Chapter 4 – Why There Almost Certainly Is No God

What arguments does Dawkins present that God does not exist?
Are they valid arguments?

McCulloch’s questions:
Does evolution by natural selection demonstrate that the argument from design is wrong? He suggests that a hypothetical cosmic designer would require an even greater explanation than the phenomena that they intended to explain.

He suggests that a hypothetical cosmic designer would require an even greater explanation than the phenomena that they intended to explain.

Before I start addressing this, I’d like to know if there are any other arguments Dawkins presents. As far as I can tell, this is the only argument that he presents in the book against the existence of God.

FinalEnigma wrote: Though the lack of multitudes of arguments is irrelevent as it needn’t, and shouldn’t, be the job of people like dawkins to go around proving the non-existence of God, so much as disproving the multitude of fallacious ‘proofs’ that some christians throw out there to try to convert people.

Isn’t this the entire purpose of the book? To try to convince people to be atheists? If he can’t disprove God’s existence, then how can he convince someone to be an atheist?

The burden of actually proving anything in on the christian side.

Yes, it is. But the burden of disproving it is on the atheist side.

QED wrote:As we know, proving the non-existence of entities is an unrealistic endeavour.

I do not think Dawkins shares this view.

On page 50, he states, “God’s existence or non-existence is a scientific fact about the universe, discoverable in principle if not in practice.” Nowhere does he state, or even imply, that demonstrating the non-existence of God is an unrealistic endeavor. Further, by him simply presenting one argument for the non-existence of God shows that he believes it is a realistic endeavor.

I would consider this to be the key chapter in the entire book. Here is his chance to show “why there almost certainly is no God”. The rest of the book is just a prelude and postlude to this central idea. And given the importance of this chapter, I find it quite peculiar that in it he only presents one argument for God’s non-existence.

FinalEnigma wrote:In any case, I’m impatiently awaiting your refutation of his improbability argument. It’s going to have to be good, but then, your arguments usually are.

Thank you. I’ll address Dawkins’ argument in the next post.

QED wrote:Do you still think this after I put some more emphasis on “proving”? Proof typically means 100% certainty.

To prove in the strict sense, no, it is not possible to prove almost anything with 100% certainty.

Titling this chapter “Why there almost certainly is no God” is, I think, a reflection of the fact that Dawkins is aware of the problem facing all reactions to existentual claims.


Perhaps it might help to think of the multiverse concept for a moment: If it can be demonstrated that our universe is but one of many and the appearance of fine-tuning is a self-selection effect from a pool of infinite possibility, then we still haven’t eliminated God from the picture, but we are forced to revise many of our preconceptions about God and his intentions etc.

True. But I think it would be almost impossible to reconcile Genesis 1 with a multiverse.

He suggests that a hypothetical cosmic designer would require an even greater explanation than the phenomena that they intended to explain.

My first issue is that this argument is philosophical in nature rather than scientific. One might balk at the requirement of applying science to demonstrate the non-existence of something. But, I’m simply holding Dawkins to the standard that he has set for himself. “Either he exists or he doesn’t. It is a scientific question” (page 48) And if it is a scientific question, then evidence needs to be brought forth. If he has no evidence, then I do not see how his approach can be scientific.

Also, this argument is simply a restatement of “who (or what) designed the designer?” or “what caused God?”. In the realm of science, the lack of a underlying cause does not invalidate an explanation. For example, the theory of evolution is linked to how did the first life come about. ToE would require an even greater explanation of abiogenesis. But, it is not necessary for abiogenesis to be explained in order for the ToE to be valid. Also nobody knows what caused the Big Bang. The Big Bang theory is not dependent on having an explanation of its cause. Likewise, it is not necessary to explain what/who caused God in order for God to be valid.

Also, even if there exists a more complex explanation of God and that we don’t understand it currently, it does not show that God could not exist.

Finally, to assign any probability of God’s existence based on his “Ultimate 747” argument would be purely arbitrary. What would the probability be? 99%? 50%? 1%? There would be no way to assign a value, or even a possible range of values. If no possible value can be determined, then it’s erroneous to claim there is little probability for God’s existence with this argument.

FinalEnigma wrote:

otseng wrote: My first issue is that this argument is philosophical in nature rather than scientific.

