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The Curious Case of the Atheist Who Denied Dawkins Was Disputing Deity

Posted on Jun 11, 2014 by Tom Gilson

Curious. He denies Dawkins was disputing the deity, in a book where Dawkins clearly was doing just that.

The Arizona Atheist continues to maintain that Dawkins does not address God in The Blind Watchmaker:

I’ve been reading Dawkins’ book the last week or so, double checking to ensure I wasn’t in error in thinking Dawkins does not address god [sic], and there is indeed nothing there.

I responded to him by way of two comments on his website. Here I quote excerpts:

BEGIN FIRST COMMENT EXCERPT>>>

I’m rather confused as to how you can say that Dawkins didn’t address god (well, he didn’t, actually) or that he didn’t address God, in The Blind Watchmaker. This is quite a crucial point in your article here, and it’s crucial in my mind, too. It’s so crucial, in fact, that I really want to hear further from you on it before I go into any other topics you’ve brought up. I’ll explain why at the end of all this.

You wrote,

I’ve been reading Dawkins’ book the last week or so, double checking to ensure I wasn’t in error in thinking Dawkins does not address god, and there is indeed nothing there.

I think this is quite obviously wrong. He opens the book with fully two chapters focused largely on the question of God. They form the framework within which his evolutionary arguments are made, and (as opening chapters usually do) they explain the purpose for the rest of the book.

You know, because I wrote it and you quoted it here, bhtat In the intro to his book he made it clear that he was addressing the “most influential argument for God.” He devotes several paragraphs, early on, quite pointedly to William Paley’s design argument for God.

Then he summarizes that section, and briefly states his problem with it, and goes on to add,

I shall explain all this, and much besides…. I said [at dinner with a well-known atheist] that I could not imagine being an atheist at any time before 1859, when Darwin’s Origin of Species was published.

The question of God is obviously in his mind as he discusses his disbelief in God. But there’s more.

He goes on to speak of Hume’s treatment of God, following which he goes on to a lengthy discussion of complex things and eventually, “what kind of explanation for complex things would satisfy us.” Back to Paley’s argument for God again, and then on to a chapter on “Good Design,” where Paley was again prominently featured in the chapter’s introduction. Not just that, but Paley comes back into the picture again, well into the chapter, where Dawkins writes,

His [Paley’s] hypothesis was that living watches were literally designed and built by a master watchmaker. Our modern hypothesis is that the job was done in gradual evolutionary states by natural selection.

Nowadays theologians aren’t quite so straightforward as Paley.

[Recall that Paley used the analogy of an intentional, intelligent watchmaker to argue for God. Do you really think the title of the book wasn’t meant to convey that the book would be a counter-theistic argument?]

Then follows a couple of pages on other theologians’ and a bishop’s arguments in favor of design, and against naturalistic evolution, both of which (it takes little knowledge to understand) tend to be arguments for God when they’re offered by theologians and bishops.

That amounts to two entire chapters setting the stage for the rest of the book. The rest of the book, of course, is his exposition in favor of evolution and against design; where design was situated in the book as being an argument for God.

How about the close of the book? Look at the third-to-last paragraph. It ends,

The same applies to the odds against the spontaneous existence of any fully fashioned, perfect, and whole beings, including — I see no way of avoiding the conclusion — deities.

Look back a page or so earlier, in the portion beginning, “We have dealt with all the alleged alternatives to the theory of natural selection except the oldest one,” and ending “In short, divine creation, whether instantaneous or in the form of guided evolution…. give[s] some superficial appearance of being [an] alternative to Darwinism” but fails the test of evidence.

He begins the book talking about God. He ends the book talking about God. He places his whole argument in a framework of what he clearly argues to be failed reasons to believe in God.

Do you still maintain that Dawkins does not address God in this book?

< << END FIRST COMMENT EXCERPT

My further (and I hope final) reply to him there on his blog:

BEGIN SECOND COMENT EXCERPT>>>
….

I should have caught this in my previous comment but I missed it:

there is not a single quotation in the book that can be pointed to where Dawkins remotely says anything like, ‘because evolution explains biological design, there is no god.’

The whole book is an argument against intentional/teleological design. God, as God is understood in theism, acts intentionally/teleologically. Syllogism:

1. If there is a God as understood in the prevailing theistic views of God, then God acts intentionally/teleologically in nature.
2. There is no intentional/teleological action in all of nature.

Now, Dawkins doesn’t spell out the major premise. He doesn’t have to. In his discussions on Paley and other natural theologians he makes clear that this is the God he has in mind.

Regarding the minor premise, recall what I wrote earlier: Dawkins thinks that if he explains away biological design, he has as good as explained away all design in nature. So there’s no doubt that he affirms 2 in this book, even if he doesn’t say it in those exact words.

Regarding the conclusion, he doesn’t spell that out either. That’s because any dummy can figure it out.

3. Therefore there is no God, as God is understood in the prevailing theistic views of God.

Collapsing all that into one short paraphrased sentence, we have something that’s logically equivalent to, “because evolution explains biological design, there is no god God [Dawkins knows how to capitalize proper nouns].

I can’t imagine how that isn’t obvious to you.

As I said [in a paragraph in my first comment, not included here], if you continue to maintain these strange interpretations of Dawkins’ book, you will continue to have credibility problems.

< << END SECOND COMMENT

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67 Responses to “ The Curious Case of the Atheist Who Denied Dawkins Was Disputing Deity ”

  1. Hi Tom,

    1. God acts intentionally/teleologically in nature.
    2. There is no known evidence of intentional/teleological action in all of nature.
    3. Therefore there is no known evidence of God in nature.

    Jumping from the lack of evidence to the lack of God is outside the scope of that syllogism (even leaving aside the fact that human knowledge of nature is less than 100%). An all powerful/knowing God can act intentionally/teleologically in nature and not leave evidence. You’ve said yourself that prayer studies are unworkable for this reason.

    Sincerely
    Shane

  2. Tom Gilson says:

    Sure, Shane.

    That syllogism sounds a lot like an argument Dawkins could have made, had he made a formally valid argument. Unfortunately it’s unlike anything this thread was written about, since the thread is about things Dawkins actually said in The Blind Watchmaker.

  3. Hi Tom,

    “since the thread is about things Dawkins actually said.”

    “Now, Dawkins doesn’t spell out the major premise.”

    “Regarding the conclusion, he doesn’t spell that out either.”

    Sincerely
    Shane

  4. Tom Gilson says:

    And Shane (despite his misleading salutation “Sincerely”) doesn’t quote the context.

  5. Hi Tom,

    I am sincere in my belief that you put forward the syllogism as summing up Richard Dawkins belief. But it’s not supported by the other things you say. In fact you sum up it up so nicely.

    “He begins the book talking about God. He ends the book talking about God. He places his whole argument in a framework of what he clearly argues to be failed reasons to believe in God.”

    “Failed reasons to believe” are rooted in the lack of evidence. If you prefer the conclusion of the syllogism can be

    3. Therefore there is no known evidence of God in nature so nothing in nature is a reason to believe in God.

    Respectfully
    Shane

  6. Tom Gilson says:

    The problem, Shane, is that you’re not talking about Dawkins’s premises. You’re introducing a different argument.

  7. TFBW says:

    Translating anything that Dawkins has ever written into a syllogism is an exercise in creative interpretation. Let’s not quibble about such fine details as whether the proper conclusion is “there is no God”, or “there is no evidence for God”, since both are possible interpretations. Whichever is the more appropriate, they are both conclusions which contain “God” as a major subject, leaving open the question as to why the Arizona Atheist is being so obtuse about the fact.

