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The Arizona Atheist Critiques “True Reason” — My Reply

Posted on Jun 10, 2014 by Tom Gilson

Some time ago the Arizona Atheist critiqued my comments on Richard Dawkins in Chapter 1 of True Reason. I answered him, then he responded in turn, and now it’s my turn again. The point specifically in question is what I had to say about Richard Dawkins’ book The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe without Design.

There is much in AA’s most recent response that puzzles me. For example, he says,

In your chapter, you are clearly responding to Dawkins’ case against god-guided evolution. Your chapter presents an accurate description of Dawkins’ intentions in The Blind Watchmaker. But here, you’re arguing that you agree that Dawkins did successfully argue that point (that there is no evidence of god-guided evolution) and are now claiming Dawkins’ intention was to disprove the very existence of god. But Dawkins nowhere says anything about disproving the very existence of god in the entire book.

This is odd in many ways, one of which (incidentally) is that the Arizona Atheist knows most of the conventions of English usage, yet seems not to be aware that “God” is a proper noun in this context. Oh, well. That’s a frequent enough error; I’ll leave it be, with nothing more than that simple note.

More salient than that were three confused statements AA made in that paragraph. I’ll use those three statements to help organize my response here, though I’ll draw in material from elsewhere to support what I have to say.

Dawkins’ Case Against Design

First, I was not “responding to Dawkins’ case against god-guided evolution.” Yes, Dawkins focuses on his area of specialty, biology, but his case was against design in general. This is evident in the book’s subtitle: “why the evidence … reveals a universe without design.” The book’s first chapter opens by discussing the complexity of living organisms, and moves directly in its second paragraph to, “Biology is the study of complex things that appear to have been designed for a purpose.” The whole first chapter, which sets the stage for the whole book, is commentary on that.

AA anticipates my response there and writes,

Yes, it’s true that Dawkins’ book only addressed the belief of god-guided evolution, but evolution is Dawkins’ main area of expertise and he wanted to address this specific claim. And this is what he means by “design.” He’s not referring to all design arguments, but only the specific subset dealing with biological design. If someone writes a book with the intention of covering a single topic I think it’s unfair to criticize it for failing to address other related topics.

I don’t know where I made that error in my chapter, although in my more recent response to AA I did say,

Again: suppose evolution happened as he supposes: does that reveal a universe without design? Once you get done with studying evolution, there’s still a whole lot of universe left over! There’s cosmogony, cosmology, fine-tuning, the rationality and explainability of reality, and the full panoply of as-yet-unexplained human characteristics including consciousness, rationality, free will, and worth, which Dawkins didn’t touch in that book (as I recall), and of which no evolutionary account has given an adequate treatment. So in that sense he made a large and fallacious logical leap, too.

I didn’t, however, criticize Dawkins primarily for failing to address other related topics. I criticized him for committing a rather obvious logical fallacy. (This was the whole point of that section of my chapter in True Reason, as well as much of the rest of the book: the fallacious logic so frequently displayed by Dawkins and other New Atheists.) He drew his conclusion — a universe without design — without having demonstrated it. He didn’t even try to demonstrate it, except in one limited set of phenomena, biological evolution.

Had he succeeded in showing design was unnecessary in the case of life, that would have revealed a biosphere without design, not a universe without design. But no, actually, it would only have revealed the scientific and logical possibility of a biosphere without design; which is why I wrote in True Reason that Dawkins disappointed me. He drew the conclusion, there is no design, after arguing a case that could only lead to it is possible there is no design. Alvin Plantinga pointed out the same thing, as I noted in True Reason.

Misreading My Argument

Second, I did not argue that I “agree that Dawkins did successfully argue that point.” What I said was,

So suppose that Dawkins was completely successful in demonstrating that evolution happened as he described. I doubt that he was, but that’s another matter, and for now we can take it for the sake of argument that he did succeed. Suppose he even demonstrated that God was superfluous to the natural history of biological creatures.

That’s a far cry from agreeing that Dawkins was successful!

Did Dawkins Really Intend to Argue Against the Existence of God?

Third, AA denies that Dawkins’ intention was to disprove the existence of God. Now, that ties in with other things AA wrote in his response to me:

You say nothing about the very existence of god in your chapter, which is not even addressed by Richard Dawkins in The Blind Watchmaker, so why you seem to be changing your argument from one purely about god-guided evolution to one about the existence of god confuses me.

and,

He [Dawkins] said nothing of the kind, that there is no god.

and also,

Once again, Dawkins wasn’t arguing in that book that god does not exist. He was only discussing god’s alleged role in the evolutionary process.

At this point it’s a challenge for me to maintain decorum; that is, it’s hard not to burst out in laughter. To argue that the universe is without design, while also maintaining that the design argument is “always the most influential of the arguments for the existence of God,” is indeed to argue against the existence of God—whether or not one says, “I am now commencing an argument against the existence of God.”

Let’s see just how Dawkins viewed his arguments in relation to the existence of God. On page 4 of The Blind Watchmaker, in the 1996 edition I’m reading, Dawkins writes,

The watchmaker of my title is borrowed from a famous treatise by the eighteenth-century theologian William Paley. His Natural Theology — or Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity Collected from the Appearances of Nature, published in 1802, is the best-known exposition of the ‘Argument from Design’, always the most influential of the arguments for the existence of God.

Two pages later, he writes,

An atheist before Darwin could have said, following Hume: ‘I have no explanation for complex biological design. All I know is that God isn’t a good explanation, so we must wait and hope that somebody comes up with a better one.’ I can’t help feeling that such a position, though logically sound, would have left one feeling pretty unsatisfied, and that although atheism might have been logically tenable before Darwin, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.

Dawkins’ argument against design is quite definitely an argument for atheism and against God.

More on “God” or “Belief in God’s Role in Evolution”?

Nevertheless AA thinks Dawkins’ book is only about belief in God’s role in evolution. He quotes the critical passage:

We cannot disprove beliefs like these, especially if it is assumed that God took care that his intervention always closely mimicked what would be expected from evolution by natural selection. All that we can say about such beliefs is, firstly, that they are superfluous and, secondly, that they assume the existence of the main things we want to explain, namely organized complexity.”

