Home > YouTube > Countering YouTube: “Richard Dawkins–The God Delusion” (part 2)

Countering YouTube: “Richard Dawkins–The God Delusion” (part 2)

[Continued from Part 1 here, based on this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DMqTEfeqvmM.]

Dawkins: “For me, what matters is the truth.”

Q: “The scientific truth?”

Dawkins: “What other truth is there when we’re talking about the universe, when we’re talking about the nature of life?…I think when we’re talking about the universe, what reality is, what life is, then ‘truth’ means ‘scientific truth,’ yes.”

This is what some people refer to as the arrogance or hubris of science. Namely, that outside of science, there is no real truth. Wow, way to claim a monopoly on truth there. I guess the fact that science is the only source of truth when it comes to the universe is true because science says it is. Oh wait, isn’t that a little bit of circular reasoning?

What is this airtight science that Dawkins is leaning on anyway? Is it testable, repeatable science so that we can confirm its veracity? No. Last time I checked, there’s no way to really test whether the universe and the things in it came to be the way we think. All we can confirm is that various tests and experiments give us the results we expect within the confines of our current knowledge–with the large assumption that the conditions of the experiment accurately portray unseen events.

Is it observable science? Not really. We can’t observe how the universe came to be (with or without a creator), nor can we observe macroevolution in a laboratory. So far, it’s all extrapolation or fitting observations into prevalent theories. Sure, we might be able to change an organism by some selective means of breeding, then decide to call it a new species because the antennae look diffferent. But is this really evidence for anything other than the fact that we’ve been given the ability to adapt temporarily or by some limited amount? How is this proof that a distinctly different form or “kind” can happen by natural means alone?

I love my wife, I exist in this universe, but science might not be able to prove that my love is true. Does the fact that science can’t prove something negate its truth? Science has its useful place in this world, but it also has its limits. If you want to ONLY believe and know what science can prove, then you’re going to be sure about precious little in this world.

Dawkins: “Of course, there are other sorts of truth like moral truths…maybe they’re not truths at all…but they are not scientific.”

Aw, darn it. He started off sounding rational–acknowledging that there are moral truths–but then he saw the potential pitfalls of this admission (i.e., that there must be a moral lawgiver) and hedged. Maybe they’re not truths at all, because after all, science cannot prove the existence or validity of moral laws. Therefore they are fictitious. (Because this is a blog and my tone cannot always be accurately conveyed, I’ll point out that the last two sentences were sarcastic. I’m a pretty sarcastic guy, sometimes, so use your best judgment.)

Let me go off on a tangent for a moment here. Skeptics are always pointing out that Christians “arrogantly” claim that their Bible is the only truth. Does anybody smell something suspicious about a scientist claiming that the only valid truth in the universe comes from science? That would put them in quite a superior position in this society, wouldn’t it? The Purveyors of the Only Real Truth.

The difference between (genuine and mature) Christians and Dawkins (or Dawkins-like scientists) is that Christians want to spread their teachings from the Bible based on an earnest belief that people’s souls are in danger without it. They genuinely believe–rightly or not–that they are helping people; in some sense, handing out a much-needed cure. Contrary to conspiracy-minded skeptics, there is no dark-hooded brotherhood of Christian furtherance that hands out fat checks to followers who espouse these beliefs.

What is Dawkins’ motivation for believing that science alone possesses real truth? Perhaps it gives him a sense of great importance or an elevated status. Or, if I can assume the best of his intentions, maybe this idea motivates him to work harder at unraveling the mysteries of the universe for us. In the process, he can combat ignorance and improve the human condition by “bringing people out of the Dark Ages.” If materialism is actually true, you naturally have to wonder where he gets this sense of civic duty to help the world or to enrich people that have no usefulness to him. If we’re just a bunch of chemicals turned to living cells from an impersonal universe, why bother?

The more plausible explanation is that Dawkins has something to gain from his position: a loyal following of people who applaud at his every witty insult, bestselling books, academic and scholarly fame, self-satisfaction, a feeling of superiority (the fact that he grasps things that the commoners, or “hoi polloi,” cannot), a little thing called “money,” not to mention being in the elite group of the Purveyors of the Only Real Truth…the list goes on and on.

[A little further into the video, Dawkins goes into this very topic of motivation for writing this book. I hope it’s OK that I don’t address it again. Nothing is “tragic” about ignorance if there’s no real purpose in the world anyway. Besides, there are plenty of Christian scientists who treat their vocation as separate from their spiritual beliefs. This myth that Christianity is somehow holding the world back is unsubstantiated in this modern world setting. Maybe it was true before any of us were born, but come on. Are people referring to the extremists or something?]

