Sunday, March 25, 2007

Philosophy critique anyone?

I was reading through reviews of Dr. Francis Collins' book The Language of God and in the very first review was an unconvinced atheist whose arguments are a tad suspect. The blue words are his, the red words are mine:

The first part of the book where he tries to present philosophical reasons for the existence of God is frankly, pathetic. Of course it is because you've already set the tone yourself. If you don't want it to be good it won't be.

Collins tries to present himself as fair and impartial but subtly denigrates nonbelievers with terms such as "materialists". Ah yes, "materialists." So snobbish of him to use the philosophically accepted term for atheist's theory of existence.

He quotes so much from CS Lewis, I kept thinking why am I reading this guy. I'm still wondering why you read Collins. Again, if you know you won't be convinved why read it?His two main philosophical arguments are completely unconvincing. First up, he tries the existence of "Moral Law" as evidence for God. But this is a joke. This has already been thoroughly explained by an evolutionary bias for altruism. I didn't know this. Well everyone, pack up your books and go home I guess. That whole "ethics" thing that was just a hoax. That so called "conscience" that pings you every time you want to do something "wrong" is just evolutionary bias. I guess that means that Hitler really was a fantastic leader since he was able to go "beyond" his natural bias. Or, maybe conscience exists... We are programmed to be altruistic and cooperative as this was required for us to survive throughout our evolution. Has this man never worked through Hobbes Leviathon and really thought it out? How can self-preservation a-la "pro-choice" be ethical yet ethics is an evolutionary bias towards altruism (think good of the group here) I suppose just another paradox of a wacky, random chance universe. It is instinctive at this point and gives us real pleasure. Yes, the wholesome pleasure of dying for the ones you love. Or in the case of soldiers, the ones you'll never know.

But Collins barely acknowledges this explanation. Next up he tries a "Longing for God" as evidence there must be a God, i.e how can you long for something that doesn't exist? But this makes no sense. We don't have a longing for God per se; we have a longing to understand things. First, I assume either Dr. Collins didn't explain the thought right or this guy wasn't paying attention. You can make two different distinctions among desires: 1) things which are "innate" desires- I thirst and desire something to drink 2) Things which are "artificial" desires-I really want that truck because its cool. In the case of #2 we understand that some people desire things and its possible that the thing doesn't even exist or that not all people may have the same desire. In the case of #1, however, we understand that all humans have that desire. Its innate because we all have that desire. As it turns out, when we talk about innate desire we realize that innate desires correspond to real things. We all want water, it exists. We all want sex, the opposite sex exists and it is possible. Again, the same isn't true about artifical desires. The thing doesn't have to exist not must everyone want it. A desire for a life after this one falls into the innate category as everyone wants it. It stands to reason that if every innate desire has a corresponding real thing that fulfills that desire then there must be an afterlife hence there must be some "thing" which gives us life after natural death. In the words Aquinas always likes to use- we call this "thing" God. For a more complete treatment and better explanation check out and look under his audio for his proofs for the existence of God.

Second, A desire for God does not correspond for a desire to understand things. I assume the author of the review associates Christian's desire for God with Greek or Roman explanations of natural events via mythology. A short course in theology should disprove this. Christian thought does not center around "Why does stuff happen?" nearly the way scientists do. Instead the focus is on an "us" and "Him" relationship meaning how we stand before our Creator and our Ultimate Judge.

He comes across much better when he moves into the scientific realm where he is in his element. He neatly debunks the reactionaries that desperately are trying to justify a literal interpretation of Genesis and the Bible. He gives a reasonably balanced view of the state of science in explaining the universe and where there are still major gaps in our scientific knowledge for example, what came before the big bang, and the anthropic principle. Good. I'm actually not suprised at this though. He's agreeing that fundementalitsts may be wrong on a literal interpretation on Genisis instead of commenting on whethere or not there was a decent argument put forth for I.D. or anything like that.

In summary his position is: 1. Science hasn't quite explained everything yet 2. People like to help each other 3. People want a God to believe in. Thus I will be a Christian. That's it. Sorry but I was expecting a little more than this for all the hype. Save your money. I'd say maybe this guy should leave the syllogisms to Socrates. I would put Collins' argument like this WARNING- NOT A SYLLOGISM:
1) If science had a reasonable explanation of existence it might be possible to show that God does not exist, but science CANNOT explain everything and in fact has considerable gaps which will probably never be filled, 2) Innate recognition of a moral standard among all human beings AND the fact that innate desires distinct from artificial desires MUST always have a corresponding fulfillment points towards the existence of a universal creator God, 3) It is reasonable and in fact probable to assume based on #'s 1 & 2 that God exists.

Note that these arguments don't end in the probability of the existence of the Judeo-Christian God, however I'd guess that's where much of the CS Lewis comes from that this guy didn't read.

1 comment:

Christopher said...

With regards to the evolution explanation of altruism: it ain't there. What we perceive as altruism in the natural world is, in fact, designed to ensure that at least some of your genes are passed on. For example, if your offspring die off, then it is still to your advantage to ensure the survival of your siblings' offspring. That is, at least some of your genes will be passed on through your siblings' genetic lines if your line fails.
In an alternative situation, often "altruism" in the wild is "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours." It is an expected trade of resources (often food) over time.

These examples aren't the selfless death-to-self for others (often unrelated to the self) that defines true altruism as defined by man. Altruism sets humanity worlds apart, there is no analogous behavior to be found in the animal kingdom.