• True Reason: A Further Response to Tom Gilson

    A few weeks ago I began posting my responses to each chapter of the book True Reason: Christian Responses to the Challenge of Atheism (Patheos Press, 2012) and one of the authors, Tom Gilson, has responded to my critique of the first chapter, which he authored.

    While we had a brief exchange in the comments of my critique of the first chapter, Tom has more fully responded on his blog. I will do my best to sort out the obvious confusion on this issue. First, I would highly encourage readers to read my initial critique of the chapter, then Gilson’s response, and then my response to him so you can get caught up on the exchange so far. Second, I’d like to note up front that I did indeed misread Gilson’s chapter, but I think once this mistake has been pointed out and I point out the reasons I interpreted the chapter in the way I did, it should clear up the confusion and it will also be clear that Gilson is the one who actually made a logical error.

    Let’s begin. I will quote from Gilson’s blog post in its entirety (minus the first section on my spelling of God with a lowercase “g”). When he quotes me I will place those quotations in bold. He writes, quoting me:

    First, I was not “responding to Dawkins’ case against god-guided evolution.” Yes, Dawkins focuses on his area of specialty, biology, but his case was against design in general. This is evident in the book’s subtitle: “why the evidence … reveals a universe without design.” The book’s first chapter opens by discussing the complexity of living organisms, and moves directly in its second paragraph to, “Biology is the study of complex things that appear to have been designed for a purpose.” The whole first chapter, which sets the stage for the whole book, is commentary on that.

    AA anticipates my response there and writes,

    Yes, it’s true that Dawkins’ book only addressed the belief of god-guided evolution, but evolution is Dawkins’ main area of expertise and he wanted to address this specific claim. And this is what he means by “design.” He’s not referring to all design arguments, but only the specific subset dealing with biological design. If someone writes a book with the intention of covering a single topic I think it’s unfair to criticize it for failing to address other related topics.

    I don’t know where I made that error in my chapter, although in my more recent response to AA I did say,

    Again: suppose evolution happened as he supposes: does that reveal a universe without design? Once you get done with studying evolution, there’s still a whole lot of universe left over! There’s cosmogony, cosmology, fine-tuning, the rationality and explainability of reality, and the full panoply of as-yet-unexplained human characteristics including consciousness, rationality, free will, and worth, which Dawkins didn’t touch in that book (as I recall), and of which no evolutionary account has given an adequate treatment. So in that sense he made a large and fallacious logical leap, too.

    I didn’t, however, criticize Dawkins primarily for failing to address other related topics. I criticized him for committing a rather obvious logical fallacy. (This was the whole point of that section of my chapter in True Reason, as well as much of the rest of the book: the fallacious logic so frequently displayed by Dawkins and other New Atheists.) He drew his conclusion — a universe without design — without having demonstrated it. He didn’t even try to demonstrate it, except in one limited set of phenomena, biological evolution.

    Had he succeeded in showing design was unnecessary in the case of life, that would have revealed a biosphere without design, not a universe without design. But no, actually, it would only have revealed the scientific and logical possibility of a biosphere without design; which is why I wrote in True Reason that Dawkins disappointed me. He drew the conclusion, there is no design, after arguing a case that could only lead to it is possible there is no design. Alvin Plantinga pointed out the same thing, as I noted in True Reason.

    When reading my response to Gilson’s chapter it should be pointed out that I quoted him accurately. He wrote about The Blind Watchmaker:

    I picked up the book because of its subtitle: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design. I had no idea how he – or anyone – could make a case for that, but I had heard good things about Dawkins as an author, and I was rather hoping he could bring it off. I was looking for a serious challenge, and if he had a way to disprove design in the universe, I wanted to test my mettle against it. […] But it was his argument against design I was looking for, and although he touched on it here and there, he never really landed on it until near the end of the last chapter: Evolution, he says, makes God superfluous, thus there is no design in the universe. That’s his argument. There is a way nature could have come about without design, therefore it came about without design. (True Reason, p. 2)

    When I read Tom’s chapter of True Reason it appeared to me that he properly understood the argument Dawkins was making in The Blind Watchmaker. However, in response to my chapter in the comments section, Gilson appeared to make another, separate argument that, to me, contradicted what he said in his chapter in True Reason.

    Having read The Blind Watchmaker I knew it was about debunking the argument for biological design, and I had assumed, with his having read the book, that Gilson was aware of this. So, when he writes in his chapter in True Reason that Dawkins did not successfully address the design argument I assumed he was referring to biological design, and not design in general. But, as Gilson makes clear in this reply, he believes Dawkins’ book was supposed to be about rebutting the argument from design, in all its forms, apparently, thus disproving the existence of god. This was where the confusion on my part came in and this is why I thought he was contradicting himself because I was under the impression that Gilson rightly understood the topic Dawkins was addressing, which is biological design in his chapter, and when he responded in the comments, arguing that Dawkins’ goal was to rebut the design argument in its entirety, thus disproving the existence of god, I was very confused, leading me to believe he had contradicted himself. But now I see what Gilson was arguing. Unfortunately, this fact does not help his case since his entire argument is based upon a strawman. Dawkins’ book addressed the issue of biological design only and Gilson had no effective response to it.

    Regarding my comment about “god-guided evolution,” as I noted in the critique of the chapter, I was trying to figure out the reasoning behind why Gilson would argue that Dawkins’ argument is illogical and does not disprove there is purposeful design in the process of evolution. Most Christians, while they accept evolution, discount that these natural processes are enough to take god out of the picture entirely, and they believe that god acts to guide evolution in some way. Since I assumed Gilson properly understood the book’s goal, I assumed he was referring to biological design and was trying to sneak god in through the back door as Christians often do, to avoid the obvious conclusion that with the facts of evolution by natural selection, god has nothing left to do. This was the reasoning behind my remarks. But now that this issue has been sorted out, it should be obvious that, despite my misreading, Gilsons’ argument still fails because he did not address Dawkins’ argument, thus creating a strawman because of his misunderstanding.

