Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The Problem with God: Interview with Richard Dawkins #3

The Problem with God: Interview with Richard Dawkins, Beliefnet, 15 December 2005. The renowned biologist talks about intelligent design, dishonest Christians, and why God is no better than an imaginary friend. Interview by Laura Sheahen.

Continued from part #2. The interviewer's questions are bold and in italics and my comments are bold and in square brackets.

You criticize intelligent design, saying that "the theistic answer"--pointing to God as designer--"is deeply unsatisfying"--presumably you mean on a logical, scientific level.

Yes, because it doesn't explain where the designer comes from. If they're going to emphasize the statistical improbability of biological organs-"these are so complicated, how could they have evolved?"--well, if they're so complicated, how could they possibly have been designed? Because the designer would have to be even more complicated. [First, this is a straw man question by the interviewer. ID does not "point... to God as designer." And if Dawkins had the "moral purity" he is reputed to have:

"Dawkins, however, has the moral purity-some would say the moral rigidity-of the evangelical Christian or the committed feminist. Not even for the sake of argument can he endorse something that he thinks false. To do so is not just mistaken, he feels; in some deep sense, it is wrong. Life is serious, and there are evils to be fought. There must be no compromise or equivocation, even for pedagogical reasons. As the Quakers say, "Let your yea be yea, and your nay, nay." (Ruse M.E., "Through a Glass, Darkly," American Scientist, November-December 2003)
he would correct the interviewer with something like, "First, to be fair, ID does not "point... to God as designer". But Dawkins' "moral purity" is that of the self-righteous Pharisee:
"Yet while Dawkins' atheism became more strident in its tone and more aggressive in its assertions, it did not become noticeably more sophisticated in terms of the arguments offered. Religious folk are demonized as dishonest, liars, fools, and knaves, incapable of responding honestly to the real world, and preferring to invent a false, pernicious, and delusionary world into which to entice the unwary, the young, and the naive. It is a line of thought that has led many to suggest, not entirely without reason, that Dawkins might have fallen victim to the kind of self-righteousness that biblical writers associated with the Pharisees. The writer Douglas Adams recalls Dawkins once remarking: "I really don't think I'm arrogant, but I do get impatient with people who don't share with me the same humility in front of the facts." [Fulford R., "Richard Dawkins Talks Atheism with Messianic Zeal," National Post, November 25, 2003] Yet the awkward fact, which Dawkins seems reluctant to concede, is that there are many sane and intelligent individuals who draw conclusions which differ completely from his through precisely that same humble engagement with the scientific evidence. Perhaps they are mad; perhaps they are bad; but then again, perhaps they are neither. (McGrath A.E., "Dawkins' God: Genes, Memes, and the Meaning of Life," Blackwell: Malden MA, 2005, pp.8-9)
unable to see (or unable to admit to himself) the "plank in his own eye" (Mat 7:5).

Second, see my ID FAQ for the refutation of Dawkins' answer, "intelligent design ... doesn't explain where the designer comes from": 1) "if science was required to explain everything along an infinite regress, before it could explain something, then there could be no scientific explanation of anything new"; 2) "It is an exaggeration and a Fallacy of False Dilemma, Dawkins' claim that a statement which does not explain everything, therefore explains nothing"; and 3) "Dawkins' argument is fatal to evolution (for starters), because then "to explain the origin of species by invoking natural processes is to explain precisely nothing, for it leaves unexplained the origin of natural processes". It therefore also commits the Fallacy of Special Pleading, i.e.:

"to apply a double standard: one for ourselves ... and another (a stricter one) for everyone else." (Engel S.M., "With Good Reason, 1990, pp.145-146); "having it both ways ... ignoring or twisting the facts to his own advantage." (Fearnside W.W. & Holther W.B., "Fallacy: The Counterfeit of Argument," 1959, p.108); "a common fault in argument arising from the influence of prejudice which may be employed deliberately as a dishonest trick, but which more usually is the result of the speaker being himself blinded by his prejudices." (Thouless R.H., "Straight and Crooked Thinking," 1973, pp.156-157)
because Dawkins would have to exempt his own field of Evolutionary Biology (and indeed every other branch of science!) from the standard he applies to ID.]

Obviously, a lot of people find the theistic answer satisfying on another level. What do you see as the problem with that level?

What other level?

At whatever level where people say the idea of God is very satisfying.

Well, of course it is. Wouldn't it be lovely to believe in an imaginary friend who listens to your thoughts, listens to your prayers, comforts you, consoles you, gives you life after death, can give you advice? Of course it's satisfying, if you can believe it. But who wants to believe a lie? [Well Dawkins for one, since Christianity is true and therefore atheism is false!]

Is atheism the logical extension of believing in evolution?

They clearly can't be irrevocably linked because a very large number of theologians believe in evolution. In fact, any respectable theologian of the Catholic or Anglican or any other sensible church believes in evolution. Similarly, a very large number of evolutionary scientists are also religious. My personal feeling is that understanding evolution led me to atheism. [Dawkins is also committing a Fallacy of Equivocation on the word "evolution". He had previously claimed (and I agree with him) that "any evolution that had to be helped over the jumps by God was not evolution at all" (my emphasis):

"Darwin ... wrote in a letter to Sir Charles Lyell, the leading geologist of his day: `If I were convinced that I required such additions to the theory of natural selection, I would reject it as rubbish...I would give nothing for the theory of Natural selection, if it requires miraculous additions at any one stage of descent.' This is no petty matter. In Darwin's view, the whole point of the theory of evolution by natural selection was that it provided a non-miraculous account of the existence of complex adaptations. For what it is worth, it is also the whole point of this book. For Darwin, any evolution that had to be helped over the jumps by God was not evolution at all." (Dawkins R., "The Blind Watchmaker," 1986, pp.248-249. Emphasis original)
But the "evolution" that the typical "theologian of the Catholic or Anglican or any other sensible church believes in" is the God-guided "evolution" of Mike Behe:
"[Eugenie] Scott refers to me as an intelligent design `creationist,' even though I clearly write in my book `Darwin's Black Box' (which Scott cites) that I am not a creationist and have no reason to doubt common descent. In fact, my own views fit quite comfortably with the 40% of scientists that Scott acknowledges think `evolution occurred, but was guided by God.'" (Behe M.J., "Intelligent Design Is Not Creationism," Science, dEbate, 7 July 2000)
That is the sort of "evolution" which, Cardinal Schönborn believes in, i.e. "Evolution in the sense of common ancestry" but not "evolution in the neo-Darwinian sense - an unguided, unplanned process":
"The Catholic Church, while leaving to science many details about the history of life on earth, proclaims that by the light of reason the human intellect can readily and clearly discern purpose and design in the natural world, including the world of living things. Evolution in the sense of common ancestry might be true, but evolution in the neo-Darwinian sense - an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection - is not. Any system of thought that denies or seeks to explain away the overwhelming evidence for design in biology is ideology, not science." (Schönborn C., "Finding Design in Nature," The New York Times July 7, 2005)
As for Dawkins' claiming his "understanding evolution led me to atheism", in this interview he said he was already a pantheist (which denies there is a personal so is a form of atheism) before he "first understood that Darwinism provides an explanation big enough and elegant enough to replace gods":
"I toyed with atheism from the age of about nine, originally because I worked out that, of all the hundreds of religions in the world, it was the sheerest accident that I was brought up Christian. They couldn't all be right, so maybe none of them was. I later reverted to a kind of pantheism when I realised the shattering complexity and beauty of the living world. Then, around the age of 16, I first understood that Darwinism provides an explanation big enough and elegant enough to replace gods. I have been an atheist ever since." (Dawkins R., "You Ask The Questions," Independent, 23 February 2003)
So for Dawkins it seems that his "believing in evolution" was "the logical extension of" his atheism!]

[Continued in part #4]

Stephen E. Jones, BSc (Biol).
"Problems of Evolution"

No comments: