Atheistic Teleological Arguments, Part 6: Richard Dawkins’s Chapter Summarized

In chapter 4 of his book The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins advances an argument for atheism he calls the “Ultimate Boeing 747 Gambit,” in reference to Fred Hoyle’s famous comment about a Boeing 747 arising by chance in a junkyard.[26] Just as Hoyle’s argument appeals to the (alleged) improbability of evolution, Dawkins’s argument appeals to the (alleged) extreme improbability of God. Indeed, the title of chapter 4 is, “Why There Almost Certainly Is No God.”


Dawkins is not a philosopher writing for other philosophers; he is a biologist writing for a popular audience. For this reason, it is entirely understandable that he does not provide his argument for atheism in its logical form. My goal now is simply to figure out what Dawkins’s argument is; I will defer an assessment of Dawkins’s argument until later.



Before I summarize Dawkins’s chapter, let us first review how Dawkins defines “God” so that we can properly interpret his argument. In chapter 2, “The God Hypothesis,” Dawkins defines the “God Hypothesis” (hereafter, “GH”) as follows:

There exists a super-human, supernatural intelligence who deliberately designed and created the universe and everything in it, including us. (31)

In contrast to the God Hypothesis, Dawkins explains that he will argue in The God Delusion for a rival hypothesis:

Any creative intelligence, of sufficient complexity to design anything, comes into existence only as the end product of an extended process of gradual evolution. (31)

Dawkins does not name this competing hypothesis, so I shall call it the “evolved intelligence hypothesis” (hereafter, “EIH”). EIH is an “alternative view” to GH in the sense that EIH and GH are logically incompatible: if EIH is true, then any creative intelligence came into existence as the end product of an extended process of gradual evolution. This contradicts GH, which entails that at least one intelligence, God’s, is not a late arrival in the universe. In Dawkins’s words:

Creative intelligences, being evolved, necessarily arrive late in the universe, and therefore cannot be responsible for designing it. God, in the sense defined, is a delusion… (31).

With GH (and EIH) clarified, let us now turn to a summary of Dawkins’s chapter. It divides into seven sections (numbering is mine):

 
1. The Ultimate Boeing 747
2. Natural Selection as a Consciousness-Raiser
3. Irreducible Complexity
4. The Worship of Gaps
5. The Anthropic Principle: Planetary Version
6. The Anthropic Principle: Cosmological Version
7. An Interlude at Cambridge

Here is a brief summary of each section.

(1) The Ultimate Boeing 747: Dawkins argues that the “argument from improbability” can be turned on its head and made into an argument for atheism, which he labels “the Ultimate Boeing 747 Gambit” (113). This name derives from Fred Hoyle’s famous argument against abiogenesis, which claimed that the probability of life originating from nonlife by chance is as probable as a tornado blowing through a junkyard and creating a fully assembled Boeing 747, ready to fly. Other creationists revised or expanded the argument as an argument against the chance origin of a molecule, a complex organ, a living creature, or even the universe itself.

Let B the event of a fully assembled Boeing 747 originating from a tornado blowing parts in a junkyard; y be the number of combinations of all the parts of a Boeing 747; x be the number of combination of parts which give a functional Boeing 747; L be the event of life originating from nonlife; let Ch(p) represent a probability value as interpreted by the classical interpretation of probability, viz., the chance of p; and ‘<!!' mean "very much less than.” Then Hoyle’s argument may be summarized as:

Ch(L) ≈ Ch(B) = x/y <!! 1/2.

As Dawkins points out, however, natural selection is the opposite of chance (113). Whereas “chance” means “the spontaneous arising of order, complexity, and apparent design” in a single step (so-called “single-step selection”); evolution by natural selection is the hypothesis of the gradual accumulation of order, complexity, and apparent design over time (“cumulative selection”).[27] Thus, the probability of evolution of complex living bodies by chance is literally irrelevant to the hypothesis of evolution by natural selection.

Furthermore, not only is a designer unnecessary to explain the apparent design in the evolution of complex living bodies, Dawkins argues, but any designer must be at least as improbable as the apparent design to be explained. Thus, God’s existence is statistically improbable. In his words,

“Darwinian natural selection is the only known solution to the otherwise unanswerable riddle of where the information [in living matter] comes from. It turns out to be the God hypothesis that tries to get something for nothing. God tries to have his free lunch and be it too. However statistically improbable the entity you seek to explain by invoking a designer, the designer himself has got to be at least as improbable. God is the Ultimate Boeing 747.” (114)

As we saw earlier, the chance origin of a Boeing 747 is “statistically improbable” in the sense that Ch(B) = x/y <!! 1/2. What then, precisely, does Dawkins mean when he says that "God is the Ultimate Boeing 747"? Presumably, he means that God is the ultimate example of "order, complexity, and apparent design." But what does that mean? In the Boeing 747 example, “order and complexity” seems to refer to x/y, i.e., the very small ratio of ‘combinations of parts that produce a working Boeing 747′ to ‘the total number of possible combinations of parts.’  So it would seem that, in order to apply the Boeing 747 metaphor to God, we need to think of God as somehow made up of parts.

 
If we do think of God as somehow made up of parts, we can then make sense of Dawkins’s statement that “God is the Ultimate Boeing 747″ as follows. Let n be the number of logically possible combinations of God’s parts;  and k be the number of combinations of God’s parts which would allow a being to be God. Thus, when Dawkins writes, “God is the Ultimate Boeing 747,” this statement may be summarized as:

Ch(GH) = k/n.

Now consider Dawkins’s statement, “However statistically improbable the entity you seek to explain by invoking a designer, the designer himself has got to be at least as improbable.” And suppose a creationist claims that God is needed to explain L, the origin of life from nonlife. Dawkins’ statement may be understood as:

Ch(GH) <= Ch(L) <!! 1/2.

But let’s revisit the idea that God is somehow made up of parts. What could that mean? Let’s consider two possibilities: (i) physical parts; and (ii) God’s properties as parts.

Concerning (i), God is ordinarily understood as a disembodied mind, i.e., not composed of physical matter. So if Dawkins understands God in this way, then he cannot mean God is somehow made up of material parts. What else, then, could Dawkins mean?

Perhaps he has in mind (ii): the idea that God’s properties are His parts. If so, then we can distinguish essential and non-essential properties. A property is an essential property of God if a being must possess that property in order to be God (e.g., omnipotence, omniscience, etc.); a property is non-essential if a being can lack that property and still be God (e.g., God’s knowledge of a specific contingent fact). On the classical interpretation of probability, each logically possible outcome is assigned an equal probability. And if God exists, He has His essential properties necessarily. That entails that the chance of God’s essential properties is one, i.e.:

Ch(God’s essential properties) = 1.

As for God’s non-essential properties, they are contingent. Hence if n is the number of combinations of God’s non-essential properties, the chance of any combination of God’s non-essential properties is 1/n. And “God” is logically equivalent to the conjunction of God’s essential properties plus every possible combination of God’s non-essential properties. Thus, the chance of any combination of God’s non-essential properties is irrelevant. Therefore, the chance of God possessing the particular combination of properties required to be God is one. I conclude, then, that interpreting God’s parts as His properties does not provide support for the improbability of God.

What else, then, could it mean to say that God is somehow made up of parts? I can’t make out what Dawkins has in mind. For now, let us move onto the other sections of his chapter and see what he writes.

(2) Natural Selection as a Consciousness-Raiser: I think this entire section is summed up nicely by the following statement by Dawkins: “Darwinian evolution, specifically natural selection, … shatters the illusion of design within the domain of biology, and teaches us to be suspicious of any kind of design hypothesis in physics and cosmology as well” (118; italics are mine).