    Now that this issue has been cleared up, I will continue to respond to Gilson’s blog post. Gilson writes in his blog post in response to me:

    Second, I did not argue that I “agree that Dawkins did successfully argue that point.” What I said was,

    So suppose that Dawkins was completely successful in demonstrating that evolution happened as he described. I doubt that he was, but that’s another matter, and for now we can take it for the sake of argument that he did succeed. Suppose he even demonstrated that God was superfluous to the natural history of biological creatures.

    That’s a far cry from agreeing that Dawkins was successful!

    I’m sorry for the misunderstanding but I was not responding to that quote. I was referring to the quote where Gilson appears to agree with Dawkins’ thesis. He wrote: “You are defending Dawkins for ‘rebut[ting] the claims of Creationists and Intelligent Design advocates who argue that some feature of evolution could not possibly have occurred naturally.’ I agree with you that Dawkins did not fail to address those sets of claims.”

    Gilson continues,

    Third, AA denies that Dawkins’ intention was to disprove the existence of God. Now, that ties in with other things AA wrote in his response to me:

    You say nothing about the very existence of god in your chapter, which is not even addressed by Richard Dawkins in The Blind Watchmaker, so why you seem to be changing your argument from one purely about god-guided evolution to one about the existence of god confuses me.

    and,

    He [Dawkins] said nothing of the kind, that there is no god.

    and also,

    Once again, Dawkins wasn’t arguing in that book that god does not exist. He was only discussing god’s alleged role in the evolutionary process.

    At this point it’s a challenge for me to maintain decorum; that is, it’s hard not to burst out in laughter. To argue that the universe is without design, while also maintaining that the design argument is “always the most influential of the arguments for the existence of God,” is indeed to argue against the existence of God—whether or not one says, “I am now commencing an argument against the existence of God.”

    Let’s see just how Dawkins viewed his arguments in relation to the existence of God. On page 4 of The Blind Watchmaker, in the 1996 edition I’m reading, Dawkins writes,

    The watchmaker of my title is borrowed from a famous treatise by the eighteenth-century theologian William Paley. His Natural Theology — or Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity Collected from the Appearances of Nature, published in 1802, is the best-known exposition of the ‘Argument from Design’, always the most influential of the arguments for the existence of God.

    Two pages later, he writes,

    An atheist before Darwin could have said, following Hume: ‘I have no explanation for complex biological design. All I know is that God isn’t a good explanation, so we must wait and hope that somebody comes up with a better one.’ I can’t help feeling that such a position, though logically sound, would have left one feeling pretty unsatisfied, and that although atheism might have been logically tenable before Darwin, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.

    Dawkins’ argument against design is quite definitely an argument for atheism and against God.

    First of all, there is not a single quotation in the book that can be pointed to where Dawkins remotely says anything like, ‘because evolution explains biological design, there is no god.’ He says nothing of the sort in the entire book. Second, Gilson takes the first quote of Dawkins out of context. Here is the quote in full, which illuminates Dawkins actual intentions with this statement:

    The watchmaker of my title is borrowed from a famous treatise by the eighteenth-century theologian William Paley. His Natural Theology — or Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity Collected from the Appearances of Nature, published in 1802, is the best-known exposition of the ‘Argument from Design’, always the most influential of the arguments for the existence of God. It is a book that I greatly admire, for it in his own time its author succeeded in doing what I am struggling to do now. He had a point to make, he passionately believed in it, and he spared no effort to ram it home clearly. He had a proper reverence for the complexity of the living world, and he saw that it demands a very special kind of explanation. The only thing he got wrong – admittedly quite a big thing! – was the explanation itself. He gave the traditional religious answer to the riddle, but he articulated it more clearly and convincingly than anybody had before. The true explanation is utterly different, and it had to wait for one of the most revolutionary thinkers of all time, Charles Darwin. (Blind Watchmaker, 2006; 7-8)

    Once you finish the quote it should be more than apparent what Dawkins actually said. Was he attempting to prove god does not exist? No! He cited Paley’s Natural Theology because of his excellent presentation of the argument from design, which was the topic addressed in The Blind Watchmaker. Dawkins is digressing about why he chose the title for his book that he did, and explains how he greatly admires Paley’s book. Dawkins goes on to explain the relevance of Natural Theology to his own book. Is it to one-up Paley and disprove god? No. Paley’s intention was to posit god as the reason for the apparent design in nature, while Dawkins wanted to explain that it is not god, but blind forces, namely natural selection, that is the driver of the apparent design in nature. As Dawkins noted: Paley got the reason for the design wrong. He said nothing about disproving god here.

    Let’s take a look at the second quote, which Gilson also takes out of context. Here is the quote in full, page 10:

    Paley knew that it [the organized complexity of living things] needed a special explanation; Darwin knew it […] In any case it will be my business to show it here. As for David Hume himself, it is sometimes said that that great Scottish philosopher disposed of the Argument from Design a century before Darwin. But what Hume did was criticize the logic of using apparent design in nature as positive evidence for the existence of a God. He did not offer any alternative explanation for complex biological design, but left the question open. An atheist before Darwin could have said, following Hume: ‘I have no explanation for complex biological design. All I know is that God isn’t a good explanation, so we must wait and hope that somebody comes up with a better one.’ I can’t help feeling that such a position, though logically sound, would have left one feeling pretty unsatisfied, and that although atheism might have been logically tenable before Darwin, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist. (emphasis mine in bold)

    It should be clear from the context that Dawkins was still addressing the issue of biological design, not arguing against all forms of design. He is also not making an argument against god. What he is arguing is that after Darwin an atheist had a logical, scientific explanation for design in nature. No more did an atheist have to rely purely on Hume’s philosophical argument that Dawkins argues is ‘unsatisfying.’ After Darwin, an atheist could be “intellectually fulfilled” by this knowledge about how nature was “designed” and that this knowledge is very satisfying. This fact, however, does nothing to respond to any of the other arguments for god, and Dawkins said nothing of those. He was only addressing biological design, just as he did throughout the entire book.