And referring to that, he reminds me,

In fact, where you quote Dawkins as saying that “God is “superfluous” he is not referring to god at all, but a certain belief about god’s role in evolution.

I grant his point there, except that (a) through his carelessness in logic and in the wording of his subtitle, among other things, Dawkins made it about design in general, as I already said, and (b) Dawkins believes he is poking a large and irreparable hole in any reason to believe in God.

Now, AA is correct: Dawkins did not say in so many words, “therefore there is no God.” (Dawkins knows English well enough not to have written, “there is no god.”) I’ll accept that critique. It is a distinction without a difference, in my view; and besides that, if this is the best counter-argument anyone can successfully muster against me, I think I can stand the sting of that.

A Question About Divine Simplicity

AA has this question to add to the mix:

I would agree with you that theologians have often described god as simple, but at the same time I’ve never been able to understand how someone can make such strong assertions about the nature of something to which we have no evidence for. What is the basis for this assertion? It is philosophy, theology, the bible? I would be much appreciative if you could answer this for me.

It’s a very good question, and more involved than I can address here. In short, though, its basis is in a philosophical reflection on what God must necessarily be, if God is. That is, if we’re talking about God, then by definition we are talking about God in his ontological simplicity. If we’re talking about some being that is not ontologically simple, then we are not talking about God, but (and maybe AA is right here) maybe about god, some unknown deity that no one here believes in. But I cannot go into this any further here. I will refer you to Edward Feser for more.

And a Question Of My Own About What AA Is Trying To Say

Finally, I admit to being confused over the supposed contradiction AA says he identified in point 2 near the end of his piece. As far as I understand what he says, I think I’ve already addressed it, especially where he says, “”The issue was the argument that god helped to guide the evolutionary process, nothing about arguments for god’s existence. This is my main point of confusion and why I believe you’re contradicting yourself.” That contradiction has been resolved, I believe. If there’s something else there I didn’t catch, I’ll be glad to have it clarified for me so I can address it.

73 Responses to “ The Arizona Atheist Critiques “True Reason” — My Reply ”

  1. Ray Ingles says:

    Dawkins’ argument against design is quite definitely an argument for atheism and against God.

    No, I’m afraid you’re committing a fallacy there. Undermining an argument for something is not the same thing as arguing against something. Even saying it’s a comfort to atheism is not the same as saying it proves atheism. Saying that X is a bad reason for believing something is not an assertion that no good reasons exist. Indeed you quote Dawkins explicitly acknowledging other reasons, though he contends they are less “influential”.

    Now, Dawkins has certainly argued against those other reasons, against the existence of God, in other works – but they are not this work. (Note also that authors don’t always get to control the titles of their works – ask reporters who writes their headlines. Ask Dawkins himself, actually, who took flak for “The Root Of All Evil?” but had actually opposed that title.)

  2. Tom Gilson says:

    I’m afraid you’re committing a fallacy there. Undermining what one takes to be “always the most influential of the arguments for the existence of God” is arguing against the existence of God.

    Saying that X is a bad reason for believing something is not an assertion that no good reasons exist.

    Saying that X is the most influential reason for believing Y, and that it’s a bad reason, is an assertion that the most influential reason for believing Y is a bad one.

    This knee-jerk criticism of yours is thoughtless. You could have come up with an argument against your own position here yourself, if you’d only taken the time.

    Here’s one by way of example. Suppose you were Galileo, trying to argue against geocentrism (Y). Suppose part of the geocentric position you were contesting (X) was, “the heavens are the realm of perfect circles.” Suppose you undermined that by showing mountains and craters on the moon, and phases of Venus.

    Would that not be part of your case in favor of heliocentrism? Of course it would. And this is actually a minimal case example, since X isn’t even an argument for Y. think how much stronger the point would be if it had been.

    (Call me cynical, but this is obvious, and the only reason I can think of for you contesting it is that you want to find things to disagree with. I’m pretty sure you would have disagreed with me if I had taken the opposite position: for example, if I had set forth that Galileo story and said, “hey, that’s not an argument for heliocentrism.” Of course if I had made that mistake and you had pointed it out, you would have been right. This time I didn’t make that kind of mistake and you tried to point it out anyway. You were wrong.

    You really ought to have more in mind when you read here, Ray, than “what can I find to disagree with?” You might learn something, and you might not look so foolish.)

  3. Hi Tom. I hope you are feeling better and are able to get back on your feet by now (pun not intended). I’ve finally had the time to respond to this. I’d like to thank you for clearing up the confusion about your argument. I still do not agree with your actual argument but I have addressed it in the following post. Thanks!

    http://www.skepticink.com/azatheist/2014/06/11/the-reason-a-further-response-to-tom-gilson/

    PS. I also second Ray Ingles’ comments about putting too much stock into the title.

  4. Ray Ingles says:

    Tom –

    Saying that X is the most influential reason for believing Y, and that it’s a bad reason, is an assertion that the most influential reason for believing Y is a bad one.

    It is indeed. What it is not is a positive argument that Y is false. The technical term for the fallacy you’re accusing Dawkins of is denying the antecedent. But to make it stick, you need the “therefore there is no God”… which you concede you don’t have.

    It’s actually kind of ironic that you’d bring up Galileo in this context, because he’s a perfect example of that very point. He thought one of the best proofs that the Earth went around the sun was tides. It was very influential for him. He was wrong about tides… but that’s no kind of argument that geocentrism is therefore correct. (And Galileo actually believed that the “the heavens are the realm of perfect circles.” The notion of elliptical orbits had to wait another century.)

    Note that even arguing that there’s no good reason to believe X is not the same as arguing that there’s reason to believe X is false. Dawkins is familiar with Russell’s Teapot, and makes this distinction in at least two other works.

    To be honest, it often feels like many here read my comments in the spirit of “what can I find to disagree with?” They’ve decided I’m wrong, and they get busy on figuring out how to read my words so as to make me so.

  5. Tom Gilson says:

    Ray,

    This doesn’t need much more conversation, except to remind you that you are wrong, not just in a detail that I had to go hunting to dig out, but in the very essence of your whole last two comments.

