Do You Feel Lucky?

(and feel free to comment! My older posts are certainly no less relevant to the burning concerns of the day.)

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Me vs. God in the Matter of Richard Dawkins (Sunday Theology God Blog Post)

Just kidding. The title is just kidding: clearly it'd be not me vs. God, but me vs. my rather limited and bigoted conception of God. Even Dawkins would concede that much! But so would I. Different reasons.

Demonstrability of God would coerce belief in all reasonable people. I mean real demonstrability: if God can be demonstrated to exist like electromagnetism, or the strong nuclear force, you'll have a few fringe loop-groups sure, a few holdouts still claiming "no such thing!" But everyone who today believes in say, black holes, would then be forced to believe in God.

My question is: I don't know why God would want to coerce my belief, or destroy our ability, as individuals and as a species, to freely learn, grow, and create our selves and our way in a natural universe. I'd feel like he knocked me down and stole my candy. I'd feel like he did it just to make Richard Dawkins look like a dork, and for no higher purpose. What higher purpose could there be, to forcing belief in God upon us?

And while we're on the topic of Richard Dawkins. I love Richard Dawkins. He's one of the most courageous moral crusaders we have. He spends his vitriol in withering rays directed with calm, constant focus against all of the worst, most harmful, most hateful and oppressive tendencies that fanatical orthodoxies of the supernatural are capable of producing. I'm not the judge of any human's virtue, mind you - but I strongly suspect God loves Dawkins, too. I suspect God admires Dawkins's work, and appreciates that Dawkins's best efforts are on God's behalf, while being quietly amused at Dawkins' very rational contempt for the very idea that "God" - such a thing! - should be taken seriously to exist.

This is purely my own take! Dawkins would say there's no one to distrust, and nothing to dispose. I say it's not my call, the disposition of souls, but I trust whose call it is. It's certainly not your call, buddy! Still, you're free to have an opinion on the matter, as am I. I do have an opinion on the matter. We're allowed to take an interest. Especially if we feel strongly things would go a certain way, if our expectations are disappointed, we're allowed to be curious as to why. If God takes the human being who Dawkins has shown himself to be, the passionate human being, aghast at religion misused to crush, kill, destroy (and so am I, by the way), the Dawkins who is committed to enlightenment and reason (and so am I, by the way) - and consigns Dick Dawkins to burn in hell, well I will most certainly be surprised! And I will most certainly be curious. And I will most certainly ask, humbly, why.

Here's how that conversation won't go.

"God?" "Yeah. What." "I notice Richard Dawkins isn't up here. Is he in the 'bad place'?" "Yeah. Hell with that jerk. He kept picking on me." "But...but...he was so strong an ally in the cause! Against the horrific misuses that people put your name to - he was kind, and compassionate, and a crusader to help You - you in the person of each of us, the least of us, the most helpless! In your human ministry, in your Word made flesh, you said once and always that whatsoever we do unto the least of our brothers and sisters, that we do unto you." "And?" "And Dawkins stood courageously each day, defending the least of us! The most powerless, the most easily led and most easily led astray - Dawkins tilted like a sane Quioxote against tyrannies great and small, tyrannies carried out in your name, but against your will! And you gave us free will, didn't you God?" "Look, you better button it, pal. You barely got in here yourself, you know. You can't imagine how irritating you can get - I suggest you spend most of your time over on the other side of heaven, if you're looking forward to this infinity as anything pleasant. Weren't you going to go bother Plato? Shouldn't that be good for a milennia or two?" "No, he and I are cool. We settled up in five minutes." "Well glory halleloo for that. Buzz off, pipsqueak."

Yeah, that's not going to be how the conversation goes. I'm confident of that. Being as I trust in the mercy n' justice of God, I pretty much expect there won't even be one.

So does Dawkins. Different reasons.


Jen said...

