Not Saussure

April 28, 2007

Dawkins vs God, umpteenth round

Filed under: Philosopy, Religion — notsaussure @ 1:28 pm

John Milton’s take on it:

In discourse more sweet
(For Eloquence the Soul, Song charms the Sense,)
Others apart sat on a Hill retir’d,
In thoughts more elevate, and reason’d high
Of Providence, Foreknowledge, Will, and Fate,
Fixt Fate, free will, foreknowledge absolute,
And found no end, in wandring mazes lost.
Of good and evil much they argu’d then,
Of happiness and final misery,
Passion and Apathie, and glory and shame,
Vain wisdom all, and false Philosophie:
Yet with a pleasing sorcerie could charm
Pain for a while or anguish, and excite
Fallacious hope, or arm th’ obdured brest
With stubborn patience as with triple steel.

Not a scientific proposition, certainly. Nor, to my mind, to be dismissed solely on the grounds it isn’t one or that Milton must have been a brain-washed idiot.

That’s one of my main objections to Richard Dawkins’ method of arguing; not so much that it’s wrong but that it misses the point. Someone can advance the hypothesis that King Lear was, in fact, written not by William Shakespeare but by Sir Francis Bacon. It’s an highly improbable hypothesis, to my mind, and one that I’m happy to ignore unless — which I admit as a theoretical possibility, however slight — someone can adduce convincing evidence for it. However, someone can also advance the hypothesis that

no unhypnotized observer, if such an observer existed, could read it [Lear] to the end with any feeling except ‘aversion and weariness’. And exactly the same is true of ‘all the other extolled dramas of Shakespeare, not to mention the senseless dramatized tales, Pericles, Twelfth Night, The Tempest, Cymbeline, Troilus and Cressida.’

As Orwell says,

One’s first feeling is that in describing Shakespeare as a bad writer he [Tolstoy] is saying something demonstrably untrue. But this is not the case. In reality there is no kind of evidence or argument by which one can show that Shakespeare, or any other writer, is ‘good’. Nor is there any way of definitely proving that — for instance — Warwick Deeping is ‘bad’.

There are ways of arguing against Tolstoy’s criticisms of Shakespeare, but, ultimately, there would be no way of convincing him that he’s wrong — or of convincing me that he’s right — in the way you might convince someone that Bohemia has no seacoast. Nor, indeed, would many people think that the merits or otherwise of The Winter’s Tale depend on its geographical accuracy, any more than is Tolstoy’s account of the Battle of Borodino susceptible to criticism as a work of military history.

Sir Peter Medawar was of the view

That there is indeed a limit upon science is made very likely by the existence of questions that science cannot answer, and that no conceivable advance of science would empower it to answer […] . I have in mind such questions as

  • How did everything begin?
  • What are we all here for?
  • What is the point of living?

Doctrinaire positivism — now something of a period piece — dismissed such questions as nonquestions or pseudoquestions such as only simpletons ask and only charlatans profess to be able to answer (The Limits Of Science, p 66)

Clearly you don’t need religion to answer such questions, but it seems perversely to miss the point if you complain that they’re being answered in a non-scientific manner.

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3 Comments »

  1. Fortunately what one believes or does not believe has no bearing on whatever happens to be the truth. I believe that the whole universe is in me rather than me being in the universe, because all of my senses send their messages to my brain where my mind makes some kind of sense of the information. This information whatever way you look is in me.Beliefe and make believe are exactly the same.

    Comment by peter whale — April 28, 2007 @ 7:04 pm

  2. It’s interesting that you bring up the Shakespeare vs. Bacon battle in discussing Dawkins vs. deists. Mark Twain wrote a wonderful piece called
    Is Shakespeare Dead? one hundred years ago. In it he never claimed that Bacon was the actual author. Rather, he explained all the reasons he saw which backed up his hypothesis that Shakespeare couldn’t have been the author of the plays.

    In Chapter III of this work, Twain laid the groundwork, listing all facts known about Shakespeare and proven by records. In Chapter four Twain went on to point out that almost every “fact” about Shakespeare — from his education to his acquisition of deep legal and military knowledge — came only from supposition and inference, each possibility itself becoming the foundation for the next supposition.

    Twain never claimed that Bacon wrote the plays attributed to Shakespeare, only that when the matter is considered, it’s incredibly unlikely that the William Shakespeare born in Stratford on April 23, 1564, could have done so. He does this by looking at the facts as known and the experiences required. The plays require an intricate knowledge of various subjects and Twain juxtaposes this with his own experience on the riverboats and methods of writing. Shakespeare would have had to travel extensively; there is no proof that he did so. Scholars agree the author would have had to have been a lawyer but Shakespeare was an actor and a businessman.

    Twain made no claims himself; he only showed the folly of the claims about Shakespeare when seriously considered. Dawkins does the same when he argues with deists of any religion.