    You say,

    But to make it stick, you need the “therefore there is no God”… which you concede you don’t have.

    No, to make it an argument, you only need as much as this: “therefore the reasons to believe in God are undermined.”

    You see, in order for it to be an argument against Y, all it requires is that it be an argument, and that it be against Y.

    Now, for it to satisfy the first condition, and for it to be an argument, all it needs is
    a. A case, and
    b. A “therefore.”

    That makes it an argument. What does said argument need in order to satisfy the second condition, and thus be an argument against Y?

    That’s pretty easy: it needs to be
    a. against Y.
    and/or
    b.

    (There is no b.)

    But it’s worth noting that if it’s against some purported reason for believing Y is true, then it’s against Y. That’s all it takes to satisfy the second condition.

    So in sum, an argument can be an argument even without offering a deductively certain conclusion. If I say I believe Y because of m, n, o, especially m; and if you say my reason m is unsound, you’re not only arguing against m, but also against Y, since obviously you’re arguing against my principal reason for believing Y.

    That’s what Dawkins did.

    Is that not obvious?

    I do hope you’ll listen and learn. I don’t intend to go any more rounds with you on this. I’m confident that other readers will be more than content to move on to matters less trivially obvious and more substantial, whether you are or not.

  6. Ray Ingles says:

    Okay, last try on my side, too. Let’s take God out of it and see if you can spot the problem.

    In 1993, Andrew Wiles presented an attempted proof of Fermat’s Conjecture. Then, several mathematicians pointed out an error in that attempt.

    Were those mathematicians arguing against Fermat’s Conjecture? Did they think it false, or argue that the problem with the proof made it’s truth less likely?

    I think even G. Rodrigues, though historically loathe to agree with me on anything, would have to concede that the majority of mathematicians thought Fermat’s Conjecture was very probably correct, but not yet proven. Pointing out a problem with Wiles’ first argument was not an argument that Fermat’s Conjecture was false, simply that Wiles’ proof wasn’t correct.

  7. JAD says:

    Dawkins also made this “argument” in The Blind Watchmaker:

    “Darwin … wrote in a letter to Sir Charles Lyell, the leading geologist of his day: `If I were convinced that I required such additions to the theory of natural selection, I would reject it as rubbish…I would give nothing for the theory of Natural selection, if it requires miraculous additions at any one stage of descent.’ This is no petty matter. In Darwin’s view, the whole point of the theory of evolution by natural selection was that it provided a non-miraculous account of the existence of complex adaptations. For what it is worth, it is also the whole point of this book. For Darwin, any evolution that had to be helped over the jumps by God was not evolution at all.” (Dawkins R., The Blind Watchmaker, 1986, pp.248-249. Emphasis in original)

    In other words, at least in terms of speciation Darwin believed that his theory was an ubiquitous explanation that explained away the need for an intelligent designer or Creator (God). That certainly appears to be Dawkin’s argument as well. Is that a surprise?

    Of course, is this really an argument, on Darwin’s/Dawkin’s part, or just wishful thinking? I would argue that it’s the latter.

  8. Tom Gilson says:

    Still wrong, Ray. You don’t even understand the implications of your own example.

    If Wiles’ argument had been sound, then the probability of the truth of Fermat’s last conjecture would have been 1. For a while it was actually thought to be 1, at least by some. When the problem with Wile’s proof was found, the apparent probability of Fermat’s last conjecture slipped down from 1 to something less than 1. It may still be very probably correct, but “very probably correct” is a probability less than 1. The problem with its putative proof actually did make its truth less likely.

    As you say, though, the proof’s failure didn’t reduce mathematician’s confidence in the conjecture very much. Why? Because Wile’s proof wasn’t a primary reason mathematicians have tended to believe the conjecture is true.

    If Wiles’ argument for the conjecture had been a primary reason mathematicians considered the conjecture “very probably correct,” then the arguments against his proof would have been more obviously regarded as arguments against the truth of the conjecture.

    What you have, then, is a case where the disproof of Wile’s proof is a relatively insignificant, unimportant argument against Fermat’s last conjecture, in view of other more significant reasons mathematicians hold for accepting the likely truth of the conjecture. Suppose those other reasons were taken away, or suppose they were considered much less convincing than Wile’s proof. Suppose Wile’s work had been the principal reason for believing Fermat’s last conjecture is true. Then the arguments against Wile’s proof would have been more obviously recognizable as arguments against the conjecture, since they would have been more significant arguments against it.

    In other words, it’s not a matter of whether or not they were arguments against the conjecture, it’s a matter of how significant they were in context of other reasons and arguments.

    Dawkins picked the argument for God that he considered most influential, and in this he was probably right. His argument against design was therefore intended as a relatively significant argument against the existence of God.

    You’ve tried and failed now three times, Ray. Learn from it. The teaching has now come to an end, unless someone else chimes in with questions.

  9. Tom Gilson says:

    My comment previously posted here has been transplanted to a blog post.

  10. Doug says:

    @Ray,

    Apparently, you think that there is a weakness (there is certainly no “fallacy”!!) in the following line of reasoning…

    1. Dawkins thinks that the best introduction/reinforcement of atheism is by way of an “intellectually fulfilling” substitute for design… (we have it in Dawkins’ own words)
    2. Substitute “the contents of Blind Watchmaker“: Dawkins thinks that the best introduction/reinforcement of atheism is by way of the contents of Blind Watchmaker… (surely you agree that this was the intended purpose of the book?)
    3. Substitute “nudge toward abandonment of theism”: Dawkins thinks that the best nudge toward the abandonment of theism is by way of the contents of Blind Watchmaker… (appeal to the dictionary)
    4. Substitute “argument against the existence of God” for “nudge toward the abandonment of theism”: Dawkins thinks that the best argument against the existence of God is by way of the contents of Blind Watchmaker… (the only thing that could possibly make this substitution invalid would be the bizarre suggestion that Dawkins is making an irrational attempt at influence)

    So which substitution is erroneous/problematic? Perhaps your error is represented by the (inappropriate) “proves” in comment #1. (as if “making an argument for X” were the same as “proving X”)

  11. Ray Ingles says:

    Tom – I agree that I’ve failed to convince you. I don’t agree that’s evidence I have a bad case. ;-)

    Could there be such a thing as a bad argument for God? Have you ever seen one out in the real world?

    If the argument from design in the biological world is, in fact, a bad argument for God, shouldn’t it be discarded? You already know that even if evolution were true and ID were false, it wouldn’t necessarily threaten any central Christian doctrine. While it’s (I would argue superficially) convincing, if you knew it were incorrect would you use it to evangelize anyway?

  12. Tom Gilson says:

    Uh, yes, there are bad arguments for God.

    If ID were a bad argument for God it should be discarded. Many theists think that’s the case. It’s a point of some controversy and of active debate.

    Your failure to convince me is indeed not good evidence that you have a bad case. Your clearly identified fallacies are, however.

  13. Doug says:

    Ray & Tom — you’re both right… and you’re both wrong.

    Ray is correct that there is a fallacy being committed. Denying the antecedent is unquestionably in play here. But Ray is wrong to pin the fallacy on Tom. The fallacy is, rather, attributable to Dawkins.

    Tom is correct that there is an argument against the existence of God being made in the Blind Watchmaker. But Tom is wrong to defend that argument as an argument. It is, in fact, the antecedent-denying fallacy that Ray identifies.

    That is, the entire structure of The Blind Watchmaker is:
    – If design, then God.
    – Not design.
    – [implied] then not God.

    The fact that the conclusion is not made explicit gives Dawkins the “out” that Ray enthusiastically capitalizes on in the comments above.

    However, it is worth asking: “Was Dawkins aware that he was implying a fallacious argument?” If the answer is “yes”, then he is guilty of dishonesty (i.e., he should have been aware of the tempting nature of the fallacy, and have made it explicit that he was not committing it — that he was not arguing against the existence of God). If the answer is “no”, then he is guilty of logical incompetence.

    Note that my line of reasoning (comment #10) fails for the very reason that I called out: in the Blind Watchmaker Dawkins is, in fact, making an irrational attempt at influence!

  14. Larry Tanner says:

    Doug @ 10:

    Dawkins thinks that the best introduction/reinforcement of atheism is by way of an “intellectually fulfilling” substitute for design… (we have it in Dawkins’ own words)

    You would have to ask Dawkins what he thinks. At this blog we don’t like to tell anyone what they believe, as a matter of manners.

    I would not say that Dawkins in BW tries primarily to promote atheism itself. Instead, he features Darwinian evolution, the theory, as a powerful counter to the argument of design and purpose in nature.

    Do you see the difference? Before Darwin, Dawkins says, Paley’s Watchmaker argument seemed a reasonable and unassailable argument for the existence of God. Dawkins and Darwin challenge not the existence of God per se, but arguments for the existence of God. They challenge, in other words, conventional wisdom.

    Darwin’s theory refuted the idea that nature and natural forces (weather, ecology, competition, cataclysms) were incapable of driving changes in populations that would result in diverse and very complicated life forms, including us. Darwin demonstrated that nature was dynamic and productive and powerful in a real and immediate sense–unlike, if I may say, a curiously distant, capricious, and mysterious God.

    Furthermore, before Darwin, if one hungered for education and intellectual stimulation, the road went always and only through the church. Darwin launched a field of study in which one’s learning could proceed without interference from theisms.

    I take BW as speaking to any of us who have wondered about about the necessity/superfluity of what gets taught in churches and holy books. The preachers say that God did this and God made that, but the skeptical mind finds a richer trove of information in places where God is simply irrelevant, like all the other gods.

  15. Tom Gilson says:

    Dawkins primarily tries to teach that Darwinian evolution is a powerful counter to the design argument. How is that not simultaneously promoting the belief that there is no God? (Bear in mind as you answer that according to Dawkins himself, the entire book is aimed at dismantling the one most influential argument for God.)

  16. Larry Tanner says:

    Dawkins primarily tries to teach that Darwinian evolution is a powerful counter to the design argument. How is that not simultaneously promoting the belief that there is no God?

    Countering one argument for God does not mean that all other arguments for God are vanquished.

    If one’s belief in God is predicated primarily on the design argument, then I can see counter-design as equivalent to promoting atheism (or maybe pantheism or panentheism).

    But if one’s belief is based on a different argument or on a composite of arguments, then countering one argument (i.e., design) will not serve to champion an altogether opposing argument (i.e., for atheism [or pantheism, or panentheism).

  17. Doug says:

    @Larry

    An interpretation of my words that is congruent with Dawkins’ writings (my intention) is vastly more likely than an interpretation of my words that is incongruent (your implication).

  18. Larry Tanner says:

    Doug,

    I am offering a different interpretation of Dawkins; I am not offering an interpretation of your words on Dawkins.

    In other words, I think you don’t get Dawkins quite right and so I offer a better interpretation (better in my opinion, of course).

  19. Doug says:

    @Larry,

    Concerning Dawkins, you offer:

    I would not say that Dawkins in BW tries primarily to promote atheism itself.

    And I agree with you.

    I’m not sure you actually read what I wrote. (hint: I wasn’t offering either a precis or a “intention-estimate” of BW)

  20. Larry Tanner says:

    I’m not sure you actually read what I wrote. (hint: I wasn’t offering either a precis or a “intention-estimate” of BW)

    I get that a lot here.

    However, throughout what you wrote, you kept this, “the best argument against the existence of God.”

    All I am saying is that I don’t see Dawkins as either directly or primarily making — in BW — an argument against the existence of God. He is, however, making an argument against a key argument for the existence of God.

    However you see Dawkins and what he’s doing in BW, I am presenting my view for consideration.

  21. Ray Ingles says:

    Doug, Tom – That’s why I asked about bad arguments.

    See, here’s the thing – any sins you accuse Dawkins of in this vein, you must lay equal charges against the Discovery Institute and many other ID proponents.

    The ID types are frequently at pains to note that, just because they argue that there is evidence of design in the biological world, that doesn’t mean that the designer is God. They’re happy to imply it – in some contexts, even explicitly claim it – but Behe, Dembski, Johnson, and so forth have explicitly stated that the design could in principle come from “space aliens”. The argument is the argument – other implications are other arguments.

