Re: [asa] Dawkins, religion, and children

From: <>
Date: Thu May 03 2007 - 12:06:20 EDT

Pim wrote:
> In other words, it's Plantinga who insists on defining God as simple,
> perhaps based on the philosophical teachings of others. In fact, there
> are many reasons to object such a principle based on ID's own claims
> about complexity and the conservation thereof.

Personally I don't understand the theological statement that God is simple, but in any case I don't think Platinga is correct in appealing to it as a response to Dawkins. Even though God is simple in His essence, God's knowledge is certainly not simple, and I see no reason why Dawkins should not include God's knowledge and understanding as a "part" of God in this context. It may be theologically important to distinguish between God's essence and knowledge, but it is not important to the structure of Dawkins' argument, as far as I can see.
So I would prefer to grant Dawkins' idea that God involves some type of complexity in His acts of creating.
However, I have already posted a very clear argument that shows that there is a basic fallacy in Dawkins' syllogism, and that his syllogism is therefore completely undone. I don't think there is any response to my argument. I am posting it below with some additional material that I have previously sent to Pim off-list.
Here is Dawkin's argument:
Major Premiss #1. Every existing entity that shows evidence of design requires a designer superior to itself
Minor Premiss #1. God (as an existing entity) shows evidence of design in himself (complexity of thought, perhaps)
Conclusion #1. Hence God requires a designer (another God) superior to himself
Major Premiss #2. Infinite regressions are not possible
Minor Premiss #1. Conclusion #1 implies an infinite regression (an infinite number of Gods)
Conclusion #2. Hence, Conclusion #1 is not possible
Conclusion #3: Since Conclusion #1 is not possible, then either the Major or Minor Premiss must be discarded.

(Alternative 1): If the Major premiss #1 is correct, then we must discard Minor Premiss #1; God is not an existing entity.

(Alternative 2): If we are unwilling to discard belief in God, then we must discard Major Premiss #1
Lemma: thus, in discarding Alternative 2 we validate Darwinism and simultaneously agree that God is not required to explain any appearance of design. God does not have any role and therefore we have no reason to hypothesize God.
Conclusion #4: Either way (Alternative 1 or 2), it is unlikely that God exists.
I see at least two ways to dissect this:
A. There is clearly an equivocation with the term "existing entity" between Major Premiss #1 and Minor Premiss #1. The first usage in the Major premiss means "every contingently existing entity", whereas the second usage in the Minor premiss is speaking about "a necessarily existing entity." We usually leave the word "contingent" unstated since it is obvious: there is no reason to assume that a necessary being requires a Designer superior to itself! That's just plain silly! But here, Dawkins' equivocation means there is no common middle term in the syllogism, and therefore the first syllogism is formally fallacious. Therefore Conclusion #3 is also incorrect. There is in fact an Alternative #3:
(Alternative 3): The syllogism is formally fallacious
and in fact it is. Therefore, neither Alternative #1 or #2 must be accespted, and so Conclusion #4 does not follow.
B. Another way to argue this is to allow Dawkins to broaden the definition of "every existing entity" in the Major premiss to include both contingent and necessary beings. That removes the equivocation. But now Premiss #1 is just begging the question. Is it really true that every existing entity, necessary ones included, require a designer superior to itself? Has ID or anybody ever made such a claim? Of course not! That's silly! So Dawkins has failed to prove that the Major Premiss #1 must be discarded when it refers only to contingent beings. Alternative #2 may discard the Major Premiss #1 when it refers to necessary beings, but the Lemma does not follow and so Conclusion #4 does not follow, either.
A request:
If I am wrong about this, then someone please show me how his middle term in the first syllogism is not equivocal. I agree that it is distributed in the Major premiss as it ought to be for a valid syllogism, but is it really distributed widely enough to include its different usage in the Minor premiss? To wit, does it include necessary beings? If not, then his argument is bogus and it is not a judo maneuver against ID. But if the middle term really is distributed widely enough in the Major Premiss to include God, then isn't the major premiss simply question-begging? Is it really true that a necessary being, whatever his complexity or simplicity, must have been created by something higher than itself? Has ID really **ever** phrased their major premiss #1 to include necessary beings??? No, of course not! There is simply NO argument against ID in Dawkins' poor syllogism. Let's not be sloppy in our logic nor allow him to be. He is putting forth an argument that claims to use logic, and if the logic is fallacious then we have a duty to say so.

