Arbtirary thoughts on nearly everything from a modernist poet, structural mathematician and functional programmer.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Why I don't think I'll read "The God Delusion"

There's a book which has been out for 2 years by Richard Dawkins called The God Delusion. It is, as its name implies, an attack on God. It is, in short, a polemic. I feel that I should read it for the sake of intellectual honesty, if nothing else. But the more I read about it, and the more short excerpts I read, and the more I hear/read from Dawkins, the less I care. And here's why.

Dawkins quite clearly rejects out of hand the possibility that any other world view than his is right. When I say "any other worldview" I don't mean the possibility of God-- that's what he's arguing against-- but any philosophical starting point besides logical positivism. He is a strict materialist, and a logical positivist, and everything else is flatly not worth mentioning.

He makes, I won't doubt (at least until I read his book... if I read it) a convincing argument that a l.p. framework implies that God is a god of the gaps, and that those gaps will quickly disappear, and God with them. But by doing this and only this, he sidesteps the issue completely. He misses the epistemology, which is the most important part in deciding the possibility of God. You cannot tell someone they have come to a false (moreover delusional) conclusion when you refuse to discuss the framework by which they establish truth. The utter arrogance and ignorance of trying to tell me I'm delusional without even so much as mentioning my epistemological groundings makes it impossible for me to take anything Dawkins says seriously.

He (sort of) rebuts such arguments in the preface with "Do you have to read up on leprechology before disbelieving in leprechauns?" This is a fantastic point, but few people are asking him to go through a detailed study of the theology of Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Lewis and Chesterton to argue that God does not exist. What we are asking is for him to discuss their epistemological basis, rather than a priori tossing them aside. To quote Terry Eagleton "What, one wonders, are Dawkins’s views on the epistemological differences between Aquinas and Duns Scotus? Has he read Eriugena on subjectivity, Rahner on grace or Moltmann on hope? Has he even heard of them?" The question is not about theology, but about philosophy.

Let me expand upon that point; I don't care what Dawkins has to say about scriptural justifiability of The City of God, Fear and Trembling or Mere Christianity. I care about what he as to say about the way Augustine, Kierkegaard and Lewis establish Truth. What do they consider to be evidence of the truth of a statement? What grounds do they use to justify the existence and character of God? Why is this wrong?

Moving past his naive dismissal of several thousand years of epistemology, his caricature of religion shows how little he has even attempted to understand the religious mind. There is far too much to say on this topic, and I could hardly do it justice, so I will limit myself to a one sentence summary of his feelings on the morality of religion: He finds it to be dangerous and evil. If religion is defined to be "irrational, self-righteous, hate-filled zeal", I agree wholeheartedly. But in his religious (in that sense of the word) intolerance he refuses to accept that the source of such religion can be anything besides religion as it is normally defined and he also refuses to accept that religion (as it is normally defined) can create anything apart from such closed-mindedness.

By so vehemently rejecting everything that isn't is worldview, he is making the most absurd straw-man of himself. He claims that atheism will lead to a more peaceful society overall, but he proves himself, through his self-righteous intolerance, to be a poor example of this "truth". So, I'm not going to read The God Delusion unless someone convinces me that his argument does discuss the epistemological "failings" of a religious view, and that he doesn't caricature religion as I claim...

My first point reminds me of a quick exchange that was made a while ago... I tend to be bad at "arguing" points, so this is my esprit d'escalier. A friend of mine (who is also very logical positivist, and can't understand other worldviews-- although he tries, at least) made a comment about science solving some sort of subtle and difficult to determine system. Another friend responded with "that's assuming the scientific method is infallible, which it's not." to which the first friend responded "If it were possible to get machines, which cannot make the same mistakes we do, to do it, it would be." Before a rebuttal could be made (or at least before one was made) we got distracted with something else.

Besides the "you're assuming a logical positive, blah, blah..." I realized that the truth of this statement requires that the universe be objectively observable from within the universe-- otherwise there will always be irreconcilable error in any measurement, hence, science is limited. Given our current understanding of the universe, objective observability is absolutely impossible: "Einstein says so." Any observation can only be made with respect to a given object, and at a high enough resolution, everything about that observation is different for any other object.
Further, if we accept a logical positivist view on the universe, and hence, a Fregean view on math, it makes sense that the universe is governed by some mathematical system. I'm getting to a point I've made before, but.. If the universe is governed by a mathematical system, then we must accept Tarski's undefinability theorem and Gödel's incompleteness theorems. In other words, there are limits to how much we can mechanically discover about the universe. Hence, science has limits.

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