I assume you mean this is a philosophical argument because it’s logic-based and not empirical? Yes, I suppose it is.

Since the “Ultimate 747” is the only argument he presents in his book against God and that it is a philosophical argument, then he never does scientifically show that God is improbable in the entire book. This is my main reason I consider it to be a disappointing book. Further, as a scientist, Dawkins should know better and be able to recognize a philosophical argument versus a scientific argument.

Also, this argument is simply a restatement of “who (or what) designed the designer?” or “what caused God?”.

That’s not really a weak point in the argument. That question has never really been answered to anyone’s satisfaction. Or at least, anyone who is an atheist presumably.

No Christian I know of tries to answer this question because the question is meaningless. That is, all Christians (that I know of) believe God is uncaused.

But once we do have it, the puzzle will be done. We wont just have another bigger puzzle to start on.

For the ToE that is true, but not for the origin of the universe. Or another example, in the subatomic world, we are down at the level of quarks. But, what are quarks made of? And what is that made of? Just because we do not understand the cause of something is not a good reason to dismiss it.

God tries to be the entire puzzle, but when your entire puzzle is completed, and suddenly, you just have a bigger puzzle than you started with, that is not a valid answer.

We’re only trying to solve the God puzzle here. We don’t need to try to solve the “bigger” puzzle. That is, the question is simply does God exist or not? If God does not exist, then asking what caused God would be meaningless. If God does exist, then there are other issues that are more important than what caused God.

Dawkins isn’t assigning an arbitrary value to the probability. he is actually using this argument to disprove the intelligent design argument.

The chapter is titled, “Why there almost certainly is no God”. This implies that some low probability is assigned to God’s existence. The question is how did he derive this low probability estimate?

If he is using the Ultimate 747 argument to “disprove” ID, then it would also be fallacious. As we’ve noted, his argument is a philosophical argument, not a scientific one. To disprove it, it would require empirical evidence. (And as a note, the book God – The Failed Hypothesis does attempt to approach it scientifically. And in my opinion it is a superior book to TGD.)

The ID argument is bunk because it sets up an improbability then answers it with a greater improbability and expects to have won something.

I’ve already addressed this above. But I’ll ask an additional question, how do you know that it has a “greater improbability”?

It’s equivalent to going to a bank robbery scene where the vault door was broken open and nobody can figure out how(except in some way that would require an enormous amount of skill at something), then deciding, because its unlikely that anyone in town at the time had the necessary skill, that it was done by invisible space aliens that are 3 inches tall and as strong as superman.

Actually, this is a good analogy. The only thing ID says is that someone from out of town did it. It says nothing about the color, height, nationality, or planetality of the person.

page 132 wrote:Here is the message that an imaginary ‘intelligent design theorist’ might broadcast to scientists: ‘If you don’t understand how something works, never mind: just give up and say God did it… Dear scientist, don’t work on your mysteries… We need those glorious gaps as a last refuge for God.’

If ID theorists are saying this, then I would agree that it is not productive to prevent any scientist from pursuing any scientific endeavor.

But, exactly who is saying this? I think it is only Dawkins himself putting words into others. He even quotes his source as an “imaginary ID theorist”. If he doesn’t have a real source, are we expected to take his argument seriously? If nobody is saying this, then it is fallacious, and even irresponsible, to say this. I might as well make up quotes from imaginary evolutionists and use that as evidence against evolution.

If anything seems to be the case, it would be evolutionists that try to stop the work of IDers. Take for example the case of Guillermo Gonzalez. He is an accomplished astrobiologist, but denied tenure at Iowa State simply because he is pro-ID. It has nothing to do with lack of tenure requirements, but simply because he believes in a designer.

Confused wrote:What has had me stumped occurs on page 136:

What the religious mind then fails to grasp is that two candidate solutions are offered to the problem. God is one. The anthropic principle is the other.

I’m glad you brought this up too cause this was going to be my next point.

What does he mean by there are only two alternatives? God is one and the AP is the other? Doesn’t make any sense to me. He’s right, the religious mind fails to grasp exactly what he is talking about.

