Saturday, July 13, 2013

Personal Experience, Proof of God, and Richard Dawkins

In the midst of writing my book, I came to the realization I would need to read Richard Dawkins' book The God Delusion.  I had seen Dawkins debate Christian philosophers and scientists on Youtube, but I had yet to read his works.  Necessity drove me to finally purchase the book.

I have managed the first quarter of the book so far, and there is much to discuss--too much to manage in a blog post.  Dawkins' book actually received scathing reviews by many, and it is no surprise.  What perhaps is surprising is Dawkins' apologetics in dealing with those reviews in the Kindle Edition.  Basically, as I read him, he believes his critics are simply delusional--as is anyone who believes in God. 

Whether or not I am delusional, along with the majority of the world's population remains to be seen.  And I am currently writing a book to argue to the contrary; however, there is one item in Dawkins' book which I believe needs to be addressed: his rebuttal of the "Argument from Experience" for the existence of God.

Dawkins writes:

Many people believe in God because they believe they have seen a vision of him--or of an angel or a virgin in blue--with their own eyes.  Or he speaks to them inside their heads.  This argument from personal experience is the one that is most convincing to those who claim to have had one.  But it is the least convincing to anyone else, and anyone knowledgeable about psychology.  (Kindle Location 1397)

What makes Dawkins say such things?

The human brain runs first-class simulation software.  Our eyes don't present to our brains a faithful photograph of what is out there, or an accurate movie of what is going on through time.  Our brains construct a continuously updated model: updated by coded pulses chattering along the optic nerve, but constructed nevertheless.  (Kindle location 1414)

...[The brain] is well capable of constructing 'visions' and 'visitations' of the utmost veridical power.  To simulate a ghost or an angel or a Virgin Mary would be child's play to software of this sophistication.  And the same works for hearing. (Kindle location 1431)

That is really all that needs to be said about personal 'experiences' of gods or other religious phenomena.  If you've had such an experience, you may well find yourself believing firmly that it was real.  But don't expect the rest of us to take your word for it, especially if we have the slightest familiarity with the brain and its powerful workings.  (Kindle location 1471)

It may surprise you that I will not argue with Dawkins' commentary on the way the brain works.  My own studies through Bowen Family Systems Theory confirms exactly this phenomena of the brain.  In fact, it is well known that we all have a blind spot in each eye.  Yet, if we close one eye, no such spot appears.  Our brains fill it in!!!

Yes, indeed, our brains are capable of producing a model of reality, and they do it all the time.

But Dawkins has a problem here.  A big problem which he doesn't seem to grasp.  He uses this phenomena to argue against any sort of religious phenomena without admitting that his brain is running a model on the observations he too is relating to us about biology and evolution.  He may try to argue that he is subjecting his observations to rigorous methodology, but it is still being processed by his own simulator in his own brain.  And he certainly cannot argue that others have run the simulation and come up with the same results thereby confirming his own simulation because he admits: "Religious experiences are different only in that the people who claim them are numerous."  (Kindle location 1403) 

So, applying Dawkins' own argument to his works invalidates them, correct?  I hardly think he would agree, yet, this is the logical conclusion.

There is more to be said; however.  For Dawkins' only deals with the "simulation software's" ability to add things in.  What he does not delve into--either by choice or by ignorance--is that the simulation software in our brain also OMITS things.  Yes, you heard me correctly.  The simulation software omits things--especially when there is a bias attached; and there is always a bias attached.

Please watch the following video as illustration:
If you are like me, you rewound it just to make sure there wasn't some sleight of hand.

Did you see that your brain omitted something important?  Did you see how your simulation software omitted the obvious?

Perhaps Professor Dawkins knows this.  Perhaps he does not.  If he does and refused to include this important fact, I think he is guilty of major confirmation bias.  Why?

Well, if one admits that one's brain simulation software omits things based upon a particular bias...

And Dawkins' particular bias is a singular hatred (believe me, that's not too strong a word) of all things religious...

Then it is not only quite possible, but quite likely his brain omits and overlooks religious experiences that may be happening in his own life.  It is possible, even likely, Dawkins is missing something that is obvious to the rest of us: religious experience.

What Dawkins fails to recognize is the trustworthiness of the source.  It is quite possible to dismiss religious experiences as false among those who are indeed mentally ill and unbalanced.  It is quite another thing to dismiss them among people who live lives full of sanity, regularity, and normalcy (whatever that might be).  Dawkins lumps them all together, and in doing so--along with omitting a very important detail in how our brains work--falls far short of offering a dismissal of religious experience as proof of God's existence.

No comments: