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Archive for the ‘Religion etc’ Category

The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins is, in many ways, an excellent book. At least, I think so & what greater acolade could anyone wish for? Unfortunately, my high praise is not without caveats. There are several passages or aspects of the book that just don’t ring true, which appear to my uneducated eye as having flaws. These I expand upon below, as Dawkins’ Five Delusions; I have included page numbers to give some indication of the passages I am talking about, although I realise that different editions will have different layouts.

Delusion 1, p.101: The book quotes the following cunning paradox about God: If God is omniscient, then He (or She) knows what will happen in the future, including the actions He will take. Since He knows what He will do, He cannot change that action. This therefore means He is not omnipotent, as His ability to do something different is gone.

Does this hold true? Is it possible that by being omnipotent He can be any place at any time, possibly even every place at every time?

His being outside of the rules that bind the rest of us is almost the definition of God – He made the rules up in the first place, so they don’t affect Him. Otherwise it would be a bit like someone making a chess set and afterwards having to move diagonally or only in straight lines. Time and place surely have little meaning to Him, so future, past & present are as one. There would be no instance of Him knowing ‘what He will do’ as much as knowing ‘what He did’ or even only ‘what He is doing’, even if for us it hasn’t happened yet.

There is therefore no problem about knowledge of future actions binding those actions or making the knowledge false, since there are no future actions – God is omnipotent and omnicognisant all at the same time (so to speak). To believe in an all-powerful God is to negate any paradox.

Delusion 2, p.147. 0.000000 0.000000

There is a problem with intelligent design, as it does not get around the thorny question of who created the Intelligent Designer in the first place. This would be trickier than creating the material universe, as the Designer would necessarily be more complex than the thing He created.

Unfortunately, physics has no more answers than religion on this question, as it cannot explain what is outside the universe or what existed before it or how it was created. Just postulating that there is nothing beyond the universe and that it has no beginning is rather trite. It is similar to the suggestion that God removed all evidence of his existence to allow belief to flourish, so the less proof we find the more we should be convinced He’s real.

Delusion 3, p.172. Dawkins says that there are 6 fundamental constants of the universe, such as the strong force. He states that the odds of their being a God to set these six values to be exactly right for us to exist is at least as improbable as them all being those values by random chance. But why? Surely the opposite is true: if God chose the values there would be no chance in it at all, so there would be a 100% probability of them being exactly what we need. To say that the existence of an intelligent force capable of setting the values of the 6 constants is less likely than the universe being as it is misses the point entirely: this would only be true if God was created by the system, not if He created the system. The intelligent design of God and the probabilities of chance are mutually exclusive systems. Imagine a man throws 100 dice. Are the odds of the man existing on earth to throw the dice greater than the odds of him getting the 100 numbers in the order in which he gets them?

String theory & the strong anthropic principle suggest that it is almost impossible for the fundamental constants of the universe NOT to exist in this universe. But then, what made sure strings exist in the first place?

Delusion 4, p.265. Dawkins stated that most people are not parasitic bullies, as this is not a viable option: if we were all bullies, there would be no one left to bully. Actually, most people would be parasitic bullies if they thought they could get away with it. If everyone acts as a bully, the problem is not that one has nobody to bully (one does: anyone weaker), but that one would be bullied by those more powerful. This is why bullying is prevalent in schools, where there is only a small pool of people and there is always a biggest bully (or several). In the wider society this is unlikely, so just about everyone could be bullied by someone. There is also the potential for average people to rise up and overthrow the despot. In the dark ages and pre-history the smaller communities tended to give rise to despots, but even then the strategy was dangerous. Bully too much and there could be a revolution, which would lead to the extermination of the despot’s genes.

Some morals may be hard wired into humans, but very few. There is almost nothing that is not acceptable to some society somewhere in the world.

Delusion 5. The entire book makes the unstated assumption that what we see is what we get: that the universe we can perceive and understand is the only truth and reality there is. This is basically an assumption that God does not exist, which makes the entire book nothing more than an enjoyable read. The message of the book should be posted on the front page as ‘In a universe without a god, God cannot exist’, which would go a long was to reducing the academic struggle for the reader over the next few hundred pages.

General observation on religion. I can’t help thinking that many religions are suspiciously paternal in flavour. Could it be that children are designed to think that their parents are omniscient and omnipotent, so that they will do just as they are told and therefore have a greater chance of surviving to reproductive age? When we grow up this may disappear, leaving doubt, responsibility and fear where before there was the comfort of being protected and guided. Perhaps this void is replaced with God the Father, directing and protecting us. Perhaps that is why we invented gods, which reflect the cultures from which they were spawned: violently fickle in Rome where parents could legally kill their children, rigorously patriarchal in the Catholic Europe.

Interestingly, more primitive cultures have a higher degree of shared parentage within small tribal groups, which dilutes the father figure. In these societies nature is the most potent force and is perceived as being more powerful than the wider parental group, so these societies tend to have more elemental and natural gods rather than paternal gods.

On the other hand, the ubiquitous nature of souls and the concept of an afterlife is a natural extension of humanity’s conceptual intelligence.  One has to know oneself to know the rest of world, to predict how the world around one will act and to manipulate it. To compete fully against an opposing tribe, one has to understand their thought process; one has to understand what it is to be a person and to think. A natural extension is to have self awareness, self conceptualisation and a horror of not existing any more. Souls continuing in an afterlife overcome this horror. This self conceptualisation is the darkness behind the eyes of Terry Pratchett or the lifts in the Hitch Hiker’s Guide building of Douglas Adams.

Post script. There is a tiny weeny problem with the critiques above: I am fairly stupid & Dawkins rather an egg-head. So, please feel free to enlighten me as to my errors & mistakes.

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Delusions about God

I am reading Richard Dawkins’ book the God Delusion at the moment, which quotes a paradox about omnipotence. It goes like this:

If God is omnicognisent, then He (or She) knows what will happen in the future, including the actions He will take. Since He knows what He will do, He cannot change that action. This therefore means He is not omnipotent, as His ability to do something different is gone.

Does this hold true? Is it possible that by being omnipotent He can be any place at any time, possibly even every place at every time?

His being outside of the rules that bind the rest of us is almost the definition of God – He made the rules up in the first place, so they don’t affect Him. Otherwise it would be a bit like someone making a chess set and afterwards having to move diagonally or only in straight lines. Time and place surely have little meaning to Him, so future, past & present are as one. There would be no instance of Him knowing ‘what He will do’ as much as knowing ‘what He did’ or even only ‘what He is doing’, even if for us it hasn’t happened yet.

There is therefore no problem about knowledge of future actions binding those actions or making the knowledge false, since there are no future actions – God is omnipotent and omnicognisant all at the same time (so to speak).

Does this mean that there is no paradox?

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This is probably very old hat for anyone who knows anything about philosophy, but I don’t so it seemed like quite an exciting line of questioning to me. What am I talking about, you may be asking yourself, and why are you bothering to read such blather? Well, this question may answer you:

“Does the Big Bang theory mean there has to be a god?”*

My reasoning is thusly (to sound a bit Old Testament about it all) – if the universe was created from a singularity, or in other words everything in creation grew from the same vanishingly small something at the start of the Big Bang, then is it possible that all movements & interaction of every particle in the universe is predictable? If we could know the conditions when everything sprang from nothing, when all the energy and matter in the universe was set in motion, then surely we could predict what those motions would be for the rest of eternity.

It would be a bit like holding a load of marbles in your hand & chucking them into the air – if you know the position and movement of the marbles as they leave your hand, you could predict exactly where they will fly & land.

Now, if we can predict what will happen to all the particles & energy in the universe, we could work out what has happened since the Big Bang and what will happen until the universe freezes to a halt (if indeed it will). If this is the case, then every action and thought has been pre-determined and there is no free will. Such a situation would be pretty much exactly the same as there being a god ruling and directing creation, so as long as we overlook the heaven/hell bit (which is OK as we are taking about gods here, not God) we could say that the Big Bang proves the existence of a god.

So, there I was thinking these thoughts and it was looking quite promising, as long as the universe did indeed start from a singularity and not some rather nebulous collapse of a previous universe, when along came a big but!

Please notice the single ‘T’ in that last word. Thank you, you can now carry on.

BUT, rather excitingly (I am soooo dull) a useful loophole appeared at the moment critique for the there’s-a-god-but-also-free-will fraternity. This loophole was:

(please imagine a fanfare at this point)

THE UNCERTAINTY PRINCIPLE

This means that it is physically impossible for the location, composition, energy, movement etc of any subatomic particle to be known at the same time – you can know what something is but not where it is, or vice versa. Now, the term ‘know’ here is a little more fundamental than just seeing or hearing: it means that all interactions at the subatomic scale are inherently unpredictable. As they are unpredictable, it means that it is impossible to predict the movement of mater & energy, so there is not necessarily predetermination.

No predetermination means free will and no proof that there is a god, or at least no proof that the universe acts as if there were a god, which to my mind is so ridiculously similar that it would be churlish to argue about it.

So, even if the universe did start from a real singularity there is the potential for free will and the existence of a god is safely returned to being based purely on faith.

Phew!

*I’m not referring to the comedy series, by the way, but the theory that explains how an expanding universe was created in the first place. Or recreated. Possibly.

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