In his book “The God Delusion”, Dawkins believably takes apart the philosophical arguments for the existence of god, including:
- Aquinas’s proofs of the unmoved mover, the uncaused cause, and the cosmological argument that something must have brought the universe into existence
- The argument that there must be some maximum of goodness, therefore, God.
- The argument from design. Dawkins points out that this is one of the few arguments that is still in use. Having grown up the child of two Ph.D. biologists, I can tell you it is a very weak argument.
- St. Anselm’s argument that if God is the most perfect, God must exist, or God could be more perfect.
He makes a less able job on the argument from beauty. While I agree that beauty does not imply the existence of God, Dawkins completely fails to address the fact that beauty is something that, like God, exists completely outside of physical reality. Like the old saying says, “I don’t know what art is, but I know what I like”. Robert Persig, in his fantastic book “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”, makes a similar argument for quality. Both are properties that are universally recognized to exist, and yet are essentially unquantifiable.
As artificial intelligence looms closer on the horizon as a reality, I’d say that the Turing test, that a machine must be able to converse with a person undetected, may need to be replaced by a test where a machine is asked whether a series of things are beautiful. Is it possible that the same machine learning algorithms that give us the “almost human” machine intelligences of today can also distinguish between technically perfect but emotionally dead works and technically imperfect works that are recognized by most people as beautiful? Then, and only then, would I admit that the argument from beauty has fallen.
Dawkin’s greatest failure is with the argument from experience. His arguments against boil down to these:
- People have visions of things other than god
- The human brain is prone to seeing faces where there aren’t any
Weak. He then talks about a mass vision in 1917 where 70000 people saw the sun tear itself from the heavens and come crashing down. His sole argument against it? That the sun didn’t actually crash into the earth. How does that explain the fact that 70000 people experienced a vision that it did? In modern times, Bart Ehrman describes a documented case where, in 1984, the virgin Mary appeared to 490 people in Betania Venezuela, including doctors, psychologists, engineers, and lawyers.
The trouble with visions is that they happen in the inner world of the mind. Dr. Dawkins might beleive that everything that happens in the mind is simply an outcome of the cells, chemical signals, and electrical nerve impulses of the brain, but today, we don’t know enough about the mind to know whether that’s true. How do mass hallucinations, if that is indeed what these phenomena are, travel from one mind to another?