Rescuing Dawkins’ Case Against God (part 3)

by Luke Muehlhauser on January 9, 2010 in Criticism of Atheists

See the index.

richard dawkins

This series was once called “Richard Dawkins and Naive Atheism.” But now it has morphed into something different, so I renamed it to “Rescuing Dawkins’ Case Against God.” (I also edited the two previous posts a bit.)

I began by saying that Richard Dawkins was philosophically naive to assert that:

To explain [something] by invoking a supernatural Designer is to explain precisely nothing, for it leaves unexplained the origin of the Designer.1

Of course, in order for an explanation to succeed, you don’t need to have an explanation of the explanation, as I explained here.

But now my readers have convinced me that it’s plausible that Dawkins did not mean to assert that a successful explanation itself must be explained. So let’s be charitable and assume he didn’t intend that – that he said what he said only in the context of a larger argument about complexity.

Unfortunately, Dawkins’ central argument in The God Delusion still has the problem of being logically invalid, as shown here.

We could make that the end of it. We could say, “Well, Dawkins, get back to me on the atheism thing when you can show me an argument that at least passes the test of logical validity. Then we’ll have something to talk about.”

But let’s be even more charitable than that. Maybe Dawkins didn’t mean to give his argument in logical form, but instead was only gesturing towards an argument that he wants to make but never does. Let’s try to rescue Dawkins’ argument. What might a successful Dawkins-esque argument from complexity look like?

Reader TaiChi thinks it might be something like this:

Dawkins thinks that God must be complex to do what he does, and he links complexity to improbability – since complexity involves numerous parts which are arranged in a statistically improbable manner. A God would be highly complex, so a God is statistically very improbable, and so God almost certainly doesn’t exist.

Can we put this into logically valid form? Sure. That’s what Erik Wielenberg did in his recent paper “Dawkins’ Gambit, Hume’s Aroma, and God’s Simplicity.” Here is Wielenberg’s formulation:

(1) If God exists, then God has these two properties: (i) He provides an intelligent-design explanation for all natural, complex phenomena in the universe and (ii) He has no explanation external to Himself.

(2) Anything that provides an intelligent-design explanation for the natural, complex phenomena in the universe is at least as complex as such phenomena.

(3) So, if God exists, then God has these two properties: (i) He is at least as complex as the natural, complex phenomena in the universe and (ii) He has no explanation external to Himself. (from 1 and 2)

(4) It is very improbable that there exists something that (i) is at least as complex as the natural, complex phenomena in the universe and (ii) has no explanation external to itself.

(5) Therefore, it is very improbable that God exists. (from 3 and 4)

This is less rhetorically engaging than Dawkins’ formulation, but at least it is logically valid.

So what can be said of this argument? Is it compelling?

Not really. The problem is that Dawkins’ argument engages the existence of a God that nobody believes in.

For example, consider premise (2). It’s not clear what Dawkins means by saying that God must be at least as complex as the complex universe he supposedly designed. Some writers2 have assumed Dawkins to have meant that something is complex if it has many different physical parts. But if so, then premise (2) becomes:

(2a) Anything that provides an intelligent-design explanation for the natural, complex phenomena in the universe has at least as much physical complexity as such phenomena.

Of course, theists do not assert that God is physical. I suppose Dawkins could support such a premise as (2a) with an extended defense of physicalism, but he provides no such defense, and that discussion would move far beyond the scope of Dawkins’ critique of religion, and of course would make the argument from complexity itself unnecessary.

But perhaps Dawkins has in mind the definition of complexity he arrived at after an extended discussion in The Blind Watchmaker:

…complicated things have some quality, specifiable in advance, that is highly unlikely to have been acquired by random chance alone.3

But this gets us nowhere. If we plug this definition into Dawkins’ argument, then Dawkins misses his mark. It makes no difference whether God is complex in this sense, for theists do not assert that God acquired “some quality… by random chance alone.” Rather, God is usually thought of as a necessary being, not one that contingently evolved by chance from previous being.

Wielenberg explains this by showing two versions of the God Hypothesis:

(GH1) There exists a contingent, physical, complex, superhuman, supernatural intelligence that created the universe and has no external explanation.

(GH2) There exists a necessary, nonphysical, complex, superhuman, supernatural intelligence that created the universe and has no external explanation.

Dawkins’ argument might be effective against (GH1), but few theists assert (GH1). Theism asserts something more like (GH2), but Dawkins’ argument does not apply to it.

So far, we have failed to rescue Dawkins’ main argument against the existence of God.

  1. The Blind Watchmaker, page 141. []
  2. Plantinga, “The Dawkins’ Confusion” in Christianity Today. Nagel, “The Fear of Religion” in The New Republic. Ganssle, “Dawkins’ Best Argument” in Philosophia Christi. []
  3. The Blind Watchmaker, Page 9. []

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{ 132 comments… read them below or add one }

ayer January 9, 2010 at 6:06 pm

“Rather, God is usually thought of as a necessary being, not one that contingently evolved by change from previous being.”

I think this hits upon Dawkins main problem, which is that his expertise is limited to the study of biological complexity, and he can’t get outside this box when he attempts to address issues regarding the origin of the spacetime universe itself, etc. He is making a category error in attempting to apply the type of explanations that work in his field to one in which he is basically a neophyte.

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Torgo January 9, 2010 at 6:18 pm

To further rescue Dawkins, it seems we need to distinguish between the Designer invoked to explain the origin of life and the God of theology. The problem with Dawkins’ analysis (a problem he carries over from the opponents he is addressing, see below) is that he takes an argument that is intended to point to a Designer, then, instead of dealing with the kind of Designer such arguments entail, brings in the usual God concepts such as simplicity, immateriality, necessary existence, etc. in order to dismiss them.

Assuming for the moment some kind of Design argument works, I don’t think it indicates that the Designer is anything like the God of theology. As one example, the Fine Tuning Argument implicitly assumes that the Designer’s abilities to create life are constrained in some ways, making the fine tuning of the universe necessary in order to bring about life. If he has to fine tune to create life, then his will is constrained in some way. Such a Designer/Fine Tuner, then, is not shown to be omnipotent or omniscient on this argument.

To make Dawkins’ argument work, if that can be done, we need to stop attacking the God of theology, and instead attack the Designer that Design arguments (assuming they go through) point to. And, arguably, Dawkins may have a leg to stand on in saying that, as far as we know, the kinds of intelligent causes that can produce other complex things like life are themselves complex, perhaps even physical. Perhaps this is why the extra-terrestrials explanation for the origins of life is preferable to any supernatural ones.

As to my parenthetical comment above, consider the description of God WLC gives at the end of the video you linked to in a previous post in this series. There he is addressing Dawkins’ argument against a Designer, and correctly notes the flaws in Dawkins’ argument. But towards the end Craig says that Dawkins is wrong to say the Designer must be complex since theologians usually argue that God is a simple being, a mind, not a complex being. Fine, I say, but what does that have to do with the Design argument? Craig is trying to change the terms of the argument by bringing in a conception of God that is utterly irrelevant to the kind of God a Design argument points to. And Dawkins and others fall for this time after time.

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ayer January 9, 2010 at 6:26 pm

Torgo: If he has to fine tune to create life, then his will is constrained in some way. Such a Designer/Fine Tuner, then, is not shown to be omnipotent or omniscient on this argument.

Could you elaborate on this? I don’t see how fine tuning rules out omnipotence or omniscience.

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TaiChi January 9, 2010 at 6:58 pm

“Reader TaiChi thinks it might be something like this”

Awesome. One for the scrapbook :P

“It makes no difference whether God is complex in this sense, for theists do not assert that God acquired “some quality… by random chance alone.” Rather, God is usually thought of as a necessary being, not one that contingently evolved by change from previous being.”

If God is a necessary being, then he meets Dawkins condition that the complexity is highly unlikely that it is acquired by chance – so I’m a little confused at your objection to Dawkins on this point. You (or Wielenberg) seem to have taken Dawkins to be saying exactly the opposite of what he did say.

“It’s not clear what Dawkins means by saying that God must be at least as complex as the complex universe he supposedly designed. Some writers have assumed Dawkins to have meant that something is complex if it has many different physical parts.”

I’m not sure why the interpreters of Dawkins think that his premise needs clarification. Perhaps they just assume he is so much of a hardened physicist that the assumption of physicalism in his arguments goes without saying. Or perhaps, as I suspect, they don’t know what to think of any non-physical reality, and so they interpret him as talking of what they do understand, which is the physical.

I don’t know what to think of the non-physical, either. But if it can be complex, then we’re still talking about a bunch of parts in arrangement. A bunch of parts can be arranged in numerous ways, and the probability of any one particular arrangement is inversely proportional to the number of parts. God, if complex, is presumably one such arrangement. Given the relationship between complexity and improbability, God’s being more complex than the universe would indeed mean that he is more improbable, regardless of whether the parts are physical. This is a purely statistical argument.

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Torgo January 9, 2010 at 7:15 pm

Ayer,

Fine Tuning doesn’t rule out omnipotence or omniscience. I’m not saying there’s any contradiction here. Rather, I’m arguing that the Fine Tuning Argument is useless when trying to argue for a God with such attributes.

Since the Fine Tuning argument implicitly claims that life could not arise unless factors x, y, Z, etc. were just so, then we can infer, should the argument go through, that the Fine Tuner was limited in abilities and/or knowledge. Why else would he need to fine tune?

No doubt the theist will claim that an omnipotent and/or omniscient being could have fine tuned the universe, and I don’t dispute that. But it also seems logically possible that such a God could have created life without doing any fine tuning–a claim the theist would affirm, I think. If this is the case, then this empirical argument (one that attempts to garner some respectability from using scientific evidence) is unfalsifiable, since a lack of fine tuning would not disprove the claim that God exists.

Put another way, if such a God could have created with or without fine tuning, then a central premise of the argument (i.e., that life could not exist without such fine tuning) is false.

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ayer January 9, 2010 at 7:45 pm

Torgo: If this is the case, then this empirical argument (one that attempts to garner some respectability from using scientific evidence) is unfalsifiable, since a lack of fine tuning would not disprove the claim that God exists.

I think this is the key point. The fine-tuning argument is not an exercise in coming up with a falsifiable hypothesis, as in the scientific method. It is a philosophical inference to the best explanation that draws upon scientific data. Given fine-tuning, the best explanation is God. (Similarly, the multiverse, the most common alternative to God as the explanation of apparent fine-tuning, is also a nonfalsifiable metaphysical explanation).

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Torgo January 9, 2010 at 8:00 pm

Ayer,

No, given the fine tuning, the best explanation is some intelligent cause whose abilities and/or knowledge are limited. And this is not what most theists would recognize as God.

I agree that the multiverse hypothesis is likely unfalsifiable, but it does have advantages over a God. It doesn’t introduce a new category of existence, immaterial minds, with all its problems (e.g., is such a notion intelligible?, how can immaterial things causally interact with material things?, etc.). As far as I know (and that’s not too far), the multiverse hypothesis makes claims that are consistent with much of what scientists know of (and can test of) our own universe. Still unfalsifiable, probably, but does not Occam’s Razor make it a preferable explanation? [I'm not willing to fight too hard for this, since I'm out of my depth when it comes to the details of cosmology, cosmogony, the details of the multiverse hypotheses/hypotheses, etc.]

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lukeprog January 9, 2010 at 8:13 pm

TaiChi,

“If God is a necessary being, then he meets Dawkins condition that the complexity is highly unlikely that it is acquired by chance – so I’m a little confused at your objection to Dawkins on this point. You (or Wielenberg) seem to have taken Dawkins to be saying exactly the opposite of what he did say.”

Sorry, I don’t know what you’re saying here.

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TaiChi January 9, 2010 at 9:17 pm

“It makes no difference whether God is complex in this sense, for theists do not assert that God acquired “some quality… by random chance alone.””

Your contraction of Dawkins’ quote cuts out the “highly unlikely to have been acquired by” antecedent of “random chance alone”, and completely changes the meaning. Instead of Dawkins saying that complexity is a matter of unlikely qualities which we can’t chalk up to chance, you have him saying that complexity just is a matter of chance.

“complicated things have some quality, specifiable in advance, that is highly unlikely to have been acquired by random chance alone.”

So the question we need to ask, if we want to ascertain whether God fits Dawkins’ definition of complexity, is whether God has any quality unlikely to have been the product of chance. According to theists, he does – God has many qualities (omniscience, for example) which belong to him essentially, and since he is necessary, the instantiation of these qualities is the precise opposite of chance.
But Dawkins has in mind a bit more than that. His first approximation at a definition of complexity in TBW is…

“a complex thing is something whose constituent parts are arranged in a way that is unlikely to have arisen by chance alone” (p.7)

.. and his definition on page nine is an elaboration on that. The qualities he is talking of are functional qualities, which supervene on the many constituent parts. That the quality be specified in advance rules out the ad hoc construction of qualities which would threaten to make anything with parts (Dawkins uses the example of Mont Blanc) a complex thing.
Anyway, the upshot is that many-partedness should be understood as necessary to his definition of complexity. That is, any divine qualities will only count as complex if Dawkins is right about their supervening on a multitude of parts.

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lukeprog January 9, 2010 at 9:37 pm

TaiChi,

I think I get what you’re saying but the problem is that Dawkins says God is improbable because it’s unlikely he would have acquired his properties by chance. But theists don’t believe in a God who ‘acquired’ contingent properties by chance. God’s essential properties are necessary, and he always had them. If God, a super-complex being, evolved by chance, then yeah he would be extremely improbable, but that’s not what theists have in mind when they refer to God.

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TaiChi January 9, 2010 at 10:14 pm

“I think I get what you’re saying but the problem is that Dawkins says God is improbable because it’s unlikely he would have acquired his properties by chance.”

Suppose some thing has a property unlikely to be acquired by chance. To put this precisely, we might say that the likelihood of the thing acquiring the property is less than 50%.
Now think of God: a theist will say that God is necessary, which means that it is impossible for God not to exist. That is, the (objective) probability of God’s existing is 100%. And God has all his qualities necessarily too, so the probability of any particular one of them existing is 100% as well. So it’s not the case that any quality God has is likely to be a matter of chance. A fortiori, God is (necessarily) immutable, and does not acquire qualities anyway. So God, and his properties, fit Dawkins’ profile.

You seem to catch your mind on Dawkins use of “acquired”. The reading seems to be…

“complicated things have some acquired quality, specifiable in advance, that is highly unlikely to have resulted from random chance.”

.. but that is not how it is written. Dawkins does not demand that the quality in question be acquired, only that it not be acquired by chance. Naturally, any quality which is not acquired won’t be acquired by chance, or any other way for that matter.

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Shane January 9, 2010 at 11:55 pm

Given that theists FAIL in the assertion that some sort of god is a “necessary being”, this all strikes me as dancing on the head of a rather contingent pin.