... wait a minute ...
Presenting compelling evidence is not the same as coercing belief.
Coercing belief is when you offer rewards and threats that have nothing to do with the evidence. "Believe this, or I'll kill you ... fire you ... slander you ..." etc. If we could demonstrate God's existence, that would not be coercion on His part, it would just be convincing.
Actually, there is just as much compelling evidence for God as there is for black holes and the strong nuclear force. More, in fact. Neither of the latter have proofs that stretch over thousands of years and come from people from all walks of life. Basically, if you want to believe in black holes, you have to have a lot of faith in the modern scientific community. If you want to deny the existence of God, you have go against pretty much all of history.
But nobody (except maybe a fringe, like you say) has a vested interest in black holes not existing. On the other hand, lots of people would be thrilled if God doesn't exist, because let's face it, you KNOW He's going to say you should stop doing you-know-what (whatever it is) and that you should start doing that other thing (the hardest thing you can think of).
So when people look at the evidence for God, they are wearing lots of emotional filters and blinders that do not usually come into play when considering abstract principles of physics.
OK, sermon over. You know, I can't resist a God post, but I don't always have time to comment.

dogimo said...

Evidence for black holes stretches back billions of years, actually - and is open to anyone from any walk of life who wants to take a look! There isn't even too terribly much physics to bone up on first. The evidence is compelling, and the idea that these things are black holes (as opposed to something else) is the best explanation yet advanced.

When you say there is compelling evidence of God, do you mean you see compelling evidence to be found in observable reality that tends to support the necessity of God's existence? Visible, findable pieces of reality, evidence un-tampered with, which anyone can see for themselves, and for which God's necessary existence is the best explanation yet advanced?

Mind you, you could just point to the entire universe and say God is the best explanation yet advanced. I'd be forced to agree, seeing as I believe in God. But I also see God has left the question open to us. God has not left any indication within this universe's wide open and observable workings that tends to support the necessity of God's existence. At least, not to my searching eyes! The universe's laws are uniform and discoverable, and more of their operation makes sense with every passing year. None of it (so far) depends on God as the explanation.

dogimo said...

Wait wait ok! Sorry - got it! It sounds like by 'compelling evidence,' you're talking about testimony. Which, feel free to subscribe to that standard of evidence if you like, but you should see the miracle stories they grafted onto Buddha's career! Testimony can be faked. The problem with testimony is: the basis of its claims is no longer available to us, for evaluation. There is a huge qualitative difference between testimony and evidence whose basis remains open to inspection.

Testimony on the nature of reality is inadmissible if it is not repeatable. This is no arbitrary exclusion: if it's not repeatable, then it demonstrates nothing fundamental. Because reality's fundamental nature is right there, open for inspection and discussion "before the forum" - it is, in a meaningful sense, forensic evidence.

Reality is a repeatable experiment: either you can take the same piece of reality, treat it rigorously the same way and get the same result, or the theory is wrong. Or at least: the theory has no relevant evidence to support its claims about the nature of things. The theory does not go.

But when a claim about reality is right there to be proven, any time you put it to the test - proofs of this nature are coercive to the belief of rational beings. Electromagnetism, gravity, forces of nature present the coercive evidence of their existence to us on a continuous basis, for repeatable measurement and testing. We can come up with different interpretations of how they operate, but that they are there, and that their operation is necessarily part of the way things - this we cannot reasonably doubt.

Now, God could have put God's self into the universe in that pervasive way, and belief in God would then have been coerced, in all rational beings. God could have done it. God could have given us a universe that did not make sense without God.

Instead, God gave us a universe that makes sense. This disproves the idea some people have about God having crippling insecurity issues, in my view. Even though they support their character assassination of God with ample testimony.

dogimo said...

Anyway, myself, I do look for evidence of God, but I've never found any I consider reliable or indicative. But then...why should I expect to see that? The wisdom of this world that believes it can know everything, that believes it can explain everything, that believes it can show and establish and sustain everything...well, I believe in that wisdom, as far as it goes. It goes exactly as far as this world: by which I include the universe. And within its scope, its pretty useful stuff.

But God confounds the wisdom of this world. Surely I know that already. Am I looking for material evidence? Am I looking for testimony? To establish God?

God is not a dependent proposition.

Jen said...

Wow, I can see that my implied mistrust of the modern scientific community really bothered you. It has spawned 3 brand-new posts.

Jen said...

About things being repeatable: that only works for physical properties of the universe. It does not work for historical events. Your birth is not repeatable. Neither is the alleged assault that happened last night. That's why, if we want to establish either of those things, we need to examine different kinds of evidence.
You can say, if you like, that those things are not REALLY proved, but then you're going against basic common sense. Everyone behaves as if past events did happen and it's possible to establish - much of the time - what did happen.
Your comment about repeatability reminds me of an essay by someone whose name I can't remember, but it might be Hume. He argues against miracles by saying that events are more likely the more often they have happened. Therefore, miracles, as exceptional events by definition never happen. Unfortunately, his argument also proves that no unique event ever happens.