Dawkins: “The need for religion? Everybody has always had a need to understand, I suppose. Before science was fully developed, they filled that need to understand with perhaps superstition or religion, other things like that. There’s also a need for consolation, and religion probably gives consolation or that’s a bit of a mixed blessing. The fact that something’s consoling, by the way, doesn’t make it true, but nevertheless it probably is a human need. So, it’s easy enough to think of reasons why religion has persisted.”

OK, I’ll try to stay focused and address his points one by one.

“Everybody has always had a need to understand.”

True, Dawkins, but did you ever ask yourself why this is true? Why do we have this need in the first place? It’d be just as easy to imagine purposeless creatures made by natural processes to simply exist and not ponder these matters, or even to think much at all. Maybe we’re brought to this world with the inherent knowledge that there is something greater than us, and there is more than simply living and dying. We ponder things because we feel there are answers.

“Before science was fully developed, they filled that need to understand with perhaps superstition or religion, other things like that.”

First off, is Dawkins implying that science is “fully developed” now? Does he have some proof of this? Things we know for sure today could very well change tomorrow. Theories that are almost universally accepted today could become a page from the “world is flat” book tomorrow. There are things that are still unknowable, and even the things we know aren’t 100% certain. This is like a teenager’s mistaken belief that he has reached the pinnacle of intelligence and wisdom–that suddenly, he is very much smarter than his parents. Considering that science is at the highest point it’s ever been, it’s natural for some to assume that it’s the highest (or close to it) that we’ll ever go. But who knows what remains above the clouds?

Again, that “need” he refers to…seems very real, considering mankind seemingly has always had it. The fact that we have a newer explanation for things, i.e., modern science, doesn’t make all older beliefs obsolete. Some people say that they like science’s ability to admit its wrongs and change with the times, whereas religion is stagnant dogma. But on the flip side, why place so much faith in something that has definitively been proven wrong many times in the past? Is it based on the belief that after eons of human existence, we are just now in possession of the real truth beyond any doubt? Sounds like quite a leap to me. I prefer to believe in something that has survived the test of time. If there is any real truth out there, wouldn’t you expect that truth to be constant and unchanging? What we currently believe or feel in today’s culture doesn’t affect the reality of unchangeable truth–it only affects our opinions of it and willingness to comply.

“There’s also a need for consolation, and religion probably gives consolation or that’s a bit of a mixed blessing.”

Geez, I’m starting to sound like a broken record here, but where does this need come from? Sounds like this need serves no practical purpose to me. Just for fun, let’s imagine a back-and-forth conversation on this topic:

Naturalist: “This need for consolation might have arisen naturally because of the fact that in ancient times, groups were more likely to survive than individuals. In these groups, the early hominids learned to draw support from each other, which strengthened their resolve to survive. Greater mental health promotes greater physical health, and therefore, these consolation-seeking forms were the winners of the natural selection race.”*

*I just made this up on the spot, so please excuse any similarities or discrepancies to existing theories on the matter.

Creationist: “Interesting theory. Can you back this claim at all?”

Naturalist: “No, but neither can you with your fairy tales of God.”

Creationist: “Well, what I don’t understand is why or how this need could have arisen in the first place. Seems to me that neediness for consolation would be a weakness, not an advantage. What’s the chemical composition of this neediness for consolation anyway? Why isn’t this need for consolation present in all other surviving animals today?”

Naturalist: “Not sure, but maybe it was a unique feature of the human evolutionary line. Maybe because we are physically weaker than, say, a tiger, we needed to come up with ways to work together to make up for this.”

Creationist: “Come to think of it, it sounds like you’re merging the need for consolation with interdependence. Groups fighting off an outside attack is much different than needing a pat on the back or a way to cope with fears and disappointments.”

Naturalist: “We just don’t know, but I’m confident that science could–if we wanted–eventually give us the truth.”

Creationist: “I’m confident that given enough time and thought, researchers could come up with a better story, yes. I believe that, too…until a newer, better story came along. I think a more plausible explanation is that we have this need because we were designed to seek comfort and consolation outside of ourselves. People around us can help, but ultimately, it is only God who can fully satisfy that need.”

“The fact that something’s consoling, by the way, doesn’t make it true, but nevertheless it probably is a human need. So, it’s easy enough to think of reasons why religion has persisted.”

Very true, and by that same token, the fact that something’s consoling doesn’t make it untrue either. There are many reasons why Christianity persists, but these reasons generally don’t affect the likelihood of its truth.

[Concluded in part 3 here.]

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