Confused wrote:I think the main bulk of his argument with the philosophical into the scientific realm of improbability hit me starting on pg 138:

“If the odds of life originating spontaneously on a planet were a billion to one against, nevertheless that stupefying improbable event would still happen on a billion planets. The chance of finding any one of those billion life-bearing planets recalls the proverbial needle in the haystack. But we don’t have to go out of our way to find the needle (back to the anthropic principle) because any beings capable of looking must necessarily be sitting on one of those prodigiously rare needles before they even start the search”

However, this has nothing to do with the probability of the existence of a God.

Also, his argument here on the probability of life originating is also spurious. Where exactly did he get the “billion to one” odds on “a billion planets”? How does he know there are a billion planets? How does he know it’s a billion to one of life arising? I would suggest he picked these numbers out of the air so that he can arrive at 1. Here is another example of Dawkins simply making up things to support his own ideas but lacks any substance.

QED wrote:Perhaps his exposure to Antrhopic reasoning is predominantly of the sort that I highlighted in blue?

The AP is a description of what we observe, not a solution to what we observe. What you highlighted in blue, the multiverse explanation, would be one solution to the observation of the AP. It would make sense to say there are two solutions to AP – God and a multiverse. But to say there are two solutions, God and AP, is conflating two different things.

FinalEnigma wrote:Think back 10 million years. 10 billion, 10 trillion, 100 trillion. ok, what is god doing now? 100 trillion years ago God was sitting there, waiting for an infinite period of time to pass before he decided to create the universe? And how did God come to be who he is? where did he come from? Why has he always existed?

If God created space-time and time started at the moment of creation, there is no such thing as 10 trillion years ago. If time did not exist prior to creation, then it is meaningless to ask what did God do before he created the universe.

God’s origin is important, because if it is shown to be very unlikely or improbable that would be a hit against the likeliness of God existing.

Likewise, we should all reject evolution since the origin of life is important, yet highly improbable and unexplained.

Unless you are willing to admit that a less complicated thing can create a more complicated thing, than God has to be more complicated than the universe.

I’d go along with God being more complicated than the universe.

When you don’t correlate complicated with improbable, then you dont need ID to explain the universe to begin with.

The argument of improbability doesn’t argue against a designer, but against a materialistic explanation. The correlation between complexity and improbability only arises when a pure random chance explanation is sought. As something is more complex, it is proportionally improbable that it happened by random chance. So, the argument of complexity is not self-defeating for ID, but rather a support of ID.

Show me empirical evidence of ID and i’ll admit you need empirical evidence to refute it.

One of my favorite arguments is that the Earth is at the center of the universe. If you’ll read through this thread, you’ll see the evidence that I present to support this.

ID actually says an omnipotent being far beyond all human capacity for understanding or emulation.

You’ll have to show me where ID says this.

FinalEnigma wrote:actually he is saying even if the odds were a billion to one life would still arise on a billion planets. He is starting with 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 planets. his probability of life arising, if the chance is one in a billion is one billion/1. and while i have heard many estimates of the probability of life arising on a given random planet, i have never heard it placed as lower than 1,000,000,000,000,000,000(10^-18)(whetever number that even is)

No, he is not saying this. Is there a second from anybody else here that thinks Dawkins is trying to say this?

Confused wrote:I don’t think he is trying to deceive as you seem to think so. I think he is trying to take very technical physics concepts/formulas and put them into hypothetical form so that the average person with some exposure to physics but without a PhD can understand. He give hypotheticals to simplify his points so that they are easier to comprehend.

I would think that if a creationist did this, it would immediately be called a foul. And rightly so too. To use arbitary numbers to justify one’s position is not science. Not even popular science. There is no indication here that Dawkins is simplifying findings in order to make concepts more understandable since his numbers are purely speculative. I can also say with equal validity that there are 0 Earth-like planets out there. Therefore there is a 0% chance of any complex life out there.

FinalEnigma wrote:without evidence for why God exists I must conclude that it is for purely random reasons.

Well, I already gave evidence and an argument with the Earth being at the center of the universe. So, the fault does not lie in that the evidence for a God does not exist.

Sorry, I kind of gave up on understanding that thread a long time ago. I graduated from highschool while I was still in tenth grade so i missed physics :tears: And that was one of the VERY few things i actually wanted out of highschool.

It’s never too late to learn physics.

Are you sure? Ill go read that paragraph again. I could swear that he did.

I’m pretty sure. But if someone would back you in your interpretation, I’d be willing to debate it further.

I must agree with Dawkins though, that ID is a thinly veiled creationism.

