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November 6, 2006

Dawkins on the "Design" Argument

Here is Richard Dawkins on one of the better of the arguments for the existence of God. He's a bit unfair to it: The religious position today, rather than entirely ignoring evolution, is usually that there wasn't time for something as complex as an eye to evolve. Still, I think Dawkins is useful on the subject:

The only one of the traditional arguments for God that is widely used today is the teleological argument, sometimes called the Argument from Design although -- since the name begs the question of its validity -- it should better be called the Argument for Design. It is the familiar 'watchmaker' argument, which is surely one of the most superficially plausible bad arguments ever discovered -- and it is rediscovered by just about everybody until they are taught the logical fallacy and Darwin's brilliant alternative.
In the familiar world of human artifacts, complicated things that look designed are designed. To naíve observers, it seems to follow that similarly complicated things in the natural world that look designed -- things like eyes and hearts -- are designed too. It isn't just an argument by analogy. There is a semblance of statistical reasoning here too -- fallacious, but carrying an illusion of plausibility. If you randomly scramble the fragments of an eye or a leg or a heart a million times, you'd be lucky to hit even one combination that could see, walk or pump. This demonstrates that such devices could not have been put together by chance. And of course, no sensible scientist ever said they could. Lamentably, the scientific education of most British and American students omits all mention of Darwinism, and therefore the only alternative to chance that most people can imagine is design.
Even before Darwin's time, the illogicality was glaring: how could it ever have been a good idea to postulate, in explanation for the existence of improbable things, a designer who would have to be even more improbable? The entire argument is a logical non-starter, as David Hume realized before Darwin was born. What Hume didn't know was the supremely elegant alternative to both chance and design that Darwin was to give us. Natural selection is so stunningly powerful and elegant, it not only explains the whole of life, it raises our consciousness and boosts our confidence in science's future ability to explain everything else.

Posted by Mitchell Stephens at November 6, 2006 9:53 AM


Society is God.

Each individual has his or her own private construction of the world. Yet we build them in concert with our
world of relationships
that form culture and make these private constructions -> social constructions.

We are social animals whose nature is to stigmatize the private interior world and sanctify the exterior social world. We use our big brains to rationalize this choice of construction. We worship the group construction of reality and call it religion. We call the origin of this group construction God.
None of use is able to be outside of this. The more one thinks and forms a construction of ideas the more one has woven a tapestry of socially constructed symbols.
We cannot talk to one another without being a part of this construction. By the time we know language we are so much a part of it all--we have a name. Dawkins, like the religious people he denigrates, builds a world to believe in from the social world he has evolved in and from. None of us can escape the influence of culture (where the dead are more powerful than the living). Society is God.

Dawkins is saying it is ok to call what he thinks religion if you use the right words and descriptors. In so doing he falls into the same trap as everyone else who tries to describe their private world and call it reality. We cannot divorce ourselves from the dictates of our preconceptions formed by immersion in culture. We are made of religion. We believe in the world. Society is God.

There is no such thing as a non-believer who communicates. To communicate we use symbolic interaction that only works if we agree to believe we have the same meanings for those symbols--the same construction of social reality. We have a faith so deep we do not recognize it. It is base of our world. It is sacrosanct and beyond question.

None of us is able to think our way out of this social order. We only have a vocabulary of socially constructed symbols. So, in the end, we are not left in two groups, believers and non-believers, we are all in one mass of humanity, formed by the intricate and every changing interplay of billions of individual consciousnesses--all believing their world is the correct religious version of reality and therefore God. We have to believe Society is God and our version of that is the correct religious interpretation of Society/God. Nature is as nature does.

Posted by: Jay Saul at November 6, 2006 10:32 AM

Dawkins displays a quite incredible lack of academic rigour. While you are wise to spot one nuance to one christian position, be careful you dont follow his footsteps into the same sweeping statements.

"the only one of the traditional arguments for God that is widely used today is the teleological argument"
FALSE. Even so, Dawkins is simply repeating Bertrand Russell's line in "why i am not a christian". Russell rejected this argument because 'there is no reason why the universe should have had a beginning'. Modern Insights tell us otherwise. Try William Lane Craig (http://www.bethinking.org/download.php?MediaID=46)

"It is the familiar 'watchmaker' argument"
FALSE. Dawkins seems entirely unaware or unwilling to deal with the academic community, in Oxford and Cambridge for instance, whose arguments simply do not correspond to the watchmaker. When he has such outstanding scholars as Alister McGrath on his doorstep, why does he insist on dealing with the most naive of his "opposition", mainly from 3000+ miles across the atlantic?

"the scientific education of most british & american students omits all mention of Darwinism"
I've never heard such a ridiculous generalisation.

"The entire argument is a logical non-starter, as David Hume realized before Darwin"
If he wants to rehash Humean arguments, let him. Even back in my 1st year philosophy class we could all see the fallacies in Hume on Miracles. Come on Dawkins, catch up.

I wont even start on his assumptions (from where?) about the simplicity of God...suffice to say that in doing all this he sets up a very narrow straw man. You would do VERY well to engage with Alister McGrath's book, "Dawkins' God"

or Read or listen to McGrath's 2004 lecture on Dawkins posted at: http://www.st-edmunds.cam.ac.uk/faraday/CIS/mcgrath/
or his open forum response to the God Delusion at http://www.citychurchsf.org/openforum/Audio/OF_Alister_McGrath.mp3
Or John Polkinghorne, professor of Quantum at Cambridge, or Alvin Plantinga, or Michael Ruse (Florida), or Richard Swineburne (Oxford), or Denis Alexander (Cambridge)...all 1st class scholars who Dawkins simply cannot understand, because his materialistic paradigm cannot be questioned. So Stephen Jay Gould & others are a real enigma for him, and he has to irresponsably dismiss them as living a lie! Perhaps, just perhaps, his paradigm isnt so self-evident.

Posted by: Chris Oldfield at November 14, 2006 6:02 PM

incidentally, McGrath has a short review of Daniel Dennett's book (I personally have a lot more time for Dennett than Dawkins) "Breaking the Spell", delivered at the Royal Society for the Arts in March 2006.


Posted by: Chris Oldfield at November 14, 2006 6:18 PM

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