As some of you know, I am engaged in a life or death struggle with the atheists over on Matt’s Notepad. 😉 What began as an offhand remark on my part has evolved (there’s that word again) into a rather interesting debate. I took a few days off to re-examine my own positions and beliefs, and posted a rather lengthy reply to their several points. I must admit that what started off as a simple comment turned into one of my better posts, so I decided to post it here on my own blog as well. I realize that theology isn’t for everybody, but it is a subject that is of interest to me, and I guess I just needed to get this out of my system. And yes, I am trying to be funny with the picture. If you want to follow this debate go to the post below and click the link.
I’ve taken a few nights off to sort of step back and evaluate what it is I believe and don’t believe. That in itself has certainly been a benefit of having joined in this debate. Having done so, I would like to make a few points, as well as respond, directly or indirectly, to some of the comments made previously.
First, I think it would be helpful to review just what we agree on, before venturing into the turbulent waters of disagreement. I am a staunch evolutionist. I am a believer in the scientific method as a whole. I believe that science, not religion, has taught us most of what we really know about the universe we happen to be a very, very small part of.
I have little patience with religious fundamentalists of any denomination. I deplore the way they dismiss rationale argument with an unwavering faith in the correctness of their beliefs, irrespective of any facts to the contrary. In this I am in complete agreement with Dawkins.
As I’ve stated before, I am NOT trying to prove the existence of God here. I know I can’t. In fact the only reason I’m using the word God instead of a phrase like “higher power” is because it’s easier to type.
But here’s the crux of my argument: neither Dawkins nor anyone else can prove that he DOESN’T exist. Therefore in the absence of proof, the non-existence of God is not a fact, it is a belief, or, if you prefer, an opinion. Therefore atheism is merely a belief, albeit a belief in the non-existence of something. And as such, the proponents of this belief must accept the unpleasant truth that they MAY be wrong, just as adherents of traditional (and non-traditional) religious thought must also accept that their views on God and the universe may be wrong (although they rarely do, another point where I agree with Dawkins).
Please don’t hit me with the “Flying Spaghetti Monster” argument. The fact that I can’t disprove the existence of anything you happen to dream up on the spot (other than to make the fairly obvious point that it can’t exist because you just told me you made it up) in no way lets you off the hook here. Once you make the move from “I don’t believe there is a god” to “There is no god”, at that point you have ceased to state a negative . You have attempted to make an argument, and like all arguments, you have to have some proof, otherwise what you’re stating is not fact, it is opinion.
I asked you folks if you believed in any sort of higher power. You all replied in the negative. I asked if you believed in life on other planets. Your responses were:
“while intelligent life could exist on other planets, we honestly just don’t know enough about life or other planets to have any real clue.”
“Life? Life of some sort … good chance it exists somewhere in the universe. Probability tells us that. If it’s Intelligent … not enough data yet.”
“Intelligent life elsewhere in the universe – definitely more plausible.”
The reason I asked this was because I wanted to see to what extent you were willing to allow for the possibility of something existing, even if there were scant scientific evidence for it. And it seems that while there is little scientific evidence for the existence of intelligent life on other planets, you’re willing to at least consider it because, to you, it seems plausible, given the enormous number of planets in the universe. On this I happen to agree with you.
But once you’ve admitted the possibility of life elsewhere, then you must also allow for the possibility that this life is more advanced than us, not just in the technological sense, but also in the, yes, evolutionary sense. And once you’ve acknowledged that a higher form of life may exist in the universe, you have to ask, how much higher? Surely it is no great intellectual feat to imagine a form of life that exists on an infinitely higher plain than us. And if you allow for that, the notion of God is not really such a stretch, is it?
What I find truly fascinating about Dawkins is his willingness to accept the implausible when it’s convenient for his arguement. He writes: “The origin of life on this planet – which means the origin of the first self-replicating molecule – is hard to study, because it (probably) only happened once, 4 billion years ago and under very different conditions from those with which we are familiar. We may never know how it happened. Unlike the ordinary evolutionary events that followed, it must have been a genuinely very improbable – in the sense of unpredictable – event: too improbable, perhaps, for chemists to reproduce it in the laboratory or even devise a plausible theory for what happened.”
