Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Richard Dawkins At His Atheistic Best

This a lecture delivered by Richard Dawkins, (Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University), to students at Arizona State University. It's part of his equal opportunity consciousness raising campaign against religious beliefs and practices. Filipinos especially may benefit from Dawkins, since this is a country where religious superstition and supernatural beliefs are daily and continuously promoted by newspapers, schools, government and the dominant NGO called the Roman Catholic Church, without being effectively challenged by an inteligentsia that doesn't deserve the name.

Marian idolaters (those who think of and treat the "Blessed Virgin Mary" as a goddess) may wish to skip this post.


Jego said...

Transcript, DJB?

blackshama said...

Well as I have always maintained, Dawkins is actually promoting a Religion . Since Atheism has no logical or even empirical support (despite Dawkins' scintistic claims) it is a faith based system and will generate in due time superstition. In fact the meme concept has evolved into something very close to that! And Idolatry too. Critics have observed that Dawkins fans (or at least himself) has made himself God!

Rest assure that I will always be at odds and will cross swords with all sorts of fundamentalisms, whether it is of the Atheistic/Scientistic kind or the Theist/Religious kind.

The "God Delusion" is one of the worst books I have ever read. It it full of atheistic fundamentalist logical fallacies!

It does not profit a man or woman to buy the atheistic supersitition of the Dawkins kind or the kind that institutional theistic religion sells.

Jego said...

And the choir cheers. And yes, it's funny in spots.

Dr. Dawkins is still pushing for the idea that materialism = science. It isnt. Science is a method and a body of knowledge acquired through that method. Materialism is a philosophy, a worldview, if you will, that disqualifies in principle, hypotheses of a non-materialist nature, such as the existence of the mind, psi, the existence of non-material intelligence, et cetera. It disqualifies it a priori. His argument against the existence of God is question begging. "God doesnt exist because materialism is true." Prof. Dawkins doesnt seem to think he needs an argument for the truth of materialism. To the choir, that is enough, but to the serious thinker, it's bitin. What are his arguments for materialism?

On to the Ultimate 747 argument, which goes like this: The universe is so complex that it is improbable, therefore a designer able to design the universe would have to be more complex than the universe and is therefore even more improbable.

From his book, page 158:
3. The temptation is a false one, because the designer hypothesis immediately raises the larger problem of who designed the designer. The whole problem we started out with was the problem of explaining statistical improbability. It is obviously no solution to postulate something even more improbable. We need a “crane,” not a “skyhook,” for only a crane can do the business of working up gradually and plausibly from simplicity to otherwise improbable complexity.

On his first point: Who designed the designer? This is a fair question, but this is not the question we're answering (although we'll ask it later). The question is "Is the design we see in nature real design?" We answer that first THEN if the answer is Yes, then we go on to "Well, who designed the designer?" But fine, to concede the point that if we assume real design, it begs the question of who the designer is, we can see that Dawkins's own hypothesis also is question-begging: Nature, acting on its won laws, did it. It begs the question, Where did those laws come from? As you can see, explanations have to end somewhere. To pursue ultimate questions is futile.

On his second point, that the designer would have to be more complex and therefore more improbable. This is just an assertion by Prof Dawkins. Why would the designer necessarily have to be more complex? He offers no insights. It's just an assertion. First of all, he offers no definition of complexity in God Delusion. For that we have to turn to Blind Watchmaker where he defines a complex thing as something whose constituent parts are arranged in a way that is unlikely to have arisen by chance alone (Chapter 1). So complexity has to do with parts. But God doesnt have parts so his argument doesnt apply. But perhaps, since cosmologists nowadays think the universe is made up of information, a non-material entity in its own right, maybe Dawkins equates complexity with the amount of information, and since God designed the universe, then he necessarily has to have more information than his design. But anyone familiar with computer code would know that complex things arise from simple code. That is, complex things can arise from a limited amount of information. In God Delusion, Dawkins makes the careless claim that "A God capable of calculating the Goldilocks values for the six numbers would have to be at least as improbable as the finely tuned combination of numbers itself, and that's very improbable indeed - which is indeed the premise of the whole discussion we are having." (The Goldilocks numbers are those parameters that permitted life on earth. As in the kiddie's tale: not too hot, not too cold, just right.) And yet, he mentions that the physicist Martin Rees was able to calculate those very same numbers. Im sure Prof Dawkins isnt arguing that Martin Rees is more complex than the universe. He then endorses the multiverse theory. What happened to his exhortations for evidence? Like I said in the previous comment in this blog, this is almost embarrassing. But it gets worse.

