Cartoon version of Dawkins' "What if you're wrong?" answer

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184 Responses to “Cartoon version of Dawkins' "What if you're wrong?" answer”

  1. Xopher says:

    I’m not sure what the point of the cartoonization is, since it uses the original soundtrack. To make a smirking, self-righteous putz look like a smirking, self-righteous putz?

    If so, it works.

    • g.park says:

      Care to point out where Dawkins is wrong?

    • Cowicide says:

      To make a smirking, self-righteous putz look like a smirking, self-righteous putz? If so, it works.

      You’re talking about the christian chick, right? Yeah, she sounded very self-righteous.

  2. Anonymous says:

    What if Dawkins is wrong? Well, either Jehovah will let him rot in Sheol, or Jehovah will send him to Hell, or Jesus will say “I never knew you” and send him to hell, or Jesus will say “Welcome into my kingdom, the unitarians were right all along” or he’ll get reincarnated in some other form to deal with the snotty way he treats people, or he’ll enter the halls of Valhalla or take a boat trip across the Styx, or aliens will resurrect him in a billion years, or an AI will resurrect him in a billion years, or some kid in the “real” universe will turn off his simulation of this universe because he/she got bored, or any number of other possibilities. If Everett is right, an infinite number of things will happen to him no matter what he believes. If David Lewis is right, *everything* that is possible happens to him.

    Everyone who said his answer was lame ignored the astounding class of possibilities, and why it doesn’t make sense to address every single one individually. If the scientific method doesn’t work (e.g. Dawkins is wrong) because the universe is ultimately not naturalistic, then there is absolutely no way to know what the future holds with any degree of (statistical) certainty. Faith can provide certainty because it has high precision, but it suffers from very poor accuracy as evidenced by the scatter graph of firmly held beliefs in the world today.

    To those who criticize Dawkins’ lack of theological training and his attack of straw men: It is not necessary to investigate every implication of a theory if the axioms of that theory can easily be classed into “supernatural” or “indeterminate.” It doesn’t matter that there are significant theological difference between Christianity, Judaism, and Islam when *all* of them share the basic assumption that supernatural, unprovable beings affect the world. They all fall to the same class of falsifiability and testability arguments. Getting the details right is left as an exercise to the reader.

  3. apoxia says:

    angusm FTW!

  4. Anonymous says:

    And of course, Richard Dawkins happened to be raised in a culture that accepts and promotes his own religious views (which happen to be skeptical). His own choice is equally arbitrary. But analysts, whether human or natural scientists, are notoriously bad at identifying their own biases.

    • Hayduke says:

      Not to put too fine a point on it, but being skeptical is NOT a religious view. I know the religious folks out there are trying to win that point, which is riotously funny. They are basically saying, “hey, atheism is just another religious point of view,” as a way of putting it down. The irony is heavy.

  5. relawson says:

    I’m not any different than someone of faith X, I just believe in one less God than you do.

    That usually gets them thinking.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Except invoking God doesn’t explain any of those things. All it does is change “it just is” to “God just wanted it that way” – in other words, they should be no more or less unsettling to a thoughtful theist as a thoughtful materialist.

    To actually be an explanation, God would need to have some specific properties from which you could logically justify those three things. I have personally not seen anyone do so, although I’m sure it’s not impossible to posit some. In that case, though, those properties and not the existence of God would be an explanation.

    More importantly, those properties must suffer from the same weakness, i.e. a thoughtful person would wonder why God is that way. If you keep asking why, you are guaranteed to run into something unexplained. The question is at what point you should be content. For me, once you’ve stopped finding simpler causes, going further is multiplying entities unnecessarily.

    As for the standard of evidence for God, the problem is that eyewitnesses are much more liable to misinterpret what they see than those in most capital cases, given how many different answers they have come up with. I’m not sure the standards have been so much higher than for other difficult matters, like the shape and motion of the Earth (which most eyewitnesses would call flat and still).

    Pascal’s wager is a very bad one: it essentially says that a person ought to try anything that might have an infinite reward, regardless of how plausible or implausible it may seem. Anyone who loves finding truth over personal gain, and I don’t think that excludes theists, should see what a warped idea that is.

  7. adammtlx says:

    Complex life on Earth did not develop “by chance.” The basic principles of evolution (inheritability, mutation, survival advantage) say that complex life is the inevitable outgrowth of simple life.

    I see this as a matter of interpretation. There is no “best fit” in survival of the fittest. The principle is survival, right? So why does nature add complexity (and introduce the possibility of further errors) when nature has no way of knowing ahead of time what the best fit is? It’s simply dumb selection, right? So say you’ve got a bunch of simple organisms. What are the criteria for “better” survival? More reproduction? More efficient energy production? Simply filling a niche? You can’t just say “increased complexity” follows directly from that. Less complexity should be just as likely, on the whole. Shouldn’t it? I dunno. The progress towards more and more complexity as “inevitable” seems strange. Nature doesn’t give a crap about us. We can hardly go around considering ourselves to be the most successful organisms on the planet, whatever successful even means.

    Simple life may have developed “by chance,” but your probability calculations are way off. I’m not sure where you got your numbers from, but if they’re correct, they only apply to Earth. There are potentially 100 billion Earth-like planets in the Milky Way alone.

    I’ll have to find where I got my numbers from. It was in a book I don’t have with me. It compounded the probabilities of the right substances forming at the right distances etc etc to form a planet conducive to life with the probabilities of the right chemicals coming together in the right way, all randomly, and then nature selecting, as mentioned, for certain forms of that extremely simple life to become more complex (again, not necessarily more successful) and, eventually, there we are. Believe me when I say the probabilities are literally astronomical.

    The problem is that you’re assuming a supreme being came into existence that is somehow capable of creating, or guiding the creation of, inferior life forms before those life forms came into existence.

    I am? Since when? I never said that. My own personal beliefs on the matter aren’t at question here. I’m talking about the pure and simple fact that life arising on this planet the way it did is an extremely unlikely event in a universe of chance. Yet here we are. Similarly improbable is the chance that other life forms have arisen before us. Perhaps they are us, but a much more advanced version of us. I find the idea of extra-terrestrials and flying saucers absurd. But I can’t discount it because here I am, a walking impossibility, the product of a star likely long dead in a far corner of the universe. No, I have confronted honestly the question of God without regard to my own sense of eternal security or intellectualism, and I simply can’t see how there is not an Architect, some Intelligence present far beyond mine. I don’t mean to get all philosophical. I just don’t see it happening without a guiding force, a plan, an intent.

    Which is more likely: a series of carbon chains and amino acids forms a relatively simple being that gradually forms intelligence and sentience, or that an overarching, omnipotent being somehow snaps into existence that is through some mysterious power to form matter and energy from nothing, and then organize them into life, the universe, and everything? How on earth could that being be easier to explain than a human?

    This is the problem. This is what you all think we all think. I don’t believe anything “snapped” into existence. I don’t believe anything was formed from nothing. None of my religious friends and family do either. We’re not idiots, as much as you may want us to be. We have room for science and God both. You could learn something from us. But go ahead and think what you want.

    There is no proof. You make a choice. Since we don’t have all the answers, you choose to believe in a cosmically unlikely roll of the dice and nothing more. I happen to believe something weighted the dice. What makes you any more right than me?

    • Moriarty says:

      “There is no proof. You make a choice. Since we don’t have all the answers, you choose to believe in a cosmically unlikely roll of the dice and nothing more. I happen to believe something weighted the dice. What makes you any more right than me?”

      The fact that your math and your conception of how evolution works both seem to be wrong.

      The universe is vast. There is lots and lots of life in it, even if life is ridiculously rare. Given the conditions on Earth, life was inevitable. Complexity of life is not necessarily favored, but it often is. That’s why the complexity of life on Earth varies enormously.

      You can believe “the dice are weighted” if you want, but don’t misrepresent the contrary position.

    • arkizzle / Moderator says:

      What are the criteria for “better” survival? More reproduction? More efficient energy production? Simply filling a niche? You can’t just say “increased complexity” follows directly from that. Less complexity should be just as likely, on the whole. Shouldn’t it? I dunno. The progress towards more and more complexity as “inevitable” seems strange. Nature doesn’t give a crap about us.

      Nature doesn’t need to give a crap about us, it just has to be Nature, which is a turbulent, changeable thing. So your view might hold true for a static environment, but if we introduce the external reality of those simple-lifeforms cannibalizing each other, weather, changing climate/atmosphere etc. then solutions must be found.

      While it isn’t proof one way or the other, it’s easy to see why increased complexity might follow.

      And on a sidenote: in evolutionary terms, the best criteria for survival are those that give you an advantage over A) your environment (including predators), and B) your competition (your species-mates). How A is prioritised over B, or vice versa, seems to be entirely species-specific; some are more altruistic (for whatever advantage that bestows) than others.

  8. failix says:

    Actually, if Dawkins was wrong and religious people around the world were right, the world would be a pretty messed up place… think about it:

    Everything based on what is known about our natural universe would be wrong, hence everything that exists as a consequence of our natural universe wouldn’t exist. Instead, the creation myths of thousands of religious texts and teachings around the world (most of them totally incompatible with each other) would be true, and all the gods man has ever thought of would exist, or not, since some of them are the only gods… etc.
    It would be hell of a paradoxical state of existence/non-existence.

  9. Anonymous says:

    To all posters above who without any substantial argument sneer at Dawkins: eat this: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/evil/ .

  10. Patrick Dodds says:

    Keljeck – no, I’d not heard of Apophatic Theology so thank you for introducing the concept. Given that comment threads on BB have a lifespan of what, about a day, tops, I’m sorry to say my next thought is based on a five minute read of Wikipedia on AT so take it or leave it (likely you might leave it but hey, it’s worth a punt). So, that established, I’d posit that the purest expression of AT would be a vacuum. However, if you want to persist and say that there is something in the vacuum that cannot be comprehended or described by a human but can still exist, how can we ever understand it or follow its rules for they will be unknowable to us? Hence religion is bunk.

    You also say:

    “Isn’t to say that there is no God (or that, there is not enough evidence to say one way or the other) itself a theological claim?”

    No, it isn’t. And the reason for that is contained in your parentheses – there is no scientific evidence for God. Adhering to rational beliefs (science) is not something done INSTEAD of adhering to Faith. “Faith” is the increasingly small bit that science chisels away at; it is another way of saying “I don’t understand”.

    • Hools Verne says:

      “Adhering to rational beliefs (science) is not something done INSTEAD of adhering to Faith. “Faith” is the increasingly small bit that science chisels away at; it is another way of saying “I don’t understand”

      Positivist dreck.

  11. iopha says:

    I’ve had to answer that question myself, but I find snarkiness doesn’t help. Instead I present a dilemma: My atheism, upon introspection (and you have to take my word for it) is a honest intellectual response to the available evidence and arguments.

    I haven’t had particularly bad experiences with religion. I’m not reacting against some past injury. I don’t hate my Dad and I’m not projecting that grief onto God (I’ve actually been told this; but I like my old man, he’s pretty cool). Pardon the pun, but my atheism is in good faith. Should I show up at the Pearly Gates upon death and be shown wrong, I’d say, with Bertrand Russell, “Sorry, God, ole chap, but the evidence just wasn’t there. No hard feelings.”

    But maybe there are hard feelings. So I look at it this way. If God is the type of fellow who would cast down into a pit of fire for all eternity a guy like me, who tried to live a good life, but who was bound to intellectual principle, and just could not fathom religious belief despite honest efforts to do so, then, well, I wouldn’t have wanted to worship Him in the first place. He’s casting to eternal damnation good people! (Yes: shades of Euthypro, here).

