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Showing posts from September, 2008

BOOK CLUB: The God Delusion, chpt 5.

This chapter looks at explanation for religious belief. Dawkins' suggestion is that religious belief is not something that natural selection has selected for, but a by-product of something it has selected for. He draws an analogy with the moth and the flame - natural selection did not select moths that fly into flames, it selected for e.g. a form of navigation (keeping a fixed point of light - such as the moon - at a certain position in the visual field) that has this unfortunate by-product: moths navigating by a candle will spiral in and fry. Dawkins provides an example of the sort of thing he has in mind. Children need to acquire a lot of information very quickly if they are to have a good chance of survival. They cannot carefully reason though things before accepting - they must take advice from the elders on trust. So natural selection selects for this. But this feature of young humans has a down side - it makes them vulnerable to bullshit beliefs. Bullshit beliefs can slip i

BOOK CLUB: The God Delusion, chpt 4.

This chapter contains Dawkins's central argument, summarized in pages 188-9. The first time I read this chapter, I liked it, but I also mentally totted up all the various theistic manoeuvres that might be made in response that Dawkins didn't cover (how could he, in a single book?) On a second reading, I am rather more impressed. Dawkins does actually cover a remarkable number of possible rejoinders, and he does deal with them pretty effectively (though the knock-about style will convince some that Dawkins is not being rigorous, close reading reveals that Dawkins's treatment of objections is pretty well thought through). The central idea is, of course, that while theists appeal to a cosmic person or intelligence to account for features of the world that, they insist, are otherwise inexplicable, such as "irreducible complexity" - the bacterial flagellum, say, or the seemingly fine-tuned character of the universe as a whole - the appeal to God is, inevitably, an

Problem of evil - "no-see-um" response

Eric said in a comment on God Delusion chpt 3 below: It's obvious and observable that people suffer, but it's neither obvious nor observable that the suffering in the world is 'pointless.' Alvin Plantinga has pointed out a flaw in this reasoning with a fun thought experiment: suppose I ask you too look in a tent and tell me if there's a saint bernard inside. In this case, I have every reason to trust what you say, since a saint bernard is just the sort of thing I would expect you to be able to observe inside a tent. But suppose I ask you to look inside and tell me if there are any 'no-see-ums' inside the tent (apparently, a no-see-um is gnat with a big bite that is small enough to pass through the netting of a tent, and so is too small to see). Now, I have no reason to trust your answer in this case, since you can't see no-see-ums. Here's the problem: you're assuming that if there's a reason for our suffering, it's more like a saint bern

Broken clavicles

For anyone interested here is my dislocated right clavicle (top - it sticks up; compare it to the left at the shoulder end and you'll see) and broken right clavicle. From mountain biking in Spain. Sorry posts have been less frequent - beginning of term is coming up. I shall respond to Rev Sam on the Jesus issue shortly. Book club posts will still appear on Saturdays.

BOOK CLUB: The God Delusion, CHPT 3.

Chapter three looks at various arguments for the existence of God, and finds them all wanting. I will pick out two things for discussion (but feel free to bring in other stuff). FIRST THING : Dawkins’ attack on Aquinas’ first three ways is really twofold: (1) First, if we are going to halt the regress with something, why not just stop at e.g. the Big Bang? Why add God and then play the “Oh, and this is the exception to the rule that everything requires a cause” card? Rather than just play the card at the Big Bang? This first objection can be explained by analogy. The ancient Hindus, struck by the fact that things that are not supported fall, wondered what prevented the Earth from falling. If all things fall that are not supported, then the Earth must have a support. But what? They posited a big elephant. But then what supports the elephant? They posited a big turtle to support the elephant. But what supported the turtle? It’s here, it seems, that they played the “exception to the

BOOK CLUB: The God Delusion, chpt 2.

The thing I am going to pick out from this second chapter is Dawkins's suggestion that whether or not God exists is a scientific question: Either he exists or he doesn’t. It’s a scientific question; one day we may know the answer and meanwhile we can say something pretty strong about the probability . (p. 70) Dawkins admits there may be questions science cannot answer. But clearly he thinks this is unlikely to be an example. What I do like about this chapter is the way that Dawkins shows that, as most people understand “God” (e.g. a superhuman, supernatural intelligence responsible for creating the universe) whether or not God exists is scientifically assessable. Indeed, Dawkins is surely right to point out that double standards are common here. Give an argument based on science for there being no God and you’ll be hit with, “But the existence of God is not scientifically assessable.” Religion and science are supposedly “non-overlapping magesteria” or NOMA for short. But as

