Why There Almost Certainly Is No God

Why There Almost Certainly Is No God - .286 QUESTIONS TO...

Info icon This preview shows pages 1–10. Sign up to view the full content.

View Full Document Right Arrow Icon
Image of page 1

Info iconThis preview has intentionally blurred sections. Sign up to view the full version.

View Full Document Right Arrow Icon
Image of page 2
Image of page 3

Info iconThis preview has intentionally blurred sections. Sign up to view the full version.

View Full Document Right Arrow Icon
Image of page 4
Image of page 5

Info iconThis preview has intentionally blurred sections. Sign up to view the full version.

View Full Document Right Arrow Icon
Image of page 6
Image of page 7

Info iconThis preview has intentionally blurred sections. Sign up to view the full version.

View Full Document Right Arrow Icon
Image of page 8
Image of page 9

Info iconThis preview has intentionally blurred sections. Sign up to view the full version.

View Full Document Right Arrow Icon
Image of page 10
This is the end of the preview. Sign up to access the rest of the document.

Unformatted text preview: - .286 QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF } - Why are there literally hundreds of Christian denominations and independent congregations, all of them basing their beliefs on the bible, ‘ and most of them convinced that all the others are, in some ways, wrong? - ' If all Christians worship the same God, why can they not put aside their theological differences and (to-operate actively with one another? - ‘If God is a loving Father, why does he so seldom answer his needy children’s prayers? How can one believe the biblical account of the creation of the world in six days when every eminent physicist agrees that all living species have evolved over millions of years from primitive beginnings? Is it possible for an intelligent man or woman to believe that God fashioned the first male human being from a handful of dust and the first woman from one of the man’s ribs? - Is it possible to believe that the Creator of the universe would perSOnally - impregnate a Palestinian virgin in order to facilitate getting his Son into the world as a man? - The Bible says that “the Lord thy God is a ealous God.” But if you are omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, eternal, and the creator of all that exists, of whOm could you possibly be jealous? - Why, in a world filled with suffering and starvation, do Christians- spend millions on cathedrals and sanctuaries and relatively little on aid to the poor and the needy?_ - Why does the Omnipotent God, knowing that there are tens of thousands of men, wonien, and children starving to death in a parched land, simply let them waste away'and die when all that is needed is rain? ' Why would the Father 0an mankind have a Chosen People and favor them over the-other nations on earth? ' Why would a God who is “no respecter of persons” prohibit adultery. and then bless, honour, and allow to prosper a king who had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines? - Why is the largest Christian church controlled entirely by men, with no woman—no matter how pious or gifted—permitted to become a priest, a monsignor, a bishop, an archbishop, a cardinal, or pope? Jesus’s last words to his followers were “Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature. And, lo, I am with you always.” But, despite this and to this date—some two thousand years later—billions of men and women have never so much as heard the Christian Gospel. Why? 36 Why There Almost Certainly Is No God From The God Delusion RICHARD DAWKINS All right, one more Oxonian. In a time of expanding and indeed err- ploding knowledge of biology, Richard Dawkins has educated a I generation of people in the intricacies and wonders (far more im- pressive than anything supernatural) of our species and of others. It will be a long time before his books—ffhe Selfish Gene, The Blind Watchmaker, and Climbing Mount Improbable among many others—are superseded as works of explication and indeed. inn0vation in their field. Professor Dawkins reminds us that evolution by natural selec- tion is indeed “only a theory”: the most successful and the most testable theory in human history. He further reminds us that there are competing explanations for how this theory operates in prac- I tice. This is as it should be. There are some believers in scientific method who hold that evolution does not contradict or even over- lap with the weird world of theology. Dawkins is impatient with such a fuzzy view of the matter and here gives a hint or two about I I the ultimate incompatibility of the scientific outlook with the reli- gious one. Had he not chosen to abandon his religion for the mate- rialist worldview, he might have earned a living as a satirist, as the ensuing two fenilletons demonstrate. The priests of the dyferent religion: sects . . . dread the advance of science as witches do the approach of daylight and scowl on the fitted harbinger nnnonncing the subdivision of the duperies on which they live. —THOMAS JEFFERSON 2.87 288 WHY THERE ALMOST CERTAINLY IS NO GOD The Ultimate Boeing 747 The argument from improbability is the big one. In the traditional guise of the " argument from design, it is easily today‘s most Popular argument offered in fa- vor of the existence of God and it is seen, by an amazingly large number of the- ists, as completely and utterly‘convincing'. It is indeed a very strong and, I _ _ suspect,_unanswerable argument—but in precisely the opposite direction