Doubting ‘Doubting Dawkins’


God The Creator

God The Creator

Gosh. Wow.

It’s been a while. Sorry about that.

You see, dear reader, I lost faith in the ‘sceptical’ movement. I visited a talk at St Bride’s Church that was so effective in it’s message, ‘doubting Dawkins’, that I lost the will to carry on.

It’s a long story starting one Saturday night a couple of months ago, and it continues below the fold.

On that Saturday I found myself playing a computer game, a rather violent one. I was on the last level, in which (without wanting to give too much away), you have to kill everyone. Every single last person. Thankfully, as is the style for this sort of computer game, all of these people are evil men in dark suits who hate you, so it’s pretty much OK.

Anyway, upon killing every last living thing in the game, some sort of victory sequence is supposed to happen, a pat on the back – perhaps in the form of a short film explaining key plot points, or a new, even noisier gun. Anyway, at the point when the final suited thug crumpled beneath my merciless volley of bullets, I waited with baited breath for this victory sequence.

Nothing happened.

I checked the mission objective – “Kill everything”. Simple enough. But there was nothing left alive. I was more effective than Dettol.

What could I do?

I then (and though they were purely digital people, I still feel deep shame at this) proceeded to revisit every corpse on the level and shoot them some more. Still, no victory sequence. What more could I do? I begged the game to tell me, give me a sign, “When must the killing cease? What do you want from me?” I implored, with no reply. I could not understand the whims of the game. Perhaps it was a simple error in the programming, perhaps mere accident that I hadn’t been celebrated as a victor already. But perhaps I was supposed to have done more. Perhaps my order to ‘kill everything’ meant something deaper. Perhaps it was more complex than I imagined, and there was more I had to do to appease the programmer… the creator.

At this moment my phone beeped. It was a message from Marsh. There was a meeting at the old church down the road from me, entitled ‘Why There Is Almost Certainly A God (Doubting Dawkins)’. With digital blood still on my hands, I was at a low ebb. Perhaps there was more.

—–
I arrived at the talk fifteen minutes late – I had gone to the wrong church, and had to battle through wind and rain to Saint Brides. When I arrived the talk – “‘Why There Is Almost Certainly a God’, a Theology and Modernity Lecture by Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford, Keith Ward” had just started. Doubting Dawkins is the title of his book, which this talk was based on.

What followed was a long and confusing discussion of how god exists outside of space time and I shouldn’t argue otherwise because I don’t know quantum physics… Damn that quantum physics! It got me again!

My notebook lay tossed aside for months.
—–

Satan The Destroyer

Satan The Destroyer

How could the sceptical community survive this? A talk so impenetrable, so bafflingly pointless to all but those desperate for rationalisations, that it was practically unbloggable. What was the point of reporting this event? I couldn’t make sense of it, and my confused notes helped little. Or what if it wasn’t mad, apologetic drivel, but the dawning of a new, Christian era, ushered in by advances by the Vatican’s quantum physics laboratories? How silly would I seem then? I couldn’t argue against this stuff. I could barely comprehend it. What was the point of being a part of the sceptic movement if this is what we were up against? It was a brutal mix of boring, confusing and slight-patronising that still has me shaken.

However, I feel duty-bound to untangle my notes and provide you with some flavour of the argument. I’ll try and be very brief. There are pages of them. Bold is my notes, or a paraphrasing of them.

Science is theory laden/drive – good scientists have theories. Great scientists have original theories. Science will be overturned.

Yup, he thinks you can find original theories in a 2000-year old textbook.

Materialists believe that everything is physical. God is not physical. God creates space/time. God is not material. That’s non-material creating material. Creator of space/time doesn’t exist in space/time. Can we imagine non space/time? Of course. We can imagine different sorts of space, and things not in space at all. Such as ‘extended objects’ which extend beyond space – such as consciousness.

So we can imagine God. He’s outside of space time. I could have just written that, but the above captured the feeling of the talk perfectly.

Skipping on,
God is a theoretical postulate, similar to those used every day by nuclear phycists – like the Higgs Boson. It’s not been observed, it’s been postulated
I think Prof Ward has been reserved a deeper circle in Hell. He referred to his all-powerful master and creator as a ‘postulate’. That’s got to hurt God’s ego. Although, to be fair, Professor ward was a very liberal Christian. He defended evolution. I doubt he believes in hell. I’m not even entirely convinced he believes in God.
I have also noticed that scientists are managing to do something in the search for the Higgs Boson. They’ve built the Large Hadron Collider. They’ll be crashing particles together soon. Surely the major religions have enough funding for any experiments they need?

