An Argument for Atheism – Part 4

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. The first inference is a non sequitur, but I have attempted to rescue the argument by making explicit an unstated assumption, and by clarifying the first two premises.

In my last post on this argument (9/08/08), I began to examine the revised first inference:

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.

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. 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. 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 Dawkin’s view that the God Hypothesis is a scientific hypothesis would clearly be mistaken.

Because Dawkins takes seriously, and even advocates, the view that there are multiple universes (TGD, Mariner Books edition, p. 173-174), his use of the phrase “the universe” is ambiguous. When discussing the possibility of multiple universes, Dawkins uses a less ambiguous phrase: “our universe” (TGD, p. 174).

In various passages, it is clear that the expression “the universe” refers to our universe (see TGD p.59, 81-82, and p.169). So, a plausible interpretation of the expression “the uinverse” in the second premise above, is that it means our universe:

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.

B. The process of the evolution of a creative intelligence cannot have started until after our universe began to exist.

Therefore:

2b. Any creative intelligence, of sufficient complexity to design anything, necessarily arrives no earlier than at least one million years after our universe began to exist.
The logic still appears to be valid, but now the unstated assumption is false, or at least questionable, from the point of view that many different universes exist.

If many different universes exist, some universes might be older than other universes. If so, then it is possible that the evolution of a creative intelligence started in another universe that was in existence millions or billions of years prior to the arrival of our universe. In that case, a creative intelligence could have arisen in some other universe, and then that creative intelligence caused our universe to come into existence.

So, if we interpret the phrase “the universe” to mean “our universe” the first inference in Dawkin’s chain of reasoning is dubious, because it is based on the questionable assumption that our universe is the only universe, or else it is based on the questionable assumption that no other universe existed prior to the origin of our universe.

Another possible interpretation of “the universe” is that it is a reference to the multiverse:

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.

C. The process of the evolution of a creative intelligence cannot have started until after the multiverse began to exist.
Therefore:

2c. Any creative intelligence, of sufficient complexity to design anything, necessarily arrives no earlier than at least one million years after the multiverse began to exist.

The logic of this inference appears valid, but now the conclusion of the inference (2c) might not be strong enough to make the argument for atheism successful.

If the multiverse is millions or billions of years older than our universe, then conclusion (2c) would leave open the possibility that a creative intelligence evolved in a universe that existed millions of years before our universe came into existence, and then that creative intelligence designed and created everything in our universe. So, (2c) appears to leave open the possibility that the God Hypothesis is true.

To be continued…

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Randal Rauser's Latest Book (with a Contribution from Yours Truly)
About Bradley Bowen

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