counter-apologetics

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Dawkins discussing “The Greatest Show On Earth” (Attempts to Counter Teleology)

There was a video I found online of Dawkins talking about his latest book, “The Greatest Show On Earth.” Naturally I had to watch it and I honestly found myself laughing out loud at a few points. Dawkins is surely a good speaker. I find him quite a natural at sounding amiable despite spitting blasphemy and utter illogic the entire time.

Now I have not read the book. I cracked it open at Borders recently, but that’s about it, so these comments only come from the video.

Dawkins’ brand of argument is one that I am honestly baffled by. Basically, what Dawkins says, is that the reason we see so much apparent design in the universe is because it could not have failed to be any other way, given the fact that we are here to observe it. I have heard this argument before but never really reflected on how ridiculous it is before now.

“The fact of our own existence is perhaps too surprising to bear… How is it that we find ourselves not merely existing, but surrounded by such complexity, such excellence, such endless forms so beautiful… The answer is this: it could not have been otherwise, given that we are capable of noticing our existence at all and of asking questions about it.”- Dawkins, in the interview at the link above.

The argument seems at first to be as follows:

[1]

1. There is apparent design in the universe that brought about our existence.

2. We exist.

3. The reason we see apparent design in the universe is because we exist.

What!? I don’t even want to delve into the depths of how many fallacies there are in this argument, as I may have constructed it wrong. Perhaps the argument is, instead:

[2]

1. We exist

2. There is apparent design in the universe that brought about our existence.

3. Therefore, we are here to observe that design.

Again, what!?

But on further reflection, perhaps these arguments are unfair to the original statement. It may be that the argument is not meant analytically, and instead should just be seen as a brute statement of fact:

Conclusion [1]: The apparent design we see in the universe is observed simply because we exist to observe it.

Another way to state this could be:

Conclusion [2]: We read design for our existence into the universe because we exist to do so.

I still can’t get over how utterly question begging all of these assertions are. Perhaps I could answer with a parody that begs the question in favor of teleology:

Conclusion [3]: We read design for our existence into the universe because it actually is there.

I think that my conclusion has about as much [or more] validity as the argument Dawkins [and others] makes.

Basically what Dawkins and others who make this argument have done is acknowledge the tremendous weight that the teleological argument brings to the table, and then decide to beg the question against it in their own favor by saying, “Well of course it seems designed for us, we’re here, aren’t we?”

But let me be perhaps more fair. Maybe Dawkins is really trying to say that:

Conclusion [4]: Because we are here to observe all of these things, it follows that they should appear to be designed for us, for we could not have come about if such conditions had not occurred.

This may, at first glance, seem more valid. But let us examine it further. How is it that it somehow follows from this conclusion that the design is not in fact intelligent design? How does it follow that the design does not point specifically to creation? I don’t think there is any good way to try to exclude either of these alternatives. What Dawkins has in fact done is not eliminate design from the equation, but introduce evolution as an alternative explanation. He acknowledges design, and then throws evolution into the mix as a possible explanation (“How is it… it could not have been otherwise”). It’s essentially giving up on trying to explain away design and instead admitting it and trying to explain it within evolution.

It follows that such people have been thrown into a trilemma:

1. Admit design and then beg the question against it

2. Admit design and modify the theory of evolution in an ad hoc manner [which again begs the qeustion]

3. Deny design entirely

The third option has become increasingly untenable, so people like Dawkins have tried the first two. Unfortunately, in doing so they have abandoned the very logic they claim to cling to.

But again, perhaps I may be accused of erecting a straw man. “It’s not that Dawkins is saying there is design, just that there appears to be design, because we are here.” I answer again by saying that this is completely question-begging against teleology. It smacks of a complete ad hoc modification of one’s view.

But I think there is a stronger argument I have left out. Perhaps Dawkins means to argue:

[3]

1. If some species X exists, then the universe would appear designed for X.

2. X exists.

3. Therefore, the universe appears designed for X.

Okay. How does this in any way eliminate or discredit design? I don’t see any reason to accept the view that it does. All it states is what is obvious. It doesn’t, however, eliminate the following argument:

[4]

1. If some species X exists, then the universe is designed for X.

2. X exists.

3. Therefore, the universe is designed for X.

Nor does it do anything to somehow discredit this latter argument. All it’s done is formulate a weaker version of the teleological argument, which is the argument many theists are using nowadays to begin with.

