Thursday, May 17, 2018

Three Thoughts From Having Read The First 1/4 Of Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion


Three thoughts that strike me from about the first 1/4 of Dawkins’s The God Delusion, which I’m reading:

1. He repeats an argument for God that goes: insofar as we have good and evil, then we must have the ultimate standards of them both for the judgments of each; hence God and the devil must exist as the manifestations of those ultimate standards. Otherwise, we could make no judgment as to either.

Dawkins: Therefore, we can’t judge bad smells unless we have the ultimate manifestation of smelliness. And, so, God must be the greatest “stinker.” 

2. Dawkins attempts to break through Stephen Jay Gould’s notion of “two non-overlapping magisteria,” or realms, being the realm of science and the realm of faith and religious belief. Contrarily, Dawkins argues science can apply to the latter and ought to enter into matters of faith on the reasoning that if the object of faith could be shown to be absurd, then faith in that object could not sustain itself. 

So he notes Bertrand Russell’s question on where or on whom does the burden of proof of lie on the question of God’s existence? For if the claim is that the centre and great creator of the universe is a celestial teacup, would we say that since we cannot absolutely prove or disprove it, then we must suspend judgment on that claim and hold that it’s equally possible that the teacup is or isn’t centre and creator? Of course not, Russell argues, and, so, the burden of proof must fall on the claimant. If no case can be made for the claim, then it should be dismissed for the nonsense it is.

Dawkins then argues if this is so for the existence of the celestial teacup, then why isn’t it so for the existence of God? We’d likely judge someone who believed in a celestial teacup as somewhat touched. We don’t judge religious believers this way—sanity in numbers, as Sam Harris notes—but hasn’t the underpinning of religious faith been devastated by the example of the celestial teacup, asks Dawkins.

I had till reading this tended to agree with Gould as to the non overlapping two domains of science and religion but Dawkins persuades me of overlap at least to the extent that science (and logic) might reduce to absurdity the basis for faith. 

3. The ontological argument for the existence of God, in one formulation, runs: God manifests ultimate perfection; it is more perfect to exist than not to exist; therefore God exists. 

Dawkins notes (again) Bertrand Russell remarking that we intuit strongly that this argument is flawed but are bedevilled to explain why. 

And at one point when he was younger Russell had a a kind of Valhalla moment and the revelation that the logic of the ontological argument was impeccably correct. 

But then, later in his life, Russell reasoned that unless we can move from thought to things, create things by thought, we cannot move from a syllogism about God’s existence as perfection to the actuality of God’s existence. 

Either there’s a bridge from thought to existence or there’s not, says Russell. Not means the failure of the ontological argument. (I wonder whether it’s an answer to Russell here that God isn’t a thing but is rather the manifestation of immaterial transcendent intangibility, pure divine spirit, an aspect of itself recreated in human thought?) 

Dawkins quotes an American philosopher—I can’t recall his name—who asks, paraphrase, “What does it mean to say, that ‘It’s more perfect to exist than not to exist?” This philosopher goes on to reason, paraphrase, “We can say sensibly an insulated house is better—more perfect—than an uninsulated one, but that it’s nonsense to say an existing house is better—more perfect—than a house that doesn’t exist. 

He also quotes the *parody* argument of an Australian philosopher, maybe named Gaskin, that goes (if I have this right): God manifests the greatest of all creators and creations; it is greater to create with a disability than without one; the greatest disability is not to exist; therefore the greatest creation by the greatest creator is the creation of the universe by a non existent God; therefore God does not exist. 

(No wonder Dawkins quotes one philosopher who quipped that a the definition of a philosopher is someone who resists common sense.)

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