In the clip (and in his book), Prof Dawkins claims that Stalin and Mao did not commit atrocities in the name of atheism? Right. The old No True Atheist argument. In any case, this claim is patently untrue. History shows that Stalin and Mao did target religions in the name of atheism.

Dawkins in his book makes another claim: "I do not believe there is an atheist in the world who would bulldoze Mecca— or Chartres, York Minster or Notre Dame, the Shwe Dagon, the temples of Kyoto or, of course, the Buddhas of Bamiyan." Again this shows his historical, shall we say, ignorance. See this link. And this one. In the interest of recreating proletarian states, ruthless killings of the intelligentsia and peasants were combined with levelling indigenous and religious architecture to re-create a "utopia on the ruins of the past". He also said something about Hitler. I'll save you time: He was wrong there as well.

His most outrageous statement in his book had to do with his claim that raising your children with religion is like child abuse. This is in response to a question asked of him about Catholic priests sexualy abusing kids, and he said "the damage was arguably less than the long-term psychological damage inflicted by bringing up the child Catholic in the first place." He supports this with anecdotal evidence, which for a scientist of his stature, is the best he can offer.

He said this in spite of tons of data available to him with which he can compare victims of child sexual abuse with children raised, say, Catholic, and see which was prone to depression, or suicide.

Sorry, DJB. There are better spokemen for atheism than Prof. Dawkins. But I doubt if there is any as entertaining, with the possible exception of Christopher Hitchens.

DJB Rizalist said...

Ben (Blackshama),

I am absolutely sure that you and I are both disbelievers in fairies, goblins, tianaks and kapres, making us both a-fairyists, a-goblinists, a-tianakists and a-kapreists. Do we need "empirical support" for such a disbelief.

It would seem to me, as Dawkins himself says, that it is theists who must produce such evidence and logic for us to believe in a creator God. The reason we do not believe in the things above I have enumerated is the ABSENCE of empirical evidence for such entities.

Likewise, you are surely an atheist with respect to all but the Christian God, as I doubt you believe in Zeus or Baal. Again as Dawkins says, atheists are just like monotheists in their "atheism", except we atheists just go one God further.

DJB Rizalist said...

I think it's more fun listening to Dawkins than reading him. Besides it's an hour and a half long!

cvj said...

DJB, can i consider your comment above (June 10 at 10:47PM), as a 'coming out' declaration?

BTW, if there are an infinity of universes, then fairies, goblins, tianaks and kapres may be real somewhere, conceding that if they are inaccessible to our own world, the adjective 'real' might not be appropriate.

Jego said...

The "God Delusion" is one of the worst books I have ever read. It it full of atheistic fundamentalist logical fallacies!

To be fair to atheists, the book isnt full of atheistic fundamentalist logical fallacies. It's just full of generic logical fallacies, with a healthy smattering of factual errors.

It would seem to me, as Dawkins himself says, that it is theists who must produce such evidence and logic for us to believe in a creator God.

The logic part was handled quite well by Thomas Aquinas. Prof Dawkins thinks those arguments deserved just a passing mention even though they are central arguments. As for empirical evidence, none would satisfy for the empirical evidence is personal, akin to eyewitness or testimonial evidence.

Again as Dawkins says, atheists are just like monotheists in their "atheism", except we atheists just go one God further.

Atheists arent monotheists-minus-one. That's just a glib, rhetorical argument from the professor. Christians believe in other gods. They just dont acknowledge them. 'Other gods' is the reason for the exhortation against having 'other gods before -- or besides -- me.' Satan is called 'the god of this world' in the bible. And Jesus himself taught that we are gods.

For the record, Im not an a-kapreists, a-fairyists, etc. Im not even agnostic. I acknowledge the possibility of their existence, and that if they exist, they can be subject to scientific verification. And as cvj mentioned, in an infinity of universes, their existence is practically assured. ;-)

DJB Rizalist said...

I think you got Dawkins' point wrong. He's saying monotheists are just atheists minus one. Of course atheists are NOT monotheists minus one, since they believe in zero gods we call them a-theists.

It seems to me both you and cvj are the ones guilty of logical fallacy when it comes to multiverses. That argument is really a rip off from perfectly respectable quantum physical theories disguising the truly wrong concept that such theories make anything possible. They do not represent such a thing at all. You can't remove the illogical conclusion by proclaiming you are not an a-kapreist when you say you are not agnostic yet won't assert that you ARE a kapreist.

If you say that anything is possible in some other reality, that would be a complete copout.

DJB Rizalist said...

