Wednesday, July 27, 2011

On a weird misreading of my book

I'll say one more thing about the whole Martin Cohen review thing and then shut up about it, as I realize I'm getting obsessive. In the comments under his THES review, Cohen yesterday explained his case for saying, in his review:

"Do you believe in God? Or even wonder if there might be a purpose to the universe?...Then you believe in bullshit. That is the uncompromising message of Stephen Law's new book."

I denied that I ever said this. In fact I don't even believe it. To support his case that I am, nevertheless, committed to it, Cohen now comments:

[EXTRACT FROM COHEN BEGINS]

1. God

Do you believe in God or think that the universe might have a purpose? = Bullshit

A section on p49 entitled 'Scientific refutation of God claims?' starts:'Let's now turn to the claim the God exists'. To do this, Law quotes and discusses at length the book 'the God Delusion' by Dawkins. He explicitly supports Dawkin's view saying, for example, on p52

"…postulating a God doesn't solve the problem of the complexity of the universe. Rather with god [sic], we merely postpone the problem of accounting for such complexity."

A few lines later he adds:

"While there are theists who have responded to Dawkin's argument in a fairly intellectually rigorous and straightforward way, others have instead reached for the usual bag of immunizing tricks, in particular "Ah, but this is beyond the ability of reason and/or science to decide!"


[EXTRACT FROM COHEN ENDS]

Got that? - Cohen bases his case that I explicitly support Dawkins on just two quotes taken from page 52 of my book. Now look at the text of page 52 below, from which Cohen's quotes are both taken, and notice how Cohen's first quote is taken from five lines before I explicitly say I am not endorsing Dawkins, and his second quote is from immediately after where I say that. The bit where I explicitly distance myself from Dawkins's argument is marked in bold. The bits Cohen quotes in support of his claim that I explicitly endorse Dawkins are in italic. Here it is:

[EXTRACT FROM MY BOOK BEGINS]

However, let’s set this problem to one side and get back to the issue at hand, which is Dawkins’s criticism of such arguments. Dawkins argues that, when theists appeal to god to explain such... [end p51]

[start p52]. ...otherwise supposedly improbable features of the universe, they overlook the fact that the god to which they appeal must be at least as complex, and thus at least as improbable, as that which he is invoked to explain:

{[DAWKINS QUOTE]A designer god cannot be used to explain organized complexity because any god capable of designing anything would have to be complex enough to demand the same kind of explanation in his own right. God presents an infinite regress from which he cannot help us escape}9

If the existence of the universe having such organized complexity is highly improbable, then, says Dawkins, the existence of any god having the kind of complexity to account for it must be even more improbable. So postulating a God doesn’t solve the problem of the complexity of the universe. Rather, with god, we merely postpone the problem of accounting for such complexity. But then the complexity we observe in the universe provides no justification for introducing god. Worse still, if the theist is right and the probability of such complexity just happening to exist is very low, then surely the probability of god existing must be even lower.

Dawkin’s argument is intriguing and worthy of closer study. However, I won’t assess its cogency here. My focus is not on whether Dawkins’s argument is any good (I’m not sure it is) but on some of the dubious moves some theists have made in response to it. While there are theists who have responded to Dawkins’s argument in a fairly intellectually rigorous and straightforward way, others have instead reached for the usual bag of immunizing tricks, in particular “Ah, but this is beyond
the ability of reason and/or science to decide!”


[EXTRACT FROM MY BOOK ENDS]

How peculiar is that?

[P.S. In any case, even if I did endorse Dawkins' argument (which I obviously don't) it still wouldn't follow (obviously wouldn't follow, in fact) that my view is if you believe in God, or wonder if there's any purpose to the universe, "then you believe in bullshit".]

P.P.S. I am now away for a month, so posts will be infrequent, and possibly non-existent, during that time.

3 comments:

The Atheist Missionary said...

