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A First Reading of Dawkin’s The God Delusion

August 2, 2011

When I read good mathematical texts, there is a sense of stability in the thoughts conveyed.  I get similar feelings with classics of spirit and religion such as the Bible, the Upanishads, the Dhammapada, the Dao-De-Jing and suchlike.  It is best described as a deep feeling of clarity, a feeling that I can trust the meaning in the words as if I were trusting a friend.

Reading Dawkins is the exact opposite: it feels like a mess, looks like a mess and reads like a mess.  But I shall attempt to put these prejudices aside and see if I can find any real substance.

Dawkins uses the term supernatural without much clear definition.  I should say something about `God concepts‘.  God concepts are constructs of the mind used to refer to the Absolutely Infinite, or some great aspect of it.  God concepts are for the mind and God Himself is never actually one of these concepts: any God concept is inaccurate to a certain degree.  We must take care not to define such as concept that may be used to ultimately define God, since such a concept cannot possible refer reliably to the actual Absolutely Infinite.  Here he attempts to define God as having the property of being supernatural, before suggesting that others with a different God concept have a better one.  Another fundamental failing is his attempt to judge other people’s God concepts and say that some are better than others.  We can never conceptually know God well enough to judge a God concept once it may be reasonably categorised as a `plausible God concept’ which, in this case, means a concept that refers to some kind of Absolutely Infinite entity which is connected to the reality we perceive and which is logically  insufficient in itself to define God.  Our choice of logical foundations will, of course, affect what choices of are plausible.

For me a supernatural God is a necessity since God being natural would require Him to be of a smaller order of infinity than the Absolute.  Thus a God who transcends the confines of all human thought must be supernatural, and yet such a God must exist since otherwise we get a problem of there being a largest ‘set’ containing our reality and no ‘universe’ containing it.  The Absolute Infinite must exist and for me the term God invokes this Absolute.  But this Absolute is not static, since then the notion of being static would contain it, and by a similar reason He (or It if you prefer not to personify) cannot be truly dynamic either.  But we can only really perceive Him as being one or the other.  If we see him as dynamic, he has a conscious presence in the universe and acts through his will, if not, on the other hand, he set up the universe and let it run.  Both are just as true as each other, and yet ultimately fall short of the truth (for else God would be definable.)  I guess what I’m trying to convey is that a plausible concept for the Absolute must by its nature not be definable by logical language, and any plausible God concept must be such a plausible concept for the Absolute.

Later, Dawkins makes an absolute howler.  I quote:

What matters is not whether God is disprovable (he isn’t) but whether his existence is probable.

To those who are not academic statisticians, I refer them to the first chapter of Common Statistical Errors and How to Avoid Them.  This excellent book takes care to point out that conclusions reached by statistical means, however correct the mathematics, must be backed up by justifications that do not tolerate uncertainty.  All the numbers we’ll ever talk about represent an infinitely improbable subset of the real numbers, and yet a real number that is not such an `infinitely improbable’ number will never be exhibited.  This is how absurdly distorted things can get if you rely solely on the notion of probability.  So the question is: what conclusion does Dawkins build on the foundations of statistical probability and how does he give this conclusion firm philosophical foundations?  One can allow no notion of uncertainty in their foundations if their mind is to be stable and I suspect Dawkins has a great deal of foundational uncertainty in his mind: his book just reads like it comes from an unstable mind.

Anyway, I’ll read on and maybe add a little as I find more points of interest.


From → Life, Philosophy

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