  8. JAD says:

    I appears to me that most of the internet atheists who show up here, at Thinking Christian, share three basic problems:

    1. Low reading comprehension skills.

    2. Willful ignorance of the basic rules of logic.

    3. Conceit. Apparently they believe they don’t have to master #1 or #2 because if they’re atheists that automatically makes them smarter than anyone else– especially Christians.

    Is this true of other apologetic forums? Apparently so. For example Randal Rauser writes:

    “Atheism is only simple for those who stay in the shallow end of the conceptual pool and never try to build genuine atheistic worldview.”

    http://randalrauser.com/2014/06/a-faith-once-lost-is-hard-to-find-again/#disqus_thread

    That’s what we have here: shallow thinkers in the shallow end afraid to dive into the deeper waters because they don’t even know how to tread water.

  9. Larry Tanner says:

    JAD,

    Tangential, but who in your opinion are the deepest and most significant atheist thinkers today? Ever?

  10. BillT says:

    Tangential, but who in your opinion are the deepest and most significant atheist thinkers today? Ever?

    If I may Larry. Nietzsche, Camus, Sartre. The existentialists are really the only atheist thinkers, for me, that took their beliefs seriously. As David Bentley Hart put in it in his excellent essay “Believe It or Not”:

    Nietzsche understood how immense the consequences of the rise of Christianity had been, and how immense the consequences of its decline would be as well, and had the intelligence to know he could not fall back on polite moral certitudes to which he no longer had any right.

    His famous fable in The Gay Science of the madman who announces God’s death is anything but a hymn of atheist triumphalism. In fact, the madman despairs of the mere atheists ”those who merely do not believe” to whom he addresses his terrible proclamation. In their moral contentment, their ease of conscience, he sees an essential oafishness; they do not dread the death of God because they do not grasp that humanity’s heroic and insane act of repudiation has sponged away the horizon, torn down the heavens, left us with only the uncertain resources of our will with which to combat the infinity of meaninglessness that the universe now threatens to become.

  11. scblhrm says:

    BillT,

    That’s a great quote by Hart and helpful – Thank you! :)

  12. Hi Tom,
    #6

    “The problem, Shane, is that you’re not talking about Dawkins’s premises. You’re introducing a different argument.”

    I actually thought I was removing an extra argument that you had introduced. The words I quoted seemed to clearly indicate you were putting that particularly spin on Dawkins words because “any dummy can figure it out”.

    TFBW
    #7

    “Let’s not quibble about such fine details as whether the proper conclusion is “there is no God”, or “there is no evidence for God”, since both are possible interpretations. ”

    I believe the “possible interpretations” are what AA is arguing about.

    Cheers
    Shane

  13. Tom Gilson says:

    No. AA is arguing over whether the topic includes the question of God: whether Dawkins’ book addresses the question of God.

    As to what you were doing with removing an extra argument, I’m completely lost. I don’t think it needs explaining in view of TFBW’s clarification, which I hope you’ve caught by now with my additional clarification, but if you care to explain you may.

  14. Hi Tom,

    Yes, I understand that’s what you are claiming, apparently from the one quote

    “I’ve been reading Dawkins’ book the last week or so, double checking to ensure I wasn’t in error in thinking Dawkins does not address god [sic], and there is indeed nothing there.”

    I believe here he is referring to the specific act of “disproving the existence of God”. It’s pretty obvious from the rest of the AA text that he understands that Dawkins is making the case that God is unnecessary to explain the biological complexity we see around us. The point I, and I believe he, was making is that disproving God is an entirely different thing.

    Sincerely
    Shane

  15. TFBW says:

    @Shane Fletcher:

    I believe here he is referring to the specific act of “disproving the existence of God”.

    So your argument relies on a special interpretation of Dawkins and a special interpretation of the Arizona Atheist. That’s a pretty tenuous argument unless you can give rather more robust support for your interpretations and rejection of the alternatives. And if you’re actually right, it’s an indictment on both Dawkins and AA for sloppy writing.

    Tom’s argument is much stronger: it cites the entire structure of the book as supporting evidence, does not rely on a narrow interpretation of Dawkins, and takes AA’s remarks at face value. But perhaps Tom could ask the AA a clarifying question: when AA says, “Dawkins does not address god,” does he mean, “Dawkins does not touch on questions of God’s existence,” or “Dawkins does not try to make a case for the non-existence of God?” I think that the first formulation is clearly false, and I wouldn’t want to ascribe it to AA without his confirmation. The second formulation is open to dispute, perhaps, but Tom has actually built a case for it being false, whereas I’m seeing little more than assertions to the contrary from the other side of the debate.

    And here’s a further point to consider: if Dawkins is, as you say, making the case that God is unnecessary to explain the biological complexity we see around us, then how does that differ in his view from establishing the non-existence of God with a high degree of probability? You seem to be making this distinction, but Dawkins is a fairly strong atheist: on his own scale of one-to-seven, he has rated himself as high as 6.9. What is it, if anything, in addition to the allegedly unnecessary status of God, that makes him so nearly certain of the non-existence of God?

  16. djc says:

    It seems likely true that Dawkins intended to weaken the claim for God’s existence by striking down one line of evidence with his argument in the Blind Watchmaker. That seems very Dawkins-like if we are to infer his thoughts and intentions based on his writings.

    However, it seems likely false that Dawkins’ intention for the Blind Watchmaker was to demolish all lines of evidence for God’s existence and thereby disprove God. Indeed, Dawkins is on record as stating that the Bible and personal experience are also evidence for God, albeit weak, so of course the Blind Watchmaker can not be an attempt to fully disprove God if it doesn’t attempt to undermine all the evidence that Dawkins believes can be used to support God.

    And further, I’m not sure Dawkins would take such a strong position on disproof of God anyway, since he’s also on record as stating:

    Well, I’m not really convinced that God does not exist. I’m simply turning the question around to say there is no positive reason to say that God does exist

    (From the National Geographic interview)

  17. TFBW says:

    @djc:
    Dawkins and others of his ilk don’t really ever “prove” or “disprove” anything in the sense of “establish with certitude”, since those operations are rarely possible outside of mathematics and logic. They certainly do claim to “prove” or “disprove” things in the less rigorous sense of “establish beyond reasonable doubt”, however. Dawkins may not be entirely convinced that God does not exist, but he feels intellectually justified in holding firm to the belief that He does not. Dawkins’ token subtraction from a perfect seven on his scale is merely an acknowledgement that certainty is not a possibility, not an expression of serious doubt.

    Even if The Blind Watchmaker isn’t a complete, self-standing argument against the existence of God, but rather an attempt to refute a common argument used to support the existence of God — which it clearly is, what with the whole thing being an extended reference to Paley’s argument from design — then it still qualifies as a book which aims to support the argument for the non-existence of God. The fact that it does so by attacking a classic reason to believe in God, rather than providing any sort of positive evidence of non-existence, is unimportant. It could have been a book which discussed the appearance of design without bringing theistic matters into it, but theistic matters are there in spades.

    Why does the Arizona Atheist insist that theistic matters are absent?

  18. Billy Squibs says:

    @djc

    See here – doxastic openness at its finest. Dawkins has all but admitted that in principle no evidence – even the common and grandiose example of the stars spelling out a message – would convince him. His mind is closed to the possibility that he might be wrong.

  19. Hi TFBW,

    “So your argument relies on a special interpretation of Dawkins and a special interpretation of the Arizona Atheist. That’s a pretty tenuous argument unless you can give rather more robust support for your interpretations and rejection of the alternatives. And if you’re actually right, it’s an indictment on both Dawkins and AA for sloppy writing.”