    Dawkins takes arguments and shows each one to be less plausible than other explanations. He shows that arguments are based on suppositions, themselves taken as fact rather than the assumptions they started off as.

    but it seems perversely to miss the point if you complain that they’re being answered in a non-scientific manner.
    And yet deists claim to use scientific arguments, retreating to the supernatural and non-scientific when the argument dead-ends. Creationism, “Answers in Genesis” claim to be science when they clearly are not.

    If someone wants to believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster and wear a pirate suit on certain days, that’s his prerogative as long as it doesn’t affect me. When he tries to convince me how wrong I am not to believe in the FSM and takes steps to force his beliefs onto others, that’s when I’ll call him to the carpet.

    I don’t believe Shakespeare wrote the plays, but neither do I jump up at a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in order to preach to the rest of the audience that the author had to have been Bacon. Yet the moment I mention Bacon when talking about the playwright, as sure as rain is wet, a fan of Ealing will start browbeating me with his usual conjecture and supposition; my logical questions and answers are unwanted.

    Comment by ReallyEvilCanine — April 30, 2007 @ 1:12 pm

  3. A Billion, Trillion, years ago,
    Before there was a molecule,
    there was an e-e-n-n-n-d-d-less,
    d-e-e-e-p, d-a-a-r-r-k, void.

    Nothing there to touch or feel,
    see, or hear, or smell, or taste;
    no sun, . . moon, . . stars, or
    asteroid.

    Eternal . . endless . . every way
    in height, in length, in depth, and breadth;
    no edge to reach if you assayed to travel to and fro till death.

    So emense this universe,
    one cannot fathom with the mind
    or ‘splain with pen enormously
    enough with words I find.

    Yet like a “mind” . . that has not hands, or eyes, ears, nose, or tongue;
    There rings out through eternity,
    aware there’s none to hear or see;
    a VOICE cries out eternally, I AM!,
    and there is none before or after me!

    I AM the one “you” claim to be, I AM from eternity,
    you’re but a piece of dust created by my hand.

    Yet you boast control of things and know not HIM who pulls the strings,
    because of PRIDE you cannot comprehend.

    Creation starts within the “mind” . . an empty void till . . thought . . first shined,
    creating light that darkness can’t defeat.

    Intangible in infancy, . . thoughts . . are “words” you cannot feel . . until transformed and then made . . REAL . . through process over time.

    Thinking . . through the pros and cons, we formulate within our minds those things we hope to . . “cause” . . to come to pass.

    What will it take to finally make
    this thing that’s in our “mind”?
    Words, unsaid, are only . . thoughts . . so first we must define;

    What’s “spiritual” . . what’s “tangible” . . what do these big words mean?
    Well, “spiritual” is Invisible, something that’s not seen.

    “Tangible” is another word for something you can Touch . . or grasp it tightly in your hand,
    something you can . . clutch.

    “Thoughts” are real, but left “unsaid”, that’s all they’ll
    ever be.
    You must transform thoughts to “words” if you expect to see your idea take on “form”, become . . reality.

    Thoughts and words are “spiritual”, neither can be touched or seen.
    Yet they’re the building blocks of “life” on which all others lean.

    But words need voice to hurl them forth, and ears to hear they’re said.
    But neither voice nor ear existed,
    the universe . . was dead.

    So one by one the GREAT “I AM”
    took on the task at hand,
    turning vacuum into wind, creating water, then dry land.

    Wind, breath, oxygen, and spirit,
    all are one, the same;
    vital to all living things in this
    eternal game.

    Moving oxygen causes wind
    and friction from the blow,
    brings forth heat of hydrogen;
    then “both” make H2o.

    Now there’s water, air, and gas;
    one to breathe, one to burn,
    one to quench and cool.
    Mingled they produce great power,
    triune in cosmic rule.

    Still “darkness” was on the face
    of the deep; enfolding everywhere.
    True, water’s wet, but gas is clear, and oxygen’s . . just “air”

    Plug your ears and close your eyes
    and let’s see what appears.
    Hear those thoughts? . . that voice? . . You’re “hearing” without ears!

    You heard what? . . a “voice” you say;
    yet you did not “speak”!

    You meant “thoughts” but you heard “words” . .
    It’s time to search and seek.

    In the beginning was the “word” and the “word” was with God and the “word” was God. The same was in the beginning with God.

    All things were made by Him (the word) and without Him (the word), was not anything made that is made.

    In Him (the word) was “life” (making him “living word”) and the “life” was the “light” of men!

    And the “light” shined in the darkness and the darkness didn’t comprehend that light was in it’s midst. Because it was not the light of the sun, moon, or stars, it was the “light” of THOUGHT that had pierced the darkness.

    That source of ORIGINAL THOUGHT is the ONLY TRUE and LIVING God and He formulated all things in His THOUGHT process before he made them. Through His thoughts He processed all the pros and cons of how to create something out of nothing. How to move all his wondrous “Thoughts” into the realm of the Tangible so that when he created man, in his own image, he could be both spiritual and physical and have a “free-will” or an “enlightened” mind that could chose whether or not he wanted to have a realationship with his creator.

    Do you?

    Comment by Thom (The "TROLL") — June 7, 2007 @ 10:10 pm


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