Next, Prof Ward called Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennet liars – Prof Dennet was lying that ‘all philosophers are materialists’ – a show of hands revealed three non-materialist philosophers in attendance – and Prof Dawkins was when he said that ‘Only two or three of the Royal Society Fellows’ believe in God; Ward argues that those who did believe wouldn’t want to reply to Dawkins’ questionnaire.

Most scientists/philosophers are ‘not anything [belief-wise] really’ – materialism is too dogmatic.
God, like the Higgs boson, is the reasonable theoretical explanation.
Richard Dawkins says all believers are stupid.
All (or most) of the classical philosophers believed in God – Aristotle, Plato, Spinoza, etc’

Easter Bunny The Confused

Easter Bunny The Confused

I really feel I shouldn’t need to talk about that bit – oooooold, silly arguments.

Next up was a promise to ‘demolish’ Richard Dawkins’ argument that a god would have to be at least as complex as its creation, and therefore is a bad explanation.
Stand well back, here is the controlled demolition… Ready? 3-2-1…

Evolution creates complex consciousness from simple origins. Is it true that good explanations are simpler? This is different from Occam’s Razor, which states that out of two ]equal explanations, the simplest should be accepted. Quantum mechanics [NOOOOO!] is not simple. Explanations don’t have to be simple. And anyway, why would the creator have to be more complex? In theology, God is ‘simple’ in that he is not made up of separate parts. He’s not a physical being. He’s like consciousness. Which is unitary. One Thing. Like God. Simple in that sense. He can’t be destroyed or put together. He is a different sort of thing from the universe, he can’t be described as simple or complex.

Proof of God rests on semantics? Oh, and quantum mechanics. Two of the greatest weapons in the spiritual arsenal. Boom.
It is a bad argument, he says , to say that a more complex thing is more improbable. And besides,
Guessing the probability of coloured balls in a bag can only be done if you have knowledge of them (number of colours, etc). We can’t say the probability of God without knowing all the facts.
So, actually, it doesn’t matter whether or not we think god is improbable, because we can’t guess how probable that is without ‘all the facts’? I assume by ‘all the facts’, Professor Ward means some – nay, any – proof of God’s existence?

He goes on to criticise Richard Dawkins’ argument that ‘many small, simple steps are more likely than one big leap’ – it happened in ‘one big leap’ because that’s the way it is… Of course.

Professor Dawkins is, apparently, playing a trick on us by not giving us all the facts. After, all he ‘hated’ Steven J Gould with ‘vitriolic passion’ because they disagreed over how evolution happened. That is evidence of something.
I would like to say here that the difference between Steven Jay Gould’s ‘punctuated equilibrium’ hypothesis and Richard Dawkins’ own view is, as far as I understand, simply a matter of whether ‘evolution is very slow and steady, or incredibly slow, with slightly less-slow bits’ and a few other minor details. Before Steven Jay Gould died, I think they were also working on a collaborative answer to theistic arguments, breaking an ’embargo’ against debating the religious that they had both agreed on. Not as violent a disagreement as it sounds.

According to Prof. Ward, Thomas Aquinas said that the best possible explanation of our universe is God. So there.

But Thomas Aquinas’ backup is not his final trump card. No, There is a blistering conclusion!

Richard Dawkins has apparently accused Keith Ward of ‘not understanding what an explanation is’, but it is Professor Dawkins himself who does not understand! You see?! There is an ‘axiological’, or ‘personal’ explanation for the universe – God envisaged all possible universes, and chose ours because it led to us! You see?!?
Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford, Keith Ward, puts this in stark contrast to another explanation of our existence – the multiverse… And using Occam’s Razor, we can see that one God creating one universe is a simpler explanation for our existence than lots and lots of universes!

Conclusion Thoughts

Conclusion Thoughts

And what created God? God’s being is necessary, God has to exist! It’s a silly question!

God.

Timeless.

Self-Existent.

Necessary.

How could I argue with that? This guy’s Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford… I must be missing something… He knows quantum mechanics! But those are my notes, and those were his arguments. Resistance seemed futile, I couldn’t bring myself to tackle such a mass of odd arguments… Perhaps I should have bought his book. But then again, my notes come with pictures.

