RichardDawkins.net).

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11 Responses to “Richard Dawkins – Why There Almost Certainly Is No God”

  1. “Well, we’re here, aren’t we?”

    That’s his argument. Physicists speculate about a foam of endless universe bubbles that, conveniently, no one could ever prove or disprove as existing – and he actually thinks that’s a superior argument to the God Hypothesis?

    If this hubris I just read is the best argument Mr. God Delusion has to offer, it must require an incredible fan base to keep him in business. Perhaps you ought to consider that his arguments are weak precisely because he’s wrong and that you only celebrate this fool because he’s saying what you want to hear.

    At what point did he refute the existence of God? By his own admission, it cannot be refuted. So instead he weakly props up a few straw men with sweeping generalizations, arguments from ad populum, misleading examples and associations with genuine farces such as the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

    God would only be a delusion if He did not exist. He would only be a delusion if the universe were simply mechanistic [a purely mechanistic universe in which the entire universe can be explained by natural causes has been demolished in Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, but good luck anyway; it’s what you WANT to believe, after all].

    I fear Richard Dawkins suffers from a more common God Delusion: the delusion that he can wish God away by saying, I don’t believe in you, so you don’t exist, which is tantamount to saying, Nyah, Nyah, I can’t hear you! I won’t hear you! BTW, where did natural selection come from, Dawkins fans? Oops, guess you’ll just have to take it on faith. After all, we’re here, aren’t we?

    God exists. Whatcha gonna do about it?

    Sirius Knott

  2. I would suggest reading any one of his books or even simply the chapter “Why there is almost certainly no God” in “The God Delusion”. In your zeal and apparent anger you have either unknowingly or purposefully misrepresented his arguments for atheism. There is simply no reason why 93% of people belonging to the National Academy of Sciences would reject the idea of a theistic God without good reason. Everyone would love to believe in eternal life.

  3. Hmmm,

    Lev, I have read Dawkins… and Darwin… and Hawkings… and a whole lot more.

    I have not misrepresented his arguments, but he HAS misrepresented the arguments of the Christian faith for theism, which is, of course, exactly what I was alluding to when I accused him of propping up straw men.

    As for my zeal and “apparent anger…” OK, I DO believe Dawkins is a fool, because the fool says in his heart, There is no God – but I don’t feel scorn for him personally. I reserve my scorn for his arguments. For him, I feel pity. In other words, thank you for the note of my zeal and apparent anger at purest bunk which has been exchanged for the truth of God’s Word.

    Of course, I’m probably wasting my time by pointing out that, not only have I read Dawkins and even the specific chapter you’ve recommended, I understand his arguments, such as they are, better than you seem to.

    Why?

    Because you have fallen back on a defense by argumentum ad populum: everybody thinks so, so it must be true. Lev, might I remind you that the entire educated world once belived that the universe revolved around a flat Earth? that medical experts believed sickness was caused by elemental humours and were cured by leeching? Today’s heresy might well be tomorow’s favorite orthodoxy. If you’re not into thinking for yourself though, I guess getting your truth from today’s experts [or the popular media] is your only alternative.

    Have you considered that peer pressure might be a factor for the solidarity of atheistic opinion amongst the National Academy of Sciences. Have you not read of how Dawkins berates his fellows form straying from the straight and narrow path of blind materialistic natural selection? Have you not seen how the dissenters are denied peer review and then have their work scorned and ignored because it is not peer reviewed? have you not seen how dissenters from Darwinism are fired from universities or barred outright for not bleating the right dogma?

    Aside from peer pressure, we should also consider outright bias. Some folks don’t WANT to believe in God or anything supernatural. Not everyone would like to believe in eternal life. Not if it comes with the supernatural. Not if it spolis their preconception of a purely natural explanation for everything. And certainly not if it implies Creator God, because a Creature implies a certain measure of accountability of His creatures.

