Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Dawkins' Argument from Simplicity???

I was amazed to see this stunning post by Victor Reppert:
What Dawkins argues is that a real explanation explains that which is more complex in terms of that which is simpler. Explanations of anything in terms of God necessarily explains things in terms of that which is still more complex, and so such explanations are nonstarters, since they fail to explain the more complex in terms of the less complex.

The logic of this position is that evidence for God is impossible, for if there were evidence of God, it would provide us with an explanation of the more complex in terms of the less complex. But this is impossible by definition. The search for such evidence is doomed at the start. - Reppert
First, a little background.  Dawkins was commenting on the theistic teleological arguments for the existence of God.  These arguments generally state that the universe or things within it exhibit a complexity or functionality that couldn't possibly be achieved by any accident of nature, and therefore must be the result of an intelligent designer.  This kind of argument is supposedly empirically based.  If we observe that human designers create things that have complexity or functionality that nature doesn't produce on its own, we might then reason that there must be a God who has designed many of the things we see in our world, including human beings, who possess the most complex thing known to us - our brain, which is responsible for our own intelligence.

Dawkins attacks this argument with a two-pronged approach.  We'll start with the first prong, which is a reductio ad absurdum.  Following the logic of the design argument, it takes something complex (an intelligent human) to produce a designed object, and so it must take something still more complex (an intelligent God) to produce a designed human.  But by this logic, there must be something still more complex (some kind of Super-God ?) to produce the God that designed humans.  Yet theists don't postulate this.  We can all agree that it is absurd to think that God must have a designer.  Instead they postulate a God that has no designer.  But this contradicts their own reasoning.  Things require a designer, with the exception of God, because God (according to the theists) is exempt from the same rules of logic that apply to everything else.  So Dawkins' reductio reveals the design argument to be just a case of special pleading.

The second prong of Dawkins' attack is upon the premise that an intelligent designer is needed at all.  He rightly notes that a more careful empirical examination of our world shows that complex things emerge from natural processes, with no intelligence involved.  This is Darwinian evolution, and it is both plausible and entirely consistent with empirical observation.  To demonstrate the plausibility of evolution, he describes a computer program that mimics natural processes by using random changes and simple selection rules to produce "designs" of increasing complexity.  The outcome of the process is not intentionally specified by an intelligent designer, but something that can be quite functional and complex, nevertheless.  Because such a process is plausible, a key premise of the teleological argument has been successfully refuted.

But take a look at Victor's summation of Dawkins' argument.  There is no hint of understanding of what Dawkins is saying.  He did not make an "argument from simplicity", as Victor describes it.  He did not argue that complexity must always result from something that is simpler.  No reasonable person would make such a claim, because we all know that intelligent designers can and do design things that have some complexity.  Victor doesn't give Dawkins credit for recognizing that reality.  Victor thinks that Dawkins has established a rule that says "a real explanation explains that which is more complex in terms of that which is simpler."  But that isn't remotely like the argument that Dawkins puts forward.  What Dawkins has done is debunk the theistic presumption that complex things MUST be the product of an intelligent designer.

Furthermore, Victor goes on to attribute a supposed argument to Dawkins that he never made.  Specifically, it is the argument that because complexity must result from something simpler, then there can not possibly be a God, because that would imply that God must have arisen from something simpler (something that must have existed before God).  But Dawkins never made any such argument.  This is reading far too much into what he actually said, based on a faulty understanding of his actual argument.

In my previous post, I noted that Victor is so consumed with hatred for Dawkins that he can't make a charitable reading of his statements.  Now we see that Victor also fails to understand his arguments.  I don't believe that Victor is so obtuse that this logic is beyond his grasp.  Yet the logic of Dawkins' argument does escape him.  It's not as if there's anything about it that is difficult to understand, even for someone who has no scientific background.  This should be easy-to-digest stuff, if only Victor could grow up and set aside his little attitude problem.

Many times I have seen people like Victor and his minions sneering and jeering about Dawkins' apparent ignorance of philosophy.  Not a single theistic commenter at that post has given a correct interpretation of Dawkins' argument.  As usual, Hinman steps in with his customary idiotic ranting:
you can pretend he;s really saying something, all hes saying is this does not tell me the stuff i want to Bellevue [believe] so it's not an explanation. Also it doesn't make me look like a genius so it doesn't explain. - Hinman 
Despite their projection, none of them has understood, much less cogently addressed the actual argument that Dawkins made.  And I think this is indicative of the ongoing battle between religionists and atheists.  Many of these religionists are consumed by hatred, and they have no desire and no intent to take a serious look at the logical arguments presented by thinking atheists.  Furthermore, they often have little or no scientific understanding.  So when I hear them sneering at Dawkins, I have to laugh.  If they could at least correctly articulate his argument and make a reasoned response to it, I could cut them some slack for their derisiveness.  As it is, they have earned no place at the adults' table.


  1. The greater the sneer, the greater the smear, the greater the fear that Dawkins is hitting home hard and where it hurts most tellingly. The history of christianity is not an historical record of actual events. It is an historical record of the creation of a religion. It is an idea , an amalgam spawned from and hewed out of the trappings of religions that went before, an idea that sought to differentiate itself from all other earlier traditions but using the same material, death defying saviour gods, miracle worker, omni-max powerhouse, eternal spiritman, disembodied manipulator of thoughts, the homunculus that resides in everybody's brain, yadder, yadder, yadder.

    It is decidedly embarrassing when Reppert deliberately confects Dawkins' argument in the manner he does because if there is one thing it does, it illustrates the ridiculous lengths the religiose are willing to go to perpetuate such lies in protection of the meagre warrant religion falsely claims for itself.

    1. That's right. These guys are well aware that books like Dawkins' The God Delusion and Loftus' Why I Became An Atheist have made real differences in the lives of people who no longer believe the religionist bullshit. They are a threat. How many converts have resulted from people reading Reppert's CS Lewis' Dangerous Idea or Hinman's The Trace of God? My guess is that between the two of them, it comes to just about ZERO.