  1. #1 by Rich on December 17, 2009 - 11:27

    Thanks for that. I completely sympathise with your position with regards to Ward’s arguments. Coming from a fine arts background I am used to listening to explanations/justifications so tortuous and irrational that there seems to be nowhere to get a foothold to even begin to tear down the twisted logic. I came to the conclusion many years ago that the deliberate obscurantism of these types of arguments is a carefully constructed smoke-screen to boost and protect the ego of the speaker rather than an attempt to approach the truth or to actually clarify an idea.
    Oh, and the shoot-em-up analogy was great. You should develop that.

  2. #2 by Derek on December 17, 2009 - 12:59

    Do you have Keith Ward’s email address? I studied quantum mechanics for three years as an undergrad and didn’t understand it. It’s good to know that someone outside of our religion of so-called science is able to make more sense of it than I could.

  3. #3 by AexMagd on December 17, 2009 - 13:49

    Ward is an absolute tool; I’ve read some of his stuff and it’s got that heady mix of promising to be rational and conclusive but then trotting out the same arguments you’ve heard a million times before.

    He also goes on about his Regius professorship, and about how it’s the most senior position in Oxford so you should listen to him. What a prat!

  4. #4 by Mike on December 17, 2009 - 16:50

    1) Hitman for the win!

    2) Steven J Gould’s dead?! Learn something new every day. Then again I thought George Carlin was dead before he even was, so there you go.

    3) Being a professor in Divinity (I presume he’s on the theology side rather than the religious studies side) is like being a professor in fairy tales IMO. There’s never going to be a time when we’ll notice a lack of theologians, we just don’t need them.

  5. #5 by Michael on December 20, 2009 - 17:36

    Prof Ward is ‘bat-shit-crazy’ he has reduced his God to some ethereal uniorganism without any integral parts. If he gave this talk 300 years ago in Rome, he would have been put to death. So there is no Jesus then? There is no Yahweh? So all of Christianity, Islam, Judaism is wrong according to Prof Ward. And he is a Dr of Divinity, so no one can argue with him on what he states(?) Dawkins and Gould were friends, as they talk of each other often in their writings, glowingly. Prof Ward hasn’t the foggiest idea of Quantum Mechanics either. If he says he does he is a better Physicist than RP Feynman (peace be upon his name). Saying the word ‘quantum’ appears to be a meme which ends the discussion with knob-ends like Ward. Basically “I am a Professor at Oxford”, “I think I know what quantum mechanics is – and you don’t”, “God is an amoeba outside the universe”, “I have brought in some ‘ringers’ to refute some statement which has fuck-all to do with the argument”, “I am great” and “You are lesser mortals than I am”

    I must say that they are great arguments. I wish I had gone to it now! Bugger! (Marsh wouldn’t let me, and he made me loose my umbrella- he is evil)

  6. #6 by Chris on December 21, 2009 - 13:58

    His arguements seem to me to amount to a deists belief.

    He’s using the God of the gaps reasoning really, latching onto scientific theories that arent yet fully understood and shoehorning god into them.

  7. #7 by Alec on December 30, 2009 - 21:03

    ‘If you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don’t understand quantum mechanics’.

    Richard Feynmann -American Physicist.

    So, the theologist was on your level as well, according to Feynmann

    The argument is very obscure and theres no argument there for the specifics of orthodox christianity. However, if this is one of the best theologians out there then religion should be embarressed that there arguments are reduced to this.

  8. #8 by Orang Putih on January 6, 2010 - 07:03

    A computer game without a Victory Fanfare?! Forget the existence of God that is a much greater mystery. Could it be some kind of message? Does Prof Ward have the answer?

  9. #9 by Eoin on May 10, 2010 - 14:23

    I’ve also come across this sort of fluffy reasoning from apparently-well-qualified Oxford professors; it’s quite disappointing that after all these years the best they can come up with is to appeal back to Aquinas or whoever.

    But the real reason for posting – if the instructions were to kill every last person in the game, why is your avatar still alive? Perhaps suicide is the only winning move? (In the shoot-em-up game I mean, please don’t get the wrong idea…)

  10. #10 by Lion's Den on May 30, 2014 - 10:40

    Ward couldn’t win, irrational for believing in God… Probably doesn’t even believe in god. Quantum physics is too confusing… Ward seems to present a rational, logical view of God, the bible and Jesus that most Christians would baulk at. The problem with the new atheists such as Dawkins is they have spent too much time with fundamentalists; they are starting to sound like them.

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