    Dawkins doesn’t explicitly make the claim that evolution disproves God in The Blind Watchmaker, any more than the Discovery Institute explicitly makes the claim that ID proves God. Dawkins uses other arguments in The God Delusion to argue directly against the existence of God, the ID has other arguments about space aliens or time travelers.

    So far as I can see, either both are guilty on these grounds, or neither.

  22. Doug says:

    @Larry,

    I agree with

    I don’t see Dawkins as either directly or primarily making — in BW — an argument against the existence of God. He is, however, making an argument against a key argument for the existence of God.

    (the point you make is the same one Ray made, and I said is correct)

    My point was simply that in so doing, Dawkins suggests a (fallacious) “argument” against the existence of God — one that (either):
    1. Dawkins is unaware/innocent/unintentional of (unlikely) -or-
    2. Dawkins is aware of (likely) -and- (either)
    2a. Dawkins is unintentionally inexplicit (unlikely) -or-
    2b. Dawkins is intentionally inexplicit (likely)

    Given 2b (the option most favorably judging Dawkins’ intellect), I wonder how Dawkins would feel about folks reading BW, and mistakenly thinking it made a (valid) argument concerning the (non-)existence of God. Would such an event trouble him at all, or would he sacrifice the means for the ends…

  23. Doug says:

    @Ray,

    I was laughing just this morning at Dawkins “arguments” against the existence of God from God Delusion. Thanks for the reminder.

  24. Larry Tanner says:

    Given 2b (the option most favorably judging Dawkins’ intellect), I wonder how Dawkins would feel about folks reading BW, and mistakenly thinking it made a (valid) argument concerning the (non-)existence of God. Would such an event trouble him at all, or would he sacrifice the means for the ends…

    I don’t know about Dawkins, but if I were him it would not trouble me if people thought the book made a valid argument against the existence of God. It probably would trouble me, however, if people thought this and I actually did believe in the existence of God. But since I reject the idea that God exists, then if my book caused people to reflect and also themselves become atheists — well, I’d probably think that was a good thing for them and the world.

    Dawkins surely knows that he cannot control how people read his work or what they do with it. As author of the Selfish Gene, Dawkins has seen first-hand how one’s work can be co-opted by others and misrepresented.

    To me, the main argument’s the thing. If people get and accept the argument that nature acts more or less like a blind watchmaker and so understand the way the world comes to look (to us) almost as if it were designed, then that should be good enough.

  25. Doug says:

    @Larry,

    Right — we agree (about what Dawkins thinks).

    Funny: I’m still on the lookout for valid arguments against the existence of God (and at my age, I’m starting to lose hope). Atheists might carry the banner of “reason”, but just beneath the surface you find that they have all become convinced on less-than-rational grounds.

  26. Larry Tanner says:

    Doug,
    I might point out that arguments for God’s existence fare much worse than those against. But what’s the point? I invite you to consider that your mind is already made up and you accept the arguments that fit what you want to believe. I also invite you to look at evidence, experience, and observation–arguments follow the evidence, not the other way around.

  27. Tom Gilson says:

    The invitation wasn’t directed toward me, but I’ll still accept it with enthusiasm.

    I’m not so enthusiastic over your implication that this would be a new thing for people like Doug or me.

  28. Larry Tanner says:

    Tom,

    I don’t think it would be new for you. I have sensed your struggle.

  29. Doug says:

    @Larry,

    I might point out that arguments for God’s existence fare much worse than those against.

    …which would be why the evidence has the vast majority of human beings believing in God, I suppose. But hey — you’re the expert on evidence, apparently! :-D

    I’d invite you to consider that your mind is made up…

    Sure thing — by the overwhelming evidence, experience and observation. But I’d invite you to consider that your mind is closed to the truth and that your spirit is dead in rebellion and sin.

    But feel free to supply any rational grounds that you might imagine you have for your atheism — then we can talk rather than trading (very possibly less than helpful) invitations.

  30. Hi Doug,

    “…which would be why the evidence has the vast majority of human beings believing in God, I suppose.”

    You can make an argument that the vast majority of human beings believed in God. You have no justification in claiming that the vast majority have done so because of the evidence.

    Respectfully
    Shane

  31. Doug says:

    @Shane,

    Perhaps “the vast majority of human beings believe in God” represents evidence!

    (i.e., I was not making the claim that you were imputing to me)

  32. Hi Doug,

    If that’s what you meant then I’ll just say that numbers of people believing in something is not evidence. The world has always been a sphere, even when everyone believed it was flat.

    Cheers
    Shane

  33. Doug says:

    @Shane,

    You can’t be serious. Of course the numbers of people believing in something is evidence. The interesting question is: “of what?”!

  34. Hi Doug,

    Numbers of people believing in something is not evidence for what they believe. You’re welcome to argue that everyone mistakingly believing the earth was flat is evidence for something unrelated to the shape of the earth … but that seems pointless.

    Sincerely
    Shane

  35. Tom Gilson says:

    Shane @#32 — a bit of a side note, but when did everyone believe it was flat?

  36. Hi Tom,

    I couldn’t give you an exact date. Is that really relevant to the question of belief =\= evidence?

    Respectfully
    Shane

  37. Tom Gilson says:

    I said it was a side note. Could you put your estimate within, say, 250-500 years of when you think it was?

  38. Tom Gilson says:

    It’s relevant in a way that would be easier to explain after you answered.

  39. Hi Tom,

    “I said it was a side note. Could you put your estimate within, say, 250-500 years of when you think it was?”

    I don’t think I could, no. You mean the last time everyone believed the word was flat? Do you disagree that there was ever a time when everyone thought the world was flat? Do you think at the “birth of consciousness” there was already people that believed in a spherical earth?

    Sincerely
    Shane

  40. Tom Gilson says:

    It’s probably not worth pursuing. I was wondering if you were of the opinion that people in the middle ages thought the earth was flat. It’s an interesting lesson in the power of manipulating “facts.” See the Ingersoll quote here. But this is turning out to be a rabbit trail after all.