One quality of the gods that theists seem to want to overlook (when it is convenient for them) is that THEIR argument asserts that these goddy things act AS AN EXPLANATION for this universe; that’s the whole point, isn’t it? Now if you are allowing them the get-out of saying that gods are “simple” (in some poorly defined logically incoherent way) or that they are “immaterial”, so the normal rules of anything don’t apply, then there is no way in which such a woolly brainfart answers the question at hand.

Dawkins is not taking on (in this argument) the pointless sophistry of “necessary beings”, but on gods that act as explanations.

The core point is this: IF you are silly enough to invoke a goddy thing as an explanation for this apparently “fine-tuned” universe, then you are making a truth claim. A claim that there is a SOMETHING of sufficient complexity to actually DO that. And to want to do that. And to understand how to do that. And to Know stuff. And for the stuff that it Knows to be CORRECT (because it has to Know this from the get-go).

I’m sorry, but this absolutely implies staggering complexity somewhere in the system that cannot be considered to “just exist” as some sort of necessary non-contingent thingy.

Being “immaterial” or “necessary” does not get goddy things off the hook in this regard. Oh heck yeah, they may “exist” (again in some poorly defined abuse of the word), but they FAIL as an EXPLANATION of the universe, and if you recall, that was the question that was being asked of them in the first place.

Invoking them is multiplying entities beyond necessity, and in this Dawkins is absolutely right. And the apophat-heads are right too – you can’t say anything about the gods, even whether they created the universe. The problem with apophasis is that it is a ludicrously silly way of being an atheist. Terry Eagleton and Karen Armstrong take note. Just be honest with yourselves! :-)

Luke, the essential hook is this: in order to do explanatory lifting, the gods need to BE an explanation. This is inescapable, and when theists fart on about “immateriality” and “necessariness” (or whatever), they are trying a smoke and mirrors game. It does not get them off the hook, which remains entirely valid. By all means reframe the argument in the jargon of philosophy, but the central contention is entirely appropriate, and has not been refuted. All you have done is quibble over some terminology and phraseology, and allow the theists some verbage room that does not really exist.

Cheers,
-Shane

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Ryan January 10, 2010 at 12:01 am
Briang January 10, 2010 at 12:17 am

lukeprog: TaiChi,I think I get what you’re saying but the problem is that Dawkins says God is improbable because it’s unlikely he would have acquired his properties by chance. But theists don’t believe in a God who ‘acquired’ contingent properties by chance. God’s essential properties are necessary, and he always had them. If God, a super-complex being, evolved by chance, then yeah he would be extremely improbable, but that’s not what theists have in mind when they refer to God.  

Luke,

For the sake of discussion, what if we modified the argument slightly. Instead of saying that God is complex, and therefore, unlikely to come about by chance, that God is complex and therefore lowers the epistemic probability over a God who was simple. Obviously, God, understood as a necessary being, wouldn’t have an objective probability (other than 0 or 1). However, he could have an epistemic probability that could go up or down in accordance with the evidence.

The two relevant questions would be:
1) Would God really have to be more complex then the universe he designed?

2) What does this do to the epistemic probability of God existing?

I think it’s questionable whether 1 is true. The assumption seems to be that intelligent designers must be more complex then their designs, but unintelligent causes do not need to me more complex then their effects. Why should this be the case?
Even if God were as complex as the universe, I don’t think that this would do much to lower the probability of God’s existence. I don’t think that this would be much of an argument against God’s existence. At best, it would be an argument against using complexity to prove God’s existence .

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Polymeron January 10, 2010 at 1:30 am

Luke, in my understanding Dawkins’ “argument” to be rescued does not work with its stated conclusion, but DOES work as a rebuttal to the argument from complexity.

Dawkins claims (implied! We are rescuing the argument here!) that the proponents of the argument from complexity accept these premises and logic:

P1: The complexity of the universe is such that it can only be explained in being wholly created by deliberate design.

P2: Everything that is designed has had a designer.

He also asserts other premises which he assumes are acceptable:

P3: Infinite regressions are impossible.

P4: A designer conceives of every intended part of an object it designs.

P5: The full concept of an object is at least as complex as the object itself.

He then runs with the logic:

(Follows from P1&P2) C1: The universe had a designer. (the very argument from complexity)

(Follows from P4&P5) C2: A designer is at least as complex as the objects it designs (because it contains the concept of them).

(Follows from C1&C2) C3: The designer of the universe is at least as complex as the universe itself.

(Follows from P1&P2&C3) C4: The designer of the universe had a designer.

(C4&P1&P2) C5: These premises lead to an infinite regression of designers.

(P3&C5) is contradictory.

Since Dawkins acknowledges premises 2-5 as well as the logic governing the argument, he claims this falsifies Premise 1 – this shows very well why design cannot be the *only* explanation for complexity.

Again, the stated conclusion in Dawkins’ writing – “therefore, it is very improbable that god exists” – cannot be derived here. But it’s still a useful argument as a rebuttal to the argument from complexity.

It can similarly be shown that accepting these Premises makes god impossible as a being that has not been designed – but that is quite redundant as he shows this set of premises to be contradictory in any case, and as we all(?) know, in formal logic anything follows from a contradiction.

Maybe that’s what Dawkins did – Ex Falso Quodlibet…

What do you think?

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lukeprog January 10, 2010 at 8:10 am

Shane,

Those might be decent rebuttals, but they are not immediately applicable to Dawkins’ argument; they are different subjects. Also, why can a necessary being not be an explanation?

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lukeprog January 10, 2010 at 8:16 am

Ryan,

On necessary beings: The point is that Dawkins does not attack the God of classical theism. If Dawkins had chosen to level an argument against the coherence of a necessary being, then he WOULD have been attacking the God of classical theism, however he did not do that. Instead his argument attacks some kind of contingent God, which monotheists do not believe in.

You say: “Dawkins isn’t supposing that God evolved from a previous being.” Well, maybe not, but if we use his definition of complexity from TBW then he seems to be saying that God is the kind of being who acquired his attributes by chance (e.g. contingently), and was highly unlikely to do so. But again, this is not the God of classical theism, so Dawkins misses the mark.

“The odds of God’s existence would be one out of infinity.” No, not if God’s existence is necessary, as theists assert. Again, if Dawkins wanted to level an argument against divine necessity then he could have, but he did not. Instead he argues against some kind of contingent God that nobody believes in.

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lukeprog January 10, 2010 at 8:18 am

TaiChi,

Dawkins asserts that God is improbable BECAUSE he has properties that were unlikely to have been acquired by chance (if we take his complexity definition from TBW). But this link between complexity and improbability is lost if the being we’re talking about has his properties necessarily instead of contingently, by chance.

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lukeprog January 10, 2010 at 8:21 am

Polymeron,

I don’t see how C4 follows from P1 and P2 and C3.

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Lorkas January 10, 2010 at 9:25 am

lukeprog: Polymeron,I don’t see how C4 follows from P1 and P2 and C3.  

P1 needs to be split into two different propositions:

P1a) Objects or systems of sufficiently high complexity can only be explained in being wholly created by deliberate design.
P1b) The universe is a system of sufficiently high complexity.

We already know P1a to be false, of course (see DARWIN, 1859), but it is a premise in the design argument. If the theist accepts P1a, then C4 follows from P1a, P2, and C3 and the design argument fails. If the theist rejects P1a, then the design argument also fails because the universe doesn’t require a designer.

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Lorkas January 10, 2010 at 9:27 am

Lorkas: If the theist accepts P1a, then C4 follows from P1a, P2, and C3 and the design argument fails.

Unless, I suppose, the theist rejects P3 and accepts C4. *shrug*

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Jeff H January 10, 2010 at 10:53 am

To take this in a completely different direction, I just thought of something.

If theists wish to assert the idea of divine simplicity, it undercuts one of the arguments for intelligent design. The idea entails that minds are simple things. God is wholly mind (or spirit, I suppose), and thus wholly simple. But if minds are simple, then we need no great explanation for human consciousness, because it must be incredibly easy to create a simple thing. Evolution could quite easily explain something that is simple.

On the other hand, if consciousness is some sort of complex process, then it seems a contradiction to then assert that God is simple.

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Bryce January 10, 2010 at 11:52 am

I don’t see how the origin of complexity must be more complex itself; for instance, if I take a simpler group of 5 objects, I can make 120 different lines by organizing them differently, an example of greater complexity being reached from lesser complexity. (For another example, think fractals)

This would present an argument that would upset Dawkins’ argument; since there can’t be an infinite regress of simpler objects to explain a finite complexity, but there must be a simplest object, and this simplest object can’t have a simplicity of zero (for then it would be nothing) but must be at least one, then this ultimate creator/designer God is ultimately simple. At this point, Dawkins’ is not only talking about something completely different, but something definitionally impossible which couldn’t provide an explanation for anything.

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Paul January 10, 2010 at 11:56 am

I have some questions that hopefully someone will answer for me.

1. What is the actual question. What is the cause of the universe? Or what is the cause of life, which by extension could also be asking what is the source of the universe?

2. So that I am operating on the same wavelength – what are the definitions of simple and complex?

3. Related to #2 – What is the difference between simple an complex when it comes to God?

4. I don’t quite follow the following criticism – “The problem is that Dawkins’ argument engages the existence of a God that nobody believes in.” For arguments sake, let us assume Dawkins logic was foolproof. Does it not become the burden of the classical theist to show that God is not contingent but necessary. Something they cannot do beyond asserting it?

– Quote from post
“Wielenberg explains this by showing two versions of the God Hypothesis:

(GH1) There exists a contingent, physical, complex, superhuman, supernatural intelligence that created the universe and has no external explanation.

(GH2) There exists a necessary, nonphysical, complex, superhuman, supernatural intelligence that created the universe and has no external explanation.

Dawkins’ argument might be effective against (GH1), but few theists assert (GH1). Theism asserts something more like (GH2), but Dawkins’ argument does not apply to it.

So far, we have failed to rescue Dawkins’ main argument against the existence of God.”

Is Dawkin’s attempting to refute classical theism or is he attempting to refute a more general form of deism – which would indirectly refute theism. I have heard Dawkins on occassion say that modern science has explained so much that it leaves very little, or nothing, for God to do. If I may interpolate, making God quite superfluous. This is a very rough paraphrase.

..
Shane then provided, what I found to be, a good comment to Luke’s post.

lukeprog: Those might be decent rebuttals, but they are not immediately applicable to Dawkins’ argument; they are different subjects

5. Why aren’t they immediately applicable?

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Silver Bullet January 10, 2010 at 1:34 pm

lukeprog: Polymeron,I don’t see how C4 follows from P1 and P2 and C3.  

Luke,

What if P1 is changed to read as follows (with a few minor modifications for length afterwards):

P1: Complexity can only be explained in being wholly created by deliberate design.

P2: Everything that is designed has had a designer.

(Follows from P1 & P2) C1: The universe is complex, so it had a designer. (the very argument from complexity)

C2: A designer is at least as complex as what it designs (because it contains the concept of them).

(Follows from C1&C2) C3: The designer of the universe is at least as complex as the universe itself.

(Follows from P1&P2&C3) C4: The designer of the universe had a designer.

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Silver Bullet January 10, 2010 at 2:21 pm

ayer: “Rather, God is usually thought of as a necessary being, not one that contingently evolved by change from previous being.”

I think this hits upon Dawkins main problem, which is that his expertise is limited to the study of biological complexity, and he can’t get outside this box when he attempts to address issues regarding the origin of the spacetime universe itself, etc.He is making a category error in attempting to apply the type of explanations that work in his field to one in which he is basically a neophyte.  

Dawkins is merely pointing out that Darwinian evolution is a consciousness-raiser that frees us from (i) having to only postulate designers to explain sophistication and (ii) from the logical problems that arise from that line of reasoning.

You seem to consider his application of this principle, which comes from biology, to the field of cosmology to be his weakness. I think it is his strength, and why he is so important. He is trying to get the rest of us to think outside our boxes.

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Briang January 10, 2010 at 2:50 pm

I think the following two propositions are problematic:

P1: Complexity can only be explained in being wholly created by deliberate design.

C2: A designer is at least as complex as what it designs

P1 as currently stated is false. But a defender of the design argument would need something like it. Could it be modified to support a design argument that is compatible with an undesigned designer? How about the following:

P1* Specified complexity which begins to exist can only be explained in being wholly created by deliberate design.

P1* adds “specified” to account for how ID advocates differentiates between an improbable state of affairs caused by chance and that caused by design. Design is inferred by complexity that also meets some pattern. The phrase “begins to exits” would restrict the design inference to things which have not always existed. The complexity found in the universe would meet this restriction, since there is independent evidence that the specificity complexity began. However there is no evidence of the designer having a beginning, so P1* would not necessary apply. On the other hand, the design argument provides no evidence that the designer did not have a beginning. So if he did have a beginning, there would be a designer of the designer. If we reject an infinite regression, it follows that there must have been some original designer.

C2 is questionable. It seems to me at least possible that humans could design something more complex than humans.

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lukeprog January 10, 2010 at 3:13 pm

Lorkas,

I very much doubt that a theist would assert P1a if ‘complexity’ is understood in such a way that it would apply to God. They would probably assert something like:

P1a*) Objects or systems of sufficient physical complexity can only be explained in being wholly created by deliberate design.

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lukeprog January 10, 2010 at 3:18 pm

Silver Bullet,

See my comment to Lorkas. I doubt theists who be so dumb as to argue that complexity of any kind requires a design inference, unless they’re really committed to divine simplicity, which is no longer a popular doctrine – among theistic philosophers, anyway.

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Briang January 10, 2010 at 3:23 pm

Silver Bullet:
Dawkins is merely pointing out that Darwinian evolution is a consciousness-raiser that frees us from (i) having to only postulate designers to explain sophistication and (ii) from the logical problems that arise from that line of reasoning.You seem to consider his application of this principle, which comes from biology, to the field of cosmology to be his weakness. I think it is his strength, and why he is so important. He is trying to get the rest of us to think outside our boxes.  

It seems to me that this is a serious weakening of Dawkin’s argument. If your interpretation is right then at best one could conclude that the design argument isn’t a good one. But that isn’t sufficient to show that “God probably doesn’t exist.”

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Silver Bullet January 10, 2010 at 3:40 pm

lukeprog:I very much doubt that a theist would assert P1a if ‘complexity’ is understood in such a way that it would apply to God…. I doubt theists who be so dumb as to argue that complexity of any kind requires a design inference.  

First of all, I think that there are plenty of theists who haven’t thought the design argument through to the logical conclusion that Dawkins points out to be an infinite regress of ever increasing complexity. So kudos to Dawkins for spelling it out that way for them (as others have done…).

Secondly, OF COURSE the theist is going to try to argue that the design argument only applies to the universe, or life, or whatever, but DOESN’T apply to their god! But to do so involves purely AD HOC assertions that it doesn’t! Why should they get away with that?

If god can get away with it, then why can’t the universe itself (especially since premise 1 is false anyways)?!? I would be surprised if Dawkins has never addressed these basic issues.

