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…

About Bradley Bowen
  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02113192159669193981 Apashiol

    Of course this is all assuming that the multiverse isn’t evolving to the point where all matter is organised into a self-aware whole, whose perception of itself as a four dimensional structure reveals that past, present and future exist simultaneously and the process of evolution itself was merely an illusion created by looking at things from the perspective of a three dimensional entity.
    Now, where did I put that bloody bong?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Response to apashiol…

    I’m not sure whether you are just making a comment, or if there is a point or objection that you had in mind.

    If this is an objection, you will need to explain a bit more, for me to understand the point.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02113192159669193981 Apashiol

    Hi Bradley
    I think what I was getting at in my own clumsy way was that this line of argument presupposes that there is a creation of anything in the sense of a beginning. Why necessarily posit a creator god and a creation?
    Matter has the potential to become sentient and in humans there is a peculiar sentience that is self-aware. That self-awareness entails a sense of separateness and time. But perhaps it’s possible for matter to be aware of itself in other ways besides as a three dimensional entity in time.
    From a perspective outside of time those moments of awareness having once been would never cease to be.
    It’s difficult to put into words what I mean.
    I have meditated and experienced my separate sense of self dissolve until there is only awareness without awareness of any ‘thing’. It feels like a letting go. It also is timeless. When ‘I’ return it feels as if the world is simultaneously created. But it is the perception of this world that gives rise to the ‘I’. Yet all this experience is being had by a discrete mass of complex matter.
    The difficulty comes when trying to think about and communicate it because language is dualistic; subject / object.
    So perhaps the multiverse exists eternally and god is just the multiverses’ awareness of itself and it’s endless transformation is a process of self-exploration unfolding within eternity.
    So this whole argument for atheism is more an argument against a monotheistic, dualistic conception of a creator god.
    For the record I consider myself to be ignostic.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    apashiol said…

    “So this whole argument for atheism is more an argument against a monotheistic, dualistic conception of a creator god.”

    Monotheism is the primary target of Dawkins’ argument(s) for atheism, but his intention is to cast serious doubt on polytheistic deities as well.

    Furthermore, the argument focuses on the idea of a creator, and nothing in the argument, as far as I can see, prevents it from applying to multiple creators or many gods working together to create a universe. So, I think you are wrong if you mean that the argument is directed exclusively against monotheism.

    As for dualism, or a “dualistic conception” of a creator, I’m unclear why you think the argument assumes or implies such a conception of the creator.

    Perhaps you think that the very idea of a creator is dualistic: the creator vs. the creation. Since the word “creator” logically implies “creation” –there can be no creator without a creation–I’m not sure that there is such a thing as a non-dualistic concept of a creator. This might be the point that you were making (?).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02113192159669193981 Apashiol

    Bradley

    Since commenting I have been thinking a lot about what I was trying to say and I end up with more questions.
    In the end I think that I am left wondering if it is even valid to make logical arguments for atheism. Please bear with me because I don’t pretend to know if this is valid, but..

    In the same way that our intuition breaks down when we get to the quantum level of reality, doesn’t using logic presuppose that something isn’t alogical?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    apashiol said:

    “doesn’t using logic presuppose that something isn’t alogical?”

    Logic is concerned with ideas, specifically with claims or propositions, and relationships that hold between claims or propositions.

    Is a rock logical or not? I’m not sure this question makes sense.

    Aguments can be logical or illogical. Statements can be logical or illogical. If logical evaluation does not apply to rocks, then I suppose you could say that rocks are alogical, meaning that rocks are out of scope for logic.

    But as soon as you make a claim about a rock or about rocks in general, logical evaluation can occur:

    “All rocks are made of iron.”

    This implies that the rocks in my backyard are made of iron, and that implies that a magnet will be attracted to each and every rock in my backyard, so if I find a rock in my backyard that a magnet does NOT attract, that will be counterexample to the claim above, and I can reasonably conclude that the claim is false.

    If there is something about which no claim can be made, then logic can have no hold on that something.

    However, if you try to point to a particular object or entity and say “No true claim can be made about that thing”, then you will have refuted your own claim, because if we suppose the claim to be true, then there would be at least one true claim about that thing, but then the claim would be false.

    I’m sure these comments have made everything crystal clear for you now. ;)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02113192159669193981 Apashiol

    Bradley
    What you say makes sense when talking about things or entities. But can it be affirmed that God is a thing like a rock?
    In Advaita Vedanta, the ultimate reality, Brahman, is said to be beyond names, forms, qualities and relationships but gives rise to what is.
    Even time and space are manifested from it and return to it.
    So Brahman can’t be said to begin or end or even be or not be. Rather like how you can’t say what was before or outside the singularity of the Big Bang if time and space itself was created with that event.
    No claims can be made of it.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Response to apashiol..

    A problem with the sort of mysticism that you describe is that it asserts claims about “ultimate reality” while denying that any claims can be made about “ultimate reality”. This is a logical contradiction.

    CLAIMS:

    1. The ultimate reality, Brahman, is beyond names. (Isn’t “Brahman” a name?)

    2.The ultimate reality is beyond forms, qualities and relationships.

    3. The ultimate reality gives rise to what is.

    4. Time and space are manifested from the ultimate reality.

    5. Time and space return to the ultimate reality.

    6. The ultimate reality can’t be said to begin or end.

    7. The ultimate reality can’t be said to be or not be.

    8. No claims can be made about the ultimate reality.

    Since you have just made at least eight different claims about “the ultimate reality”, claim (8) is clearly false. In any case, logic applies to the above eight claims, just as it does to any other claims.