But there is even one more argument I have forgotten:

[5]

1. If species X exists, then it is impossible that conditions are such that X would fail to exist.

2. X exists.

3. Therefore, it is impossible that conditions are such that X would fail to exist.

I think this is perhaps the strongest form or Darwins’ argument. According to this argument, it simply follows that if any one species (or probably, any being whatsoever) exists, then conditions could not have been anything but what they are. I believe this is not a straw man largely because it is formulated almost exactly from what Dawkins says (see quote above, specifically “The answer is this: it could not have been otherwise…”). In other words, if something exists, then it is simply obvious that conditions would have to be such that that thing exists. I would answer:

There are major problems for the evolutionist holding to this view. For in stating that it would be impossible for conditions to be otherwise, one making this argument has made it necessarily true that every species that does exist, exists. In other words, the universe exists in such a fashion that it is necessarily true that humans came to exist. Similarly, it is necessarily true that walruses, cardinals, and the like came to exist. But what does that say about evolution? Where did the natural selection go? Where did the random chance go? What has happened to those conditions that factor into making species diverse? For if the species that exist today exist because of a necessary chain of events leading up to the species that currently exist, it follows [due to necessity] that the speceis that exist now could not have failed to exist, nor could there have been other species. I think that this kind of argument should make the atheistic evolutionist quite uncomfortable, for if it is necessarily true that humans exist, all they’ve done is actually acknowledge that the universe was arranged in such a way that humans would actually exist.

And I see no way to make this argument without including necessity in it. For if necessity is left out of argument [5] above, then it suffers from the problem of not actually eliminating design. But if necessity is included in the argument, then it follows that species that exist now exist necessarily, and therefore the universe is such that humans have come about necessarily because of pre-existing conditions, which many theists would gladly acknowledge, and perhaps even cling to.

I conclude with restating my exact quote from Dawkins’ mouth. I leave out his paltry answer this second time, for his question remains unanswered in light of his illogic. Thank you, Dawkins, for acknowledging that the universe was specifically designed for us.

“The fact of our own existence is perhaps too surprising to bear… How is it that we find ourselves not merely existing, but surrounded by such complexity, such excellence, such endless forms so beautiful?”

I answer: God.

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author.

Counter-Counter Apologetics 2: Gross Misunderstandings of the Ontological Argument

In this second in my series countering counter-apologetics, I will examine arguments that are supposed to counter the Ontological Argument, which I personally believe is both logically valid and unavoidably true.

There are two main sources I will use to show the anti-theistic counter. Iron Chariots and Richard Dawkins. It is telling that I personally believe that Iron Chariots, a Wikipedia-offshoot site for counter-apologetics manages to make a better case than Richard Dawkins.

The Ontological Argument comes in a very wide range of forms. There is no way I could discuss all of them individually in a limited space, so I won’t. What I will do is simply lay out a very basic template that underlies most ontological arguments, show the counter-arguments and counter those.

The Ontological Argument is basically as follows:

1. It is possible there is a being that is the greatest conceivable being.

2. That which exists in reality is greater than that which exists in the understanding.

3. Therefore, the greatest possible being must exist in reality by definition.

This is by far the most basic possible way I could strip the argument down. I’d like to put a mini disclaimer here and say I am no professional philosopher, so I may have taken too many of the finer points out of the Ontological Argument, but I think this is the best summing up.

There are a few ways that anti-theists attempt to counter this argument, by making a parody of it, by challenging the first premise, or by judging it as unintelligible.

I will deal with the latter argument first. The challenge is made that the Ontological Argument is unintelligible. This is, I believe, the general point Richard Dawkins is trying to make in his amateurish attack on theistic arguments in The God Delusion. He points to a few things in order to try to get around it. The first is reducing the argument to the “language of the playground (104).” I might point out that I would gladly put his entire book in such language, because I wholly agree with him when he states that “I am a scientist rather than a philosopher (107).” Poking fun at an argument is an interesting tactic, but wholly ineffective. I honestly have nothing more to say about this first apparent attack, because all it shows is Dawkins’ own ineffectual method of argumentation: discarding the rules of philosophy in favor of elitest bickering.

His second attack is stating that, “The very idea that grand conclusions could follow from such logomachist trickery offends me aesthetically, so I must take care to refrain from brandying words like ‘fool (105).'” Dawkins breaks his own rule several times, not using the word fool, but berating the religious in general throughout his book. Further, the fact that logic offends him aesthetically speaks volumes for the amount of mastery he has over philosophy. His claim that an argument such as the ontological one is “trickery” really does nothing to the argument, because once again it’s not actually an attack on any of the premises, but rather simply being offended by a logically sound argument.

