An Argument for Atheism – Part 3

In Chapter 2 of The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins gives an argument for atheism. The argument is a chain of reasoning consisting of five inferences. In my previous post on this argument (8/4/08), I pointed out that the first inference in the chain is a non sequitur:

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.
2. Any creative intelligence, of sufficient complexity to design anything, necessarily arrives late in the history of the universe.

However, this inference can be rescued by the addition of an assumption, and by clarifying claims (1) and (2) to make them more precise:

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.
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.

This beefed-up version of the first inference in Dawkins’ chain of reasoning appears to be logically valid. But it is not clear that the added assumption (A) is true.

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, because if “the universe” includes everything that has ever existed, and if God exists, then one of the items included in the collection designated by the term “the universe” is God. Further on in the chain of inferences, Dawkins concludes that,

4. The God Hypothesis is false.

The “God Hypothesis” implies that there is a “superhuman, supernatural intelligence who deliberately designed and created the universe and everything in it…” (TGD, Mariner Books paperback edition, p.52). Therefore, if “the universe” includes everything that has ever existed, then it would also include every “superhuman, supernatural intelligence” who ever existed. Therefore, any superhuman, supernatural intelligence who designed and created “everything in the universe”, would have also designed and created itself!

But it is logically impossible for person or intelligent being to design and create itself. Thus, on the proposed definition of “the universe”, the God Hypothesis would be a necessary falsehood, and there would be no need for any factual or empirical evidence to refute the God Hypothesis. The God Hypothesis would be analogous to the hypothesis that there exists a four-sided triangle or a married bachelor.

Thus, it is not open to Dawkins to define “the universe” so that it includes everything that has ever existed, for as soon as he adopted such a definition, “the God Hypothesis” would be an analytic falsehood, and his view that this is a scientific hypothesis that is subject to evaluation in terms of factual evidence would be clearly shown to be mistaken.

So, what does Dawkins mean by the phrase “the universe”? This phrase is especially problematic coming from Dawkins, because he takes seriously, and even advocates, the view that there are multiple universes. This is partly how he deals with the Fine Tuning Argument for the existence of God (see TGD, p.169-176):

This objection can be answered by the suggestion, which Martin Rees himself supports, that there are many universes, co-existing like bubbles of foam, in a ‘multiverse’ (or ‘megaverse,’ as Leonard Susskind prefers to call it). The laws and constants of any one universe, such as our observable universe, are by-laws. The multiverse as a whole has a plethora of alternative sets of by-laws. The anthropic principle kicks in to explain that we have to be in one of those universes (presumably a minority) whose by-laws happen to be propitious to our eventual evolution and hence contemplation of the problem. (TGD, p. 173-174)

If there are multiple universes as Dawkins suggests, then the phrase “the universe” is ambiguous.

To which of the many universes that Dawkins supposes exists does this phrase refer? If there are three bottles of wine on my kitchen table, and someone says, “The bottle of wine on your kitchen table has poison in it”, this claim is ambiguous. Which of the three bottles of wine contains poison? Similarly, if there are thousands or millions of universes, then which of those universes does Dawkins have in mind when using the expression “the universe”?

To be continued…

About Bradley Bowen
  • Explicit Atheist

    When discussing free speech and other civil liberties we should be focusing on government coercion. From this point of view its easier to draw the line and say that government should not intervene to suppress speech for no other reason than it insults their prophet or deity or religion or other beliefs regardless of whether the belief being criticized or insulted is a majority or minority belief. Furthermore, government has an obligation to prosecute and punish all citizens who commit crimes against someone else regardless of whether or not that someone else said something critical or insulting which provoked the crime.

    This approach respects all sincere beliefs equally and all citizens equally and as such it respects people who, after all, are different from other animals in large part because we form and are influenced by more wide ranging and complex sets of beliefs. Any approach that is rooted in giving the majority beliefs special legal privileges for no other reason than that they are held by the majority is what is nonsense. All ethics is rooted in reciprocity and equality and universality, its don’t do to others what you don’t want them to do to you and your closest relatives and friends. Civil rights are not nonsense, they are the logical and necessary extensions of basic civility and ethics and justice.