from the theist’s intention. The argument from improbability, properly deployed, comes close to proving that God does not exist. My name for the statistical demonstration that God almost certainly does not exist is the Ultimate Boeing 747 gambit. ' ‘ The name comes from Fred Hoyle’s amusing image of the Boeing 747 and the scrapyard. I am not sure whether Hoyle ever wrote it down himself, but it was at- ' ' tributed to him by his close colleague Chandra Wickramasinghe and is presum- ably authentic. Hoyle said that the probability of life originating on Earth is no greater than the chance that a hurricane, sweeping through a scrapyard, would have the luck to assemble a Boeing 747. Others have borrowed the metaphor to refer to the later evolution of complex living bodies, where it has a spurious plausibility. The odds against assembling a fully functioning horse, beetle, or ostrich by randomly shuffling its parts are up there in 747 territory. This, in a nutshell, is the creationist’s favourite argument—an argument that could be made only by somebody who doesn’t'understand the first thing about natural Selection: somebody who thinks natural selection is a theory of chance whereasw-in the relevant sense of chance—it is the opposite. I The creationist misappropriation of the argument from improbability al- ways takes the same general form, and it doesn’t make any difference if the creationist chooses to masquerade in the politically expedient fancy dress of “intelligent design” (ID).1 Some observed phenomenon—often a living crea- tune or one of its more complex organs, but it could be anything from a mole— cule up to the universe itself—is correctly extolled as statistically improbable. Sometimes the language of information theory is used: the Darwinian is chal- lenged to'explain the source of all the information in living matter, in the technical sense of information content as a‘measure of improbability or “sur- prise value.” Or the argument may invoke the economist’s hackneyed motto: there’s no such thing as a free lunch-"and Darwinism is accused of trying to get something for nothing. In fact, as I shall show in this chapter, Darwinian natural selection is the only known solution to the otherwise unanswerable riddle of where the information comes from. It turns out to be the God Hy~ pothesis that tries to get something for nothing. God tries to have his free lunch and be it too. However statistically improbable. the entity you seek to 1. Intelligent design has been unkindly described as creationism in a cheap tuxedo. Richard dekins 2 89 explain by invoking a designer, the designer himself has got to be at least as improbable. God is the Ultimate Boeing 747. The argument for improbability states that complex things could not have come about-by chance. But many people define “come about by chance” as “a synonym for come about in the absence of deliberate design.” Not surprisingly, therefore, they think improbability is evidence of design. Darwinian natural se- lection shows how wrong this is with respect to biological improbability. And although Darwinism may not be directly relevant to the inanimate world—cos- mology, for examplemit raises our consciousness in areas outside its original territory of biology. A deep understanding of Darwinism teaches us to be wary of the easy assump- tion that design is the only alternative to chance, and teaches us to seek out graded ramps of slowly increasing complexity. Before Darwin, philosophers such as Hume understood that the improbability of life did not mean it had to be de- signed, but they couldn’t imagine the alternative. After Darwin, we all should feel, deep in our bones, suspicious of the very idea of design. The illusion of de- sign is a trap that has caught us before, and Darwin should have immunized us by raising our consciousness. Would that he had succeeded with all of us. Natural Selection as a consciousness—Raiser In a science-fiction starship, the astronauts were homesick: ‘just to think that it‘s springtime back on Earth!” You may not immediately see what’s wrong with this, so deeply ingrained is the unconscious northern hemisphere chauvinism in those of us who live there, and even some who don’t. “Unconscious” is exactly right. That is where consciousnesswraising comes in. It is for a deeper reason than gimmicky fun that, in Australia and New Zealand, you can buy maps of the world with the South Pole on top. What splendid consciousness-raisers those maps would be, pinned to the walls of our northern hemisphere class- rooms. Day after day, the children would be reminded that “north” is an arbi— trary polarity which has no monopoly on “up.” The map would intrigue them as well as raise their consciousness. They'd go home and tell their parents—and, by the way, giving children something with which to surprise their parents is one of the greatest gifts a teacher can bestow. It was the feminists who raised my consciousness of the power of conscious- ness-raising. “Herstory” is obviously ridiculous, if only because the “his” in “his- tory” has no etymological connection with the masculine pronoun. It is as etymologically silly as the sacking, in 1999, of a Washington official whose use of “niggardly” was held to give racial offence. But even daft examples like "nig- gardly” or “herstory” succeed in raising consciousness. Once we have smoothed our philological hackles and stopped laughing, herstory shows us history from a different point of view. Gendered pronouns notoriously are the front line of 2-90 WHY THERE ALMOST CERTAINLY IS NO