  41. Doug says:

    @Shane,

    Numbers of people believing in something is most certainly evidence for the available support/reasons for the things that they believe in. That was, if you check the thread, the context of my bringing it up:

    Larry wrote:

    arguments for God’s existence fare much worse than those against.

    perhaps he neglected to append the necessary condition for his assertion: “on r/atheism”.

  42. Larry Tanner says:

    Doug @29

    …which would be why the evidence has the vast majority of human beings believing in God, I suppose. But hey — you’re the expert on evidence, apparently!

    Not sure what you mean by “the evidence.” Nor do I see what beliefs of “the vast majority of human beings” have to do with anything. After all, the vast majority of human beings do not agree on exactly what they believe. For instance, how many different denominations of Christianity exist today? How many differ on fundamental points of doctrine? Let’s look at the world’s population over the past 5000 years: what are their beliefs about gods, nature, and so forth? Does majority rule in these cases, too?

    My point is that you have chosen to address a claim I made — that arguments for God are universally awful — by appealing to something that has nothing to do with my claim. But no matter; I assume you believe the arguments for God are hunky-dory, and I can respect that.

    But I’d invite you to consider that your mind is closed to the truth and that your spirit is dead in rebellion and sin.

    But feel free to supply any rational grounds that you might imagine you have for your atheism — then we can talk rather than trading (very possibly less than helpful) invitations.

    Believe it or not, I spent time considering seriously whether my mind was closed, and closed to the truth. Can you say the same? I wonder….

    As I considered, per your invitation, I remembered when I was an ardent, practicing believer. In those years and decades, I prayed fervently and sincerely. I spoke to God and observed his instructions as well as I could. I studied his holy books and sat with teachers to learn about the plain and hidden meanings in his words and those of his prophets and sages.

    I don’t believe my mind was closed then, and I don’t think it is closed now. It is, I would say, made up, and you’ll notice that I said the same thing to you, that your mind is made up. It’s not a bad thing: we need to make up our minds and move on. You and I have made up our minds differently, that’s all.

    Your comment about my dead spirit, and sin and rebellion, is offensive. You have no right to say such things to other people, and if you truly believe it, you might examine your conscience about the kind of person you are who so casually judges people on the internet.

    But my point with this invitation was simply to recognize that only you can change your mind or adopt a new perspective. There is no argument I can offer that will persuade you, no evidence, no testimony. It’s entirely up to you.

    All I can share with you is that for me, once I concluded that the revelation at Mt. Sinai probably did not happen, or if it did was more likely a confluence of rather mainstream events, then there was a ripple effect on how I understood the Bible, the Greek New Testament, and the Qu’ran. All three major traditions derive from Sinai. If Sinai is untrue, nothing religious that follows can be — no prophets, no messiahs, no saviors, no sins, no devils, no talking animals, no sun-stops, no magic hands, no virgin conceptions/births, no resurrection of the dead, no flying horses, no magic plates, and so on. That was my initial thinking, anyway.

    It’s a good thing to question oneself seriously, which is why I invited you to do so and why I took you up on your invitation. I asked myself to look both at what I believed and what doubts I harbored. I asked myself whether my attachment to one point of view was perhaps causing me to overvalue my own position and undervalue others.

    I won’t tell you what happened, what I learned when I tried to answer these questions. Neither will I ask you to share this with me. All I can say is that I think to try and answer most honestly, one must actually be willing to risk the beliefs one holds: in a biblical analogy, one must be as willing as Abraham to bind and even slay one’s beloved Isaac.

    Otherwise, we’re only posturing like ridiculous internet peacocks. So, are you an Abraham or a peacock? (Don’t answer. Only you know.)

  43. Doug says:

    @Larry,

    My point is that you have chosen to address a claim I made — that arguments for God are universally awful — by appealing to something that has nothing to do with my claim.

    But that wasn’t your initial claim! Your initial claim was that:

    arguments for God’s existence fare much worse than those against.

    Now let’s please consider what possible evidence there could be for such a claim. What does it mean for one argument to “fare much better” than another? Well, a legitimate (though certainly not the only) answer is surely “it is more convincing”. And how, exactly, would one assess whether one argument is more convincing than another? Again, a legitimate (though certainly not the only) answer is surely “it convinces more people”. Hence, the reference to popular opinion most certainly does have something to do with your (actual) claim. And your failure to recognize it as such is, I’m sad to say, strong evidence against your ability to handle the substance of this conversation.

  44. Larry Tanner says:

    Doug,

    I used my statement “arguments for God are universally awful” to be a stronger form of the earlier claim, “arguments for God’s existence fare much worse than those against.”

    The evidence of this is the lack of any valid arguments for God. The evidence is that anything for which God can be invoked as an explanation, a naturalistic explanation works better. The evidence is something like what I mentioned before, the fiction of Sinai, which collapses the Abrahamic religions entirely. And so on and on.

    But my point was really that evidence is probably not the root of this disagreement. It’s more about a questioning attitude, and this point is expressed in my recent comments.

    I wish you well.

  45. Doug says:

    @Larry,

    Man up and provide actual evidence that

    arguments for God’s existence fare much worse than those against.

    Evidence is supposed to come before argument (or even meta-argument) — and not the other way around.

    If you like, provide actual evidence that Sinai is fiction? Given the non-collapse of the Abrahamic religions (in reality, rather than just in your imagination), it might be more difficult than you think!

    Indeed, where is your “questioning attitude” concerning these atheistic fictions? And why the sudden switch away from the focus on evidence after I called out the fact that you have none at all for your various assertions?

  46. Doug says:

    @Larry,

    Incidentally, you could have (legitimately) questioned whether the “all people” demographic was the appropriate one to assess whether “arguments for God’s existence fare much worse than those against”.

    However, if you were to consult the experts — i.e., those familiar with those arguments, with either a PhD in Philosophy of Religion or on a University Philosophy faculty studying Philosophy of Religion — you’d discover that almost 70% of those surveyed (here) “accept or lean towards” theism (cf. less than 20% that “accept or lean towards” atheism).

    So please tell us: on what (evidential, please) grounds could you possibly claim that

    arguments for God’s existence fare much worse than those against

    ?

  47. Larry Tanner says:

    Doug,

    I am not going to trade book titles and studies with you. What’s the point? I gave you a window into my personal history and my questioning attitude, past and present.