    AA can possible be accused of sloppy writing, but it would depend on the context. What was the full text of his reply and what was the full text of Tom’s question? I see no way Dawkins can be accused of sloppy writing as we are talking about a review of a review of Dawkins book, an original work that is a couple of times removed from the discussion at hand. If you think different interpretations of a book indicate sloppy writing then the Bible, and it’s Author, have a bit of answering to do.

    “And here’s a further point to consider: if Dawkins is, as you say, making the case that God is unnecessary to explain the biological complexity we see around us, then how does that differ in his view from establishing the non-existence of God with a high degree of probability? You seem to be making this distinction, but Dawkins is a fairly strong atheist: on his own scale of one-to-seven, he has rated himself as high as 6.9. What is it, if anything, in addition to the allegedly unnecessary status of God, that makes him so nearly certain of the non-existence of God?”

    It used to be an accepted fact that the universe was permeated entirely by “the ether”. It was known that light travelled in waves and it was obvious that a wave needs something to travel through. How could we see the light from the sun and the stars if the waves couldn’t travel through a medium in the otherwise empty vacuum of space? The discovery that light was also a particle removed the need for the ether. Now while it is impossible to prove that the ether does not exist, it seems fairly certain that something that was created by human imagination can be dismissed as not real when it is found to be unnecessary.

    Sincerely
    Shane

  20. TFBW says:

    @Shane Fletcher:

    Now while it is impossible to prove that the ether does not exist, it seems fairly certain that something that was created by human imagination can be dismissed as not real when it is found to be unnecessary.

    So you would say that Dawkins is quite sure (if not perfectly certain) that God does not exist for the same reasons that you are quite sure that the ether does not exist? This is the analogue you wish to draw? Thus, if The Blind Watchmaker establishes that God is not necessary to explain the appearance of design in nature, that gives us warrant to dismiss God as not real?

    If you’re right about that, then you’re thinking along much the same lines as Tom, and not the Arizona Atheist. AA wants to paint Dawkins’ book as a simple argument that apparent design is a product of nature, not an intelligent designer, without theological implications.

    I don’t know, Tom. It seems like you really should be agreeing with AA after all. You both think that The Blind Watchmaker does not make an argument for the non-existence of God. Your only real difference is that you think it was intended to do so, and fails, whereas AA thinks it wasn’t.

  21. BillT says:

    “Even if The Blind Watchmaker isn’t a complete, self-standing argument against the existence of God, but rather an attempt to refute a common argument used to support the existence of God…”

    I wonder though if Dawkins has really even done this. It seems to me he builds his entire evolutionary chain assuming, without accounting for, the very bedrock on which it is built. Evolution by natural selection would only be possible in a world where all the things necessary for evolution were already in place. Those things would be first, life and second, evolution itself. But science doesn’t even have a working definition for life much less a scientific explanation for it. And science can tell me how evolution works but not why it exists in the first place. Seems theology offers more rational explanations for these than does science.

  22. djc says:

    TFBW,

    Why does the Arizona Atheist insist that theistic matters are absent?

    The Arizona Atheist seems to be making a more narrow point that the Blind Watchmaker does not argue against the proposition that God exists, it rather argues for the proposition that God is not needed to explain design.

    If the Blind Watchmaker said anything like “God doesn’t exist because biological evolution explains design”, that’s wrong and worth criticism. It ignores other lines of evidence for God.

    If the Blind Watchmaker says anything like “The case for God’s existence is weakened if biological evolution also explains design”, that’s perfectly fine. In a world without biological evolution, the argument for God’s existence is clearly a more persuasive one.

  23. Hi TFBW,

    “So you would say that Dawkins is quite sure (if not perfectly certain) that God does not exist for the same reasons that you are quite sure that the ether does not exist? This is the analogue you wish to draw? Thus, if The Blind Watchmaker establishes that God is not necessary to explain the appearance of design in nature, that gives us warrant to dismiss God as not real?”

    There was one reason to believe in the ether; light waves needed a medium to travel through. The arguments for God are many and varied. Tom is working his way through the list now in his Evidence for Faith series. The Blind Watchmaker does not attempt to address them all but rather focuses on Dawkins area of expertise. This brings us back to the problem of believing that Dawkins could disprove God (or say he could disprove God) by looking at only one argument against Him. Even if this one area was perhaps oft quoted as the major reason a lot of people believed. Dawkins has written other books that address other claims of evidence for God. Dawkins can dismiss God as (almost certainly) not real because none of the arguments are compelling and none of the evidence stands up to scrutiny. To repeat though, this is outside of the scope of The Blind watchmaker.

    Sincerely
    Shane

  24. TFBW says:

    @Shane Fletcher:

    It would help if your answers addressed the question that was asked in a more direct manner. I asked you, “what is it, if anything, in addition to the allegedly unnecessary status of God, that makes [Dawkins] so nearly certain of the non-existence of God?” (#16) You responded with a discussion about the ether (#20), ending with, “it seems fairly certain that something that was created by human imagination can be dismissed as not real when it is found to be unnecessary.” Given that the primary goal of The Blind Watchmaker is to argue that God is unnecessary with regards to biological design, what did you expect me to conclude?

    @djc (#23):

    The Arizona Atheist seems to be making a more narrow point that the Blind Watchmaker does not argue against the proposition that God exists, it rather argues for the proposition that God is not needed to explain design.

    And, as Shane has just demonstrated, context is everything. If Dawkins intended his book to not be understood as a (partial) argument against God, then it was a terrible mistake for the book to draw so many parallels (including its title) to a classic argument for the existence of God. If Dawkins had never mentioned Paley — if we were to create the expurgated edition which removes all reference to philosophy and theology, but leaves in the argument that naturally occurring things can look designed — then there would be no argument here, and it would not have been criticised in True Reason in the first place. That expurgated edition, however, would be much thinner, and have a different title.

    The superfluous material — if superfluous it is — is serving only to create dispute as to its proper interpretation. I think that an average, reasonable reader could come away from The Blind Watchmaker with the impression that Dawkins was, among other things, making a case for atheism in that book. That being so, criticism of the book in terms of that role is perfectly reasonable.

  25. Tom Gilson says:

    Shane, how recently have you read The Blind Watchmaker?

  26. Hi TFBW,

    “It would help if your answers addressed the question that was asked in a more direct manner. I asked you, “what is it, if anything, in addition to the allegedly unnecessary status of God, that makes [Dawkins] so nearly certain of the non-existence of God?” ”

    I’m sure you can understand that neither I nor anyone here can speak for Richard Dawkins. I gave an example that illustrated my thoughts on the matter.

    “You responded with a discussion about the ether (#20), ending with, “it seems fairly certain that something that was created by human imagination can be dismissed as not real when it is found to be unnecessary.” Given that the primary goal of The Blind Watchmaker is to argue that God is unnecessary with regards to biological design, what did you expect me to conclude?”

    Your question was born from a quote of Dawkins rating his unbelief in God that is not found in The Blind Watchmaker. It is an error to draw a conclusion of a book based on an unrelated quote by the author.

    Tom

    It was read as part of my journey to becoming a born again atheist. 3 or 4 years ago, I guess.

    Sincerely
    Shane

  27. TFBW says:

    Shane, you have a response for everything, but, taken as a whole, I find them to be disjoint. I’m going to have to bow out of the conversation, because I can’t follow you.