-----Original Message-----
Sent: Thu, 3 May 2007 9:25 AM
Subject: Re: [asa] Dawkins, religion, and children

My suggestion is similarly that those objecting to Dawkins spend some
time reading the writings of Dawkins to familiarize themselves with
his arguments.
Plantinga may argue that Dawkins' book is mainly philosophical but I
have to disagree. It may be comforting to define away Dawkins'
objections by claiming that God is simple, God is eternal but that is
a philosophical answer to a scientific position about the hypothesis
of God.
In other words, it's Plantinga who insists on defining God as simple,
perhaps based on the philosophical teachings of others. In fact, there
are many reasons to object such a principle based on ID's own claims
about complexity and the conservation thereof.
I am not saying that I am convinced by Dawkins' reasonable arguments,
I am pointing out that it may help our cause to define reasonable
arguments to counter Dawkins here.
If the best we can do is to argue from a philosophical position that
God is simple because we say so, then fine but that seems to me a
position which may convince many of those who may be exposed to
Dawkins' claims and arguments.
Perhaps I am misjudging the extent to which people understand Dawkins
yet their claims and statements often seem to be at odds with Dawkins'
position or arguments.
Surely we should be careful not to use such logical flaws in rejecting
what i see as quite powerful objections raised by Dawkins.
Of course, it has been ID and partially YEC which has opened up the
God hypothesis to scientific scrutiny, forcing us to now define God to
be simple, a position which only further strengthens Dawkins argument
since a simple God would be unable to explain complexity. In fact, a
simple God basically means that the explanation becomes one of 'God
did it', a seemingly simple explanation which however fails to be one.
On 5/1/07, Jack <> wrote:
> Pim, if you are indeed a Christian, my suggestion to you, honestly made in
> brotherly love, is that you need to spend some more time reading the
> writings of many of the great Christian writers to familiarize yourself with
> the philosophical foundation of our faith. You claim that you are not a
> "fan" of philosophy. I take that to mean you don't know much about it, have
> not read much about it, and don't find it worthwhile. But Plantiga's point,
> which is clear if you read the article that you referenced, is that Dawkins
> book is mainly philosophy, and not much about biology, and that Dawkins is
> outside of his area of expertise here.
> The Christian tradition as stated in the creeds is that God is simple. You
> may not accept that, you might not accept the creeds, as far as I can tell
> you don't accept any of the traditional Christian beliefs. It seems to me
> that you are persuaded by Dawkins rhetoric, which is really all it amounts
> too, and happen to think that everyone else that disagrees with Dawkins does
> so because they don't understand him. I think Plantiga, and most of us on
> this list understand him clearly enough.
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "PvM" <>
> To: "Iain Strachan" <>
> Cc: "David Campbell" <>; <>
> Sent: Tuesday, May 01, 2007 5:54 PM
> Subject: Re: [asa] Dawkins, religion, and children
> >I am amused by Iain's use of the phrase 'lovingly typing out' when I
> > am trying to educate fellow Christians as to what Dawkins has actually
> > written.
> > In fact, you also misunderstand my contributions which you seem to see
> > as disparaging when they are in fact meant to show the logical
> > fallacies in these arguments. Should we just sit back and accept
> > poorly argued arguments just because they are made by Christians? Of
> > course not, in fact I believe we have a task to expose them before
> > others can pick up on them.
> >
> > I am not sure what Plantinga is trying to argue but I have never been
> > much of a fan of philosophy.
> >
> >
> > Dawkins is arguing that God is complex and thus improbable (at least
> > in the ID meaning of the word complexity). Could God be simple? Not
> > according to ID theory, where complexity requires more complexity.
> >
> > Dawkins
> > <quote>A designer God cannot be used to explain organized complexity
> > because any God capable of designing anything would have to be complex
> > enough to demand
> > the same kind of explanation in his own right.</quote>
> >
> > Now one may want to circumvent this by claiming that God is simple but
> > now we are running the risk of confusing meanings of words.
> >
> > What Dawkins is pointing out that explaining the complexity of the
> > universe by pointing to God basically explains nothing. One can either
> > presume a complex God and now one have to either explain the origin of
> > God or assume that this complexity always existed, or one assumes a
> > simple God but then it fails to explain the complexity in the world.
> >
> > Funny how Plantinga refers to Dawkins' philosophy as sophomoric, as if
> > that is going to answer the questions raised. Plantinga's 'rebuttal'
> > does a disservice to Dawkins and I am puzzled by it.
> >
> > God is 'simple': God is simple, and simple in a very strong sense, so
> > that in him there is no distinction of thing and property, actuality
> > and potentiality, essence and existence, and the like.
> >
> > What does this mean, how does this answer the question? If God is
> > simple then god cannot explain the complexity in the universe. If God
> > is simple in the meaning as provided by Plantinga, what does this
> > mean?
> >
> > Or the following attempt to argue that God cannot be complex
> >
> > <quote>According to his definition (set out in The Blind Watchmaker),
> > something is complex if it has parts that are "arranged in a way that
> > is unlikely to have arisen by chance alone." But of course God is a
> > spirit, not a material object at all, and hence has no parts.</quote>
> >
> > But then God cannot be simple either. These are just semantics that
> > allow Plantinga to avoid dealing with the argument. And although God
> > is a spirit, he is also the trinity, now we may want to avoid