Even if it was true, it would not affect whether ID is valid or not. Only by arguing with scientific evidence can it be invalidated.

You guys are right, I misread the number of planets. I looked through the section again and I see now where he mentions the billion billion planets. On page 137 he says, “a billion billion is a conservative estimate of the number of available planets in the universe”. But I still fail to see where he got the estimate for the probability of life. One page 138, he has a footnote to 69, which is a reference to his book, The Blind Watchmaker. There is no page number referenced so I don’t know exactly what he is referencing.

Confused wrote:So perhaps he is guilty of oversimplifying it, but in general, I don’t think that it is so bad when your audience isn’t all PhD’s.

I have no problems with simplifying things. But there is a difference between simplification and making things up. If there is no basis for his estimate of life arising in one in a billion then it’s not a case of simplification.

Confused wrote:But I am sure to get shredded by many poster here so let me brace for the slaughter.

I think you have correctly outlined Dawkins line of thinking. So, your analysis I believe is correct. But, what does need to go to the glue factory is Dawkins approach.

We raise more questions than we answer. This is unsatisfactory by scientific standards.

I’m not so sure that raising more questions is unsatisfactory by scientific standards. I would think that many scientific discoveries leads to generating many more questions.

This means God has to be complex in order to control every single variable to make this universe work.

Whether it was God or some naturalistic means, variables had to be twiddled with to make this universe work.

The more complex something is, the less probable it is correct by scientific standards.

The theory of relativity is complex, but that doesn’t mean it is improbable.

I think this is why Dawkins continually uses the term “highly statistically improbable” for Gods existence.

Complexity and improbability only arises when randomness is at play. It does not arise when intelligence is involved. If Einstein produced the theory of relativity by randomly typing on a keyboard, then it would be a highly improbable event. If he thought through it, then probability would not be at play.

So his argument is based on the assumption that some naturalistic mechanism produced God. Well, no theist claims that God was created, or even evolved. It is only atheists that claim this. So, it is a strawman argument. But, even if God had a cause, it could’ve just been another intelligent designer, so the probability would be made moot.

Scientifically, I think so.

Wouldn’t at least some empirical data be necessary for it to be considered scientific?

Confused wrote:Now I will admit, the improbable context need not have been inserted here, and by doing so, it diminished the impact of the statement.

And this is one of the points I’m making. His argument does nothing to support the improbability of God since no probability value can be assigned to his argument.

The issue is that by invoking God, we haven’t really answered the question have we? We just generate more. This, by scientific standards, is considered horrible.

Only naturalistic science would consider it unacceptable.

On page 147 Dawkins sums it up by saying: “how do they (religious physicists) cope with the argument that any God capable of designing a universe, carefully and foresightfully tuned to lead to our evolution, must be a supremely complex and improbable entity who needs and even bigger explanation than the one He is suppose to provide”.

Again, this presumes two assumptions. One is that God is caused. Two is that it is caused by some random non-intelligent cause. And both of these assumptions are only claimed by atheists. So, he is not arguing against any god that theists (particularly Abrahamic religions) are claiming. If he is not arguing against a theist God, then he has not provided any argument that the God of Christianity does not exist.

Susskind sums it up nicely in some of his books in which he addresses that the theory itself may be complex, but the forumula that makes it work is short and simple.

Yes, my point is that very few people truly understand the derivation of the theory. But, people can grasp the final product of the theory.

And I think God is kinda similar. We are able to have a conceptual grasp of God. But to understand how God was “derived” is beyond mortals.

Is theoretical physics not science? Is experimental physics not science? Have we any empirical data for the Higgs particle yet?

Theoretical physics would be science since it is based on math. But, theoretical physics would only be validated (or invalidated) by empirical data. Experimental physics is definitely based on empirical data. Higgs particle will only eventually be validated/invalidated through empirical data.

Confused wrote:I don’t think it is necessary to apply a specific value to determine the probability or improbability.

At least a range of values would suffice.

The evidence that he is providing is weighing heavier towards the improbability side simply by scientific standards.

What evidence does he provide?

Because by sheer probability, the odds that one singular simple substance can possibly do all that the theist God is being credited with doing, is statistically improbable.

I’ll grant that a “single simple substance” is not able to create the universe. But that would only show that a single simple substance is ruled out, not God.

