Thursday, February 07, 2013

Dawkins vs Lennox: Has Science Buried God?

Professor Richard Dawkins debated Professor John Lennox at Oxford University. This is an old debate from about five years ago. I find it very frustrating because both sides frequently drift off-message. All of the arguments from Lennox seem to be of two sorts: (1) the argument from personal incredulity, or (2) the argument from personal satisfaction (i.e. I believe in god(s) because it makes me feel good).

I don't think Dawkins does a good enough job of ignoring or discounting these arguments. They are irrational and deserve no place in debates like this. Dawkins does say, on several occasions, that just because a belief makes you feel good doesn't mean that it's true. He should have kept on saying that, and nothing else, every time Lennox brought it up.



42 comments :

  1. I'd take it a step further, first define your god(s) and then we can discuss its various attributes.

    To help them out perhaps there could be a standard check list:

    - deistic/theistic

    - mono/poly

    - omnipotent

    - omniscient

    - omnibenevolent

    - apophatic

    - unitarian/trinitarian (see mono/poly above)

    - write books

    - needs money

    - etc

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    1. Yes. It would be nice if just once a person could define what their god actually is in consistent terms. It generally isn't difficult to get many religious people to admit that their god is just another name for nature. But for many, the very next Sunday it morphs back into being a curiously human-like entity (with human motives and emotions) and with which, a personal relationship is possible.

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  2. Lennox is one of the worst creationist debaters, and he combines his lack of ability with a self-satisfied smugness that's really over the top.

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  3. There's no such thing as an argument from personal incredulity (AFPI) - or, at least, nobody ever really commits it. It's just a made up fallacy (made up by Dawkins) which is used by the person who accuses someone of committing the AFPI in order to allow that accuser to advance any old rubbish without having the slightest evidence for it nor any reason for believing it is true. Indeed, in it's worst form, the accusation that someone has committed the AFPI is itself a fallacy - a new twist on the argument from ignorance. I call it the 'fallacy of the accusation of the AFPI', and it goes something like this:

    P1 - Mice built the pyramids.
    P2 - To reject the idea mice built the pyramids is to commit an AFPI
    P3 - The AFPIs is a fallacy
    Therefore
    C1 - To doubt mice built the pyramids is a fallacy
    Therefore
    C2 - It must be true that mice built the pyramids

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    1. the thing about Dawkin's 'argument from incredulity' charge that he seems to completely miss is how easily it can be turned back toward him. HE, after all, is the one who can't believe in a creator god who could not have arisen through Darwinian mechanisms. Although nearly all the people he debates with believe in a deity that transcends and is not bound by the laws of physics, he can't, or at the very least refuses, to wrap his head around that notion.

      So it is those he debates, who, to paraphrase LM, should just keep on saying that, and nothing else, every time Dawkins brings it up.

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    2. the thing about Dawkin's 'argument from incredulity' charge that he seems to completely miss is how easily it can be turned back toward him.

      You conveniently left out the word "personal" in the phrase "argument from incredulity". The idea of an 'argument from incredulity' is actually a good thing as it the basis for the demand for evidence. The insertion of the word 'personal' implies that universally accessible evidence has no currency and it typifies the religious experience. Which is not surprising since religion is based on personal revelation and not evidence that is accessible to all.

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    3. I didn't 'conveniently' leave it out and I stand by my argument just the same. The fact is that Dawkins is debating people who have no trouble at all conceptualizing a deity who doesn't need to fall into accordance with Richard Dawkins' view of how it/he/she would necessarily have come about.

      "I can't believe that your god would not have arisen through something very akin to natural selection' is an absurd argument, and one from -okay, putting the word back in - personal incredulity.

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    4. SRM, what is the 'universally accessible evidence' for an explanation of the origin of life, arising either through mechanistic, or planned, iterations? If you have it, you need to share it with Dawkins, because he admits to Lennox that there is none.

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    5. That's right, there is none. And that is no excuse for making up alternative explanations based upon supernatural entities. That technique was tried throughout history to provide explanations for all manner of phenomena, you will recall. For those phenomena subject to fruitful investigations thus far, supernatural explanations have been wrong every time.