    Let’s continue with Gilson’s further comments:

    Nevertheless AA thinks Dawkins’ book is only about belief in God’s role in evolution. He quotes the critical passage:

    We cannot disprove beliefs like these, especially if it is assumed that God took care that his intervention always closely mimicked what would be expected from evolution by natural selection. All that we can say about such beliefs is, firstly, that they are superfluous and, secondly, that they assume the existence of the main things we want to explain, namely organized complexity.”

    And referring to that, he reminds me,

    In fact, where you quote Dawkins as saying that “God is “superfluous” he is not referring to god at all, but a certain belief about god’s role in evolution.

    I grant his point there, except that (a) through his carelessness in logic and in the wording of his subtitle, among other things, Dawkins made it about design in general, as I already said, and (b) Dawkins believes he is poking a large and irreparable hole in any reason to believe in God.

    Now, AA is correct: Dawkins did not say in so many words, “therefore there is no God.” (Dawkins knows English well enough not to have written, “there is no god.”) I’ll accept that critique. It is a distinction without a difference, in my view; and besides that, if this is the best counter-argument anyone can successfully muster against me, I think I can stand the sting of that.

    I am pleased that Gilson has conceded this portion of his argument, and I see that after pointing out how he took this particular quote out of context, he went looking for new quotes to support his argument, which I just previously addressed. But, as we saw, he is grasping at straws trying to defend this distorted reading of Dawkins’ book. I believe he should concede defeat on this point. I’ve been reading Dawkins’ book the last week or so, double checking to ensure I wasn’t in error in thinking Dawkins does not address god, and there is indeed nothing there.

    The final issue addresses “divine simplicity.” Gilson writes,

    AA has this question to add to the mix:

    I would agree with you that theologians have often described god as simple, but at the same time I’ve never been able to understand how someone can make such strong assertions about the nature of something to which we have no evidence for. What is the basis for this assertion? It is philosophy, theology, the bible? I would be much appreciative if you could answer this for me.

    It’s a very good question, and more involved than I can address here. In short, though, its basis is in a philosophical reflection on what God must necessarily be, if God is. That is, if we’re talking about God, then by definition we are talking about God in his ontological simplicity. If we’re talking about some being that is not ontologically simple, then we are not talking about God, but (and maybe AA is right here) maybe about god, some unknown deity that no one here believes in. But I cannot go into this any further here. I will refer you to Edward Feser for more.

    I appreciate that Gilson provided me with this blog post, but I had a feeling this premise was based upon nothing but a pile of unjustified assumptions and philosophical mumbo-jumbo. If god is immaterial, outside of time and space, and “He does not ‘have’ existence, or an essence” (quoting Feser) how can this god affect this material world? We know through physics that all matter is composed of atoms and this is why we are able to interact with the world, but how could something that is immaterial, and not made of the same “stuff,” act in a material world? It would be like a ghost, another example of an immaterial entity, interacting with objects like chairs and other objects that are composed of matter, of atoms. It’s physically and logically impossible for this to happen. Obviously, a theist will argue that god is not bound by the laws of physics, and for the sake of argument I will concede that god is not bound by those laws. However, my question is how does such an immaterial being interact with a material substance and how could it act in a material world? By what processes might god use to achieve this? In addition, these attributes are logically inconsistent. Theists argue that god exists, but then he has no existence. Huh? I believe all of this mumbo-jumbo is merely a snake-oil salesmen pitch to allow god to avoid any logical or factual arguments against him/it/her, whatever. If someone is going to propose an argument, it must at the very least be logically consistent, if not something tangible, based upon the known laws of physics and other processes humans have discovered. Anything less is pointless gobbledygook.

    Conclusion

    After going through Tom’s response I am happy that we cleared up this misunderstanding, and it is now clear to me, as it should be clear to any readers, that Gilson did in fact misunderstand The Blind Watchmaker and he did not offer a successful rebuttal since he did not grasp the topic of the book.

    It should also be clear that my misreading was an honest accident due to Gilson’s poorly worded chapter. He did not make it clear at all that he believed the book was about design in general, and not solely focused on biological design. I believe my assumption was entirely justified since most people read a book before forming a conclusion about an author’s thesis and it should be clear to anyone that book titles do not always clearly describe a book’s contents, and neither does an author often get to choose the title of their books. The publisher often decides what will be a gripping title that will grab the attention of a potential reader. And the subtitle, Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design, I think flows better than Gilson’s wordy title: “ Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Biological Design.” Most readers probably wouldn’t even know what this would mean, so they simply chose to use the word “Design,” knowing that anyone who read even the first few pages of Dawkins’ book would see it was addressing biological design, not the design argument in all its forms, which makes no sense anyway. Cosmology is outside of Dawkins’ expertise so why would he devote an entire book on the Cosmological Argument, let alone all of the other design arguments? The very idea Dawkins would do this simply strains credulity.

    Regarding the philosophical explanation (and I use that word very loosely) of god’s eternal nature. This argument is contradictory, thus logically unsound, and it is based upon nothing tangible.

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    • I have a lot to sort through here, so thank you for continuing the conversation. I have one quick easy note to ask at first:

      First, you say,

      And the subtitle, Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design, I think flows better than Gilson’s wordy title: “ Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Biological Design.”

      Where did I suggest that “wordy title”? I don’t recall it and I can’t find it.

      Second, I’m rather confused as to how you can say that Dawkins didn’t address god (well, he didn’t, actually) or that he didn’t address God, in The Blind Watchmaker. This is quite a crucial point in your article here, and it’s crucial in my mind, too. It’s so crucial, in fact, that I really want to hear further from you on it before I go into any other topics you’ve brought up. I’ll explain why at the end of all this.

      You wrote,

      I’ve been reading Dawkins’ book the last week or so, double checking to ensure I wasn’t in error in thinking Dawkins does not address god, and there is indeed nothing there.