    I would suggest that you start being honest about why you believe what you say you believe:

    Is it because you just don’t want to? Have you even examined the evidence for Creationism? Or are you just going along with the herd?

    —Sirius Knott

  4. Stephan Cyriacus Says:

    it’s all a matter of definition: who or what is god? in my opinion he/she/it is defined as everything i don’t know and/or can’t explain. and then it’s a very mighty god and it’s everywhere – in you and in me and in all of us and sure is just one thing: the unknown and unexplainable could never ever create anything but is a creature of mankind, a pure human idea. why so many religions want to shape god into something they wish, maybe their attempt to comprehend the incomprehensible and to teach the unteachable. i am sick of the zealots missionaries, they should stick to and care about themselves and this world would be a better place………

  5. Stephan Cyriacus Says:

    btw: not god created the evil in this world, but his self-styled complacent substitutes

  6. I’m always amused by people whose argument is that people they don’t agree with should just leave them and the rest of the world alone. Why doesn’t this ever include them?

    Stephan, at the risk of casting pearls, you do realize just how insulting your arrogant assessment of the religious world is, right? You prpose that God is mystery. God is a convenient label for what I don’t understand, so I guess once we understand everything God will vanish, right? In other words, you’re saying God doesn’t really exist except in our minds: “a purely human idea.” Blah blah blah.

    Lovely theory, but saying so doesn’t make something so. How do you propose to defend your fuzzy little theory about God as make-believe?

    BTW, you’re right about one thing: God didn’t create evil. He only created choice, which includes the potential for evil. man actualized that potential.

    In your opinion…. Are all opinions equally valid? What about a drunk’s testimony compared to a detective’s investigation? What about the lady who believes the world sits upon the backs of a thousand turtles? Or the man who believes he is Napoleon?

    My point is, why should I give 2 cents for your opinion amongst all of the other bleating voices?

    Oh and if why couldn’t the unknown or the unexplainable create anything? And how would you know? If you knew, it wouldn’t be unknown. If you could explain how it operates or explain at least what it cannot do, well, it’s not really unexplainable, is it? Will you be having tea with the Hatter or the Mock Turtle this Tuesday, Stephan?

    Think about it,
    Sirius Knott

  7. doubtingthomas426 Says:

    Sirius,

    You said – “I’m always amused by people whose argument is that people they don’t agree with should just leave them and the rest of the world alone. Why doesn’t this ever include them?”

    YES, I am so right there with you. The most common question Atheists receive from believers is why we are wasting our time talking about the bible or religion OR why we bother reading the bible, etc. Your comment perfectly reflects the feelings of most theists I encounter.

    You said – “…saying so doesn’t make something so.”

    Wow! Again we are in complete agreement. In fact can we please shout this statement from the rooftops? Can we put it on bumper stickers and T-Shirts? Can we buy advertisement space on the side of buildings and city busses? Can we make it our motto?

    SAYING SO DOESN’T MAKE SOMETHING SO!

    Demand proof! Demand evidence! Demand conformation! Demand facts! Demand substantiation! Don’t just believe in a thing because you HOPE that it is true. Don’t allow others to feed you your opinions. Don’t follow the herd. Question everything. Scrutinize everything. And always remember, mankind has invented and worshiped thousands of gods over countless generations. It is a fool’s position to believe that all of these gods were fictitious, all but YOURS.

    Oh, and according to the bible, God DID create evil: Isaiah 45:7 – “I form the light, and I create darkness. I make peace, and I create Evil. I, the Lord, do all these things.”

    As to why you should give two cents for Stephan’s opinion, you shouldn’t. YOUR opinion is what matters most. But why should you give your opinion any credence if you based it on theory and not fact? How do you trust yourself if you allow your HOPE for a thing to be true to shape what you believe in?

    Sirius, the entire educated world might have once believed the world was flat but they no longer do. However, there are MANY god believers that still believe in that which science has proven to be false. MANY Christians believed the earth sat at the center of the universe and the sun revolved around it LONG after Galileo proved otherwise. The reality is, god believers, rather than scientists, are far more likely to continue to believe in a thing after it has been shown to be false.