  28. djc says:

    TFBW,

    I think that an average, reasonable reader could come away from The Blind Watchmaker with the impression that Dawkins was, among other things, making a case for atheism in that book. That being so, criticism of the book in terms of that role is perfectly reasonable.

    I think it all depends on how influenced the average, reasonable reader is by Paley’s argument. Someone who considers themselves a theist because “design implies designer” must drop that belief if they are convinced by the Blind Watchmaker that design implies designer OR non-designer. If design can happen with or without God, then Paley’s argument is no good anymore.

    But Paley’s argument is just one of many that weigh in on the theist or atheist position.

  29. Tom Gilson says:

    Actually, djc, your answer is an answer to a different question: whether Dawkins was disputing theism at a level the reader considers significant.

    The question, however, is whether Dawkins was disputing theism on a level he considers significant, which is another way of saying, the question is whether Dawkins intended the book to raise a significant challenge to theism.

  30. TFBW says:

    @djc:

    I think it all depends on how influenced the average, reasonable reader is by Paley’s argument.

    That would certainly have some bearing on the persuasive success of Dawkins’ argument, but in order for an argument to succeed or fail, there has to be an argument in the first place. The question here is primarily about the existence of the argument, not its quality: Tom says its a poor argument, but AA says it isn’t an argument.

    In any case, as to the strength of Paley’s argument, Dawkins attests that he “could not imagine being an atheist at any time before 1859, when Darwin’s Origin of Species was published.” Thus, in Dawkins’ view, Darwinian evolution (as elucidated in Origin of Species, and now The Blind Watchmaker) is the only thing that undermines the strength of Paley’s argument. Having made that point, he has more or less asserted that his book does, in fact, constitute a counter-argument to a well-known argument for God, whether he goes on to phrase it that way explicitly or not.

    But Paley’s argument is just one of many that weigh in on the theist or atheist position.

    I agree, but once again, that only raises questions as to the effectiveness and/or completeness of Dawkins’ argument as an argument for atheism or against theism. It does not change the fact that Dawkins’ book constitutes a counter-argument to Paley.

    Look, if a theist were to cite Paley’s argument from design as support for his position, would it be a non sequitur for an atheist to offer The Blind Watchmaker as a rebuttal? Does anyone really, sincerely think that Dawkins didn’t intend the book to fill that role? Really? Sincerely? Dawkins, the man who speaks out against religion in general and theism in particular at every opportunity?

    I can see why Tom is so boggled that we are even having this argument.

  31. TFBW writes,

    “So your argument relies on a special interpretation of Dawkins and a special interpretation of the Arizona Atheist. That’s a pretty tenuous argument unless you can give rather more robust support for your interpretations and rejection of the alternatives. And if you’re actually right, it’s an indictment on both Dawkins and AA for sloppy writing.”

    Mr. Gilson opens his post with: “The Arizona Atheist continues to maintain that Dawkins does not address God in The Blind Watchmaker.” And later in a comment: “No. AA is arguing over whether the topic includes the question of God: whether Dawkins’ book addresses the question of God.”

    Either Mr. Gilson is being disingenuous here, or this is another example of his badly worded writing, or he did not bother to actually read what I’ve written. The topic under discussion was in fact whether or not Richard Dawkins was disputing the existence of god in The Blind Watchmaker.

    Here are a few quotes from my responses to Mr. Gilson arguing exactly this:

    1) “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.” – See more at: http://www.skepticink.com/azatheist/2014/05/30/true-reason-tom-gilson-replies-my-response/

    2) “But, as Gilson makes clear in this reply, he believes Dawkins’ book was supposed to be about rebutting the argument from design, in all its forms, apparently, thus disproving the existence of god.” – See more at: http://www.skepticink.com/azatheist/2014/06/11/the-reason-a-further-response-to-tom-gilson/

    3) “Dawkins’ book is his attempt to demonstrate that god is no longer needed as an explanation for complex design since evolution better explains the existence of living things. But how is this arguing against the proposition that god exists? It isn’t. There is a vast difference between arguing that something does not exist, and that something is a cause of something else. This does not imply that thing does not exist, only that it is not a cause.” – See more at: http://www.skepticink.com/azatheist/2014/06/13/true-reason-my-final-reply-to-tom-gilson/

    I think these three statements from each of my three responses to Mr. Gilson are proof enough that I did not use “sloppy” writing. The shoe appears to be on the other foot in this case.

    Here, too, is Mr. Gilson making this very argument: “Here is how it is arguing against the proposition that God exists.” – http://www.skepticink.com/azatheist/2014/06/11/the-reason-a-further-response-to-tom-gilson/#comment-1435248560

    I hope this will clear up this misunderstanding. Thanks.

  32. Tom Gilson says:

    I acknowledge the error of saying that you had said Dawkins did not address God. That is, you said it, but in context of your larger message, you meant that Dawkins did not address the question of the existence of God.

    That was sloppy of me. Agreed.

    Now, as for what you actually did assert repeatedly, I think it comes in two parts:

    1. Dawkins argued that God is not necessary as an explanation for biological complexity.
    2. Dawkins did not argue that God does not exist.

    I agree with 1. I disagree with you on 2, for reasons I have stated in multiple various ways both here and on your blog.

    Dawkins never said, “I am disputing the existence of God.” Granted. He does, however, dispute the one line of evidence for God’s existence that he considers “always the most influential.”

    It’s cutting a rather fine line to say someone’s argument against what they consider the chief reason to believe x is not an argument against x.

    BTW, even though it really annoyed Tony Hoffman on your blog, I have a requirement on mine that commenters capitalize certain proper nouns, and I have a reason for that requirement.

  33. TFBW says:

    @Arizona Atheist:

    There is a vast difference between arguing that something does not exist, and that something is a cause of something else.

    You know what? I agree with this statement entirely. Unfortunately, if I accept it, there remains an elephant in the room to which I must draw some attention.

    In The Blind Watchmaker, Dawkins is arguing that nature is the cause of apparent design, and, as a corollary, that God is not the cause of apparent design. Now, there is a vast difference between arguing “God is not the cause of apparent design in nature”, and “God does not exist” — I think that this is essentially the point raised in True Reason — but, on the other hand, Dawkins clearly states that this very argument (as made by Darwin) made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist. There’s a cognitive gap between these two points which takes some creative interpretation to resolve.

    A perfectly reasonable theist can see words to the effect of “this argument makes it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist” and conclude that the core of the argument must support the proposition that God does not exist. After all, why else would it be relevant to atheism? This is supported by observing Dawkins himself: a man who is almost certain that God does not exist, writes extensively on the subject, and actively evangelises this outlook. It’s only reasonable to think, given how Dawkins describes it, that this argument plays an important role in his near certainty that God does not exist.

    Compelling though that may seem, Arizona Atheist dismisses it as a muddleheaded misinterpretation, and offers a contrary view. First, he denies that Dawkins addresses the existence of God in the book — which is true for sufficiently narrow, direct, and literal interpretations of “addresses the existence of God.” He also points out that it addresses only biological design, not design arguments generally (quite so), and in that capacity it only shows that God “is no longer needed as an explanation for complex design since evolution better explains the existence of living things.” See? No argument against the existence of God here.

    The difficulty with such a stance is that it leaves entirely unexplained why Dawkins considers the whole thing to be of such comfort and succour to atheism. If we take AA at his word, the whole thing seems more worthy of Caspar Milquetoast than Richard Dawkins. It’s utterly incongruous. Where, in that interpretation of The Blind Watchmaker, is the hard-won intellectual fulfilment which causes Dawkins to purr so contentedly?