(3) Irreducible Complexity: Dawkins notes the magnitude of Darwin’s and Wallace’s accomplishment of explaining order, complexity, and apparent design by evolution. As Dawkins correctly points out, chance and design are not the only possible explanations for statistical improbability (121); natural selection is another option–an extremely successful option.

According to Dawkins, creationists who “deploy the argument from improbability in their favour always assume that biological adaption is a question of the jackpot or nothing” (122). He then defines “irreducible complexity” as another name for the “jackpot or nothing fallacy.” He reviews the reasons why eyes and wings are not irreducibly complex and then draws a general lesson from all this: we should be very reluctant before concluding that something is irreducibly complex. In his words: “The fact that so many people have been dead wrong over these obvious cases should serve to warn us of other examples that are less obvious, such as the cellular and biochemical cases now being touted by … ‘intelligent design theorists’” (124).

(4) The Worship of Gaps: Dawkins provides an overview of what he calls the “creationists’ love affair with ‘gaps’” in scientific knowledge (127). Whereas scientists “seek out areas of ignorance in order to target research,” creationists “seek out areas of ignorance in order to claim victory by default” (126).

He also discusses Michael Behe’s argument that complex structures, like the bacterial flagellar motor and the immune system, are examples of irreducible complexity. As Dawkins explains, “The key to demonstrating irreducible complexity is to show that none of the parts could have been useful on its own. They all needed to be in place before any of them could do any good” (131). After critiquing both of Behe’s examples, Dawkins questions whether God could be an explanation of anything (133-34).

(5) The Anthropic Principle: Planetary Version: In this section, Dawkins argues that the probability of the origin of life through purely naturalistic means provides no support for design. To make his point, he applies a “planetary version” of the anthropic principle:

We exist here on Earth. Therefore Earth must be the kind of planet that is capable of generating and supporting us, however unusual, even unique, that kind of planet must be. (135)

What this shows, he argues, is that the origin of life on our planet “cannot have been very improbable” (135). This does not mean, of course, that most planets in the universe are life-permitting. Dawkins grants this. Given the sheer number of planets in the known universe, as long as the probability of life arising from nonlife is greater than nonzero, life will arise from nonlife a large number of times:

… even a chemical model with odds of success as low as one in a billion would still predict that life would arise on a billion planets in the universe. And the beauty of the anthropic principle is that it tells us, against all intuition, that a chemical model need only predict that life will arise on one planet in a billion billion to give us a good and entirely satisfying explanation for the presence of life here. (138)

As before, let L be the event of life originating from nonlife on an unspecified planet; let Ch(L) represent a probability value as interpreted by the classical interpretation of probability, viz., the chance of L. Then Dawkins’ argument above can be summarized as follows. He asks us to suppose, for the sake of argument, that:

Ch(L) = 1/1,000,000,000 = 10-9

Let Pr-F represent a probability value, as interpreted by the frequency interpretation of probability, viz., the limit of the relative frequency. An implicit premise of Dawkins’s argument is:

Pr-F(L) = Ch(L).

Let P be the number of planets in our universe. Dawkins proposes that we take the current scientific estimate of the number of planets in the universe (between 1020 and 3 x 1021) and round down to a billion billion (1018). Let FP be the number of life-friendly planets in the universe. Then:

FP ≈ Pr-F(L) x P = 109.

This is the mathematical basis for the first sentence (“… even a chemical model”) quoted above. This point is axiomatic; no one who understands math can deny it. But this doesn’t address the probability of life originating on our planet. In his second sentence, Dawkins seems to be saying that the origin of life from nonlife on Earth is not statistically improbable so long as

Ch(L) >= 1/P.

Dawkins concludes that the “apparent gap in the evolutionary story” of the origin of life “is easily filled by statistically informed science, while the very same statistical science rules out a divine creator on the ‘Ultimate 747′ grounds we met earlier” (139, italics mine).

Regarding the design hypothesis as an explanation for “our planet’s peculiar friendliness to life,” Dawkins argues, it receives no support from the anthropic principle. As he puts it:

“The anthropic principle, like natural selection, is an alternative to the design hypothesis. It provides a rational, design-free explanation for the fact that we find ourselves in a situation propitious to our existence. I think the confusion arises in the religious mind because the anthropic principle is only ever mentioned in the context of the problem that it solves, namely the fact that we live in a life-friendly place. What the religious mind then fails to grasp is that two candidate solutions are offered to the problem. God is one. The anthropic principle is the other. They are alternatives.” (136)

How are the design hypothesis and the anthropic principles alternatives? The anthropic principle is logically consistent with the hypothesis that God miraculously designed the solar system so that Earth is life-friendly. So when Dawkins describes the anthropic principle as a “design-free explanation,” he must mean that the anthropic principle provides a naturalistic explanation for the fact that Earth is life-friendly, i.e., an explanation in accordance with the known laws of nature. This seems to be what Dawkins has in mind later on when he writes, “The design approach postulates a God who wrought a deliberate miracle, struck the prebiotic soup with divine fire and launched DNA, or something equivalent, on its momentous career” (137).

(6) The Anthropic Principle: Cosmological Version: Dawkins then turns to cosmology, specifically, the so-called “fine-tuning” of the laws and constants of physics. As before with the planetary version, Dawkins pits the anthropic principle and design as competing explanations:

“Yet again, we have the theist’s answer on the one hand, and the anthropic answer on the other. The theist says that God, when setting up the universe, tuned the fundamental constants of the universe so that each one lay in its Goldilocks zone for the production of life. It as though God has six knobs he could twiddle, and he carefully tuned each knob to its Goldilocks value.” (143)

And, as we have seen through his chapter, Dawkins again argues that a designer is at least as improbable as the evidence to be explained:

“As ever, the theist’s answer is deeply unsatisfying, because it leaves the existence of God unexplained. A God capable of calculating the Goldilocks values for the six numbers would have to be at least as improbable as the finely tuned combination of numbers itself, and that’s very improbable indeed – which is indeed the premise of the whole discussion we are having. It follows that the theist’s answer has utterly failed to make any headways towards solving the problem at hand.” (143)

Even without a formal analysis, I think it’s clear that Dawkins is comparing the chance of the Goldilocks values for the six numbers to the chance of God.

Dawkins then compares the multiverse hypothesis with the God Hypothesis (GH) as rival explanations for cosmic fine-tuning. Again, Dawkins argues that GH is at least as improbable as the naturalistic hypothesis (i.e., multiverse):

“The key difference between the genuinely extravagant God hypothesis and the apparently extravagant multiverse hypothesis is one of statistical improbability. The multiverse, for all that it is extravagant, is simple, God, or any intelligent, decision-taking, calculating agent, would have to be highly improbable in the very same statistical sense as the entities he is supposed to explain. The multiverse may seem extravagant in sheer number of universes. But if each one of those universes is simple in its fundamental laws, we are still not postulating anything highly improbable. The very opposite has to be said of any kind of intelligence.” (146-147)

Here is where things get very interesting. In response to Swinburne’s well-known argument that GH is the simplest explanation that fits the facts, Dawkins responds:

“A God capable of continuously monitoring and controlling the individual status of every particle in the universe cannot be simple. His existence is going to need a mammoth explanation in its own rights. Worse (from the point of view of simplicity), other corners of God’s giant consciousness are simultaneously preoccupied with the doings and emotions and prayers of every single human being — and whatever intelligent aliens there might be on other planets in this and 100 billion other galaxies.” (149, italics mine)

What makes this passage so significant is that Dawkins finally provides some much-needed clarification of what might play the role of “God’s parts:” God’s mental states, including his knowledge or awareness and his willing the status of every particle in the universe. Let p be the number of logically possible combinations of God’s mental states; q be the number of actual combinations of God’s mental states; r be the number of possible combinations of the values of physical constants; and s be the number of life-permitting combinations of the values of the physical constants. Thus, when Dawkins writes, God’s “existence is going to need a mammoth explanation in its own rights,” this statement may be summarized as:

Ch(GH) = p/q <= Ch(fine-tuning) = r /s.

