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Posts Tagged ‘Metaphysics’

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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The paradoxes currently associated with infinity are only products of applying finite logic to describe infinity. Trying to understand infinity by analogies within the finite word are a bit like asking ‘what flavour is Buckingham Palace’? It’s absurd. To think about infinity one has to think within an infinite term of reference, as only this can lead to a sensible understanding of what infinity means. Once the true nature of infinity is understood, the paradoxes disappear but the very existence of infinity becomes questionable. Infinity and zero begin to look remarkably similar, although so far I have in no way managed to demonstrate the impossibility of infinity; it just seems a bit shaky from what I have so far thought. Further exploration by greater mind would be most appreciated – Prof Doron Zeilberger very kindly suggested I was on the right track, but had no time to comment further. Hey ho.
 
Here are some examples of infinitely erroneous logic.
 
1) ∞ + 1 = ∞
 
This is an absurd notion using finite logic to describe infinity.
 
Imagine the Grand Hotel, with an infinite number of rooms, each of which is occupied. This means that there must be an infinite number of people in the hotel. What happens when an additional person checks into the hotel? Does everyone just move up one room to accommodate them? After all, with infinite rooms there must always be more space to accomodate people, no?
 
The answer is don’t be stupid: nobody else can check in. Any infinite set of objects necessarily contains every single one of those objects that could possibly exist. Now, the hotel contains an infinite number of people, which means that every single person who can possibly exist MUST already be in the hotel. There can be nobody left outside the hotel to check in.

This is not just fatuous nit-picking and semantics, it is fundamental to the possible nature of infinity. It demonstrates that the only way to add to an infinite set of objects is to add an entirely different type of object. This would lead to the type of mathematical question ‘what do you get if you divide Buckingham Palace by a tomato?’ It’s meaningless.
 
∞ + 1 = a ridiculous idea
 
2) ∞ and ‘endless’ are the same thing
 
The Grand Hotel concept confuses ideas of ‘endless’ with infinity. Imagine that a person in Room 10 of the hotel is a notorious gangster and is tipped-off that the police are coming to get him. He has been told that the hotel is infinite, so runs out of his room and sprints down the corridor. He knows that in an infinite hotel he can keep running & running and never get caught until the end of time (assuming the police are not faster at running, of course). However, in his panic to get a head-start on the police, he turns the wrong way and quickly runs into the foyer, out the front door and into the arms of the police. What a nasty surprise!
 
The hotel is not infinite: as our gangster demonstrates the hotel comes to an end. It might go on for ever in one direction – ascending room numbers – but it ends at Room 1. The hotel would only be infinite if the rooms carried on under the numbers 0, -1, -2, -3…
 
It is possible that the corridor of rooms would loop back to the other side of the foyer, so that our gangster would run past Room 1 and straight to Room ∞, but the latter would have to be at the position of Room 0. ∞ & 0 are looking rather similar if ∞ is to make any kind of practical sense.
 
3) Different ∞s are different sizes
 
Cantor’s Diagonals apparently show that an infinite list of integers will be smaller than an infinite list of decimals. However, this is not possible and actually refers to large or endless sets of numbers, not infinite. The diagonal logic is fine apart from the beginning and end points. If the integers start at 1 and carry on for ever, they are not infinite as they also finish at 1. To be truly infinite, the list of integers MUST contain every conceivable integer including 0, -1, -2, -3…These numbers exist (I’ve just used them, after all) so they have to be in the list.
 
It is therefore impossible to pick a diagonal that has no integers (and corresponding endless decimal number) above it, so it is impossible to be sure that the new number made from such a diagonal is not represented above it. In fact, in an infinite list it MUST be represented.
 
The idea is:
      
  -forever
  .
  .
-100  0.8979878565657…
-99     0.9768543456788…
-98     0.3456789987654…
-97     0.089764390005…
.
.
1      0.4647448847464…
2      0.5775858493933…
3      0.4647438387464…
4      0.3758594837636…
.
.
+forever
 
0.4748…. can be changed to 0.5657….. and this number is unique for all decimals from 1+. However, there must be this decimal somewhere between 0 and –forever. There is no way to create a new diagonal that does not exist above the point at which the original diagonal starts, in this case ‘1’.
 
Therefore ∞=∞. All ∞s are equal.
 
It is interesting to note that the standard Cantor Diagonal concept has a non-infinite but endless number of integers, each one of which is paired with a decimal number, the expression of which can is infinite. They are simply numbers so have no dimension associated with them – no start or finish, just value. If the expression of this value involves an endless list of numbers, the lack of dimension makes this endlessness be the same as infinite (the expression of the number, not its value).
 
4) ∞ universe.
 
The idea of there being an infinite number of infinite universes comes from finite logic being used for infinity. The universe has direction, not just value, so to be infinite it has to be endless in all directions. This does not appear to be the case, as the universe appears to have started at the big bang. Or possible was just very finite at that point.
 
If the big bang was the start, a real singularity, then the universe cannot be infinite: it started at the big bang, which means it has limits in at least one of its directions and so is finite. Big I’ll grant you, but not infinite. I’m not sure it the finite nature of the big bang means that the universe is now finite, or if the universe could have changed from finite to infinite in the last few billion years – one to work on!

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