Discussing Richard Dawkins' book 'The God Delusion' has aroused a lot of emotional responses (reminding me that Darwin considered strong emotions to be a survival trait). I'd like to emphasize that I was not attacking Dawkins personally---he represents an old paradigm that is reductionist in its insistence on limiting science to materialism, a model that is quickly crumbling. Now on to points made by various responders.
1. CTO asserts that Dawkins does not believe in a random universe as I claim. He says, "The bulk of scientific consensus does not back ...this claim. Neither, specifically, does Dawkins, as he repeatedly states throughout both The God Delusion and his previous works that evolution by natural selection is a non-random process. "
CTO misrepresents "the bulk of scientific consensus" if he believes that physics, chemistry, cosmology, etc. aren't fundamentally rooted in randomness and chance. We all agree that Nature is governed by fixed constants and natural laws, but chaos and entropy are by definition the generators of randomness. Dawkins stoutly maintains that genetic mutations are random.
I did not restate the basics of Darwinism, but CTO is correct that animals are not surviving randomly, mating randomly, or behaving randomly. But that has no bearing on physics. The fact that a taller giraffe can reach food higher up on the tree isn't the same as saying that atoms and molecules know what they are doing. A non-random universe would imply design, the very thing Dawkins opposes.
2. Many responders wanted to assert that God isn't necessary: tsmith writes, "I do not need to ascribe to anything other than human intellect/emotion the ability to create/appreciate literature, beauty, love, music, etc. "
This echoes Dawkins' claim that God exists out of the human need for fantasy, projection, emotional satisfaction, child-like credulity, etc. In other words, an ad hominem argument is mounted against humanity in general, except for those fortunate ones among us who are rational.
I find it confusing that tsmith and Dawkins are so quick to praise science and to condemn other qualities of the human mind. The same person can be rational and yet love art, music, truth, beauty, etc. If we see this as a whole, we don't have to resort to ad hominem attacks on the weak who "need" God and the strong who don't. But the real point is that human intelligence and creativity have to have a source. Dawkins cannot locate one; therefore the question of a higher intelligence hasn't been resolved.
3. I was intrigued by Clear Thinking Oasis, who writes, "...you claim that the brain's "subjective states leave objective traces behind"....couldn't it be that they are "objective traces which create subjective states"? In other words, when we look at brain activity, how do we know which came first, the thought or the CAT scan?
Currently most neurologists and philosophers contend that the brain produces consciousness. For them, wanting to eat a banana is a subjective impulse that is responding to brain activity. This defies common sense, of course. To say that my brain is making me eat a banana seems absurd. I want to eat a banana, and once I do, my brain carries out the necessary action (buying a banana, peeling it, putting it in my mouth, etc.) Mundane as this example may be, it's actually an astonishing feat of mind over matter. How in the world do our thoughts manage to move the molecules in our brain?
Some very famous neurologists adopt the common-sense approach, declaring that the mind is real and precedes the brain. I would point readers to Wilder Penfield and Sir John Eccles (the latter won the Nobel Prize for his work on synaptic activity). He is the author of the famous phrase, "God is in the gap." In other words, molecules aren't the source of intelligence; something we can't see operating in and among our brain cells is.
Yet there is a deeper question lurking here. I may feel that I want a banana, but where did this "I" come from" Maybe it's a delusion as some philosophers and brain scientists assert, since no once has ever found the region of the brain where the personal self resides. Even so, we don't have to take a leap into arch materialism. Buddhists believe that the individual ego is an illusion, and this fact points them toward a universal intelligence (not a personal God) that is consistent with recent neurological findings. Here's a link that discusses this fascinating possibility:
Buddha on the Brain Salon Books
This might be a good place to argue that current breakthroughs in imaging techniques are limited in showing us what the mind is doing. Finding the location in Michelangelo's brain that lights up when he is inspired to paint may be impressive, but it says nothing about art. By analogy, I may be able to follow how electricity gets to the Museum of Modern Art, but just because the building lights up doesn't mean I've discovered the secret of art.
4. A few responders pointed out that Dawkins seems to be ignorant of any God except the one offered in Sunday School. NoNukes writes, "Dawkins (like many religious people, ironically enough) thinks of God as separate from the observable universe, controlling the action like a puppetmaster. "
I spent relatively little time scolding Dawkins for his unfairness toward religion, but it's a serious flaw. NoNukes goes on, "Buddhism and Christianity teach us to look for God right here and right now, immediately in the midst of the very systems of cause and effect that fascinate and delight scientists." The fact that such a search leads us deep into the quantum world and to possibilities unknown to Dawkins with his 'puppetmaster' theology can't be denied.
For anyone who wants to see how thoroughly Dawkins can be exposed for his theological reductio ad absurdum, here's a review of his book that's positively withering, within the bounds of British acid wit:
Lunging, Flailing, Mispunching London Review of Books
Finally, since I made the claim that Dawkins was not a forward or progressive thinker in science, I should offer at least one book that unfolds a real vision. Try Ervin Laszlo: 'Science and the Re-enchantment of the Cosmos'. Prof. Laszlo argues that there are many mysteries in science that cannot be solved until consciousness is taken into account. He lists dozens of these mysteries, a good antidote to Dawkins' constant promise that materialism, if only we irrationlists would leave it alone, will eventually answer every question. That is far from the case. Dawkins is counting on none of us living long enough to discover that his promissory note will never be collectable.
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