      I think this is quite obviously wrong. He opens the book with fully two chapters focused largely on the question of God. They form the framework within which his evolutionary arguments are made, and (as opening chapters usually do) they explain the purpose for the rest of the book.

      You know, because I wrote it and you quoted it here, bhtat In the intro to his book he made it clear that he was addressing the “most influential argument for God.” He devotes several paragraphs, early on, quite pointedly to William Paley’s design argument for God.

      Then he summarizes that section, and briefly states his problem with it, and goes on to add,

      I shall explain all this, and much besides…. I said [at dinner with a well-known atheist] that I could not imagine being an atheist at any time before 1859, when Darwin’s Origin of Species was published.

      The question of God is obviously in his mind as he discusses his disbelief in God. But there’s more.

      He goes on to speak of Hume’s treatment of God, following which he goes on to a lengthy discussion of complex things and eventually, “what kind of explanation for complex things would satisfy us.” Back to Paley’s argument for God again, and then on to a chapter on “Good Design,” where Paley was again prominently featured in the chapter’s introduction. Not just that, but Paley comes back into the picture again, well into the chapter, where Dawkins writes,

      His [Paley’s] hypothesis was that living watches were literally designed and built by a master watchmaker. Our modern hypothesis is that the job was done in gradual evolutionary states by natural selection.

      Nowadays theologians aren’t quite so straightforward as Paley.

      [Recall that Paley used the analogy of an intentional, intelligent watchmaker to argue for God. Do you really think the title of the book wasn’t meant to convey that the book would be a counter-theistic argument?]

      Then follows a couple of pages on other theologians’ and a bishop’s arguments in favor of design, and against naturalistic evolution, both of which (it takes little knowledge to understand) tend to be arguments for God when they’re offered by theologians and bishops.

      That amounts to two entire chapters setting the stage for the rest of the book. The rest of the book, of course, is his exposition in favor of evolution and against design; where design was situated in the book as being an argument for God.

      How about the close of the book? Look at the third-to-last paragraph. It ends,

      The same applies to the odds against the spontaneous existence of any fully fashioned, perfect, and whole beings, including — I see no way of avoiding the conclusion — deities.

      Look back a page or so earlier, in the portion beginning, “We have dealt with all the alleged alternatives to the theory of natural selection except the oldest one,” and ending “In short, divine creation, whether instantaneous or in the form of guided evolution…. give[s] some superficial appearance of being [an] alternative to Darwinism” but fails the test of evidence.

      He begins the book talking about God. He ends the book talking about God. He places his whole argument in a framework of what he clearly argues to be failed reasons to believe in God.

      Do you still maintain that Dawkins does not address God in this book?

      If so, then I’m going to have to give up this conversation as hopeless, and consider your critique of True Reason as irrelevant, because if you can misread Dawkins that badly, whose perspective is agreeable and familiar to you, there’s no point in even paying attention to what you have to say about something against which you have a strong prior bias.

      • resipisence

        Dawkins never claimed to disprove god (do I hear the Spanish Grammarian Inquisition knocking at my door?), he claimed to show that it was not logically necessary that a creator must be the cause of biological complexity as natural explanations exist. Care to show me where I’m going wrong?

        • Tony Hoffman

          I would just like to say that I don’t think Dawkins really makes an argument based on what is logically necessary in his book; I think it’s just an argument based almost entirely on the evidence. The evidence shows that biological complexity can be explained through evolutionary mechanisms (self-replication, genetic mutation, natural selection), non of which require a non-natural explanation (whatever that’s supposed to mean). I think it’s really just an evidential argument, and an awesomely readable one at that.

    • Returning again to one of your core complaints, you say that Dawkins addressed the problem of biological design only, and that I was in error not to have treated his argument that way.

      I remind you of three things.

      One, I wrote,

      I didn’t, however, criticize Dawkins primarily for failing to address other related topics. I criticized him for committing a rather obvious logical fallacy. (This was the whole point of that section of my chapter in True Reason, as well as much of the rest of the book: the fallacious logic so frequently displayed by Dawkins and other New Atheists.) He drew his conclusion — a universe without design — without having demonstrated it. He didn’t even try to demonstrate it, except in one limited set of phenomena, biological evolution.
      Had he succeeded in showing design was unnecessary in the case of life, that would have revealed a biosphere without design, not a universe without design. But no, actually, it would only have revealed the scientific and logical possibility of a biosphere without design; which is why I wrote in True Reason that Dawkins disappointed me. He drew the conclusion, there is no design, after arguing a case that could only lead to it is possible there is no design. Alvin Plantinga pointed out the same thing, as I noted in True Reason.

      Clearly that shows what my argument was based upon. I’ll reword it, since it escaped you the first time: Dawkins failed to demonstrate a biosphere without design. He only showed the possibility of a biosphere without design. Now, if he failed to demonstrate a biosphere without design, then, a fortiori, he also failed to reveal a universe without design. The same failure extends both to the universe and to its more limited aspect, the biosphere.

      Second, the entire book is a focused case study on how organized complexity can come to be in the realm of biology, yet it’s clear throughout that he takes his gradualistic/selectionistic principle (elsewhere dubbed “Climbing Mount Improbable”) to be, most likely, universal. I look at the first paragraph of chapter 1, and I see,

      Complicated things, everywhere, deserve a very special kind of explanation. We want to know how they came into existence and why they are so complicated. The explanation, as I shall argue, is likely to be broadly the same for complicated things everywhere in the universe; the same for us, for chimpanzees, worms, oak trees and monsters from outer space.

      He goes on of course to exclude that which is “the stuff of physics” as opposed to biology, based on their differing complexities of design. The stuff of physics is too easy, he says.

      Clearly then, he was addressing design generally, but quickly left all other manifestations of it behind in order to concentrate on the one truly interesting case, biology. He knows that if he can demonstrate a non-designed origin for biological phenomena, the rest is easy. Thus based on its opening pages, the book is a book about design, focused on its most interesting manifestation, life.