GOD such consciousness-raising. He or she must ask himself or herself whether his or her sense of style could ever allow himself or herself to write like this. But if we can just get over the clunkng infelicity of the language, it raises our conscious- ness to the sensitivities of half the human race. Man, mankind, the Rights of Man, all men are created equal, one man one vote—English too often seems to exclude woman.Z When I was young, it never occurred to me that women might feel slighted by a phrase like "the future of'man.” During the intervening decades, we have all had our consciousness raised. Even those who still use “man” instead of “human” do so with an air of self—conscious apology—or tru- culence, taking a stand for traditional language, even deliberately to rile femi- nists. All participants in the Zeitgeist have had their consciousness raised, even those who choose to respond negatively by digging in their heels and redou- bling the offence. I Feminism shows us the power of consciousness-raising, and I want to borrow the technique for natural selection. Natural selection not only explains the whole of life; it also raises our consciousness to the power of science to explain how organized complexity can emerge from simple beginnings without any de- liberate guidance. A full understanding of natural selection encourages us to move boldly into other fields. It arouses our suspicion, in those other fields, of the kind offalse alternatives that once, in pre—Darwinian days, beguiled biology. Who, before Darwin, could have guessed that something so apparently designed as a dragonfly’s wing or an eagle’s eye was really the end product of a long se- quence of non-random but purely natural causes? ' . Douglas Adams’s moving and funny account of his own convets1on to radical atheism—he insisted on the “radical” in case anybody should mistake him for an agnostic—is testimony to the power of Darwinism as a consciousness-raiser. I hope I shall be forgiven the self-indulgence that will become apparent m the fol-r lowing quotation. My excuse is that Douglas’s conversion by my earher books— which did not set out to convert anyone—inspired me to dedicate to his memory this book—which does! In an interview, reprinted posthumously in I792 Salmon ofDaubt, he was asked by a journalist how he became an atheist. He began his re- ply by explaining how he became an agnostic, and then proceeded: And I thought and thought and thought. But I just didn’t have enough to go on, so I didn’t really come to any resolution. I was extremely doubtful about the idea of god, but I just didn’t know enough about anything to have a good working model of any other explanation for, well, life, the universe, and every- 2. Classical Latin and Greek were better equipped. Latin Home (Greek anthropo) means‘human, as opposed to air (email-w) which means man, andemiM (game) Wl'lICl'l means woman. Thus anthropology pertains to all humanity, where andrology and gyne- cology are sexually exclusive branches of medicine. Richard dekins 2'9 1 thing to put in its place. But I kept at it, and I kept reading and I kept think- ing. Sometime around my early thirties I stumbled upon evolutionary biology, partitularly in the form of Richard Dawkins’s books The Seb‘isb Gene and then The Blind memakevg and suddenly (on, I think the second reading of The Self £le Gene) it all fell into place. It was a concept of such stunning simplicity, but it gave riSe, naturally, to all of the infinite and baffling complexity of life. The awe it inspired in me made the awe that people talk about in respect of reli- gious experience seem, frankly, silly beside it. I’d take the awe of understand- ing over the awe of ignorance any day. The concept of stunning simplicity that he was talking about was, of course, nothing to do with me. It was Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selec- tionathe ultimate scientific consciousness-raiser. Douglas, I miss you. You are my cleverest, funniest, most open-minded, wittiest, tallest,_and possibly only convert. I hope this book might have made you laughkthough not as much as you made me. That scientifically savvy philosopher Daniel Dennett pointed out that evolu- tion counters one of the oldest ideas we have: “the idea that it takes a big fancy smart thing to make a lesser thing. I call that the trickle-down theory of cre- ation. You’ll never see a spear making a spear maker. You’ll never see a horse shoe making a blacksmith. You’ll neVer see a pot making a potter.” Darwin’s dis— covery of a workable process that does that very counterintuitive thing is what makes his contribution to human thought so revolutitnnary, and so loaded with the power to raise consciousness. It is surprising how necessary such consciousness-raising is, even in the minds of excellent scientists in fields other than biology. Fred Hoyle was a bril- liant physicist and cosmologist, but his Boeing 747 misunderstanding, and other mistakes in biology such as his attempt to dismiss the fossil Archaeopteryx as a hoax, suggest that he needed to have his consciousness raised by some good exposure to the world of natural selection. At an intellectual level, I suppose he understood natural selection. But perhaps you need to be steeped in natural se- lection, immersed in it, swim about in it, before you can truly appreciate its power. _ Other sciences raise our consciousness in different ways. Fred Hoyle’s own science of astronomy puts us in our place, metaphorically as well as literally, scaling down our vanity to fit the tiny stage