(7) An Interlude at Cambridge: Dawkins describes his experience at a recent conference on science and religion at Cambridge sponsored by the Templeton Foundation, where he presented his Ultimate Boeing 747 argument. His description includes an important clarification of what he seems to have in mind when he writes about God’s complexity or improbability:

“Second, a God who is capable of sending intelligible signals to millions of people simultaneously, and of receiving messages from all of them simultaneously, cannot be, whatever else he might be, simple. Such bandwidth! God may not have a brain made of neurons, or a CPU made of silicon, but if he has the powers attributed to him he must have something far more elaborately and non-randomly constructed than the largest brain or the largest computer we know.” (154)

(to be continued)


Notes


[26] Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2006), 111-59.


[27] Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design (New York: W.W. Norton, 1986), 317.

About Jeffery Jay Lowder

Jeffery Jay Lowder is President Emeritus of Internet Infidels, Inc., which he co-founded in 1995. He is also co-editor of the book, The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07386281851697412729 ID

    I would like to start out by applauding the efforts to refute the existence of God through the use of formula. Isn’t it amazing that our world, or our mind for that matter functions in such an orderly way? It is as if it was designed. When I see a Boeing 747 I don’t come to the conclusion that a Tornado created it, rather I assume Boeing manufactured it. I realize that you are teaching that this “appearance” of design is really the process of natural selection over billions of years, but this just doesn’t hold up. Irreducible complexity makes it impossible for something to have been less complex at one time and then become more complex. Life could not have started out without certain functioning systems such as the flagellum motor that gives movement within the cell the ability to function. This cannot be reduced to some lower process that eventually evolved into a higher process. Thus when we see things are complex, it is very logical to assume that something more complex created them. This is why Intelligent Design is most certainly the correct science. The Boeing 747 illustration does not dismiss a creator, put demonstrates even the foundation of the illustration requires a designer to figure out where the stuff like “laws” or “matter” came from in the first place.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05130016615104653729 TaiChi

    Hi Jeffrey, I'm glad you're taking your time over this.

    Let B the event of a fully assembled Boeing 747 originating from a tornado blowing parts in a junkyard; y be the number of combinations of all the parts in the junkyard;

    I think y should instead be the number of combinations of all the parts of a Boeing 747 – I don't think what is in the scrapyard (which scrapyard?) is meant to play a role in the probability calculation.

    Thus, when Swinburne writes, "God is the Ultimate Boeing 747,"..

    Dawkins?

    The only way I can make sense of this statement is as follows. Let n be the number of logically possible combinations of God's contingent properties; k be the number of combinations of God's contingent properties which would allow a being to be God; and let G be the God hypothesis.

    I'm certain this is the wrong interpretation – Dawkins argument would quite disanalogous with Hoyle's, if it the probability of God is determined as a function of logically possible combinations of properties rather than of parts. Here's another quotation to chew on:

    "Second, a God who is capable of sending intelligible signals to millions of people simultaneously, and of receiving messages from all of them simultaneously, cannot be, whatever else he might be, simple. Such bandwidth! God may not have a brain made of neurones, or a CPU made of silicon, but if he has the powers attributed to him he must have something far more elaborately and non-randomly constructed than the largest brain or the largest computer we know."

    So, God is complex because he is non-randomly constructed in the same way a brain or computer is – i.e. because he is composed of many parts, arranged in a functional order.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10289884295542007401 Jeffery Jay Lowder

    Hi TaiChi —

    I agree with you about the definition of y; I've fixed that. I've also fixed the Swinburne typo. Thanks.

    Regarding the rest of your comment, I just added a few more paragraphs to my post to expand upon my summary and interpretation of Dawkins so far. Please hit your reload / refresh button in your browser. I haven't yet gotten (in my summary) to the part of the text which you quote, so you won't see those quotations discussed until I get to the relevant section of Dawkins's chapter.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10289884295542007401 Jeffery Jay Lowder

    TaiChi:

    I'm certain this is the wrong interpretation – Dawkins argument would quite disanalogous with Hoyle's, if it the probability of God is determined as a function of logically possible combinations of properties rather than of parts. Here's another quotation to chew on:

    It may be the wrong interpretation based on later statements in Dawkins's chapter, but it seems to me it is the interpretation of Dawkins's argument which makes it analogous with Hoyle's. Perhaps you can say more about that.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10289884295542007401 Jeffery Jay Lowder

    TaiChi:

    So, God is complex because he is non-randomly constructed in the same way a brain or computer is – i.e. because he is composed of many parts, arranged in a functional order.

    If that is what Dawkins means by God, then he is attacking a straw man version of theism. I do not know of any theists who believe that God is "constructed," i.e., God is either created out of nothing or is created by rearranging pre-existing parts.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05130016615104653729 TaiChi

    Jeffrey,

    It may be the wrong interpretation based on later statements in Dawkins's chapter, but it seems to me it is the interpretation of Dawkins's argument which makes it analogous with Hoyle's. Perhaps you can say more about that.

    It's disanalogous because Hoyle's estimate of the improbability of 747 being created by chance depends upon the number of arrangements of a 747's parts which yield a functional 747 as a proportion of the all possible arrangements of a 747's parts. The closest analogous interpretation of Dawkins's argument would estimate the improbability of a superhuman, supernatural intelligence who deliberately designed and created the universe originating by chance* by comparing the functional arrangements of this intelligence's parts with all possible arrangements of its parts. To instead estimate the probability on the basis of combinations of properties is a marked departure from not only Hoyle's method, but Dawkins's discussion of the improbability other biological organisms.

    * As I've alluded to, I don't think Dawkins argument is concerned with assigning a low probability to the event of God's origination. Instead, it is concerned with assigning a low probability to God as an object – here I think Hoyle's and Dawkins's arguments are disanalogous.

    If that is what Dawkins means by God, then he is attacking a straw man version of theism. I do not know of any theists who believe that God is "constructed," i.e., God is either created out of nothing or is created by rearranging pre-existing parts.

    What Dawkins means by 'God' is given at the start of chapter 2: God is "a superhuman, supernatural intelligence who deliberately designed and created the universe and everything in it, including us". Dawkins then infers, on the basis of our scientific knowledge of minds, that such a being "must have something far more elaborately and non-randomly constructed than the largest brain or the largest computer we know". But such complexity is improbable, and so such a being is improbable.
    As I tried to explain before, it doesn't help to simply define God more specifically, in such a way that he would not be complex, for if we have a good scientific reason to infer that a superhuman, supernatural intelligence (etc.) would be highly complex, then we have good reason to suppose a superhuman, supernatural intelligence (etc.) who is also simple is very unlikely. (Indeed, we may as well treat the probability of such a simple creator-being as 0, like we do all other unobserved exceptions to scientific generalizations).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10289884295542007401 Jeffery Jay Lowder

    TaiChi:

    To instead estimate the probability on the basis of combinations of properties is a marked departure from not only Hoyle's method, but Dawkins's discussion of the improbability other biological organisms.

    Well, when I revised this post earlier today, I revised it in a way that starts with the idea of God's parts. I then ask what that could mean. I then consider God's properties as a possible interpreation. You say that's the wrong interpretation. That's fine with me. What else, then, could play the role of God's "parts"?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05130016615104653729 TaiChi

    Jeffrey,

    What else, then, could play the role of God's "parts"?

