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…

About Bradley Bowen
  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13939147823645982746 R

    With respect to the first premise:

    “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.”

    This premise, if true, already makes the existence of most gods impossible, because They cannot be seen as the end product of anything, let alone an evolutionary process. So, it does not really matter how “universe” is defined. Whatever it is, God is the consequence of some process in the universe, and therefore, it cannot be God. Therefore, I don’t think we can toss interpretation 1.

    By the way, I just remembered some “argument” (it’s written in jest) somewhat related to Dawkins’ argument, that I read several years ago:

    http://www.infidels.org/infidels/newsletter/1999/may.html#Notes

    It is true that, if “the multiverse” is true, we cannot discard that another creative intelligence designed this universe. But even so, that creative intelligence was also the end product of an evolutionary process, and therefore, it was not God. Perhaps Dawkins dislikes the idea of this universe having being designed by some sort of alien, but this is a problem that comes from the multiverse hypothesis, not from the idea that intelligence comes from evolution.

    Anyway, maybe creating universes is a physical process that cannot be controlled by intelligent beings. For instance, if the spawning of universes happens within black holes (as Smolin says), maybe that’s enough to forbid intelligent control of the process.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00565212411446092552 smijer

    Well said, R.

    Interpretation #3 is plenty strong enough. It defeats the cosmological argument soundly, and offers no comfort to theists of most stripes.

    That said, the entire line of reasoning is sadly useless on anyone who refuses to acknowledge that our own intelligence is evolved, much less the assumption that intelligence cannot exist unevolved.

    Frankly, I cannot see the reason that anyone who defends the Cosmological argument but admits to the fact that human intelligence is evolved would ever concede that assumption.

    I do however agree that the logic is sound, and that an atheist such as myself follows it without difficulty.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13939147823645982746 R

    [quote]
    Frankly, I cannot see the reason that anyone who defends the Cosmological argument but admits to the fact that human intelligence is evolved would ever concede that assumption.
    [/quote]

    Yes, the argument lacks any force against creationist, but also against sophisticated theists (although the latter may pay more attention to it).

    Two supporting ideas come to mind:

    - Empirically, the only kind of intelligence we know, is of evolutionary origin.

    - Intelligence is a survival tool. Therefore, it does not make any sense for a theistic God to possess intelligence (what for?).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00565212411446092552 smijer

    I have considered the first of those two supporting ideas. The second is novel to me. I’m afraid that neither will be much use against someone who is committed to the cosmological argument, them giving too much wiggle room. For the first, it could be countered that we only know of one (or a few) kinds of intelligence empirically and therefore it is wrong to draw general conclusions about intelligence from it (them). The second has a similar kind of wiggle room. We know that intelligence (in our case) is a survival tool, but we may not be justified in considering that its only reason for existence. In fact, we often use it ourselves for tasks unrelated to survival. For instance, for contemplation of the cosmological argument.

    Another option I have considered is to define intelligence in such a way that it can only be construed as a function of a neural network. Being a property of something else, it could not exist independently and therefore could not be an uncreated creator. I don’t know how strong this is. Mathematically a neural network could be represented in Turing space. With a slight tweak to our definition – that the neural network *is* the intelligence – could it be argued that God is just such a purely mathematical neural network? And, would a committed theist ever agree in principle to the definition of intelligence I propose?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14684170902098052059 Brian

    Bradley,

    That was a sloppy analysis. The main problem with the argument is premise (1). What “the universe” means won’t matter, since (1) is so implausible.

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

    Response to R…

    R said: “This premise [1a], if true, already makes the existence of most gods impossible, because They cannot be seen as the end product of anything, let alone an evolutionary process. So, it does not really matter how ‘universe’ is defined. Whatever it is, God is the consequence of some process in the universe, and therefore, it cannot be God. Therefore, I don’t think we can toss interpretation 1.”

    You are missing my point.

    Interpretation 1 makes the existence of God a necessary falsehood, and this means that the question of God’s existence is NOT an empirical question. But Dawkins firmly asserts that this question IS an empirical question.