> > discussing in terms of parts but to argue God aways as being simple
> > because he is a spirit somehow misses the target.
> >
> > Others have picked up on this as well
> >
> > <quote>Saying that something is simple (and, similarly, saying that
> > something is necessary) just doesn't make it so. Plantinga is arguing
> > that his definition of God is better than Dawkins' definition of God,
> > largely on the grounds that he (or, at any rate, the theologians he
> > quotes) got there first.</quote>
> >
> >
> >
> > I am not too impressed by Plantinga's response.
> >
> > Rich: "There is but one only living and true God, who is infinite in
> > being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body,
> > parts or passions, immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible,"
> > etc.
> >
> > And this makes God 'simple'? By what definition?
> >
> > On 5/1/07, Iain Strachan <> wrote:
> >> Apart from lovingly typing out yet another bit of chapter-and-verse
> >> Dawkins,
> >> what is your point? Your quote seems only to be reiterating what I said:
> >>
> >> If
> >> > the truth upsets you, then too bad.
> >>
> >> Pim, you seem very fond of disparaging arguments made by Christians,
> >> including Francis Collins, it seems. It would be interesting to know
> >> what
> >> are your reasons for being a Christian?
> >>
> >> Iain
> >>
> >>
> >> On 5/1/07, PvM <> wrote:
> >> > Btw Dawkins did respond to the author of the quote in his 30th
> >> > anniversary edition of the Selfish Gene
> >> >
> >> > Unwriting a book is one thing. Unreading it is something else. What
> >> > are we to make of the following verdict, from a reader in Australia?
> >> >
> >> > Fascinating, but at times I wish I could unread it... On one level, I
> >> > can share in the sense of wonder Dawkins so evidently sees in the
> >> > workings-out of such complex processes . .. But at the same time, I
> >> > largely blame The Selfish Gene for a series of bouts of depression I
> >> > suffered from for more than a decade . . . Never sure of my spiritual
> >> > outlook on life, but trying to find something deeper—trying to
> >> > believe, but not quite being able to—I found that this book just about
> >> > blew away any vague ideas I had along these lines, and prevented them
> >> > from coalescing any further. This created quite a strong personal
> >> > crisis for me some years ago.
> >> >
> >> > I have previously described a pair of similar responses from readers:
> >> >
> >> > A foreign publisher of my first book confessed that he could not sleep
> >> > for three nights after reading it, so troubled was he by what he saw
> >> > as its cold, bleak message. Others have asked me how I can bear to get
> >> > up in the mornings. A teacher from a distant country wrote to me
> >> > reproachfully that a pupil had come to him in tears after reading the
> >> > same book, because it had persuaded her that life was empty and
> >> > purposeless. He advised her not to show the book to any of her
> >> > friends, for fear of contaminating them with the same nihilistic
> >> > pessimism {Unweaving the Rainbow).
> >> >
> >> > If something is true, no amount of wishful thinking can undo it. That
> >> > is the first thing to say, but the second is almost as important. As I
> >> > went on to write, Presumably there is indeed no purpose in the
> >> > ultimate fate of the cosmos, but do any of us really tie our life's
> >> > hopes to the ultimate fate of the cosmos anyway? Of course we don't;
> >> > not if we are sane. Our lives are ruled by all sorts of closer,
> >> > warmer, human ambitions and perceptions. To accuse science of robbing
> >> > life of the warmth that makes it worth living is so preposterously
> >> > mistaken, so diametrically opposite to my own feelings and those of
> >> > most working scientists, I am almost driven to the despair of which I
> >> > am wrongly suspected.
> >> >
> >> >
> >> > On 5/1/07, Iain Strachan <> wrote:
> >> > >
> >> > >
> >> > > On 5/1/07, David Campbell <> wrote:
> >> > > > The question of imposing on children also relates to the claims of
> >> > > > non-"coersion" associated with process theology. Both last night
> >> > > > and
> >> > > > this morning, brushing Timothy's (age 2.5 yrs) teeth involved
> >> > > > coersion. Does Dawkins think I should be locked up for that?
> >> > >
> >> > >
> >> > > Almost certainly not. But I think what it boils down to is your a
> >> priori
> >> > > position. There is no question that brushing your teeth is something
> >> that
> >> > > is good for you. The issue of whether there is a physical hell that
> >> really
> >> > > exists, is under debate and can't be proven one way or the other.
> >> Dawkins's
> >> > > a priori position is that there is no supernatural, no hell, no
> >> > > heaven,
> >> no
> >> > > God. So if someone does something like tell a child about judgement,
> >> and as
> >> > > a result, that child suffers mental anguish and fear of everlasting
> >> > > damnation, Dawkins will regard it as an evil abuse, arising from a
> >> delusion,
> >> > > because he is not prepared to accept it might not be a delusion.
> >> > >
> >> > > I gave the example earlier of the reviewer on who reported
> >> that
> >> > > "The Selfish Gene" shattered his fledgling faith, and led to several
> >> bouts
> >> > > of depression. But I'm guessing that Dawkins wouldn't see that as
> >> abuse,
> >> > > because he believes that he's telling the truth that there is no God.
> >> If
> >> > > the truth upsets you, then too bad.
> >> > >
> >> > > I would like to clarify that I personally would be strongly opposed
> >> > > to
> >> > > preaching hellfire and damnation to children, and would prefer to
> >> > > show
> >> the
> >> > > message of love.
> >> > >
> >> > > Iain.
> >> > >
> >> >
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >> --
> >> -----------
> >> After the game, the King and the pawn go back in the same box.
> >>
> >> - Italian Proverb
> >> -----------
> >
> >
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Received on Thu May 3 12:07:24 2007

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