    Is Darwinian evolution as supportive of atheism as Dawkins makes it out to be? Bear in mind that Dawkins is no milquetoast: for him, atheism is not mere lack of assent to the proposition that God exists; he’s almost certain that God doesn’t exist, and he considers Darwinian evolution to be the intellectual cornerstone of that position. But if Darwinian evolution is not, in and of itself, evidence for the non-existence of God, then in what way does it provide intellectual fulfilment (as opposed to mere psychological comfort) for atheists?

  34. Doug says:

    @TFBW,

    I believe that you’ve hit the nail on the head.

    That is, Darwinian evolution is NOT as supportive of atheism as Dawkins makes it out to be. So he prefers to pretend that it is and let folks be deceived by his confident posturing. As long as the gambit works, he’ll ride it for all that it’s worth. But if called out, he can fall back to the position Arizona Atheist claims for him — he didn’t r-e-a-l-l-y make such an argument. This is what New Atheists refer to as “reason”.

  35. Hi Tom and TFBW,

    “It’s cutting a rather fine line to say someone’s argument against what they consider the chief reason to believe x is not an argument against x.”

    “A perfectly reasonable theist can see words to the effect of “this argument makes it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist” and conclude that the core of the argument must support the proposition that God does not exist. After all, why else would it be relevant to atheism?”

    I know this is not the first time this has been said, but Atheism is “not believing in any gods” not “believing there are no gods”. No-one is saying that Dawkins isn’t using The Blind Watchmaker to undermine the case that God exists. This is a different thing to proving that he doesn’t.

    To put it another way, how important is it to you that the God you believe in must have had a hand in guiding evolution? Hypothetically, If it can be shown with no doubt that evolution must have happened with no outside input would that disprove God to you? Or could you accept that God created the initial spark of life and left things run their own course, knowing that the humans He was waiting for would eventually be the result?

    Sincerely
    Shane

  36. TFBW says:

    @Shane Fletcher:

    I know this is not the first time this has been said, but Atheism is “not believing in any gods” not “believing there are no gods”.

    That doesn’t apply to Dawkins, who is the main subject here. He’s a strong atheist, asserting that God almost certainly does not exist, not a milquetoast atheist, trying not to assert anything that might require some sort of justification.

  37. Tom Gilson says:

    His argument for “Why there is almost certainly no God” in The God Delusion can also be found in shorter form in The Blind Watchmaker.

  38. Hi TFBW and Tom,

    “That doesn’t apply to Dawkins, who is the main subject here. He’s a strong atheist, asserting that God almost certainly does not exist,”

    You don’t think there is a difference between “almost certainly does not exist” and “does not exist”? You don’t think Dawkins specifically chose 6.9 (instead of the definitive 7) out of 7 because of that difference? You don’t think he’s well aware that you cannot prove a negative. All you can do is offer evidence for a positive that is at odds with that negative?

    Perhaps you thought my question was rhetorical, but I really wanted an answer to my hypothetical question. I’m going to take a wild guess and believe it is, “No. Definite proof that evolution happened purely naturally does not disprove God exists. My belief in God is not solely predicated on the wondrous abundance of complex life on planet earth.” Dawkins can not claim that explaining evolution is a disproof of God for this reason. All he can claim is that biological complexity is not an argument to believe in God.

    Sincerely
    Shane

  39. Tom Gilson says:

    Shane, you’re flailing now. Slow down and think about it, okay?

  40. Hi Tom,

    It’s the same argument we’ve had a few times before. You can’t prove a negative. By definition there can be no evidence that supports a negative. There can only be evidence that supports a positive that precludes the negative in question.

    It is your argument that Dawkins is inferring (because he claims no such thing) to prove a negative. Perhaps you should slow down and think about it.

    Sincerely
    Shane

  41. SteveK says:

    I can prove that no human being is sitting in my bathtub right now by walking upstairs and observing the absence of a human being sitting in my bathtub.

  42. Tom Gilson says:

    Shane, it is not my argument that Dawkins is inferring (because he claims no such thing) to prove a negative. You will not find me using the word “prove” on this page, except in this comment. It is my argument that Dawkins is disputing the existence of God.

  43. TFBW says:

    You don’t think there is a difference between “almost certainly does not exist” and “does not exist”? You don’t think Dawkins specifically chose 6.9 (instead of the definitive 7) out of 7 because of that difference?

    Yes, there is a difference, and yes, he chose 6.9 because of that difference, and you have a very strange perception of me if you think I believe otherwise. Did I not make myself clear in comment #18? The point you are emphasising is simply not relevant to this discussion, since nobody is claiming that Dawkins has tried to prove with absolute certainty that God does not exist. It’s sufficient that he is almost certain, and thinks that his his near-certainty is well grounded in evidence and reason.

    Look, if he’s six point nine out of seven certain, then, rationally speaking, he needs a six point nine out of seven sort of argument to back it up. Understand?

    You can’t prove a negative.

    Prove it.

  44. Hi SteveK,

    “I can prove that no human being is sitting in my bathtub right now by walking upstairs and observing the absence of a human being sitting in my bathtub.”

    You can’t observe the absence of something. What you observe is the state of the bathtub. You prove the positive of what condition your bathtub is in. This positive then precludes any number of negatives. There is no human in it. Also no dog. No cat. No model rocketship. No complete works of William Shakespeare.

    To put it another way, if an outsider examines the evidence of the state of your bathtub and you ask them what is proven by it, will they come to your same conclusion, that no human being is sitting in it? Will they come to my conclusion that no model rocketship is in it?

    Sincerely
    Shane

  45. Tom Gilson says:

    Yes. If you ask them if there is a model rocketship in it, they will come to that conclusion.

  46. SteveK says:

    They will, Shane.

  47. Tom Gilson says:

    Shane, let’s ask it a different way. Will they come to the conclusion that there is no model rocketship there? That’s one question. A better question would be, Will they know there’s no model rocketship there?

    Knowledge need not be at the forefront of the mind. It can be knowledge even if we do not mentally articulate it to ourselves.

    The visitor to the tub will have certain knowledge that there is no model rocketship there, and will have that knowledge by way of having proved it through investigation.

    Another way to restate it goes like this:

    To put it another way, if an outsider examines the evidence of the state of your bathtub and you ask them what is proven by it,

    … then they can rightly say the state of the bathtub proves there is nothing in it.

    I think you might have more luck exploring why people have tried to say, “You can’t prove a negative.” Is there any set of circumstances where that might be true? (Hint: it’s not in your tub.)

    I don’t know if that would get you any further, but it would at least move the discussion onto interesting ground for a change.

  48. TFBW says:

    Shane,

    You can’t observe the absence of something.

    Yes, you can. You can’t observe something that isn’t there, but you can observe that something isn’t there — a subtle, but important distinction. If I went to buy an ice-cream cone, and the vendor gave me a cone with no ice-cream in it, I would immediately observe the absence of the ice-cream, and demand an explanation for its absence. If the vendor tried to argue that I can’t prove that there’s no ice-cream there because one can’t observe something that isn’t there, I’d be inclined to think that the man was taking me for a complete idiot by spouting nonsense dressed up as logic.

    Suppose he further tried to back up this claim by saying that all I am doing is observing the state of the ice-cream cone — a positive which precludes any number of negatives, such as the absence of gelato, marshmallow, and sardines — and thus anyone else looking at the cone might conclude something entirely other than, “there is no ice-cream in the cone.” I would point out that this is entirely irrelevant: what matters is that my observation is entirely consistent with the claim that there is no ice-cream in my cone. The fact that it might also support (or contradict) an infinite number of other claims is neither here nor there.

