The Blog | Richard Dawkins: Why There Almost Certainly Is No God | The Huffington Post

Tuesday, October 24, 2006
The Blog | Richard Dawkins: Why There Almost Certainly Is No God | The Huffington Post

"This sounds terrific, right up until you give it a moment's thought. You then realize that the presence of a creative deity in the universe is clearly a scientific hypothesis. Indeed, it is hard to imagine a more momentous hypothesis in all of science. A universe with a god would be a completely different kind of universe from one without, and it would be a scientific difference. God could clinch the matter in his favour at any moment by staging a spectacular demonstration of his powers, one that would satisfy the exacting standards of science. Even the infamous Templeton Foundation recognized that God is a scientific hypothesis - by funding double-blind trials to test whether remote prayer would speed the recovery of heart patients. It didn't, of course, although a control group who knew they had been prayed for tended to get worse (how about a class action suit against the Templeton Foundation?) Despite such well-financed efforts, no evidence for God's existence has yet appeared."

Wrong.

(1) It's only a scientific hypothesis if its falsifiable; falsifiability implies there has to be an experiment that can disprove the hypothesis. A Superior Being who could construct the universe could construct it such that no such experiment exists, or could interfere with such an experiment to create a "false negative".

(2) "A universe with a god would be a completely different kind of universe from one without, ...." requires argument: I don't see any reason to assume this assertion. In fact, assume the contrary, ie, that a universe could be constructed by a Superior Being that was exactly identical to the universe we observe; that would be exactly a universe that was observably identical to ours except for the existence of the Superior Being. If it can't be observed, it can't be used in an experiment, and thus this is at least a statement outside the realm of "scientific" knowledge, and probably formally fallacious.

(3) "God could clinch the matter in his favour at any moment by staging a spectacular demonstration of his powers, one that would satisfy the exacting standards of science." Or could not. What's the argument here?

(4) "Even the infamous Templeton Foundation recognized that God is a scientific hypothesis - by funding double-blind trials to test whether remote prayer would speed the recovery of heart patients." I don't believe he correctly states the hypothesis of the Templeton study, because as I recall (I looked at the publication when it came out) it was stated as, essentially, "is prayer efficacious?" One might consider a study that showed effective prayer as some evidence for a Superior Being, but that's not the only way prayer might be effective; finding prayer not to be effective is not contrary evidence.

And that's only one paragraph.

Good polemic, though.

25 comments:

Rick Ballard said...

Don Sensing is having fun with this too.

Fresh Air said...

Until you can solve the riddle of causation, I don't think you can say there isn't a god.

How could time exist without a deity that stands outside time to turn over the intergallactic hourglass? Put another way, the first mover has to be a deity for which time does not apply or it can't be the first mover.

You can't have nothing and then something. If there was always something, then time exists.

Fresh Air said...

Unless of course time is a giant circle.

Knucklehead said...

If there was a God he could prove his benevolence by being nicer than Gaia who has, to date, refused to provide me with a winning lottery ticket. And God could easily overcome the petty detail of my failure to purchase lottery tickets. If there was a God.

You think Gaia likes God? I bet she's ticked at him. Ready to throw vases and the good china. That's why he stays away, he's afraid to stick his head in the door with a nice little, "Honey, I'm home!"

chuck said...

Norman Geras dealt with Dawkins also, Dawkins Dogma, and references Terry Eagleton's review in LRB. The latter begins

Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology. Card-carrying rationalists like Dawkins, who is the nearest thing to a professional atheist we have had since Bertrand Russell, are in one sense the least well-equipped to understand what they castigate, since they don’t believe there is anything there to be understood, or at least anything worth understanding. This is why they invariably come up with vulgar caricatures of religious faith that would make a first-year theology student wince. The more they detest religion, the more ill-informed their criticisms of it tend to be. If they were asked to pass judgment on phenomenology or the geopolitics of South Asia, they would no doubt bone up on the question as assiduously as they could. When it comes to theology, however, any shoddy old travesty will pass muster. These days, theology is the queen of the sciences in a rather less august sense of the word than in its medieval heyday.

And goes on. Worth a read.

Christopher Trottier said...

I say, let's practice a science experiment on Richard Dawkins.

Seneca the Younger said...

Unless of course time is a giant circle.

Or it's turtles all the way down.

Seneca the Younger said...

I say, let's practice a science experiment on Richard Dawkins.

Don't be silly. If Dawkins didn't exist, we've have to invent him.

vnjagvet said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Knucklehead said...

I found Sensing's evolutionary argument amusing. I wonder if it ever ocurred to the likes of Dawkins that humans developed religion for perfectly sensible reasons of survival of the species?