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Silver Bullet January 10, 2010 at 3:56 pm

(Just wanted to say that I don’t use upper case letters to shout at you Luke. I simply don’t know how to use bold or italics here)

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Reasonist January 10, 2010 at 7:22 pm

To assert that god is not physical and or that science cannot begin to apply to understanding god’s nature, is just a theological cop-out. If any kind of god exists, it necessarily MUST be made of something. (The same applies to the soul)
Thus the problem of invoking a being with superantural powers(omnipotence, omniscience,etc.) is not a possible explanation for how the universe came into being. No further data about the conditions prior to the big bang are needed here.
Occam’s razor demands that the simplest acount for a particular phenomenon, which is both likely and plausible, is the one that you should go with. Using god, who, no matter the specific theology invoked to describe him, it, etc., would be to undeniably say ultimate complexity and intelligence came before the universe. This is untenable.(barring any bizarre arguments about aliens from another universe creating our universe)
Everything that science has revealed so far reliably informs us that complexity forms from simple beginnings. Also intelligence, conscioussness and agency cannot exist before space/time does as they are required to experience those things.
When I read Dawkin’s infinite regress argument, it seemed solid. He never claimed that there are no situations which might have a scientifically verifiable and established truth about the universe, which could not account for that truth because it was complex or doesn’t have it’s own immediate and complete explanation.
Using God to try to explain something has never been anything but a “god of the gaps” argument. Thus, he is correct when he says “it explains nothing”. If you set out to explain the universe’s origins and instead invoke god, you haven’t explained the universe’s creation at all and nor have you explained god. This means 0-2. (i don’t mean “you” personally, but I think that should be clear)

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TaiChi January 10, 2010 at 9:13 pm

lukeprog: TaiChi,Dawkins asserts that God is improbable BECAUSE he has properties that were unlikely to have been acquired by chance (if we take his complexity definition from TBW).  

I realize that and believe I’ve addressed your apparent problem – since his properties are ex hypothesi not the kinds of properties to have been acquired by chance, it is a trivial fact that they are unlikely to have been acquired by chance. To repeat myself in another way, whatever is impossible is, trivially, unlikely (what is the liklihood that 2+2=5? Zilch.). Am I understood regarding this bit?

lukeprog:
But this link between complexity and improbability is lost if the being we’re talking about has his properties necessarily instead of contingently, by chance.  

How so? Unless you’re willing to allow the theist to assert that God exists by fiat (which is what you seem to be doing here), I don’t see where you’re coming from. I can go along with the idea that since God is necessary, there is no causal story to tell about his properties, but do you seriously believe that an atheist should grant the theist God’s necessity in this context*? Where any sort of argument against the probability of God would automatically fail? Do you, for instance, believe that the evidential argument against evil fails because it assigns a probability to the conjunction of omnibenevolence and omnipotence in a being?

* (I don’t think the atheist should grant the assumption at all. It is conceivable that God does not exist (ask any atheist), and that is prima facie reason to regard him as contingent. A successful ontological argument may overturn this, but we shouldn’t accept a promissory note from the theist that there is such an argument.)

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TaiChi January 10, 2010 at 9:24 pm

Silver Bullet: (Just wanted to say that I don’t use upper case letters to shout at you Luke. I simply don’t know how to use bold or italics here)  

Angle brackets rather than square ones seem to work:
i and /i for italics surround both with angle brackets, on your , and . keys. Use b and /b for bold, u and /u for underline.

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lukeprog January 10, 2010 at 10:22 pm

TaiChi,

Let me come at this another way. Dawkins’ argument, as reformulated by Wielenberg, is aimed to debunk a contingent God. But theists believe in a necessary God. So Dawkins misses the mark. If he believes that God cannot be necessary, then he should have argued for that, in which case he may have done a better job of attacking the type of God that theists actually believe in.

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TaiChi January 11, 2010 at 12:49 am

Thanks for continuing to pursue this, Luke.

Let me come at this another way. Dawkins’ argument, as reformulated by Wielenberg, is aimed to debunk a contingent God.

Well, I disagree. Dawkins aims to debunk the God hypothesis, whether or not that God turns out to be necessary or contingent. None of his premises turn on the contingency of God. (I hasten to add, and it might be helpful to point out, that the probability in Dawkins arguments is epistemic probability, not metaphysical probability).
Again, and I’m afraid I must push the point, how is it that you think the evidential problem of evil is potent, given your objection to Dawkins’ argument? Both arguments identify features of God, both assign them a probability (in the former case it is a priori, in the latter case a posteriori), so in both cases a probability is apparently being assigned to a necessary being. But the theist could just reply, as you have here, that probabilistic reasoning cannot adjudicate the question of God’s existence since no sense is to be made of assigning probabilities to a necessary being or any of his essential qualities. Why is the theist’s reply to one problem adequate, but to the other, inadequate?

But theists believe in a necessary God.
Let’s take God’s necessity literally. It means that God exists in every possible world, and that of course means that God exists in the actual world. Necessity is a kind of super-existence predicate. Do you really think the atheist should grant the existence of God at the outset of attempting to show that there is no God?
Of course not. But then, what is she to do? Treat God as contingent until shown otherwise. And so too does the theist, when he engages in honest debate about the existence of God. Both might agree that the necessary existence or non-existence are the spoils of the debate, but they can’t meaningfully discuss the matter without ignoring the necessity of God.

If he believes that God cannot be necessary, then he should have argued for that, in which case he may have done a better job of attacking the type of God that theists actually believe in.
As above, I don’t think he needs to show that God is contingent – God’s contingency, or better, the suspension of attention to God’s necessity is part and parcel of rational debate about God. If you truly can’t entertain the idea that God does not exist, then you’ve excused yourself from the conversation.

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drj January 11, 2010 at 7:43 am

lukeprog: Let me come at this another way. Dawkins’ argument, as reformulated by Wielenberg, is aimed to debunk a contingent God. But theists believe in a necessary God. So Dawkins misses the mark. If he believes that God cannot be necessary, then he should have argued for that, in which case he may have done a better job of attacking the type of God that theists actually believe in.  

Thats exactly what the argument is supposed to do, Luke.

The original argument and its reformulations specifically set out to demonstrate that God must be contingent according to design theist reasoning. Not only that, but this God must be contingent in such a way to lead to infinite regress.

The design theist generally argues that a certain form of complexity demands explanation. More specifically, they argue that certain levels and types of complexity demand the explanation of intelligent design. Dawkins asserts that God – given his purported powers and abilities – must be of this type of complexity. Therefore the design theist must submit to the conclusion that God is designed.

If the theist rejects that conclusion he must then say that God’s complexity needs no explanation. Dawkins argues that this gives the naturalist permission to assert that features of the universe, for example the finely tuned constants, need no explanation either. Hence, the God explanation is spurious and the naturalist wins by Occams Razor.

The assumption (or at least the premise that is only weakly argued for by Dawkins et al) that might lead a theist to say that the god of the argument is not their God, is the complexity aspect.

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Lorkas January 11, 2010 at 7:47 am

lukeprog: P1a*) Objects or systems of sufficient physical complexity can only be explained in being wholly created by deliberate design.

*shrug*
That proposition is still false, regardless of the argument from Dawkins that follows. We’ve known this for 150 years now.

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lukeprog January 11, 2010 at 8:02 am

TaiChi,

Maybe I’m just being dense, here, but I don’t see how Dawkins, reformulated by Wielenberg, has an argument that could be potentially aimed at a necessary, supernatural God. Here’s why:

If by “complex” Dawkins means “physically complex”, then his argument aims to debunk a physical God, not a supernatural God.

If by “complex” Dawkins means “having some quality, specifiable in advance, that is highly unlikely to have been acquired by random chance alone”, then he still misses the mark. For, as Wielenberg puts it:

If God is a necessary being, then He did not come into existence all at once entirely by chance because He did not come into existence at all. Thus, contra premise (4) of Dawkins’ Gambit, the fact that a given thing is complex and lacks an explanation external to itself does not imply that the existence of the thing in question is improbable. Premise (4) does not hold in the case of things that exist necessarily…

I’m sure Dawkins wants to treat God as contingent until shown otherwise, but I don’t think he can. The theist will simply claim, “But my God is a necessary being,” in which case Dawkins should argue against the plausibility of a necessary being. If he did so, then he would be hitting the mark. But he doesn’t argue so.

“If you truly can’t entertain the idea that God does not exist, then you’ve excused yourself from the conversation.”

I think many theists can entertain the idea that God does not exist, but they would say that if God exists, then he is a necessary being.

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lukeprog January 11, 2010 at 8:04 am

Lorkas,

Yup. Don’t be mislead: I’m certainly not defending that premise!

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Paul January 11, 2010 at 8:25 am

lukeprog: The theist will simply claim, “But my God is a necessary being,” in which case Dawkins should argue against the plausibility of a necessary being.

Maybe I misunderstood or misunderstand but should not the onus be on the theist to make the case for a necessary being first? I mean beyond asserting it.

Semi-related question – Is Dawkin’s even trying to address the type of theist that Luke refers to?

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Paul January 11, 2010 at 8:30 am

In a previous comment I asked some questions. I don’t know if it came across pedantically or not but they were genuine question. So I will reformulate one of them with hopes someone will answer or point me to a place where I can look it up.

What properties would a complex God have that a simple God wold not?

Thanks -

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lukeprog January 11, 2010 at 9:58 am

Paul,

Yes, the onus is on the theist to show that God is a necessary being and non-physical. Many theists have taken up that challenge. If Dawkins wants to say that God can’t be non-physical nor necessary, then he is welcome to do so, but he never tries this. And in fact, if he succeeded in making such arguments, this would make his complexity argument unnecessary and irrelevant. But instead, Dawkins attacks the probability of a God theists don’t believe in.

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lukeprog January 11, 2010 at 9:59 am

Paul,

Concerning your question about divine simplicity, I’ll let the theist talk about that. There are many concepts of divine simplicity.

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Tony Hoffman January 11, 2010 at 12:54 pm

If Dawkins wants to say that God can’t be non-physical nor necessary, then he is welcome to do so, but he never tries this.

Interesting. Another way of looking at it is that Dawkins is being criticized for not engaging the Courtier’s reply.

From my (non-philosophical) perspective, it appears that theists are retreating to a position that says Dawkins argument can’t refute their imaginary God in their imaginary world. The problem there is that the spoils are equally imaginary, and I don’t really blame Dawkins (or others) for not bothering to pursue theists there.

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lukeprog January 11, 2010 at 1:03 pm

Tony,

Huh? Why would it be valuable for Dawkins to critique a God that nobody believes in?

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Tony Hoffman January 11, 2010 at 1:19 pm

Why would it be valuable for Dawkins to critique a God that nobody believes in?

Well, when you put it like that I agree it’s not so valuable.

I think a reasonable line that Dawkins is pursuing is that when it comes to the argument for God, God is either manifestly not there or manifestly irrelevant.

I’m not philosophically inclined, but it seems to me like arguing with someone about the pineapple they see on the table. The pineapple is not there for any test we can run, but the seer still says he sees the pineapple. At some point, there’s no good reason in further disputing that the seer does not see the pineapple, but there’s nothing wrong with pointing out that the only pineapple that matters is the one on the table, and it’s not there.

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Paul January 11, 2010 at 1:20 pm

lukeprog: Concerning your question about divine simplicity, I’ll let the theist talk about that. There are many concepts of divine simplicity.

I’ve been trying to read through the information available on the following link.

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/divine-simplicity/

I will have to read it through it slowly (again) because much of it is unfamiliar to me. Upon first peripheral reading, divine simplicity seems to be somewhat dependent on the ontological argument. Which to be honest does make me feel like metaphorically throwing out the idea into the garbage bin.

On a side note the following quote is interesting
“As such, the doctrine of divine simplicity is one that has no biblical support at all and, in my opinion, has no good philosophical arguments in its favor. Moreover, it faces very formidable objections. So in answer to your first question, I do reject the traditional doctrine that God is absolutely simple.”

I didn’t read the entire response so apolo

I found this at
http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=7189

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Gato Precambriano January 11, 2010 at 1:47 pm

Interesting. I’ve saw this video on Craig’s lecture about The God Delusion some time ago, and appart the “explanation of the explanation” part, that I agree with others that it’s not what Dawkins meant to say, when Craig really engage Dawkins’s Gambit, his answer was simply to say that “God is simple because God is immaterial, so He have no parts”. He says nothing about God been necessary.

However, Craig, and Luke seems to agree with him on this, works all the time with the definition of complexity Dawkins gives in The Blind Watchmaker. But that definition is explicitly gave for biological (so material) systems. Of course theists claim that the God they believe is immaterial, but in doing so they cannot legitimaly use a material definition of complexity to claim that He is “simple”.

In The God Delusion Dawkins don’t use AFAIK the definition of complexity of TBW, instead he claims God should be complex due to the many things He would be capable of doing: read minds, be everywhere, know everything, etc. All this demands at least a huge capacity of data processing no matter how necessary this been is. Or do I miss something?

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kittykay4 January 11, 2010 at 1:49 pm

I’m no more philosophically trained than Dawkins, so please forgive any egregious ignorance by me, I haven’t been taught better!

But I think he’s forming something akin to the Regress argument and then saying that if we need to pick a basic belief, the existence of the universe is strongly justified, while the existence of any further being draws from un-empirical grounds.
Or perhaps he means to say that if your reason for believing is just “it needs an explanation”, the regress can continue, unless you can from a properly justified basic belief of God, at least as well justified as the existence of the universe. And the rest of the book is just throwing out reasons to doubt the truth of God as a sufficient basic belief.

Or maybe I’m just talking out of my ass.

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lukeprog January 11, 2010 at 1:53 pm

Paul,

Yes, divine simplicity is rejected by most theistic philosophers today, and of course is thoroughly anti-Biblical.

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lukeprog January 11, 2010 at 1:55 pm

Gato,

That’s probably right, though unfortunately Dawkins doesn’t give a clear account of what he means by complexity in this case. Either, way, though, his argument misses the mark for it attacks the plausibility of a contingent God who “acquired” his properties, which is not the God of classical theism.

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Tony Hoffman January 11, 2010 at 3:14 pm

Either, way, though, his argument misses the mark for it attacks the plausibility of a contingent God who “acquired” his properties, which is not the God of classical theism.

Well, yes, but can’t he be reasonably excused from that quest? I mean, isn’t that a little like charging someone to debunk the pineapple in my head, when all they can reasonably be asked to do is debunk the pineapple I say is on the table?

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lukeprog January 11, 2010 at 3:26 pm

Tony,

I don’t think so. Let’s say Jack asserted the existence of “dark matter” in order to explain certain phenomena in galaxy clustering. He proposed it was non-baryonic matter.

Then, Jill gave an argument against the existence of “dark matter,” except that her argument assumed that dark matter was baryonic matter like everything else we know of.