      You write,

      But, as Gilson makes clear in this reply, he believes Dawkins’ book was supposed to be about rebutting the argument from design, in all its forms, apparently, thus disproving the existence of god.

      It was. Dawkins’ position is that if the argument from the design of life—the hard case—can be disproved, the rest is trivial. Read page 1 of chapter 1 again. It’s quite clear.

      Another topic. I’d like to help you with this:

      I was trying to figure out the reasoning behind why Gilson would argue that Dawkins’ argument is illogical and does not disprove there is purposeful design in the process of evolution.

      Dawkins shows (or thinks he does) that the concept of God may not be necessary to explain life. That’s not an argument revealing a universe, or even a biosphere, without design. If it succeeds, the best it succeeds in doing is revealing a universe (or biosphere) in which design may or may not be involved. It undermines the necessity of design, but it does not prove the absence of design.

      (His argument about God needing to be yet another instance of organized complexity, on the other hand, does reveal something. It reveals that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. But that’s another story for another day.)

      Finally, I should have caught this in my previous comment but I missed it:

      there is not a single quotation in the book that can be pointed to where Dawkins remotely says anything like, ‘because evolution explains biological design, there is no god.’

      The whole book is an argument against intentional/teleological design. God, as God is understood in theism, acts intentionally/teleologically. Syllogism:

      1. If there is a God as understood in the prevailing theistic views of God, then God acts intentionally/teleologically in nature.

      2. There is no intentional/teleological action in all of nature.

      Now, Dawkins doesn’t spell out the major premise. He doesn’t have to. In his discussions on Paley and other natural theologians he makes clear that this is the God he has in mind.

      Regarding the minor premise, recall what I wrote earlier: Dawkins thinks that if he explains away biological design, he has as good as explained away all design in nature. So there’s no doubt that he affirms 2 in this book, even if he doesn’t say it in those exact words.

      Regarding the conclusion, he doesn’t spell that out either. That’s because any dummy can figure it out.

      3. Therefore there is no God, as God is understood in the prevailing theistic views of God.

      Collapsing all that into one short paraphrased sentence, we have something that’s logically equivalent to, “because evolution explains biological design, there is no god God [Dawkins knows how to capitalize proper nouns].

      I can’t imagine how that isn’t obvious to you.

      As I said, if you continue to maintain these strange interpretations of Dawkins’ book, you will continue to have credibility problems.

      • Tony Hoffman

        Tom, do do you remember how years ago you wrote an entire blog post trying to pass off the subtitle of the Blind Watchmaker incorrectly as: “Why the Evidence of Evolution PROVES a Universe without Design,” and then trying to show how Dawkins was inept based on your re-wording (changing “reveals” to “PROVES”? I sure do, and I’d be happy to link to it again.)

        You didn’t understand the difference between “prove” and “reveal” then either, and I see that you’re still as hamstrung.

        I’ll type this slowly for you: Dawkins’ book describes (painstakingly) the observation that evolutionary theory accounts for biological complexity (and the history of how that observation unfolded) without the need for your superstition. That is all, although I allow that it’s quite an assault to your superstitious beliefs.

        And your “substantive” complaint to this is what? That the rest of us who don’t share your superstition are not interpreting Dawkins correctly? Um, I think we interpreted him just fine. I think you’re the one who hasn’t gotten the memo about what should be inferred from what Dawkins describes.

        By the way, god god god god god.

        I like grammar as much as the next guy, but “god” is a concept, an idea, with so many different, fanciful permutations that to distinguish the term as belonging to even a fictional person is to damage the language I so love. (If you want to talk about Yahweh, I’ll give you that. But if you insist on reprimanding over the capitalization of “god” and act like a school marm about it yet again, I’ll smack down your silly pedantry with a paragraph of god god gods that I doubt you can handle. And if you think that’s beyond the bounds, then you can try and work out how it is that you share so much in common with our Islamist blaspheme enforcers. Good luck with that.)

        • Sure I remember it. Here’s the link. I committed a typo there. We talked it through. I wrote,

          I was quoting the subtitle of Dawkins’s book from memory. Apparently I got it wrong. Another error for which I must apologize. But taken in view of Dawkins’s body of writings, he most certainly does consider “a universe without design” to have been proven to a confidence far better than 99%.

          You didn’t respond to that, but apparently you haven’t let go of it, in spite of my acknowledging and correcting the typo.

          By the way, here’s the original error I made in that post:

          Richard Dawkins is a great example of this way of thinking. In a marvelous book (it really is a good read) called The Blind Watchmaker, he sets out to show Why the Evidence of Evolution Proves a Universe Without Design (that’s the book’s subtitle, in fact). He says that since we can (at least in principle) explain all of reality without God, there is no God. Based on that early book of his, it appears that he had come to a scientific conclusion that there is no God. There are only two problems. One is that the evidence he presented is still very controversial, as you’ll see in weeks to come. The other is that no matter what the scientific evidence shows, it can’t show that there’s no God.

          Read through that, and you’ll find that in my discussion I didn’t build a case on “prove,” I merely quoted what I misremembered as the subtitle. Then I used the word “show,” not “prove.” I don’t think my error there was quite as egregious as you remember it being; yet of course I did acknowledge it when you pointed it out to me.

          It’s irrelevant now, anyway. I didn’t make that mistake here. I did not speak of “proof” but of “argument.” Dawkins most certainly did make an argument for a biosphere without design, and a fortiori, a universe without design.

          • Tony Hoffman

            TG: “You didn’t respond to that, but apparently you haven’t let go of it, in spite of my acknowledging and correcting the typo.”

            What you call a typo is revealed to be a persistent misunderstanding of the intent behind Dawkins’ book. You mischaracterized the book’s intent back then, and you continue to mischaracterize it today. I would stop characterizing your persistent misunderstanding a typo.