    Well, the obvious answer is 'physical stuff' – a superhuman, supernatural intelligence (etc.) would be composed of physical parts on the model of ourselves. But perhaps there are other options – mental parts, or spiritual parts, or parts belonging to some other ontological category as yet unidentified. In any case, I don't think Dawkins would be obliged to say: it is up to the theist to try to understand what God's having parts would mean, and not the responsibility of the atheist to make sense of. It may be that nothing other than physical stuff could play the role, in which case the inference from our current understanding of minds to the multipartedness of a supernatural designer would rule out that designer's being non-physical.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10289884295542007401 Jeffery Jay Lowder

    TaiChi:

    Well, the obvious answer is 'physical stuff' – a superhuman, supernatural intelligence (etc.) would be composed of physical parts on the model of ourselves.

    Two problems with this answer. (1) No theist believes that God is composed of physical stuff. (2) To say that God is composed of physical stuff seems to be in conflict with God's role as the creator of the universe. 'Physical stuff' exists inside the universe or, if you buy into multiverse theory, the multiverse. Thus, to say that God (as physical matter) created the universe (including matter) would amount to saying that God created himself and the universe! That's

    But perhaps there are other options – mental parts, or spiritual parts, or parts belonging to some other ontological category as yet unidentified.

    This is, BTW, what I had in mind when earlier I referred to God's properties.

    In any case, I don't think Dawkins would be obliged to say: it is up to the theist to try to understand what God's having parts would mean…

    I have two worries about this reply. First, it shifts the burden of proof away from the one making an argument. If Dawkins (or you or anyone else) claims that God is improbable because of his parts, then he has the burden of proof to show that. Second, I don't know of any theists who claim that God is made up of parts.

    P.S. Aside: I can't find any role for the word "superhuman" to play in Dawkins's definition of God; the word seems to be unnecessary next to the word "supernatural" in his definition.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05130016615104653729 TaiChi

    Two problems with this answer. (1) No theist believes that God is composed of physical stuff.

    That's near enough true, but how is it a problem for Dawkins? Surely it's the theist's problem that they've adopted a view of God which doesn't fit with our scientific knowledge of the mind, isn't it? I guess you could put this in the form of a dilemma. The theist can choose horn..

    (A) A supernatural, superhuman intelligence (etc.) would be composed of physical stuff, have many parts and would be highly complex. Such complexity is improbable, so God would be improbable.

    or horn..

    (B) A supernatural, superhuman intelligence (etc.) would be composed of non-physical stuff, and would be simple. As such a being would violate the scientific generalization that a mind, in order to store information, must be at least as complex as that information, our scientific knowledge of minds shows it to be improbable.

    .. but either way, God will turn out to be prohibitively improbable.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05130016615104653729 TaiChi

    (2) To say that God is composed of physical stuff seems to be in conflict with God's role as the creator of the universe. 'Physical stuff' exists inside the universe or, if you buy into multiverse theory, the multiverse.

    Again, this is just another problem for the theist, not for Dawkins. If our scientific understanding of minds indicates that any intelligence would have to be complex, and if it is true only physical stuff can be complex, and if physical stuff cannot have preceded the universe/multiverse for some reason or other, then the appropriate conclusion to draw is that an intelligence did not create the universe/multiverse, and so that there is no God.

    This is, BTW, what I had in mind when earlier I referred to God's properties.

    Well, I don't think properties are parts of their objects, as opposed to parts of their descriptions. Are 'being coloured' and 'being yellow' parts of the sun? Can we take them away from the sun? Are these two parts, or one? What about if the sun crashed into another yellow star – would it now have two properties of 'being yellow'? And if it wouldn't, how is it that the part is lost? I can't give much sense to this notion of properties as parts.

    I have two worries about this reply. First, it shifts the burden of proof away from the one making an argument. If Dawkins (or you or anyone else) claims that God is improbable because of his parts, then he has the burden of proof to show that. Second, I don't know of any theists who claim that God is made up of parts.

    I take it you mean that Dawkins has the burden to show that God has parts, yes? I agree, and think Dawkins should've said more about it. On the other hand, I think that one can argue that a supernatural, superhuman intelligence (etc.) would have parts from what we have in cognitive science and information theory, that this is background knowledge in Dawkins argument, and that this is why he so confidently asserts that such a being would have to be complex.
    But once that argument has been made, I don't see why Dawkins should have to engage in theological debate over whether the tradional conception of God can be made to fit with the idea that God has parts. If the theist just cannot accept that his God might be physical, why think that Dawkins is obligated to then give an account of God's many-partedness in terms of some other ontological category? He's already got the theist on (A) and (B), whether or not there's a third 'horn'..

    (C) A supernatural, superhuman intelligence (etc.) would be composed of non-physical stuff, have many parts and would be highly complex. Such complexity is improbable, so God would be improbable.

    I can't find any role for the word "superhuman" to play in Dawkins's definition of God; the word seems to be unnecessary next to the word "supernatural" in his definition.

    I noticed that too. And from now on, I'll abbreviate Dawkins's definition as the SIC – supernatural intelligent creator. If you're wondering why I'm avoiding the word 'God', it's because I think it's important that we don't lose sight of what Dawkins is arguing against.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10289884295542007401 Jeffery Jay Lowder

    TaiChi said:

    That's near enough true, but how is it a problem for Dawkins?

    Anyone who presents an argument for the improbability of God based upon a concept of God nobody believes in, is guilty of attacking a straw man. If Dawkins holds the view you attribute to him, i.e., that God is made up of physical parts, then Dawkins is attacking a straw man version of theism.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05130016615104653729 TaiChi

    Jeffrey,

    Anyone who presents an argument for the improbability of God based upon a concept of God nobody believes in, is guilty of attacking a straw man. If Dawkins holds the view you attribute to him, i.e., that God is made up of physical parts, then Dawkins is attacking a straw man version of theism.

    You're just not getting this. Dawkins is not just attacking a complex physical SIC, he is attacking all SICs. Please see (B) above for what rules out the conception of God you say everyone believes in.

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

    It seems to me that Dawkins believes that God is complex because God is the designer of a complex universe.

    It seems like there is a general assumption here:

    'If person X successfully designs a complex functioning entity Y, then X must be more complex than Y.'

    Why might someone think this? I suspect this assumption is based on the idea that a plan or model (an intellectual/logical entity) that is detailed enough to be used in an unthinking mechanical way to construct a complex thing (like a jet airplane) has to be at least as complex (in some sense) as the item that is being constructed.

    There may in fact be additional complexity in a plan or model, which would allow for alternative materials or alternative methods or alternative configurations to be used in constructing the sort of object intended.

    You cannot just draw a circle or a square on a piece of paper and say: 'There you go; this is a plan for building a 747 jet airplane'. The plan must be at least as complex as the thing being constructed, if the plan is to truly and fully direct the construction of the object (as opposed to having master craftsmen taking a very crude plan and developing an object using their knowledge and skills).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05130016615104653729 TaiChi

    Bradley,

    I think you've got it exactly right.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10289884295542007401 Jeffery Jay Lowder

    FYI: I just revised and expanded the post. New or revised text is in blue font. TaiChi, you'll be happy to know that I have now added a summary of Dawkins's definition of the God Hypothesis.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10289884295542007401 Jeffery Jay Lowder

    TaiChi:

    You're just not getting this. Dawkins is not just attacking a complex physical SIC, he is attacking all SICs. Please see (B) above for what rules out the conception of God you say everyone believes in.

    I disagree. In fact, I know believe that Dawkins does NOT hold the view you attribute to him. It seems to me that what Dawkins writes on page 31 rules out any interpretation of the God Hypothesis which says that God is a physical being: "There exists a super-human, supernatural intelligence who deliberately designed and created the universe and everything in it, including us." A physical creator would be part of the universe, rather than its creator.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10289884295542007401 Jeffery Jay Lowder

    "I know believe" should be "I now believe"

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05130016615104653729 TaiChi

    A physical creator would be part of the universe, rather than its creator.