Jack responds, “Um, okay, but that’s not an argument against the existence of the stuff I was positing.”

Jill responds, “Yeah, but can’t I reasonably be excused from that? I mean, the stuff you’re positing it unlike everything else we know of, so I’m just going to debunk dark matter as if it was supposed to be baryonic matter.”

Jack may or may not have a good case in favor of non-baryonic dark matter, but Jill’s argument is totally irrelevant.

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Tony Hoffman January 11, 2010 at 6:45 pm

Luke,

Thanks for taking the time to explain your thinking on this.

I think I agree (in part), and also still disagree (in part). I agree that Jill’s argument doesn’t debunk Jack’s argument. But I also think that Jill is under no compulsion to take Jack’s argument seriously, that she can be reasonably excused from even concerning herself with what Jack is positing until it does explain more than repeat what we observe. You might say that Dawkins is debunking Christianity with his “argument”; I’d say that he’s demonstrating how the most persuasive argument he understands Christianity can put forth fails in a regress.

I’m running out of time. Thanks for the reply, and I’ll try and sleep on this and post something tomorrow.

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Gato Precambriano January 11, 2010 at 6:55 pm

lukeprog: Gato,That’s probably right, though unfortunately Dawkins doesn’t give a clear account of what he means by complexity in this case.

But he does, as I remember (I can’t quote him by now as I only have the brazillian edition, and it’s not with me right now so I can’t translate). If I remember it right he claims “God is complex” because God “does” a lot of simultaneous complex tasks. Only something of the higest complexity would be able to do so, no matter what is God “made of”. Maybe it is not an account clear enough for you, although sounds clear enough for a very unclear (imaginary) thing (God), as I see it.
Form another approach, the only kind of mind we know something about is our own mind, and our mind is anything but “simple”, no matter if you are dualist or not. And as we were made as God’s image, I think it’s quite reasonable to assume that God is more, or at least as complex as we are, even if He’s a bodyless ‘mind’.

Either, way, though, his argument misses the mark for it attacks the plausibility of a contingent God who “acquired” his properties, which is not the God of classical theism.  

Not really, as this “acquired” you take from TBW where he is not discussing the God hipothesys. I don’t remember Dawkins saying anything like that in TGD, as if God once hadn’t his properties and then “acquired” them. There is noting like that. Dawkins inferes God’s complexity from what He is able to do.
As for the ‘necessity’ of God, why can’t I say the Universe is ‘necessary’ in itself as it is?

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lukeprog January 11, 2010 at 7:58 pm

Gato,

You are welcome to say the universe is necessary, but then we are changing the subject.

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TaiChi January 11, 2010 at 9:11 pm

Ignore the above. Unfortunately I can’t edit it anymore. I meant to say:

Suppose there are three kinds of qualities, Q, Q!, and Q*. Q is a quality acquired by chance. Q! is a quality, acquired, but not by chance. Q* is a quality which is not acquired. Which of these three is a quality not acquired by chance? Both Q! and Q* fit the bill, the former because it is not acquired by chance, the latter, because it is not even acquired, so its being acquired by chance is meaningless. Plugging this back into Dawkins definition, we get:
“…complicated things have some quality, specifiable in advance, that is highly likely to be a Q! or a Q* quality.”
.. so there are two kinds of qualities, the epsitemic likelihood of which would satisfy Dawkins’ definition of complexity. Q! obviously applies to many natural configurations of matter, but Q* is also obviously applicable to God.

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TaiChi January 11, 2010 at 9:29 pm

“I’m sure Dawkins wants to treat God as contingent until shown otherwise, but I don’t think he can. The theist will simply claim, “But my God is a necessary being,” in which case Dawkins should argue against the plausibility of a necessary being. If he did so, then he would be hitting the mark. But he doesn’t argue so.”
This ruins any probablistic argument whatsoever against God. I’m disappointed that you haven’t addressed that.

Nevertheless, Dawkins can and should grant that God did not come into existence as an independent premise. If the only reason to invoke necessity is to draw this conclusion, then there is no reason to bring it into the conversation. You can have the uncaused cause. Dawkins definition still applies to God.

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Ken January 11, 2010 at 9:38 pm

It seems none of you have addressed the comments made by Shane. Sorry, but he is the only one of you that makes any sense at all to a simple person like me. Everything else written seems to be arguments similar to ‘how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?’

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lukeprog January 11, 2010 at 9:53 pm

TaiChi,

I’m having a hard time following you. Why would “this” ruin any probabilistic argument against God?

I do get the point about Q, Q!, and Q*, but unfortunately my head nearly exploded when I tried to respond just now, so I’ll have to get back to you later.

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TaiChi January 11, 2010 at 11:06 pm

lukeprog: I’m having a hard time following you. Why would “this” ruin any probabilistic argument against God?

Your view is that it is permissible that the theist object to Dawkins’ assigning of probabilities to God on the grounds that God is necessary. You think, correctly, that the assigning of probabilities amounts to thinking of God as though he were contingent. I’m pointing out to you that if the theist’s reply is acceptable, then the theist has an acceptable reply to any other argument which assigns probabilities to God, since all these can similarly be said to treat God as contingent. The evidential problem of evil is but one example of what would then be a futile argument.
Perhaps I have you wrong. Perhaps, as I suggested, you are siding with the theist, not because you think that the atheist needs to grant God’s necessity outright, but because you think the atheist should grant an idea which tends to go with that necessity – that God is uncaused. In that case the theist’s objection is not that God is necessary, but that he is uncaused.

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Polymeron January 12, 2010 at 7:52 am

lukeprog: Polymeron,I don’t see how C4 follows from P1 and P2 and C3.  

P1: The complexity of the universe is such that it can only be explained in being wholly created by deliberate design.

P2: Everything that is designed has had a designer.

C3: The designer of the universe is at least as complex as the universe itself.

(Follows from P1&P2&C3) C4: The designer of the universe had a designer.

If the designer of the universe is at least as complex as the universe, whose complexity is such that it can only be explained by design, then god’s complexity also may only be explained by design. Which with P2 requires a designer, leading us to C4.

Admittedly, I skipped that intermediary step. Also I didn’t specify explicitly the underlying assumption of P1 that it is the *amount* of complexity in the universe that warrants a designer, which is indeed assumed in the argument from complexity as I understand it.

The counterargument as presented may be attacked through either of these points (but should still be considered sound until someone does).

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Polymeron January 12, 2010 at 8:18 am

Looks like I jumped the gun on my comment and missed the rest of the debate. Lorkas put it down far more elegantly than I did.

Briang: I think the following two propositions are problematic:P1: Complexity can only be explained in being wholly created by deliberate design.C2: A designer is at least as complex as what it designsP1 as currently stated is false.But a defender of the design argument would need something like it.Could it be modified to support a design argument that is compatible with an undesigned designer?How about the following:P1* Specified complexity which begins to exist can only be explained in being wholly created by deliberate design.P1* adds “specified” to account for how ID advocates differentiates between an improbable state of affairs caused by chance and that caused by design.Design is inferred by complexity that also meets some pattern.The phrase “begins to exits” would restrict the design inference to things which have not always existed.The complexity found in the universe would meet this restriction, since there is independent evidence that the specificity complexity began.However there is no evidence of the designer having a beginning, so P1* would not necessary apply.On the other hand, the design argument provides no evidence that the designer did not have a beginning. So if he did have a beginning, there would be a designer of the designer.If we reject an infinite regression, it follows that there must have been some original designer.C2 is questionable.It seems to me at least possible that humans could design something more complex than humans.  

P1* also fails, because the universe cannot be shown to have begun to exist any more than god can. You could claim that the complexity was likewise also inherent in the universe. But admittedly, that takes us into shakier philosophical ground.

C2 still works – we can design something that *turns out* more complex than us – unintentionally, by any sort of evolution. But if something is *wholly* designed, i.e. each of its properties is designed rather than unanticipated by the designer – as theists generally assert – then the complexity already existed in the mind of the designer.
If theists grant that the designer didn’t really see it coming, then the rebuttal “fails” but ultimately succeeds in that this makes the universe’s properties an unintended result of creation rather than a divine plan.

lukeprog: Lorkas,I very much doubt that a theist would assert P1a if ‘complexity’ is understood in such a way that it would apply to God. They would probably assert something like:P1a*) Objects or systems of sufficient physical complexity can only be explained in being wholly created by deliberate design.  

…Yeah, that one actually thoroughly destroys the argument. It does require the assumption of mind/matter duality, of course (because if the mind is physical then the designer’s mind still complies with the definition), but of course theists are wholly comfortable with that assumption.

This is harder than it looks… :P

Lorkas:
*shrug*
That proposition is still false, regardless of the argument from Dawkins that follows. We’ve known this for 150 years now.  

Yes, but the elegant “ultimate 747″ argument fails to show this :(

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Briang January 12, 2010 at 8:19 am

TaiChi:
Your view is that it is permissible that the theist object to Dawkins’ assigning of probabilities to God on the grounds that God is necessary. You think, correctly, that the assigning of probabilities amounts to thinking of God as though he were contingent. I’m pointing out to you that if the theist’s reply is acceptable, then the theist has an acceptable reply to any other argument which assigns probabilities to God, since all these can similarly be said to treat God as contingent. The evidential problem of evil is but one example of what would then be a futile argument.
Perhaps I have you wrong. Perhaps, as I suggested, you are siding with the theist, not because you think that the atheist needs to grant God’s necessity outright, but because you think the atheist should grant an idea which tends to go with that necessity – that God is uncaused.In that case the theist’s objection is not that God is necessary, but that he is uncaused.  

One need not accept that God has an objective probability in order to discuss his epistemic probability. Mathematicians can discuss whether they think a certain mathematical claim is likely or unlikely (such as P=NP). The mathematical claim, if it is true, will not be true only some of the time, it will be true all the time. It would make no sense to talk of P=NP coming about by chance. One can, however, talk about the epistemic probability of P=NP. This would then be the mathematician’s best judgment about the likelihood of P=NP being true.

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drj January 12, 2010 at 10:51 am

There is an addendum to Dawkins’ argument that seems left out of the subsequent reformulations. The theist is certainly allowed to craft a response like ‘But God is necessary and needs no designer even though I agree that he is complex’.

Dawkins’ seems to argue that such a response relieves the atheist of the burden of having to supply an explanation to the complexity of the universe, such as the genetic code, or the fine tuning of the constants. We can similarly throw up our hands and say ‘X is necessary and needs no designer, even though I agree X is complex.’

Or if that is too extreme, the theist response ‘ But God is necessary’ will at least undermine the idea that specified complexity requires a designer.

No matter the answer, we just have to accept the existence of some staggering level of organized complexity as a brute fact. The atheist can do this without appealing to some needless unknown entity, and this is a situation that Dawkins seems happy with.

So I guess I’m still not seeing just where in Dawkins argument that its assumed that God must be contingent.

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Lorkas January 12, 2010 at 11:37 am

Polymeron: Yes, but the elegant “ultimate 747″ argument fails to show this :(

Dawkins should have titled his book “The Design Delusion” and just talked about how natural selection entirely destroys the premise that complex things require an intelligent designer (rendering the design argument obsolete without all the talk about Boeing and junkyards). He could still have a chapter about not labeling kids with their parents’ religion… he’s known to tack on extra ideas that he has on books that are about other subjects.

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lukeprog January 12, 2010 at 12:00 pm

Polymeron,

Now you may have another coherent attempt to rescue Dawkins’ argument. I’ll stew on that.

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lukeprog January 12, 2010 at 7:42 pm

TaiChi, you said:

TaiChi: Your view is that it is permissible that the theist object to Dawkins’ assigning of probabilities to God on the grounds that God is necessary. You think, correctly, that the assigning of probabilities amounts to thinking of God as though he were contingent. I’m pointing out to you that if the theist’s reply is acceptable, then the theist has an acceptable reply to any other argument which assigns probabilities to God, since all these can similarly be said to treat God as contingent. The evidential problem of evil is but one example of what would then be a futile argument.

Well, not quite. I don’t have any problem with assigning probabilities to the existence of God. For example, let’s say I think there’s a 0.00001% chance that God (a tri-omni, necessary creator god) exists. IF such a God exists, then he is (by definition) a necessary being, but that doesn’t stop me from judging the likelihood of such a being existing.

So probabilistic arguments against theism can still have force, even though God is conceived of as a necessary being.

What I was saying about Dawkins is that he seems to think God is improbable because it’s unlikely he could have acquired his nature (which is complex, Dawkins argues) by chance. But the God of theism is not claimed to be a thing that “acquired” its properties by chance. So Dawkins’ argument misses the mark.

One side point I’ll make here is that some theists assert that God is simple. Dawkins did not make much of an argument that God must be complex, but still I think this is fair because the vast majority of theists do not think of God as simple. Most theists have a heavily personified notion of God, and have never read Aquinas.

Now, about this:

Suppose there are three kinds of qualities, Q, Q!, and Q*. Q is a quality acquired by chance. Q! is a quality, acquired, but not by chance. Q* is a quality which is not acquired. Which of these three is a quality not acquired by chance? Both Q! and Q* fit the bill, the former because it is not acquired by chance, the latter, because it is not even acquired, so its being acquired by chance is meaningless. Plugging this back into Dawkins definition, we get:
“…complicated things have some quality, specifiable in advance, that is highly likely to be a Q! or a Q* quality.”
.. so there are two kinds of qualities, the epsitemic likelihood of which would satisfy Dawkins’ definition of complexity. Q! obviously applies to many natural configurations of matter, but Q* is also obviously applicable to God.

I’m not sure that Dawkins meant to include Q* qualities, but the logic of his wording allows for it.

One problem with the literal interpretation here is that it doesn’t seem to fit what we normally mean by “complex.” For example, let’s say string theorists are right and “The String” is the simplest and most fundamental thing in all the universe. It has no parts, and very few properties. It simply vibrates, and everything else we know of is manifested by strings vibrating a different rates. And let’s say it turns out that the string is a necessary thing. Instead of “The Buck Stops with God,” it turns out that “The Buck Stops with the String.” So the string never acquired its few properties. On the literal interpretation of Dawkins’ TBW definition for complexity, The String is considered to be complex, even though it has no parts and very few properties.

The point is that if we accept Q* into our definition of complex in Wielenberg’s formulation of Dawkins’ argument, two new problems arise. First, it becomes hard to see why we should accept premise (4), and the whole discussion morphs into whether or not all infinite regresses must end with a necessary being or not.

The second problem is that it becomes very difficult to make coherent sense of the repeated phrase “at least as complex as…” What could it mean to say that God is at least as complex as the universe if, when saying that the universe is complex, we mean that it has acquired lots of properties that are unlikely to arise by chance, while when we say that God is complex, we instead mean that he did not acquire his properties? Is there any way to compare these? I don’t see how.

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TaiChi January 12, 2010 at 9:11 pm

lukeprog: So probabilistic arguments against theism can still have force, even though God is conceived of as a necessary being.

