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Monday, February 22, 2010

The God Delusion and disproving God's existence: Dawkins argues from chance

I have been posting on The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins. In this post, which will be the last in the series, unless there are comments that need to be addressed in a full post, or unless I simply decide to post on the subject (It's my blog!) I wish to discuss Dawkins' central argument for the non-existence of God.

Dawkins discusses the Anthropic Principle. This has to do with the apparently very narrow constraints that astronomical facts, properties of matter, and physical laws place on the existence of life as we know it. For example, if the earth were a little closer to the sun, there wouldn't be enough liquid water for life. If the earth were a little further from the sun, there wouldn't be enough, either, because so much of it would be ice. But, of course, we are here! Why? One response is that there is a supernatural God who has planned things that way. Richard Dawkins will have none of that explanation, of course. I agree with him that this is an unprovable idea, and I believe that there is even scriptural proof that it is unprovable, but I believe it, nonetheless. Hebrews 11:3 says "By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible." (ESV) Note that this says "by faith." Although the verse does not say that it is impossible to prove this, I think it means that. (I also believe that it is impossible to disprove it, and Dawkins, to his credit, does not make that claim. He does think that he has gotten very close, though!)

Why does Dawkins think he has gotten so close? He has done the opposite of believing in divine planning. Here's what he says, in reference to six physical constants, as discussed by astronomer Martin Rees, in his book, Just Six Numbers: The Deep Forces That Shape the Universe, 2000:
I won't go through the rest of Rees's six numbers. The bottom line for each of them is the same. The actual number sits in a Goldilocks band of values outside which life would not have been possible. How should we respond to this? . . . The theist says that God, when setting up the universe, tuned the fundamental constants . . . so that each one lay in its Goldilocks zone for the production of life. . . . As ever, the theist's answer is deeply unsatisfying, because it leaves the existence of God unexplained. A God capable of calculating the Goldilocks values for the six numbers would have to be at least as improbable as the finely tuned combination of numbers itself, and that's very improbable indeed . . . (p. 143)

Say what? In the first place, it is not clear, at least to me, that God would have to be as improbable as such a combination of numbers, and I'm not alone. Of course, to a theist, God isn't improbable at all. The probability of His existence is 1.0. In the second place, assuming that God's existence is extremely improbable, how does Dawkins explain our existence? He claims -- I am not making this up -- that there are a great many universes, with many combinations of properties, and we just happen to live in one with a suitable combination. To quote Dawkins:
The multiverse, for all that it is extravagant, is simple. God, or any intelligent, decision-taking, calculating agent, would have to be highly unprobable in the same statistical sense as the entities he is supposed to explain. The multiverse may seem extravagant in sheer number of universes. But if each of these universes is simple in its fundamental laws, we are still not postulating anything highly improbable. The very opposite has to be said of any kind of intelligence. (p. 147)

So, let me get this straight. The existence of a supernatural God is highly improbable, but the existence of multiple universes is not?

Multiple universes have not been scientifically proved, or disproved. Richard Dawkins is asking us to forsake belief in a supernatural creator, in favor of belief that we are living in one of an infinite number of possible universes. He also wants us to accept that the latter possibility is orders of magnitude much simpler, and more probable, than the possibility of a supernatural Creator. I'm sorry, but I'll stick with God.

Here's my previous post on Dawkins.

Thanks for reading. I made some editorial changes on June 25, 2011.


Julana said...

Above is a link to the project I mentioned. Dawkins cannot help but preface his reading with disclaimers: Solomon may not have written the book; the marginal referrals to the book as an allegory are incorrect.

But he reads it respectfully and with an appreciation for the beauty of the text. I think he is one of the trustees for the celebration of the version.

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks a lot, Julana!