Thursday, July 25, 2013

Richard Dawkins' Sleight of Hand

I can see why Richard Dawkins has won over many disciples in his writing of The God Delusion.  He writes with a certainty usually reserved for religious fanatics, and one thing I have come to know about homo sapiens: we generally crave certainty (unless that certainty clashes against our particular worldview).

Dawkins admits his main argument against the existence of God rests on his Ultimate Boeing 747 argument.  He claims not a single theologian has been able to answer his argument, and they try to skirt around it.

The argument is as follows:

However statistically improbable the entity you seek to explain by invoking a designer, the designer himself has got to be at least as improbable. (Kindle Location 1763)

Dawkins' phrasing of the argument is very important here, because he offers a sleight of hand which throws many theologians and others off.  The sleight of hand becomes apparent in the paragraph immediately following the above quote.  Dawkins writes:

The argument from improbability states that complex things could not have come about by chance.  But many people define 'come about by chance' as a synonym for 'come about in the absence of deliberate design.'  Not surprisingly, therefore, they think improbability is evidence for design. (Kindle location1763)

Read those two statements by Dawkins carefully.  Really carefully.

The argument proposed by those of us who look at the universe and its fine tuning; the knowledge that universe came out of nothing; the location of our place in the universe; the location of our solar system within our galaxy, the location of our planet in the solar system; the fact that we have a moon which ran into our planet causing a molten, magnetic core and plate tectonics; the fact that non-living materials produced something living; and thinking entities emerged from non-thinking materials say that such matters could not have arisen by chance or luck.

Here, however, is the problem.  Dawkin's isn't dealing with the theist's argument.  He's dealing with an argument of his own making.

Dawkins' argument basically follows this line of reasoning:

If A=the universe is improbably complex,
And if B=you ascribe the complexity to a designer
Then C=the designer must be more complex than the design.  (That's not necessarily true, but for the sake of argument, let's say Dawkins is correct.)
If C, then, based upon A, the designer is more improbable than A.

In principle, the argument is correct.  But it falls far short of offering a defeater for the theist's argument because it does not contradict the theist's argument at all.  For the theists argument does not rest upon the complexity of the designer.  It rests upon whether or not chance or luck is a viable alternative to a designer, no matter how improbable that designer may seem.

The theists argument follows the following line of reasoning:

If A=the universe is finely tuned for the existence of intelligent life
Then B=there is a reason for this fine tuning.

The question is: what is the reason for this fine tuning?

Is it pure chance or luck?
Is it a given based upon an absurdly large number of alternate universes, and we just happen to be the right one?
Is there a designer who put the thing together?

Theists are willing to explore all of those options and ask, "Which is most reasonable?"

Dawkins actually jumps into two of these options.  At one point, he ascribes such things to luck (Kindle location 2190) --particularly the origin of life.  Yet, when it comes to the origin of the universe and the origin of thinking entities emerging from non-thinking entities, he indulges in the multiverse hypothesis--Kindle location 2263 (It isn't a theory folks.  A theory is testable by observation and measurement.  The multiverse hypothesis is neither and is actually a fanciful, imaginative exercise based solely on statements of belief.)

So, let's actually deal with the probability of the three options presented above.  What is the probability of this, so called, multiverse?  Well, unless we get anything more than the fanciful imagination of some theoretical physicists, the evidence for such a thing is actually zero.  We can't observe such an entity.  We can't measure such and entity.  We can't do experiments to explore and see if such an entity exists.  I think we can rank the multiverse hypothesis right up there with C.S. Lewis' no-see-ums.

What about chance or luck?  Well, this is indeed a possibility.  If so, we are extremely, extremely lucky.  Evidence abounds for the fine tuning of our universe.  Evidence abounds for things which are scientifically impossible--something coming out of nothing (the universe); living entities emerging from non-living materials (the existence of life); and the emergence of thinking beings out of non-thinking materials.  Dawkins estimates that there is a one in a billion chance of life emerging on a given planet.  I am very curious to see where he gets this estimate because given that the building block of life: DNA depends upon certain chemicals lining up in just the right sequence to produce a molecule which is capable of producing life--and those chemicals--according to Dawkins did so on their own--the probability simply has to be much, much lower than one in a billion.  Which leads to a very different conclusion--a conclusion we can actually use Dawkins' own words to find.

To suggest that the original prime mover was complicated enough to indulge in intelligent design, to say nothing of mindreading millions of humans simultaneously, is tantamount to dealing yourself a perfect hand at bridge.  Look around at the world of life, at the Amazon rainforest with its rich interlacement of lianas, bromeliads, roots and flying buttresses; its army of ants and its jaguars, its tapirs and peccaries, treefrogs and parrots.  What you are looking at is the statistical equivalent of a perfect hand of cards (think of all the other ways you could permute the parts, none of which would work)--except that we know how it came about: by the gradualistic crane of natural selection.  (Kindle location 2431)

Dawkins is absolutely correct that as we look at the biological systems, we are seeing a perfect hand of cards, but I would argue, we aren't just seeing one deck.  I would argue, given the entirety of the universe and its components which are geared for life, we are looking at a table in which four perfect hands of bridge are dealt.

if such a thing were to happen to a group of players, they would have to believe one of two things:

1. They were all the luckiest card players to ever exist.


2. Someone stacked the deck.

One of these is more probable than the other--despite the complexity of the one who most probably stacked the deck.

 Dawkins' argument fails and miserably.

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