By puting his evaluation in the scientific standards, it need only apply to the naturalistic sciences.

Interestingly, Dawkins never argues that God is outside of science. Prior to this book, I would have predicted that Dawkins would claim that God is outside of scientific reach. And as a surprise to me, he even states that demonstrating the existence of God would be in the realm of science. So, Dawkins never argues that we should dismiss God simply because it is unscientific.

I don’t know where the “God is caused” assumption comes from.

“As ever, the theist’s answer is deeply unsatisfying, because it leaves the existence of God unexplained.” (page 143)

“must be a supremely complex and improbable entity who needs an even bigger explanation than the one he is supposed to provide” (page 147)

But his isn’t addressing how God is derived.

From what I can tell, his entire argument is that God’s derivation must be extremely complex, so it must be extremely improbable.

Confused wrote:I still don’t see the connection between God is caused, and the 2 quotes you give.

He names his argument the “Ultimate Boeing 747 gambit”. This is in reference to Hoyle’s argument that a Boeing 747 cannot arise from a whirlwind going through a junkyard. It is an argument about the cause of a Boeing 747. Dawkins is using the same argument but with God. So, he must then assume that God was caused. If God was not caused, his argument would make no sense.

Here is another quote demonstrating his assumption that God was caused. “His existence is going to need a mammoth explanation in its own right.” (page 149)

Does his assertion make sense in a real world sense? No. You would be correct when you said earlier that he should have empirical evidence. However, his approach is the back door, not the front.

I think then I’m about ready to rest my case in this chapter. Just need to close the back door as I leave.

bunyip wrote:Excuse me, but are you reading this chapter backwards?? The relevance of “empirical evidence”.is that there isn’t any to support the notion of a deity.

I’m simply holding Dawkins to his own standard.

He states:

“Either he exists or he doesn’t. It is a scientific question” (page 48)

“God’s existence or non-existence is a scientific fact about the universe, discoverable in principle if not in practice.” (page 50)

So, how has he scientifically demonstrated that God does not exist?

Empirical evidence to verify what isn’t there isn’t how research works.

I’d disagree. Empirical evidence can be provided to demonstrate if something is there or not there. For example, the Michelson-Morley Experiment demonstrated that ether does not exist.

QED wrote:I think you have to appreciate that by “God” Dawkins means the popular “Creator God of Genesis” — the intelligence behind the design of living things.

I agree.

Bundled-up with this assumption of an intelligent designer are many other concepts like purpose and meaning — all of which are eliminated if the design of living things is the product of Natural Selection.

I would not totally agree. There are many devout believers that subscribe to evolution and do not subscribe to creationism. Therefore it is possible to believe in natural selection and also in purpose and meaning to life.

Dawkins life’s work has been the study of this “modern” alternative to creation. I think he’s entitled to talk about the non-existence of God in this respect.

I wouldn’t really classify evolution as an “alternative” to creation. Creationism is much more broad than simply addressing evolution. For one thing, evolution only deals with biological life. Creation deals with life and non-life. Further, creationists do not totally reject evolution. Rather the main issue is the inadequate support for common descent.

I think it’s fair to say that science has never conducted any positive test for a non-pantheistic God, which is to say that God plays no known essential role in the workings of the world.

I’m not sure about “positive tests”, but there are positive indications. And in the past several decades, science have been rapidly discovering such indications. And I predict that there will be many more such discoveries in the future.

The discoveries have even been such as to knock several well known people out of their atheism. These people realize that a natural cause is insufficient to explain certain observations that we see in the world. Though they haven’t all moved to full blown theism, some could be classified to at least moved to deism.

QED wrote:If the devout are subscribing to evolution then they are also signing-up for common descent and as such should appreciate the contingent nature of our own evolutionary path.

I see problems with that stance as well and do not believe in it.

However, people such as Michael Denton believe that it was built in to nature that man would ultimately be the outcome, even though the evolutionary process is chaotic (this was discussed in Nature’s Destiny).

The scientific community speak of an overwhelming convergence of evidence for evolution by natural selection, and the identical use of DNA in all living things on this planet speaks volumes about a common descent for all it’s inhabitants.

And as Denton argues, DNA is the optimal method for conveying biological information. So, the fact that all life uses DNA can also speak for design. So, DNA does not only speak for common descent. Denton also issues a test for this. If life is found on other planets, he predicts that it will also use DNA. If DNA was not optimal and just one of many possibilities of conveying information, then other life forms will most likely not use DNA.

As for the convergence of evidence for evolution, could this not also result from the fact that evolution is the only naturalistic explanation in the scientific community? Since it’s the only theory, of course it then would garner all of the evidence.

Recently, there has been a growing body of evidence to challenge evolution. But, even though weaknesses have been raised against evolution, there is still no naturalistic alternative. So, there is nothing else that most scientists can accept.

Even die-hard Creationists cannot deny a certain amount of evolution going on around them so they erect an artificial barrier dividing the scale of evolution into micro and macro — to preserve their argument that intelligence is required for all the really heavy-duty design work.

I do not believe that creationists are the only ones to divide between micro and macro. Rather, this is an accepted division among almost all biologists.

Antievolutionists argue against macroevolution so loudly that some people think they invented the term in order to dismiss evolution. But this is not true; scientists not only use the terms, they have an elaborate set of models and ideas about it, which of course antievolutionists gloss over or treat as being somehow problems for evolutionary biology.

I think you’re referring to Anthropic Coincidences and the effect they have had one or two popular science authors. I’m as unsurprised at this as others are baffled.

Yes, this is the main one. But I would not say it’s just one or two popular science authors. I’ve mentioned Denton earlier and I would not consider him a popular science author. And with Antony Flew being knocked off his atheistic pedestal, I would not consider him a popular science author either.

and it suits some to win prestigious financial rewards for saying the right words.

Including the Nobel prize?

If the only scientific ammo for God is the Anthropic coincidences and all the resulting appearance of providence that they generate, you’ll have to excuse me from getting too excited.

With the sheer number of anthropic coincidences, I don’t think they can all be easily dismissed away. Just looking at one coincidence, the critical density value, shows an amazing precision to the universe.

bunyip wrote:These jumps in understanding lead many to want ALL the answers RIGHT NOW. When they’re not forthcoming immediately the tendency is to assign agency to the things we don’t understand. The only agency readily at hand is the supernatural. You may call it “deism”, but in my view it’s merely selfish mental laziness.

Not so. I’ve mentioned Nature’s Destiny earlier. And that work is definitely not a result of of mental laziness.

The lost messages are “non-life” by any definition.

Evolution deals only with how plants and animals evolve. It doesn’t deal with how life arose in the first place. It also doesn’t deal with anything outside our biosphere.

Creationism encompasses other areas besides biology, such as cosmology and geology.

Apart from the issue of “meaning to life” being a specious question, just what do those “devout believers that subscribe to evolution” believe in?

It’s a wide range of beliefs. But as one example, Francis Collins, former head of the Human Genome Project, espouses Biologos.

bunyip wrote:Although i haven’t read “Nature’s Destiny”, i’ve read Denton before. In my schooling, “a priori reasoning” was deemed intellectual laziness, and Denton relies on that with depressing regularity.

I’d suggest reading Nature’s Destiny then before accusing him of intellectual laziness.

That’s all evolutionary biology is supposed to deal with.

Of course, and that’s precisely my point.

Creationism simply uses a priori reasoning [again!] to postulate cause from its own particular source.

The only assumption that creationists have is that both the natural and the supernatural can be viable explanations for things observed. A supernatural solution is not automatically assumed beforehand for all cases. It would only be for cases which have the marks of design and that no natural explanation is viable.

So, actually, it would be naturalists that uses a priori reasoning. They assume that only a natural explanation is possible. Therefore no supernatural explanation can be possible.

Which again raises the question of why it’s only “Christian creationism” that says iit’s the sole voice of supernatural forces [yes, i know certain Muslims are now on the bandwagon. but they are only mouthing what they’ve derived from the Christian propagandists]..

Actually, one of the oldest arguments for a creator is the Kalam cosmological argument, which has an Islamic origin.

If Frankie Collins is all you have, then it’s a pretty skimpy quiver you’re drawiing from.

I have no idea what you mean. You asked “Apart from the issue of meaning to life being a specious question, just what do those ‘devout believers that subscribe to evolution’ believe in?” I presented one such view. Is there a requirement that I present all the various views from believers that subscribe to evolution?