Great, we agree.

lukeprog: But the God of theism is not claimed to be a thing that “acquired” its properties by chance.

And you seem to agree with me that the theist’s objection doesn’t turn on necessity per se, but about God’s lack of a cause. Cool.

lukeprog: On the literal interpretation of Dawkins’ TBW definition for complexity, The String is considered to be complex, even though it has no parts and very few properties.

Yes, strictly you’re correct with how I’ve explained myself. But taking into consideration the preamble to definition that I’ve already mentioned (TBW, p.7), it’s fair to assume that Dawkins does require many-partedness for complexity.
I suppose this quibble is futile. You’re obviously aware that there is some definition for complexity hereabouts that escapes this criticism, and so I’m sure you’ll rescue Dawkins in due time. I’m inclined to say that it is Dawkins’ view all along, but it matters little.

lukeprog: What could it mean to say that God is at least as complex as the universe if, when saying that the universe is complex, we mean that it has acquired lots of properties that are unlikely to arise by chance, while when we say that God is complex, we instead mean that he did not acquire his properties? Is there any way to compare these? I don’t see how.

I don’t think we mean to imply that the universe has acquired properties when we say it is complex. I think ascribing complexity is entirely neutral as to where, if anywhere, the complexity came from. But I’m repeating myself.
How do we compare them? By the number, and so possible arrangements, of the parts. If God is more complex than the universe, then he has more parts, and a greater number of parts allow for an exponentially increasing number of possible arrangements. The more arrangements, the lower is the probability of any single arrangement.
No notion of a cause needs to be brought into this mathematical argument. It doesn’t matter, for example, to calculating the odds of winning the lottery that there is a causal story to tell about how the particular lottery balls came to be drawn, since the a priori odds only depend on the number of balls, which in turn affect the number of combinations of a specified size (e.g. 6 Balls and 40 numbers yield a 1/2,763,633,600 shot).
Similarly, the a priori probability of God’s existing, given he has a number of parts arranged uniquely, only depends on that number of parts. We don’t, of course, know this number, but we do know that a) it is astronomically large, so the a priori probability is vanishingly small, and b) that no causal story will ameliorate its improbability such as natural selection does for biological objects.

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TaiChi January 12, 2010 at 9:20 pm

Briang, I agree. It seems Luke does as well, though I wasn’t sure before.

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lukeprog January 12, 2010 at 10:34 pm

TaiChi,

Actually, I could use all the help I can get in trying to rescue Dawkins’ argument. :)

I appreciate your posts here.

I missed it… do we agree yet that Wielenberg’s formulation and the page 9 definition of complexity do not appear to mount a successful attack on theism, or am I still missing something?

If so, perhaps I can move on to a formulation under which complexity has to do with parts.

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TaiChi January 13, 2010 at 12:23 am

lukeprog: Actually, I could use all the help I can get in trying to rescue Dawkins’ argument.

No problem. If you’re happy to have my ornery opinion, I’m happy to share it. :)

lukeprog: I missed it… do we agree yet that Wielenberg’s formulation and the page 9 definition of complexity do not appear to mount a successful attack on theism, or am I still missing something?

We agree – it needs some work, but not much. Perhaps..

“Something is complex iff (1) it has many parts, (2) some functional quality, specifiable in advance, supervenes on that arrangement, and (3) the existence of the functional quality is statistically very unlikely, given the number of possible arrangements of parts.”

..would do. I haven’t quite thought this through yet (it’s getting late here), but that’s the sort of thing I expect to work.

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ayer January 13, 2010 at 9:59 am

TaiChi: “Something is complex iff (1) it has many parts,

The problem here is that God does not have “parts.” As Craig has elaborated:

CRAIG: “Dawkins’ fundamental mistake lies in his assumption that a divine designer is an entity comparable in complexity to the universe. As an unembodied mind, God is a remarkably simple entity. As a non-physical entity, a mind is not composed of parts, and its salient properties, like self-consciousness, rationality, and volition, are essential to it. In contrast to the contingent and variegated universe with all its inexplicable quantities and constants, a divine mind is startlingly simple. Certainly such a mind may have complex ideas—it may be thinking, for example, of the infinitesimal calculus—, but the mind itself is a remarkably simple entity. Dawkins has evidently confused a mind’s ideas, which may, indeed, be complex, with a mind itself, which is an incredibly simple entity. Therefore, postulating a divine mind behind the universe most definitely does represent an advance in simplicity, for whatever that is worth.”
http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5493

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Paul Wright January 13, 2010 at 2:34 pm

Ayer: what evidence is there for the properties of unembodied minds? Craig does not cite any in the article on his site, he merely makes assertions about what God’s mind is like. How does he know? Similarly, the argument that a simple mind can have complex thoughts doesn’t seem more than an assertion.

On the subject of complexity, there are mathematical measures. Using those, God is very complex, and explanations involving God carry the weight of his complexity. It may be that these measures of complexity assume that the complex behaviour of minds must arise out of many individual steps (since the complexity measure is the length of a computer program to model the mind), but I don’t think this necessarily assumes material minds.

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ildi January 24, 2010 at 7:34 pm

This thread may be dead, but whatever…

When I first read Dawkins’ argument re. who designed the designer, it made sense to me in as a scientist.

Craig’s examples are a strawman of how the scientific method works:

Dawkins says that you cannot infer a Designer of the universe [from] the complexity of the universe because this raises a further question: namely, “Who designed the Designer?” [But] this argument is quite inept, because philosophers of science recognize that in order to recognize an explanation as the best explanation, you don’t have to have an explanation of the explanation…

Let me give you an example. Suppose archaeologists digging in the earth were to come across artifacts looking like arrowheads and pottery shards… it would obviously be justifiable to infer that these artifacts were the products of some lost tribe of people, even if the archaeologists had no idea whatsoever who these people were or how they came to be there.

Similarly, if astronauts were to discover a pile of machinery on the back side of the moon, they would be justified in inferring that these were the products of intelligent design, even if they had no idea whatsoever where this machinery came from or who put it there…

Look at his example of arrowheads. How would an archeologist know that a lost tribe of people was the best explanation? Because there is already information about tribes of people who make arrowheads and pottery. So, it is true that “lost tribe of people” is considered the contingent best explanation.

However, to demonstrate that is indeed the best explanation, you start to figure out as much about that lost tribe as you can. What other evidence is there that they existed? Can we identify related cultures based on the patterns on the pottery and the knapping style? Can we carbon-date the pottery to see how old it is? You may find, for example, based on further research, that the best explanation is not a lost tribe, but a modern forgery. Or, based on a study of the geology of the area, you find out that the “arrowheads” are actually just naturally-occurring rock formations that resemble knapping.

So, “philosophy of science” notwithstanding, the best explanation is really only contingent until you “explain the explanation.”

God is a dead end as far as that goes, just like Freudian theory…

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lukeprog January 25, 2010 at 10:17 am

ildi,

I simply disagree. See my other post ‘Who Designed the Designer?’ for more details.

But this thread is still alive. I keep hoping someone will post a logically valid reformulation of Dawkins’ argument so I don’t have to take the time to do so.

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Polymeron January 25, 2010 at 10:42 am

I sort of gave up on that when my first attempt succeeded (?) but was easily refuted by artificially creating a distinction between physical complexity (which, under the argument from complexity, necessitates a designer) and non-physical complexity (which does not). This cannot be assaulted without assaulting mind/matter duality, which is very difficult and the theist is unlikely to concede it.

In fact Luke, I think if I’m reading Dawkins correctly than his argument really is based on this assumption, and this it fails. I don’t think another reformulation is necessary. Unless, of course, you’re aiming for something other than Dawkins, with only some similarity between the arguments.

Just to be clear, I never read his argument as “you need to explain the explanation”. It always seemed to me that infinite regression was implicitly invoked.

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lukeprog January 31, 2010 at 12:33 am

Just in case anybody wants to struggle along with me…

I’m still trying to see if there’s a way to rescue Dawkins’ argument.

Here’s what I’m thinking…

Swinburne’s argues that God is a good explanation for various phenomena on the basis that the God hypothesis has two important explanatory virtues: simplicity and explanatory power. So Swinburne, and some other philosophers, agree that simplicity increases the ‘intrinsic probability’ of a hypothesis. (See Swinburne, Simplicity as Evidence of Truth.)

Dawkins says that God must be complex, and therefore improbable. It would seem that Swinburne and many philosophers would agree that the God hypothesis would suffer greatly were God complex in a meaningful way. Indeed, we could construct a parity argument between the unlikelihood of a complex God and the theistic teleological argument concerning the complexity of the apparent initial conditions of the Big Bang.

But God is usually defined in such a way that he is simple with regard to “parts” even if he is not simple in a thoroughly metaphysical sense as Aquinas thought.

The problem is that, once again, God is defined to be something entirely different than anything we know of. He is somehow capable of love, action, forethought, planning, relationships, and all that – without any parts! This is all quite absurd, like saying there is a part-less skyscraper that exists outside of space and time. The very idea seems nonsensical, but how would one prove it? Presumably are intuitions about what sorts of things require parts only obtain within spacetime.

There may be some way to define complexity in terms of action or something else that is always associated with complexity. Such assertions could be supported with “(1) In every instance we know of, decision-making things are complex. (2) God is a decision-making thing. (3) Therefore, God is complex.”

But this is simple induction, and the theist may always reply that God could be a black swan.

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Polymeron January 31, 2010 at 2:48 am

Perhaps so. But, in claiming god is a black swan in regard to our observation of the universe, the theist doesn’t undermine only observation regarding physical complexity, does she? Essentially here the theist must argue that discussion about god must be disconnected from our observations about the universe, because those do not apply to god. This gives Dawkins a “double win”, in fact:
1. This entirely undermines the argument from complexity again, which was Dawkins’ main (though unstated) target, and
2. It reduces the theistic position – Dawkins’ stated target – to absurdity, in that it is essentially disconnected from observation – making it irrelevant to our world as we observe it.

Possibly a hole can be punched through this, but I think you may be on to something here, Luke.

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Paul Wright January 31, 2010 at 4:30 am

It seems the theist’s arguments when defending themselves from someone like Dawkins reduce the space of possible gods, but don’t lend weight to the idea that there is an actual God.

That is, we end up with statements like “If God exists, he is necessary rather than contingent”, “If God exists he is a ‘simple’ mind without parts”. Some of these properties may seem to the atheist to be non-sensical, but as you say, the theist can always counter this intuition of the atheist by saying that God is unique: he is the only thing which exhibits these properties, so it’s not surprising we can’t find other instances of things which exhibit them.

What motivates the claim that God has these properties? Is there evidence for these claims other than “well, God would have to have these properties to exist, and we know he does, so…”? (though that would work if we had very good reasons for thinking God exists, I suppose).

Each property is a burdensome detail of theories about God. If the claims arise purely out of a desire to deal with problems with theism, you’ve got Sagan’s invisible dragon. Is there any evidence within, say, Christianity that God has no parts? Even if we grant Biblical inerrancy, say, I don’t recall that being in the Bible. Christian philosophers make the claim that God is simple: what’s their reasoning? (genuine question: I don’t know much about scholasticism).

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Tony Hoffman January 31, 2010 at 7:51 am

I think it would be helpful if we agreed on what Dawkins’ argument is trying to demonstrate. Is it an argument for the Fallaciousness of the Argument from Complexity? A disproof of God? An argument for the extreme improbability of God?

It would be helpful to know what bar Dawkin’s Argument is supposed to hurdle here, I think, as I believe his retort doesn’t need rescuing (depending on what it is considered to be an argument for).

In other words, it seems like you are declaring that Dawkin’s argument doesn’t work because it doesn’t disprove the logical possibility of God. It seems reasonable to assume that his goal is more modest than that.

In other words, I agree with Polymeron’s last post regarding what Dawkins’ argument achieves — it shows that a logical argument for God from Complexity is ad hoc, and it must be divorced from what we observe. Do you think it can achieve more?

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lukeprog January 31, 2010 at 12:56 pm

Dawkins is clearly aiming to show that God’s existence is highly improbable.

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Tony Hoffman January 31, 2010 at 6:14 pm

Okay, so what are the analogues for finding evidence for things posited in an ad hoc argument?

I remember hearing Feynman lecturing on Introductory Physics and saying that if we had one thing, one piece of vital, hard earned information to another society that was ignorant of all the things we know, it would basically be “Things are made up of atoms.”

I can imagine the theist saying, “Well, atoms are ad hoc in that we had no practical experience of these things through our senses, but we were able to posit them and find them as a result.” Or something along that line.

Is that something along that line the reason you think Dawkins’ argument fails, because we can imagine or posit an ad hoc argument (similar to what lead us to atomic theory) that leads to finding evidence?

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Polymeron January 31, 2010 at 11:06 pm

Tony Hoffman: Okay, so what are the analogues for finding evidence for things posited in an ad hoc argument?
I remember hearing Feynman lecturing on Introductory Physics and saying that if we had one thing, one piece of vital, hard earned information to another society that was ignorant of all the things we know, it would basically be “Things are made up of atoms.”
I can imagine the theist saying, “Well, atoms are ad hoc in that we had no practical experience of these things through our senses, but we were able to posit them and find them as a result.” Or something along that line.Is that something along that line the reason you think Dawkins’ argument fails, because we can imagine or posit an ad hoc argument (similar to what lead us to atomic theory) that leads to finding evidence?  

No. While it may sound to have a grain of truth, this is an apples-to-oranges comparison.

1. Atomic Theory has strong predictive capabilities which religion lacks.
2. The conclusion of Atomic Theory was derived by purely naturalistic means, without a supernatural assumption. The conclusions regarding the nature of god posit his existence as a supernatural assumption.

It’s not that ad-hoc arguments are completely non-existent in science, but they are considered an error, except for three singular assumptions:

- That things exist.
- That our observations can impart information about things that exist.
- That the laws of the universe are consistent.

That last one is non-trivial and might be your point of parallelism, since it cannot be proven by science, being an underlying assumption. If an experiment gives us unexpected results, the conclusion is never that the laws of you universe tilted for a moment there. This could well be true, but that approach is not useful and is thus never used.

Regarding Dawkins’ argument, I think Luke’s problem is that there is a disconnect between the stated premises and logic, and the stated conclusion (improbability of god). Either Dawkins’ argument is fallacious, or (and that’s what we’ve been trying to work on) it is sound, given that it has some missing steps in it.

We’re trying to find those, and I think Luke may be up to something by positing that complexity of any kind is improbable. By this Dawkins is positing that the cause of the universe must be simple, whereas the concept of god is not.

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Tony Hoffman February 1, 2010 at 9:23 am

Regarding Dawkins’ argument, I think Luke’s problem is that there is a disconnect between the stated premises and logic, and the stated conclusion (improbability of god)

It appears to me that Luke’s problem is that Dawkins’ premise — that in theism complexity must come from greater complexity — is fallacious.

