A response to Richard Dawkins' argument against the existence of God.

Our latest Dawkins thread began with an atheist worrying about Dawkins’ tone distracting religious readers away from his arguments. It does exactly that. But even if someone rewrote the book in a polite manner, the arguments would still be extremely weak. I’ve discussed many examples in many threads. Dawkins fans can rationalize them all away sure, but Glenn Beck’s fans can do the same for their man. Having a fan club willing to defend anything you say doesn’t make you right. More moderate Dawkins defenders take a second line of defense. They say (paraphrased) “Yes, Dawkins is wrong about a lot of stuff, put religious people only point out that stuff because they’re unable to refute his argument against the existence of God.” In fact , Dawkins’ argument against the existence of God has been refuted thousands if not millions of times, and most of those refutations were written centuries or millenia ago. But some people apparently missed it.

Here’s Dawkins’ argument against the existence of God:

That sentence, like “Colorless green words sleep furiously”, is grammatically correct, but it’s nonsense. Probability is a mathematical concept that describes events, not objects, as can be verified from the nearest math textbook. (The probability of an event is the number of outcomes in the event divided by the total possible numer of outcomes.) So you can find the probability that a cow will go moo, but you can’t find the probability of a cow. And of course Dawkins knows this, so he tries to elide over the fact that he’s really talking about the probability of God coming into existence, not about the probability of God. He claims that the probability of God coming into existence is very small. As usual, he offers no reasons. No reason why God must be complex, no reason why that complexity should make the probability of God coming into existence small. But most of all, no reason why God had to come into existence in order to exist.

The best refutation to this argument is written in Genesis 1:1. “In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the Earth”. In other words, God existed before the opening event; God has always existed. Hence trying to insist that God can’t exist because He couldn’t start existing is an inane category mistake, like saying that cars can’t exist because there’s no way for a care to hatch from an egg. In his only attempt to deal with this, Dawkins claims that the statement of God being eternal is “vague” and “pseudo-philosophical”. It is neither.

So in short, the best argument against the existence of God is an extremely bad argument that was knocked down millenia ago, and even the more intelligent atheists would probably be embarrassed to be caught making it. If that’s the best argument against God’s existence, then it bolsters my confidence in God’s existence quite a bit, because apparently there aren’t any good arguments against God’s existence. But besides that, Dawkins offers this claim: “The argument from improbability is easily today’s most popular argument in favor of the existence of God”. This is perhaps the most ludicrous statement in a book that contains mostly ludicrous statements. I know that God exists because I have experience of God, just as I know my mother exists because I have experience of her. Some ignorant yahoo offering a pitiful argument for the non-existence of God would be treated the same as a similar argument concerning my mother.

If no reason is required for the complexity of God’s nature, why is God required as a reason for the complexity of the universe?

How has the problem of the first cause - at least as you have partially expressed it - been “knocked down” ever, let alone millions of times? Quoting the Bible as saying that God created the universe doesn’t get around the problem of how God came into existance. If everything we see and know in the natural universe obeys the laws of physics (at least as we understand them so far), why would God be somehow different? Simply saying that God by His/Her/Its very nature is eternal and thus has no creator, is a sidestep of this problem, not a valid answer precisely because it requires some sort of faith and not rational argument or reason.

Thank you for pointing out that the answer is right there, in the Bible. For that is an argument which has never been advanced before, and furthermore, is airtight, unlike, for instance, a circular argument.

You accidentally posted this in Great Debates instead of your diary. You know God exists, and I’m an ignorant yahoo. Have a nice eternity. Don’t pretend you’re arguing.

Are you seriously suggesting that the best refutation of Dawkin’s argument (as you’ve presented his argument) is the bare assertation in Genesis 1:1? Then I’ll refute your refutation with a reference the The Gospel According to Lurker Above 1:1 “No, God doesn’t exist”. I trust you will find that sufficient.

We could just as validly define probability in the Bayesian fashion, as referring to one’s subjective belief about the likelihood of an event given one’s current state of knowledge. We could say that god is improbable in the sense that we believe that his existence is improbable.

But we could get a sense for how likely the existence of such a being as “cow” is. Having met (and eaten) quite a few, I believe it quite likely.

Wait—why does Dawkins have to be talking about god “coming into existence”? He could be referring to the probability of god existing at all, as I mentioned above. But beside that, you’re focusing on the wrong part of the argument; it isn’t about god coming into existence; it is about whether a cause must be as complex as its effect and thus whether the god hypothesis gets us anywhere. Or are you implying that something which always exists cannot admit of explanation?

Let’s say I was born and when I was 25 years old, I made a clay jug. This is all true.