    But if God is omnibenevolent, he would look into my heart and mind and know that I did not consciously reject Him–because I believed there was nothing to reject. There was no malice, no hate, no arrogance. He should forgive this mistake on my part (the one so easily and casually made by billions on this planet who worship other deities). And if he is the type that would punish me–what kind of God is he?

    This elicits a conflict between people’s moral intuitions (that eternal punishment for honest wrong belief seems utterly disproportionate) and the widely-held notion that normativity must have a supernatural source (e.g., God). It’s a great starting-point. Then you can get to the Euthyprean question: is something Good because God says it is, or does God say it is good because it is intrinsically so? And you’re off. The long-range goal is not to manoeuver people into atheism (almost impossible) but into some form of secularism vis-a-vis public affairs.

    • Anonymous says:

      The point of Christianity is that human beings are universally evil. Evil being defined as not God. Left to our own devices, human beings want to supplant God, be God for themselves and usually everyone else as well. Christianity teaches that Hell is not a punitive place that the bad people go to, but rather a natural outcome of being your own God.
      That is why contrary to Mr. Dawkins assumption, millions of Hindu, buddhist and even Muslim people have converted to Christianity, it is a spiritual belief system not predicated on good or bad behavior, but as a relationship just as intimate and real as any other you may have.
      Of course this is not science, nor is it empirically provable, one would have to presume that if God is supreme, then his essence or personhood or when and how he takes a crap would not be something that a mind several orders below his would be able to comprehend.

    • Anonymous says:

      fabulous response, and it aligns with my perspective, and those of most atheists I know (although I have to admit I’m much more of a dick about it)

    • zebbart says:

      Well said. I am a very devout Catholic and I believe, as was told to me by a priest at seminary, that one is saved by having faith in God insofar as it is given to him. Something to that effect. As you imply, no God who is good would reject a good, humble, honest, and open-minded atheist (or pagan or whatever), and no “God” who did reject such a one could be the true God, who must be good.

      As to what is good, as a theist I believe that goodness is God-likeness. Not that God decides what is good, but that however God is, so goodness is. We know it as good because it reminds us of God. Interesting topic, I’ve never heard it discussed before.

  12. Blue says:

    You think you’re reading a comment on Boing Boing written by me.

    BUT WHAT IF YOU’RE WRONG?!

  13. Anonymous says:

    Ugh. Is there a transcript of Dawkins’ actual words? I tried google.

  14. Keljeck says:

    Patrick Dodds,

    On the question of how we can know the unknowable, this is where revelation fits into Christian theology (I should say right now I can only speak for Christianity). God makes himself known through his Word, independent investigations don’t tend to work out. Which is part of the idea behind AT, we speak of what God is not because it is incomprehensible to speak of what he is. After all, God is perfectly simple, hard to wrap one’s mind around that alone.

    Also, if I am to say “there is no God” I am making a theological statement. After all, theology is the study of that which pertains to God. Atheology is still theology. Secondly, to say that there is no scientific validation is to, I think, miss the point. Of course there isn’t. I would say that by definition God must be non-empirical, so it is already a non-scientific question. To put God into the realm of science requires a prior philosophical argument which states only that which can be scientifically validated is worthy of belief. After all, the judicial system seems to do quite well with eyewitness testimony.

    • Patrick Dodds says:

      Keljeck: If “God makes himself known through his Word”, is that his word written some time after events by fallible human hand and reliant on human memory, subsequently wrenched 2000 years out of historical and cultural context and then translated a few times before being rewritten in modern idiom? Not a recipe for clarity I’d have thought.

      Secondly, your contention that denying there is a God means that I am making a theological statement is a nice bit of sophistry but not really relevant. Denying the Flying Spaghetti Monster doesn’t mean that I am validating in some way the huge swathes of writing and thought about the FSM religion.

      Finally, yes, put me down as one who thinks that only that which can be scientifically proven should be believed in. I wouldn’t think that everything will one day be scientifically knowable, but as a species we get closer on our good days.

  15. Anonymous says:

    I don’t understand why christian faith just can’t accept evolution and just say it is a tool of their God? I mean they eventually conceded to the earth not being flat or it as the center of the universe. Heck by saying that their creator came up with such a complex system to make everything makes it sound so much more impressive than he just snapped his fingers and there it was.

    I also don’t understand the confrontational atheists of our day. The way they present their arguments is almost just like the fundamentalists on the other side, just with a different set of speaking points.

    Science and religion have both caused some terrible things to happen on this planet. Why can’t we just take the most meritorious aspects of each and try and move forward as a species instead of flinging crap like our monkey forebears.

  16. technogeek says:

    What if he’s wrong? That depends on who’s right, doesn’t it? Not ever religion damns unbelievers. Some describe a process that you go through whether you believe or not. Some put more value on what you do than on what the beliefs are that cause you to do it.

    So if he’s wrong he might be sent to hell, or he might go through reincarnation, or he might wind up in heaven, or any of the other proposed afterlifes. Or he might miss all of those and just cease, which is also what happens if he’s right.

    His final question really is a valid answer: If we have to guess, our odds are equal of guessing wrong no matter which guess we make. Including the guesses that there is no god, or that whether there is or isn’t doesn’t matter. If she can’t answer “what if you’re wrong” with anything more coherent — and I’d lay dollars to donuts her answer would be that she can’t consider that proposal — then by showing that he’s willing to explore it, and that as posed it’s a bad question, he really has won the point.

    (Disclosure: Strong agnostic theist. I don’t know, I don’t think anyone else knows, I don’t think anything could prove it either way, and I don’t think it matters. Which is as valid a faith as any other.)

  17. Bob Rossney says:

    A fundamental tenet of Dawkins’s whole schtick is that I, for instance, am smarter than Thomas Aquinas. It’s pretty hard to take him seriously.

    Terry Eagleton’s takedown of Dawkins (http://www.lrb.co.uk/v28/n20/terry-eagleton/lunging-flailing-mispunching) is a thing of beauty.

    • jif says:

      The first response to Eagleton says it all

      “Terry Eagleton charges Richard Dawkins with failing to read theology in formulating his objection to religious belief, and thereby misses the point that when one rejects the premises of a set of views, it is a waste of one’s time to address what is built on those premises (LRB, 19 October).” — AC Grayling.

    • GTMoogle says:

      The best response to silliness like Eagleton’s:
      http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2006/12/the_courtiers_reply.php

    • Anonymous says:

      Dawkins appears intelligent because he is. And certainly he has read Aquinas. Aquinas’s argument in his own words, “in itself the proposition ‘God exists’ is necessarily true, for in it subject and predicate are the same.”
      What kind of argument is that?

      Or Aquinas’s “proof” that God is a being that which no greater can be conceived. Why not say he is stinkier than anything that can be conceived? (As Dawkins does) Does that prove anything?

      As jif pointed out here, Grayling’s comments on the review make this obvious, why waste time reading theological arguments like this? Am I to read all writings about unicorns and fairies before I speculate they do not exist?

      Eagleton’s “takedown” is, “He has not read all the literature about unicorns so how can he comment on them?”

  18. mdh says:

    IF your only challenge to any position you disagree with is “what if you’re wrong?” without asking yourself the same question at the same time, THEN you and your own cognitive dissonance are the only all-knowing and all-powerful deity you’ll ever need.

    • GOW says:

      Well, he was the one who was standing there accepting questions. Who’s to say she wasn’t asking herself the same question? Any thoughtful person of faith does.

      • JonStewartMill says:

        Who’s to say she wasn’t asking herself the same question? Any thoughtful person of faith does.

        If that’s so, I’ve never met a “thoughtful person of faith”, because I’ve never met a professed Christian who was willing or able to entertain the concept that they might be wrong.

        • coda6 says:

          “If that’s so, I’ve never met a “thoughtful person of faith”, because I’ve never met a professed Christian who was willing or able to entertain the concept that they might be wrong.”

          Then you really haven’t met many Christians have you?

          The issue here is that people are confusing Atheism, the belief that there is no supreme super being, with being classical Agnosticism, the search for proof before believing in a specific view, which is what science should be.

          Unfortunately, science isn’t agnostic, since being open to outside ideas can get you fired and/or have your funding pulled.

          • g.park says:

            Most scientists, I’m sure, are “open to outside ideas.” You’re confusing “being open to outside ideas” with “accepting outside ideas without due scientific inquiry.”

            Every new scientific discovery EVER was the result of an “outside idea” that was eventually verified, and every “truth” EVER debunked was the result of “outside ideas” questioning that “truth.”

            The “outside idea” of creationism is rejected by science not because science is too “closed-minded,” but because it has been roundly and thoroughly debunked over and over and over and over and over again.

          • JonStewartMill says:

            Then you really haven’t met many Christians have you?

            Interesting twist on the “No true Scotsman” fallacy. Well, not really (interesting, that is).

          • Anonymous says:

            From my experience, most Christians really do have doubts and questions. I would guess that the majority do, though I can’t point to a survey that would back that up. I imagine that being in academia and a member of a relatively liberal church biases my perception, but such Christians aren’t that hard to find, so it’s surprising that you don’t know any.

      • coaxial says:

        And yet they always return to the exact same unprovable answer.

      • mdh says:

        Who’s to say she wasn’t asking herself the same question?

        If you can assume such charitable things about her intentions, then why not the same charity for Dawkins? Then it would be a discussion in good faith.

        And, you proved my original point. If you can rephrase any question into one you already have the answer for, then what are you proving? and to whom?

        People of faith want for answers, people like Dawkins want for better questions.

  19. EH says:

    Considering the question came from a woman attending Liberty University, if Dawkins is wrong then she’s got some trials coming up for acting contrary to a male. She should be praying that she isn’t decapitated.

  20. GOW says:

    Dawkins entirely dodged the question.

    The point of the question was not, “What if you’re wrong and Jesus Christ really is the One True Lord?” The question really was, “What if you’re wrong about there not being any Supreme Deity whatsoever?”

    He answered the way he did because he had no answer for the real question. In short, he cheated. His response wouldn’t have passed muster in any Debating 101 class, but in an auditorium full of fellow travelers it did quite well … as he must have known it would.

    And he did his little sleight of hand act while dripping with contempt and condescension. Dawkins gives atheism a bad name. I’m renouncing it.

    • Anonymous says:

      The point of the question wasn’t ‘what if you’re wrong about any kind of God existing’. Obviously it was rooted in a particular faith, because, while there are theoretical ‘consequences’ for not believing in specific religions, there’s no consequence for not believing in a generic deity. Clearly the question was not a ‘what will happen if you’re wrong’ question since that answer is clearly specified for each religion. Rather the heart of the question was – “how does one get over the fear of such horrible consequences if one angers the theoretical correct deity”. To which Dawkin’s answer was the correct one – one assuages oneself with the fact that there are opposing faiths, and that the only way to pick one other than random blind choice is either one’s heart or one’s mind, the latter of which always leads to agnosticism, and the former of which for many including Dawkins, also leads to agnosticism.

    • Anonymous says:

      Well the answer to your version of her question is easy, and not particularly interesting. If he’s wrong then he’ll go to the hell of whichever religion it turned out was ‘the correct one’, unless said religion isn’t hard-line about such things.

      An alternative is perhaps proof (or maybe just some strong evidence) that we’re wrong will appear before we die, in which case you’d probably find that most atheists would ‘convert’.