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    6. @ SRM
      Since you agree with Dawkins that there is no universally accessible evidence that supports any particular explanation of the origin of the universe, we are back to square one. That being, Dawkins is just as guilty of arguing from personal incredulity as those he accuses of doing so.

      Hundreds of millions, if not billions, of humans throughout history have had no problem believing that their deity was not bound by natural laws. They do not lose any sleep at night trying to figure out how he/she/it came to be, and they undoubtedly consider it preposterous that he/she/it would have arisen through something akin to natural selection. Therefore, for Dawkins to argue with representatives of these very people that HE can't believe in the type of being that they take for granted, is an argument from personal incredulity on his part.

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  4. "Dawkins does say, on several occasions, that just because a belief makes you feel good doesn't mean that it's true."

    What if your goal is maximizing happiness?

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    1. Still doesn't make it true.

      And you would have to demonstrate that believing things that aren't true somehow brings you closer to that goal.

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    2. Lennox claimed he was happier believing in god. Dawkins took him at his word. I suggest we do the same. So we're back at my original question:

      What if your goal is maximizing happiness, not truthiness?

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    3. What makes Lennox happy is believing things that demonstrably result in the decrease in well being of human beings.

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  5. He was not talking about his others beliefs (whatever they are, I don't care). He said his belief in god made him happier. Lennox's belief in god neither demonstrably nor undemonstrably affects anyone else.

    So let's just correct Larry's statement and be done with this: "because a belief makes you feel good that does mean it makes you feel good." This is the only thing that matters.

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    1. Lennox's happy making belief in god comes with a passel of un-evidenced assertions that amongst other things have a direct effect on women's rights, gay rights, end of life choices, children's rights and so on.

      So yes, Lennox's happiness demonstrably does affect other human beings and his happiness comes at great social cost.

      It's interesting that the best defence you can muster for Lennox is a tautology, although I would agree that it accurately recapitulates the totality of his philosophy.

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  6. I don't care for his philosophy, his other beliefs, women rights, gays or whatever other unrelated topic you may want to discuss.

    His belief in god makes him happier. My goal is to insure that as many people as possible are as happy possible. Then, Lennox should believe in god.

    Lennox's belief in god is a feeling inside his head. It doesn't affect anyone else beside him. Demonstrably, you don't seem to have anything to say against my argument - this must be why you insist on talking about everything in the world but my actual topic.

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    1. Do you seriously want to defend the idea that believing in things that are false is perfectly okay as long as it makes you happy?

      My students would love you. It would make writing exams so much easier. :-)

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    2. I don't need to defend it as it has already been established by some of the most prestigious philosophical schools in History, Utilitarianism in the UK and Pragmatism in the US.

      Notice that the point is to ignore whether they're true or false and just maximize happiness. I don't care for truthfulness at all - if you say something is false I just presume you're using a roundabout way of saying you don't like it. Well, if you don't like believing in god, then don't believe.

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    3. Your problem is that view maximum happiness as all flowers and bluebirds singing. But for some it is exterminating whole populations and flying planes into buildings. When truth is abandoned, pretty flowers are made just for you and fireballs are the will of god.

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    4. Believing for yourself as a way of maximising your happiness is perfectly fine. Where it becomes downright peculiar is when people try and manipulate the outer world in order to squash the things that make that state harder to sustain - the influence of evolutionary theory, say, or big bang cosmology.

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    5. @Miller
      It would probably help if politically/ideologically motivated scientists stopped making ludicrous pseudoscientific anti-religious claims and pretending they just fell straight out of the science. It would also help if more scientists were willing to stand up and speak out against those particular types of pronouncements. Sadly, however, while the former appears to be on the increase the latter appears to be on the decrease. That way, imo, people would be more likely to accept the baby of science while rightly throwing out the nihilistic-atheistic philosophy which many like to claim goes hand in hand with it.

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    6. agree with Luther. Science needs to be 'rescued', in a sense, from the so called 'skeptic movement', the 'gnu atheists' and all other groups or individuals that want to (mis)use it as a god-swatter.

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    7. I'd no idea people had to tiptoe around your delicate sensibilities in order to make science more palatable to those who find some of its implications uncomfortable. You think pseudoscience (eg: ID) a good answer to 'pseudoscientific anti-religious claims'? Takes all sorts.

