Thursday, September 20, 2012

Why I think Richard Dawkins should read God Doesn't; We Do

People believe crazy things.
  • Christians believe that God took the form of a man, lived, taught, died, came back to life, and ascended to an invisible kingdom called heaven all to pay off the debt of wrongdoing, called sin, committed by all people who will believe this story.
  • Jews believe that if a plate has ever had a dairy product on it and then later has a meat product on it that God will be angry and possibly bring calamity on them because of an injunction against boiling "a kid in its mother's milk" in a four-thousand-year-old book.
  • Muslims believe that a man named Muhammad became the last prophet of God and finished his life by mounting a flying horse that few him to an invisible paradise.
  • Mormons believe Joseph Smith--who lived in the nineteenth century--was a prophet instead of a known con-artist, among a few other bizarre things.
  • Catholics believe that if a sufficiently important person says the right words in a sufficiently serious way while talking over a piece of amazingly boring carbohydrates that it will "transubstantiate" (a made up word replacing "transform" because that word is obviously wrong) into the flesh of a dead-but-raised Jewish teacher from the first century (and that the same is possible of wine, changing into his blood)--and that the purpose of this is to consume that flesh and blood in order to obtain everlasting life.
  • Scientologists believe ... never mind, we don't need to go there.
And I believe that Richard Dawkins should read the fifth chapter of my book, God Doesn't; We Do: Only Humans Can Solve Human Challenges. People believe crazy things.

I want to assert that my belief is less crazy, though. First, Richard Dawkins exists, as does my book. Second, I agree with Richard Dawkins, so I'm not a loony that's trying to argue with him based upon bad arguments, wish thinking, or an inner feeling to know things I can't. Third, he's had some trouble earlier this year that, incidentally (as in not intentionally), the fifth chapter of my book could probably help him out with.

What kind of trouble has this icon of freethought faced? Well...

"Richard Dawkins: I can't be sure God does not exist" The Telegraph, 24 Feb. 2012.
"Video: Ricahrd Dawkins: "I'm '6.9 out 7' sure God does not exist" The Telegraph, 24 Feb. 2012. [N.B.: the blurb above the video here reads "the word's most famous atheist admits that he cannot be certain that God does not exist."]
"'Outspoken atheist' Richard Dawkins admits he's agnostic" The Week, 24 Feb. 2012.

And then there are the outright religious pages that took this and ran. I remember there being a pretty painful two months or so from late February through maybe the start of May when it seemed that almost every day I ran into something about this being repeated, recapitulated, or taken outright out of context.

Of course, this isn't real trouble--it's more of the same chicanery that drives all outspoken freethinkers nuts. It is rampant opportunism at its finest. Richard Dawkins plays the academic integrity card, and those who believe they can be one hundred percent sure of their notions about an unknowable God step up to the plate and tear at the chance to get the scrap they don't even realize that they haven't been thrown. It's ridiculous; it's unfair; and it's infuriating. Of course, the sales-hungry reporters and editors aren't in the least bit ashamed to skew the headline to their purposes. The result is that Richard Dawkins ended up in the middle of a media shitstorm with high consequences for the strength of his message from simply saying the same thing he's been saying all along. It's disgusting.

So, while I wasn't intending to throw this boon to Dr. Dawkins when I was writing it, I became insanely aware of the value of the argument in the fifth chapter of God Doesn't; We Do to him while Hurricane Bullcrap raged around him. Instead of trying to summarize it, I'll actually present some snippets of Chapter 5 of God Doesn't; We Do, "God doesn't exist, almost surely," so it can be seen directly.
Before specifically discussing God's existence, take a moment to consider the “rock” of theism. What does this status, that non-existence claims are philosophically indefensible, actually win for an existence argument? The clear answer is “not much,” as is attested to by the same status being held by the list of fictitious beings mentioned above. Not being philosophically indefensible is perhaps the weakest possible necessary condition upon any existence claim, and so the amount of actual weight it adds to the argument for God's existence in the world is “almost” nothing—a matter that will be quantified, and thus clarified tremendously, here. The rock of theism, then, is so porous that it would float.
It continues,
Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion puts forth an argument against the God hypothesis on probabilistic grounds (in a chapter called “Why There Almost Certainly Is No God,” which comes very near the point I am making in this chapter), one that I stress should go further. He claims that the complexity of God must be greater than the complexity of the universe that He designed, and thus that whatever the unlikeliness of the universe actually is, the unlikeliness of its designer is even higher. Thus, God is less probable than the total improbability of the universe, which is itself a strong statement. Indeed, from a mathematical point of view, how complex would a mind have to be in order to know the full infinite decimal expansions of irrational constants like pi and every other irrational number, the number of which is beyond count in every sense of the phrase? How unlikely, then, is God? While it seems unreasonable to try to assess accurate probabilities for the existence of God, it actually may not be.
There is a mathematically precise notion that we can use to say something does not exist “almost surely” (sometimes: “almost certainly”), which, if applied, would provide simultaneously that God very well could exist, and yet that the probability of His existence is actually zero, or in other words that the probability of God's existence is arbitrarily small. Effectively, then, if this claim is correct, we can argue that God doesn't exist without treading into philosophically indefensible waters. In fact, the difference between “God doesn't exist” and “God doesn't exist, almost surely,” which incurs no change to the measured probability of His existence, is the exact amount of purchase on the argument provided by the so-called rock of theism—effectively none. My claim, then, is that this position is the only reasonably defensible position on the plausibility of God's existence, given paucity of the evidence for Him in this world, a lack that amounts to what I have called the Problem of a Silent God, discussed in Chapter 7. If I am right, perhaps Richard Dawkins can revise his position on his spectrum of theistic belief from 6.9 to 6.999... (i.e. 7), almost surely, without compromising a bit of academic honesty to do so. (emphasis added)
To really grasp this piece, the concept of "almost sureness" has to be developed, which is a tricky feat since it relies upon the highly abstract notions of "measure theory," which were only defined around the turn of the twentieth century by a mathematician named Henri Lesbegue, who was as revolutionary for mathematics as Einstein was for physics, though almost no one outside of advanced mathematics has heard of him. Much of the fifth chapter of God Doesn't; We Do is dedicated to the attempt to elucidate that concept.

In very short, very loosely, and not at all accurately, saying something is "almost sure" can be defined as there "infinity-to-one" shot against it--say like the likelihood of choosing your lucky number at random out of all of the numbers. Therefore, if we say "God doesn't exist, almost surely," what we're saying is that the odds are infinitely long that God exists (in a mathematically rigorous way). In other words, "God doesn't exist, almost surely" is equivalent to saying "the probability that God exists is zero, almost surely." This is entirely philosophically defensible because it is not a categorical denial, and yet it removes the awful weakness of the statement "the likelihood that there is a God is some very small but nonzero number," which is the very kind of non-scrap that the desperate will leap upon like frenzied dogs.

So, I'd like to rest my case: people, including me, believe crazy things, but I'm not entirely off the rails in believing that Richard Dawkins should read the fifth chapter of God Doesn't; We Do. Any help in bringing this fact to his attention would be hugely appreciated.

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If you enjoy my writing, you can read more of it in my first book, God Doesn't; We Do: Only Humans Can Solve Human Challenges. If you choose to pick it up, I thank you for your support of myself, my family, and indie authors in general.

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