            Here’s how it goes:

            – A once-powerful argument for a designer god was biological complexity.
            – Evolutionary theory explains biological complexity.
            – Biological complexity is no longer a persuasive argument for a designer god.

            It appears that because you have no rejoinder to the (very obvious) summary above, you would like to handwave, and mis-represent. The reasons for this should be obvious to anyone who’s ever interacted with an apologist such as yourself.

            • resipisence

              I would put money on Tom not responding to the most important part of what you said:

              – A once-powerful argument for a designer god was biological complexity.- Evolutionary theory explains biological complexity.
              – Biological complexity is no longer a persuasive argument for a designer god.

              I cannot believe the amount of wriggling that is going on here, how can someone who unselfconsciously uses the word “Thinking” in their blog title continue to insist they were correct when shown the obvious flaw in their thinking?

            • ArizonaAtheist

              Hi Tony. Tom’s blog post you mention was interesting. I was surprised. He’s still making the same false arguments from 2008? Wow… A few of them were included in True Reason. I wonder how many times his errors have been pointed out. That does not instill much confidence that I could change his mind… Perhaps the reply I’ve finished (and will post tomorrow most likely) was for naught. If anything, at least I corrected his errors for any curious future reader. On the other hand, he did concede one of his arguments earlier. Maybe there is hope after all…

            • I think a large part of the problem here is summed up in one person’s statement somewhere that I put too much stock in the subtitle of the book; that I should recognize that the book was intended, as Tony says here, to show that the biological design argument is not persuasive, rather than to “reveal a universe without design.

              In my chapter in True Reason, I explain how I dove into the book looking for how Dawkins was going to reveal a universe without design. I read the book because I wanted to know how he was going to accomplish what the title of the book said the book was going to do. I hardly think that was a culpable error on my part!

              In fact, I don’t think it was an error. Dawkins spent a lot of time on Paley, as you agree here, AA, in a book he titled “The Blind Watchmaker.” He said in the book,

              All appearances to the contrary, the only watchmaker in nature is the blind forces of physics…. Natural selection is the blind watchmaker ….

              In his chapter on Origins and Miracles he says that a deistic Creator answer to his argument is “feeble and obviously self-defeating.” This is an argument against God — a positive attempt to disprove God — with of course his additional, “where did God’s organized complexity come from?” argument entering in at that point. (Christian theism does not posit an organized-complex God in anything like Dawkins’ sense.)

              So the book is more than an argument that the design argument for God is no longer persuasive. It is an attempt to demonstrate that the biosphere was crafted (pardon the anthropomorphism) by a blind watchmaker, and that there is no sighted watchmaker. It is an attempt to reveal a universe without design.

              In 2008 I made the error of writing that the title of the book was about proving a universe without design. When that error was pointed out I corrected it. I still maintain that the purpose of the book is to show that

              1. there is no design in the biosphere

              2. if there is no design in the biosphere, there is no design; for if it can be shown in the hard case that there is no design, then how much much easier is it to show there is no design anywhere? (See the opening pages of ch. 1)

              3. If there is no design anywhere, there is no designer

              … which is virtually synonymous with, there is no God.

              On that level, Dawkins is making an argument against God.

              He includes also his where-did-God’s-organized-complexity-come-from argument to try to show that God is a self-defeating concept. That is even more patently an argument against God.

              The book is an argument against God, not just a presentation of the non-persuasiveness of the design argument.

            • ArizonaAtheist

              I have replied to all of your comments here, including this one, in a new post. I do hope you will see the errors in your thinking on this issue. Thanks.

            • I saw your response. One quick thought, and then I’m done. You wrote there,

              Dawkins’ book is his attempt to demonstrate that god is no longer needed as an explanation for complex design since evolution better explains the existence of living things. But how is this arguing against the proposition that god exists? It isn’t. There is a vast difference between arguing that something does not exist, and that something is a cause of something else. This does not imply that thing does not exist, only that it is not a cause. – See more at: http://www.skepticink.com/azatheist/2014/06/13/true-reason-my-final-reply-to-tom-gilson/#sthash.WQXMVEEa.dpuf

              Here is how it is arguing against the proposition that God exists.

              Christian theism takes it that God is the cause and explanation of the entire created order.* That is, it is in the very definition of God (in Christian theism) that he is that cause and explanation.

              Thus:

              1. If God exists (as Christian theism understands God), then God is the cause and explanation of the entire created order.
              2. If God is not the cause and explanation of the entire created order, then God does not exist (as God is understood in Christian theism).
              3. Therefore, to argue that God is not the cause and explanation of the entire created order is to argue that God does not exist (as God is understood in Christian theism).

              That much is simple, is it not?

              Dawkins starts and finishes the book by placing his argument for a “blind watchmaker” in the context of arguments for God as cause and explanation for a significant portion of the created order. Clearly he intends to undermine belief that God is the cause and explanation of the created order (at least in biology).

              That’s not controversial, is it?

              Thus his book meets the conditions of (2), and the conclusion (3) therefore applies: Dawkins’ book is (among other things) an argument against the existence of God (as God is understood in Christian theism).

              To argue against God, as God is understood in Christian theism, is to argue against the conception of God held by most of the Western world (although see here). This is not insignificant in terms of the general idea of “arguing against God.”

              With that, I end my part in this discussion.

              *The same applies to Jewish and Muslim theism, generally speaking, as I understand those religions to teach. I’m focusing on Christian theism because it is what I know best, not because these points are only true for Christian theism.

