Friday, August 19, 2016

Analyzing Richard Dawkins on Why He Refuses to Believe in God

On The Poached Egg, a feed of Christian apologetic articles, one came up asking famous living atheists why they did not believe in God. Both because of the notoriety of its author and its acerbic tone (even compared to the responses from other atheists), Richard Dawkins's antiapology was especially salient, so I will be breaking it down (that's what the word "analyze" means, by the way) piecewise interspersing it with my comments.
I don't believe in leprechauns, pixies, werewolves, jujus, Thor, Poseidon, Yahweh, Allah or the Trinity. For the same reason in every case: there is not the tiniest shred of evidence for any of them, and the burden of proof rests with those who wish to believe.
When Dawkins says "not the tiniest shred of evidence for any of them," the first question we should ask is whether he's talking about evidence in the sense of objective epistemology or evidence in the sense of subjective epistemology. The difference between objective and subjective epistemologies is best illustrated in a joke I read at Facebook (the good jokes always make you laugh, then make you think):

Teacher: Why don't you participate in my class? You might learn something new.
Student: You're teaching history. There's nothing new in it.

The teacher is using "new" in the sense of the subjective epistemology of the student, while the student is using "new" in the sense of the objective epistemology of surviving information found in documentation. Richard Dawkins is equivocating the two, making it unclear if he is talking about what he knows with regard to evidence of God or whether there is any possible justification for God's existence. Unfortunately, reading from Dawkins's other comments made in the past does little to clarify what sense he is using the word "evidence," as he sometimes takes the strong atheist position that God definitely cannot exist to the subjective epistemological claim that he's really unsure if God exists. If I were forced to make a judgment, I would say that he is using "evidence" in the sense of subjective epistemology in this case.
Even given no evidence for specific gods, could we make a case for some unspecified "intelligent designer" or "prime mover" or begetter of "something rather than nothing"? By far the most appealing version of this argument is the biological one - living things do present a powerful illusion of design. But that is the very version that Darwin destroyed.
Dawkins begins his response with an "intelligent designer" (alluding to Paley's formulation of the teleological argument for God's existence) then changes it to a "prime mover" (alluding to Aquinas's First Way) and then changes once more to the begetter of "something rather than nothing" (alluding to Leibniz's Contingency Argument). Dawkins appears to recognize the difference between the teleological argument from the rest [a few sentences later he confuses the teleological designer with the first cause] but later on seems to confuse Aquinas's First Way with Leibniz's Contingency Argument. I do not know if he even realizes how different the two arguments are, both of them relying on two very different philosophical principles (the first being the Aristotelian conception of efficient causation, while the second being the principle of sufficient reason).
Any theist who appeals to "design" of living creatures simply betrays his ignorance of biology. Go away and read a book. 
Even if evolution (in the strongest form of universal common descent) were true, the formal structure of living creatures demands a formal cause. It cannot be the case that all teleology and all information are merely epiphenomena resulting from humans's ape-brain meatware being programmed to view things in terms of teleology and "structure," even if structure doesn't exist (such as how often naive humans are taken aback by the presence of true randomness). To take such a view entails eliminative materialism, which undermines reason itself. The formal structure that emerges from natural selection still demands a formal cause, which no atheistic evolutionist has ever supplied, preferring instead to take the view of eliminative materialism.
And any theist who appeals to biblical evidence betrays his ignorance of modern scholarship. Go away and read another book.
Secular Biblical scholarship has no unified counterthesis to the supernatural nature of the Bible, especially with regard to the New Testament, but also applying for the most part to how the analyze the Old Testament. Some skeptics say that Jesus was a magician because of the inclusion of Aramaic magic phrases in the Gospel of Mark, while simultaneously claiming that Jesus was actually trying to hide his divinity (but these are contradictory). Some skeptics say that Mark was the earliest gospel because it has no resurrection accounts, while simultaneously claiming that because of the bereavement vision hypothesis of the resurrection that therefore the bereavement accounts must have been in the original (which would put either Matthew or Luke as the earliest gospel). There's no unified thesis or explanation behind gospel skepticism, so we can immediately know that there's no intellectually honest basis for gospel skepticism.

Even with regard to the Old Testament, there are only three things that scholars agree upon, which is that Genesis 1-12 are fiction, the Book of Daniel was pseudepigraphical and written during the Hellenistic Era, and that Isaiah had more than one author and that the first author definitely didn't write the bit containing Cyrus the Great. Everything else is a potpourri of contradictory and trendy theories put forward by academics wanting to get an "original" view in a publishing system that awards "original" publication to the detriment of either quality or logical consistency.
As for the cosmological argument, whose God goes under names such as Prime Mover or First Cause, the physicists are closing in, with spellbinding results. Even if there remain unanswered questions - where do the fundamental laws and constants of physics come from? - obviously it cannot help to postulate a designer whose existence poses bigger questions than he purports to solve.
That an explanation raises bigger questions is not a problem for scientific research. Many theories raise bigger questions than they purport to solve. Otherwise Evolutionary Biology would have to be considered a pseudoscientific endeavor (for the record, Dawkins is technically an entomologist not an evolutionary biologist).

Also here he conflates the teleological designer with the first cause, without giving any justification as to why it is logically valid for him to switch between the two.
If science fails, our best hope is to build a better science. The answer will lie neither in theology nor - its exact equivalent - reading tea leaves.
This is a rehash of the failed promises of positivism made during the 19th century. His optimism for the death of metaphysics is so outdated and benighted that it is almost cringeworthy.
In any case, it is a fatuously illogical jump from deistic Unmoved Mover to Christian Trinity,
The Unmoved Mover is not mutually exclusive with the Christian Trinity, which makes Dawkins guilty of posing a false dilemma here (although by insinuation, just like how one saying that "Hitler was against smoking" is clearly insinuating something bad about opposition to smoking).
with the Son being tortured and murdered because the Father, for all his omniscience and omnipotence, couldn't think of a better way to forgive "sin".
Dawkins is now just being emotional. There's not even a claim or a proposition here to rebut. So I have no comment.
Equally unconvincing are those who believe because it comforts them (why should truth be consoling?) or because it "feels right".
This is the first and only statement Dawkins makes in the whole tirade which is rational, justified, and accurately corresponds to reality.
Cherie Blair ["I'm a believer", New Statesman, 18 April] may stand for the "feels right" brigade. She bases her belief on "an understanding of something that my head cannot explain but my heart knows to be true".
While this obviously isn't justification, it's not clear that Cherie Blair is being accurately represented here. Almost every piece of scientific and mathematical research begins with intuition, with formal and rigorous justification being the very last step of an idea's journey to becoming knowledge. Dawkins appears to insinuate that if a belief's path of discovery isn't exactly the same as its path of justification, then it is not worth the paper it's written on. And that's just not true.
She aspires to be a judge. M'lud, I cannot provide the evidence you require. My head cannot explain why, but my heart knows it to be true. Why is religion immune from the critical standards that we apply not just in courts of law, but in every other sphere of life?
Most ironic of all of Dawkins's pronouncements is this one, because the process most successful and paradigm-shifting scientists have underwent almost always starts with an intuitive feeling similar to that of Blair's. So Blair is, in fact, using the same process with religion that a scientist would use in developing a theory, or a detective would use in searching for evidence, or any other sphere of life. He further insinuates Blair's position with that of justification, which Blair never claimed to espouse but he nonetheless keeps attacking (thereby putting words in her mouth).

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