      Essentially he gave the best possible answer to the question. He pointed out it was a fallacious question (it is a false dichotomy) because it applies equally to people of any religious faith as well as to atheists.

    • Anonymous says:

      I’m glad I’m not the only person who immediately realizes that he just spewed nonsense in reply. I make no attack on Dawkins or particular atheists at all, but the validity of ideas is what matters–and Dawkins offered nothing valid there. He should be ashamed and embarassed by that fact.

    • g.park says:

      1.) The question was asked at Liberty University (presumably by a student), which is a Baptist Evangelical school founded by Jerry Falwell. The implication about which brand of Supreme Deity Dawkins might be wrong about was pretty easy to infer by context.
      2.) Even if the question was a general one, Dawkins’ point still stands. If there is a Supreme Deity, who knows what It wants from us, and how do we know we’re right that It is Supreme at all?

  21. Anonymous says:

    Strikes of solipsism and there are some obvious ontological issues with both the question and response. Questioner’s idea was attacked rather than actually debated.

  22. cbarreto says:

    Dawkins is in a position similar to Bertrand Russel, who wrote a gigantic piece of work to strip any ambiguity from algebra just to be defeated by a page long article from Gödel. But I guess that touring the world lecturing about atheism earns him some really easy bucks…

  23. daen says:

    What’s so frustrating is the inability of those who typically ask the question “what if you’re wrong?” to grasp the relevance of an answer like Dawkins’. A person’s religion is as culturally influenced as the language they speak. Every child has the potential to learn any human language; every child has the potential to follow any human belief system.

    The thing about atheism is the almost universal contempt expressed for it by religious believers, sort of like the Esperanto or Volapuk of belief systems, except its adeherents see no need to speak any other tongue.

    Or is that a bad analogy?

  24. jazzbo says:

    Pascal’s Wager concurs with the questioner, so it has historic precedence.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pascal%27s_Wager
    I find Dawkins’ rebuttal weak. A far stronger one could organized around the notion that the supreme being prefers independent thinking atheists, and christian sheep will suffer in the afterlife. Disprove that, if you dare.

  25. the_dannobot says:

    Seems to me his answer was a beautiful strawman argument that could be summed up “What if you’re wrong about me being wrong?”

    Personally if I were Richard Dawkins I would’ve just answered “If I’m wrong I’ll be eating crow!”

    • Anonymous says:

      That isn’t what he said, he was more angling at ‘Same thing that happens to you if we’re *both* wrong’

  26. jackdavinci says:

    On a completely unrelated note, I must admit a bit of surprise at the large number of theists posting here. Are you actually regular Boing Boing readers or did you find this in search or as a link from a religious blog?

    • Antinous / Moderator says:

      I assure you that BB has many readers who identify themselves as religious, or at least non-atheist.

  27. Beelzebuddy says:

    I am an atheist. Not agnostic, I don’t wring my hands with an “oh deary me, all this ineffable just can’t get effed so the best we can get are non-answers,” I’m an actual not-God-fearing atheist. You all are right, he didn’t answer the question. Instead of dignifying it with any answer at all he turned it around in an attempt to point out her hypocrisy.

    The question does deserve an answer, just not in a context where it will almost certainly be twisted into a false dichotomy. It is the nature of science to expect to be wrong. The very best scientists are their own harshest critics, playing Devil’s Advocate solitaire until there’s nothing left but some semblance of the truth. Though Dawkins did not answer the question, twenty bucks says he does have an answer. But not one that that crowd deserved. So I will give my own response to you instead.

    I claim there is no God. What if I’m wrong?

    Well, it depends on how I find out. If I’m already dead, I suppose I shall retire into whatever interestingly ironic preparations have been made for me. If it’s the Rapture, or if a giant beard appears in the sky and says OH SHIT SON, WHAT THE HELL YOU DOIN DOWN THERE then… well, that’s a toughie. I don’t think anyone really knows what they’d do with a totally scrambled worldview. Einstein spend half his life trying to reconcile himself with the knowledge that God does indeed play dice with the universe.

    But let’s say for the sake of argument that the effects of God, while subtle, can be approached scientifically. For example, what if praying for sick Christians actually made them better more often than heathens? It doesn’t, BTW, unless God is deliberately killing off other sick Christians to make the math work out. But if it did, my first impulse would be to define the extent of the effect, at first in an attempt to prove it wrong (unlike proving something right, you can actually do this) but then to study it as an interesting phenomenon in its own right.

    Which sects receive this divine healing? Do they all get the same angel juice, or are some belief systems holier than others? Can the effect be correlated with lifestyle choices? With strength of conviction? Does the effect vary based on the raw number or intensity of prayers? – the Baker Effect, I shall call it.

    In short, if there is any empirical data for real-world manifestation of spiritual frameworks, it will quickly be mapped out by folks too curious to contain themselves and too stubborn to take “because I say so” as an answer. We will not require faith because we will have found Him ourselves.

    Does religious belief enter in there somewhere? Dunno, really. I guess so. The only reason God and Science are theoretically at odds with one another is that Science relies on measurable and predictable (even just on a population level) changes, and God has yet to produce them. Without those changes any speculation is baseless speculation, and therefore it’s a waste of time arguing about it. Near as we can figure prayer doesn’t work, there’s no such thing as souls, masturbation doesn’t make you go blind or give you hairy palms and God doesn’t exist.

  28. HatOfEdshu says:

    As she’s speaking English, I think the odds favor that she’s talking about the Christian god, so I must look at her question from this perspective.

    She’s really asking Dr. Dawkins, “What if you’re wrong about the legendary, secondhand hearsay tales of the invisible, flying, wish-granting man of the desert?”

    It quickly clears up the matter for me. A book twice as thick and twice as old as the bible couldn’t convince me of the existence of leprechauns, so it’s unlikely a handful of contradictory tales about a crucified (but not dead) genie are going to work on me either.

    But that’s just me.

  29. Anonymous says:

    The problem with faith is that it doesn’t have quantifiable indicators that one is doing the right thing. That’s why they call it faith. On an intellectual level, I have to agree with (most) everything that Dawkins says- especially his response to this young lady’s question. As a human being, however, I have trouble accepting that this is all there is to existence. My puny human brain can’t comprehend not _being_ so I have to believe in something else- something more spiritual. It really doesn’t matter to me if Dawkins, or anyone else for that matter, holds the same beliefs that I do, for they are my own. Sure, if there is an afterlife, there are some people that I would like to see there, my wife, children, friends, etc. Some would say I would then be reliant on them believing the same thing that I do, which they may not. What then? Would I suffer for eternity just because someone else made a choice that I had no control over? Is there some kind of heavenly weekend furlough program? I don’t know. I don’t know what awaits, but I am willing to accept that whatever it is will be what is meant to be and I will understand and be at peace with that. That is faith to me: accepting that I don’t understand it all, but someday may. There is no right or wrong- only what you believe.

  30. apoxia says:

    Well the animators captured his smugness perfectly!

    I’m going to see Dawkins talk next Thursday. I’m so excited!

  31. SeattlePete says:

    There is no god…

    Next.

  32. Voltaire says:

    True, she’s making Pascal’s Wager, but that wager has been shown to be useless as an argument because it could just as easily be made for any other view which posits a reward or punishment. It only describes our preference for certain ideas, and has nothing to do with truth.

  33. technogeek says:

    BTW, life on earth wasn’t inevitable (though one can argue that maybe the timespan is long enough to make it probable). Certainly it didn’t have to take the branches it did, nor give rise to a creature capable of asking the question.

    If you’re asking why we’re here (along with all the other lifeforms from bacteria to beetles to birds to bears to berries to boletes), the scientific answer is “we’re the lucky ones who made it this far”. Unfortunately, many people want an answer that includes a Greater Purpose.

    Science can never prove or disprove religion, only specific claims which probably shouldn’t have been made essential to the religion in the first place. Then again, religion can never disprove science. As the Christian Church has rules, the two fields have “non-overlapping magesteria” — they answer completely different questions.

    Obligatory song cue: http://www.echoschildren.org/CDlyrics/WORDGOD.HTML

  34. Anonymous says:

    There is naught but oblivion, I believe. I will live after death by my works while I’m alive.

    hank chapot

  35. Keljeck says:

    The problem with Dr. Dawkins’ response is rather simple, it applies to him as well. If Dr. Dawkins was born in India he would likely be Hindu, if he was born in classical Greece he would likely believe in Zeus, ect. He has, “by the sheerest accident”, been brought up in a rather secular world. So he has no particular reason to say that what he has to say on theological matters is grounded on some neutral ground of universal reason.

    He presumes that unlike those other poor folks in India and Classical Greece he happens to be granted the great objective universal truth. By virtue of birth. He’s in the same situation and doesn’t acknowledge it.

  36. Anonymous says:

    http://scienceblogs.com/gnxp/2010/03/why_it_matters_if_liberals_are.php

    Kanazawa claims that the “young adults who said they were “very conservative” had an average adolescent IQ of 95, whereas those who said they were “very liberal” averaged 106″

    Assume the “very conservative” and “very liberal” categories are normally distributed in intelligence. The mean is 95 and 106. What percentage of people within each category are going to have IQs of 130 and above?

    0.92% of “very conservative” individuals
    5.48% of “very liberal” individuals

    The modest average differences loom larger at the tails. As it happens, the 130 IQ level is around where the elites of our society seem to be drawn. Two standard deviations above the norm (or higher in the case of scientists, management consultants, corporate lawyers, etc.).

    For the smaller gap between very religious and and atheists, you get 1.38% vs.3.59% above 130. This is somewhat less significant in the USA because only ~5% of Americans are atheists. Though very conservative people outnumber very liberal ones, the ratio is not so lopsided. But what percentage of people at higher IQ thresholds are atheists using the model above? In the general population 5% of people are atheists. But if you constrain to an IQ of 130 or above, 13% are of people are atheists.

  37. Xopher says:

    That’s simply not true, he makes that distinction repeatedly.

    You’re right. I shouldn’t have said that. I have no evidence for it.

    Well, at least you admit you looked like a hypocritical putz, so it all worked out well.

    Well, I guess I’d rather look like a putz than actually be one. You appear to have made the opposite choice. And you are consistent in one thing: you think that if you’re right (in the limited case admitted above) it doesn’t matter how much of a putz you are. You put your money where your mouth is on that one.

    • Cowicide says:

      And you are consistent in one thing: you think that if you’re right (in the limited case admitted above) it doesn’t matter how much of a putz you are. You put your money where your mouth is on that one.

      Apparently, you’re willing to putz out whether you’re right or if you’re wrong. Now that’s what I call consistency.

  38. Aloisius says:

    Well… if I’m wrong I’m likely to join the billions of other people who were also wrong and we’ll feel awfully stupid, but I imagine we’ll get over it.

    Unless of course the right answer is actually a vengeful god who would cast us all into some sort of hellish place, but then, who wants to spend eternity with an omnipotent being who gets upset because people don’t believe in him?

  39. PixelFish says:

    I personally enjoy Dawkin’s answer. I don’t think it’s a matter of there being one Supreme Being or not, because you have to take a look at what the supposed Supreme Beings do to folks who don’t believe in them….and universally, it’s generally bad, although it runs the gamut between “you get to live a sexless existence being a ministering angel and minion to people who actually believed in me” to “dipped in a lake of fire/ice/whatever.” If that’s the case, then your chances of believing in exactly the correct deity are….not super high.

