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Archive for tag Straw men

Complex and capricious - Dawkins refutes a God of his own creation

I happened across Richard Dawkins' review of Richard Swinburne's Is The A God? in the Royal Institute of Philosophy's THINK magazine. It's short, accessible, and brilliantly lacklustre.

Brilliantly written - it would be well worth including in a textbook on the rhetoric of ridicule.

Lacklustre in its reasoning on two main points: he offers two substantial assertions (which would undermine Swinburne's hypothesis) but presents scant evidence for either.

Swinburne generously concedes that God cannot accomplish feats that are logically impossible, and one feels grateful for this forbearance. That said, there is no limit to the explanatory purposes to which God’s infinite power is put. Is science having a little difficulty explaining X? No problem. Don’t give X another glance. God’s infinite power is effortlessly wheeled in to explain X (along with everything else), and it is always a supremely simple explanation because, after all, there is only one God. What could be simpler than that?

Well, actually, almost everything. A God capable of continuously monitoring and controlling the individual status of every particle in the universe is not going to be simple. His existence is therefore going to need a modicum of explaining in its own right (it is often considered bad taste to bring that up, but Swinburne does rather ask for it by pinning his hopes on the virtues of simplicity). Worse (from the point of view of simplicity) other corners of God’s giant consciousness are simultaneously preoccupied with the doings and emotions and prayers of every single human being.

To take these assertions in reverse order:

Assertion 1: God is necessarily complex. Now the flying spaghetti monster is, it would seem, necessarily complex - at least in common depictions with pasta and meatballs. Any created (ie. material, occupant of the universe type) God would need to be exceedingly complex - if he/she/it was to influence/understand/respond to the universe in any conventional godlike sense. But the assertion that a God who is essentially different - ie not part of the created order, eternal, independent, indivisible etc - would have to be equally complex assumes that God has to be subject to the constraints of the material universe. The assertion of commensurability between the being of God and the being of the material universe is irrational and yet his argument for divine complexity crumbles without it.

Assertion 2: God is capricious. The first paragraph quoted above assumes an unreliable God. It is only if God cannot be relied upon that the mindless assertion of divine interference that Dawkins describes could occur. Yet this vision of a capricious God who becomes the universal solvent of scientific explanation again utterly unlike the God that Swinburne is describing: if God were unreliable or changeable or capricious then he/she/it would be the end of science as we know it. But the God who Swinburne describes, the designer/creator/lawgiver/sustainer of the natural universe, exhibits none of these characteristics; the God of scripture is a God who is consistent, reliable, immutable.

Yet despite it's manifest absurdities, the article is magnificently written. Read it. Enjoy it. Just don't be surprised to find the only thing Dawkins demonstrates is an ability to weave luxurious rhetoric.