Monday, August 13, 2007

Ultimate Explanations

I have just finished reading Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion. I wasn't going to read this book initially. First, I'm not entirely interested in what a polemist has to say about a topic as historically rich as the philosophical issues regarding the existence of God; and then see him wave it all away with handy soundbites. Second, I felt that I had read enough reviews of his book and debates pertaining to issues addressed in the book to solidify my initial contention.

About a week ago I had finished reading J.P. Moreland's Scaling the Secular City. Prior to reading this book I was wondering about how applicable it would be today. The book was published in 1987 and quite a bit has happened in the 10 years that have passed; relating to the inquiry of the rationality of theism and the existence of God. Would the topics still be relevant or would he be arguing points that have either been fully addressed and found incorrect or off target from the issues of today. Surprisingly I found the book to be very relevant.
Moreland not only handled the positive arguments for the existence of God and the rationality of theistic belief in a manner that gave it a timeless feel, but the arguments were also carefully drafted and the objections to his conclusions were treated with much respect.

So I became curious as to how Richard Dawkins would present his arguments. Would they be thoughtful (in and of themselves) as well as considerate to the main objections to his conclusion? Or would they be myopic and ignorant of arguments to the contrary?

His crown jewel: Who designed the designer. To capture the thrust of his argument I'll quote from Dawkins, "however statistically improbably the entity you seek to explain by invoking a designer, the designer himself has got to be at least as improbable". So why increase the explanatory regress? Why push it back further and then settle on postulating the existence of something that is more complex than what you were intending on explaining initially?

First, why assume that God is complex? Dawkins assumes that God is complex in the absence of any argument presented for the fact that God is indeed complex. Second, regardless of this assumed complexity of God, Dawkins appears to be unaware of what an ultimate explanation should look like. Nor does he seem to be strongly aware of the differences between a contingent and a necessary. Dawkins believes that God should have an explanation, outside of Himself, that further elucidates the existence of God. He is faulting a necessary for not having characteristics of a contingent. When looking for an ultimate explanation one will have to submit to the fact that it will not have a further explanation in terms distinct from it; if it does then it is not longer an ultimate explanation. Either accept that an ultimate explanation, a necessary, exists that has characteristics that are different from a contingent; or accept the non-existence of any necessary postulating only contingents and deal with the paradoxes that surface when dealing with an actual infinite.

Can God be used as an explanation if we don't have an explanation for His existence? This assumes that for any explanation G ever given for U we would need a complete account of G in terms external to G. Explanations can be (and have been) advanced despite our ignorance towards the nature of that particular explanation.

His inability to consider the objections to his conclusions, along with the handling of his own arguments leads me to wonder how applicable and relevant this book is even today. It might be fun for pep rallies and 'preaching to the choir' sermons, but I feel its usefulness ends there.


At 5:29 PM, Blogger Paul said...

Hi Tim. 2 comments. Does Dawkins ask himself who designed matter and energy? Did it just poof itself into existence? Or did matter and energy come from a singularity that caused the BB? If so who designed the singularity? Get my drift?

Also I recently finished reading a pre-published version of The Case for the Real Jesus authored by Lee Strobel. A good book. If I get the energy I'll post some on it.

At 10:41 AM, Blogger Tim Lambert said...

Hi Paul. I see your point and agree with it. Regarding cosmological arguments I find myself leaning towards the modal argument (the argument from contingency). I don't disagree in the least that the universe had a finite moment in time in which it came into existence. But, even if one were to argue against the idea, it doesn't seem like there's an easy way around the Thomistic cosmological argument. Unless one wants to claim the existence of an actual infinite - which seems to create more problems than the one it is intending on addressing; the existence of a necessary.

Please do post on "The Case for the Real Jesus", very interested in hearing about it. I'm waiting for my copy of W.L. Craig's "The Son Rises" - I've heard great things, finally will get a chance to read it.


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