            • ArizonaAtheist

              Hi Tom,

              I’m sorry, but you appear to have ignored everything I’ve said, and have ignored the context of the quotes you’ve cited, because that should have given you your answer. But, after thinking about it, I believe a point of confusion for you seems to be Dawkins’ framing his book as a response to Paley’s book. You seem to think that because Paley uses the argument in his book to argue for god’s existence, Dawkins sought to argue against this proposition. But I have found no such intention in The Blind Watchmaker. I’ve even cited direct quotes to the contrary. What Dawkins is arguing against is Paley’s argument that the only reasonable cause of this complexity of nature is a divine being. He’s not questioning Paley’s ultimate conclusion: god exists. Dawkins argues, no, the evidence tells us the cause is natural selection by way of evolution. I alluded to this in my latest response:

              “Dawkins wrote about Paley’s ‘watchmaker’ argument and says, ‘All appearances to the contrary, the only watchmaker in nature is the blind forces of physics, albeit employed in a very special way. […] Natural selection, the blind, unconscious, automatic process which Darwin discovered, and which we know is the explanation for the existence and apparently purposeful form of all life, has no purpose in mind.’ (9) Here Dawkins is seemingly responding to your very argument. He is not using Paley’s claim that god is responsible for complexity as a means by which to disprove god. He is using it, as I’ve continually explained, as a means of communicating how evolution by natural selection is the reason for the complexity we find in nature.”

              As for your syllogism you’ve misstated Dawkins’ argument. Again. You are claiming that Dawkins seeks to rebut the claim that god is the cause of “the entire created order.” No. I’ve shown over and over again, the only context Dawkins sought to rebut is god’s alleged role in the evolutionary process, which is hardly the “entire created order.” The only subject in The Blind Watchmaker is about biological design, and I’ve cited many quotes demonstrating this. I cannot see how you are blind to this.

              Thus, your entire premise is flawed from the start and it does not follow from the conclusion. This is also the argument I sought to disprove in my last post to you. Why you didn’t comment there I do not know.

              Thank you for your comments, but I am sorry I was unable to convince you of the errors in your understanding.

            • AA, I leave it to your readers to look at my quasi-syllogism. They can discern for themselves whether an argument that God is not the cause or explanation of the biological world, also serves as an argument that God is not the cause or explanation for the entire created order.

              For my part, I don’t know how you can doubt it. If I say that my wife is not the cause or explanation for the meat’s being on the table, then I am saying that she is not the cause or explanation for the entire meal’s being there; for there is some part of the meal for which she is not the cause or explanation.

              Similarly, if God is not the cause or explanation for the biological world, then there is some part of the created order for which he is not the cause or explanation. That’s Dawkins’ position, and it entails (virtually tautologically!) that it’s also Dawkins’ position that God is not the cause or explanation for the entire created order.

              I leave this as a note for your readers. They can work through the discussion—including the part on Paley, which I have already covered in sufficient detail. They can draw their own conclusions. I’m content to leave it with them that way.

            • ArizonaAtheist

              Hi Tom,

              I do appreciate you taking the time to defend your views, no matter how much I believe you are in error. Yes, readers can make up their own minds, but I don’t believe it will be a hard decision 🙂

              As for your analogy about meat and dinner. No, just because your wife did not place the meat on the table (what if one of your in-laws did?) does not mean she did not place other items on the table. I’m sorry, but this doesn’t make any sense.

              Thanks and take care.

            • Of course it doesn’t make sense! You have erected a straw man.

              Take care.

            • ArizonaAtheist

              Hi Tom. Let’s see if we can clear this up before you go. You argued – and I quote:

              For my part, I don’t know how you can doubt it. If I say that my wife is not the cause or explanation for the meat’s being on the table, then I am saying that she is not the cause or explanation for the entire meal’s being there; for there is some part of the meal for which she is not the cause or explanation.

              Similarly, if God is not the cause or explanation for the biological world, then there is some part of the created order for which he is not the cause or explanation. That’s Dawkins’ position, and it entails (virtually tautologically!) that it’s also Dawkins’ position that God is not the cause or explanation for the entire created order.

              I’m sorry but I created no strawmen. You argued, quite wrongly, that if your wife (or god) is not the designer or creator of one thing, then that implies she (or god) is not the creator of anything. Either this is a badly thought out argument, or you did not express yourself very clearly. I think it’s highly disingenuous to shout “strawman!” since it is often used as a cheap way to evade having to deal with challenges to an argument. This is particularly the case when such accusations are left unexplained and undefended. It’s even worse that it’s more than obvious there was no strawman erected.

              As a matter of fact, one of your co-authors hardily agrees with me. William Lane Craig wrote in True Reason: “At most, all that
              follows is that we should not infer God’s existence on the basis of
              the appearance of design in the universe. But that conclusion is
              quite compatible with God’s existence and even our justifiably
              believing in God’s existence. Maybe we should be believe in God on the basis of the cosmological argument or the ontological argument.” (p. 20)

              And I have to agree. Just because god’s role in the evolutionary process is disputed is not an argument that god doesn’t exist. There are other alleged lines of evidence to consider. Just as with your analogy. Just because your wife didn’t put the meat on the table does not imply she did not put other objects on the table. Like I said, it doesn’t make any sense.

              Thanks.

            • Tony Hoffman

              Everything Tom writes makes sense in light of the observation that he is rationalizing for his untouchable belief in Yawheh.

              That’s why he threw out this new syllogism, one that he should come to realize fails (for the reasons you pointed out), and then he will try a new one that also fails, and fault you for not understanding that he was right all along but you don’t want to understand, etc. This will go on ad infinitum.

              Getting to the bottom of apologetics is like tracing the source of corruption; but instead of following the money, you just follow the conclusion. Once you realize that apologist arguments are only cobbled together in order to make a cherished belief somehow seem respectable, then not only do their “arguments” make a certain kind of sense, but they are also highly predictable.

              Apologists want to keep on believing, and they want to seem smart. When you come to realize those two things, everything else they write is as easy to predict as what will happen to an object when it’s dropped from a table.

            • Thank you for the kind words, Tony. I hope you have a pleasant day, too.

            • Tony Hoffman

              I value honesty, Tom, and as I pointed out in a comment in the other thread (http://www.skepticink.com/azatheist/2014/06/13/true-reason-my-final-reply-to-tom-gilson/), you appear incapable of being honest.

