An Argument for Atheism – Part 5

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:

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.

The meaning of the phrase “the universe” in premise (A) and conclusion (2a) is unclear. In my last post on this topic (10/15/08), I considered three possible interpretations of this phrase:
Interpretation 1: everything that has ever existed
Interpretation 2: our universe (see TGD p.59, 81-82, 174, and p.169)
Interpretation 3: the multiverse (a collection of many universes, including our universe)
Interpretation 1 will not work, because it makes the existence of God a necessary falsehood, but a central claim by Dawkins is that the question of the existence of God is an empirical question which can be resolved by scientific investigation, which will show that God’s existence is probable or improbable to some degree. According to Dawkins, the existence of God is neither a necessary truth nor a necessary falsehood.
Interpretation 2 seems most likely to be what Dawkins intended, but on this interpretation the truth of assumption (A) is highly doubtful. Dawkins takes seriously, and even advocates, the view that there are multiple universes (TGD, Mariner Books edition, p. 173-174), and if this is so, then there might well have been some other universe in existence prior to our universe. But if our universe was not the first universe, then a creative intelligence could have evolved in a previous universe and then brought our universe into existence. On Dawkins’ own view that there are mulitple universes, and interpreting “the universe” to mean “our universe”, assumption (A) appears to be false.
On Interpretation 3, assumption (A) appears to be true, but then the significance of (2a) is seriously diminished, because on this interpretation (2a) leaves open the possibility that our universe was designed and brought into existence by a creative intelligence that evolved in a previously existing universe.
We can toss out Interpretation 1, because it simply will not fit into Dawkins basic views about nature of the question of God’s existence. At this point, I don’t see any plausible interpretations other than Interpretation 2 and Interpretation 3. So, it appears that our choice is between an argument with a false assumption (if we go with Interpretation 2) or an argument that leaves open the possibility that our universe is the product of a creative intelligence (if we go with Interpretation 3).
Let’s consider how Dawkins or a supporter of his viewpoint might reply to these objections. First, lets look at the inference on Interpretation 2 and how this might be defended:
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 objection that a creative intelligence could have evolved in a universe that existed prior to when our universe began to exist could be replied to as follows: No universe could have existed prior to our universe, because time itself came into existence when our universe began to exist. On this view, there was no point in time prior to the existence of our universe in which any events occurred, including the origin of some other universe and the evolution of a creative intelligence in some other universe. If time began with our universe, then no events occurred prior to the origin of our universe.
This is an interesting line of reasoning, but if someone takes this approach, then we might as well toss out Dawkins’ argument for atheism and use the assumption here for a completely different argument for atheism:
7. Time itself began when our universe came into existence.
Therefore:
8. No events took place prior to the beginning of our universe.
Therefore:
9. No creative intelligence existed prior to the beginning of our universe.
Therefore:
10. Our universe is not the product of a creative intelligence.
This is an interesting line of reasoning, but it is clearly not the reasoning of Dawkins. Dawkins does not claim that time began with our universe, nor does he rely on the assumption that no events occurred prior to the beginning of our universe. So, if the only way to rescue Dawkins’ argument for atheism, is to make the assumption that time began when our universe came into existence, then we might as well set his argument aside and focus on this alternative argument for the impossiblity of the creation of our universe.
Another reply that a defender of Dawkins’ argument might make is this: Yes, it is possible that a creative intelligence evolved in some other universe that existed prior to our universe, but this is just a logical possibility; the real issue is whether this is probable, and you have not shown that this possibility is probable. I don’t think this reply works, because Dawkins takes the idea of multiple universes seriously, so he, at any rate, believes there is a significant chance or probability that there are other universes besides our universe.
Determining a probablity that one of these other universes is older than our universe and is capable of supporting the evolution of intelligent life forms is not something that we can do with our current state of knowledge, but the burden of proof rests on Dawkins to show that assumption (B) is true, or to show that it is highly unlikely that a universe that could support the evolution of a creative intelligence existed prior to our universe. Dawkins has not done this, and I don’t see how he could do this, given our current state of knowledge (or ignorance) about other universes.
To be continued…

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About Bradley Bowen

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