Dawkin’s argument has the advantage in that we can observe greater complexity arising from simpler things through natural selection. I don’t believe that the theist wants to accept this explanation for God’s existence, however.

I am starting to gather that I don’t know enough about Christian theology regarding dualism and the concept of mind, and that’s probably why I just don’t get how it can be that the theist definitional assertion “God is simple but capable of the greatest complexity” has any force whatsoever with which to impede Dawkin’s argument.

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Larry Spencer February 5, 2010 at 4:13 am

How about this reformulation? Dawkins is saying to the Christian, “You say that everything needs a cause. But you make an exception for God. I make an exception for the universe itself. So how is your position any better than mine?”

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TaiChi February 6, 2010 at 10:56 pm

Hi again. I hadn’t realized the discussion was continuing here, but I’m still interested.

lukeprog: But God is usually defined in such a way that he is simple with regard to “parts” even if he is not simple in a thoroughly metaphysical sense as Aquinas thought.

It’s worth noting that, as the simplicity of God isn’t given direct support by the Bible, it is a conclusion that theologians themselves have had to come to by way of argument (how else?). The ‘tradition’ which the theist appeals to is theological, and theology is purportedly a rational inquiry into the existence and nature of God. So this isn’t a foundational tenet of Christianity, but is a negotiable proposition, and one which an atheist can contest just as well as any theist.

lukeprog: The problem is that, once again, God is defined to be something entirely different than anything we know of. He is somehow capable of love, action, forethought, planning, relationships, and all that – without any parts! This is all quite absurd, like saying there is a part-less skyscraper that exists outside of space and time. The very idea seems nonsensical, but how would one prove it?

By inductively arguing from what we know of minds, to our conclusion:

1) God, if he exists, has a mind. It is a mind capable of holding all the knowledge that there is, of simultaneously attending to the intended communications of millions of people and deciding on the merits of their requests, and of designing in explicit detail the universe that we know. These abilities are magnitudes of order greater than those of the human mind.
2) So God, if he exists, has a mind with functionality magnitudes of order greater than the human mind.
3) We have amassed a wealth of evidence about minds. The capabilities of minds rely on extremely complex constructions of matter, whether or not they are ultimately reducible to such constructions. We further find a proportional relationship between such functional capacities and the complexity of its associated material construction.
4) So God, if he exists, has a complexity orders of magnitudes greater than the human mind.
5) The complexity of the universe is not greater than the complexity of the human mind.
6) So God, if he exists, has a complexity orders of magnitude greater than the universe.

So, we have an argument that seems to show that God is too complex to be an acceptable explanation of the universe. How does that help if the theist declares, by fiat of tradition (or should that be tradition of fiat?), that God is simple? Here’s how: not only would the argument show that if God exists he is likely to be complex, but, what is the same thing, it shows that if God exists he is not likely to be simple. And so we have an probabilistic argument against the theist’s assertion. This wouldn’t matter if the theist could cite the Bible to show that the simplicity of God was a core Christian belief, but he can’t, and so these sort of arguments do matter.

One objection that could be raised against this argument is that it seems to assume materialism. But that’s not really true. Premise 3 goes so far as to state that the abilities of a mind require complex machinery, but does not further conclude that consciousness itself is a mere product of that machinery. So dualism is not ruled out. But whereas consciousness awaits scientific consensus, many of the functional capacities of minds have been described in terms of an underlying physical structure, and even skeptics of materialism agree that such ‘soft problems’ yield to a materialistic solution.

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lukeprog February 6, 2010 at 11:18 pm

TaiChi,

Yeah, that’s basically how I would argue, except that (5) seems necessarily false, as the universe includes the human mind. Here’s an attempt at logical validity:

1. If God exists, he has a mind with functionality far greater than human minds.
2. The functionality of a mind is directly proportional to its complexity.
3. If the functionality of a mind is directly proportional to its complexity, then the complexity of God’s mind is far greater than the complexity of human minds.
4. If God exists, the complexity of his mind is far greater than the complexity of human minds. (from 1, 2, and 3)

The conclusion is weaker, but I think more plausible than your version. Also, premise (2) is quite free from physicalist assumptions, as long as we do not define complexity in terms of physical parts. The theist may dispute (2) by arguing for a dualistic notion of ‘simple’ minds, but the evidence is on my side, there. What I’m really worried about is that (2) may simply be false. I suspect there may be some examples of minds that are less functional but more complex than others, and vice versa.

I suspect what is really needed is a definition of complexity in terms of relations, or something like that. A divine mind that attends to millions of prayers and has knowledge of every fact maintains a huge number of relations, whether or not it is posited to have parts.

I’m putting together a bibliography of literature on complexity, simplicity, and parsimony which may help.

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lukeprog February 6, 2010 at 11:27 pm

Though, I think we might have a different problem, anyway. We’re trying to show that God is highly improbable because he is complex. But if God exists and is a necessary being, his probability of existing is 1, whether or not he is complex. So I think we would instead need to argue that God cannot be necessary, in which case any arguments over complexity are irrelevant.

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TaiChi February 6, 2010 at 11:46 pm

lukeprog: Yeah, that’s basically how I would argue, except that (5) seems necessarily false, as the universe includes the human mind.

You could read it that way, except what we have been assuming in these arguments is that what God explains (and what needs explanation) is the early universe. The later universe, nearly everyone accepts, is explained in terms of prior states of the universe, at least up until the point of the big bang. This is what I meant, and it would do no harm to substitute ‘early universe’ for ‘universe’ throughout any of the arguments I’ve given.

lukeprog: The conclusion is weaker, but I think more plausible than your version.

The problem is, it doesn’t get me what I need for the argument I gave earlier, premise C…
***Dawkins’ Anti-Design Argument (Support for 3)***
A. An acceptable explanation is an account of something improbable in terms of what is more probable.
B. The hypothesis that God designed the universe should therefore, if it is to be explanatory, account for the universe in terms of what is more probable than the universe.
C. But God himself would have to be more complex than the highly complex universe.
D. What is complex is improbable, and is improbable to the degree it is complex.
E. So, the hypothesis that God designed the universe is not an acceptable explanation.

…and so, although you might still have the argument that God is improbable (the corollary), you’d be giving up on demonstrating E, and Dawkin’s explicit argument as well.

lukeprog: What I’m really worried about is that (2) may simply be false. I suspect there may be some examples of minds that are less functional but more complex than others, and vice versa.

That’s a genuine worry, but you can weaken ‘directly proportional’ to just ‘proportional’ (as I’ve done). It means we have less than perfect correlation, and perhaps it now becomes a question of how strong we should take the correlation to be, but given the great difference in complexity between the human mind and God’s mind in functionality, the correlation need not be particularly strong to support our assumption that God’s mind is (however slightly) more complex than the human mind.

lukeprog: I suspect what is really needed is a definition of complexity in terms of relations, or something like that. A divine mind that attends to millions of prayers and has knowledge of every fact maintains a huge number of relations, whether or not it is posited to have parts.

I can’t say I understand what you mean here.

lukeprog: I’m putting together a bibliography of literature on complexity, simplicity, and parsimony which may help. 

That sounds useful, and not just for this particular argument.

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TaiChi February 8, 2010 at 12:19 am

lukeprog: Though, I think we might have a different problem, anyway. We’re trying to show that God is highly improbable because he is complex. But if God exists and is a necessary being, his probability of existing is 1, whether or not he is complex.  

I’m buggered if I can find a discussion of how to think about the epistemic probabilities of necessary propositions. But here’s my best guess at how that works…
You can represent the epistemic state of agent with possible worlds, allowing as (epistemically) possible worlds those which are consistent with the agent’s knowledge. This means that any proposition which the agent knows is epistemically necessary, even though it might be logically contingent. And of course, if the agent fails to know whether a proposition is true, then there will be epistemically possible worlds where the proposition is true, and others where it is false.

So far, so good – what of propositions that are necessarily true or false? Applying the same strategy, we might expect that such propositions known by the agent are epistemically necessary (are true at each epistemically possible world), but those of the same kind which are unknown will be true at some worlds and false at others. And we could allow for this, if we relax the stricture that an agent’s knowledge be represented only with possible worlds, and include impossible worlds as well, so that some of these epistemic worlds will actually be impossible worlds. Intuitively, I think this is correct – if an agent does not know whether some mathematical statement is true, then for all he knows, he could be in one of the worlds where it is true, or one of the worlds where it is false. If the proposition is actually true, then for all the agent knows, he could be in what turns out to be an impossible world.

Now, if we allow that the epistemic worlds used to characterize an agent’s knowledge can be a mixture of both possible and impossible worlds, then we can begin to give some sense to reasoning about God. That God exists in some epistemically possible worlds and not others just reflects the fact that some of the worlds we are using to represent an agent’s knowledge are impossible worlds, not that we are treating God as contingent. God’s not existing in worlds which turn out to be impossible no more defy his necessary nature than the fact that “2+2=4″ is false at some impossible worlds.
On to epistemic probability. We can represent epistemic probability in terms of the proportion of worlds in which a proposition is true. If, according to the agent, the existence of God is more likely than not, then this means that a higher proportion of the worlds we use to represent his knowledge will contain God compared to those which do not contain him. If my argument is correct, then the opposite is true – our knowledge of what minds are, though partial, suffices to lower the proportion of worlds in which a simple God exists, as a simple-minded God just isn’t congruent with what we know about minds. And a lower proportion just means that the epistemic probability of God is low.

As I said, this a guess. It might be worthwhile asking a philosopher on this one.

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lukeprog February 8, 2010 at 7:09 am

TaiChi,

Yeah, I’m going to look for some literature on that subject.

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Rhys Wilkins February 11, 2010 at 6:25 pm

Not too long ago, I saw an article on the Secular Web that also attempted to rescue Dawkins’ Ultimate Boeing 747 Argument. It was by Bradley Bowen:

The Secular Outpost: An Argument for Atheism – Part 6

He does a great job in repairing it, and making it more logically feasible. However, his version of the argument shows that if the deity evolved in a different universe then managed to create ours, then the argument is rendered unsound.

1. Any creative intelligence, of sufficient complexity to design anything, comes into existence only as the end product of at least one million years of gradual evolution.

2. The process of the evolution of a creative intelligence cannot have started until after our universe began to exist.

3. Any creative intelligence, of sufficient complexity to design anything, necessarily arrives no earlier than at least one million years after our universe began to exist.

A theist may say “wait a minute, but God is defined as a being which did not come into existence contingently, but exists necessarily!”, this problem is ameliorated simply by postulating the following argument:

Dhorpatan’s Sentience Argument
(1) Whatever is sentient must exist contingently
(2) If God exists, He is sentient
(3) Therefore, if God exists, He must exist contingently

If substance dualism were true, premiss (1) would be unsound, since premiss (1) carries the hidden assumption of the non-dualist relationship between minds and brains. However the collective weight of neuro-scientific data and philosophical inquiry overwhelmingly shows the doctrine of substance dualism to be a glorified restatement of the soul-of-the-gaps fallacy, hence the burden of proof lies on the theist to provide positive evidence that an intelligence is capable of existing necessarily.

Here I have attempted to restate the argument as a whole, combining Brad Bowen and Dhorpatan’s argument into a scientifically and empirically-based anti-teleological and anti-cosmological argument: :)


1. Any creative intelligence, of sufficient complexity to design anything, necessarily arrives no earlier than at least one million years after our universe began to exist.

1a. Any creative intelligence, of sufficient complexity to design anything must have a cause of it’s existence

1b. Any creative intelligence, of sufficient complexity to design anything, comes into existence only as the end product of at least one million years of gradual evolution.

1c. The process of the evolution of a creative intelligence cannot have started until after our universe began to exist.

2. God is defined as an uncaused creative intelligence of sufficient complexity to design anything, and the cause of the universe’s coming into being.

3. Therefore, God probably does not exist (1, 2)

So it turns out the only real way to rescue Dawkin’s argument is to change it entirely :P.

I am not a philosopher or logician, so I may have made a few blunders in stating the argument. Please let me know if I have!

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TaiChi February 12, 2010 at 1:54 pm

Hi Rhys.

Rhys Wilkins: However, his version of the argument shows that if the deity evolved in a different universe then managed to create ours, then the argument is rendered unsound.

I don’t think this is worth worrying about. If you’re really concerned that the possibility makes the argument unsound, then you can introduce the denial of a prior universe into the argument, since this is something theists will tend to agree with anyway.

Rhys Wilkins: 1. Any creative intelligence, of sufficient complexity to design anything, comes into existence only as the end product of at least one million years of gradual evolution.

Theists won’t agree with this – they’ll accuse atheists of begging the question against God.

Rhys Wilkins: (1) Whatever is sentient must exist contingently

But nor will they agree with this. You support it by claiming that (1) implies substance-dualism, but you haven’t shown that this is the case. I don’t find it inconceivable that a physical object exists necessarily, and I suspect the same is true of others – in fact, I presume that people use physical stuff as the model of mental stuff, and so being able to conceive of the latter as necessary implies being able to conceive of the former as necessary.

Rhys Wilkins: …hence the burden of proof lies on the theist to provide positive evidence that an intelligence is capable of existing necessarily.

Even supposing you’re right about physical sentience being contingent, this still looks to be a weak point, the way you express it. The point here should not be that the burden of proof is on the theist (who is not giving the argument in any case), but that, in all probability, substance-dualism is false.

Rhys Wilkins: 1. Any creative intelligence, of sufficient complexity to design anything, comes into existence only as the end product of at least one million years of gradual evolution.….
A theist may say “wait a minute, but God is defined as a being which did not come into existence contingently, but exists necessarily!”….
(3) Therefore, if God exists, He must exist contingently

Suppose your Dhorpatan’s Sentience Argument is right, and that God exists contingently. You still have a problem, for you’re taking contingency and having a cause to be the same thing. Perhaps God is an uncaused contingency – this seems to me quite reasonable, if not traditional.
In sum, I think the theist can resist your 1a (and 1b, since it falls with the denial of 1a).

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Rhys February 12, 2010 at 9:59 pm

Hi TaiChi, thanks for the comments.

Yes I also think the weak link in the chain is showing the physicalist relationship between minds and brains, however I found the notion of an uncaused contingency very puzzling since a contingency by its very nature needs some kind of conditions to exist. I don’t think it’s a leap to say that conditions can be synonymous with causes.

Yes, there may be some kind of physical object that exists in all possible worlds. Some say the Big Bang singularity may fit this description. However, a physical mind by it’s very own nature is something that could not be necessary, since it is an ever changing, re-shifting, moving, dynamical entity that responds to internal and external conditions. For instance if the mind of God was a physical object, then theoretically it could be destroyed, thus ceasing it to exist in one possible world.

I also do not think that premiss (1) is question begging, since this premiss applies to any form of intelligence, not just God. It applies to humans designing skyscrapers, beavers designing dams etc. If God was the only candidate for the predicate of (1) then yes, you would be right. Furthermore, it is an a posterori statement, which means there may be a logical possibility that it is wrong. However, just because something is possible or caters to our wishful thinking and desire to survive death in a non physical form does not make plausible, rational, or exempt from special pleading.