I think you misunderstand the meaning of infinity. For example there are an infinite number of integers, yet not a single one of them is an irrational number, which in fact represents a bigger infinity, that also does not contain a single integer!

Two infinities to disprove your assertion that kapres are virtually certain.

cvj said...

DJB, the kapres et al. would then belong to the bigger (i.e. uncountable) infinity. Of course, there are those (like Chaitin) who believe that the numbers that make up this bigger infinity are not 'real'.

You bring up a good point though on whether the infinity of multiverses corresponds to the smaller or the larger infinity.

Jego said...

Of course atheists are NOT monotheists minus one, since they believe in zero gods we call them a-theists.

Mono means one. Monotheists minus one ergo is one minus one, that is, zero, that is, a-theists. That's Dawkins's point. Anyway, like I said, he was just being glib.

As for the kapre point, that's fair. I revise my stand then, I am agnostic. Not in the sense that the experience of kapres can't be known as classical agnostics define themseleves, but agnostic as in 'i do not know'. But I won't discount their existence a priori as is your position on them. There was such a thing as Neanderthals after all, and it is accepted that they existed alongside our ancestors, and therefore kapres might be some kind of memory of our cousins. But in any case, Im agnostic.

Now on to the multiverse. Infinity is a very very... very...large thing. All combinations and permutations of events and happenstances are then covered by at least one of those universes, therefore, all things are possible. Think of any combination of events or particles or whatever and it will be covered. In fact in at least one of those universes, the electron is positive, like Salenga said.

In any case, I still think infinite universes is ridiculous. It could be true of course, but it's unscientific.

DJB Rizalist said...

Okay, never mind the word play on mono minus one equals a-.

But I think it's impt to explain that atheists like Dawkins disbelieve in the gods that others believe in with no evidence, because there is NO evidence.

He makes clear that if God were to write in the sky using supernovae explosion writing that "I am the God who wrote Genesis" that he would instantly believe such evidence.

I think that is the meaning of atheism: it is the unwillingness to believe in things for which we have no evidence or other logical reason to believe exist.

I've explained the matter of infinities in the comment to cvj's point.

Just because some set has an infinite number of members does not mean it includes all conceivable entities.

The set of integers is very large, and that of irrational numbers even more infinite, yet neither set contains a single member of the other!

DJB Rizalist said...

I further clarify the point that just because a set is infinite (no matter how large such infinity is), we cannot presume that such sets contain all conceivable entities.

You cannot equate "infinity of multiverses" with "anything is possible". Even if there were some uncountable number of universes, they could all differ simply by the number of atoms in them, with not a single kapre in any of them!

DJB Rizalist said...

Agnosticism is a very interesting intellectual position to take. But I think it is reasonable only in respect of "unknown beings". One can reasonably be agnostic (i.e. allow for the possibility of) alien beings from other worlds. But I am not agnostic towards Zeus or Thor or Yahweh or the BVM's divine and supernatural attributes They are too clearly human constructs. I don't think agnosticism is sensibly applied to the known deities described by world religions, as in, they do not deserve the benefit of the doubt.

Dave said...

Dawkins proves absolutely, positively, beyond the shadow of a doubt that there is no such thing as an anthromorphic god.

When it comes to a transcendent god, he falls flat on his face.

To believe or disbelieve in the latter is a matter of faith. Faith that there is, or faith that there ain't.

I would suggest reading some of Gordon Dickson's works on how faith is a necessary element of human survivial.

By the way, if atheist is taken to mean "without theology" there ain't no such animal as an atheist. Impossible for H Sapiens to be without theology and impossible for there to be an a-religous society,

cvj said...

DJB, we can discount the existence of kapres (and other supernatural beings) in this universe on the grounds that the laws of physics are incompatible with their existence and there is no direct evidence of their presence that the scientific community accepts. However, we cannot discount their existence in other universes where we do not even know what sort of physical laws operate. It's not just a matter of having these other universes having a different number of atoms.

Also, correct me if i'm wrong, but isn't it that the set of all real numbers (Aleph-One) contains within it the set of all integers (Aleph-Null)?

BTW, i'll take your June 11, 2008 1:42PM comment ruling out agnosticism as your coming out declaration.

Jego said...

There is no such thing as 'larger infinity'. Infinity isnt even a number. And the number of universes is only covered by integers. There is no such thing as half a universe or the square root of a negative universe. There's just 1, 2, 3, 4, ... universes.

But I think it's impt to explain that atheists like Dawkins disbelieve in the gods that others believe in with no evidence, because there is NO evidence.

