Thursday, 14 September 2017

Richard Dawkins Gets This Argument Entirely Backwards

I caught Richard Dawkins' appearance on Bill Maher the other night, and alas, nothing much has changed - he still doesn't quite get this whole complexity thing. He's always been stuck on the notion that the cause for why there is something rather than nothing must have been something alarmingly simple, because "complex things had to emerge, by gradual degrees, from simpler beginnings"

Not only does Dawkins have this entirely backwards, he doesn't seem to be able to intellectualise the fact that if he turned his proposition around 180 degrees he'd have a much better argument for atheism than his current playpen philosophy. Because it is evidently not true that complex things have to emerge gradually from simple beginnings - the natural numbers are more complex than anything in the physical universe and they don't satisfy the condition of emerging by gradual degrees from simpler beginnings.

Dawkins is desperate to be seen as one of the smartest atheists, yet staring him in the face is the best argument against God he could ever come up with - that the universe doesn't need a creator God because it is the result of mathematics.

Instead of arguing that God does not exist because complex things must begin with simplicity, he would have been better trying to argue that God does not exist because complex things do not have to begin with simplicity, therefore the complexity of mathematics could be behind the universe instead of God. Anyone tempted to argue that numbers don't actually exist can be directed to where I've covered this at least twice before (here and here).

It wouldn't be quite so bad if Dawkins failed at that level of the task - that would be somewhat understandable. But alas Dawkins takes his argument down an even more preposterous cul-de-sac:

"Where does Darwinian evolution leave God? The kindest thing to say is that it leaves him with nothing to do, and no achievements that might attract our praise, our worship or our fear. Evolution is God's redundancy notice, his pink slip."

Oh dear! Biological evolution can't serve God His redundancy notice because biological evolution (at best) explains organisms that evolved with biological properties, and that has never been the ultimate thing that needs explaining. Asserting that biological evolution implies God has nothing to do is as silly as saying that filling a hotel with staff and guests implies that there was nothing for the planners and builders to do in constructing the hotel. 
Biological evolution only explains the relatively easy part - that is, once we have the mathematical underpinnings, the laws of physics, and the informational platform, then biological life, once it gets going, is a relatively straightforward step by step cumulative selection process, certainly in comparison to creating a universe and designing the complex physical laws that act as a canvas for the colours and textures of evolution of life.

The hard part is in explaining why the universe is made of mathematics, why there is any mathematics at all, and why anything so complex exists in the first place. The natural numbers show that Dawkins' underpinning premise is wrong: complexity can not arise only from simplicity. You can use just a fraction of the complexity of the natural numbers to encode the entirety of the genomes of every living thing biochemistry has ever created.

So in my view the best argument for the non-existence of God is that there is already something infinitely complex that could explain the existence of nature - numbers and the laws of arithmetic. This does not prove or disprove God, of course, but it does show that Dawkins has this entirely backwards, and cannot even recognise a better proposition for the cause he wants to champion.

Whichever side of the line you fall on - theist or atheist - the most primary fact you have to begin with is the fact that something infinitely complex exists (the natural numbers), that it has always existed, and that it stands outside of the constituents of evolved nature.

Further reading - The Mathematical Bias Theory: Why There Probably ‘IS’ a God – in 20 Steps