Jen said...

It is true that testimony can be faked.
So can lab reports.
Unless you personally do every experiment yourself, when you believe the findings of modern science, you are still relying to a large extent on testimony.
This is especially true when the phenomena can only be observed with rare and expensive instruments, or by people with years of training. The people who can actually observe evidence for black holes, for themselves, are a relatively small number. Sure, they say it goes back thousands of years. I have no reason to doubt them. But until I can look in the telescope, analyze the bands of light or whatever, and work the equations myself, I am still taking it on testimony.
And that testimony has only started coming in the last couple hundred years.

Jen said...

About physical evidence for God, of course anyone is free to disagree (and they do!), but God is the best explanation yet advanced for ...
-why our DNA is in a digital, not an analog, code. Where did all that information come from, if not from a mind?
-Why people even have minds, have a sense of self, and can talk to each other. How can mind arise from non-mind?
-Why the Earth's temperature, salinity, atmophere, etc., is perfectly calibrated for people and all kinds of other creatures to survive and thrive.
-He is also the best explanation for certain historical events that are as well-proved as any historical event can be. You can throw them out, but only at the cost of throwing out all the rest of history. Including everything before your earliest memories.

dogimo said...

>Wow, I can see that my implied mistrust of the modern scientific community really bothered you. It has spawned 3 brand-new posts.

Bothered me? I love science! I enjoy writing about it. Are you the sort that writes about what bothers you? I tend to write about what doesn't bother me in the slightest.

But often a response of mine will go far off-track, and in those cases I cut the tangent off into its own piece. That's what happened there.

dogimo said...

About historical events: they are trivia, and of little consequence when compared with the actual state of reality which is, and remains with us. Sure, some of them can be established as the most likely course or the most likely cause, but it's a very strange thing to me, to care very much about.

About lab results being faked: this doesn't work too well when you've got people arguing the other theory who are doing their utmost to upend yours. The people who disagree with your theory are not going to help you put your fake over - they will torpedo it. It's not testimony being relied on here, it's human nature.

About physical evidence for God, you must be aware there is a whole field of literature on this question that is pretty well hashed-out: "the anthropic principle" - different people come at it different ways. A lot of stances are advanced, but they're all ultimately arguable. I don't think you and I are likely to revolutionize the field between us. For myself I'll just say that organic chemistry makes sense to me, and the steps past there make sense as well.

And I believe in God. I don't need to put one whit of blind faith in historical accounts. They form no part of the basis of my faith. "Blessed is he who has not seen, and still believes."

I've seen everything you've seen. I believe in something considerably, infinitely bigger than such evidence as that.

dogimo said...

>"He is also the best explanation for certain historical events that are as well-proved as any historical event can be. You can throw them out, but only at the cost of throwing out all the rest of history. Including everything before your earliest memories."

Haha, I do actually throw out everything before my earliest memories (and all current events), that I don't myself see, but I accept the overall consensus shape historians (and journalists) give history - do I accept it as being true? There is no need: it's trivia, and no act of mine or belief of mine rests upon it. But I accept it as being generally reliable work, as being "the most likely explanation" for given causes and courses that I am likely to get without doing the work myself.

Why would I want to do such boring work?

When all the historians are pretty well united on something, or all the journalism outlets are pretty well together on what they depict, I figure "best I'm going to get, for now." I figure "good enough to go on" - considering I don't found anything on such things - and I continue about my day.

If it made such a big deal to me, I could do the work! The materials are available. I could become a historian and investigate from earliest available sources, taking cues and clues from the work of others. Or I could become a journalist and add my efforts to theirs.

The question of a person not wanting to do work they find boring, choosing to accept the consensus of those who have, in a contentious, controversial field such as history or science, done the work - this is not a question of relying on faith. It's a question of relying on human nature, and understanding that those in such fields who are highly-motivated to make names for themselves will seek to do so by upending whatever they can. And it's a question of priorities. In my case, partly laziness. I have no interest in doing that work. But more importantly: none of my life or acts are based upon it.

I am happy to accept the current consensus of historians as to the shape of history, ever confident that any event that is suddenly, calamitously upended will not affect me at all.