    DoubtingThomas

  8. Thomas,

    I do wonder sometimes why I bother… Perhaps I choose to see some of my old self in you. Perhaps I choose to see the possibility that reason will infect your consciousness and open your eyes to truth. Perhaps I am wrong about you.

    While there is so much we agree upon, you and I are mirror opposites. Your paradigm doesn’t allow for the supernatural. I find sola ratione to be reductionist to the point of excluding reality. I think often that science and reason forget their limitations. For example, you may discover the chemical process of love, but in doing so, in attempting to reduce the concept of love to purely natural explanation its easy to miss the forest for the trees. Science and reason also tend to over-reach.

    You’re familiar enough with my arguments to realize that what I do not agree with you on isn’t merely allowance for the supernatural versus a purely natural explanation for things: I also cannot abide it when atheists presume that they take their position less by faith than the theist. We all have the same data. We even have similar methodology. But we come to different conclusions based on our paradigms. That’s right. Scientists are not impartial observers. Like every other Human on the planet, they filter what they see through their paradigm or, as I call it, their bias filter.

    Which brings me to opinion, after which I will correct a few errors you made in your response.

    You’ve attempted to reduce the proposition to it being one’s own personal opinion that matters. [Unless I’ve misunderstood you] That’s balderdash. You’ve posited that only a fool would choose to believe that all gods were bunk but mine, but it’s only a fool’s position IF it’s wrong. You nor I can prove or disprove God’s existence. To state that you can would be to overstate your resources. I have reason to believe — yes, reason — that at least one God was not invented by man at all. [btw, Romans chapter 1 actually tells us how man progressed from belief in God to worshipping gods he’d made up to trying to ignore God’s existence altogether; we’ve already accounted for the other guys]. My reasons are bound up in things like the historical facts of Christ’s ressurection, fulfilled prophecy and the fact that Bible doctrine described humanity’s condition perfectly. You’ve posited that theists and deists are more likely than atheists [I’m sure you didn’t mean to imply that all scientists are atheists, so I’ve corrected your sentence] to continue to promote a thing even after it’s been proven false, but atheistic science hasn’t proven jack yet! In fact, they’ve been promoting evolution in spite of the fact that its a fundamentally flawed theory [a theory you seem to be basing your atheistic paradigm on?]. Atheistic evolution has a lot of holes, like where did information come from? reason? life? if man was primitive and slowly developed technology, how do we explain OOPArts? [Scientists keep brushing “anomolies” under the mat when they don’t fit their preconceptions of what they think they ought to see]

    Now I’m honest to a fault. Atheists are more likely to hold on to disproven theories than theists or deists, or vice versa. They’re just as likely. Humans do not give up their biases easily, whether they believe in deity or not!

    Many Christians once believed in a geocentric universe. It’s also true that many deists and atheists believed the same thing! It’s also true that most scientists were theists and deists at the time. It’s again true that many of the non-Christian scientists held out for the old paradigm as well.

    Now, the verse you quoted. Get a lexicon or something. Many words have different meanings dependent upon context. In this context, contrasted with “peace” the term evil refers to “calamity” or “hard times,” which isn’t what we’ve been discussing at all.

    I’ve answered you on this matter before…

    Sirius Knott

  9. Ah, yes, here it is….

    Check out these three blogs under the Reasonable Faith heading on my blog:

    Will Power Redux

    The Cost of Free Will

    Paint It Black

    Thanks again,
    Sirius Knott

  10. doubtingthomas426 Says:

    Sirius,

    Sorry if I have disappointed you by my opinions not lining up with your but I just find that you preach with an authority that is unjustified. Granted I find your intellectual comments stimulating (indeed you are one of my favorite commentators on my site) but I still find that your stance on the validity of any one god (yours) to be as willful as anyone else’s. You state that neither “you nor I can prove or disprove God’s existence” and yet you clearly have, to yourself (“My reasons are bound up in things like the historical facts of Christ’s ressurection, fulfilled prophecy and the fact that Bible doctrine described humanity’s condition perfectly”). Personally, I have seen no evidence of any of the reasons you gave (perhaps reason for my disbelief) and I am again reminded that, regardless of your level of intellect, your position on this issue is based entirely on personal opinion. And yet you speak so patronizingly toward me, as if my unwillingness to concede to your viewpoint somehow makes me a stubborn moron with eyes clamped tightly shut and palms placed firmly over ears. We don’t “all have the same data”, Sirius. We all have ACCESS to the same data. Not everyone is willing to reach for it or even acknowledge that it is there.

    You said – “You’ve posited that only a fool would choose to believe that all gods were bunk but mine, but it’s only a fool’s position IF it’s wrong”

    Depends on how the person comes to the conclusion that a thing is ‘wrong’ then, doesn’t it? Is it a conclusion based on evidence, theory, faith, fact? It IS a fool’s position if their definition of ‘wrong’ is – what doesn’t agree with my desired outcome or way of thinking. It IS a fool’s position if it is based entirely on personal opinion. And I wasn’t trying to imply that one’s own personal opinion is all that matters. I was responding to your comment (regarding Stephan stating his opinion on what he thought god was) of “why should I give 2 cents for your opinion amongst all of the other bleating voices?”. I was trying to point out how, to us, yours is one of the “other bleating voices”. You ask why you even bother trying to ‘explain’ things to me and suggest that maybe it’s for the possibility that reason will infect my consciousness and open my eyes to truth. But why should I give 2 cents for your opinion, Sirius? Why is yours more legitimate than the hundreds of others I hear every day? How do you know the words of my Scientologist friend or my Hindu friend or my Mormon friend won’t ‘infect my consciousness’ and ‘open my eyes’?

    You said – “I find sola ratione to be reductionist to the point of excluding reality.”

    I can’t argue with you on this point. It’s true my disbelief in the supernatural can occasionally be quite obstinate. I admit it. However, your BELIEF in the supernatural doesn’t appear to be any different.

    Also, I take issue with your use of the phrase ‘Atheistic Evolution’. If you had reviewed some of my other posts (especially my responding comments) you would know that I am VERY critical of evolutionary theory and am not satisfied by the answers it supposedly provides. In my opinion, the origin of life is a question that has yet to be answered in any satisfactory way. I also have major issues with the big bang theory. And please remember, the aspects of evolutionary theory that hold up have MANY Christian supporters, so the all encompassing phrase ‘Atheistic Evolution’ is unfair.

    Finally, you said (regarding my quote of scripture) – “Many words have different meanings dependent upon context. In this context, contrasted with “peace” the term evil refers to “calamity” or “hard times,” which isn’t what we’ve been discussing at all.”

    Sirius, the reason I quoted that scripture was in direct response to you stating that ‘God didn’t create evil”. Clearly the bible disputes you on this but, as is common with many believers, you revise the passage to mean something else, something that sits better with your view of your god.

    It isn’t what you have to say that offends me, Sirius, it is the arrogance in your statements that always seem to imply if only we silly Atheists would open our eyes and see reason, there is no doubt we would agree with you. But I can never escape the simple fact that you are stating an opinion as an absolute and asking us to believe as you do. I can’t and I don’t believe this makes me deserving of your ridicule.

    It appears that we must settle on the oft repeated “We must agree to disagree.”

    DoubtingThomas

    PS – The reason why we both ‘bother ‘ trying to explain our positions to one another is simply because we, as human beings, feel obligated to state our opinions whenever a differing opinion is put forth. It really all comes down to ego. We can never escape it.

    PSS – I can’t seem to connect to your site to check out the posts you list, can you provide the link (address)?

