Sunday, 8 April 2007

The Improbability of God (another fallacy)

I recently read Dawkins debating Francis Collins in Time (God vs Science, Nov 13, 2006). Now Dawkins should have made mincemeat out of Collins, who is a Theistic Evolutionist, and so very much open to attack due to his views having a serious lack of coherence. However Dawkins failed to capitalise on his opponent's weaknesses, and instead made huge gaffes like, "The problem is that this says, because something [the anthropic principal] is vastly improbable, we need a God to explain it. But that God himself would be even more improbable."

This may sound like a reasonable statement to you if you share Dawkins' assumptions. But actually thinking about this statement reveals that it is completely irrational.

Dawkins is assuming that God is like a material thing, brought about by chance, so that its complexity is improbable. But a creator God either is, or isn't. You can't say, "Well, for God to have such-and-such a characteristic would require such-and-such a probability" like you can for an amoeba or a shrew.

Why not? Because the amoeba and shrew are contingent. This is a philosophical term which means that they're not necessary. The universe would have continued existing whether or not the worm or shrew evolved (assuming Dawkins' worldview) or were created (from a Christian worldview). God, on the other hand, is not contingent. He is what is called in philosophy "necessary". While a creator God could exist by himself, the universe (in such a worldview) could not, since it is contingent upon God's creating it. But God is not contingent on anything -- he is the ground of all reality: he is necessary.

In Dawkins' naturalistic worldview, the material universe (the space-time continuum or whatever you want to call it; Sagan called it The Cosmos) is necessary, but any of the forms it takes (such as worms and shrews) are contingent.

It is possible to calculate the probability of contingencies, since they don't have to happen (and you can therefore compare the chances of them happening to the chances of them not happening). But it is impossible, by definition, to calculate the probability of necessary things (since they are necessary, they have to be, there is no way for them to not happen so you can't compare the chances of them not happening to the chances of them happening).

The only way, then, we can choose which thing we hold necessary (or the ground of all reality or being) is as our presuppositions or assumptions. Does this mean we can't test these assumptions or presuppositions? That we're just doomed to be randomly either right or wrong, depending on which side of the fence we land on? Not at all. If our presuppositions are valid, they will lead to a valid worldview, namely one that is coherent (internally consistent) and that corresponds to reality. This is why there are no straightforward deductive or inductive arguments for the existence or non-existence of God. However, I would argue that only the presupposition of a creator God supports a valid worldview (for a number of reasons, perhaps topics of future posts, but you can also find them addressed in various places on the web and in books).

So when Dawkins claims that the existence of God is improbable, he is doing one of two things: 1) revealing his utter lack of understanding of philosophy (dangerous for someone very publicly playing a philosopher, as he does in The God Delusion) or 2) confusing God with his creation (i.e. making God contingent, but contingent upon what?).

Either mistake is pretty fundamental, and since this is a core part of his argument, seriously weakens it.

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