    I’m atheist, but I’m also of the mind that if it turned out I was entirely wrong about there being a God, it doesn’t necessarily follow that I need to worship him or do stuff his way just because he has more power than I do. By those standards, I ought to be worshipping a whole shit-tonne of folks, and I don’t.

    I also never liked the paternalist structure of the religion I grew up in, or the way it infantalised its followers. If I’m really a child of God, I should be allowed to grow up and be God’s equal, not his follower. My opinions and personal autonomy should be treated respectfully, not subsumed into my creator-father’s.

    So. What if I’m wrong? I’ll acknowledge the God or Gods’ existence, and then continue to do what I think is personally right. If they want to dunk me in a lake of fire they have to do it knowing that it’s because I disagree with them on my personal autonomy. (And this is somebody you want to worship?) I just don’t think worship is very healthy or a good foundation for a relationship.

    My options look like thus:

    - deity, omnipotent (or close enough for my purposes), cares that I disagree with them and would punish me for it, putting them in the vengeful, jealous, psychotic category of personhood. Not rational because they won’t admit that the “evidences” lead to a number of conclusions. Not kind or wise, because a little disagreement wouldn’t be an issue. Not worthy of worship

    - deity, omnipotent, non-interventionist, probably doesn’t care that I disagree with them since they didn’t seem to care about things like genocide. Will I get punished? Probably not. Not worthy of worship either. Who the fuck takes their great power and lets millions of people suffer to maintain their non-interventionist stance?

    - deity, not omnipotent – At this point, assuming life after death, what makes THIS person a diety?

    And again, the whole concept of worship just isn’t psychologically healthy.

  40. Keljeck says:

    Patrick Dodds,

    I’m so glad we can be civil! Mostly at this point I get slogans shouted at me.

    On your first paragraph you are absolutely correct. I don’t deny it at all, and I would have difficulty denying it if I tried. St. Thomas Aquinas himself recongized that the Bible is the word of God through human hands. Karl Barth saw the Bible as the human account of the revelation rather than the revelation itself.

    When God works on humanity he works through humanity. I am comfortable with this ambiguity, and I find a certain beauty in it.

    As for the theology/atheology point, I don’t contend that by denying God anyone is acknowledging the Summa Theologica. What I am saying is that when discussing God one is speaking theologically by necessity. So to deny God is on the same level as to affirm a god. If that makes sense? Dawkins by saying there probably is no God is making a theological truth claim, which is to be treated no differently than the theological truth claim that there is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his Messenger. He is not on some neutral ground, saying that he is seeing things as they are, and God is some superfluous entity who’s existence must be proven, he is affirming one tradition among many. One narrative among many.

    I think science is great, but I have trouble with the idea that it must affirm all truth claims for them to be valid. I can feel love, and I do not need to go through some neuro-test to see the right neurons fire to know it.

    • Hools Verne says:

      A) ” Adhering to rational beliefs (science) is not something done INSTEAD of adhering to Faith. “Faith” is the increasingly small bit that science chisels away at; it is another way of saying “I don’t understand”

      That’s good, because we can’t find them and most of our tests for them are as philosophically flawed as phrenology.

    • Beelzebuddy says:

      But when discussing existence one is speaking scientifically by necessity. To exist is to have an observable effect, if that makes sense. Apologists saying there is a god are making a scientific claim, which is to be treated no differently than the scientific claim of Russell’s teapot or invisible pink unicorns. They are not on neutral ground, saying that things can maybe exist, they are in the realm of science, where no detected effect means either your detection isn’t fine enough (“god of the gaps”) or there is no effect to detect.

      See how easy it is to dominate the argument when you get to set the home field?

      • zebbart says:

        “But when discussing existence one is speaking scientifically by necessity. To exist is to have an observable effect, if that makes sense.”

        Yes and no – yes, if God exists then he must have observable effects, but no, that is not a scientific claim. Science is not a field of reality, it is a particular method of establishing shared predictive models. I may observe God’s effects, but that is not science unless I figure out an experimental design that compares the presence of God with the absence of God, and that others can reproduce at will to obtain the same results. Some problems here are that if the God hypothesis is true, everything that exists is an effect of God, that if God is who we say he is, then no experimenter can apply him as a treatment to the world at will, and that it is impossible to set up a God-free control group. Or, being facetious, the experiment was run once; nothing was applied to one set of nothingness, and God was applied to another nothingness, and you see the results today.

        • Anonymous says:

          Except that is not at all how science works. Scientists have concluded, for instance, that planets move the way they do because of an inverse-square attraction, despite not finding some other planet exempt from this law to compare them against.

        • Anonymous says:

          If everything that happens happens because of God, then you can’t say, “Well, this would have happened, but because of God this happened instead.” So you might as well not talk about God at all, because the concept has no explanatory power.

          • zebbart says:

            “So you might as well not talk about God at all, because the concept has no explanatory power.”

            “God of the Gaps” is a pithy alliterative dismissal, but if you demand that the God hypothesis explain something that is otherwise insufficiently explained, I guess you are asking for gaps. They are 1. the contingency of the material world (why it exists rather than not existing, and why it is just one certain way out of an infinity of other possible ways), 2. consciousness, and 3. free will. Those gaps should not convince any wise person to believe in God, but they should unsettle any materialist enough to open up to the possibility of God and seek to find if he is true. If that search ends in a personal experience of God, there will be your sufficient proof.

    • arkizzle / Moderator says:

      So to deny God is on the same level as to affirm a god. If that makes sense?

      Only if you start with the presumption that there might be a god. Just because people have a lineage of thought, does not make that thought valid.

      Lets say we start as individuals, on a planet with science/education and no previous idea of god. Then one day someone says, “hey, there might be a god”. Does the utterance of the idea suddenly place everyone on the planet in opposing, but theologically-affirmative, camps?

      No. Nor does its continued utterance. The sentence was uttered at some point, previous to which the option didn’t exist (of being an atheist or a theist, or whatever). The question of the existence of a god has been added to the world, the lack of it is the default position.

      So, theoretically, atheism (without theism) can be read as the starting point, upon which you can invent the idea of god, or not. Now, of course, we don’t live on that planet, but it makes the point that denying a god is not dependent on affirming a god.

    • Anonymous says:

      I don’t know why people think that the existence of love is somehow a problem for scientists. Even very superficial observation shows you that people in love act differently than they otherwise would. Why would you need a neuro-test?

  41. adammtlx says:

    Pretty shitty answer, if you ask me. The simple fact of the rise of life (let alone complex, multicellular, sentient life) being in such stark contrast of the universe’s general march towards entropy is enough to cause one to question a random universe of accident and chance.

    It seems possible, though ridiculously unlikely, that our biosphere would form and progress as it has by chance. Just by very, very, very small chance. I don’t understand why it’s easy to believe in the 10^200 (or so) probability of complex sentient life forming on earth from the moment of the big bang by pure chance, but not to believe that there may be more advanced sentient life forms that act as benevolent observers or guides or what have you. Or a flying spaghetti monster. All three seem about as probable to me. I’ve read Dawkins. The man is a case study in confirmation bias.

    • Anonymous says:

      Anyone who thinks evolution is “chance” does not understand evolution. Have you read Dawkin’s books about evolution or any substantive writings? Or, have you just heard *about* evolution and decided you understand it?

      Hey, I was like that once. I thought a theory was sort of a guess and that the vote was still out about evolution. The definition of scientific theory is much different than what most people assume.

      Evolution is true. The mechanisms have been experimentally verified many times. Just as we know the Earth revolves around the sun, so we know evolution is a fact, not a guess.

    • g.park says:

      If Dawkins is a case study in confirmation bias, then so is every other biologist in the last 100+ years.

      Complex life on Earth did not develop “by chance.” The basic principles of evolution (inheritability, mutation, survival advantage) say that complex life is the inevitable outgrowth of simple life.

      Simple life may have developed “by chance,” but your probability calculations are way off. I’m not sure where you got your numbers from, but if they’re correct, they only apply to Earth. There are potentially 100 billion Earth-like planets in the Milky Way alone.

    • dculberson says:

      “The simple fact of the rise of life (let alone complex, multicellular, sentient life) being in such stark contrast of the universe’s general march towards entropy is enough to cause one to question a random universe of accident and chance.”

      The problem is that you’re assuming a supreme being came into existence that is somehow capable of creating, or guiding the creation of, inferior life forms before those life forms came into existence. Which is more likely: a series of carbon chains and amino acids forms a relatively simple being that gradually forms intelligence and sentience, or that an overarching, omnipotent being somehow snaps into existence that is through some mysterious power to form matter and energy from nothing, and then organize them into life, the universe, and everything? How on earth could that being be easier to explain than a human?

      I’m not saying Dawkins doesn’t have confirmation bias, we all do. I’m just saying that your reasoning doesn’t stand.

      I am definitely not opposed to the idea of there being more advanced sentient life. Perhaps even some that have taken an interest in us, though I think that’s very unlikely (more than 10^200 unlikely). But I do not think that their existence would serve as proof that “God” as described in the Christian Bible was real. It would merely mean that chance happened to create another life that managed to progress further than humans – probably due to being created earlier. It’s ridiculous to assume that because something is complicated it’s a sign of higher life. Because that higher life has to come from somewhere, so in explaining the existence of lower life, you’re making the entire system even more complicated!

    • Moriarty says:

      The probability of life arising somewhere in a universe as large as ours is, basically, one. Evolution is not driven by “chance” (at least not entirely, it is chance guided by selection), and life is a product of entropy, not an exception to it. Life exactly as we know it may be ridiculously unlikely, but everything that happens is ridiculously unlikely. Flip a coin 40 times. Congratulations! Your sequence of flips was a 1 in a trillion chance!

      You’re right that those are reasonable questions to ask, but it’s also true that they happen to have answers, which Dawkins is certainly aware of.

    • geohump says:

      heh heh heh.

      Lets see – you are unable to accept the fact (yes, “fact”) that the mechanism of evolution is a proven item.

      Please note that “mechanism” refers to the way an individual species will change over time to survive better in a specific environment.

      mechanism is not the same thing as “Theory” or “Model”. So we already know that evolution as a mechanism exists and works profoundly well.

      What remains unproven is the exact path taken from the beginnings of life on Earth to the present time.

      Your inability to ackowledge that, or understand how probability works are what is pushing you to your conclusion. Want to see a great example of confirmation bias? Look in the mirror.

  42. Anonymous says:

    I think ghostbusters has a good answer for the question “What if you’re wrong?”:

    If I’m wrong, nothing happens! We go to jail – peacefully, quietly. We’ll enjoy it! But if I’m *right*, and we *can* stop this thing… Lenny, you will have saved the lives of millions of registered voters.

  43. Anony Mouse says:

    If you can’t tell this rhetorical flaming from rationality, them you’re a fool. Dawkins’ response to the question is to say: ”

    Well, I’m presuming you’re an idiot, because only an idiot would ask this question, and further I’m presuming that the only reason that you are an idiot is because your parents raised you an idiot, and not because you have had a personal experience that led you to the beliefs, which I’ve already established are idiotic. So, having scientifically established that you are an idiot and I am teh smarty-pants, I would then like to dismiss your question by asking – given that you are an idiot and I am teh smarty-pants, which of us do you think is more likely to be wrong? kthxbai”

    He ought to read some Robert Anton Wilson.

  44. Chan Lee Meng says:

    Marshal Brain, founder of HowStuffWorks, covers similar ground on his whywontgodhealamputees website.

    Understanding delusion
    http://whywontgodhealamputees.com/your-delusion.htm

    This article shows that most people who belong to a religious group think that THOSE OTHER people are delusional, and are quick to dismiss others’ religious beliefs as silly fairy tales and superstitious nonsense.