              You are an apologist, who’s life, livelihood, and whole sense of identity (and I presume dignity, etc.) are built on a foundation of religious belief. I suppose you fear the loss of that belief, and everything you’ve built on top of it, more than anything — I know I would if I had invested so much of myself in something like you have.

              But your belief seems to have locked you into a cycle of dishonesty that I doubt you can even see it anymore. A kind of prison that has you typing out whoppers like this, without any sense of irony or honest reflection:

              Tom Gilson: “I picked up the book because of its subtitle: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design. I had no idea how he – or anyone – could make a case for that, but I had heard good things about Dawkins as an author, and I was rather hoping he could bring it off.”

              Rather hoping he could bring it off. Sure you were.

              Once again, thanks for all you do!

            • Tony, I envy you. if I only had your mind-reading skills I could tell who was lying just as you can. Your powers imbue you with enormous responsibility. Please use them wisely.

            • Tony Hoffman

              Tom, AA has ably shown how you have misrepresented Dawkins’ book, misunderstood his argument, and refused to re-consider that you might (gasp) be wrong. Rather than re-evaluate your arguments and modify your beliefs (which is what thinking people do), you have simply dug in and reasserted or rationalized your debunked claims — which is what apologists do.

              I have pointed out that your interaction here is consistent with a prior pattern of dishonesty on this same topic, and have provided multiple instances of your dishonesty.

              The fact that you have not responded to my demonstrations of your dishonest, and that you find yourself apparently standing by the whopper I pointed out — that you want us to sincerely believe that you “were rather hoping” that by reading Dawkins book you would gladly walk away from a belief system upon which you have built your life — is, well, laughable.

              And, deprived of the special privileges you demand (acceptance of your authority over our own assessments of arguments you put forth, and pretending that your belief system in no way hinders your ability to assess contrary arguments), you pout and will go back to the confines of your blog, where such pretending can continue.

              Yup.

            • You say,

              You argued, quite wrongly, that if your wife (or god) is not the designer or creator of one thing, then that implies she (or god) is not the creator of anything. Either this is a badly thought out argument, or you did not express yourself very clearly.

              Or, you didn’t read what I wrote:

              Christian theism takes it that God is the cause and explanation of the entire created order.* That is, it is in the very definition of God (in Christian theism) that he is that cause and explanation.

              Thus:

              1. If God exists (as Christian theism understands God), then God is the cause and explanation of the entire created order.

              2. If God is not the cause and explanation of the entire created order, then God does not exist (as God is understood in Christian theism).

              3. Therefore, to argue that God is not the cause and explanation of the entire created order is to argue that God does not exist (as God is understood in Christian theism).

              The argument, in fact, is that if God is not the creator of everything that is, then God does not exist, as God is understood in Christian theism. This is true by the definition of God (in Christian theism).

            • By the way, if this isn’t clear enough, then you can conclude whatever you will about me and my argument. I’ve given it my best shot.

            • ArizonaAtheist

              As I said, your entire argument is based upon a strawman because you’re attacking an argument Dawkins doesn’t make and most Christians do not believe this, it seems. I quoted William Lane Craig from the very book you edited saying the same thing. Just because god’s role in evolution is falsified, does not imply there is no god. Your logic does not follow and Dawkins’ intentions I’ve gone at great lengths to demonstrate.

            • You have drawn your conclusions. Your readers will draw theirs. Goodbye.

            • resipisence

              “The argument, in fact, is that if God is not the creator of everything that is, then God does not exist, as God is understood in Christian theism. This is true by the definition of God (in Christian theism).”

              So you are a Creationist? If evolution really occurred, and science has shown that the natural laws alone could produce the complexity of life, does that mean that God is not the creator of everything?

              William Lane Craig wrote a chapter in your book in which he said that the cosmological arguments for god allow for evolution to be a purely natural process exactly as Dawkins describes it, without showing god to not exist. Here you are asserting otherwise, no? Dawkins never claimed to disagree with Craig’s point in his book ‘The Blind Watchmaker’, so it is you who is creating this argument, seems to me.

            • Tony Hoffman

              Great! By Tom’s logic above, and replacing the more accurate term “biological complexity” for “created order,” we see that Tom now concedes that Dawkin’s “The Blind Watchmaker” demolishes the proposition “God exists” as he understands it.

              Unless, somehow, he’s not being entirely sincere…

            • Tony Hoffman

              No way! Do you mean we’ve maybe discovered an apologist who keeps making the same arguments over and over, all while working desperately to maintain the impression of rationality, consideration, and intellectual integrity? What are the odds…?

          • Tony Hoffman

            Btw, I understand that you think it makes you seem smart when use expressions like “a fortiori,” but you should also learn how to properly use that term before attempting it — you have got it backwards; an “a fortiori” argument for biology without design could be adduced from an argument for a universe without design, never the other way around. Also, I think it’s better to avoid terms like that altogether, and to use simpler language — it helps make it easier for other readers to understand your argument and correct your mistakes.

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    • Dutch

      AA,
      Clearly you are correct and Gilson is wrong. However, you and others are making a concession to his dishonesty simply by arguing with him about what Dawkins means!

      Let me explain. Gilson writes:

      “Had he succeeded in showing design was unnecessary in the case of life…”

      This is the dishonesty we should be mocking Gilson for using. Gilson has no faith in his position about the validity of modern evolutionary theory, so he resorts to making the question only about hearsay.

      Do you see? Whether Dawkins’s book (hearsay) convinces Gilson is irrelevant! What’s relevant is the massive amount of evidence that Gilson is afraid to engage with.

      Gilson, at some level, KNOWS he can’t support his position with evidence. He KNOWS he has no faith in his allegedly faith-motivated position.

      So Gilson lies. Again and again. He pompously pretends that it’s about hearsay and arguments and people, not evidence.

      Tom, how many posts on your blog have to do with evolution vs. ID? How many of them are based on hearsay? How many engage the evidence?