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Post No. 29 (The Dawkins Delusion II)

March 19, 2010

In his discourse about God’s probable inexistence, Dawkins comes breathtakingly close to understanding the illogicality of his endeavour, but then takes a wrong turning and loses the plot again.

Cue footage of one of the Ringwraiths stopping over the four hobbits hiding from him, dismounting his horse, nearly touching them, then gallop away. When you’re watching the film you go “My, the little mites are done for!” but they’re not …

Dawkins came this close to understanding his mistake, not that he looks anything like the Ringwraith, mind you.

He invokes – in my opinion derisorily – NOMA. This is a “device” thought up by the late Stephen Jay Gould (it stands for non-overlapping magisteria.) In a nutshell, Gould said that religion and science are concerned with different issues, or “science gets the age of rocks, and religion the rock of ages”, so they cannot – should not – spill into each other.

Dawkins seems to be saying that probably nothing falls outside the scope of science

Perhaps there are some genuinely profound and meaningful questions that are forever beyond the reach of science. Maybe quantum theory is already knocking on the door of the unfathomable.

I wouldn’t say that it doesn’t cross his mind, because he is no fool, but I can’t understand why he, of all people, should fail to see that scientific method only applies to that which is empirically verifiable.

Somewhere else he says that if there is a God who created everything, (by everything I assume he means every quantifiable thing), then that God must be subject to scientific scrutiny. Perhaps they should make Rudolf Diesel’s biography obligatory reading to all car mechanics studying diesel engines …

Dawkins’s  treatment of NOMA cannot result in anything but a God of Gaps. In a nutshell, God lurks in poorly lit areas of human understanding, only to have to scurry away when science sheds light on that dark alley. If you look at God as somebody who explains the “unexplainable”, you’ll end up denouncing him as the biggest mistake of your life, as Einstein did with his infamous cosmological constant. I am confident that in the fullness of time science will unlock all of nature’s quantifiable secrets. There will be nothing the workings of which we don’t understand. But that’s where science stops.

Evolution, for example, will tell us exactly where we came from – down to our first microbial ancestor. (Note for another post: why does Dawkins think that God and evolution are mutually exclusive?) We will never understand why we are here; why we are conscious; why nature obeys this set of rules and not another; why we can understand the logic behind the workings of the cosmos. I could also include the distinction between right and wrong as another area outside the magisterium 🙂 of science … but that would be biting off more than I can chew.

In another post I mentioned Julian Baggini’s The Invisible Gardener. The thought experiment illustrates – for me – the illogicality in trying to make science and God (or religion, but that’s a bit different) mutually exclusive. It’s a bit like saying that you can’t have a liver and a stomach, don’t you think?

That’s that for now …The God Delusion is turning out to be irritainment more than anything. (Irritainment = something you love to hate 🙂  a bit like the bad guy at the Panto, but a bit more facetious)



From → The Elephant

  1. Another Reuben permalink

    Science is a methodology of discovering truth by analysing facts and data, and questioning everything.

    Religion is a methodology of discovering truth by appealing to authority, and not questioning anything.

    So yes, religion and science overlap and are natural enemies.

    Using words like faith (blind faith) and dogmas is a scary way of looking at reality.
    No wonder that religious people are the most superstitous, even though beliefs in horoscopes, voodoo and other mumbo jumbo goes directly against their faith.

    “science gets the age of rocks, and religion the rock of ages”

    WTF is that even supposed to mean?

    “Perhaps there are some genuinely profound and meaningful questions that are forever beyond the reach of science. Maybe quantum theory is already knocking on the door of the unfathomable.”

    No… No it is not… Watch this clip… (Yes, it contains Richard Dawkins)

    “Note for another post: why does Dawkins think that God and evolution are mutually exclusive?”

    He does not. He does not say “Evolution is true, therefore God is not.” He says, “Evolution is true. God is not. And neither is Intelligent Design.”

    Straw Man Argument. .

    You misquote him, then you claim victory. However, you might find this interesting.

    “We will never understand why we are here; why we are conscious; why nature obeys this set of rules and not another; why we can understand the logic behind the workings of the cosmos”

    This is known as a loaded question.

    You ask a loaded question, making us believe something that is not true. If I ask you, “Have you stopped hitting your wife?”, even though it is just a question, it assumes that you do hit your wife.

    The same with asking “Why are we here?” It assumes that our existence has to be planned and meaningful.

    “It’s a bit like saying that you can’t have a liver and a stomach, don’t you think?”

    No. It’s like wanting to have a scientific mind, and a religious mind.