  45. tcforest says:

    The (sound) clip is an excerpt from a talk Dawkins did at Randolph-Macon Woman’s College in Lynchburg, Virginia on October 23, 2006.

    Google video here…

    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-8033327978006186584&ei=yqCRS5eoOoSGwgOx66nGAg&q=dawkins+in+virginia

    Before anyone criticises Dawkins for his delivery, they should watch the whole thing (at least the Q and A session). A large contingent of Liberty University students and their professors tried to ambush Dawkins during the Q and A and I thing he was starting to lose his patience towards the end.

  46. Daemon says:

    Q: “So what if you’re wrong?”
    A: “So what if everyone’s wrong?”

  47. Anonymous says:

    her: “what if you’re wrong?”

    me:”Well, I suppose if I’m wrong, and i die, and I appear before God for my final judgment, He would say:

    ‘I gave you the gift of reason and since no reasonable person would believe in an invisible superman in the sky you have used my gift well, my son. High Five!!’ “

  48. Tom Hale says:

    I’m having trouble getting the video to work but I think I get the idea of what it said from the comments.

    What if you’re wrong? That’s a difficult question to answer. I think the best idea is to find a nice middle ground. I used to think following a religion is a good idea just to play it safe, but I’ve tried so many times to be a good Christian and failed I’m starting to think it’s just not for me. I think now that being a good person is (hopefully) good enough. I believe there is a life after death and that there is a God, but I have no idea how to make myself believe or ‘have faith’ in what the Bible says we need to do to be ‘saved.’

    On Heaven and Hell – I’ve yet to hear of a version of Heaven that wouldn’t become boring after a while. OK, after a 1000 years of living in the best version of paradise I can think of, I’d really miss getting drunk and partying w my friends or relax playing a mmorpg or reading BB -debating this sort of stuff. And the versions of heaven where we just stand around worshiping God? -after a few hours of that I’d be looking at my watch and looking for the exit.
    And Hell – I’m pretty sure that I would eventually get used to pretty much any sort of torture or unpleasantness after 1000 years – me and some pals would eventually find a nice way to pass time while we’re waiting for our turn to be dismembered -again -yawn. “Hey Baldur, I like what you’ve done with your horns today. So is D&D still on for tonight at 7?”

  49. millions says:

    If posting a condescending exchange taking place over the chasm of misunderstanding at one of the most unfortunate ends of the culture divide because it is done in the style of a silly cartoon (one which has actually been severely critical of Dawkins, btw) merits posting in a “directory of wonderful things”, you might love the culture war too much.

  50. Keljeck says:

    pauldavis,

    I largely agree with you, I’m trying to show how poor Dr. Dawkins’ response is. He’s trying to make her look foolish by comparing her belief to Central Africans, without thinking that he is in the same situation.

    But can we agree that there was more secularism in young Dawkins’ Britain than there was in Ancient Greece or Central Africa?

  51. tomrigid says:

    As always (from the atheist’s perspective), it’s not about the right or wrong answer; it’s about answering a question we had no need to ask.

  52. glaborous immolate says:

    The problem with the Grayling response to Eagleton

    “when one rejects the premises of a set of views,”

    is that Dawkins so many time rejects not the premises, but his caricature of the premises. God isn’t just a big human in the sky, or a improbable monster made of spaghetti. Theology’s premise is that God is “simple”, so he couldn’t be made of Spaghetti. If he were, spaghetti (a material product of humans) would be more basic than him.

    Eagleton is right when he says “God and the universe do not add up to two, any more than my envy and my left foot constitute a pair of objects.”

    If people can’t see their own views when Dawkins claims they’re wrong, then something is missing in Dawkins.

    • g.park says:

      Please cite which theologists say “God is ‘simple’,” explain why they’re correct, and explain why they speak for every religionist on Earth.

      Dawkins’ “Flying Spaghetti Monster” is a device to teach the burden-of-proof lesson; it is like Russell’s teapot. It is not his model of God.

      It doesn’t matter if some thinkers disagree with the traditional view of the Creator/Law-Giver/Enforcer God. The people Dawkins is fighting are the people who do believe in that God, the people who want to install that God and His laws into their government, and who want to use their God to stifle science and thought.

      • Keljeck says:

        It’s hard to speak of God in generic terms, because many different traditions have radically different views of God. When speaking of more fundamentalist types Dawkins may be accurate, but in the terms of the Eastern Orthodox and Catholic traditions (and much of the mainstream Protestant tradition) God is understood to be “simple.” You see this in the writings of Thomas Aquinas for instance.

        As I understand it this is a holdover from neo-platonism which had a lot of influence on early Christian thought. In neo-platonism everything needs a unifying principle. For instance, I am typing on my computer, but the keyboard itself is not the computer, neither is the CPU or the harddrive. And if I were to break the keyboard into keys they would be useless to me, but if I have the unified whole it becomes my computer.

        So too for us to say that there is a universe there must be some unifying source, which is itself perfectly united and simple. Of course, Christianity breaks this by saying that the unifying source is, in fact, Triune. But the simplicity is maintained.

        This is probably a poor explanation, but it’s the best I can do on short notice and without some refresher.

      • glaborous immolate says:

        Keljeck gave a good outline. As for which ones say it, its pretty much all of the (Christian) ones. As to other religions, I am not well versed enough to speak to them.

        If there is a God, God must be simple, because if God were made of ‘stuff’ the ‘stuff’ would be more basic than God. If there is a God, God must necessarily exists, because if he did not necessarily exists, he would be dependent on something else, and wouldn’t be God.

        Dawkins’ arguments seem to me to be like this

        a: “I believe that there is a God, who is not dependent on any other thing in the universe”

        b: “Oh, so what’s this God made of then? Huh?”

        a: “I just said he wasn’t dependent on anything else, so you didn’t listen to what I actually believe about God”

        to continue with Keljeck’s issue about the triunity of God, ‘relationality’ itself needs a unifying source. Christians confess that God is Love, but is God just self-love in the sense that a human loves himself? No, he is a loving community of persons, so unified that they are in their being, one being.

        • Anonymous says:

          There’s definitely something out there that’s simple, isn’t made of other things, and exists in and of itself. Space is usually a good candidate, although some types of physics suggest you can go a step further.

          That isn’t very close to most religion’s versions of God, though. Those have to be at least complex enough to envision different aspects of creation, or interact with them in various ways, and often to be able to understand things we can’t. At that point it’s hard for me to consider it something simpler than, say, a person.

          An interesting Captcha: “the Sagan”.

    • Patrick Dodds says:

      glaborous, you state, very neatly:

      The problem with the Grayling response to Eagleton

      “when one rejects the premises of a set of views,”

      is that Dawkins so many time rejects not the premises, but his caricature of the premises. God isn’t just a big human in the sky, or a improbable monster made of spaghetti. Theology’s premise is that God is “simple”, so he couldn’t be made of Spaghetti. If he were, spaghetti (a material product of humans) would be more basic than him.

      Eagleton is right when he says “God and the universe do not add up to two, any more than my envy and my left foot constitute a pair of objects.”

      Where this leads, however, is to the conclusion that the Bible, the Koran and indeed any holy text or attempt to understand God are doomed to failure. Which is something I don’t have a problem with, but I’m guessing you might?

    • Anonymous says:

      Who the ragu do you think you are to question His Noodleness? You set up your own straw man of your own by suggesting that His Noodledom is physical pasta. He is ethereal and spiritual angel hair. That’s the problem with fundies and unbelievers alike. They take everything too literally. It’s a metaphor!

      See how stupid this sounds?

  53. NefariousNewt says:

    Well, having read through the thread, and cogitated on this a bit, I have to say this: does it matter?

    Richard Dawkins’ premise may be right — or maybe not. The questioner’s premise may be right — or maybe not. I don’t think it’s a question of the “truth,” per se, because given the size and age of the universe, it’s hard to imagine humanity reaching a level of reason and sophistication that would allow it to decipher the answer to the existence of God until a point in the far distant future.

    So we’re left trying to determine how God (or a lack thereof) fits into our lives in the current age. That is an individual desire, not an absolute necessity. No matter where you sit relative to the issue, it is easiest to admit that while your particular viewpoint suits you, its relationship to reality is unknown. The best we can say is that our particular view makes us feel better about our life and our place in the universe, and perhaps gives us purpose. Frankly, there’s no harm in it, except where we let dogma overrule reason and logic.

    Dawkins did not really answer the questioner, but then I’m not sure he actually could have. In science, we accept that any theory we create can ultimately be modified, or even invalidated, by evidence and testing. Whatever theory he holds right now is subject to modification; ultimately he cannot be “wrong” as long as he continues to modify and update his theory based on the evidence.

  54. Uncle Balsamic says:

    How could he answer the question in any other way?

    What particular interpretation of a particular religion should he have based his answer on?

  55. dodongo says:

    Why did that clip need to be dressed up like a Spencer Gift’s T-Shirt rack circa 1998; didn’t South Park already do an anti-Dawkins episode? Those are bigger questions than anything about god.

  56. Anonymous says:

    She was obviously speaking in the context of the old argument of looking at it like a gamble.
    If he’s right and she’s wrong, it’s relatively no matter at all, they just go on living happily the way they choose and die and nothing happens.
    If she’s right and he’s wrong, he has everything to lose and she has everything to gain, she goes to heaven and he suffers in hell forever, in addition to convincing other people to go to hell. the consequences are exponentially greater in that scenario.

  57. Anonymous says:

    Pretty shitty answer, if you ask me. The simple fact of the rise of life (let alone complex, multicellular, sentient life) being in such stark contrast of the universe’s general march towards entropy is enough to cause one to question a random universe of accident and chance.

    I’d say just the opposite. Given the size of the universe and the laws of physics and chemistry, it seems like it’s pretty much inevitable that sentient life would evolve somewhere.

    There’s an argument to be made that the laws of physics and chemistry were deliberately “fine-tuned” to allow the evolution of sentient life. But if that’s true, then whoever did the fine-tuning did a pretty poor job of it. Just look at all the cubic light-years of empty, wasted space out there! Frankly I could have done a better job myself.

    Another possibility is that an infinite number of universes exist, each with a random set of physical laws. We’re in one of the few universes that’s able to evolve sentient life. (There’s no solid evidence for this, but it seems a lot more believable than the theory that the Universe was created by some kind of weird all-powerful energy-being.)

  58. skabob says:

    Just wanted to thank #10 & #28 for well thought out answers (absolutely not demeaning the other answers). I am a lifelong atheist, mostly because I couldn’t handle the answer “because it is, that’s faith, stop worrying about it”.

    Another answer that I haven’t seen yet is “what if every religion is correct?” Do you want to go to pure white heaven, or Nirvana, or bungee-jump off of Bifrost?

    I kind of hope for a “Defending Your Life” type of scenario. :)

    • IronEdithKidd says:

      Robert Heinlein wrote a book called Job to explore that very option. According to him the only wrong answer is to be an atheist.

      • skabob says:

        IEK — I was specifically thinking of that book, but I just simplified. I enjoyed “JOB”.

      • geohump says:

        I’m afraid you didn’t understand Heinlein’s story. His point was that its ridiculous to be anything but an atheist.

        Your understanding of his book is another example of conformation bias.