Maybe there was a fortuitious mutation that had some early humans come up with this fuzzy notion of supreme beings who wanted them to behave according to certain rules and suchlike. Then it turned out those who lived by the rules survived better - evolutionary advantage. I mean, it couldn't be that humans who found some way to break free of "eat lunch or be lunch" and ground their behavior upon some list of values and supporting rules could have an evolutionary advantage, could it?

But what puzzles me the most about the likes of Dawkins and similar anti-{religion, gun nuts, meat eaters, etc} is that they get themselves all wound up and spittle-flecked over the trivial examples that happen to be at hand. What problems do the Christers cause Dawkins other than some traffic jams on Sunday or some bad caroling? Did he trip over an Easter egg or slip on a palm frond? Is this rooted in some Christmas gift he got that really pissed him off?

Why aren't these sorts out there in the faces of the burqas and body-bombs whackos? There's no gain in trying to reduce religiousness in the western world.

He needs to focus on the muzzies. Make your case in Mecca, Margo! Just like the gun grabbers need to focus on places like Yemen or the Sudan rather than San Fran. Go get in the face of the Taliban about women's abortion rights. Tell a Somali warlord to cough up his carbine. The Hindus can't swing a dead cat without smacking a god, go tell them about the importance of being godless.

It strikes me as being "against malaria" in Minneapolis? So freakin' what! There ain't no malaria there worth being against. If you're so all-fired against malaria than go someplace where malaria is rampaging around and do something to stop it.

vnjagvet said...

There is a God. That is why I always get Richard Dawkins confused with Richard Dawson, the Family Feud guy.

See that proves God has a sense of humor (or humour, if you prefer).

And speaking of non-sequiturs.......

truepeers said...

It sounds like Eagleton has Dawkins about right. Dawkins probably doesn't grasp the implications of the fact that atheism is conceptually dependent on the prior existence of theism. And, even if one day we all think like Dawkins (it won't happen) we won't just be able to bury and forget the concept of God. We will still have to go on denying some such concept, precisely because in some shape or form a conceptualization of God comes into/with Being at the start of human culture (and so is inevitably part of everything that comes after). And it is with this cultural originarity that we need, through faith or reason or both, to come to terms.

A problem here is the assumption that there need be no distinction between human and natural sciences. God is much more fundamentally a question of human science than cosmological or biological sciences, which is to say that whatever your faith about the origins of the universe and of man, if you are a scientist you can do cosmology and natural science while forgetting about God - you can explain things efficiently without bringing God into the question (after all, invoking God to explain what you can't explain about the cosmos is not an explanation for how His creation works) - but if you are involved in human sciences "God" must always be a central question in some shape or form.

Seneca claims a hypothesis is only scientific if it is falsifiable. Does this mean that, e.g., literary fictions which are a kind of hypothesis are not scientific? The novel has been claimed for science; and why not? Is anthropology, history, economics, a science? All these disciplines depend on hypotheses which cannot be absolutely falsified. The test of truth in human science is whether one hypothesis is marginally better than another - we never have the whole truth (keeping in mind there are two kinds of truth - pragmatic and fundamental) and nothing but the truth, but we can have more truth than before - and we only know a hypothesis is marginally better when either 1) it proves its pragmatic strength/truth in a market where pragmatic ends are pursued or 2) it proves its fundamental truth value by being adopted in a free and open marketplace where fundamental truths are pursued by honest and serious thinkers.

In other words, hypotheses in human science are proved by history and our consensus about what has happened in history to give us revelations into our nature or origin. But this proof is merely the wisdom of the crowd or of the ascetic truth seekers. And it is a proof that may soon be replaced by a better (or sometimes, worse) one, which is not to say it will ever be entirely falsified or affirmed.

Seneca the Younger said...

Does this mean that, e.g., literary fictions which are a kind of hypothesis are not scientific?

yup. Why would you think they are? (In any case, see Popper's Logik der Forschuung or The Logic of Scientific Discovery, or for much more fun reading, his Unending Quest for a detailed discussion of the idea.

vnjagvet said...

This post and comments is why I like YARGB.

truepeers said...

But Seneca, aren't you at least agreeing with me that there is some difference between the kind of science done in the physics-chem-bio departments and in the humanities and social sciences? Sure, if you want to belittle the dweebs in the English department you can say they are not scientists. But maybe they are not all dweebs and one or two of them are actually serious thinkers who know a lot more about human beings than the biologists. Why not just say they practice a different kind of science? After all, they apply rigor, and logic and honest, anti-ritualistic, truth seeking that sometimes goes beyond their political-pragmatic best interests to their work. It's just that the question of why Bloom does what he does is not reducible to a completely falsifiable hypothesis. Or, if we try to make the hypothesis falsifiable, we have to narrow its terms (as in many overly-specialized social sciences) such that we are not seriously addressing the big human questions. Popper provides one model of science. What might explain the human need to have one model of science and not another?

truepeers said...