    However, if there are problems of meaning with any of the above sentences (e.g. Does the expression “the ultimate reality” have a clear meaning?), then these sentences may only have the appearance of being claims, but in fact may not have a truth value (might be neither true nor false).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02113192159669193981 Apashiol

    “…then these sentences may only have the appearance of being claims”

    The cosmos and all it contains is known as ‘the world of appearances’ for this reason.

    At the same time as language is being used to think and communicate it also deludes because the name is not what is named.
    There are many analogies that are used to try to get this point across.
    As in ‘It is like pointing at the moon and having the person look at the finger.’
    All perception is built upon the entity perceiving. It is relative. My body has a front and a back, a top and a bottom. I project these attributes onto that which doesn’t have them. I say moving forward in time. Back when I was young.
    Metaphora was a container for carrying water. It enables you to carry what otherwise you couldn’t grasp. But water takes the shape of its container.
    If I met an alien that evolved as part of a hive it would not necessarily have a conception or word for individual.
    How would you explain empathy to a psychopath? When we use a word for an emotion or sensation there is the implicit assumption the other has felt it, shared that experience. The experience is wordless.
    Logic is a subtle form of idolatry.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02113192159669193981 Apashiol

    Bradley
    I personally don’t feel it’s valid to make any claims for ‘God’. That he/she/it has a ‘purpose’ for us, ‘wants’ us to be a certain way. I think religions are man-made. I don’t believe in revelation.
    I do think that the same forces that give rise to religions give rise to systems like Fascism, Socialism and Democracy etc. Nationalism is a secular religion where the idea of the nation is revered in place of a god.
    Where someone claims to know or have an idea about the ‘nature of god’ it does seem perfectly valid to use logic to parse and evaluate such claims. I think I question whether logic should be used to make any claims about god. Such as “An Argument for Atheism”.
    To do that you must first formulate an idea about god and then take it apart. So it’s more an exercise in saying whatever it might be, it can’t be this. You are always negating particular conceptions of god.
    What if there is an aspect to reality that can’t be conceptualized, that can’t be an object of knowledge?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Apashiol said: “I think I question whether logic should be used to make any claims about god. Such as ‘An Argument for Atheism’.
    To do that you must first formulate an idea about god and then take it apart. So it’s more an exercise in saying whatever it might be, it can’t be this. You are always negating particular conceptions of god.”

    I agree that any good argument for or against the existence of God must focus on some particular conception of God, otherwise the key term “God” will be unclear or ambiguous, and the argument will also be unclear.

    But given this agreement, I don’t see how you come to the conclusion that logic should not be used to make claims about God. The point is this: IF somebody want to make a claim about God, THEN he/she should follow the rules and principles of logic. In other words, the activity of making claims should be guided by the norms of logic.

    Your objection might be better put more simply: “People should not make claims about God.” But I’m not sure why you think making claims about God is a bad idea.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Apashiol said: “What if there is an aspect to reality that can’t be conceptualized, that can’t be an object of knowledge?”

    If there is something that human beings CANNOT know or understand, then that something will remain unknown to human beings no matter what we say or do. So there is no point in trying to WARN people about trying to understand that which cannot be understood.

    I suppose if someone is trying to draw a four-sided triangle, and they spend hour-after-hour, day-after-day making thousands of failed attempts at drawing a four-sided triangle, then it might make sense to tell this person: “Stop trying to draw a four-sided triangle. Such a task is impossible, so you are only wasting your time, and you will never succeed.”

    Are you saying the following? “Stop trying to understand God. Such a task is impossible, so you are only wasting your time, and you will never succeed.”

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Apashiol said: “How would you explain empathy to a psychopath? When we use a word for an emotion or sensation there is the implicit assumption the other has felt it, shared that experience. The experience is wordless.
    Logic is a subtle form of idolatry.”

    Let’s set aside the questions about whether it makes sense to apply logic to God, or to the concept of God, or whether we should make any claims about God.

    For now, let’s focus on the example you have given to illustrate a distinction between words and logic on the one hand and emotions or sensations on the other. Once we are clearer about this example and the distinction, then we can return to questions about applying logic to God or ultimate reality, and see if the distinction helps to settle that issue.

    How would I explain empathy to a psychopath? I think that depends on the purpose or reason for getting the psychopath to understand empathy.

    Suppose that I was a public school teacher who volunteered at a local prison, to help educate interested inmates. Suppose there was a small library or reading room at the prison, and I was helping a psychopath at the prison to learn how to read. The psychopath stumbles on a sentence, because he is unfamiliar with the word “empathy”.

    In this context, I would probably offer a brief definition of “empathy”: caring about the feelings of another person, esp. a desire for that other person to not suffer, or be in pain. I think an intelligent psychopath could understand such a definition, and thus learn how to read and understand sentences and paragraphs that include the word “empathy”.

    Such understanding, however, would not require or create any actual feelings of empathy in the psychopath. So, you might reply that the psychopath still does not know what empathy is, since he has never experienced empathy.

    You might concede that the psychopath could master the logic of the concept of empathy, and be capable of drawing the appropriate inferences from claims involving this term, and yet still be in the dark about what he is reading or talking about in this case.

    If you agree so far, then you would probably say that the newly gained knowledge about empathy now possessed by the psychopath is empty and insignificant, compared with the knowledge of empathy possessed by a normal person who actually experiences feelings of empathy.

    Am I on the right track here?


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