  59. Carol Wolf says:

    What if we are all right. There’s room for all kinds of Deityies, big ones, hairy ones with skull necklaces, ones with chimpanzee ears, ( like us). HOw many angels can fit on the head of a pin, quite a few- maybe millions. What if they love us, or are jealous, what if they speak in thunder and lightning and hugs, of a lick on a face. Huh? What if you are a Deity or a little stinker who came to teach about patience, – what if

  60. Ambiguity says:

    I mean prove him wrong with actual demonstrable positive proof of an all-powerful, all-knowing diety, then he would change his mind and admit he was wrong.

    But, unless I’m mistaken, even Dawkins admits that both assertions are not falsifiable, and therefor not truly open to rational discussion. You can’t prove that God exists, and you can’t prove that God doesn’t exist. It’s relatively easy to dismiss some of the claims made about the physical universe by some of the more, er, “literal” faiths, but that’s not the same as disproving a deity: it just proves that some people have silly beliefs about things which are well-suited for study through rational/empirical inquiry (which is not particularly surprising).

    But that’s kind of the point…no such evidence has been presented. In the light of that lack of decent evidence thinking there’s no God is a more reasonable conclusion than thinking there is one.

    I would have to disagree with you on that: it may be more appealing (to some), but it isn’t necessarily more rational (in part because, as above, this isn’t really amendable to rational (i.e., “reasonable”) analysis.

    I am reminded of the amusing rant that T. MeKenna used to do on cosmogenesis. To paraphrase somewhat: “So the astrophysicists want us to believe that the universe came into being out of nothing, for no reason, at a single point, in an instant. That, my friends, is the limit-case for credulity. ‘Just give us one miracle,‘ they say, ‘and we can explain everything!‘”

    A “universe that just happens” and a “God that is unbegotten and is always extant” are both pretty hard to grok in any rational way, so it seems to me that what a person considers most parsimonious (deity or happenstance) is based more on personal proclivities and aesthetics than on reason.

    • g.park says:

      1.) While the existence of a deity (or Bigfoot) is not completely falsifiable, we can infer enough to declare that existence unlikely enough to be unworthy of our time- just like we do with Bigfoot, Nessie, and Santa Claus.

      2.) While a deity-less cosmogenesis may seem as irrational as a deity-driven cosmogenesis, the deity-free model is at least consistent with the rest of our observations and predictions. If the model doesn’t need God, Occam’s Razor cuts Him out.

      3.) Even if a deity caused the Big Bang, there is no reason to presume that deity still exists, is capable of altering events INSIDE the universe, is interested in human life, or is even “on our side.”

      • Ambiguity says:

        1.) While the existence of a deity (or Bigfoot) is not completely falsifiable, we can infer enough to declare that existence unlikely enough to be unworthy of our time- just like we do with Bigfoot, Nessie, and Santa Claus.

        While I agree that there are a whole bunch of assertions about “God” made by various people in various faiths that I can’t feel too worked up over giving much time to, there are some pretty subtle, nuanced, and interesting conceptions. It’s pretty easy and temping to equate Santa Clause to, say, some of the conceptions offered within traditional Fundamentalist Judeo-Christian traditions, but humankind has come up with some very un-Santa-like conceptions too.

        2.) While a deity-less cosmogenesis may seem as irrational as a deity-driven cosmogenesis, the deity-free model is at least consistent with the rest of our observations and predictions. If the model doesn’t need God, Occam’s Razor cuts Him out.

        One has to be careful, because the principles of parsimony are epistemological guidelines, not statements of ontology (a distinction I first came across, interestingly enough, in the pages of the Skeptical Enquirer). And in terms of epistemology, I honestly don’t know which is simpler: a deity-free universe or one that just happens. Maybe that’s clear to you, but it’s not clear to me.

        You have to keep in mind, that as of this moment, the genesis of our physical universe is not consistent with our observations and scientific predictions. In other words, there is nothing in our models that would have predicted the creation of the universe. What scientists are now trying to do is the opposite: they’re taking that creation as a given and trying to find models that are consistent with that given. In trying to find models that fit the facts as they perceive them, they will not come up with models that would have otherwise predicted those facts–genesis is an a priori, not an a posteriori! The whole enterprise is actually a bit circular in that respect.

        3.) Even if a deity caused the Big Bang, there is no reason to presume that deity still exists, is capable of altering events INSIDE the universe, is interested in human life, or is even “on our side.”

        True, but one can’t equate strict Theism with belief in God. Whole traditions (such as Deism, which was a strain of thought that was quite strong among many who founded the US, for example) do not assume that there is still a God around who does stuff.

    • zebbart says:

      There is a difference between not believing in God, and believing there is no God. The latter is a theological claim, the former is an epistemological state. So maybe we need another word – nontheist, perhaps? Dawkins steps over the line and makes a theological claim, and that’s part of why even non-believers roll their eyes at him.

  61. Anonymous says:

    He totally destroys his own argument, by being absolutist at all- “we could be wrong about the flying spaghetti monster” is completely true. It’s also an assumption that the sun will come up tomorrow or that a rock will fall if you drop it. No measurement of the universe is made without the bias of your instruments- to say that a table is three feet long assumes your ruler is correct. even if you’re measuring with a “standard” three foot rod made by the most objective primates ever grown on this earth, we’re still assuming that it hasn’t grown since it’s creation, you know? These are working assumptions. I assume I’ll fall off a roof if I jump- because it’s been useful in the past to do so. HOWEVER that doesn’t make it true. My personal impression is of a conscious, ambivalent, universe with no disconnection from the matter/energy it’s composed of. “God” has about 6 and 3/4 billion human aspects. I’ve noticed that arguments about religion almost always come down to definition. What is consciousness? what is “omnipotence”? what is “G-D”? To me a “god” is an idea-complex that manifests itself in reality. For instance, Jesus becomes real in unconditional fatherly love… Kali becomes real in the process of entropy, etc… Gods are a way of explaining natural pheonmenon. “God” with a big G, to me, represents the ultimate interconnected everything. Is it not true that every particle is somehow connected to every other? In that sense the universe is an organism… People need to take things FAR LESS SERIOUSLY/LITERALLY, it’s ridiculous. A chair isn’t just a chair: it represents the essence of chairness- it is an expression of a universal concept. Just like playing 528 hertz through a vibrating plate covered in sand will cause a star of david (for the more literally minded, two intersected triangles) to appear,
    “God” could be a “frequency” which will cause a universe to appear. Ommmm… Do you get it? Listen, people do the best they can with the information they’re given. From the point of view of a fundamentalist christian, it makes perfect sense to believe that god is a dictator and “fags” should be hated, etc. What YOU as a person need to do is go Meta- instead of convincing people that there is no god that there is a this that there is no this, convince yourself to go outside belief systems, outside of points of view, get an “overstanding” of existing reality tunnels- that is, stand above and observe- you’ll see that people are not actually idiots, or that you are also. It’s not a matter of “god is real” or “science can explain everything” even though I in my ignorance think both are true, it’s about what you are going to do about it. If you prefer to see the universe as completely unaware and with no purpose, that’s fine- don’t be a dick about it (that is, penetrative and intrusive). If you think jesus will return in 2012 on a flying saucer, FINE, also please don’t be a dick about it. there is no absolute truth, there’s just assumptions that have corresponded with reality in the past. You can’t assign a probability or reality to anything. To say that a coin flip will have a 50/50 chance of coming up heads is an assumption. in my reality tunnel, it seems to have a 100% chance of coming up heads, and a 0% chance of it coming up tails, depending on the outcome.

    I highly recommend googling Robert Anton Wilson for a refreshing take on non-fundamentalism. Specifically his stuff about e-prime… Wilson considers himself a mystical skeptic. I consider him brilliant as lao-tzu as well as downright hilarious.

  62. Ito Kagehisa says:

    I like Dawkins better than nearly all the prominent “new atheists”. He really tries to make theologically coherent statements – for example he writes “God probably does not exist” which is a reasoned philosophical stance that he can defend from scientific, semantic and theological grounds. Saying “God absolutely does not exist” is either faith-based, circular logic or sophomoric posturing, and Dawkins explicitly acknowledges this. Speaking as a theist and a minister, I respect his intellect, integrity and theology.

    I think people who are primarily motivated by hatred and a desire to belittle the faith of others will not like Dawkins so much, because he is a principled objector rather than a mere anti-religionist.

    • failix says:

      “”God probably does not exist” which is a reasoned philosophical stance that he can defend from scientific, semantic and theological grounds. Saying “God absolutely does not exist” is either faith-based, circular logic or sophomoric posturing”

      If you’re serious about this, you have to admit the following:

      “God probably doesn’t exist” -> true.
      “God probably exists” -> false.
      “God doesn’t exist” -> probably true.
      “God exists” -> probably false.

      To Yamara #158, and CCSurfer #162: So, this world is a pretty messed up place… compared to what other world you know? ;)

      • Ito Kagehisa says:

        I’m serious, but I don’t understand your point. What difference does it make how you state the reasoning as long as it’s got the same content? Dawkins can and does make reasoned arguments supporting the idea that “God exists” is a “probably false” statement, certainly.

        Dawkins and I get along just fine, philosophically. He says my pantheism can’t be proven wrong, but it’s pragmatically useless, and I say his atheism does not answer the human need for spirituality. We can argue intelligently without rancor, with no need to burn anyone at the stake. He is not one of the atheists who want to replace violent religious bigotry with violent anti-religious bigotry.

        I think Dawkins would like humans to evolve past the need for a divine presence, but I would rather be in love with the universe than see it as a mere souless resource pool that can be raped and dismembered without remorse. It seems to me that Jalal Muhammad Rumi will still be known when Stephen Hawking has been long forgotten.

  63. Anonymous says:

    So say you’ve got a bunch of simple organisms. What are the criteria for “better” survival? More reproduction? More efficient energy production? Simply filling a niche? You can’t just say “increased complexity” follows directly from that. Less complexity should be just as likely, on the whole. Shouldn’t it?

    To some extent, living things will do better the more situations they can handle. Every chemical you run into would need an enzyme before you can make use of it, and you need switches to control the production of those enzymes, and chemoreceptors to hit them, and so on. Working through, you can quickly see selection will prefer a fairly complicated life-form, something like a bacterium.

    Beyond that, complexity won’t help with any of the things you mention, and it’s easy to see it isn’t generally favored. Bacteria, after all, are still the most widespread and successful living things. However, in competing with each other, there are added benefits complexity can provide: additional resources and security. Think of how companies work. Things like guards and back-ups don’t actually help them make anything, but they providing benefit by making sure they get to enjoy the results of that labor.

    A glance through the wide gallery of the living world will show that complexity generally follows the same role. Being larger, better defended, aware of your environment, or smarter costs resources, and doesn’t produce more kids. But it also helps you secure those resources and ensure those kids survive.

    As a result, increased complexity is a fairly expected consequence of natural selection and competition. You’re welcome to look for answers where you want, but this particular thing is not a mystery that needs explaining.

  64. Felton says:

    Yamara: Hahahaha!

    failix: If that ends up being the case, I’m going with Zeus. At least he’s honest about not liking humans. ;-)

  65. angusm says:

    “What if I’m wrong? Why, then we live in a universe where appearances are deceptive, where intellectual inquiry is worthless, and where we are all liable to be either rewarded or punished based on our unquestioning obedience to a set of arbitrary laws established by an unknowable but often vindictive Supreme Being. If I’m wrong, then our fate is in the hands of an entity with the emotional attributes of a child molester, who claims that he loves us even as he condemns us to an eternity of torture for trivial offenses. If I’m wrong, then there’s no point in trying to learn anything or understand anything. If I’m wrong, conformity, passivity, obedience, chauvinism and small-mindedness are the highest virtues, while intelligence, creativity, curiosity and tolerance are dangerous sins.