    How so? By the definition of 'physical'? I've never come across such a definition, but even if you're right that 'physical' has been defined so as to exclude anything outside the universe (and where 'the universe' doesn't just mean 'everything that exists'), I doubt that this definition is so widely used that you can take it for granted that Dawkins understands the term in this way.
    I guess you might instead be alluding to the notion that space-time is a product of the big-bang, and since the qualities of physical objects are ultimately spatio-temporal, a creator of the universe would not be physical. But that presumes that the big bang was the beginning of space-time, whereas there are cosmological models in which space-time does not begin with the big bang – i.e. string-theoretical models which reject the singularity – or models in which there is space-time before the big-bang, in some sense – like Lee Smolin's theory which Dawkins is intrigued by. Again, I don't think you can assume that Dawkins would join in thinking a physical creator would have to be part of the universe.

    But perhaps you have some other justification in mind?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18095903892283146064 Richard Wein

    > What else, then, could it mean to say that God is somehow made up of parts?

    We can apply the notion of statistical improbablity to permutations of logical (rather than physical) objects. For example, we could talk about the statistical improbability of a computer program by thinking of random selection from the possible sequences of bits. A computer program can be thought of as a logical or abstract entity, independent of any physical device in which it might be instantiated. We could represent an intelligence by the shortest program that performs the same logical functions as that intelligence, and then measure the statistical improbability of such a program.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18095903892283146064 Richard Wein

    Bradley wrote:

    > It seems like there is a general assumption here:

    > 'If person X successfully designs a complex functioning entity Y, then X must be more complex than Y.'

    I've little doubt that something like that is going through Dawkins' mind, and perhaps he says it explicitly at some point. But at present we are trying to interpret the following statement: "However statistically improbable the entity you seek to explain by invoking a designer, the designer himself has got to be at least as improbable."

    If you substitute "complex" for "statistically improbable" and "improbable" in this statement you get something like your interpretation, Bradley. And such a subtitution may well be occurring in Dawkins' mind, since he has made statistical improbability his measure of complexity. But the fact remains that, if "statistical improbability" is indeterminate for non-physical beings (because they have no "parts") then complexity too is indeterminate for such beings, given the measue Dawkins has chosen.

    It seems we have the following options:
    (1) Find some interpretation of Dawkins' "statistical improbability" that can be applied to non-physical beings. I've suggested one above.
    (2) Ignore Dawkins' concept of "statistical improbability", and substitute the word "complexity" in statements like the one quoted above. In this case we may adopt some other sense or measure of "complexity".
    (3) Conclude that Dawkins' argument fails to apply to non-physical Gods.
    (4) Give up on trying to make sense of a poorly written argument.

    Even if we choose (1) or (2) we shouldn't accept the quoted statement. There's no reason in principle why humans shouldn't one day develop an AI more complex than ourselves. The fact that many human designers would be involved is not significant here. In principle, given unlimited life time, one designer could do the work of many.

    The argument proposed by Bradley is flawed; there's no reason why the plan has to be carried out in an unthinking way. Even a solitary designer can follow his own outline plan, developing one component at a time. After developing each component he can forget the details of that component, freeing up memory to be used again. There's no need for him to hold the entire detailed design in mind at any one time. He can either create each component as he designs it, or he can commit its design to "paper" (some external information storage medium) and create it later.

    Incidentally, if GH hypothesises that species are designed by God in their full complexity, then Dawkins only seems to be addressing the God of creationists, and not the God of theistic evolutionists.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18095903892283146064 Richard Wein

    P.S. I forgot to add that a designer can also create assistants to help with the design work. Human designers use computers in this way. So even a solitary designer like God needn't do all the design work himself. In the case of a theistic evolutionist God, we could consider the universe to be God's assistant in designing and creating species (through natural evolution).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16901780479265480819 seedster

    How can it be true that natural selection is the opposite of chance? It is clearly by chance and necessity that Dawkin’s Blind Watchmaker theory stands. By chance, a mutation occurs. By chance within that chance, that mutation is helpful. By yet one more step of chance, that creature with a profitable mutation happens to live on to multiply, and by one last step of chance, that creature’s offspring happen to have the same mutation. Hoyle’s analogy is making a hyperbolic statement regarding the improbability of evolution because of the necessity of (for the most part ignorant, stretched and impossible) chance. Dawkins’ attempt to turn Hoyle’s argument around and to place it on God is a failure. I can’t believe it is not more clear to everybody. It seems to me that Dawkins’ fans are just more excited about him bashing Christians then actually coherently presenting empirical data, which he claims to base all of his theories upon.
    It is as simple as this—for an atheist to attempt to debunk God on the basis of His attributes (communicable and incommunicable) is just silly. Dawkins argues that the greatness of a God who does not evolve over time is unbelievable. This is certainly also the case for Christians, hence the need for faith, hence the glory of a God who defies our understanding. Furthermore, for Dawkins to argue the improbability of a God he denies the existence of by arguing that it is logically inconsistent for Him to be made up of parts is just ridiculous. Sometimes you can’t flip someone’s argument and cogently use it in a backwards sense. Perhaps this is just ranting, but I expect more out of a man who many claim to be the pinnacle of the “free-thinking” movement.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11030669424412573308 Chris

    "By chance, a mutation occurs. By chance within that chance, that mutation is helpful. By yet one more step of chance, that creature with a profitable mutation happens to live on to multiply, and by one last step of chance, that creature’s offspring happen to have the same mutation."

    Seedster, no offense, but the above is a highly inaccurate portrait of evolution and evidence that you don't have even a good layman's understanding of the subject.

    You should read and think about the links below:

    http://www.earthfusion.org/faqs/chance/chance.html

    http://evolution.berkeley.edu/evolibrary/misconceptions_faq.php

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

    Richard Wein said…

    …There's no reason in principle why humans shouldn't one day develop an AI more complex than ourselves. The fact that many human designers would be involved is not significant here. In principle, given unlimited life time, one designer could do the work of many.

    The argument proposed by Bradley is flawed; there's no reason why the plan has to be carried out in an unthinking way. Even a solitary designer can follow his own outline plan, developing one component at a time. After developing each component he can forget the details of that component, freeing up memory to be used again. There's no need for him to hold the entire detailed design in mind at any one time.
    ===========

    Response:

    Good points. I agree that the assumption that I spelled out is false or at least very questionable.

    It seems to involve a sort of genetic fallacy. Like Descartes's assumption that limited and imperfect humans could not come up with the idea of a perfect being.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10289884295542007401 Jeffery Jay Lowder

    FYI: I've now updated this post by adding summaries of sections 3-5 of Dawkins's chapter. I've almost removed the blue font which I had added earlier to indicate some revisions of earlier sections.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10289884295542007401 Jeffery Jay Lowder

    "almost" should be "also". Sheesh!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18095903892283146064 Richard Wein

    > How can it be true that natural selection is the opposite of chance?

    "Opposite of chance" was an unfortunate choice of words. It would have been better to say that natural selection (or evolution by natural selection) is not a matter of pure chance.

    "Chance" can be used in at least two different senses. In a broad sense it refers to any stochastic (non-deterministic) process or situation. In a narrow sense it can refer just to situations where the outcomes have a uniform (equiprobable) probability distribution. The narrow sense is a colloquial one, not used by probability theorists. In my view it is best avoided (or qualified with the word "pure"), to prevent confusion with the broad sense.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10289884295542007401 Jeffery Jay Lowder

    I just had a thought related to where I left off, in my post, in my discussion of section 1, where I tried to make sense of what might play the role of "God's parts."

    I'm still unclear as to what could play the role of "God's parts," but let's assume there is a good explanation for that and that God has n number of parts. Furthermore, let's grant for the sake of argument that the combination or arrangement of God's parts is purely contingent. Then we could apply the classical interpretation of probability and say that the chance of God having any particular combination or arrangement of his parts is just 1/n, i.e., Ch(God's parts) = 1/n.