But if I were then to say I always existed, that would be incorrect. I have not always existed and just because I created a clay pot is not evidence of me always existing.

Your statement is that since God created Heavens and the Earth that He’s always existed. That would be at best an assumption and a weak one at that.
(Disclaimer: I’m an atheist/agnostic)

I am normally 5’8" tall, but have direct experience of being only 2’ tall and yet maintaining my horizontal dimensions, including feet 12" long. I was 2’ tall for several hours one evening in 1976, while visiting a friend’s house. I was so amazed by this that I walked around the house for a while, and then went outdoors. His house is on a steep slope, but because of my new low center of gravity I was much more able to run around without slipping or tripping. I spent a considerable while just experimenting with leaning forward and touching the ground in front of me with my fingers, then leaning backward and touching that ground the same way, all ramrod straight except for pivoting at the ankles. And now I am pleased to remember exactly what having this very different shape feels like and lets a person do.

We were taking PCP at the time.

But the experience and memory are perfectly clear, and various other details of the evening, like what we had for supper and what records he played, were verifiable the next day.

The point is that direct experience, even your own, isn’t much of a proof. It only feels like one, and only to the person who remembers it. If things were otherwise, we would have no faulty memories, no misinterpretations, no dreams or nightmares - and no religious experiences. I think that’s broadly why people in some parts of the world traditionally understand people who have religious experiences as “god intoxicants”.

I don’t get this. I don’t have a problem with religion, believe whatever you want to believe as long as it doesn’t hurt others. But if you try and defend it logically and scientifically, you’re going to lose. There’s no rational basis for it. Isn’t that the point? I’m not really into the whole blind faith thing, but that seems to be the idea behind religion.

When you try to argue “God created the universe” you’re already making dozens of assumptions about what exactly “God” is, and yet in every one of these arguments they are always just glossed over. When science creates a new concept, it tries to define it on as deep a level as it can go. But no one seems to want to define what God is, it’s just assumed everyone knows. I’ve never read the Bible, or the Koran, or any other mainstream religious text. To me, they are fairy tales written by men hundreds of years ago. How could you convince me otherwise?

Here is the section of the book you snipped from:

He’s not just claiming the probability of God coming into existence is very small (that’s really not the point here); he’s claiming that if you believe it’s improbable for us to come into existence without a God, then you should feel the same about the existence of a being that needed to be there to get the ball rolling.

Isn’t it obvious? Humans are complex beings, no? Wouldn’t a being more powerful than us in every way also be complex?

He mentioned it in his book. Did you read it? The religious premise is that God always existed. Dawkins says, “Any creative intelligence, of sufficient complexity to design anything, comes into existence only as the end product of an extended process of gradual evolution.”

See above. That doesn’t count as a reason, or were you just assuming Dawkins didn’t include one?

I guess you also know that fairies, ghosts, Earth visiting extraterrestrials, etc. exist because millions have experienced them?

That’s your “best” refutation? :rolleyes: Thank you for sparing us the lesser ones.

Now, that was funny!

I guess you go to these debates with the refutation you have, not the refutation you wish you had.

Don’t you ever get embarassed posting stuff like this?

In case you missed it, Dawkins’ main argument against the existence of a god is that all the arguments for its existence are invalid. With no arguments left for its existence, there’s not much reason to believe it exists.

Again, in case you missed the point, he’s saying that the likelihood of god’s existence has to be way less than simply the universe’s existence. The universe 13.7 billion years ago was fairly simple, just a whole bunch of energy concentrated in one small space. Any way you define an intelligent, infinitely powerful being just has to be way way way less probable than that. Therefore the cosmological argument for god doesn’t hold water.

He’s pointing out what he has experienced as the most popular argument, not telling you what your particular fallacy is. In my experience, there are two reasons that most people will say they believe in a god.

One is personal experience, which is on its face a terrible way to go about establishing what you believe. Having thoughts in your head that can easily be explained by normal human brain functioning is the worst possible evidence for something actually being true. Surely you can come up with dozens of examples of why this is so, so why do you rely on it for your god-belief?

The other common argument is the cosmological argument that Dawkins was talking about here. Most people formulate it less formally, saying something like “there’s just so much to the world/universe that there just has to be a god.” Dawkins does a good job showing why this argument isn’t valid.

I’m now morbidly curious about what ITR considers the second-best refutation.

That’s odd. I was under the impression he’d written quite a few books about the subject. He’s appeared in his capacity as an atheist thinker type on a good few shows and so forth. Yet he has one argument against the existence of God? That’s it?