    I hope you find your faith comforting, because I certainly don’t.”

    • Ambiguity says:

      “What if I’m wrong? Why, then we live in a universe where appearances are deceptive, where intellectual inquiry is worthless, and where we are all liable to be either rewarded or punished based on our unquestioning obedience to a set of arbitrary laws established by an unknowable but often vindictive Supreme Being.

      Actually, some of the sects of early Gnostic Christians believed something similar. In their view the world was created by the Demiurge, who was blind, deluded, and insane.

      • angusm says:

        True, some Gnostic Christians and their offshoots (Cathars etc) believed in a Demiurge who created a flawed Creation (for the Cathars, the material itself was evil). But if I recall correctly, they also believed in the existence of a superior deity, the actual creator of the universe as a whole, who was either supremely good or at least loftily unconcerned with human affairs.

        Believing in an evil Demiurge is just one answer to what’s sometimes referred to as the Problem of Pain (i.e. how can a just/good/caring deity permit suffering?). The Christian church, however, judged it to be unacceptable as an answer. The concept of Satanic creativity was considered one of the worst heresies, and tended to be suppressed with fire and sword wherever it sprang up.

        • Ambiguity says:

          But if I recall correctly, they also believed in the existence of a superior deity, the actual creator of the universe as a whole, who was either supremely good or at least loftily unconcerned with human affairs.

          This is true. There was the Good above the Demiurge.

          In the Hermetic traditions there was a Nous and a lesser Nous (the one that created the world, and in some ways is similar to the Demiurge), but in that conception the lesser Nous seems to not be given the bad rap that the Demiurge was. The Nous was part of the emanation of the divine into the manifest, but it wasn’t particularly deluded or insane. Mankind saw the creation of the lessor Nous (nature) and fell in love with it (as nature fell in love with them), and thus descended into existence on earth and then became subject to the limitations of physical existence (gender, death, destiny, etc.). Aesthetically, this appeals to my sensibilities more. Mankind becomes subject to the limitations of physical existence out of love for the world, not ensnarement in the creation of an insane god.

          Believing in an evil Demiurge is just one answer to what’s sometimes referred to as the Problem of Pain (i.e. how can a just/good/caring deity permit suffering?). The Christian church, however, judged it to be unacceptable as an answer. The concept of Satanic creativity was considered one of the worst heresies, and tended to be suppressed with fire and sword wherever it sprang up.

          Personally, I think one of the more interesting aspects of studying the various religious traditions that have sprung up is seeing how people deal with the existence of pain/evil/etc.

          I can’t say that I fully resonate with the Gnostic’s answers on these things, but I don’t think the orthodoxy’s answers were any better (and in fact, I think sometimes the Gnostic’s seem at least more clever/insightful). I think the most interesting orthodox Christian thinking on the subject came out of early scholasticism, which of course was very heavily influenced by neo-Platonism–as was Gnosticism, so there is at times some similarity.

    • glaborous immolate says:

      That would have been a much better response. But Dawkins’ didn’t give it.

    • JonStewartMill says:

      Very well put.

  66. Xopher says:

    Also, the Christians who are in Haiti with relief supplies, but withholding them from Vodou practitioners? Hate them even more than the Scientologists. Some are even inciting violence against the Vodou people; they should be shot IMO (it’s a war zone down there).

  67. Cildar says:

    The combination of that arrogant nasal voice and his failure to answer the question has converted me to Christianity.

  68. Anonymous says:

    and an even slightly less of a response to the response would be “according to whom, that’s according to whom”.

    but then superjesus comes in blazing bareback on rodan, who is blasting everyone in the audience, including dawkins, with his heat ray breath.

    “take that disbelievers!”

    meanwhile, superjesus’ sidekick, party boy vishnu, trails behind in a flying maserati gran cabrio scooping up all of the crispy dead he can in his net of life; then woosh! , they fly back to new jerusalem which is 7,000,000 times bigger than new york city (according to estus pirkle, does that excite you?) where they return to the best party ever with the freshest, dope snacks for serving to the freshest, dope, a-list gods. once again superjesus and party boy vishnu save the day! (looks like somebody is getting lucky tonight)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1paYhEDFQIw

  69. Maddy says:

    I used to tussle on-line with a devout right-wing christian over this very point and his response was — if all those other religious people (who are not christians) would truly study — they’d know he was right. I asked him if he had studied their religions and he said he didn’t have to, HIS study of HIS religion had proven conclusive …

  70. Moe says:

    I have no problem with people who dont believe in any deity but why does Dawkins have such a problem with those who do? He has spent so many books in trying to convince people with faith that they are stupid. Why cant he spend some of that energy on something positive? I know he’s written a lot of informative books too but he has this problem with anyone who doesnt believe exactly what he does. And the big problem with people like him is that they preach to the choir (so to speak). He only convinces atheists that they are right and religious people just think he is an ass with a big ego.
    Why cant he accept that religion and science arent the same thing and believing in one doesnt negate the other. Does he also need proof on the usage of vowels? I think I am going to start a campaign against grammar since I dont see any proof of it (especially on the internet) so it obviously doesnt exist.

    • arkizzle / Moderator says:

      Moe,

      You mistakenly believe that Dawkins started out attacking religion. He didn’t, or not publically at least. He started writing about biology and evolution, to which he attracted many, many objectors.

      His fight with religion has developed out of the reactions to his original, non-theological books.

      • GeekMan says:

        Indeed. People of deep faith seem aghast when subjects of this manner come about. “How could anyone attack religion?” What they often fail to realize is that these discussions/books/etc are not attacks, but rather defences.

        When, in a civil society, political and social actions are justified by gesticulating towards certain passages in one particular religion’s tome, we have a problem. Not everyone in said society shares the belief in that particular tome/deity/etc, so why should they have to abide by the principles of said belief?

        Religion may help form your socio-political beliefs, but it does not give you a blank cheque to foist those beliefs upon others because, say, “that’s how God wants it”. This is the only point that people like Dawkins are trying to make.

  71. Bevatron Repairman says:

    I’ve never understood why I need these two things to support one another. As a Catholic, I am required to believe in a number of objectively ridiculous things. But I do not need the material world, nor science, to support those things. Nor do I need to imbue my view of the natural world with my theology. Evolution is, based on all current evidence, as close to the undeniable as any other material science, and more than most. Reason lets me see that. But that doesn’t mean I don’t believe in the tenants of my faith at the same time and without the slightest need to justify it in some material fashion.

  72. Maddy says:

    This question reminds me of the question of “what if I’m right” you get at the end of fighting over global warming …

  73. Camp Freddie says:

    Just an FYI for some commentors. Dawkins was brought up in a Christian religious environment. Like most atheists he discovered for himself that religious claims just weren’t true and eventually became an atheist. He isn’t atheist because his mum and dad were Bertrand Russel fans.
    His point is that if he is wrong, then it is also wrong to presume that one particular alternative theory is correct.

    I like his line that we are all disbelievers, but atheists go one god further than everyone else (or a few gods further than Hindus or Wiccans).

  74. godisafiction says:

    Until anyone knows the ultimate truth of the existence or non-existence of god, he/she/it both exists and doesn’t exist. As soon as definitive proof is observed, those superimposed states of existence and non-existence will instantly collapse into one or the other, but possible only for that observer. So far I have not seen incontrovertible proof either way, but what evidence I have seen has me leaning toward the non-existence side, YMMV.

  75. Ambiguity says:

    Then you really haven’t met many Christians have you?

    Interesting twist on the “No true Scotsman” fallacy. Well, not really (interesting, that is).

    Actually, this is not fallacious on those grounds, because the poster wasn’t implying that true Christians behave differently than “those other kind” on the score of admitting to being potentially wrong. The poster implies that thoughtful people of faith (as opposed to unthinking ones) question themselves. This may only be his or her opinion, but it is not a fallacy. The poster also implies that some Christians are thoughtful people of faith, but in not implying that “true Christians” are thoughtful people of faith, no fallacy was committed.

    The original assertion:

    “If that’s so, I’ve never met a “thoughtful person of faith”, because I’ve never met a professed Christian who was willing or able to entertain the concept that they might be wrong”

    is logically fallacious on a few grounds, including perhaps (but not limited to): False dilemma (where “person of faith” and “self-professed Christian” are held out as equivalent, this implies the false dichotomy of “people of faith” and “non-Christians”) and package-deal fallacy (for the same presumed equivalence).

    [Why do I all of the sudden feel like a character in an XKCD comic?]

    • JonStewartMill says:

      By responding that I “must not have met many Christians”, coda6 implied that if I had met more Christians I would acknowledge that they are, on average, “thoughtful persons of faith.” I suppose it’s a bit of a stretch to consider this a true (?!) ‘No True Scotsman’ fallacy, but I contend that it’s in the same family.

      • Ambiguity says:

        Maybe I’m a cynic, but I don’t think the average person is thoughtful, much less the average “person who identifies with group X.” If he meant to imply that I think he’s wrong (but I’m still not sure he meant to imply that).

  76. alowishus says:

    What if I turn into a giant purple panda? Huh? HUH?!?!?! WHAT NOW, DAWKINS?!

  77. Patrick Dodds says:

    Keljeck, in your first comment you say:

    “The problem with Dr. Dawkins’ response is rather simple, it applies to him as well…. He presumes that unlike those other poor folks in India and Classical Greece he happens to be granted the great objective universal truth. By virtue of birth. He’s in the same situation and doesn’t acknowledge it.”

    This isn’t the case though: he’s lucky enough not to have been brainwashed since birth into a particular faith and can therefore see that one has no more claim to “truth” than another, thereby nullifying them all.

    • Keljeck says:

      By this you presume that somehow, by the sheerest accident, we manage to not be brainwashed since birth into a particular faith and can therefore see that no one has more claim to “truth” than another. Isn’t to say that there is no God (or that, there is not enough evidence to say one way or the other) itself a theological claim?

      Dawkins does not stand on some neutral ground, unsullied by faith, rationally casting his eye upon the hoi polloi.

      He is just as conditioned by his culture as the ancient greek or the Indian.

      • pauldavis says:

        Keljeck said a couple of times: Dawkins does not stand on some neutral ground, unsullied by faith, rationally casting his eye upon the hoi polloi. He is just as conditioned by his culture as the ancient greek or the Indian.

        I’m sorry, but I find this ridiculous. Within most world cultures there are individuals who choose to believe in worldviews other than the one held by the majority of those around them. There are Christians in Hindu cultures, atheists among Jews, Buddhists in communities dominated by orthodox christianity, etc. Noting that statically speaking, most people in a Hindu culture are Hindu is merely a tautology. Either you accept that the process of make refutable postulates about the nature of the world is qualitatively different from religious belief, or you don’t. And if you don’t, I’m not sure what there is talk about.

        Morever, Dawkins’ did not grow up, as you claim, in a particular secular culture. His own family may or may not have been religious (I don’t know), but the British culture he grew up was still really quite religious in the sense of broadly observed anglicanism that permeated the school system, the professional classes and government. That has changed somewhat since Dawkins was born, but I am younger than Dawkins and still recall spending most of the childhood (0-15, say) very close to organized religion despite my parents and family being self-professed atheists and agnostics. This wasn’t their choice as much as the default pattern of life.

  78. stosh machek says:

    perhaps a slightly less response would have been; ‘wrong according to who?’

  79. Ashendar says:

    That was a nice reply from Richard which highlighted the lack of analytical thought lying behind the question.