    In case you hadn’t noticed, Shane, arguing with you is a lot like arguing with this hypothetical ice-cream vendor. It’s not so much like participating in reasoned debate as like participating in a Monty Python skit, or re-enacting a Bert and Ernie sketch. Either you are trolling with sophistry (and quite good at it), or you are astoundingly bad at reasoning (and think you’re quite good at it) — Poe’s law laments that we can not tell the two apart.

    Have you ever subjected your reasoning skills to independent scrutiny, such as a course in critical thinking at a university? Or are you largely self-assessed on that front? It’s a serious question: I went and did a minor degree in philosophy just to be sure that I was as competent at it as I thought I was.

  49. Hi everyone,

    “Shane, let’s ask it a different way. Will they come to the conclusion that there is no model rocketship there? That’s one question. A better question would be, Will they know there’s no model rocketship there?”

    Tom, that is a better way of putting it. And I would say what they will know is that the tub is empty. This is the positive fact that is backed up by the evidence. The fact there is no rocketship there is a by product of that knowledge.

    “what matters is that my observation is entirely consistent with the claim that there is no ice-cream in my cone.”

    TFBW, again, that is the positive that is proven by the evidence. The missing ice cream is a resultant fact of the evidence of the empty cone. My point was not that you can’t prove that the ice cream wasn’t there. Just that the proof you offer for your negative is actually the by product of a proof for a positive.

    BillL offered the nice example of “Proving President Obama was not born in Africa.” You would have do an awful lot of work collecting years of birth records from an entire continent to attempt to prove that particular negative and there is no way the evidence you put forward could be comprehensive enough for anyone to take it as conclusive. The easiest way, in fact the only way, is to prove the positive, that he was actually born in Hawaii.

    So the challenge for all, is can you give me an example of proof for a negative, that is not actually a by product of proof for an opposing positive.

    “Have you ever subjected your reasoning skills to independent scrutiny, such as a course in critical thinking at a university? Or are you largely self-assessed on that front? It’s a serious question: I went and did a minor degree in philosophy just to be sure that I was as competent at it as I thought I was.”

    I have never had my skills scrutinised, but I wouldn’t say I’m self-assessed either. I am engaging in the dialogue here, assuming my opposition will be able to poke holes in my reasoning as we go along. Thanks for taking part. :-)

    Cheers
    Shane

  50. Hi TFBW
    #44

    “The point you are emphasising is simply not relevant to this discussion, since nobody is claiming that Dawkins has tried to prove with absolute certainty that God does not exist.”

    I’m sorry, but Tom attributes Dawkins as saying “there is no God” in the OP and “God does not exist” in his reply #33 of this blog post alone. This is the bone of contention as I see it.

    “It’s sufficient that he is almost certain, and thinks that his his near-certainty is well grounded in evidence and reason.

    Look, if he’s six point nine out of seven certain, then, rationally speaking, he needs a six point nine out of seven sort of argument to back it up. Understand?”

    But only if he made those comments in the text of The Blind Watchmaker, citing the evidence he presented in that book as the reason for his near certainty. But he didn’t do that. You grabbed that from elsewhere. As I said above, you can’t claim that this book fails because it doesn’t back up a claim the author made at another time and place.

    Dawkins is trying to weaken the case for God in The Blind Watchmaker. I’m confident none of the parties disagree with that. The debate seems to be with the amount of certainty Dawkins is arguing the case. And not in his own words, which we all agree he doesn’t use, but in his intention, which strikes me as a futile thing to be debating. Really this whole thing seems to be a storm in a teacup.

    Sincerely
    Shane

  51. Tom Gilson says:

    Actually, no, I don’t attribute Dawkins as saying “there is no God” in the OP. I wrote,

    Regarding the conclusion, he doesn’t spell that out either. That’s because any dummy can figure it out.

    3. Therefore there is no God, as God is understood in the prevailing theistic views of God.

    That is, Dawkins was making an argument against the existence of God without spelling it out as such. Now, TFBW wrote, “nobody is claiming that Dawkins has tried to prove with absolute certainty that God does not exist.” And that’s correct. My claim is that Dawkins made an argument against the existence of God. This is not the same as claiming that he was trying to prove it with absolute certainty.

    As for comment 33, I disagreed with the assertion, “2. Dawkins did not argue that God does not exist.” In other words, I take it as truth that Dawkins argues that God does not exist. This again is not a claim that Dawkins was trying to prove it with absolute certainty.

    So you’re incorrect on that point. You go on to say, “This is the bone of contention as I see it.” Actually my bone of contention with the Arizona Atheist was that AA denied that Dawkins was arguing against the existence of God at all. So if you think, “Dawkins has tried to prove with absolute certainty that God does not exist,” was my bone of contention, that’s not the case at all. It’s a hyperbolic distortion of my case.

    You say, “you can’t claim that this book fails because it doesn’t back up a claim the author made at another time and place.” And I say to you, you can’t claim that my argument fails because it doesn’t back up a claim I never made anywhere.

    Then you write, “Dawkins is trying to weaken the case for God in The Blind Watchmaker. I’m confident none of the parties disagree with that.” Actually, that was exactly what AA disagreed with.

    “The debate seems to be with the amount of certainty Dawkins is arguing the case.” No, that’s not the debate. See above.

  52. Hi Tom,

    “Then you write, “Dawkins is trying to weaken the case for God in The Blind Watchmaker. I’m confident none of the parties disagree with that.” Actually, that was exactly what AA disagreed with.”

    Yes, I know that’s what you think. As I said in #15 it seems you think that because of

    “I’ve been reading Dawkins’ book the last week or so, double checking to ensure I wasn’t in error in thinking Dawkins does not address god [sic], and there is indeed nothing there.”

    which we’ve established was AA referring to the specific case of disproving God. Is there another reason?

    Sincerely
    Shane

  53. Tom Gilson says:

    … which we’ve established was AA referring to the specific case of disproving God.

    Where have we established that?

  54. Tom Gilson says:

    Let’s keep clear the difference between (a) attempting to “prove with absolutely certainty that God does not exist,” and (b) arguing against the existence of God.

  55. TFBW says:

    @Shane Fletcher:

    So the challenge for all, is can you give me an example of proof for a negative, that is not actually a by product of proof for an opposing positive.

    Given how naively you’ve phrased the challenge, why should I believe you are even competent to judge whether someone has met the challenge or not? In the absence of such competence, the challenge translates to, “try to impress me — I’ll let you know whether I’m impressed or not.” And what does it even mean for a negative to be a “by product” of an opposing positive? Logical entailment is logical entailment, for crying out loud.

    I have never had my skills scrutinised, but I wouldn’t say I’m self-assessed either.

    So basically you’re just assuming that you have a certain degree of skill, without any evidence at all.

    I am engaging in the dialogue here, assuming my opposition will be able to poke holes in my reasoning as we go along.

    Your opposition has been ripping your reasoning to shreds, but you haven’t noticed that, which is one of the reasons why I’m bringing your competence into question in the first place. Look, if you get into a fist-fight with someone who is a much better fighter than you, you’ll pay for it in blood and bruises — there will be immediate physical evidence that your opponent is the superior fighter. With reasoned argument it doesn’t work like that. In fact, the less competent you are at it, the more impervious you are to refutation. It’s a fool’s paradise.