Dualism certainly would throw a monkey wrench in the argument, however like I have stated, there is not a shred of positive evidence for dualism. Every argument ever made for it has been guilty of the god-of-the-gaps and soul-of-the-gaps fallacy. Cartesian dualism has been eviscerated particularly savagely by modern neuroscience and philosophy of mind. The new paradigm that is emerging is saying that the brain itself is entirely responsible for our heterophenomenologial worlds, the ad-hoc addition of a soul is superfluous.

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TaiChi February 13, 2010 at 1:05 pm

Rhys: I found the notion of an uncaused contingency very puzzling since a contingency by its very nature needs some kind of conditions to exist. I don’t think it’s a leap to say that conditions can be synonymous with causes.

If the principle of sufficient reason is true, then it looks like you’d be right – every contingency would have to have a reason for existing, the reason would have to be external to it, and that sounds just like a cause. But if it is false, then the door is open to this reply. Perhaps something just exists, without reason (without cause) at all.
I’m not saying it’s attractive to the theist (I take the idea of an uncaused contingency from Sartre, an atheist), but it’s a possible way out.

Rhys: Yes, there may be some kind of physical object that exists in all possible worlds. Some say the Big Bang singularity may fit this description. However, a physical mind by it’s very own nature is something that could not be necessary, since it is an ever changing, re-shifting, moving, dynamical entity that responds to internal and external conditions.

If the big bang is necessary, and determinism is true, then each and every physical mind is also necessary. So it’s just not true that the dynamic nature of a physical mind precludes the necessity of that mind.

Rhys: For instance if the mind of God was a physical object, then theoretically it could be destroyed, thus ceasing it to exist in one possible world.

To be necessary is to exist in all possible worlds, not to exist at every moment in every possible world. So even if God can be destroyed, this does not mean he is contingent.

Rhys: I also do not think that premiss (1) is question begging, since this premiss applies to any form of intelligence, not just God.

Maybe, but I say it is begging the question because I don’t expect that a theist would agree to it, being a theist.

Rhys: Dualism certainly would throw a monkey wrench in the argument, however like I have stated, there is not a shred of positive evidence for dualism. Every argument ever made for it has been guilty of the god-of-the-gaps and soul-of-the-gaps fallacy. 

Ok, so all the arguments for dualism are bunk. That means that, were a theist to attempt to reply strongly to you, by asserting that dualism is true, he could only give bad arguments. But the theist need not convince you in order to resist your argument. All he needs to do is to find his own reasons for thinking that dualism is true. And there are some such reasons, for the science of consciousness is not yet over, and the problems that remain are those that appear to directly challenge physicalism. You and I both think the challenges will be met, but I don’t think I can go so far as to say anyone who disagrees is irrational. So, I think a theist may rationally resist your argument.

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Rhys February 13, 2010 at 6:07 pm

Cool,

Ill just reply to one point that you made about contingent objects vs necessary objects

“To be necessary is to exist in all possible worlds, not to exist at every moment in every possible world. So even if God can be destroyed, this does not mean he is contingent.”

To exist in some possible world is just fancy talk for saying ‘I can imagine a scenario where proposition x is true and it is not logically contradictory for it to be so’. The best examples of necessary entities would be logic and mathematics. There is literally not a single possible world where logic or mathematics does not exist, and any attempts to reconcile the discrepancies that arise have all failed.

If we grant that sentience is an epiphenomenon of a physical brain, then contingency is by definition bootstrapped along for the ride. Every other physical thing that I know of is contingent, dependent on prior causes, subject to particular descriptive laws of nature, and depends on a congenial environment to exist.

I also agree with you about there being a possible solution. This is my main beef. There can literally be an infinite probabilistic divide between something being logically possible and plausible. Like Luke has said, all a retreat to the possible does is offer a half-baked defense against being rendered logically contradictory, it does not mean it should be taken as verisimilitude. After all, it is logically possible that I am made of string, but I don’t take the time out of my day to seriously consider if it may be true.

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TaiChi February 13, 2010 at 10:01 pm

Rhys: To exist in some possible world is just fancy talk for saying ‘I can imagine a scenario where proposition x is true and it is not logically contradictory for it to be so’. The best examples of necessary entities would be logic and mathematics. There is literally not a single possible world where logic or mathematics does not exist, and any attempts to reconcile the discrepancies that arise have all failed.

I’m just going to agree with this, but I’ll point out that you haven’t actually responded to the part of my post you quote – that necessary existence doesn’t entail eternal existence. So I’ll take up your example directly: supposing the big bang singularity to be a necessary object does not require one to think that the big bang singularity exists eternally (indeed, we think it exists for but a fleeting instant). Likewise (perhaps) for God.

Rhys: Every other physical thing that I know of is contingent, dependent on prior causes, subject to particular descriptive laws of nature, and depends on a congenial environment to exist.

That sounds reasonable, but do you realize that you’ve included the big bang singularity as something contingent requiring a cause? At least some atheists will want to deny that everything physical must have a cause. Perhaps you’re not one of these, but it does seem significant that your view proceeds by logic to the conclusion that the universe is eternal.
Are you as sure about this as you are about your argument against God? If not, then perhaps you shouldn’t be so confident in your argument against God. I throw it out there for you to think about.

Rhys: I also agree with you about there being a possible solution. This is my main beef. There can literally be an infinite probabilistic divide between something being logically possible and plausible.

Oh, agreed. I think the trick (problem?) is to try to make this obvious when arguing with a theist. You can take my criticism as being constructive along these lines, since I understand and agree with the gist of your argument.

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Rhys Wilkins February 14, 2010 at 2:45 am

TaiChi,

Thanks for the comments.

I realised today while I was out that I had completely forgot about the singularity as a possible example of a necessary physicality. I Doh!ed so badly lol.

For what it’s worth I do not think the singularity is a metaphysically necessary object, unlike some others. I do not even think it exists at all. Quentin Smith made the point quite nicely in his most recent debate with William Lane Craig (a debate in which he does a tour de force evisceration of the Kalam argument), he states that the “singularity is an ideal mathematical limit to an infinite series of space-time points that extrapolate backwards forever”. That was not his words verbatim, just a paraphrase. So in other words, the singularity is something you can keep approaching forever, but you will never reach it. If you’re interested, check out their debate, I am really surprised it is not in the ‘good’ section of Luke’s Craig Debates page.

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TaiChi February 14, 2010 at 9:18 pm

Rhys Wilkins: For what it’s worth I do not think the singularity is a metaphysically necessary object, unlike some others.

I tend to agree – I don’t think there are any concrete necessities at all. At best, you could say that it’s hypothetically (conditionally) necessary – given the universe is now the way it is, it had to be the way it was back then. But just as things might have been different than they are now, they might also have been different back then.

Rhys Wilkins: If you’re interested, check out their debate, I am really surprised it is not in the ‘good’ section of Luke’s Craig Debates page.  

I think I’ll do that, Rhys. Thanks :)

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Gregory Abucks March 5, 2010 at 10:41 pm

“For example, consider premise (2). It’s not clear what Dawkins means by saying that God must be at least as complex as the complex universe he supposedly designed. Some writers2 have assumed Dawkins to have meant that something is complex if it has many different physical parts.”

A God that created the universe is necessarily intelligent enough to understand everything in it. Intelligence requires complexity, and as far as we have seen a complexity. Therefore a God that created the universe is either non-intelligent or very complex.

Example 2:

Two atoms are magnetically attracted. With a God, this is a two-step process: 1) God willed the atoms together, and 2) the atoms moved together. Without a God: 1) the atoms moved together. Unless you were trying to argue God in lieu of magnetism (and I’m fairly certain anyone trying to logically assert a god hypothesis is trying to make it an addition, not a replacement) there would necessarily have to be an extra step. With no reason to assume this extra step, it is extraneous.

As for God being necessary, if God is necessary as a first cause, and a first cause cannot be intelligent (as intelligence requires a causal relation of thoughts) then God must not be intelligent.

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Silver Bullet March 27, 2010 at 7:10 am

Though, I think we might have a different problem, anyway. We’re trying to show that God is highly improbable because he is complex. But if God exists and is a necessary being, his probability of existing is 1, whether or not he is complex. So I think we would instead need to argue that God cannot be necessary, in which case any arguments over complexity are irrelevant.  

What are the arguments that god is a necessary being like? This just seems like an ad hoc assertion to me. I mean, if there were good arguments or evidence that god is necessary, then we’d all be convinced of god’s existence wouldn’t we? So what are these arguments/evidence, or is it really an ad hoc assertion that god is necessary.

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Polymeron March 27, 2010 at 12:39 pm

SB, it would have to be an argument. You can bring evidence for something existing, but you can’t bring evidence that shows it couldn’t possibly *not* exist.

There are several arguments for god’s necessity, I’m hoping Luke will be visiting them at some point because I am nowhere near his level of understanding regarding them, sadly.

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Silver Bullet March 28, 2010 at 6:16 pm

Thanks Polymeron. I see your point.

I really would like Luke (or someone else) to respond to this. If theists just assert, ad hoc, or based on circular reasoning, that god is necessary, then I think Dawkins’ argument does work.

On the other hand, if theists have reasonable arguments that god is necessary, then perhaps Luke’s position (that Dawkins fails because insisting that the very argument from design be turned upon god is inappropriate) probably carries the day.

For me, it all turns on whether the theist just asserts, ad hoc, that god is necessary, or if she has good arguments for this.

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lukeprog March 28, 2010 at 7:50 pm

Silver Bullet,

The best book I know of so far on the issue of God’s necessity is Timothy O’Connor’s ‘Theism and Ultimate Explanation.’ I have an interview with him coming up soon. The interview probably won’t answer your questions, but the book is a good start.

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lukeprog March 30, 2010 at 12:15 pm

TaiChi,

Are you thinking of something like the following?

1. Extraordinarily complex things are very unlikely to exist.
2. If God exists, he is an extraordinarily complex thing.
3. Therefore, God is unlikely to exist.

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Polymeron March 30, 2010 at 7:20 pm

I’m not sure I follow that, Luke.

The conclusion in that argument (3) does not follow from the premises (1,2) by simple derivation. Note the conditional in (2) – this would mean 3 would need to be phrased “if God exists, he is very unlikely to exist”, which of course is not a useful conclusion.
Alternatively, you could claim that (2) contains a contradiction of sorts, leading you to (3). Except that (3) is not a direct negation of either premise, so I’m not quite certain what you did there.

To avoid this, I would change (2) to “God is, by definition, an extraordinarily complex being”. That would make normal derivation work.

At any rate, this doesn’t seem to address the issue of necessity, which was Dawkins’ argument’s downfall in the first place.

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lukeprog March 30, 2010 at 10:20 pm

Sorry, yes, I was speaking in more colloquial terms. To be valid, I’d have to say something like:

1. Extraordinarily complex things are very unlikely to exist.
2. By definition, God is an extraordinarily complex thing.
3. Therefore, God is very unlikely to exist.

This would avoid the criticism raised by Wielenberg, which I sloppily represented as coming from God’s necessity. Instead, Wielenberg argues that Dawkins’ argument misses the mark because the theistic God does not “come into existence.” So my formulation here avoids this, for it does not depend on the notion of a God who “comes into existence.”

It does not, however, avoid the problem that God is by definition a necessary being. I’m still not sure what to do with that. My modal logic is pretty virginal still.

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Tony Hoffman March 31, 2010 at 5:43 am

Just a thought regarding necessity. I’d propose something like this:

1. Existence is a brute fact.
2. There is no necessary object that is not contingent on existence. (Triangles could not exist if there were Nothing.)
3. If God were to exist, God would be contingent on existence.
4. God cannot be a necessary being.

I suppose the theist would say something like God is identical with existence, but I think this is either incoherent or uses the term God to mean existence (in a tautological sense).

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Tony Hoffman April 1, 2010 at 8:30 am

On the necessity of God, we also have:

1. The question, “Why is there something instead of nothing?” admits that Nothing is a possibility alongside Something.
2. If there could have been Nothing, then there could have been no God.
3. God cannot be a necessary being, because God is contingent on there being Something.

Btw, I don’t think I’m raising fresh, new ideas here. But I’m just positing what the natural objections (obvious enough for me to think of them, at least) are for God’s necessity.

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lukeprog April 1, 2010 at 8:45 am

Tony,

I think the theist would usually say that the answer to the question ‘Why is there something rather than nothing’ is: “Because it’s impossible that there could have been nothing, for God necessarily exists.”

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TaiChi April 12, 2010 at 6:27 pm

TaiChi,Are you thinking of something like the following?1. Extraordinarily complex things are very unlikely to exist.
2. If God exists, he is an extraordinarily complex thing.
3. Therefore, God is unlikely to exist.  

Sorry, I didn’t catch this earlier. Yes, that’s the idea. I’m still on the lookout for something ideal on the link between probability and complexity.

I have found something interesting on the necessity objection, though. On Internet Infidels there is a debate between Draper and Plantinga, where Draper is arguing from parsimony to the improbability of God. One of the considerations Draper raises is ‘scope’, which seems to be the number of (atomic?) contingent conjuncts in a proposition, more conjuncts meaning a larger scope, etc.. Plantinga replies:

But first, just a word about scope and simplicity. “Roughly speaking,” says Draper, “scope is a measure of how much a hypothesis purports to tell us about the contingent world”; and if p has larger scope than q (tells us more about the contingent world than q), then p is less likely, all else being equal, than q. We might put this as follows: if p has larger scope than q, then p is true in fewer possible worlds than q.[1] Now Draper points out that according to theism, “all natural entities share a single ultimate supernatural (necessary) cause.” According to theism, that is, God, the ultimate cause of all natural entities, is a necessary being–one that exists in all possible worlds. This is certainly so according to most varieties of theism. But that means that the proposition there is such a person as God is true in all possible worlds, and hence has minimum content. Further, according to those same brands of theism, God has his central properties–omniscience, omnipotence, moral perfection–essentially; he has them in every world in which he exists. Therefore (according to these versions of theism) the proposition there is an omniscient, omnipotent and morally perfect being is true in every possible world, has minimal scope, and has an intrinsic logical probability of 1. Still further, according to these same brands of theism, it isn’t possible that there be a contingent being that isn’t created by God (directly or indirectly); nothing can just pop uncaused into existence. But that means that in every possible world in which there are natural beings, in Draper’s sense, those natural beings are created by a supernatural being. It means further that naturalism is necessarily false. Naturalism, therefore, will be maximally improbable; theism, on the other hand, will be true in every world in which there are natural beings. According to these brands of theism, therefore, theism has vastly less scope and content than naturalism. But then Draper’s claim that naturalism has smaller scope than theism is true only if the most common varieties of theism are false. His argument, therefore, assumes from the start that the most common varieties of theism are false. But isn’t that dialectically deficient, something in the near neighborhood of begging the question? In any event, what he says doesn’t in any way constitute an argument against theism, so understood.” ~ Plantinga

Draper responds:
…If theism were a necessary proposition and also true, then atheism would be, not just false, but self-contradictory, and so theism would (at least in Plantinga’s opinion) have an intrinsic probability of one–i.e., independent of all evidence, it would be absolutely certain that theism is true.