    Even if we make all of those assumptions, how do we go from:

    Ch(God's parts) = 1/n

    to the conclusion:

    "Therefore, God probably does not exist"?

    Even on a classical interpretation of probability, is there a sense in which the notorious problem of the single-case might apply? That is, how do we go from "The probability of any given configuration of God's parts is 1/n" to "God's parts do not have THIS outcome"?

    Also, supposing that each configuration of God's parts are equally probable, how does Dawkins avoid the response: "Any configuration of God's parts may be improbable yes, but even so one of those configurations had to happen, and ALL of those configurations still give you God."

    Finally, even if we assume there are no problems at all with classical probability (such as the principle of indifference), it is still the case that we can also apply at least one other interpretation of probability (i.e., the epistemic interpretation). And, of course, epistemic probability can be used to derive entirely different results than what classical probability provides. How, then, would Dawkins justify going with the classical interpretation over the epistemic interpretation, in THIS case? (I'm assuming a pluralism of probability interpretations, as suggested by Gillies.)

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

    Richard Wein said…

    Even a solitary designer can follow his own outline plan, developing one component at a time. After developing each component he can forget the details of that component, freeing up memory to be used again. There's no need for him to hold the entire detailed design in mind at any one time.
    ================

    Commment:

    Yes, and in fact no one person keeps the plan for a 747 in his head.

    All that is actually required is that one person keep some aspects of one single part of a 747 in his/her mind long enough to develop that aspect of that one part, and of course the various aspects of that one part are preserved in a document or computer file, so that nobody has to remember all aspects of that part.

    Because plans and models can exist in stable physical form for a significant period of time, the task of designing a complex product can be broken down into subtasks or subcomponents that can be designed individually, even one at a time.

    This means that a mind that can only handle complexity of level X, can create a design for an object with a complexity of level 10x, by breaking down the product to be designed into several (more than 10) subcomponents.

    That is one problem with the assumption that the designer of a product must be as complex as the product being designed.

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

    Another problem with the assumption that the designer of a product must be as complex as the product being designed…

    A product, such as a 747 jet, is made out of various materials (e.g. aluminum, steel, rubber, plastic, copper, etc.). These materials have some complexity in an of themselves. That complexity is not part of the plan or design.

    An engineer must have some knowledge of the difference between the properties of aluminum and steel and copper, in order to be able to select the proper material to build a particular part or piece of a part, but he/she does not need to know and understand the subatomic nature of these materials (e.g. what is a proton made of?), and the design for a 747 does not include the arrangement of sub-atomic particles and forces for a given part. The design might just indicate: 'make this part out of stainless steel' and 'make that part out of aluminum'.

    Given that there is already a certain degree of complexity in the materials being used, the design for a 747, for example, does not encompass all of the complexity of an actual 747, since part of the complexity of an actual 747 is in the arrangement of sub-atomic particles and forces in the parts of the 747.

    Therefore, it seems clear that a product can be more complex than the design for that product.

    This is a second reason for rejecting the assumption that the designer of a product must be as complex as the product being designed.

    Since God is supposed to have created the universe from nothing, this point might seem irrelevant to creation. However, the design of basic materials to work with (such as electrons and protons) could be a separate step from the design of objects that are made out of those materials, and so this would be another way of breaking down the task of design into less complex tasks: (1) first design materials to be used to construct a product (e.g. electrons and protons to use for creating a universe), (2) create of overarching design of high-level arrangement of parts(the Milky way goes here, and the Andromeda galaxy goes therem, etc.), finally (3) design various specific parts of the product one at a time (this star, that start, one planet, another planet, etc.)

    In this manner the level of complexity of individual design tasks can be kept much lower than the complexity of the product ulimately produced as a result of the various steps of the design process.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10289884295542007401 Jeffery Jay Lowder

    FYI: I've appended some material to my summary of section 5 and added a summary of section 6.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10289884295542007401 Jeffery Jay Lowder

    TaiChi wrote:

    How so? By the definition of 'physical'? I've never come across such a definition, but even if you're right that 'physical' has been defined so as to exclude anything outside the universe (and where 'the universe' doesn't just mean 'everything that exists'), I doubt that this definition is so widely used that you can take it for granted that Dawkins understands the term in this way.

    I have 2 comments.

    1. Either there is a multiverse or there is not. Suppose there is no multiverse; our universe is the only one in existence. If the creator is physical, where else would it be if not in our universe?

    Suppose there is a multiverse. We can then interpret the God Hypothesis as the view that God created the multiverse. So again where does a physical creator exist, if not in the multiverse?

    None of the above is based on the assumption that 'the universe' means 'everything that exists'; abstract objects are compatible with either a single universe or a multiverse.

    2. Supernatural is normally understood in contrast to the natural. I am so far unable to identify any textual support in support of the claim that Dawkins understands "supernatural" in some other way which would be compatible with a "physical" creator of the universe.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05130016615104653729 TaiChi

    Jeffrey,

    1. Either there is a multiverse or there is not. Suppose there is no multiverse; our universe is the only one in existence. If the creator is physical, where else would it be if not in our universe?

    In the universe which spawned our universe, perhaps.

    Suppose there is a multiverse. We can then interpret the God Hypothesis as the view that God created the multiverse. So again where does a physical creator exist, if not in the multiverse?

    I agree that this scenario is incompatible with a physical creator.

    2. Supernatural is normally understood in contrast to the natural. I am so far unable to identify any textual support in support of the claim that Dawkins understands "supernatural" in some other way which would be compatible with a "physical" creator of the universe.

    I have doubts that the term 'supernatural' plays much of a role in constraining the God hypothesis, since it's unclear what a substantial conception of the supernatural would amount to. You may as well replace the term with 'extraordinary'.
    As for a quote in support of the view that Dawkin's SIC would cover physical as well as non-physical beings, I think I've given it..

    "Second, a God who is capable of sending intelligible signals to millions of people simultaneously, and of receiving messages from all of them simultaneously, cannot be, whatever else he might be, simple. Such bandwidth! God may not have a brain made of neurones, or a CPU made of silicon, but if he has the powers attributed to him he must have something far more elaborately and non-randomly constructed than the largest brain or the largest computer we know." (154)

    .. which directly compares God's mind to a brain or computer.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05130016615104653729 TaiChi

    Richard Wein has a good point..

    Even a solitary designer can follow his own outline plan, developing one component at a time. After developing each component he can forget the details of that component, freeing up memory to be used again.

    .. which I don't know how to respond to. I'll think on it.

    ..a designer can also create assistants to help with the design work. Human designers use computers in this way. So even a solitary designer like God needn't do all the design work himself.

    But I think this idea fails: if God designs Steve Jobs, and Steve Jobs designs the iPad, then God does not thereby design the iPad.

    Aside 1: Actually, that's a little odd. I think I'd like to go further and suppose that God didn't design the iPad, and that Steve Jobs did, but that point makes the notion of a SIC trivially easy to refute. The argument:

    1. If a supernatural intelligence who deliberately designed and created the universe and everything in it exists, then that being designed the iPad.
    2. Steve Jobs designed the iPad, with help of other humans, not some supernatural being.
    3. Therefore, a supernatural intelligence who deliberately designed and created the universe and everything in it does not exist.

    Aside 2: If a being creates X, it does not seem that they therefore design X, in which case Dawkins definition of God needs to substitute talk of a creator for a designer.

    In the case of a theistic evolutionist God, we could consider the universe to be God's assistant in designing and creating species (through natural evolution).

    Designing is conscious, directed activity. But the universe is not conscious, so the universe can't design, so it can't shoulder any of the design work which God might like to delegate. And even if it could, we'd still have the problem above: the design work it did wouldn't thereby be God's design work, it would be the universe's, and so God would no longer count as the designer of everything in the universe.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10289884295542007401 Jeffery Jay Lowder

    Hi TaiChi:

    As for a quote in support of the view that Dawkin's SIC would cover physical as well as non-physical beings, I think I've given it..