    Recall that in comment 25 you said you were still on the lookout for valid arguments against the existence of God; I am on the lookout for valid arguments for the existence of God.

    Nevertheless, you seem unwilling to declare yourself open to risking/abandoning your deeply held beliefs. That’s fine, of course. It’s your emotional well-being. Do what you need to, as I will for myself.

    As I said, I see no need to trade authorities and studies for various beliefs I hold. Let me just say about Sinai, so you can understand that I have taken the matter (and others) seriously. I have found the works of James Kugel, Richard E. Friedman, and Israel Finkelstein compelling — all available at your local library. While few scholars say “Sinai never happened,” most do caveat it as “If Sinai happened.” But the clear weight of scholarship points to Sinai and many biblical events being inspired fictions, exaggerations, and/or recipients of over-zealous interpretations as “the Word of God.”

    I had once written about Sinai here: http://larrytanner.blogspot.com/2012/01/everything-rests-on-sinai-final.html

    and here: http://larrytanner.blogspot.com/2011/07/how-sinai-story-originated-and.html

    Right now, the certain fact is that we do not know where Sinai is, let alone if something/anything happened there, miraculous or not.

    So, let’s have no more talk of “evidence” and such. Anything any of us wishes to argue can be supported well enough. We all know that. The only thing that matters is whether you care to learn, grow, and change your mind. I know I care to. You, on the other hand, have yet to stand and declare yourself.

  48. Doug says:

    @Larry,

    we do not know where Sinai is, let alone if something/anything happened there, miraculous or not.

    is quite a step-back from:

    the fiction of Sinai

    Thanks for the honesty. (A lot of question-begging at the link you provided, though)

    And while you seem terribly concerned about my public declaration of openness, it appears to be little more than misdirection. If you have evidence that any one of my claims is incorrect, I will demonstrate my openness by acknowledging its validity. Given that I’ve provided evidence that one of your claims is incorrect, please demonstrate your oft-claimed openness by acknowledging your error?

  49. Larry Tanner says:

    Not really a step back. I think it’s fiction; that’s the most sensible accounting. But there’s wiggle room for alternative explanations, as always.

    I do not care to provide evidence. Find your own. We’ve been through the reasons why.

    A survey of a mere 101 people on their beliefs is not evidence that arguments for God are (more) valid than arguments against. You realize this, right?

    But the reason the arguments for God fare worse is because they all have fatal flaws. You want evidence? Go here and scroll to the end: http://edge.org/conversation/36-arguments-for-the-existence-of-god

    I await your demonstration of openness.

  50. Doug says:

    @Larry,

    The best that you can do is to show evidence that “arguments for the existence of God are no better than arguments against”. But if that was the original claim, I would not have disputed it!!! The original claim was “fare much worse”. I’ve demonstrated that the original claim was groundless. You “do not care to provide evidence” because there is none.

    I await your demonstration of honesty.

    Incidentally, when someone starts with what they call the “Cosmological Argument” and gets it wrong(!) it isn’t really a decent start at a good-faith handling of arguments for the existence of God. I guess you need to read Feser on this one.

    Feser correctly points out that

    1. The argument does NOT rest on the premise that “Everything has a cause.”

    Predictably, that’s the very mistake that the Edge piece makes.

  51. Larry Tanner says:

    I suppose it’s progress that you now seem to concede an equality between arguments for God and arguments against.

    Before, you indicated you were still looking for a valid argument against.

    So are you now looking for any valid argument relating to God?

  52. Doug says:

    @Larry,

    Why would I possibly be looking for an argument for the existence of Someone I know personally? That’s funny, Larry. I simply acknowledge that my relationship with God is not considered shareable evidence.

  53. Larry Tanner says:

    I agree that your relationship with God is not shareable evidence.

    Thanks.

  54. Larry Tanner says:

    Now, Doug, is there anything else to say about Dawkins’ Blind Watchmaker?

  55. Doug says:

    @Larry,

    Incidentally, it was a nice try to pretend that it was my position that changed here… ;-)

  56. Larry Tanner says:

    Right. Because your position never changes. :)

  57. Doug says:

    @Larry,

    For any claim C, a survey of the people most qualified to assess C concerning their acceptance of C most certainly is evidence (NB: not “proof”) for C. You realize this, right?

    If not, then you are really quite confused about what the word “evidence” means…

  58. Larry Tanner says:

    Doug,

    Your 70 philosophers did not vote on claim C. They voted on their preferences. To me, you seem to be reaching and straining. Is this really what you want to be doing?

    But OK, have it your way. Philosophers of Science are actually at least as expert on the matter of claim C as Religious Philosophers. Here are the results of the same question (link):

    Accept: atheism 95 / 150 (63.3%)
    Lean toward: atheism 20 / 150 (13.3%)

    Agnostic/undecided 14 / 150 (9.3%)
    Accept: theism 5 / 150 (3.3%)
    Reject both 5 / 150 (3.3%)
    Lean toward: theism 3 / 150 (2.0%)
    The question is too unclear to answer 2 / 150 (1.3%)
    Accept another alternative 2 / 150 (1.3%)
    Accept an intermediate view 1 / 150 (0.7%)
    Other 1 / 150 (0.7%)
    Insufficiently familiar with the issue 1 / 150 (0.7%)
    There is no fact of the matter 1 / 150 (0.7%)

    Does this change your mind at all? Let’s hear it….

  59. Doug says:

    @Larry,

    You really, really do need to read Feser (link at #50) before making the dubious claim that Philosophers of Science are “at least as expert” (let alone “actually”).

    And are you really suggesting that the preferences of professional philosophers on philosophical topics aren’t at least correlated with the relative success of the relevant philosophical arguments??

    PS: The original (unsubstantiated) claim was yours; I provide (granted, not conclusive) evidence against your claim; you decline to provide any evidence for your claim, and I’m reaching and straining?? That’s rich.

  60. Melissa says:

    Larry,

    But the reason the arguments for God fare worse is because they all have fatal flaws. You want evidence? Go here and scroll to the end: http://edge.org/conversation/36-arguments-for-the-existence-of-god

    I agree with you, the arguments for God, as you understand them, are fatally flawed. This is not the same as the arguments themselves being fatally flawed. When you can demonstrate that you properly understand the arguments, maybe we would be justified in considering your opinion that the arguments are fatally flawed to be worth pursuing.