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    8. In precisely the same way I would argue that spirituality needs to be 'rescued', in a sense, from dogmatic organized religio-political groups, and all other groups or individuals that want to (mis)use it as an instrument of repression or control.

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    9. Allan, I take Luther to be referring to the look-we-killed-god crowd.
      Dawkins, Krauss, Hawking, Myers, Coyne, etc. and oh, a guy who runs a blog I frequent.

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    10. Andy, just to note, we cross-posted; I wasn't aware of your response when I hit 'publish'.

      But ... I can only speak for myself. You want people to rise up and 'shush' the militants, despite the fact that we may agree with them on
      a) the science
      b) the no-God thing.

      So what's to attack? Tone?

      I do cringe a bit when I see some of what is written. But I don't make it my mission to go after everyone I see taking a swipe. You side with Luther, yet he soon slips into that familiarly unpleasant mode with nary a peep from you. Tu quoque, I know, but hey.

      I cringe even more when I see some of the internet's uber-berks attempting to argue science with scientists.

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    11. @Andy
      That's exactly what I was referring to. A good example being Krauss' ridiculous claim that we're all just pollution. The argument, if one can call it that, seeming to be that because stuff only makes up a small percentage of the total, it is pollution. That would be like saying people's brains pollute their bodies, or the ink Shakespeare used polluted the paper he wrote on. Obvious nonsense, and yet very few scientists will stand up and admit he's talking out his arse.

      @Miller
      My point was that science doesn't actually have the implications crackpots like you think it does, so to say some people find science's implications uncomfortable is simply to assume that science has those implications when it patently doesn't.

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    12. @Miller
      Just because you agree with science and you think God doesn't exist doesn't mean you need illicitly connect the two. For example, you may very well agree with science and you may very well support the Baltimore Ravens but you shouldn't pretend that science says people should support the Ravens. And even if you are stupid enough to think that, there should be enough scientists who are not that stupid and who are brave enough to call you on it. Otherwise, if you keep it up, and nobody within the scientific community has the balls to speak out, then, imo, science will continue to suffer.

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    13. Allan, 'nary a peep' from me? C'mon, on this site do you think there are not already plenty of people ready to jump on Luther's comments? ;)
      It just isn't my nature to join pile-ons. I agree with some of what Luther writes, certainly not all. Some of what nearly everyone here writes, hardly all. And I know that there are some here who dislike nearly everything I post here. I don't care; I have my own reasons for posting here, and that is hardly to make friends, and even less so to join a rah-rah crowd. But I am extremely pleased that there are a few fine fellows here, such as yourself, who I can have very civil discourse with.

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    14. My point was that science doesn't actually have the implications crackpots like you think it does, so to say some people find science's implications uncomfortable is simply to assume that science has those implications when it patently doesn't.

      Science did not lead me to atheism, so the connection is not particularly strong prima facie. But clearly some people find those implications uncomfortable. The anti-evolutionary cackle-fest is led almost entirely by the religious, so I can't help but encounter that connection everywhere I go. If the science doesn't have those implications for you ... brilliant! Nothing to moan about, then.

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    15. @Miller
      The point is that the implications don't really exist, so it's not that they don't have those implications for me, it's that they don't have those implications full stop. Thus when Dawkins, Krauss, Hawking etc, are making their pseudoscientific pronouncements - you know the ones, they're the ones that have never been peer-reviewed - they're talking out their religio-political arse and even people who share their religio-political views should have the balls to tell them to stop.

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  7. "Your problem is that view maximum happiness as all flowers and bluebirds singing. But for some it is exterminating whole populations and flying planes into buildings. When truth is abandoned, pretty flowers are made just for you and fireballs are the will of god."

    You should distinguish between beliefs that maximize happiness and don't affect anything else (like belief in god) and actions that affect other people.

    Actions are sometimes affected by beliefs, but to a very small degree (other psychological factors like volition, habit, mood, etc, play a much larger role).

    Flying a plane into a building is an action that in all likelihood maximizes unhappiness. This action in particular is completely unrelated to belief in god, as seem by the fact that all but some few dozen of believers (out of billions) ever pursued such an action.

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    1. That is obvious nonsense.

      People fly planes into buildings, bomb abortion clinics, stone women to death, deny homosexuals equal treatment under the law precisely because they believe that their happiness will be maximized in some sort of un-evidenced afterlife as promulgated via fairy tales and that socially sanctioned form of child abuse called religious education.