I don’t believe Plantinga is right that all necessary truths have a probability of one, but put that aside. I assumed in my opening case that theism is a contingent proposition, a proposition that is possibly true and possibly false.[2] Is this assumption dialectically deficient? Generally speaking, in the absence of some positive reason for believing that a hypothesis is necessarily true or necessarily false, objective inquiry into whether that hypothesis is true or false should (and in fact almost always does) proceed on the assumption that the hypothesis in question is a contingent proposition. So in the absence of good reasons to believe that theism is a necessary proposition, my assumption that it is a contingent proposition is dialectically appropriate. Plantinga disagrees, on the grounds that most of the (tiny percentage of) theists who have thought about this issue have held that theism is a necessary proposition. I suspect that the sample of theists upon which Plantinga bases this judgment is not representative, but it really doesn’t matter one way or the other. Regardless of how many or what percentage of theists believe that theism is a necessary proposition, the only important question is whether there is any good reason to believe that it is a necessary proposition. Plantinga offers no reasons in his reply; so I’ll just note here that the reasons that have been offered are not, in my opinion, good ones.

Suppose, however, that my assumption is false. Suppose that theism is not a contingent proposition. Then it is much more likely that it is necessarily false than that it is necessarily true. This is made clear by any objective comparison of the available reasons for thinking that theism is necessarily true to the available reasons for thinking that it is necessarily false. The former are limited to various versions of the ontological argument, which is almost universally rejected by philosophers. Indeed, even Plantinga admits that this argument fails to prove its conclusion. The latter include a whole host of serious arguments for the incoherence of theism.[3] Keep in mind that I’m not convinced by these arguments for the necessary falsehood of theism, but they are clearly more persuasive collectively than the notoriously unpersuasive ontological argument. Further, theism asserts that the natural world was created by an omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect person, which assumes, not only that there is a maximum possible degree of power, knowledge, and moral goodness,[4] but also that these three attributes are compatible with each other and with the existence of natural entities. Even ignoring specific arguments, clearly it is much more likely that some hidden incoherence lurks in the assertion that there exists a creator of nature possessing the highest possible degree of several distinct scaling[5] properties than in the simple assertion that no such creator exists. Therefore, if I am mistaken and theism really is a necessary proposition, then it is very probably a necessary falsehood, which means that my assumption in my opening case that it is a contingent proposition is not only dialectically appropriate (for the reasons given in the previous paragraph), but dialectically generous.” ~ Draper

That seems to be the end of the exchange on this particular point, but I haven’t yet read right through the debate.

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lukeprog April 12, 2010 at 6:51 pm

Jesus, those are some smart dudes.

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Polymeron April 12, 2010 at 10:07 pm

Thanks a lot TaiChi, that was really enlightening! :)

It does not in fact move us very much nearer the truth, however, as it seems clear at this point that if theism is a contingent proposition, Atheism takes it hands down in parsimony etc. (another reason why rehashing Creationism as ID fails badly). But our issue with Dawkins’ argument (if we may generously call it that) was that it treats theism as contingent.

The question remains, then, whether or not the arguments for theism being necessarily true are convincing. Draper certainly doesn’t think so; he first says only the Ontological argument offers such an attempt, then dismisses it as unconvincing. But that alone shouldn’t be enough for anyone (as it appeals to authority), and I’m therefore very much interested in getting a review of the various arguments for it, a subject on which I am far from an expert.

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TaiChi April 14, 2010 at 6:08 pm

But our issue with Dawkins’ argument (if we may generously call it that) was that it treats theism as contingent.

So does any probabilistic argument against God you care to name (or for God, for that matter).

Suppose a mathematics class is in session, and the students are industriously working on their problems. They finish, and one of the students is requested to write on the board his solution to a problem. He does so and, alas, is told by others in the class that his solution is wrong. But he is adamant, and won’t be persuaded.
After several unsuccessful attempts are made to explain where he goes wrong, a student tries to convince him by force of argument. She tells him that it is much more likely he is mistaken in his solution than that all the students in the class are wrong, for they are just as competent and adamant about their solution as he, and that therefore he should accept the verdict of the group. He responds that such a probabilistic argument treats a necessary proposition as contingent, and is therefore defective.
Who is right? I think it obvious that the boy’s rejection of his classmates probabilistic argument is obviously spurious, even if it’s hard to say why. So too is the rejection of Dawkins’ argument. Perhaps the lesson is that epistemic contingency does not entail metaphysical contingency: what is possible, for all we know, does not say anything about what is possible simpliciter. Our ignorance of what is actual should not be identified with knowledge of what is possible.

..I’m therefore very much interested in getting a review of the various arguments for it, a subject on which I am far from an expert.

The SEP is probably your first stop.

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Polymeron April 15, 2010 at 4:49 am

Who is right? I think it obvious that the boy’s rejection of his classmates probabilistic argument is obviously spurious, even if it’s hard to say why. So too is the rejection of Dawkins’ argument.

I disagree. The student is correct in that, no matter how many people say a proposition is false and only one says it’s true, the proposition’s truth value is independent of this. And specifically, in this case the proposition’s truth value can be derived from the axioms (or maybe it can’t, a la Godel’s theorem), building a proof or disproof of the proposition is the only* appropriate way to settle the dispute.

What I think brings confusion into it here, and makes the boy’s argument’s spuriousness both “obvious” and “hard to say why” is, to the outside observer without the expertise to reach a deductive conclusion, the following inductive reasoning occurs:

P1. Most of the students opposing the proposition have the expertise required to properly assess the soundness of the proposition.
P2. A person with the required expertise would have a fair chance of correctly ascertaining the proposition’s truth value.
P3. All the students think the proposition is false.
Therefore, it is highly unlikely that the proposition is true.

Can also be brought in abductive form: If the proposition is wrong, that easily explains why they think so.

Now. This is a *useful* form of reaching conclusions, especially when expertise is involved – the effort required to acquire the understanding that allows one to get a deductive answer is quite often not feasible just for that purpose. But among those experts, it is less useful – it may make sense in the context that the argument may be disrupting the class and needs to be postponed, but not as a method of reaching consensus on the proposition’s truth value. And note that there are other possible explanations for the abductive argument / objections to the inductive premises, which can indeed shake our confidence in the argumet’s strength. That is, until we get a deductive proof.

Now. In our case, the stakes are pretty high. We are literally discussing the fundamental properties, purpose and cause of our universe. Your mileage may vary regarding just how important it really is to know it, but if we bother enough to delve so deep into the relevant philosophy, it would be negligent of us to simply hand-wave the possibility of god being necessary, contrary to our experience of persons in general.

In light of this, I think a proper methodology could be:
1. Treat the proposition of god’s existence as contingent until proven otherwise.
2. Pay a VERY good look to deductive propositions of god’s necessity.

(Anecdotally, I have before faced a class of my peers and betters, adamantly insisting on a mathematical proposition which they all claimed was wrong. I was persuaded to let it go, for reasons of practicality, but I continued to pursue it later, because I needed to understand *why* I was wrong in order to be convinced that I actually *was* wrong.
In case you’re wondering, yes, I was wrong).

The SEP is probably your first stop.  

Thanks! I’ll peruse it at the first earliest convenience.

* Calculating the proposition’s truth value for a very large range can also serve as a useful method of building consensus. It doesn’t prove or disprove anything, of course, but it makes the question less relevant and thus makes the approximation useful.

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Silver Bullet April 15, 2010 at 2:14 pm

I wonder if the following, written by Graham Oppy and copied from his essay, “Why I am Not Christian”, available at Internet Infidels, might have a bearing on this discussion, since this argument certainly has been advanced by Dawkins and seems related :

“If there is anything contingent in the world, then there is brute–i.e., inexplicable–contingency in the world. Hence, if there is anything contingent in the world, then there are things–events, facts–that simply have no explanation. In particular, then, there is no justification for supposing that belief in God is justified simply because the truth of that belief would account for otherwise inexplicable contingency in the world. If we are puzzled by why the world is one way rather than some other way that it might have been, our puzzlement cannot be removed by supposing that the world is the way it is because God chose to make it that way. If we are worried by unexplained contingency, we shall want to know why God chose to make the world that way: postulating God does not remove the unexplained contingency, but it does land us with a whole new raft of explanatory burdens and commitments. This is not progress.

If we suppose that there is a concept of cause that has proper application to our world, then there are events and occurrences that simply lack causes, including, in particular, events and occurrences where entities come into existence and processes commence. Consequently, I do not think that the thought that God might be the initial cause for what would otherwise be uncaused initial events and occurrences justifies belief in God–for God’s actions and decisions are also events and occurrences that, on the intuition in question, stand in need of causes. Of course, if there is a concept of cause that has proper application to our world, then our world might have a “Russian doll” structure, with a series of causes extending back into the past, each cause preceded by an earlier cause–even if all such chains of causes converge on an initial, but merely ideal, point or plane. However, it seems to me that, on the supposition that the concept of cause has proper application to the world, it is more likely that there are events and occurrences that simply lack causes than that the world has a “Russian doll” causal structure.”

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Silver Bullet April 15, 2010 at 2:24 pm

More from Oppy’s same essay:

“If asked to provide a broad outline of the history of the universe since the Big Bang, I would–to the best of my ability–outline the history that is delivered to us by our best sciences. In particular, I would insist that life appeared on Earth some billions of years ago, and that human beings are directly descended from those ancestral life forms. Moreover, I would insist that there is no need to appeal to the hypothesis of intelligent design to explain any of the features that our universe has possessed over the course of its history. Furthermore, I would say that any impulse to postulate intelligent designers to explain structural or organizational features of the universe should be matched by an impulse to postulate further intelligent designers for those intelligent designers–to explain the structural or organizational features of the beliefs, desires, and intentions of the initial intelligent designers.”

Sounds very much Like Dawkins’ argument to me…

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TaiChi April 16, 2010 at 2:55 pm

Polymeron,
I agree that the mathematical proposition will be true regardless of opinion. I agree with the inductive argument you give. I’m puzzled as to why you dismiss it as merely *useful*, and decide to talk about deductive proofs.
My point was that the inductive argument would be good grounds for assigning a non-0 or non-1 value to the probability of the mathematical proposition. Of course I agree that a deductive proof is the only way to know for sure, and that a deductive proof may in the end run against our lazy induction, but none of this conflicts with my saying that a middling probability can be sensibly assigned to a necessary proposition.

(I’ve put a question on this to the ask philosophers website – hopefully I get a response)

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TaiChi April 22, 2010 at 4:44 pm

Looks like God’s necessity isn’t taken too seriously.

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Polymeron April 22, 2010 at 11:44 pm

Apparently so, TaiChi, though obviously the theist would argue that without God in that world, the pencil could not come to exist, hence could not exist, hence the world contains a contradiction. So as you said, that particular philosopher simply did not take it seriously.

Regarding your above topic, I find it only useful because inductive arguments are *often wrong*. But we seem to be in agreement that until a convincing deductive proof has been put forth, we should treat the proposition as contingent and assign a probability to it (a field in which, as I stated before, theism fails miserably).

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TaiChi June 11, 2010 at 5:27 pm

To anyone who’s interested: I’ve written up a post on Dawkins’ argument now, which differs substantially to my comments in this thread about how we can show God to be complex. Here it is:

Dawkins and the Ultimate 747 Gambit

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Wissam October 5, 2010 at 12:24 pm

1. (x)(Ox–>Dx) -For all x, if x is ordered, then x is designed>> This is the basic premise of all theistic design arguments.

2. (Ogm) -God’s mind is (infinitely) ordered>>This is not hard to accept for the theist; this proposition is essential to traditional theism.

3. l= (Dgm) -Therefore, God’s mind is designed [from (1) & (2); modus ponens)].

I don’t see the problem. It’s a good argument.

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Wissam October 5, 2010 at 12:31 pm

A Counterclockwise Paley

1. Organized complexity is the product of conscious design or natural selection.

2. Intelligence is an example of organized complexity.

3. Thus, intelligence is the product of conscious design or natural selection.

4. Intelligent beings are capable of designing intelligence (i.e. computer artificial intelligence programmed by humans).

5. However, only one mechanism has been discovered that can produce intelligence without requiring the existence of a prior intelligence. That mechanism is evolution through natural selection.

6. Thus, the first intelligence evolved.

7. Evolution requires:
a. Self replication (heredity) with slightly imperfect
copying fidelity (mutation).
b. An environment that can favor one replicator over another (competition).
c. Time for (a) and (b) to manifest themselves.

8. None of the conditions in (7) were present before the existence of the universe.

9. Thus, intelligence did not exist prior to the universe.

10. Therefore, the universe did not have an intelligent creator.

http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/kyle_gerkin/counterclockwise.html

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HTS February 10, 2011 at 11:35 am

It is obvious that Dawkins is a philospher, not a scientist. He constantly invokes religious and philosophical arguments to defend his position of naturalism and evolution. His arrogance is unsurpassed.

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HTS February 10, 2011 at 11:36 am

Dawkins believes in evolution not because science points to it, but because he doesn’t believe in God.

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wissam February 10, 2011 at 12:15 pm

Luke,
For the sake of discussion, what if we modified the argument slightly. Instead of saying that God is complex, and therefore, unlikely to come about by chance, that God is complex and therefore lowers the epistemic probability over a God who was simple. Obviously, God, understood as a necessary being, wouldn’t have an objective probability (other than 0 or 1). However, he could have an epistemic probability that could go up or down in accordance with the evidence.

I like this argument!

Given the potency of many of the arguments here, I’ve come to believe that Dawkins’ case can be rescued. I’m not sure what Luke would think :P I think Luke tries to patronize The New Atheists infront of theists to try and show the philosophical ‘honesty’ of atheists. Not sure though.

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Luke Muehlhauser February 10, 2011 at 2:07 pm

LOL @ HTS.

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AgnosticUsman March 5, 2011 at 12:10 pm

i realise its been long since this post has been made but i found an article that may be relevant to the topic. its a better version of what dawkins wanted to say. and it lays out the premises of the argument in a clear point by point format

http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/kyle_gerkin/counterclockwise.html

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Tony Hoffman October 17, 2011 at 6:30 pm

And I just noticed that now Deacon Duncan has posted on this topic. I have only skimmed what he wrote, but I’m constantly impressed by the clarity of his writing and the vividness with which he cuts to the essence of an argument and exposes faulty thinking, so I can only imagine that it’s worth reading for anyone interested on this particular topic.

http://realevang.wordpress.com/2011/10/16/xfiles-musical-gods/

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