    Your claim that “gods” “cannot be seen as the end product of anything” is simply false. Zeus, for example, was the product of two other deities:

    “Zeus was the child of Cronus and Rhea, and the youngest of his siblings.”
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zeus

    Western monotheistic religions do conceive of God as having no beginning and as having no dependency on any other beings, so your point holds for “God” as conceived of in those traditions.

    I will have more to say about this in the next installment in this series.

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

    Response to smijer…

    smijer said: “Interpretation #3 is plenty strong enough. It defeats the cosmological argument soundly, and offers no comfort to theists of most stripes.”

    There is no such thing as “the” cosmological argument; there are a number of different cosmological arguments, so you need to be more specific.

    I think you are correct that the argument on interp #3 offers no comfort to theists of most stripes. More will be said on that point in the next installment of the series.

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

    smijer also said: “That said, the entire line of reasoning is sadly useless on anyone who refuses to acknowledge that our own intelligence is evolved, much less the assumption that intelligence cannot exist unevolved.”

    Good point. I pointed out the controversial nature of the initial premise earlier in this series.

    Chapter 4 of TGD provides an argument for the initial premise of this argument that I’m working on from Chapter 2 (although there might be a whole other argument for atheism in Chapter 4).

    I will eventually get around to examining the argument(s) in Chapter 4.

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

    Brian said: “That was a sloppy analysis. The main problem with the argument is premise (1). What “the universe” means won’t matter, since (1) is so implausible.”

    Brian – see my response to smijer, who makes a similar objection.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13939147823645982746 R

    Response to Brian

    “That was a sloppy analysis. The main problem with the argument is premise (1). What “the universe” means won’t matter, since (1) is so implausible.”

    It’s not implausible at all. The only kind of intelligence we know comes into existence only as the end product of gradual evolution. What is implausible is to start with an intelligent being, who is intelligent for no reason whatsoever.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13939147823645982746 R

    Response to Bradley:

    “You are missing my point.

    Interpretation 1 makes the existence of God a necessary falsehood, and this means that the question of God’s existence is NOT an empirical question. But Dawkins firmly asserts that this question IS an empirical question.”

    Premise 1a already makes the christian kind of god impossible.

    “Western monotheistic religions do conceive of God as having no beginning and as having no dependency on any other beings, so your point holds for “God” as conceived of in those traditions.”

    Indeed.

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

    I noticed that the article “Adversaries of piety and proof” by Peter Slezak – a link to the article was posted by Taner Edis recently – there is an argument for atheism that is very close to one that I mentioned:

    “Accordingly, it is empty rhetoric to talk as Lennox does of a theistic alternative on the grounds that the universe is not a closed system “but a creation, initiated and maintained by God”. This is hardly an alternative metaphysics compatible with science, since it is a substantive claim about the nature of the universe and the causal influence of a purported being.

    At best, it is unsupported by evidence. At worst, such claims are incompatible with our physics of big-bang cosmology, which rules out causes and times before the existence of the universe.”

    If there were no “causes and times before the existence of the universe,” then there was no creator or designer who existed and acted prior to the universe, and therefore the “God Hypothesis” is false.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18121469980190428853 chippamo

    Eternity vs. Forever

    It seems that defining the words “eternity” and “forever” could help a person better understand the fate of those who believe in Christ and those who disbelieve. After all, many people, even those who adamantly believe and study their bible, use these two words interchangeably. However, these two words are far from being alike. In comparison, eternity would represent God, and forever would represent Satan. Understanding the difference can help a person to understand many of the scriptures of the bible which seem to be paradoxical in nature.

    For example, God allows us to know that all those who receive the gift of eternal life from Christ had their names written in the Lamb’s Book of Life before the creation of the earth. Because this statement implies that many people existed before Adam and Eve were created, many believe that this concept supports their eternal existence. However, this fact only complicates the matter. After all, in the beginning, only God existed. Keeping this fact in mind, one should realize that those, who had their names written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, had to be created at some point. Since the mere fact of creation exists, the reality is that there is a beginning for their existence. That being a fact, this group of people can only be defined as having been given the ability to live forever.