God, poetry and emotion

Following on from the previous post on God and indefinability, I have been thinking a bit more about Sam’s sophisticated theology. I have been suggesting, rather bluntly (!), that Sam is (unwittingly) falling for, and applying, several rhetorical devices in order to try to deal with the problem of evil. These include: (i) Playing the mystery card (See my The God of Eth) (ii) Now you see it, now you don’t (iii) Pseudo-profundity I think there are lots more sleights-of-hand and rhetorical devices in play here, too. Perhaps I should go right through them all in detail at some point. My view (again, to state it bluntly) is that, once you’ve unpacked and disarmed all these various ploys and manoeuvres, what remains – the actual content of theism (to the extent that there actually is any content left in “sophisticated” theism once all the sleights-of-hand, etc. have been exposed) - is pretty obviously a load of cobblers. But perhaps there isn’t any content at all? I’m not sure.

Web designer needed

If anyone with web design skills feels able to help Centre for Inquiry here in the UK set up our website, either voluntarily or for modest fee, do please get in touch. We need something slick and stylish, and I can't do it (as you can see!) Thanks Stephen (Provost, CFI UK)

The indefinable God

The Rev Sam said: "i) it is a central claim of the tradition that God is ultimately mysterious and not finally knowable. We cannot attain to a position of oversight with respect to God, we are always in an inferior position - that's part of what the word 'God' means - something which is above and beyond our comprehension. Any analysis which seeks to render God's attributes definable is not engaging with a Christian analysis." A further thought on that. The very same move can and no doubt would be made on Eth by those who believe in an evil God (see The God of Eth ). Consider this Ethian response to the problem of good: Gizimoth: "There's too much good for this to be the creation of an all-powerful and evil God" Booblefrip: "Ah, but you must understand that 'evil' as applied to God means something other than what it means when applied to humans." Gizimoth: "What does it mean, then?" Booblefrip: "Well, Evil God,

Could it be pretty obvious there's no God?

Following on from the previous post... “Let us say: 'Either God is or he is not.' But to which view shall we be inclined? Reason cannot decide this question." Blaise Pascal. Like Pascal, many theists believe reason cannot determine whether or not God exists. Indeed, many suppose that, because God, if he exists, transcends the physical reality to which we have access, it is in principle impossible for determine whether God exists to settle the matter simply observing it. Science, and empirical observation more generally, can provide, at best, a few clues. They cannot settle the question beyond reasonable doubt. I reject that view. It seems to me that by observing the world around us, we can answer the question of whether God exists. In fact, think it’s pretty obvious there’s no God. That last claim may surprise even some atheists. How could it be pretty obvious there’s no God? Surely this is a tortuously difficult and complex question over which the greatest minds have

The God hypothesis untestable and beyond reason to decide?

Big bad bob said in a comment on The God Delusion chpt 1 post (in my Book Club): "What Dawkins defines as god are the parts of theology which can not be tested by traditional scientific method." It's often claimed the God hypothesis is not empirically or scientifically testable. The idea seems to be that God necessarily transcends the empirical realm, and so his existence cannot be conclusively verified or falsified by reference to it. The most we can have are clues (such as those that prompt the question: "Well, why is the universe so fine-tuned for life, if it wasn't designed that way - by God?" - but even theists admit this is no "proof" of God's existence). Indeed, God's existence is often said to be beyond the ability of reason to decide. For example: “Let us say: 'Either God is or he is not.' But to which view shall we be inclined? Reason cannot decide this question." Blaise Pascal. I don't accept that whether

Jesus' historicity: an argument for being skeptical

As Rev. Sam (who said earlier that anyone who doubts there was an historical Jesus must be insane) is struggling to follow my argument for being cautious about accepting that any such person as Jesus existed (I'm not sure either way), I'll set it out a bit more formally (the bare bones of it, anyway). 1. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. In the absence of extraordinary evidence there's excellent reason to be skeptical about the claims. 2. There is not extraordinary evidence for any of the divine/miraculous stuff in the NT documents. 3. Therefore (from 1 and 2), there's excellent reason to be skeptical about those extraordinary claims. 4. Where testimony/documents combine both mundane and extraordinary claims, and there's excellent reason to be skeptical about the extraordinary claims, then there's pretty good reason to be skeptical even about the mundane claims, at least until we possess some pretty good independent evidence of their trut