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    2. Steve oberski, please don't confuse the statement that belief in god is justified because it maximizes happines in a particular beliver with the very different statement that some people believe they will be happier in the distant future if they act in certain ways. Their actions have nothing to do with belief in god. There are believers who are pro-abortion and believers who are against. Belief in god is unrelated to their position on abortion.

      I will entreat you for the last time: either answer my actual arguments or else start your own discussion. If you don't known what maximization of happiness means, please look it up.

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    3. There is no confusion as "belief in god" necessarily entails "act[ing] in certain ways".

      If godbots did not allow their beliefs to inform their actions then there would be no discussion, for the same reason that we don't typically engage in discussions about people who believe in leprechauns or that Elvis still walks among us, namely their beliefs are not translated into any meaningful sorts of actions in the public sphere and as long as they don't inject their beliefs into the public marketplace of ideas then I don't care what their beliefs are.

      Sadly this is not the case when it comes to religion, for some reason batshit crazy godbots are considered to be exempt from the criticism that would be levelled at any other Obama birther, 9/11 conspiracy theorist or AGW denier.

      Would you make the same case for someone who publicly proclaimed that global warming was a lie ?

      As long as it makes them happy then what is the harm ?

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    4. Proclaiming something is an action not a belief. Voting, campaiging, preaching... all actions. Beliefs are emotional realtions between minds and ideas.

      The fact that belief in god does not imply specific courses of action is easily shown by two opposing courses of action are usually chosen by two different persons, both of whom believe in god.

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    5. Flying a plane into a building is an action that in all likelihood maximizes unhappiness.

      Yes. But here you are happy to temporarily forget the role of belief. While beliefs are not the only motivators of action, they are substantial ones.

      We might suspect that neither a bad mood nor habit (for purely physical reasons) are major motivating factors toward atomization of self and others. What do such individuals believe will happen next? And what was their evidence? Does it matter if their was none? Might they have attained maximal happiness?
      Let the terminal hermit or last person on earth maximize what they wish, but encountering one other being (human or otherwise) should change all that.

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    6. Belief in god is not a determining factor in any specific action because for every person that believes and does X there are billions that believe and do Y; X and Y between incompatible or contradictory.

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    7. I can accept that well enough. God is not the problem. It is the belief by some that they know things about this god (which I would loosely call regligion) that is the problem. I suppose the difficulty lies in believing in god while accepting you can know nothing about this god, even whether it actually exists. The normal course of events is that belief in god is automatically attended by false knowledge about this god, including its curiously human-like motivations.

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  8. Though Dawkins made one or two successful defenses in the two debates, IMO he lost overall.

    1. Lennox convincingly made the case for *a Creator*, not a specific god - which was accepted by Dawkins.

    2. Lennox successfully defended against Dawkin's charge that miracles are unscientific. He explained that the whole point of miracles was for God to do something that was not ordinary, and that this was consistent with what a Creator of the universe could do. This does not mean that miracles are normal, or that when you do an experiment a miracle could randomly happen.

    3. Lennox then used the historical account of Jesus to tie the general god to the specific Christian God. His points were two-fold: 1) Historians believe that Jesus did exist (as a man). 2) The people of that age testify that Jesus claimed to be God and proved it by doing miracles. Together with the explosive growth of Christianity that followed, and a worldview that explains why morality is important and that justice is guaranteed, these provide sufficient evidences (not proofs) for a Christian scientist to accept this worldview.

    4. Dawkins was not able to defend against Lennox's charge that atheism lacks Ultimate Justice. Dawkins did rightly protest that this does not make theism true. But he thus lost on the morality/justice point.

    5. Lennox not only successfully defended, but counter-attacked Dawkins when he claimed that the world would be better off without religion. He showed the objective, undisputed record of atheistic governments to be worse than the excesses of religion. Dawkins did attempt to counter by saying that the Atheist leaders did not commit their crimes because of their atheistic beliefs, but that was a failed defense, since the obvious response was that the Atheist leaders committed their crimes because they believed that the universe lacked Ultimate Justice (already pointed out by Lennox). This is, in fact, what Atheists believe - that the universe lacks any final justice, and death is the end.

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