  11. Arrogance… Well, yes, I’ve definitely been accused of an ample supply of thoat particular commodity before. Neither is the accusation particularly unjustified. It’s simply more applicable than I’d like to think. On the other hand, sometimes confidence is simply viewed as overconfidence or, at the very least, overstatement. In other words, I can be perceived as arrogant even if my discourse did not come from that vein. Also, I occasionally use a voice of rhetoric similar to the one Elijah used when addressing the prophets of Baal or Mount Carmel, which is in essence a taunt meant to goad one into reassessing their viewpoint. The above-referenced Mr. Dawkins is known for a similar use of this voice of rhetoric.

    You’ve misunderstood me. Again. But this time it appears to be my own fault. I’m not picking on silly atheists or even thinking atheists. And it is COMPLETELY WRONG [is “incorrect” a better term?] to say that I think atheists or any other non-Christians would agree with me if they would just open up their eyes and see reason. The haste of the blogging medium has occasioned this misunderstanding. I made a statement to this effect, but I was merely expressing a frustration. I do not believe reason could infect someone [profoundly affect someone] so as to compel them to see my position as truth.

    I don’t think that at all. It would be equally inaccurate to state that because I have found reasonable evidences for my Christian orthodox faith that I feel I have proven God’s existence. It would be equally misrepresentative to say that I think I’ve proven Christianity. I can’t prove that Christ Jesus rose from the dead, but I do think that I have found a reasonable weight of evidences to suggest that He did. Furthermore, I find it more reasonable to conclude [based on, in brief, the consistently vindicated historical and archaeological accuracy of the Biblical record, the fulfillment of Bible prophecy, the credibility of the Gospel accounts, the agreement of extra-Biblical sources on the events of Christ’s trial, crucifixion under Pontius Pilate and the apostolic church’s conviction that Jesus had in fact risen again and were willing to die for this conviction] that Jesus did in fact live, die by crucifixion under Pontius Pilate, and rise again as promised than to believe to the contrary. It cannot be understated that this event, this resurrection, is the lynchpin of Christendom. It is the one belief upon which the entire rest of our doctrine and faith depend.

    I’ve elaborated on the evidence for the resurrection and related issues here: http://siriusknotts.wordpress.com/2008/02/06/resurrection-apologetics/

    You see, the issue isn’t proof. The applications of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle and the headache of epistemology aside, it’s really impossible to prove anything with absolute certainty. even the scientific method has its limitations. First, we must concede that though we strive to minimize their influence, our personal and cultural beliefs influence our perceptions, interpretations and even our methodology. Second, we may only apply the scientific method to what is observable. Third [and lastly for sake of brevity], it deals in probabilities only; some things are so observably probable under repeated experience that they constitute a law, but such probability will not prevent the possibility of the exception.

    But men need something to hang their hats on. Skepticism nor agnosticism will do for the thinking man. Like Descartes, they wonder that they think at all and what it all means, but they do not doubt that they are THINKING and that they ARE, thinking. man therefore seeks to make sense of his universe, how he came to be and why and all that. Essentially, he is looking for a theory of everything, a grand unified theory that explains it all, a terminus to causation and an explanation for the effects all rolled into one. This theory of everything will be either supernatural, natural or antinatural. I don’t believe either of us prescribe to the whole New Age “it’s all spiritual” “it’s all god” Church of Oprah sort of antinaturalism nor the “everything is an illusion” schtick. Pantheism, Christian Science, Buddhism… ugh. I try to be gracious, but – come on! – “suffering is just an illusion” is just denialism. Where’s the rationalism in those approaches?

    An aside: I actually have more respect for atheism than I do either skepticism [We can’t know anything] or agnosticism [We can’t know if God exist] — and apatheism [I don’t really care if God exists or not] is just a bunch of junior high kids flipping rational thought the proverbial bird. If you’re afraid you can’t know anything for sure, you can at least find out whether it’s probable. And if you suspect a God might probably exist, it’s reasonable to examine the evidence to see if the evidence is compelling and what that God might expect from you!