In other words, we don’t know. We may never know. So why is the notion of some sort of higher power so unthinkable, given the general lack of understanding that Dawkins admits is part and parcel of this issue?
Another quote: “It is as though there were, say, half a dozen dials representing the major constants of physics. Each of the dials could in principle be tuned to any of a wide range of values…. Almost all of these knob-twiddlings would yield a universe in which life would be impossible. You can estimate the very low odds against the six knobs all just happening to be correctly tuned, and conclude that a divine knob-twiddler must have been at work. But, as we have already seen, that explanation is vacuous because it begs the biggest question of all. The divine knob twiddler would himself have to have been at least as improbable as the settings of his knobs.”
This argument is self serving. Dawkins concludes that a “divine knob twiddler” is more improbable than the universe itself, merely because it doesn’t fit into his overall view of the universe. Dawkins and I agree: the universe is very, very, improbable. What Dawkins doesn’t seem (or want) to understand is that a reasonable, rational human being can look at this very improbability and come to a different conclusion about it than he has, one that includes the notion of a higher power.
And finally, there is this bit of musing: “Physicists already have reason to suspect that our universe – everything we can see – is only one universe among perhaps billions. Some theorists postulate a multiverse of foam, where the universe we know is just one bubble. Each bubble has its own laws and constants. Our familiar laws of physics are parochial bylaws. Of all the universes in the foam, only a minority has what it takes to generate life.”
Now let me see if I’ve got this straight: he says our universe is just a bubble amongst an infinite number of bubbles, and I’M living in fantasy land just because I happen to believe in a higher power of some kind?
The “multiple universe theory” is hardly new. But as things stand right now, while it is certainly fascinating, there is scant evidence for it, and more importantly, no way whatsoever of proving it by somehow discovering those other universes. As soon as Dawkins uses words like “suspect” and “postulate”, what he’s really saying is: “I don’t know. It just kind of makes sense to me”.
But as a means of factoring God out of the equation, the “anthropic principle” is a self-serving argument. It is a variation on the old idea that if you have an infinite number of monkeys pounding away on an infinite number of keyboards, eventually they will produce Shakespeare. This is patent nonsense. An infinite number of monkeys pounding away on an infinite number of keyboards will produce an infinite number of broken keyboards. But, say the adherents of the “anthropic principle”, what if we had an infinite number OF infinite numbers of monkeys…, etc.
Many scientists embrace this idea, but there also are many who don’t. Both groups seem to agree on one thing: it’s impossible to prove. But it may be impossible to disprove. Just like the existence or non-existence of God.
So Dawkin’s argument as to “why there is almost certainly no god” rests on the anthropic principal, which itself rests on an idea of multiple universes which even its proponents state is empirically unprovable. Apparently Richard Dawkins is free to make speculations about the universe that are unfounded by any scientific evidence, but no one else is. Surely my belief in some kind of a higher power, the nature of which I in no way claim to know, is no sillier than the notion that our universe is one of billions. Conversely, this speculation which he is ready to believe has no more evidence to support than my belief. So why are Dawkins’ beliefs more valid than mine? If it’s good enough for Dawkins, it’s good enough for me.
So that said, is it so unreasonable to look at the universe, with all it’s complexity AND its implausibility (as even Dawkins admits), to SPECULATE about the POSSIBILITY of the existence of some higher power?
I look at the universe, and I surmise the existence Something Intelligent. You look at the same universe, and you don’t. Who can really say, given how little we truly know about it, who is right?
That’s all I’m saying here. As I’ve stated before, it is not Dawkins’ atheism which bothers me. But like the religious fundamentalist, his unshakable belief in the correctness of HIS position is arrogant, disturbing even, and puts him squarely in the same category as a Jimmy Swaggart, even if he’s arguing the opposite point.