That's consistent with his position as a materialist. That's reasonable. "I dont believe because I dont believe your evidence." Less reasonable is "You shouldnt believe because I dont believe youve experienced what youve experienced." Even less reasonable is, "Believe as I believe because Im smarter than you and I have a science degree." All of those Dawkins has espoused at one time or another. :-)

Anthony Flew was of the position that atheism should be the default position unless evidence says otherwise. He has spent his life debunking all so-called evidence, until he came upon evidence from molecular biology and DNA. He is now a deist. Would that he were younger. He'd show Dawkins a thing or two about how to argue with Christians.

But I think you will agree with me on this one, DJB: It takes a certain amount of non-rationality to believe in God.

cvj said...

Jeg, there is such a think as a smaller and larger infinity. The former comprise the set of all integers (denoted as 'Aleph-Null') while the latter is the set of all real numbers (denoted as 'Aleph-One'). Cantor proved that the latter is a larger infinity. However, Chaitin questions whether real numbers even exists (as real entities) so if you agree with him, maybe you're right that there is only one kind of infinity.

Jego said...

That is probably one interesting proof, cvj. 'Larger infinity' seems illogical. Like 'more perfect'. But I suppose it's only illogical in sentence construction. Math allows for imaginary numbers after all.

However, yes, when it comes to counting universes, only positive integers apply.

DJB Rizalist said...

cvj, jego,

The real numbers are composed of two disjoint sets, the rational numbers (which can be expressed as the ratio of two integers and therefore contains the integers (whole numbers divided by one) and the irrationals, which cannot be expressed as such ratios, e.g. the square root of 2). The irrationals are a much larger set than rationals.

The fundamental math on infinities is due to GEORGE CANTOR (which you can wiki).


It is true that what we do not know contains possibilities that we probably have not even imagined.

But just because "anything is possible" does not allow us to conclude that if there are an infinity of universes that ergo anything we can "think of" is "virtually certain" which is the point that started this side discussion.

To repeat my earlier point, just because there are an infinity of integers does not lead to possibility of an "irrational integer" (a whole number that can't be expressed as a ratio of two whole numbers, itself and unity!)

cvj said...

Jeg, it's not just sentence construction. The basic idea is that there cannot be a one to one correspondence between the elements of the smaller infinity (integers) to the elements of the larger infinity (real numbers). Cantor proved this via his Diagonal Argument.

The good thing with math (and physics) is that it sometimes confounds our intuitions in a scientific manner.

DJB Rizalist said...

But of course I AM an atheist...have been since the Age of Reason. But I don't wear it on my sleeve, because I do believe in Love and Morality, which do not need a God for justification. The heart has reasons that reason knows nothing of.

cvj said...

Ok DJB, maybe i'm just a little dense. :-D

DJB Rizalist said...

It took me a long, long time to understand that stuff with infinities, not being a mathematician. Physicists hate infinities because then we need the mathematicians to help us out whenever we discover them in our theories! Makes us nervous, you know what I mean. God might pop up there somewhere. Hehe. The topic is "non-intuitive" in the extreme, but fascinating.

Thanks for bringing up the diagonal argument CVJ, though that proof is "simple" it's deep.

blackshama said...


As for tianaks and other creatures of folklore (including ETs, aliens) I don't have empirical evidence that they do or don't exist. But as the Vatican astronomer would put it, we are open to their possible existence. In fact it may be plausible to assume they exist if we assume that they are cultural constructs, they exist in a collective consciousness or even memory. Example: The Pinoy halimaw is likely a historical memory of the Malay "harimau" which is nothing but the Sumatran tiger which thank God, the creator,isn't extinct yet! We don't have evidence that tigers once roamed prehistoric Philippines. But a good scientist is open to the possibility.

In the same way I have to admit that the so called "Christian God" you refer to may be a construct too. I am open to the possibility.

But these are just possibilities. Sometimes a scientist will have to come to the Ellie Arroway moment in "Contact" and say

"All I am as a human being knows it is true!"

Not even Richard Dawkins can argue about that.

Jego said...

But of course I AM an atheist...have been since the Age of Reason.

But if evolutionary theory is true, Reason is suspect. More on this later if I get the chance.

DJB Rizalist said...

Ben, Jego,
I've been reading an interesting book entitled The Flight from Science and Reason which addresses the issues you raise: knowledge of reality as mere "social constructs" and a questioning of reason (logic) itself, due mainly to sociology and psychology departments at even the most prestigious universities. Editors are Gross, Levitt and Lewis in case you would like to look it up.

blackshama said...