  61. Larry Tanner says:

    I have read Feser. He’s full of it. See, for example, here: http://larrytanner.blogspot.com/2012/04/feser-on-soul.html

    So…I take it that you are not going to change your mind? Isn’t that just what I said would happen?

  62. Larry Tanner says:

    Melissa,

    I take it that to properly understand I have to agree with you? Is there anyone who properly understands yet disagrees?

  63. Melissa says:

    Laryy,

    I take it that to properly understand I have to agree with you? Is there anyone who properly understands yet disagrees?

    Not at all. But if you think “Who made God?” is a reasonable objection to the cosmological argument and that the argument’s first premise is “Everything that exists must have a cause.”, then you don’t understand the arguments and any flaws you think might be there are more likely to be flaws in your own understanding rather than in the arguments themselves.

    You rumination on Feser that you linked to also shows serious misunderstandings as well … and not just because you disagree with him. That’s off topic though, what is it that Feser gets wrong specifically in the link Doug provided.

    There may be people that properly understand but aren’t convinced by the arguments, but that is different to showing that the arguments are fatally flawed. In my experience the people who make that claim, just don’t understand the arguments. (Of course my experience may be limited. I am open to being directed towards a refutation that does not rest on a misunderstanding.)

  64. Larry Tanner says:

    Tom,

    Are you saying that you disagree with my assessment of Feser? How odd, we never disagree.

    ;)

  65. Tom Gilson says:

    Larry, your linked article on Feser is pathetically weak. I wrote–and then deleted–some further observations on it, but they’re really unnecessary. Let me just summarize by saying that if you’re going to call Feser “full of it” and reference yourself as an authority on that, you ought to at least link to an article that can’t be neatly summarized as, “Everything Feser writes is wrong because I don’t understand him and I think he’s wrong, and besides that, there’s no clear demarcation between humans and animals.”

  66. Tom Gilson says:

    No, Larry, I don’t disagree with your assessment of Feser. I disagree with your self-revelation of your own ignorant prejudices masquerading as an assessment of Feser. You can’t call it an assessment when it’s based so predominantly on what you yourself admit you don’t get.

    I use the word “ignorant” advisedly: you’re the one who said you didn’t understand Feser’s points. You also don’t seem to have tried very hard.

  67. Larry Tanner says:

    Thanks for the feedback, Tom.

    If you were me, what approach or point would have strengthened the criticism of Feser’s post?

  68. BillT says:

    Larry,

    Since the topic has arisen I thought I might recommend this as a very clear introduction to Thomist thought.

    It won’t take more then 5/10 minutes of your time and I think you’ll like it.

  69. G. Rodrigues says:

    @BillT:

    Since the topic has arisen I thought I might recommend this as a very clear introduction to Thomist thought.

    That presentation has a couple of problems.

    Stating that “So the chain must have one member at the head of it” is very misleading (if not right down wrong). The relation of God to any causal chain as conceived by Aquinas (*) is not so much like this:

    G -> … -> C_n -> … -> C

    but more like this (excuse my poor ASCII art):


    G-----------------------------
    | / /
    ... -> C_n -> ... -> C

    edit: cannot make the picture appear just right; the idea is that in we have a causal chain depicted in an “horizontal plane”, with all causal links sustained “vertically” by God.

    And this is no mere quibble or minor technicality, for while Aquinas wants to affirm the immanence of God in the World in the sense that not even one single causal chain is operative without His concurrent activity, he also wants to affirm the absolute transcendence of God in relation to the rest of the created, natural order. The first picture makes a hash of this second desiderata; there is a reason after all, for introducing talk about secondary causes: secondary *not* because they come after the first (in the causal order), but because they have their causal power in a secondary or derivative way.

    As a corollary, the previous step (“This chain cannot be infinitely long”) is also misleading. For the purposes of the argument it matters little if the chain is infinitely long or not since what is doing the work in driving the contradiction is not the number of links C_i but their instrumentality.

    (*) I am using Aquinas as a stand-in for Aquinas-and-the-entire-tradition-following-him. I am not interested in historical exegesis but in the arguments in their strongest form.

  70. BillT says:

    G. Rodrigues,

    Thanks.

  71. Melissa says:

    Larry,

    what approach or point would have strengthened the criticism of Feser’s post?

    Making sure you understand what Feser is talking about.

    1. Intellect in the sense Feser is using it is the ability to grasp abstract concepts and reason from them. It is the ability of the intellect to grasp immaterial things that leads to the conclusion that the intellect must be immaterial itself.

    2. The soul is not like a part of the body, it is the form of a living thing.

    3. The human soul is also not the intellectual and volitional powers of said human.

  72. Tom Gilson says:

    Larry @#67, I agree with Melissa. You don’t seem to have demonstrated a serious attempt to understand what you were critiquing.

    You suggested, quite unbelievably, that there might not be a real clear line of demarcation between human and animal intellect.

    You would have done better had you gone beyond your statements of the obvious (mind’s actions are correlated to the brain) and dealt honestly with the thinking Feser and other theists have done on that rather widely known fact.

    Your misunderstanding of the relation of soul to the whole person, in Feser’s thought, does not position you well to critique his thought.

    You attribute Feser’s conclusions in part to him making s*** up. This does not speak well of your understanding what you are critiquing.

    A great deal of your complaints about Feser revolves around your inability to make sense of what he is saying: “I cannot see” and “I don’t get it.” You couch it in terms implying that you don’t get it because there’s nothing there to get, I understand. In reality, though, it’s apparent that you really “don’t get it” in the sense that you don’t get what’s being said

    Those are a few ideas for you.

  73. SteveK says:

    the idea is that in we have a causal chain depicted in an “horizontal plane”, with all causal links sustained “vertically” by God.

    That’s sort of how I viewed it in my mind even though you are the first I’ve heard describe it that way. I came to that conclusion knowing that God cannot, as the “engine”, directly cause evil to occur through a series of inert cause/effect relationships.

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