    "Second, a God who is capable of sending intelligible signals to millions of people simultaneously, and of receiving messages from all of them simultaneously, cannot be, whatever else he might be, simple. Such bandwidth! God may not have a brain made of neurones, or a CPU made of silicon, but if he has the powers attributed to him he must have something far more elaborately and non-randomly constructed than the largest brain or the largest computer we know." (154)

    .. which directly compares God's mind to a brain or computer.

    This passage is far from conclusive evidence that Dawkin's SIC would cover physical as well as non-physical beings." This passage can be just as equally interpreted to mean that Dawkins is making an analogy between his SIC and a brain or a computer.

    It is interesting to me that the only material or physical examples explicitly mentioned by Dawkins are explicitly disavowed. Dawkins does not say God is not made of neurons or silicon, but rather God is instead made of physical substance X. Rather, he says the analogy between physical brains, CPUs, and God's mind is non-random complexity ("… far more elaborately and non-randomly constructed …").

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05130016615104653729 TaiChi

    Jeffrey,

    I think if you're looking for conclusive evidence of Dawkin's argument, you'll go wanting. It's supportive, which is what I claim for it. It outweighs the evidence on the other side, which is entirely absent.

    It is interesting to me that the only material or physical examples explicitly mentioned by Dawkins are explicitly disavowed.

    But they're not. All Dawkins says is that an SIC may not be composed of the usual physical stuff, which seems to me just to be making clear that his argument does not rely on showing that an SIC would be physical. But you inadvertently raise a question: why does Dawkins say that God "may not have a brain made of neurones", rather than that God does not have such a brain?

    Rather, he says the analogy between physical brains, CPUs, and God's mind is non-random complexity ("… far more elaborately and non-randomly constructed …").

    Because non-random complexity is what the inference to improbability ultimately relies upon. Brains are improbable, because they are complex; Computers are improbable because they are complex; An SIC's mind is improbable, because it would be complex. This is a crucial premise in the argument which Dawkins is trying to persuade us of. And Dawkins would be silly here if he insisted on the analogy between brains, computers and an SIC's mind – as above, he wants the argument to cover all kinds of designers, both physical and non-physical. This is a very broad attack..

    "I am attacking God, all gods, anything and everything supernatural, wherever and whenever they have been or will be invented."

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05130016615104653729 TaiChi

    And Dawkins would be silly here if he insisted on the analogy between brains, computers and an SIC's mind..

    Should be "if he insisted on the physical analogy", sorry.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10289884295542007401 Jeffery Jay Lowder

    TaiChi:

    All Dawkins says is that an SIC may not be composed of the usual physical stuff,

    Agreed.

    which seems to me just to be making clear that his argument does not rely on showing that an SIC would be physical.

    I guess we're going to have to agree to disagree, then. I would reword the above as "which seems to me just to be making clear that his argument does not have anything to do with SIC being physical."

    But you inadvertently raise a question: why does Dawkins say that God "may not have a brain made of neurones", rather than that God does not have such a brain?

    I can't prove this, but I read that as follows: "I acknowledge my analogy between God's mind and physical brains and computers is not a perfect analogy because God does not have a brain made of neurons…., but his mind would have to be incredibly complex."

    Because non-random complexity is what the inference to improbability ultimately relies upon. Brains are improbable, because they are complex; Computers are improbable because they are complex; An SIC's mind is improbable, because it would be complex. This is a crucial premise in the argument which Dawkins is trying to persuade us of.

    As far as interpretation of TGD is concerned, I don't want to keep repeating myself, but we've gone full circle now. I think the analogy, for Dawkins, is limited to complexity, whereas you seem to think it is broad enough to include both complexity and physical supernatural creators. I've already explained that "physical" and "supernatural" are normally understood as alternatives; I see no reason to think Dawkins uses the words in a non-standard way. Plus we have the issue of a physical creator being unable to create a multiverse, if such exists.

    As far as assessing Dawkins's argument is concerned, I agree with you that Dawkins seems to want to argue: "Brains are improbable, because they are complex; Computers are improbable because they are complex; An SIC's mind is improbable, because it would be complex."

    I'm very skeptical that Dawkins's argument works. God's mental states may well be massively complex, but there is no scenario in which God's complex mental states originate from 'simpler' mental states. Even if God is a contingently existing being, He would be eternal. There would be no time at which He did not have His complex mental states. This is where the argument breaks down. Physically complexity requires an explanation for how physical things got rearranged into a more complex structure. God's mental states, by contrast, never went through such a transformation into increasing complexity. So I don't see a reason to think they need an explanation.

    And Dawkins would be silly here if he insisted on the analogy between brains, computers and an SIC's mind – as above, he wants the argument to cover all kinds of designers, both physical and non-physical. This is a very broad attack.

    We agree that he wants the argument to cover all kinds of designers. Where we disagree is whether that provides some reason to think that he understands the God Hypothesis to include or be compatible with a physical creator.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18095903892283146064 Richard Wein

    Tai Chi,

    > But I think this idea fails: if God designs Steve Jobs, and Steve Jobs designs the iPad, then God does not thereby design the iPad.

    Well, my scenario didn't necessarily involve the designer delegating all the design work to assistants he creates. He might do the outline design and then delegate the detailed design of components. We might still say that he designed the object in question, just as we might say that Steve Jobs designed the iPad even though he presumably delegated much of the detailed design work.

    If you interpret GH as implying that God did all the design work himself, then this scenario is irrelevant to it. But it's still relevant to the broader claim: "However [complex] the entity you seek to explain by invoking a designer, the designer himself has got to be at least as [complex]."

    > Designing is conscious, directed activity. But the universe is not conscious, so the universe can't design, so it can't shoulder any of the design work which God might like to delegate.

    My argument is the same whether I call this "design" or not. God could have used the universe (and natural evolution) to produce organisms instead of designing them himself. Whether we call that natural process "design" is immaterial to the argument, but I think it's reasonable and useful to do so.

    It seems less of a stretch if we think about a computer executing an evolutionary algorithm and producing, say, a plan for a bridge. It seems pointless to deny the word "design" to the plan or to the process.

    Like many words, "design" can be used in both narrower and broader senses. You want to restrict it to a narrow sense. I don't accept that restriction.

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

    Jeff Lowder said…

    I've already explained that "physical" and "supernatural" are normally understood as alternatives; I see no reason to think Dawkins uses the words in a non-standard way.
    ==========
    Comment:

    Dawkins does in fact briefly discuss the concept of 'supernatural' and he seems to have a rather odd understanding of it. His discussion is not very clear, though. See pages 72 and 73 in the 2006 hardback edition of TGD.

    Dawkins contrasts superhuman aliens with powers that seem 'supernatural' with true gods, and the aliens unlike the gods would have evolved and developed their powers over a long period of time.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10289884295542007401 Jeffery Jay Lowder

    This seems to be pp 98-99 in the hardcover edition available on Amazon and Google Books. I don't see anything unusual about his view of natural vs. supernatural. He says that the difference between gods and technologically superior aliens is one of "provenance." "Entities that are complex enough to be intelligent are products of an evolutionary process. No matter how godlike they may seem when we encounter them, they didn't start that way."

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

    More on the complexity of designers and the things they design…

    Because the task of designing a complex product can be broken down into down into less complex tasks which can be handled one at a time, and because parts of a design can be stored in physical media (e.g. on paper or in a computer file) a designer can be less complex than the product that he/she designs.

    So, it appears that Dawkins' argument rests on a false assumption.

    However, on the traditional Western concept of God, God is an omniscient designer, so God does not require any physical media to store parts of a design, and God is able to hold a design of infinite complexity in mind. God, for example, would have no difficulty holding every last detail of a plan for a 747 in his mind.