What makes them scientists, continued... They also make hypotheses about human beings and test them on each other. And they, ideally, obey the wisdom of Occam's razor. Along with respect for displine and logic aren't these scientific faculties?

Seneca the Younger said...

But Seneca, aren't you at least agreeing with me that there is some difference between the kind of science done in the physics-chem-bio departments and in the humanities and social sciences?

Um, in most cases I'd phrase that as "between science and other stuff."

Sure, if you want to belittle the dweebs in the English department you can say they are not scientists.

Huh? Since when has anyone thought English departments were science departments? Or any of the Humanities?

But maybe they are not all dweebs and one or two of them are actually serious thinkers who know a lot more about human beings than the biologists.

Where did you derive that I think "serious thinker" implies "scientist"?

Why not just say they practice a different kind of science?

Because they don't operate by constructing falsifiable hypotheses and testing them?

After all, they apply rigor, and logic and honest, anti-ritualistic, truth seeking that sometimes goes beyond their political-pragmatic best interests to their work. It's just that the question of why Bloom does what he does is not reducible to a completely falsifiable hypothesis.

Q.E.D. That doesn't mean they're wrong or the thought is invalid, it's just not science.

I mean, there's plenty in my field that isn't "science", even though we've got "science" in the name. ("If a field has to have the word 'science' in the name, then it isn't one.") Most of mathematics isn't "science".

truepeers said...

Well, I don't think I'm alone in thinking of literature as a kind of science - it was a common idea a hundred years ago when everyone wanted to be scientific, though I think the notion faded around WWII when many wanted to belittle the modernist vision of the scientist as a guy who cares more about controlling the power of the universe than complex human beings. Also, the potential for what was then the most celebrated (by intellectuals) literary form, the novel, to discover new human truths, and not just recycle earlier novelistic discoveries, is probably limited.

Anyway, what I think will happen, though it's still a ways off, is that the traditional questions and disciplines of the humanities will increasingly be integrated with biological sciences. This will probably mean the humanities departments will fade away as "unscientific" (or simply moonbat) anachronisms, but that future biologists will talk a smarter God game than does Dawkins.

chuck said...

Well, I don't think I'm alone in thinking of literature as a kind of science.

Didn't Freud get the Nobel Prize for literature? I've always thought he suffered from a certain confusion on that score.

Anyway, I think it is worth distinguishing between guides to living and science. The former introduces methods or goals that are necessary for a living being but can't be justified rationally except by an appeal to evolution, which only supplies an explanation, not a justification.

truepeers said...

Chuck, but why must a human science justify anything, or be prescriptive, in explaining what has come to be, what has won out historically?

I think the reason why we should call some "guides to living" sciences is that we need to distinguish between, e.g., gurus, salesmen, journalists, and people who apply rigor, logic, and Occam's razor to human self-understanding and explaining, the best we can, why things have evolved the way they have. If some explanations weren't simply better than others, I'd agree with you. But in denying scientific status to the best explanations, we score a point for either religion or moral relativism.

truepeers said...

which is not to say there isn't a point at which religion, or faith, must substitute for explanation, which has a limited domain.

chuck said...

which is not to say there isn't a point at which religion, or faith, must substitute for explanation, which has a limited domain.

Exactly. Explanation has no moral quality in itself. Yet it is the moral quality that is central to a guide to living. It is also the moral quality that separates a guide from the mere knowledge of how to do things.

Luther McLeod said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
MeaninglessHotAir said...

Anyway, what I think will happen, though it's still a ways off, is that the traditional questions and disciplines of the humanities will increasingly be integrated with biological sciences.

Interesting. My son was just telling me of an analysis he did of the philosophy of John Locke in light of what is now known from cognitive science (brain scans etc.). Seems he got a lot of it right. Guess the replacement you've presaged is already happening.

Seneca the Younger said...

That would be the "mirroring neurons" thing, MHA? If he's got the time, he should read Adam Smith's Moral Sentiments book too --- he builds a whole model of morality around, not theistic stuff, but the "natural sympathy" we're now seeing has a biological basis.

But that doesn't make is science. Again, not to denigrate Adam Smith --- just that the notion that all of human learning is "science" makes the definition so broad that it's meaningless --- "a definition that excludes nothing defines nothing."