TGD – Chapter 4

Chapter 4 is the first chapter where Dawkins changes his tactic from attacking religion to defending atheism, although one can’t exactly blame him for that considering the title of the book. It’s pretty obvious what the book is going to focus on.

The chapter is titled “Why There Almost Certainly Is No God”, although I think that’s a bit of an overstatement. It would be more properly titled “A Perfectly Reasonable Alternative To God”. I say this because the theory he lays out is not one that excludes the possibility of God but merely shows that it’s possible that we exist without God.

He lays his groundwork in his first two sections of the chapter titled “The Ultimate Boeing 747″ and “Natural Selection as a consciousness-raiser”. The point is to say the atheist must have a solution to the problem of how complexity comes from simplicity without the help of a designer. He goes on to show how Darwin’s work gave us a pathway for that. Natural selection shows us how biological life can transition from simplicity to complexity without a designer. He spends quite a bit of time explaining the significance of this breakthrough.

He’s very much right that it does show us an example of how it’s possible that God doesn’t exist, but natural selection could be aided by a super-natural being, couldn’t it? At a minimum, natural selection requires that random mutations of genes create diversity. Isn’t it at least a possibility that the randomness is not so random as it would seem? This says nothing of God interfering with the process of who is able to continue their lives to the point where they successfully reproduce.

I bring this up because one of the mistakes of the scientist is to assume a natural process is without divine interference without exception. Which is fine as far as defining natural processes go. But finding that natural process that works seemingly without exception does not mean that God could not interfere with it nor that He hasn’t interfered with it in the past. Point being, finding a natural process for how something works does not prove that God could not interfere with it.

The third section is a bit longer. It’s titled “Irreducible complexity” and it’s about refuting specific examples sited by some as examples where natural selection wouldn’t work. (I’m assuming the reader understands the concept of “irreducible complexity” which basically means that there’s no way for natural selection to get from step A to step B.) But he spends most of the section picking on articles in the Watchtower magazine or pamphlets.

Watchtower is put out by the Jehovah’s Witnesses and is about as credible a source as most campaign literature about the opponent. The fact that Dawkins uses this as a valid point to rebut is laughable and seriously undermines his credibility. The Jehovah’s Witnesses are a very small minority group, are roundly criticized for their wacky beliefs and shoddy logic by almost all Christian groups (it’s one of those rare things that almost all Protestants from Evangelicals to Episcopals, Catholics and Orthodox call all agree on. Flatly stated, you don’t use them as representative of anything but JW’s beliefs.

Which leads to Dawkins next section titled “The worship of gaps” where he tries to change the battlefield. He realizes that theists have turned the table on him with irreducible complexity. When it’s just “God vs. Science” (and please don’t forget that I flatly reject that premise; I’m stating it as Dawkins, not my own) Science has a bit of an upper hand because they get to poke 1,000 holes in God and every one blunted by theists does nothing to stop the other pokes. Irreducible complexity creates the opposite scenario where the theist can try to poke 1,000’s of holes and the scientist has to try and stop or plug everyone one of them.

So Dawkins attempts to change the playing field by stating that going for these gaps is a “fundamentally unscientific way to proceed”. He delves deeper into the ideas he brought up in the consciousness-raiser section that what natural selection does is not just show a solution to one example of complexity from simplicity, but also that it shows it’s possible for that to happen and therefore, even thought we may not know the method for other areas today, it is possible that we’ll find an answer for the simplicity to complexity problem sometime later.

While I agree with him that it does raise the possibility, possibility does not equate to proven, which is the leap he seems to make.

This is where I will further agree with him: He brings up examples of people who purposely make themselves ignorant because the “gaps” to allow for room for God. He’s right that there are people who are afraid what science may discover and it’ll close the gaps and squeeze out God. For those people, they purposely want ignorance and they fear science. He’s right that many of those people exist and he’s right that purposeful ignorance is never the right way to live, nor for the scientist to make progress.

But here’s where he’s got it wrong: Those people are not all religious people, they are a subset. There’s TONS of religious people who want to discover. Those people are interested in investigating what’s in the gaps as much as anyone, unlike those who’d like to leave the gaps alone and call that God. As I showed with biological natural selection, it’s both very possible that it’s the way things work and that it’s guided by God.

The chapter finishes out, minus one final section, with a couple sections that go beyond Dawkins area of scientific expertise to talk about what might be options for the equivalent of natural selection outside of biology. I want to give Dawkins a lot of credit for these two sections because he’s very fair in stating that these are just hypotheses and is quite clear in stating that there are no firm answers in these areas. He freely admits scientists don’t yet understand. It takes a noble man to admit the areas he doesn’t have an answer.

His point is that he doesn’t need one, at least not yet. The whole point of the buildup about the gaps and natural selection was that the gaps shouldn’t trouble the atheist, we know that it’s possible and that’s all we need to know. To admit that there are gaps is not to admit that there is a God. Dawkins is right about this. So while he throws out a couple ideas for the “Six Numbers”, something I didn’t know anything about until I read this chapter, he’s quite upfront that they’re just ideas.

But going back to a point I made in my earlier rebukes of whether science will ever answer to whether God exists, the trouble I have with the whole premise is that he’s asking everyone to suspend their belief in God for all eternity while infinite resources and infinite time are spent “filling the gaps”. Just the possibility that the gaps may all be filled some day is enough for him to declare “there is almost certainly no God.” And that’s what I most take exception to. Ignoring all of the evidence provided by miracles and the such, it’s possible that God doesn’t exist and a purely natural explanation will be found for everything. It’s also possible there’s certain areas where no answer can be found for how complexity came from simplicity. Why should his predisposition be given the benefit of the doubt?

Effectively the best answer he can give is that the religious attitude encourages us to worship the gaps and thus encourages ignorance. Ignoring that the number of religious who are inquisitive and desire answers makes his assertion patently and observably not true, it’s also no justification for why we should be predisposed to his viewpoint any more than statistics that show religious people are more charitable are scientific proof that God exists.

The final section is titled “An interlude at Cambridge” which is appropriately titled because one wonders why he puts it here or what point he’s trying to make other than pat himself on the back or defend his appearance at the conference (which he spends fully half the section on) which appears to have been organized by people who were biased towards faith. Since I know nothing of the conference, I didn’t get much from the section.

Overall, this was one of Dawkins most cohesive and rational chapters. He sets out to make a number of points and for the most part makes them, minus some overstating of the conclusions. From reading it I get the feeling that Dawkins would be far more convincing sticking to positive arguments for atheism than his rage-filled rants against believers that has been filled with stereotypes, bigotry and half-truths. Sadly, based on the table of contents we’re back to attacking faith in Chapter 5.

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