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Friday, October 27, 2006

There is no God and Richard Dawkins is his prophet

In which the author of the Summa Atheologica is caught with his trousers down. A snippet from a debate on Irish radio:-

Dawkins: [...] I do not believe we are controlled wholly by our genes. Let me go back to the really important thing that Mr. Quinn says.

Quinn: How are we independent of our genes by your reckoning? What allows us to be independent of our genes? Where is this coming from?

Dawkins: Environment, for a start.

Quinn: But hang on, but that is also a product of, if you like, matter, OK?

Dawkins: Yes, but it's not genes.

Quinn: OK, what part of us allows us to have free will?

Dawkins: Free will is a very difficult philosophical question, and it is not one that has anything to do with religion, contrary to what Mr. Quinn says.

Quinn: It has an awful lot to do with religion, because if there is no God, there is no free will, because we are completely phenomena.

Dawkins: Who says there is no free will if there is no God? That is a ridiculous thing to say.

Quinn: William Provine for one, whom you quote in your book. I have a quote here from him. Other scientists as well believe the same thing, that everything that goes on in our heads is a product of genes, entity, environment and chemical reactions, that there is no room for free will.

And Richard, if you haven't got to grips with that, you seriously need to, because many of your colleagues have, and they deny outright the existence of free will, and they are hardened materialists like yourself.

Tubridy: OK, Richard Dawkins, your rebuke to that note if you wish.

Dawkins: I am not interested in free will.

(read the whole thing here and here - via)

So much for Dawkins denouncing religion as the root of all moral evil (God as “misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully”). As it turns out, it doesn't bother him that morality may be just as illusory as he says God is. Which of course it would be if we had no free will. To quote Bertie Wooster, one looks askance at this kind of in-and-out running. At least, one does if one believes one can meaningfully talk about virtues and that consistency is one of them.

One of Frau Grumpy's favourite theology professors simply says that atheists are lazy and stupid. Now there's a debate I'd pay good money to listen in on...


Anonymous said...

Keep your shirt on, Mr. Grumpy. Richard Dawkins has become an atheist fundamentalist of late (is that an "atheisist"?) but that doesn't make him fundamentally wrong about this. I'm an atheist too (though a much nicer one) and I don't have too much trouble with the idea of free will.

To believe that the universe we live in runs on entity, environment and chemical reactions is not the same as saying it is mechanistic. Consider chaos theory which (as I understand it) shows that in complex, non-linear systems like you, me and the world, even the minutest variations in starting conditions are likely to have a major impact on outcomes. Add to that the now-orthodox idea of quantum uncertainty, which (as I understand it) means that even in principle you can't nail down those starting conditions exactly, and you have a recipe for a world so unpredictable that there can be at least a perfect illusion of free will: You and I may start from exactly the same premise and respond completely differently to it; I may start from the same premise at two separate instants and react differently each time.

You may think that I'm fudging, passing off an explanation that's not really free will at all. In that case, explain to me again how theology persuades itself that free will coexists with divine omniscience.

Anonymous said...

Sorry - anonymous (this time) was me: Paul Malin

Mr Grumpy said...

wmdee, I'm not sure I quite see the connection to my post, but thanks all the same.

Paul, don't worry, I know lots of nice atheists.

'You and I may start from exactly the same premise and respond completely differently to it; I may start from the same premise at two separate instants and react differently each time.'

I can go along with that, but I'd suggest the challenge to you is to explain why the difference has any more significance than if we'd each flipped a coin. In what sense can it ever be the difference between doing the 'right' thing and doing the 'wrong' thing?

Free will v. divine omniscience? Sorry, not even my vast intellect can sort that one out for you. I ultimately fall back on saying that since I'm not God I don't expect to be able to understand the ways of God. Two points that I find relevant:

1. If God is omnipotent he cannot be compelled to produce predictable robots. It must be possible for him to create beings with free will.

2. Since I don't believe that God exists within time, the picture of him sitting up in the clouds waiting for things to happen that he already knows all about is a false one. But I really don't know quite where that leads us - certainly way beyond our powers of conceptualization.