    Now, this is the point where the definition of eternity and forever must be clearly defined in order to understand the true meaning of the powerful message found in the context of the scriptures. To better understand what is actually being described, one could make a dot on a blank piece of paper. Then, draw a circle beginning at the dot and ending at the dot. The circle would represent a continual path with no beginning or end. However, the dot, which represents creation, causes there to be a beginning and end. Since eternity has no beginning or end, the diagram only represents forever which clearly has a beginning and end. Even so, Christ promises all believers that they will receive eternal life.

    Now, either we have to believe that Christ was wrong, the scriptures are wrong, or that we have been interpreting the scriptures in error. It seems that a closer examination of the scriptures, which have to do with salvation and death, could give the opportunity of discovery to those who want a clear understanding in this matter. Even so, if a believer only reflects on the truth of the words of Christ, the answer becomes obvious.

    Here are a few facts to consider:

    1. In the beginning, only God existed.
    2. Everything, except God, was created.
    3. All people, creatures, and other things are finite.
    4. God is eternal.
    5. Satan was created.
    6. People live in the realm of Satan (this world).
    7. Adam and Eve were exiled from God’s realm into Satan’s realm.
    8. Death resides over this world.
    9. God (life) resides over God’s realm.
    10. Jesus said that his kingdom was not of this world.
    11. Jesus was God in the flesh.
    12. The body of Christ had to die.
    13. It is appointed once for man to die, then the judgment.
    14. Jesus is the doorway, gate, path, way, light, and the truth.
    15. Satan will have his end (finite).
    16. Non-believers will have their end (finite).
    17. Believers are given the “Gift of Eternal Life”.
    18. Christians are adopted into God’s family.
    19. Christians are joint heirs with Christ.
    20. Christ covers the sins of Christians.
    21. Christians are the body of Christ.
    22. Christ will marry the church after judgment.
    23. Two become one in marriage.
    24. The unity of the head and the body creates one being.
    25. Creation and death are finite.
    26. Creation and death do not exist in God’s realm.
    27. The wedding feast ends the separation caused by Adam and Eve.
    28. All Christians become one with God.
    29. We must pass through the door or gate to enter into Heaven.
    30. Jesus is the door.
    31. Our sins (death) are hidden in Christ.
    32. Our creation (beginning) is hidden in Christ.
    33. Christ is the doorway to eternity.

    After meditating on the above facts, the message of Christ is evident. That is, people had a beginning, and all non-believing people will definitely have and end. Because of that, there is only one way for people to become eternal beings living in eternal life. When we are adopted into the family of God and we become the body of Christ, we pass through the door. Remember the dot on the circle. That is Christ (knock and it shall be opened…in other words, be saved). Anyone who isn’t a believer will be stopped at that point. In other words, there will be no continuation of their existence. However, all believers will be allowed to pass through that door (Christ), and will have eternal life. The circle will be unbroken and continuous. When believers pass through the door, they instantaneously become eternal by becoming the body of Christ. Since Christ’s name means “God in the Flesh”, Christians are actually becoming the body of God. In following this concept, a person can easily realize that the body of God is eternal. After all, Christians are all transformed in the twinkling of an eye when Jesus returns.

    In closing, scientists are just realizing that light travels in a circle. It goes on continually. Jesus tells us that he is the truth, the light, and the way. Additionally, when one attains the speed of light, time stands still. In other words, time ceases to exist. So, it could be that believers become beings of light upon the return of Jesus, and all non-believers will become the darkness which cannot exist in the light. We are told in the scriptures that we will not have the light of the sun, moon, and stars in the Kingdom of Christ. We will only have the light which is emitted from Christ. So, as believers, we become the light. We become particles of the beam of light that has been shinning into darkness for eternity. Light was not created. When God said, “Let there be light”, he was stating that he desired to allow his light to shine upon his creation. The light we have today was created on the fourth day of God’s creation. The light in the beginning was the illumination of God. After all, there was no sun, moon, or stars on the first day. If we only walk in the light, then we will surely be blessed. Forever is a creation of a temporary Satan. Forever is a measure of time. Time does not exist in eternity. Therefore, time, forever, and Satan will not exist in God’s Kingdom. Only those who believe on Christ will be transformed into eternal beings of light. Only enlightened beings can become particles which live eternally within the body of Christ.

    Chip Fraser


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