    I don’t believe that you are ever going to accept a negative assessment from an ideological opponent — it’s too easy to dismiss that sort of criticism as sour grapes — and I have no evidence that you can recognise your own errors. If you’re going to reach a sober assessment of your own abilities, you’ll need independent evaluation. I suggest that you take a course in critical thinking. You’re bad at reasoned argument right now, but you do exhibit a great deal of interest in it, so why not channel that enthusiasm productively? You might improve. You could even get straight As and prove how wrong I am.

    But only if he made those comments in the text of The Blind Watchmaker, citing the evidence he presented in that book as the reason for his near certainty. But he didn’t do that. You grabbed that from elsewhere. As I said above, you can’t claim that this book fails because it doesn’t back up a claim the author made at another time and place.

    Huzzah! A valid point! I agree: the book itself should be judged on the contents of the book itself, but it is reasonable to look at Dawkins’ further writings when evaluating interpretations of the book. So, for example, when you said (#36) that atheism is “not believing in any gods”, this was an assertion based on your own preferred definition of the word, not anything Dawkins said. I tried to pre-empt that line of argument in #34 by pointing out that this is not what atheism is for Dawkins, based on his broader writings and statements, but you ignored it. Yes, I’m citing external works, but I’m interpreting Dawkins in the light of Dawkins, not in the light of my own personal views, like you are.

    Now, if we are to judge the book by its own claims, then I would say that the key claim is, “Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.” Presumably Dawkins makes this claim because he considers the Argument from Design to be “the most influential of the arguments for the existence of a God,” and Darwin somehow refutes that argument. In fact, he wants “to persuade the reader, not just that the Darwinian world-view happens to be true, but that it is the only known theory that could, in principle, solve the mystery of our existence.”

    Those aims and claims amount to quite a task. If Dawkins doesn’t argue against the existence of God in the book (as AA claims), then he certainly fails to establish any kind of intellectual basis for atheism (in the sense that he uses the word). I find it hard to tell whether AA is right: Dawkins says some things about God in chapter six which could be interpreted as an argument that God’s existence is highly improbable, and Dawkins does refer back to this chapter of The Blind Watchmaker in a footnote in The God Delusion, but not in a way which offers much clarification. Conversely, if one doesn’t interpret his comments as an argument against God’s existence, then it amounts to Dawkins saying, “I only respect naturalistic explanations,” rather than demonstrating any kind of rational support for atheism.

  56. Tom Gilson says:

    Here’s one more question.

    So the challenge for all, is can you give me an example of proof for a negative, that is not actually a by product of proof for an opposing positive.

    Why?

  57. Hi Tom,
    #55

    Yeah, that’s where the confusion seems to be. It seems as if you think

    “1. Dawkins argued that God is not necessary as an explanation for biological complexity.
    2. Dawkins did not argue that God does not exist.”

    that 2 is an extension of 1. Now if you want to define things that way, and you agree that AA believes in 1. then you can define that AA agrees with you and we can call this quits.

    But this is related to the question I asked earlier. Would you be forced to not believe in God if it could be demonstrably proven that He had no guiding hand in evolution? It seems to me you have to answer Yes to that question to suggest that Dawkins explanation of evolution is an argument against the existence of God.

    Sincerely
    Shane

  58. Hi Tom,
    #57

    Because my entire argument is that any example you give about proving a negative is actually a by product of proving a positive. You can only prove the man/ice-cream is not there by proving the tub/cone is empty.

    Cheers
    Shane

  59. Tom Gilson says:

    Would you be forced to not believe in God if it could be demonstrably proven that He had no guiding hand in evolution? It seems to me you have to answer Yes to that question to suggest that Dawkins explanation of evolution is an argument against the existence of God.

    Forced? Why such violent language?

    I’ll resort to my own now, because I’m getting frustrated at how slow you are to get it.

    I did NOT argue that Dawkins’s position in the book was that he was disproving God.

    I DID ARGUE that his position was that he was MAKING AN ARGUMENT AGAINST THE EXISTENCE OF GOD.

    It’s possible to make an argument against the existence of God WITHOUT MAKING AN ARGUMENT THAT YOU THINK IS ABSOLUTE PROOF THAT THERE IS A GOD.

    You don’t have to raise an argument that you think FORCES DISBELIEF in order for it to be an argument that SUPPORTS DISBELIEF.

    Now, at this point I don’t like how I’m behaving, and I don’t like how incredibly obtuse you’re being about this, and I don’t like calling you that, even though it’s absolutely true, because what I just wrote is PERFECTLY OBVIOUS BUT YOU’RE NOT GETTING IT!

    I’m sure I’ll regret this comment in a few hours or a day or two, but look, here’s the point: what you need to understand is that you really, really, really are failing the test you yourself say you’re taking in logical reasoning. You’re not getting it, and you’re not getting that you’re not getting it.

    So maybe if I say it louder you’ll get it. I can only hope.

    So I’ll let you respond one more time and then close comments on this thread.

    By the way, your “why” answer in #59 just begs for the next question: “Why?” Why on earth would you mount an argument that depends on that?

    You can respond to that in your last comment on this thread, too. Then I might or might not say one more thing, and then close it down.

  60. Hi TFBW,

    “So basically you’re just assuming that you have a certain degree of skill, without any evidence at all.”

    I am not making any assumptions about any skills. I am merely asking questions.

    “Your opposition has been ripping your reasoning to shreds, but you haven’t noticed that, which is one of the reasons why I’m bringing your competence into question in the first place.”

    So your position is that I’m too dumb to realise that you’ve successfully refuted my argument? Perhaps I’m just not phrasing it well enough for you to understand. So I’ll try again.

    There must be evidence for any argument that is put forward.
    There can be no evidence for any negative argument. By definition any negative proposition must have a total absence of evidence.
    Therefore the only evidence for any negative is the absence of evidence for the opposing positive.
    Ergo the only way to examine the validity of any negative is to examine the evidence for the opposing positive.

    You can’t prove the man is missing without showing the contents of the tub. You can’t show the ice-cream is missing without showing the empty cone.

    Now if you give an example of evidence that can exist to prove a negative, I would love to hear it. But that seems to me to be a contradiction in terms.

    ” So, for example, when you said (#36) that atheism is “not believing in any gods”, this was an assertion based on your own preferred definition of the word, not anything Dawkins said. I tried to pre-empt that line of argument in #34 by pointing out that this is not what atheism is for Dawkins, based on his broader writings and statements, but you ignored it. Yes, I’m citing external works, but I’m interpreting Dawkins in the light of Dawkins, not in the light of my own personal views, like you are.”

    No, Dawkins would be a 7 on his scale if he could definitively prove that God does not exist. The almost certainty he espouses is because he sees a total lack of evidence to believe in God. This is not the same as finding evidence that disproves God. I thought I was clear enough in my Ether analogy. I am interpreting Dawkins in the light of Dawkins. You are misinterpreting him, though I would not be so sure that it is due to your personal views.

    “If Dawkins doesn’t argue against the existence of God in the book (as AA claims), then he certainly fails to establish any kind of intellectual basis for atheism (in the sense that he uses the word). ”

    No, that is the sense that you use the word. Dawkins worldview is that there is no evidence to believe in God. The Blind Watchmaker is an attempt to show that the oft touted wondrous diversity of life is not evidence of God at work in the world. He is attempting to remove evidence to believe in God not give evidence that disproves His existence. You cannot prove a negative. And the positive that would support the argument (that our universe and all other dimensions/realms/planes of existence are empty of all Gods) is patently impossible to prove. Especially as has been asserted by Christians here that God can act “invisibly” leaving no measurable trace. Hence, atheism is the lack of belief in God due to a total lack of evidence not a belief there are no Gods (because there can be no evidence for that negative assertion).