Your first point is pretty much just nitpickery. As to your second; yes, he does. I’d like a cite for the particular line you quote, if that’s ok (Just as a side note; your not providing cites is, essentially, the same mistake you claim of Dawkins; you claim he asks us to believe him with no evidence, and similarly, you ask us to believe your cite is his words without evidence. It’s not a particularly impressive maneuvre, and, I imagine, and weakens your argument).

Anyway, I had a very brief flick through my copy of TGD, but I haven’t yet been able to find the line you quote (though i’m sure it’s in there, i’m not accusing you of lying). Dawkins does make a similar argument to it in his subchapter on irreducible complexity, as compared to which it’s a pretty good argument to make. But i’d need to know context.

The Bible doesn’t cite anything. It just expects us to believe it. :wink:

The creation of the Heavens and the Earth was not the opening event, if I recall correctly, but I get your point. Problematically, the idea of God being eternal is pretty vague. We don’t really have the words to describe something existing out of time or physical reality; it’s tricky to understand how such a being could exist, in what form, and how a physical reality constrained by time and the like would interact and be interacted with such a being.

Ah, not only is this now apparently Dawkins’ only argument, it is now the best argument against the existence of God entirely. That’s damnably impressive redefinition of you.

As to your argument from personal experience; it is a terrible one. Plenty of people have personal experience of gods which entirely contradict yours. In fact, I would find it quite reasonable to say that, in the grand scheme of things, the vast majority of the people on this world - billions upon billions of them - disagree with your personal experience, based on personal experience of their own. And that’s true for each of us. The only logical conclusion is that personal experience can well be flawed. If the idea that personal experience can be wrong is the most ludicrous statement in the book (which you castigate for not providing cites while providing no cites of your own), then it speaks pretty well of the book, in all honesty.

Let’s take your questions one by one.

  1. Why should God be complex?
    God is omniscient. An entity that represents every conceivable item of information is going to be complex, at least in respect of its representation of information about the universe. Ergo, God has complexity.

  2. Why does complexity entail design?
    Here, the theist is hoist on his own petard. The essential premise in the argument from design is that organized complexity can only come about through intelligent intentions. What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

  3. Why can’t God have always existed? Then God’s complexity wouldn’t need a designer.
    Well, I suppose you can say God always existed, or that He is timeless. But that is merely an evasion of the question about complexity. Think of it this way: a question about complexity can be a question about (a) what caused the complex entity to exist, or (b) what explains the structure or organization of the complex being. You can admit that God has no cause (because He has always existed) and thereby say question (a) doesn’t need answering. But it is unsatisfactory to give a similar answer for (b), to say that the structured, organized complexity of God has no explanation. The theist himself demands that the atheist answer such questions about the structure and complexity of the universe; to simply refuse to answer such questions about God is to play by an untenable double standard. After all, if the atheist says, “The universe has no cause–the Big Bang was an uncaused quantum event”, the theist will still demand to know why the universe has the particular structure it has. (Indeed, the theist might even ask why the universe is so improbable. ;)) Questions about *origins *are different from questions about structure.

  4. Well, where does the structure and complexity of the universe come from? Huh?
    Dawkins says the only mechanism we know of by which organized complexity can arise is by evolution. It is demonstrably how we got complex life forms on this planet. Could it be how organized, life-hospitable universes developed? It is possible that universes spawn other universes; those that are unstable collapse, and those that are stable give rise to other universes. This is highly speculative, but the ‘multiverse’ theory is (according to astronomers like Martin Rees) in principle testable, which makes it better than theism, at least.

I hadn’t read any of Dawkins’ work until quite recently, when Newsweek an excerpt of The Greatest Show on Earth. I found the text to be somewhat repetitive and self-congratulatory and was glad I hadn’t purchased the book since the style annoyed me, though I may check it out of my university library someday.

That said, ITR’s latest argument (or more accurately, this latest OP in which he reiterates his only argument) is utter hooey. Dawkins doesn’t win so much as ITR suffers a self-inflicted loss. By putting God outside of reason, you nullify your own attempt to discuss God reasonably.
I look forward to next month’s chapter in the unadvancing but amusing ITR saga.

From an interesting article from Discover Magazineon the multiverse theory:

Wikipedia cites a 2007 paper from Alan Guththat the theory is still in play. So who knows? The beauty of science is that it tries to fill in the gaps with further exploration, not by throwing up its hands and resorting to ad hoc, unfalsifiable explanations. (Apparently this theory is difficult, but not impossible, to test.) I liked Dawkins’ recent appearance on the O’Reilly Show–he kept saying something like, “Of course there are gaps in our scientific knowledge, but it is an extraordinary piece of illogic to insist that those gaps must be filled by the Christian God.”