I am happy to accept the current consensus of scientists as to the shape of reality, especially as there is a great degree of frank disagreement being worked out. I am confident that any piece of theory or entire theory that is uprooted and revised or even thrown own, replaced by a better one - will not affect me at all.

This is, speaking plainly, the work of historians and scientists. I don't have faith in them. I trust them in matters of trivia.

dogimo said...

I really must correct this: "I've seen everything you've seen. I believe in something considerably, infinitely bigger than such evidence as that."

What a ridiculous overstatement! My apologies. Of course don't know whether I've seen every specific thing you've seen or vice versa! What I meant was: in terms of the types of testimony you cite. Certainly I haven't seen it all, but I've seen sufficiently representative tons of it, that's all.

Jen said...

I just wrote a comment and don't know if you ever got it. Oh well.
I sympathize. Of course it's impossible to personally check every fact ourselves. It's like those people who tell us we should be aware of all the horrible things our government is doing overseas, and be agitating against them, and if we are not, we share in the guilt. I hate that.

Jen said...

And I agree with much of what you say about trusting scientists and historians in general. We have no choice. We will only check the facts ourselves if it is REALLY important to us that we do so. And for most people, it just isn't. We're all trying to live.

Jen said...

The point I was making was simply this: you write about the findings of science as if they are uniquely trustworthy. I disagree. It's still all about trusting other people and weighing whether this is one of those rare occasions when we should ferret things out for ourselves.
That being the case, the claims made in the Gospels start out on the same footing as a lab report does. The lab report does not have an a priori edge.

dogimo said...

Where do I write about the findings of science as if they were uniquely trustworthy? It is the method I find uniquely trustworthy - because it is a method to discard findings in favor of better ones. Because science does not enshrine and enthrone its findings - it attacks them, at every opportunity. Science keeps working with the best available theory until new findings disprove it, and then it substitute a better theory: which is never considered final or conclusive, merely the best description of reality we've come to so far, a theory that gives more useful predictive results.

dogimo said...

The Gospels start out on the same footing as a lab report? Would that be greater or lesser footing than The Iliad?

A lab report can be complete doo doo. To that extent, I agree with you. All documents start out on that same level: "This could be complete and utter doo doo."

If one's goal is to attempt a rigorous, scrupulous academic verification, let's face it: it's easier to do that for an experiment whose subject remains with us, whose methods have been laid out to invite retrial. Historical documents can't be verified this way. This doesn't make them more true or more false, just harder to verify.

They did, after all, find the ruins of Troy. But did that discovery lend support to the historicity of the Iliad's zany hijinks, with gods getting involved? Not so much.

I imagine that, like me, you find wonder stories attached to Christ plausible, but give little or no status to very similar wonder stories attached to teachers such as Buddha or Zoroaster. I imagine that like me, you would disdain to consider such accounts as The Gospel Of Thomas reliable (there were two competing books by that name - I mean the one with stories of Christ's childhood).

I don't feel the need to claim my bias is based on anything a scrupulous academic should consider. I just believe Christ is God, and hence, the miracles seem easy enough to swallow.

Jen said...

No time now to respond to your other great comments ... I've got 2 kids to bathe.
But I do need to say this.
"I've seen everything you've seen" ... tnx for your gracious apology. I think I know why you said it. You sensed a certain tone in my comments, sort of a "Well perhaps you haven't considered THIS!" kind of tone. And now I need to apologize. I had no call to such a tone. Given the way you write about science, I thought your faith in it was quite naive. I had no idea you were as well-read as you are. But even if you weren't, I still had no right to patronize, not even a little bit.

dogimo said...

I didn't think you had been patronizing! I was afraid I had been. Glad no worries there, either way.

None of us has seen everything another has seen. But then, we've all seen a lot of the same things, for the same world lies between us.

dogimo said...

And honestly, I probably sound naive about anything in which I believe strongly. Science, though not all scientists are competent. God, but not necessarily every single angel. Religion, but not necessarily every creed and system that's been come up with.

People, I believe in. Can't help but not. Not necessarily in their competence, or their good will - but most people I believe are of good will, regardless of what they believe. I believe most people want to do good - even though their idea of what that is may make it very hard.

Oh, there are, I know, some evil people out there. I only sound naive.