Tuesday, May 08, 2007

The God Delusion - Passage #2

The Worship of Gaps (from Chapter 4 by Richard Dawkins)


Searching for particular examples of irreducible complexity is a fundamentally unscientific way to proceed: a special case of arguing from present ignorance. It appeals to the same faulty logic as "the God of the Gaps' strategy condemned by the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Creationists eagerly seek a gap in present-day knowledge or understanding. If an apparent gap is found, it is assumed that God, by default, must fill it. What worries thoughtful theologians such as Bonhoeffer is that gaps shrink as science advances, and God is threatened with eventually having nothing to do and nowhere to hide. What worries scientists is something else. It is an essential part of the scientific enterprise to admit ignorance, even to exult in ignorance as a challenge to future conquests. As my friend Matt Ridley has written, 'Most scientists are bored by what they have already discovered. It is ignorance that drives them on.' Mystics exult in mystery and want it to stay mysterious. Scientists exult in mystery for a different reason: it gives them something to do. More generally ... one of the truly bad effects of religion is that it teaches us that it is a virtue to be satisfied with not understanding.

Admissions of ignorance and temporary mystification are vital to good science. It is therefore unfortunate, to say the least, that the main strategy of creation propagandists is the negative one of seeking out gaps in scientific knowledge and claiming to fill them with 'intelligent design' by default. The following is hypothetical by entirely typical. A creationist speaking: 'The elbow joint of the lesser spotted weasel frog is irreducibly complex. No part of it would do any good at all until the whole was assembled. Bet you can't think of a way in which the weasel frog's elbow could have evolved by slow gradual degrees.' If the scientist fails to give an immediate and comprehensive answer, the creationist draws a default conclusion: 'Right then, the alternative theory, "intelligent design", wins by default.' Notice the biased logic: if theory A fails in some particular, theory B must be right. Needless to say, the argument is not applied the other way around. We are encouraged to leap to the default theory without even looking to see whether it fails in the very same particular as the theory it is alleged to replace. Intelligent design - ID - is grated a Get Out Of Jail Free card, a charmed immunity to the rigorous demands made of evolution.

But my present point is that the creationist ploy undermines the scientist's natural - indeed necessary - rejoicing in (temporary) uncertainty. For purely political reasons, today's scientist might hesitate before saying: "Hm, interesting point. I wonder how the weasel frog's ancestors did evolve their elbow joint. I'm not a specialist in weasel frogs, I'll have to go to the University Library and take a look. Might make an interesting project for a graduate student.' The moment a scientist said something like that - and long before the student began the project - the default conclusion would become a headline in a creationist pamphlet: "weasel frog could have been designed by God.'

There is, then, an unfortunate hook-up between science's methodological need to seek out areas of ignorance in order to target research, and ID's need to seek out ares of ignorance in order to claim victory by default. It is precisely the fact that ID has no evidence of its own, but thrives like a weed in gaps left by scientific knowledge, that sits uneasily with science's need to identify and proclaim the very same gaps as a prelude to researching them ...

Are a belief in God and a belief in science reconcilable? Does the advancement of one, by it's very nature, slowly pick away at the other? Some Christians seems to be comfortable with science from the point of the Big Bang on. But even in that case, aren't they still just filling in the gaps? Just because we don't currently have the ability to fully understand or visualize the creation of our universe (or even if there are multiple universes) doesn't mean that we won't some day. And at that point, what will Christians do?

One of his statements that I find particularly interesting:

"Mystics exult in mystery and want it to stay mysterious. Scientists exult in mystery for a different reason: it gives them something to do. More generally ... one of the truly bad effects of religion is that it teaches us that it is a virtue to be satisfied with not understanding."


If there was a God, would he want us to not seek out answers to everything within our interests and abilities? After all, wouldn't that be how he made us?

8 comments:

Laura said...

"Are a belief in God and a belief in science reconcilable? Does the advancement of one, by it's very nature, slowly pick away at the other?"

Only if one's belief in either is absolute and unchanging. For most institutionalized religion, this is the case. Science is ever changing, as Dawkins said. Constantly being revised. That's a "flaw" to people who believe that there is one, constant, and absolute truth to the world.

More mystical forms of religions, like Sufism or Christian Mystics, and many pagans have a very easy time with this. I have found ways to reconcile my belief in science and in mystical things. I have no problem revising my views and don't see that as a "lack" of faith. That might make an interesting post someday if I get the urge.

In short, I don't think that religion and science can't mix, but that DOGMA and science can't mix.

Sadie Lou said...

Yo're not going to like this.
Salvation isn't about appealing to one's intellect. It's not about knowing every answer to all your questions and then having faith.
Salvation is the gospel and it's so simple.
The gospel needs no explaination--it's so simple. Once you accept that and have faith, the rest of your questions can be worked out for the rest of your short time here on earth. I'm constantly learning and the answers just add to my faith.

dbackdad said...

"Once you accept that and have faith, the rest of your questions can be worked out ..." - Believe me, I realize that (and respect it). I just can't practice it. As you probably already know. You can't convince yourself that you have faith. You either have it or you don't. If you don't, then it's just a Pascal's Wager-type thing to still practice religion.

Sadie Lou said...

You can't convince yourself that you have faith. You either have it or you don't. If you don't, then it's just a Pascal's Wager-type thing to still practice religion.

You have faith, dback. You just don't have faith in God--that he is who he says he is--or that Jesus was who he said he was--but yo have faith. You are faithful to Alex and your wife and you have faith that they love you--but what if they had to leave you for a long time and you guys were separated and all you had was letters. Your wife would write you letters--would you still believe she loved you? Would you be faithful to her?

This is much like God. He doesn't sit here in my living room and talk to me. He doesn't straight up tell me what he wants me to do in every situation but he wrote me a letter in the form of the Bible and he says he loves me...

John said...

Osama got this letter from Mohammad and it says Allah loves him.

"My brother" found that giving a certain asian masseuse $50 she'll love him for 30 minutes.

I got a letter in the form of a pack of gum that says not only that Wrigley loves me, but 4 out of 5 dentists think I am just peachy the way I am.

dbackdad said...

John,

Is that with or without release? ... What? I'm just sayin' ...

John said...

With of course. Otherwise "he" wouldn't get to see the white pearly face of Gaaaaawd.

dbackdad said...

lol