In his third approach, Dawkisn simply tries to point to the argument as unintelligible by quoting a story of a debate between Euler and Diderot, in which Euler was said to have stated “Monsieur [sic], (a+b^n)/n=x therefore God exists!” I’m not entirely sure I’m drawing the correct conclusion from Dawkins random placement of this quote in his supposed dismantling of various theistic arguments, but it seems he’s comparing the Ontological Argument to just pulling random things out of a hat. Unfortunately, that is not the case, because the Ontological Argument is logically valid, and the only way to get around it is to challenge a premise, which Dawkins either can’t, due to his ineptness with philosophy, or won’t, due to his general misrepresentation of theism in general, do.

Further, how exactly is it that the ontological argument is unintelligible? It states simply that it is possible to think of a being that is the greatest of all. That’s not so hard to comprehend. The argument doesn’t depend on us being able to conceive of this being in its entirety, just to have a concept of possibility. This idea that God is possible is intelligible to even those children who would use the “playground language” dawkins attempts to reduce the Ontological Argument to. The other points of the Ontological Argument follow, so the argument itself is intelligible.

Iron Chariots takes a different route, presenting some of the more interesting challenges to the Ontological Argument (in fairness to Dawkins, he did show a parody of the argument, but I don’t think it’s any better or worse than those presented at Iron Chariots).

The Ontological Argument is generally thought to be most susceptible to parodies. This is essentially taking an argument and constructing a new argument with the same logical structure to come to an absurd conclusion.

Iron Chariots presents three parodies. They are all almost identical, so I shall show the two classic versions:

“Unicorns:

  1. Let us define a unicorn as a magical equine being that has one horn, and that exists.
  2. By the above definition, such a being must necessarily exist.
  3. Therefore unicorns exist.

Shangri-La:

  1. Shangri-La is the greatest place on earth.
  2. A place that exists is greater than one that doesn’t.
  3. Therefore, Shangri-La exists. (Iron Chariots) “

The problem with these parodies is that they seem to miss the entire point of the Ontological Argument, which is that it is discussing a necessary being. Unicorns, by definition, are contingent beings. That is, their existence is not necessary, they are not necessary in our universe for our universe to be as it is. The same goes for locations such as Shangri-La. The theistic God, however, has tied into the concept necessity. According to theism, God is not a contingent being, but a necessary one. Therefore, these parodies don’t actually do anything to the Ontological Argument because they missed one of the core premises. Now I will concede my mini-Ontological Arugment doesn’t explicitly state necessity, but other versions do. It can also be shown through logical analysis that these kind of paraodies are invalid.

The final attempt at invalidating the Ontological Argument is another parody, known as “Gasking’s Proof”:

  1. The creation of the universe is the greatest achievement imaginable.
  2. The merit of an achievement consists of its intrinsic greatness and the ability of its creator.
  3. The greater the handicap to the creator, the greater the achievement (would you be more impressed by Turner painting a beautiful landscape or a blind one-armed dwarf?)
  4. The biggest handicap to a creator would be non-existence
  5. Therefore if we suppose that the universe is the creation of an existing creator, we can conceive a greater being — namely, one who created everything while not existing.
  6. Therefore, God does not exist.

There are many problems with this attempt to parody the Ontological Argument and prove God doesn’t exist. These are all problems with the premises. Premise 1 states that the creation of the universe is the greatest achievement imaginable. How so? Are there not achievements that could be greater? Could not the greatest achievement be creating infinite universes? For the sake of argument, however, I’ll concede step 1. Premises 3 and 4, I believe, has the greatest problems. Premise 3 assumes that doing things with a handicap makes something logically greater. I’d love to see a proof of this. The premise makes an appeal to common sense, but that is invalid in logic. I’m not at all convinced that having a handicap and doing something makes that achievement itself greater. This is made more problematic by the fact that premise 1 points to the universe as being the greatest achievement. This would seem to mean that an achievement is a finished product, not the steps leading up to the product.

For example, the Cubs winning the World Series after over a century without doing so may seem a greater achievement than the Yankees doing so, but it would be hard to show that logically, for both have the World Series as the finished product. I’m willing to grant premise 3, however, just for the sake of argument.

Premise 4 is where the argument really breaks apart. How is it that non-existence is a handicap? Handicaps can only be applied to things that do exist. To imply that something has a handicap assumes implicitly that it exists. Thus, premise 4 essentially says that a being both exists and does not exist, which is logically impossible. I assume that this premise was in order to counter the idea that existing-in-reality is greater than existing-in-understanding, but note that both of these are existing. In other words, the choice in the Ontological Argument is not saying that something that doesn’t exist exists, just that something that exists-in-the-understanding rather exists-in-reality. Premise 4 is therefore completely invalid both logically and in relation to the Ontological Argument.

I may talk further about Ontological Arguments, but that’s what I have for now. As William Lane Craig states, the Ontological argument leaves anti-theists with no way out. If the concept of the theistic God is even possible, than God exists, necessarily.

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