  2. The wikipedia definition of science you quote lacks the quintessential quality of science, i.e. testability. If you can’t test a hypothesis it’s not science.
    Strictly speaking evolutionary theory (e.g.) is not science. There are no tests anyone can devise to verify – or falsify – that evolution has happened the way it is commonly perceived to have happened . Nobody in his/her right mind can deny evolution has happened, but nobody can be sure HOW it has happened – or even WHY, for that matter.
    The Big Bang itself falls outside the scope of science – as does every other singularity.
    Philosophy and theology deal with “issues” that cannot be tested. This makes them easy targets for pot shots taken by anyone with a propensity for scientism.
    There is no way you can verify – or falsify, for that matter – that God exists (e.g.) This is not due to limitations on the part of the investigator or his equipment, but because the nature of the question, i.e. why God has revealed himself throughout human history is such that it cannot be tested.
    For example, finding – or not – Russell’s teapot would be a matter of time because one day science will give us instruments powerful enough to detect a teapot orbiting a star several million light years away.
    Religion, based on reason, demands that its adherents make that leap of faith. It is easy to dismiss this as mumbo jumbo. However one does so with incomplete evidence.

  3. Another Reuben permalink

    So many mistakes in your reply, I do not even know where to start.

    You misunderstand what testing means. Testing does not necessarily entail putting on a lab coat and staying in a laboratory surrounded by test tubes and Bunsen burners. Testing is about finding evidence in the data to support your hypothesis. (Such as the missing link.)

    You have a very limited view of what science is (and a quite convenient one too).
    Yes, Big Bang is science. Yes, evolutionary theory is science. The evidence is there, the tests are there. Museums full of evidence, books full of data. You just have to look.

    As for religion, you yourself are saying that it cannot be tested. So you agree with Dawkins that there is no science in that. So it is just a question of faith.

    But then answer to yourself, why do you believe what you believe, and not the other million gods you are an atheist towards. Why this religion, and not another? You can see that geography plays a huge part in this answer.

    And I thought that Jesus lived on earth. He turned water to wine, and healed the sick. So why cannot we ask for evidence? He was here, and interacted with this world. Why cannot we see a scientifically proven miracle? Why do all these faith based facts fall apart once you shine the light of science on them?

    Just like childhood’s monster-under-the-bed, who always managed to disappear just in time when the parents show up.

    Maybe he was never there to start with?

    And no, you can never see Russel’s teapot. He defined it on purpose as “too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes”. The point of this is that every year, when we look for it with our best telescopes, and fail to find it, he can tell us that it is too small for our telescopes.

    The same works for god. First we are told to pray, to believe, and to interact with him/her. Then when we try to, we are told that god works in mysterious ways, and he does not obey logic/science, and that we cannot see him/her.

    “Religion, based on reason, demands that its adherents make that leap of faith.”

    Aren’t you afraid this leap can hurt you?

  4. A hypothesis has to be testable to be science. It was Popper’s concern that science is better at “falsifying” rather than at verifying.
    Testing is not about collecting evidence. Testing is about setting conditions and parameters, then seeing how the theory and/or hypothesis fares against those conditions.

    With a roomful of complete skeletal records you can only support claims of anatomical similarity among those organisms the skeletons of which you are observing. You may be in a position to infer a taxonomical relation. There is no way you can definitely establish a mechanism for how they came to be. All you can say is that PROBABLY X is related to Y.
    Even mechanisms in organic chemistry are “tentative” for pete’s sake!

    E.g. 2
    The Big Bang is a) a theory that b) can never be verified because according to the theory it is a singularity. A singularity is a point where the “laws of science” do not hold. Look it up. NOT in wikipedia, this time. Chown and Tipler could point you in the right direction. Perhaps Hawking too, but that depends.

    I will now reply briefly to your point about miracles. A miracle (meaning “wonder”) is called such because its cause is hidden, and an effect is expected other than what actually takes place. Hence, by comparison with the ordinary course of things, the miracle is called extraordinary. A miracle can never fundamentally go against nature. It can – and does – go beyond our understanding of the working of nature – perhaps even appearing contrary to them. So, actually, a miracle can be tested in theory. No contradiction there.

    Space does not allow me to answer why I believe in God as he has revealed – and is still revealing – himself throughout human history. Suffice it to say that God (as understood by Catholics) is a logical necessity. Look that up, too. Forget Wikipedia. Too superficial.

  5. Another Reuben permalink

    Sorry for my delay, was busy playing Halflife 2 =)

    So, regards Wikipedia… I only use it as a reference. I have actually read (and studied) such topics.

    My whole point boils down to this.
    Religion and science are at opposite ends, since they both rely on different ways of getting to knowledge.

    Yes, you can use philosophy till you are blue in the face, and ask deep (albeit useless) questions like, “But what is knowledge? What does it mean to know something?”

    But the reality is that science is the best tool we have. It uses great scrutiny towards itself, and other methodologies.

    I can explain to you why I believe in science. Two simple words. It works.

    Can you tell me why you believe in religion? (Apart for habit, indoctrination, culture, and society)
    Honestly, had you never heard of religion, god, the catholic faith, etc as a child, would you really have gone down this path?

  6. Science and religion are not even on the same wavelength, let alone at opposite ends of something. None of any religion’s claims can be tested that (in)conveniently puts them outside the realms of science.
    They have to rely on different ways of achieving knowledge because the knowledge they seek is different (despite being different facets of the same truth).
    You’d use a harpoon to catch a whale and a fishing rod to catch a lampuka, to put it pictorially.

    The “useless” branch of philosophy called epistemiology underpins the activity we call science. Science bases itself on premises which it cannot test itself, but premises which are made legitimate through epistemiology. This means, incidentally, that one has to believe in the efficacy of science and scientific method.

    Had God not revealed Himself nobody anywhere would have heard of him. I was lucky enough to be born and raised a Catholic. In an ideal world we would not be having this exchange as you would see the inevitability of the existence of a God who has revealed himself.

    It would be foolish of me to reject science because it is the best tool for its job. Likewise it is foolish of you to reject Catholicism (among other things) because it is a tool for a completely diferent job. Remember the fishing rod/harpoon example. You may find that my post entitled The Elephant will illustrate further.

    Thanks for commenting.

  7. Another Reuben permalink

    “You’d use a harpoon to catch a whale and a fishing rod to catch a lampuka”

    Yes, except that this time you cannot see the whale, you cannot feel it, and you cannot measure it. You just have to trust the fisherman whom you’re giving money to, that you’re not paying him for nothing. Sounds like the Emperor’s new clothes. [Reuben Scicluna]…erm …

    I guess that the Elephant story will be about the elephant and the blind men, which is supposed to make us doubt knowledge and science.
    [Reuben Scicluna]Rather than “make us doubt knowledge and science” the elephant post – which you have clearly not read – tells us that although one, the truth is multifaceted. It can only be perceived when approached from various angles.
    Except that we don’t. When we board a plane, when we go to a doctor, when we take pills, when we have open heart surgery, when we use Google, computers, when we landed on the moon, all these show that
    1) science works
    2) it is useful and true
    3) it works.
    [Reuben Scicluna]and you know all these precisely because scientific ideas MUST be tested
    You keep putting down science, shedding doubt on it, however you have not given me a single reason for your belief. You keep dodging this question.
    [Reuben Scicluna]I do not – can not – doubt (in principle) anything achieved by science. Science is the best tool for the job it is meant to do.

    You are using the fallacy that if my reasoning is wrong, then yours must be right.
    So you are putting science up to huge scrutiny (which is good, and you should).
    Then you are saying that science is not 100%, and then doing the biggest ironical move possible.
    Because science is not rigorous enough for you, somehow this proves religion and god are true. [Reuben Scicluna]This doesn’t follow – neither logically nor from any of my arguments.

    So give me proof, or reasoning, as to why you believe in god. [Reuben Scicluna]You cannot prove a belief, otherwise it would become a fact. You don’t believe a fact. Why this god. Why the catholic mythology, as opposed to say, hinduism, taoism, islam, judaism, scientology, ancient Greek, ancient Egyptian…

    It is not enough to make me doubt science[Reuben Scicluna]to doubt science you’d have to be a Christian Fundamentalist from the Bible belt. No one in his right mind doubts science in principle, you also have to make me believe in religion.Not even God can make you believe in Him (does “Free Will” ring a bell?), let alone me

    [Reuben Scicluna]I have received scientific academic training. I work in a field where one has to keep abreast of certain developments in organic chemistry – namely pigments and polymers (hint, hint). I still fail to see why you think that science and faith cannot coexist. Have you tried reading Polkinghorne?

  8. @ another Reuben
    I have replied to your comments in bold. I just added this to increase the comment count so you know that a reply has been posted 😉

  9. Another Reuben permalink

    I have not read anything by him, but I have seen interviews with him.

    My whole premise, going back to my first comment, is the following:

    Science is a truth-seeking methodology. On the other hand religion is not compatible with this fact-seeking methodology, since it is not transparent. It is purely authoritarian.

    I am not saying that a religious person, and a scientific person cannot coexist. I am simply saying that in a brain, religion and science work differently. People who use science, still have to pause the scientific method when it comes to dealing with religion. And that is a pity.

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