BTW, I predicted the existence of a large mammalian carnivore based on faunal analyses of Palawan. Last April, my colleagues at the UP Archaeological Studies Program have unearthed the fossil remains of Pleistocene tigers in Palawan. The news item is in the print edition of May issue of the UP Newsletter.

So tigers once roamed the Philippines. They probably ate the large now extinct elephants, wild carabaos that roamed the archipelago.

Jego said...

Thanks, DJB. I'll try to look it up. I think I am sort of coming from a different direction: a critique of reason, if you will, from evolutionary theory itself. Im trying to 'prove' that evolutionary theory cannot reliably use reason to judge 'non-reason' such as religion, and in fact, evolutionary theory is self-defeating in this regard.

Evolution says that what matters most is adaptability and survival, not truth. It says religion was selected not because it is true or a path to truth, but because it helped our ancestors survive, it is an adaptive trait. Religion, according to evolutionary theory, is not a goal, nor a purpose. Theyre just "memes" that were successful in replicating themselves. Everything evolved from nature; Dawkins's crane, not a skyhook. The skyhook is exempt from evolution and is therefore not a satisfactory explanation.

If you read the above carefully, you may have spotted the problem by now. If evolution uses adaptivity as its standard, then reason itself is not exempt. It too is an adaptive trait, and not necessarily true, or a path to truth. It is not exempt from evolutionary selection. If it is somehow exempt from evolution, that is, it isnt an adaptive trait but a timeless truth, then it is a skyhook, and is therefore not a satisfactory explanation or an explanatory tool.

There are two types of successful replicators: genes and viruses. Genes have an interest in keeping their hosts alive; viruses have this nasty habit of killing them and jumping on to the next host. I leave you to decide which is which between reason and non-reason.

DJB Rizalist said...

I really appreciate this comment because it addresses a very deep issue about the nature of reason or intelligence, which is a product of the large and highly interconnected brains of human beings.

There is however, much more to the brain than "reason" per se. There are also sensory and motor control circuits for controlling acute binocular vision and highly versatile limbs and digits for directly manipulating tools and materials from the external world. There is also the thing called memory, which when combined with the long educational and nurturing period of the species is really responsible for that superb CRANE that we call human culture, whereby each succeeding generation can benefit from the discoveries, inventions and general knowledge of the previous ones. These I think are the main evolutionary adaptations that explain our dominance as a species. We learn more and remember more of the simple empirical "truths" that abound in the world and in our experience.

However, the thing we call "scientific reason" is a very new development in human culture, being really widely adopted by people only in the last few hundred years, whereas religion is tens of thousands of years old. Adopted as what? Well, adopted as EXPLANATIONS for strange, unexplained, complex, mysterious or rare and improbable phenomena.

Now this comparison of religion and science as competing explanations for mysteries is something I learned recently from Richard Dawkins. He makes that famous point, the meat of his book The God Delusion, that one cannot explain the origin of complex, improbable things like the human eye, or indeed the brain, by postulating something even more complex and improbable as a creator God. For if we are to explain everything as a matter of intelligent divine design, it's really no answer because the question remains, who designed the Designer.

He goes farther and shows that indeed evolution is a much more intellectually satisfying, though relatively novel, explanation for those complex things, because it does not rely on postulating something even more complex.

I also learned from him recently the most important point that natural selection is not a random process, but a highly selective non random one, which "selects" for beneficial adaptations in a largely unconscious way...the survival of the fittest.

So, I will address your point by saying that "scientific reason" is not necessarily what explains our success as a species "thus far" -- rather it is memory and culture and language (especially written language) which were all good enough for us to achieve global dominance without necessarily addressing the deepest questions and their correct explanation, such as what is life, or why is there something instead of nothing.

So what kind of crane is scientific reason? I think it is the crane that is bringing us inexorably to a Major Singularity in evolutionary development: the achievement of virtual immortality.

I shall have to think a bit harder to address the other big idea you introduce: the Truth. What is it?

BTW, recently heard a Nature Podcast on the possibility that Religion itself is not an evolutionary adaptation, but the by-product of evolutionary success, a kind of extravagant ability to imagine and extrapolate from what we are to what we could be, a kind of Ambition Virus.

The battleground between Science and Religion is that area we call human culture. I am entirely satisfied that it won't take a long time for one to displace the other in human culture, without harming those other great memes, Morality or Altruism or Love, which are cranes in their own right.

I shall have to address the rest of your points in a succeeding comment. There is something impt there are "the Truth"--but it's still floating on the edges of my consciousness...