    Onward then.

    Rather than seeing reason as a means of compelling others to see the truth of my beliefs, I see it in a complimentary way. Faith is bolstered by reason, by evidences, but reason cannot cause faith. Why? Well, because faith has an element of will to it. We choose to believe. We choose not to believe: we reject things that don’t fit the bias of our paradigm. We might examine evidences by reason, but we choose to believe both in the validity of reason and the probability that it has led us to the most probable truth.

    Now, is this just a matter of personal opinion? Not really. No. Why not? It’s a matter of what paradigm is most probable or most reasonable. I might personally believe that Christian orthodoxy is the most reasonable, but it is NOT my opinion or my personal conclusions, if you will, that matters in this investigation, but rather whether Christian orthodoxy, being a truth claim held by many, many others besides myself, both historically and in contemporary times, is a better fit for the evidence than the truth claim of atheism. There may be ideosynchratic interpretations to your atheism, but that would be a matter of debate between two atheists, just as differences in minor points of doctrine are debateable between Christians.

    That’s an important point: This isn’t my opinion versus your opinion. [Speaking of which, my interpretation is pretty much the consensus of Christian and Jewish opinion on the context of that “God created evil” verse, given the meaning of the original Hebrew. It’s not a revision, just a poor word choice for our historical and cultural context given the actual meaning of the original text, though the meaning was clear enough in King James’ day, given the context.] This is whether there is better reason to believe in the truth claim of orthodox Christian theism versus the truth claim of atheism. Now we both might be tempted to decide [faith/will] that our truth claims are reasonable enough and, not being gifted with omnipotence, I’m afraid we do have to come to a point where we say, yes, ok, I’ll hang my hat on this. But are we either fearless enough to compare whether God is God or Baal is God, so to speak, or honest enough to admit that we’re quite comfortable with the notion that we’ve enough evidence to satisfy us no matter what the other fellow has to say?

    But how do we decide? We both agree that it must be carefully and rationally done. My orthodoxy compels me to point out that Christendom has always said this on the matter: [1] That a rejection of Christianity is, in the end, a matter of volition [will] more influenced by the issue of autonomy [doing as I please versus doing as God says] and/or morality [arguably the same thing in this context]; [2] that intellectual objections may be offered but serve merely to buttress their volitional obstinancy; [3] that ample evidence of God’s existence and attributes are found in His Creation and in moral law; [4] that those who seek God with their whole heart will find Him [an honest search will lead to Him]; [5] that God grants faith as a grace; [6] that it is impossible to please God without faith, because you must believe that He exists and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him; and [7] that whoever will believe on Christ will be saved. In other words, the investigation of Christendom, from the Christian POV, requires an engaged, honest approach. But reason alone will not get you there. In the end, you will have to make a choice, which is to say you will have to utilize faith, whether to accept or reject it.

    A few final notes:

    [1] The term atheistic evolution or the like isn’t meant to be insulting. Given the existence of deism and theistic evolution, I merely have to identify which type of evolutionary theory I am refering to. Is there a preferable term you’d like to utilize?

    [2] The links are as follows:

    http://siriusknotts.wordpress.com/2008/02/17/will-power-redux/

    http://siriusknotts.wordpress.com/2008/02/17/the-cost-of-free-will/

    http://siriusknotts.wordpress.com/2008/02/17/paint-it-black/

    Doubtless, you will find me as arrogant as ever, but I have paid you a compliment [of dubioius sorts] since I have never answered anyone else’s post point-by-point in such detail. I’ll be honest, it is likely that I shall not do it again soon. While there is always a reasonable answer, there is a point at which argument misses the forest for the trees. While I’m arguably no surface dabbler, I like to engage others on a more practical level.

    Thank you for allowing me to sharpen my steel against your own.

    I hope you have benefitted as much as I have from these honest, if pointed dialogues.

    — Sirius Knott

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