    It is a bit odd to think about God thinking and creating a design (wouldn't any changes or additions to the design indicate that the initial idea was faulty?), but once a design was formed, it would presumably be fully detailed out in the mind of God.

    This traditional view of God supports Dawkins' inference, I believe, about the designer of the universe being more complex than the universe.

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

    One thing that would make the design of a universe more complex than the universe itself, assuming the design was formed by an omniscient deity, would be that not only would every detail of the universe (at least at it's starting point) be represented in the design, but there would also presumably be reasons associated with most of the aspects of the design.

    There would be reasons for (a) creating a universe as opposed to, for example, creating just a single electron, (b) for creating multiple galaxies as opposed to just one galaxy, (c) for creating planets as well as stars, (d) for creating galaxies, planets, and stars that would be stable enough to last over a billion years, (e) for creating matter composed of electrons, protons, neutrons, etc., (f) for creating conditions that would support the formation of living creatures and the evolution of species, etc.

    Most aspects of a design have reasons behind them, reasons why that aspect was specified one way rather than another (e.g. why aluminum should be used for the shell of the 747, rather than plastic or stainless steel).

    The reasons guiding the choice of aspects of a design for a universe would be maintained in the mind of an omniscient deity as well as the design itself. Therefore, to the extent that a detailed design of a universe is about as complex as the universe produced from that design, the mind of God would contain information of even greater complexity than the universe, because God's mind would also contain bilions of reasons supporting billions of choices that determined the various aspects and details of the design.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05130016615104653729 TaiChi

    Sorry about the late post.

    Jeffrey,

    So far as exegesis goes, yes, let's agree to disagree. It'd be better to concentrate on whether there is some argument suggested in TGD that might be sound.

    I'm very skeptical that Dawkins's argument works. God's mental states may well be massively complex, but there is no scenario in which God's complex mental states originate from 'simpler' mental states. Even if God is a contingently existing being, He would be eternal. There would be no time at which He did not have His complex mental states. This is where the argument breaks down. Physically complexity requires an explanation for how physical things got rearranged into a more complex structure. God's mental states, by contrast, never went through such a transformation into increasing complexity. So I don't see a reason to think they need an explanation.

    I don't think that's quite right. Physical complexity requires an explanation because it is antecedently improbable – that's enough of a reason. To frame the requirement instead in terms of finding out how physical things got rearranged into complexity is to conflate a methodological assumption – that one should look to the past, and to for simpler states of affairs upon which a complexity-building process may operate – with what needs explanation.

    So here's an illustration of our different views. Suppose that the universe 'came' into existence 5 minutes ago, in all its complex glory. I say 'came', because in this story, there was no space-time prior to 5 minutes ago. Now, suppose you are right, and that physical complexity requires an explanation for how physical things got rearranged into complexity – then an explanation wouldn't be required in this case. Supposing I'm right, then one would be required, because the universe is massively complex and so massively improbable. Do you agree with the position I've saddled you with?

    Richard Wein,

    I do think Dawkins assumes a single designer, both in his definition of God and his complexity principle. It seems a bit odd to me to limit interpretive charity to the first case, but anyway, I think we agree that these two could be rewritten more defensibly.

    It seems less of a stretch if we think about a computer executing an evolutionary algorithm and producing, say, a plan for a bridge. It seems pointless to deny the word "design" to the plan or to the process.

    I believe that would be a metaphorical, not a literal usage, as Dawkins himself points out fairly often in his books (he has to, since his use of teleological language presents irresistable opportunities for quote-mining).

    Bradley,

    This traditional view of God supports Dawkins' inference, I believe, about the designer of the universe being more complex than the universe.

    I agree. The crucial assumption I wonder about is whether one can infer the complexity of a God's mind from what we know about the mind generally. I think we can, since there is no actual evidence for the existence of the exception-making properties that theists would assign to God, and so we have no basis for introducing them into our reasoning about the world.

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

    Jeff Lowder said…

    I'm very skeptical that Dawkins's argument works. God's mental states may well be massively complex, but there is no scenario in which God's complex mental states originate from 'simpler' mental states. Even if God is a contingently existing being, He would be eternal. There would be no time at which He did not have His complex mental states. This is where the argument breaks down. Physically complexity requires an explanation for how physical things got rearranged into a more complex structure. God's mental states, by contrast, never went through such a transformation into increasing complexity. So I don't see a reason to think they need an explanation.
    =============
    Comment:

    This reminds me of Swinburne's discussion of the cosmological argument, especially his quotation of Leibniz, who argues that an infinite regress of explanations of complexity fails to explain the existence of the complexity:

    "Neither in any one single thing, nor in the whole aggregate and series of things, can there be found the sufficient reason of existence. Let us suppose the book of the elements of geometry to have been eternal, one copy always having been written down from an earlier one; it is evident that, even though a reason can be given for the present book out of a past one, nevertheless out of any number of books taken in order going backwards we shall never come upon a full reason; though we might well always wonder why there should have been such books from all time–why there were books at all, and why they were written in this manner. What is true of the books is true also of the different states of the world; for what follows is in some way copied from what precedes (even though there are certain laws of change). And so, however far you go back to earlier states, you will never find in those states a full reason why there should be any world rather than none, and why it should be such as it is. Indeed, even if you suppose the world eternal, as you will be supposing nothing but a succession of states and will not in any of them find a sufficient reason, nor however many states you assume will you advance one step forward giving a reason…"

    (The Existence of God, 2nd ed., p.143–quoting from On the Ultimate Origination of Things, trans. M. Morris, in The Philosophical Writings of Leibniz,Everyman edition, 1934, p.31-32)

    If the eternity of the universe fails to provide a sufficient reason for the complexity in the universe, the same would hold true of the mind of God. And if the eternity of God's mind provides a sufficient reason for the complexity in God's mind, then the same would hold true of the complexity of the universe (if the universe is eternal).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18095903892283146064 Richard Wein

    I reject Dawkins' argument for the complexity of God. I would argue instead that, as an intelligent designer, God is a functionally complex phenomenon. Regardless of how he is constituted, God's behaviour (designing stuff) is among the most complex of any phenomena. Science has enjoyed great success by demanding explanations for phenomena with complex behaviours, and the hypothesis that such a phenomenon has no explanation goes against the broad lessons of science.

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

    Richard Wein said…

    Regardless of how he is constituted, God's behaviour (designing stuff) is among the most complex of any phenomena. Science has enjoyed great success by demanding explanations for phenomena with complex behaviours, and the hypothesis that such a phenomenon has no explanation goes against the broad lessons of science.
    ============
    Comment:

    That sounds very reasonable, but I'm wondering how this position relates to the point that Dawkins is allegedly failing to address the existence of 'God' as traditionally conceived of by Christians, Jews, and Muslims.

    If 'God' is defined as (among other things) being a 'necessary being' in the sense not of being logically necessary, but rather of being a brute fact, of existing without any dependence on any other beings, of having no explanation for his existence, then how does the point about God's complexity demanding an explanation fit here?

    I suppose the point is one of a priori probability of a complex entity existing without an explanation of its existence.

    If so, then Swinburne and Dawkins agree on a basic principle here. It is logically possible for a complex physical universe to be a brute fact, having no explanation for its existence, and the same is true of God. But Swinburne thinks the hypothesis that God exists without an explanation is a simpler hypothesis than the hypothesis that the universe exists without an explanation, and Dawkins thinks that the hypothesis that the universe exists without an explanation is the simpler of the two hypotheses.

    But if 'God' is defined as a necessary being, defined as being that is just a brute fact, having no explanation for his existence, then it is no possible for such a being to have an explanation. If God exists, then the probability that God has an explanation is 0.

    Given the assumption that God would be a highly complex entity without an explanation of his existence, the hypothesis that God exists is very low.


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