Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Complexity and Simplicity

A thread at Uncommon Descent addresses an argument that Richard Dawkins raises in his book The God Delusion viz. that if a cause must be at least as great as its effect, and if God is the cause of the complex design of living things, then God must be more complex than living things. So, if, as intelligent design advocates argue, complex information demands a designer then God must have an even more complex designer, which must also have a designer, ad infinitum.

This argument has been repeatedly refuted by far more capable people than me, but I'll take a shot at it anyway. The basic flaw is that those who employ the argument fail to understand what is meant by the term "God." For instance, complexity is a property of material objects or perhaps abstract ideas. God is neither of these. He's not the sort of being that has parts, as material objects do, nor is God, as opposed to the concept of God, an abstract idea. Thus, to impute complexity to him is a category mistake.

Moreover, God, as conceived by most philosophers of religion, is a being possessing maximal greatness. If such a being exists it would be a necessary, not a contingent, being. I.e. it would be a being which, unlike contingent entities, is not caused by any other being. If it were caused by something else it would not be maximally great. God, therefore, if he exists, is the ultimate cause of all being and is himself self-existent and uncaused. To speak, as Dawkins does, of a cause of an uncaused being is to indulge in incoherence.

But, even if one accepts Dawkins' argument that the cause of the world must itself have a cause the argument does little to advance the atheist's position. Since there is personality in the cosmos, at some point along the regress of the cosmos' causes it's reasonable to assume that there's one cause that itself possesses personality. Furthermore, there must be a cause in the regress that is extremely powerful (able to create worlds ex nihilo), extremely intelligent (in fact, a mathematical supergenius), personal, and transcendent.

That's not yet the God of traditional theism, perhaps, but it's very close. So close, in fact, that the atheist who posits this infinite series of causes in order to confute the intelligent design hypothesis must acknowledge that if such a regress exists it would make atheism pretty much untenable.

Is Science Becoming Less Ethical

The folks at Science Now raise the question, in light of a series of scandals involving the fudging and fabrication of data in scientific research, whether science researchers are becoming less ethical.

If I were asked, I'd frame the question somewhat differently. I would ask whether we are finding that practitioners of science, many of whom have forfeited any ground for thinking that there really is objective right and a wrong, are simply acting more consistently with their metaphysical amoralism.

When scientists one after another deny the existence of any transcendent basis for moral behavior, when they embrace a metaphysical naturalism that entails an amoralist view of the world, then why should we expect that they would hold themselves to arbitrary standards of conduct if violating those standards is in their self-interest?

Lest you think that I'm overstating the degree to which science (and philosophy) has abandoned such a basis let me offer just a few of the many quotes on the subject that could be adduced:
"What’s to prevent us from saying Hitler was right? I mean, that is a genuinely difficult question." Richard Dawkins

"[I had] been laboring under an unexamined assumption, namely that there is such a thing as right and wrong. I now believe there isn’t…The long and short of it is that I became convinced that atheism implies amorality; and since I am an atheist, I must therefore embrace amorality…I experienced my shocking epiphany that religious fundamentalists are correct; without God there is no morality. But they are incorrect, I still believe, about there being a God. Hence, I believe, there is no morality....Even though words like “sinful” and “evil” come naturally to the tongue as, say, a description of child molesting. They do not describe any actual properties of anything. There are no literal sins in the world because there is no literal God…nothing is literally right or wrong because there is no Morality.” Philosopher Joel Marks, An Amoral Manifesto

"For the secular man there's no answer to the question, why not be cruel." Philosopher Richard Rorty.

"Truth (including moral truth) is whatever your peer group will let you get away with saying." Philosopher Richard Rorty

"One who does not believe in God or an afterlife can have for his rule of life…only to follow those impulses and instincts which are the strongest or which seem to him the best." Charles Darwin (Autobiography)

"Ethics is just an illusion fobbed off on us by our genes to get us to cooperate." Biologist E. O. Wilson and Philosopher Michael Ruse

"Let me summarize my views on what modern evolutionary biology tells us loud and clear – and these are basically Darwin’s views. There are no gods, no purposes, and no goal-directed forces of any kind. There is no life after death....There is no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning in life, and no free will...." Biologist Will Provine

“[T]he worldview of science is rather chilling. Not only do we not find any point to life laid out for us in nature, no objective basis for our moral principles, no correspondence between what we think is the moral law and the laws of nature, of the sort imagined by philosophers from Anaximander and Plato to Emerson. We even learn that the emotions that we most treasure, our love for our wives and husbands and children, are made possible by chemical processes in our brains that are what they are as a result of natural selection acting on chance mutations over millions of years. And yet we must not sink into nihilism or stifle our emotions. At our best we live on a knife-edge, between wishful thinking on one hand and, on the other, despair.” Nobel laureate physicist Steven Weinberg
When people come to think this way it's just a short step to rationalizing otherwise unethical behavior if that behavior helps one gain tenure, grants, and prestige. In other words, scientific malfeasance is consistent with the naturalistic materialism held by many scientists. It's inconsistent only with the worldview of those scientists who've not succumbed to the modern infatuation with naturalism.