"To be misquoted is preferable to being ignored". The Atheist Missionary. July 27, 2011.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Charles Myro here,

How the debate will go I think I know.
It can be argued that when
simple single atoms and forces are examined they do not indicate there must be such things as tomatoes or the game of poker or the human body. The behavior and interactions of single atoms and forces lend no necessity to the forms around us.
Science simply presumes that all things descend exclusively from the atom and forces, and all forms and events arise by the character of atoms as they are wont to combine under the circumstances. This is a premise, not a conclusion reached by experiment. There is, it seems to me, no necessity to the notion that the character of tiny grains must be the only factor determining what shows up. This notion is a premise.
All above presuming I subscribe to a definition of necessity that supports my assertions.

The intelligent design advocate for god's existence presumes that the character of atoms and forces is such that there is no potential of atoms and forces to combine and interact to form the human body, tomatoes and the game of poker and so on. This presumption is a premise.
Can one prove that there is no other notion possible to account for the forms of the world?
I think it cannot be so proved unless one defines "account for" in one's favor.
Thus, the debate will, I predict, come down to the question what is it to account for the world?
The scientist will defend his reduction and the intelligent design advocate will defend his reduction. And each will deny the validity of the other's reduction.
The scientist will say that he accounts for all that is worth accounting for and the other will say that the slim candle of science cannot account for the whole ball of universal wax.
So it will go. Or am I being too presumptuous, and this is not how it will go at all? So, how will it go?
It will go someway or other.
My own notion of the circumstance of the world is this:
All things are, or you could say that isness is, or being is or be's
or some such. This seems the most obvious premise to me. If any generalization is valid, it seems to me, it is that of being.
If correspondence is what validates a notion then I would say that general being is the most validated. What, after all, does all have in common? Aristotle might reply that there is no being apart from individual forms of being. But it seems to me that existence needs no form---and that distinction itself is a form of being, and that we may make or abandon distinctions of form-- we may divide things up or combine them as we will as sense or thought or what have you---and being is untouched by any such machinations. Sans thought and sense existence still is.
If the universe disappears tomorrow then what will exist--what will be the state of affairs-- is whatever there is when the universe is extinguished. Is can't go anywhere, for what ever is or isn't, is.
In other words,the statement "nothing is" is not self-contradictory or paradoxical.
If you want to label being --god-- then absolutely, in this view, god exists.
If you want to say why there should be forms of being at all,
have at it. Science has no answer at all to the question except to
ignore the import of the question, which asks why such a thing should be and offer a physical rule or material principle as though the question were just another way of asking by what physical mechanism or physical rule are forms produced.
In retort one may further ask, presuming there is such a rule or principle, why should there be such a rule or principle, or any such?
This is the final question that may be asked of all such answers, ad infinitum.
I will stick with what I think is obvious. That all is. If I am lolling with no thought at all, I still taste that being.

Anonymous said...

I am not an atheist nor a believer in god. I just think the whole issue is moot, for a number of reasons.
One is that no one bothers to define what god is. Is god just existence? Well then surely there is a god--but why not call it existence or what is or "factor x"
instead of god?
Is god an old man in the sky as on the Sistine Chapel? Is god love or is god a companion who is omnipotent? There is rarely any attempt to clarify the notion.
And these are all intuitions that posit some entity and irrefutable on that basis, as is the belief that there is no such thing as god or seeking intuitively for such a god and not finding it.
To say that the intuiter of the man in the sky has no confirmation of his intuition can equally be applied to the atheist who intuits no such creature or intuits that only evidence that conforms to scientific norms is worthy of assent or some such. What are you going to say, that your intuition is okay but theirs is not? To me this is like saying that one's finding chocolate delicious is legitimate but another's finding it repulsive is not legitimate.
Seems to me that ultimately
there is no recourse away from one's basic personal intuitions about things.
You believe in god or you dis-believe in god---so what?
It seems to me the evidence and
argument on either side of the issue is inconclusive at best, and in any case provoked no concern in me either way.
Yes, I think the integrity of science should not be compromised by any religious influence--that would be a step backward. But otherwise--who the fuck cares?