on which we play out our lives— our speck of debris from the cosmic explosion. Geology reminds us of our brief existence both as individuals and as a species. It raised John Ruskin’s con— sciousness and provoked his ,rnernorable heart cry of 1851: "If only the Geolo- gists would let me alone, I could do very well, but those dreadful hammers! I hear the clink of them at the end of every cadence of the Bible verses.” Evolu— tion does the same thing for ourlsense of time—not surprisingly, since it works on the geological timescale. But Darwinian evolution, specifically natural 2.92 WHY THERE ALMOST CERTAINLY IS NO GOD selection, does something more. It ,shatters the illusion of design within the domain of biology, and teaches us to be suspicious of any kind of design hy- pothesis in physics and cosmology as well. I think the physicist Leonard Susskind had this in mind when he wrote, “I’mnot an historian but I’ll venture an opinion: Modern cosmology really began with Darwin and Wallace. Unlike anyone before them, they provided explanations of our existence that com- pletely rejected supernatural agents . . . Darwin and Wallace set a standard not only for the life sciences but for cosmology as well.” Other physical scientists who are far above needing any such conseiousness—raising are Victor Stenger, whose book Has Science Found God? (the answer is no) I strongly recommend, and Peter Atkins, whose Creatiun Revisited is my favourite work of scientific prose poetry. _ I am continually astonished by those theists who, far from having their con- sciousness raised in the way that I propose, seem to rejoice in natural selection as “God’s way of achieving his creation.” They note that evolution by natural se— lection would be a very easy and neat way to achieve a world full of life. God wouldn’t need to do anything at all! Peter Atkins, in the book just mentioned, takes this line of thought to a sensibly godless conclusion when he postulates a hypothetically lazy God who tries to get away with as little as possible in order to make a universe containing life. Atkins’s lazy God is even lazier than the deist God of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment: dens orients—literally God at leisure, unoccupied, unemployed, superfluous, useless. Step by step, Atkins suc- ceeds in reducing the amount of work the lazy God has to do until he finally ends up doing nothing at all: he might as well not bother to exist. My memory vividly hears Woody Allen’s perceptive whine: “If it turns out that there is a God, I don’t think that he’s evil. But the worst that you can say about him is that ba- sically he’s an under—achiever.” Irreducible Complexity It is impossible to exaggerate the magnitude of the problem that Darwin and Wallace solved. I could mention the anatomy, cellular structure, biochemistry, and behaviour of literally any living organism by example. But the most striking feats of apparent design are those picked out—for obvious reasons—by creation- ist authors, and it is with gentle irony that I derive mine from a creationist book. Life-How Did It Get Here?, with no named author but published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society in sixteen languages and eleven million copies, is obviously a firm favourite because no fewer than six of those eleven million copies have been sentto me as unsolicited gifts by well-Wishers from around the world. Picking a page at random from this anonymous and lavishly distributed work, we find the sponge known as Venus’ Flower Basket (Euplectella), accom- panied by a quotation from Sir David Attenborough, no less: “When you look Richard Dawkins 29 3 at a complex sponge skeleton such as that made of silica spicules which is known as Venus’ Flower Basket, the imagination is baffled. How could quasi- independent microscopic cells collaborate to secrete a million glassy splinters and construct such an intricate and beautiful lattice? We do not know.” The Watchtower authors lose no time in adding their own punchline: “But one thing we do know: Chance is not the likely designer.” No indeed, chance is not the likely designer. That is one thing on which we can all agree. The statistical improbability of phenomena such as Euplecrella’s skeleton is the central prob- lem that any theory of life must solve. The greater the statistical improbability, the less plausible is chance as a. solution: that is what improbable means. But the candidat...
View Full Document

{[ snackBarMessage ]}

What students are saying

  • Left Quote Icon

    As a current student on this bumpy collegiate pathway, I stumbled upon Course Hero, where I can find study resources for nearly all my courses, get online help from tutors 24/7, and even share my old projects, papers, and lecture notes with other students.

    Student Picture

    Kiran Temple University Fox School of Business ‘17, Course Hero Intern

  • Left Quote Icon

    I cannot even describe how much Course Hero helped me this summer. It’s truly become something I can always rely on and help me. In the end, I was not only able to survive summer classes, but I was able to thrive thanks to Course Hero.

    Student Picture

    Dana University of Pennsylvania ‘17, Course Hero Intern

  • Left Quote Icon

    The ability to access any university’s resources through Course Hero proved invaluable in my case. I was behind on Tulane coursework and actually used UCLA’s materials to help me move forward and get everything together on time.

    Student Picture

    Jill Tulane University ‘16, Course Hero Intern