    Has that cleared things up?
    Shane

  61. Hi Tom,

    “I did NOT argue that Dawkins’s position in the book was that he was disproving God.

    I DID ARGUE that his position was that he was MAKING AN ARGUMENT AGAINST THE EXISTENCE OF GOD.”

    Yes. We’re not arguing about what you said. We’re arguing about what AA said. It does seem pointless to continue without his input though.

    “By the way, your “why” answer in #59 just begs for the next question: “Why?” Why on earth would you mount an argument that depends on that?”

    Because of my point above about evidence. By definition there can be no direct evidence for a negative as the absence of something can leave no evidence.

    Feel free to end your part of this discussion, but I do request you leave it open for TFBW and I to continue.

    Sincerely
    Shane

  62. Tom Gilson says:

    I’m NOT arguing about what AA said. I know EXACTLY what he said. There’s no controversy over what he said. The controversy is over whether he was right or wrong. And you’re not getting it.

    By definition there can be no direct evidence for a negative as the absence of something can leave no evidence.

    So stinkin’ what? You haven’t explained in any rational, coherent manner why that should make the slightest difference to any of us. It certainly doesn’t affect in any way the very clear fact that Dawkins was making an argument against the existence of God in TBW. He wasn’t arguing for a negative, he was arguing against a positive (the design argument).

    Do you even see any of that?

    Do you see that your self-test here is revealing that your understanding of the methods of logical reasoning has resulted in a finding, and that you’re oblivious to that finding?

    Do you see that YOU’RE NOT GETTING IT?

    Can you see that at all?

    I really join in the recommendation that you get a class in this, and work out your reasoning skill someplace where you’re not so invested in defending a position. Then maybe you could develop beyond your bias.

    TFBW, do you see any point in continuing?

  63. Tom Gilson says:

    Your last comment to TFBW clears one thing up: You don’t know what the argument with AA was about. You don’t know how Dawkins uses the word “atheism,” either.

    And you don’t know that you don’t know.

    “I am merely asking questions.”

    Is that an intentional or unintentional falsehood?

    Take the very comment in which you made that assertion. Here are your non-questions. These are not tentative, let’s-try-these-out-for-size claims, they are put forth with all the confidence of one who’s sure he’s right. THEY ARE NOT QUESTIONS.

    There must be evidence for any argument that is put forward.
    There can be no evidence for any negative argument. By definition any negative proposition must have a total absence of evidence.
    Therefore the only evidence for any negative is the absence of evidence for the opposing positive.
    Ergo the only way to examine the validity of any negative is to examine the evidence for the opposing positive.

    You can’t prove the man is missing without showing the contents of the tub. You can’t show the ice-cream is missing without showing the empty cone.

    Now if you give an example of evidence that can exist to prove a negative, I would love to hear it. But that seems to me to be a contradiction in terms.

    No, Dawkins would be a 7 on his scale if he could definitively prove that God does not exist. The almost certainty he espouses is because he sees a total lack of evidence to believe in God. This is not the same as finding evidence that disproves God. I thought I was clear enough in my Ether analogy. I am interpreting Dawkins in the light of Dawkins. You are misinterpreting him, though I would not be so sure that it is due to your personal views.

    No, that is the sense that you use the word. Dawkins worldview is that there is no evidence to believe in God. The Blind Watchmaker is an attempt to show that the oft touted wondrous diversity of life is not evidence of God at work in the world. He is attempting to remove evidence to believe in God not give evidence that disproves His existence. You cannot prove a negative. And the positive that would support the argument (that our universe and all other dimensions/realms/planes of existence are empty of all Gods) is patently impossible to prove. Especially as has been asserted by Christians here that God can act “invisibly” leaving no measurable trace. Hence, atheism is the lack of belief in God due to a total lack of evidence not a belief there are no Gods (because there can be no evidence for that negative assertion).

    Here are the questions you asked.

    So your position is that I’m too dumb to realise that you’ve successfully refuted my argument?

    Note your follow-up to that, which implies that your only error is in your wording. “Perhaps I’m just not phrasing it well enough for you to understand. So I’ll try again.”

    Your other question was, “Has that cleared things up?”

    What do you notice about your ratio of questions to non-questions here? What does that tell you about the accuracy of, “I am merely asking questions”?

    Note also that you’ve made other confident assertions like, “we’ve established was AA referring to the specific case of disproving God;” which did not come across much like a question at all, and when asked (#54) to show where we established it, you barreled on regardless, and ignored it.

    So again, when you say that all you’re doing is asking questions, is that an intentional or unintentional falsehood?

  64. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Shane Fletcher:

    There must be evidence for any argument that is put forward.
    There can be no evidence for any negative argument. By definition any negative proposition must have a total absence of evidence.
    Therefore the only evidence for any negative is the absence of evidence for the opposing positive.
    Ergo the only way to examine the validity of any negative is to examine the evidence for the opposing positive.

    This is wrong.

    In Mathematics proofs of existential negatives are everywhere. If you want to prove that there does not exist an object x satisfying Px, e.g. in symbols:

    not (Ex: Px)

    then a common tactic of proof is proof by contradiction, that is, start from Ex: Px and derive a contradiction — which seems to accord to your artificial distinction of not being a “by product of proof for an opposing positive”.

    Typical examples are:

    1. Cantor’s theorem that the cardinality of an (infinite) set is strictly smaller than that of its power set.

    2. Euclid’s theorem on the infinitude of the set of primes.

    These are negative existential statements to the effect that certain set-theoretic objects, bijections, do not exist. Here is a classical example:

    3. The square root of 2 is irrational.

    This is also a negative existential statement (there do not exist a pair of rational numbers such that etc. and etc.) whose classical proof is a pristine reductio.

    The examples could be multiplied indefinitely; this is First Order Logic 101, hardly a “challenge”.

    And please do not bother responding if you do not understand first order logic, otherwise you will make an incoherent hash of it.

    Technical note(s):
    – strictly speaking reductio is more general than proof by contradiction, but nevermind.
    – the results 1-3 admit of proofs that do *not* use contradiction; 1 is a very straightforward patch of the proof, 2 and 3 not so much — the patching up yields a *different* proof of a *stronger* result. But to make my point I only need the fact that proofs by contradiction are valid.
    – furthermore, it can be shown that certain results *only* admit of proofs by contradiction. For existential theorems, it is the difference between constructive and classical logic and the use of non-constructive principles (and there are many examples); for non-existential theorems, it relies on the difference between minimal logic and constructive logic (although in this case, I have no specific example). Either way, once again it does not matter much, as to make my point it only suffices that proof by contradiction is (classically) valid.

  65. TFBW says:

    @Shane Fletcher, #61:

    I am not making any assumptions about any skills. I am merely asking questions.

    Garbage. You’re making assertions like, “any negative proposition must have a total absence of evidence,” as though you were an expert on the subject. And, as Tom pointed out in #64, you’re not exactly asking a lot of questions. Add “extreme lack of self-awareness” to the list of issues you might want to address: what you think you’re doing is a long way removed from what you’re actually doing.

    So your position is that I’m too dumb to realise that you’ve successfully refuted my argument?

    Not too dumb — too ignorant. Describing your comments as “an argument” is too charitable by half: you’re spouting patent nonsense under the misguided impression that it’s logic. You need a proper education in the subject. Go find a teacher who can tell you what’s what and let you know if you’re getting it right or not.

    @Tom Gilson, #63:

    TFBW, do you see any point in continuing?

    Nah, I’m done here. Dragging this out any further is just a waste of time.

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