Thursday, November 19, 2009

God and the Tooth Fairy, Pt. 2

So, we're discussing the argument made by Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens that belief in God is like belief in the Tooth Fairy. I have made the claim that it is fallacious, that despite its centrality to what Hitchens and Dawkins are trying to do, it commits the informal logical fallacy called the faulty analogy.

We have dismissed several of the possible similarities between belief in God and belief in the Tooth Fairy--the shared word 'belief,' that fact that both are invisible, the fact that both are immaterial. But before I discuss (in the next post) the significant and central differences between the two, I need to deal with one other alleged similarity--the epistemological one.

Probably what Dawkins and Hitchens are really claiming here is that the similarity between belief in God and belief in the Tooth Fairy is that there is no evidence for either one.

Now, it should be obvious, right out of the gate, that there's a huge difference on this score. And that is that while no one over the age of 6 has ever seriously argued that there is evidence for the Tooth Fairy, millions of people have argued and continue to argue that there is overwhelming evidence for God. Indeed, universities and nations have been founded based on belief that there is sufficient evidence for the existence of God to make following Him one's life work.

So making the grand claim that there is no evidence for God is to deny virtually all of human history, much of the philosophy of Western thought, and some of the most important scientific discoveries of the last few decades. Dawkins does mention some of these evidences, but his dismissal of them invariably depends upon other fallacies, mischaracterization, deliberate dishonesty, or just plain ignorance. While I could camp on all sorts of different types of evidence--historical, experiential, and others, I'll just briefly mention two sets of scientific evidence.

The first powerful set of evidence for the existence of a transcendent Creator-God is the universe itself. Philosophers recognize only four options for explaining the universe. The first, that the universe is entirely illusory, is not held by many in Western culture, and Dawkins would also reject it. The second is that the universe created itself, and this is easily seen to be illogical. That leaves two options, both involving something existing eternally.

The view that was most popular (at least among non-religious people) in Darwin's day was that the universe itself was eternal and static. (This view flowed out of Newtonian physics and Kantian philosophy.) It gave to Darwin's theory a nearly infinite amount of time in order to work the wonders of diversity exhibited by extinct and extant life. Monotheists--and many philosophers--nonetheless maintained that this was unlikely. They argued for the 4th option, that there exists an uncreated, eternal Being (what we call God) who created the universe.

The philosophical debate has long since been answered by science. Einstein's general relativity has replaced Newtonian physics, and we now know that the universe is not eternal, that its personal Cause exists outside the matter, energy, space, and time of the universe. This conclusion (known as the space-time theorem of relativity) follows necessarily if only two things are true: 1) the universe contains mass and 2) general relativity accurately describes the universe.

Because of the obvious theological implications of the expansion of the universe (and big bang cosmology and the space-time theorem), the history of astrophysics in the 20th century is a long litany of attempts to disprove these ideas. The result is that general relativity--and the consequent finitude of the entire universe--are the most rigorously tested and proven law of physics.

But a further set of startling scientific evidence for God's existence has accumulated within the last three decades. It is the recognition that the laws of nature (of physics and chemistry) are extremely fine-tuned to make life possible in even one location in the universe. Further, we now know that the characteristics of the Milky Way Galaxy, of our solar system, and of the Earth-moon system likewise fall within an extremely narrow range of possible values that makes life on Earth possible. Known as the 'anthropic principle,' this evidence of design is recognized as powerful scientific support for the philosophical postion known as the teleological (design) argument.

Together, these two recent scientific discoveries provide strong, quantitative evidential support for the existence of God previously unavailable, support sufficient (in the eyes of reasonable people) to refute the atheism that became popular in the late 19th century. Here's what a few modern physicists and astronomers familiar with the evidence have to say...
Astronomy leads us to a unique event, a universe which was created out of nothing, one with the very delicate balance needed to provide exactly the conditions required to permit life, and one which has an underlying (one might say "supernatural") plan. (Arno Penzias, Nobel Prize-winning physicist)

The exquisite order displayed by our scientific understanding of the physical world calls for the divine. (Vera Kistiakowsky, MIT physicist)

As we survey all the evidence, the thought insistently arises that some supernatural agency--or, rather, Agency--must be involved. Is it possible that suddenly, without intending to, we have stumbled upon scientific proof of the existence of a Supreme Being? Was it God who stepped in and so providentially crafted the cosmos for our benefit? (George Greenstein, astronomer)

It would be very difficult to explain why the universe should have begun in just this way, except as the act of a God who intended to create beings like us. (Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time)
Dawkins admits (in The God Delusion) that he has been accused of having a 19th-century worldview, and his subsequent discussion makes it clear that he doesn't understand what such critics are alluding to. Well, it's just this... that in his very small world of philosophically naive, like-minded atheist scientists, he seems blissfully unaware of the most important scientific discoveries of the century that followed his adored Darwin, evidence that has largely refuted the assumptions of the evolutionary theory to which he (Dawkins) gives God-like creative powers.*

* The modern intelligent design movement began in 1966 at a conference at Wistar, convened by mathematicians and probability theorists who tried to apprise Darwinists that the finitude of the universe (and the now-recognized complexity of even the simplest living cell) provided serious problems to evolutionary theory. More than 40 years later, Darwinists (like Dawkins) have yet to respond to the evidences that modern science has brought to bear against their favorite theory.

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