An Argument for Atheism – Part 2

In Chapter 2 of The God Delusion, Dawkins gives an argument for atheism. Here is my reconstruction of this argument (see “An Argument for Atheism”, posted 7/17/08):


1. Any creative intelligence, of sufficient complexity to design anything, comes into existence only as the end product of an extended process of gradual evolution.
Therefore
2. Any creative intelligence, of sufficient complexity to design anything, necessarily arrives late in the history of the universe.
Therefore
3. No creative intelligence is responsible for designing the universe.
Therefore
4. The God Hypothesis is false.
Therefore
5. God does not exist.
Therefore
6. Atheism is true.

Premise (1) is a controversial claim, so the argument, as it stands, begs the question. However, Dawkins is aware that (1) is controversial, and he argues in support of this premise elsewhere in The God Delusion. So, Dawkins is not guilty of the fallacy of begging the question (unless his arguments for (1) are in turn based on unsupported controversial assumptions). This is just a summary of his reasoning, not the entire argument.

I will not evaluate the truth of this premise now; my focus will be primarily on clarifying the key terms and the logic of the argument.

Although (1) is relevant to (2), it is not clear that premise (2) follows from (1). As it stands, the inference of (2) from (1) appears to be a non sequitur. If the process of evolution of a creative intelligence started prior to the beginning of the universe, then there could have been a creative intelligence (capable of designing something) in existence early in the history of the universe, and even prior to the beginning of the universe.

One way of getting around this objection is to supply a missing assumption to the argument in order to make the inference from (1) to (2) work:

A. The process of the evolution of a creative intelligence cannot have started until after the universe began to exist.
Other assumptions might also be used to fill the logical gap between (1) and (2), but this one seems to me to be the most likely to be operative here. The combination of (1) and (A) appears to logically support or imply (2). If the evolutionary process started some time after the universe began to exist, and if the evolutionary process took a long time (“an extended process of gradual evolution”), then the end product of that process (“a creative intelligence” capable of designing something), could not appear until long after the universe began to exist (“arrives late in the history of the universe”).

The inference of (2) from (1) is still not entirely solid, even with the addition of assumption (A) to the argument. Some key concepts are vague, specifically: “extended process of gradual evolution” and “late in the history of the universe”. If an “extended process of gradual evolution” could take place in a few million years, and if “late in the history of the universe” means billions of years after the beginning of the universe, then the inference is invalid. So, some clarification in terms of quantity is needed for (1) and (2).

It took billions of years for humans to arrive on the scene (after the Big Bang), so one might conclude that any creative intelligence would take billions of years to evolve. But this general conclusion is shaky, since it is based on just one example. It would be much safer to conclude that it would take at least millions of years for a creative intelligence to evolve. Let’s increase the probability of the generalization a bit more by drawing the line at one million years:

1a. Any creative intelligence, of sufficient complexity to design anything, comes into existence only as the end product of at least one million years of gradual evolution.
A. The process of the evolution of a creative intelligence cannot have started until after the universe began to exist.
Therefore
2a. Any creative intelligence, of sufficient complexity to design anything, necessarily arrives no earlier than at least one million years after the universe began to exist.

One way to ensure that (A) is true is by defining “the universe” so that it includes everything that has ever existed. On this definition, there could not be any process of evolution going on prior to the beginning of the universe, because any process of evolution requires something to exist; there must be something that is evolving at any given point in the process. On this definition of “the universe”, assumption (A) becomes a self-evident truth.

This way of ensuring the truth of (A) will not work, however, as I shall show in my next post on this argument for atheism.

What Explains God's Moral Grounding Power? Part II
Eternal Accountability
Praise from Matthew Wade Ferguson
Parody: Ben Affleck and Sam Harris Debate Scientology
About Bradley Bowen

CLOSE | X

HIDE | X