    People in different regions at different points in time have developed specific notions of God that are incompatible. Clearly someone is wrong. Could it be, everyone?

  80. stosh machek says:

    damn! i’m thinking faster than i’m typing again:
    i meant a slightly less -snarky- response

  81. hershmire says:

    An old but a goodies (from here):

    Dr. Schambaugh, of the University of Oklahoma School of Chemical Engineering, Final Exam question for May of 1997. Dr. Schambaugh is known for asking questions such as, “why do airplanes fly?” on his final exams. His one and only final exam question in May 1997 for his Momentum, Heat and Mass Transfer II class was: “Is hell exothermic or endothermic? Support your answer with proof.”

    Most of the students wrote proofs of their beliefs using Boyle’s Law or some variant. One student, however, wrote the following:

    “First, We postulate that if souls exist, then they must have some mass. If they do, then a mole of souls can also have a mass. So, at what rate are souls moving into hell and at what rate are souls leaving? I think we can safely assume that once a soul gets to hell, it will not leave.

    Therefore, no souls are leaving. As for souls entering hell, let’s look at the different religions that exist in the world today. Some of these religions state that if you are not a member of their religion, then you will go to hell. Since there are more than one of these religions and people do not belong to more than one religion, we can project that all people and souls go to hell. With birth and death rates as they are, we can expect the number of souls in hell to increase exponentially.

    Now, we look at the rate of change in volume in hell. Boyle’s Law states that in order for the temperature and pressure in hell to stay the same, the ratio of the mass of souls and volume needs to stay constant. Two options exist:

    1. If hell is expanding at a slower rate than the rate at which souls enter hell, then the temperature and pressure in hell will increase until all hell breaks loose.
    2. If hell is expanding at a rate faster than the increase of souls in hell, then the temperature and pressure will drop until hell freezes over.

    So which is it? If we accept the quote given to me by Theresa Manyan during Freshman year, “that it will be a cold night in hell before I sleep with you” and take into account the fact that I still have NOT succeeded in having sexual relations with her, then Option 2 cannot be true…Thus, hell is exothermic.”

    The student, Tim Graham, got the only A.

  82. Anonymous says:

    I love how even a hardcore atheist like Dawkins can’t shake his culture. The basis of his argument is that there is a YOU apart from the collection of your experiences and genetic material. In essence that you are not this physical form but some ghost that just happens to be in this body at this time. In essence a soul.

  83. Anonymous says:

    How could he actually answer the question in any other way?
    What interpretation was he to posit is real, and answer the question in relation to?
    I think his response is perfectly fine.

    Also, I fail to see how he’s smug.

  84. CCSurfer says:

    Well, he responds to the question, but he sure doesn’t answer it…

    • Anonymous says:

      He might have dignified the question with a response, but it’s a pretty stupid question to ask (perhaps she asked it as some kind of a joke). What if you’re wrong and there really *is* something to this special supernatural friend nonsense after all … ?

    • Mark Frauenfelder says:

      Why don’t you answer for him!

      • CCSurfer says:

        Well, I don’t purport to be an expert on evolutionary biology or atheism, so for me to answer “for” him would be a bit presumptuous.

        However, I’d be fascinated to hear someone so brilliant expound analytically on the ramifications of discovering that the converse of his position is actually true.

        • g.park says:

          He’s done it many times, if you’ve read his work or watched his programs. If someone presented verifiable evidence that contradicts his worldview, he’d accept the evidence and take the new position.

          That’s how science works.

    • Anonymous says:

      Of course he does. He says “if I’m wrong, then some religion must be right. But which one?” They don’t all, after all, believe in a god, let alone an omniscient one.

    • g.park says:

      What kind of response would you prefer? There are as many treatments of blasphemers and apostates as their are sects of Abrahamism.

      It’s like asking “how does one cook an egg?” or “how does one mix a cocktail?”

    • ill lich says:

      Well, there’s not really a good answer, nor is there a good answer to his reply of “what if you’re wrong?” The answer is unknowable, because we don’t know which is the One True Faith, do we? Is it Islam, Shinto, Christianity, Zoroastrianism, or one of the many long lost dead faiths of history (or even some faith not yet discovered?) She is (perhaps) assuming that she knows and follows the One True Faith, in which case she “knows” the answer: Dawkins is going to Hell along with all the other infidels. So what was the purpose of her question, to scare him? Nice try kiddo, next time just jump out from a closet and yell “BOO!”, you’ll get better results.

    • HairySammoth says:

      It’s roundabout, but he does answer it really. She’s essentially presenting Pascal’s Wager, and he’s offering the usual (and sensible, imho) response: that the question is offering the fallacy of the excluded middle. In other words, she offers him two choices – you’re right about Christianity, or you’re wrong; what if you’re wrong? – and he responds that there are more choices than just Christian or non-Christian.

      She may think he’s going to hell for not believing in her God, but there are plenty of people out there who think that she’s going to hell for not believing in their version of God too. To avoid hell (or the other usual consequences) you don’t just need to believe, you need to pick the correct religion too. In that regard, Dawkins is in no more “danger” than she is (as one can easily posit a perverse God who only allows atheists into heaven). Hence the South Park joke – “I’m afraid it was the Mormons’. Yes, the Mormons’ was the correct answer.”

      So although he seems to talk around the question, in fact he’s offering the most pertinent (not to mentioned time-honoured, as far as philosophy goes) response.

      • CCSurfer says:

        Well, if we assume, as Dawkins did, that she has adopted a position contrary to his on the existence of God, then you are probably correct. But what if the eternal/spiritual/theological aspects of the matter were merely peripheral to the crux of her question? What if, despite what she actually said, she meant to ask “If you are wrong, and God does actually exist, what are the scientific implications?”

        That, to me, is a much more interesting way of interpreting her question. For instance, what would it mean to science if we were to discover that the theoretical Higgs boson did not, in fact, exist, and that particles have mass simply because they were imbued with the quality of mass by God? What would it mean for other scientific theories that we hold to be absolutely true but we cannot (yet) prove?

  85. bbonyx says:

    Ah, rational objectivism. I think everyone could use a good shot of this in the arm every morning…

    Or perhaps a punch in the face after the knuckles have been coated with it.

  86. Xopher says:

    g.park 10: Did I say Dawkins was wrong? I said he was a smirking, self-righteous putz. And he is. You don’t have to be wrong on the facts to be a jerk about how you talk about them.

    In fact, my position is remarkably like iopha’s at 13 (and similar to PixelFish’s at 38). I would not worship a God like the one the Westboro Baptist Church believes in even if I knew for a fact that he was the actual One God Creator of the Universe. Such a God is not worthy of my worship. Any God who would have been had I known will understand when I say “You gave me a brain and an intellect, and I used them; also, if you wanted me to believe in you, you shouldn’t have sent fools and liars to tell me so.”

    Anon 15: I don’t understand why christian faith just can’t accept evolution and just say it is a tool of their God?

    The Christians I’m closest to do exactly that. One of them once wrote “I believe in the God of the Burgess Shale.”

    JonStewartMill 32: I’ve never met a “thoughtful person of faith”, because I’ve never met a professed Christian who was willing or able to entertain the concept that they might be wrong.

    Good heavens. I certainly have. Many of them. You either live in the hardcore raging heart of the Bible Belt or have made a habit of avoiding Christians whenever possible. Most of the Christians I know talk (to me, anyway) about their doubts, and the possible consequences of being wrong. They say they try to live in the world to be as good a person as possible, and hope they’re right, and that’s all they can do.

    Anon 35: Well the answer to your version of her question is easy, and not particularly interesting. If he’s wrong then he’ll go to the hell of whichever religion it turned out was ‘the correct one’, unless said religion isn’t hard-line about such things.

    I suppose not having “hell” at all, or any particularly negative view of non-believers, counts as “not hard line”? Because otherwise that’s a pretty Christian-centric response. Judaism has no hell, and recognizes that some non-Jews can be good people. As far as I know Hinduism has nothing against non-Hindus (the prejudice of some Hindus is not based on their core religious teachings). Wicca doesn’t require being Wiccan to go to the Summerland at death, or indeed make any distinction between Wiccans and non-Wiccans in that regard (though any question asked of three Wiccans will get at least five answers, so that’s not universal).

    PixelFish 38: I generally agree, except for the whole concept of worship just isn’t psychologically healthy. I’ve seen worship as pretty healthy—for some people. I personally find it uplifting and a great improvement to my mood (which frequently needs improving). Why do you think it’s unhealthy?

    skabob 57: I kind of hope for a “Defending Your Life” type of scenario. :)

    I always thought that if that were the truth, I’d answer with “Can I just plead Guilty and go back to Earth to start my next life? I have more to do there.”

    angusm 62: Now THAT’s an answer! I like it.

    Cowicide 137: Nope. I meant Dawkins. I think chances are good that he’s right, but he’s a total jerk about it. When I wrote that I didn’t realize what a hostile environment he was in, to be honest, but I still think he’s a putz.

    zebbart 140: I hope some of the other people in this thread are enlightened by your statements here. I’ve long believed that faith is a gift, and as such is not given to everyone; I’m among those NOT favored with it.

    • zebbart says:

      If we were to use the epistemological method that we use to hand out death sentences and 100 million $ settlements, the jury would find in favor of God’s (in the sense of a supernatural higher power) existence because of the preponderance of eyewitness testimony; most people who have lived were religious and most religious people claim to have in some way observed the presence or activity of the supernatural. The testimony of people who can simply say, “I have never observed God,” would be irrelevant, and there are very few who would testify a positive awareness of God’s absence.

      From a scientific point of view, we could consider each life as an experimental test of God’s existence. Either the situation is that there is no God and the (probably) majority of people have come up as false positives, or that there is a God and a significant minority have come up as false negatives. (The test assumes humans generally have a faculty to detect God’s existence if he does exist.) If we were running a test for the presence of a noxious chemical in an environment with the same number of test subjects and they came up with the same ratio of positives/negatives, I think we would all consider it more likely that the negatives were simply insensitive to the chemical, not that the chemical was absent and the positives happened to show the same symptoms for reasons unrelated to the environment.

      The idea though that some people are simply naturally insensitive to the presence of God is a tough one for a Christian like me to accept, let alone defend. But my faith in the goodness and honesty of some of the atheists I know is nearly as firm as my religious faith, so that’s what I’m left with.

      • Anonymous says:

        Of course, it’s not really comparable, because different people mean entirely different things by God. Eyewitness testimony doesn’t help much if they don’t see the same thing.

      • Tdawwg says:

        That’s just silly. Eyewitness testimony is eminently falsifiable, as in the “man running with a blue jersey into the first day of law class” example, in which afterwards no one can agree on what color of jersey said man actually wore, but a photo or video of said man would stand as evidence. Whereas there’s no way to test one’s claims of having seen God, what God looks like, etc. Try harder.

        Scientists have found, however, the part of our brains that lights up when we think all things Godly: interesting enough, it lights up when we think of Zeus, Superman, and other abstract, likely fictional characters and concepts. As a person of faith, what does that suggest to you?

        • zebbart says:

          I’m not sure what you are saying is silly. Of course eyewitness testimony is falsifiable, but it is generally accepted as evidence of truth in some situations when physical evidence is cannot be produced. But we demand a higher standard of proof for the existence of God than we do for capital cases.

          I’m not familiar with the example you reference. It sounds like a good analogy for world religions though: if after a law class 80 people said that a guy ran down the aisle and out the door back door, 15 said they didn’t see anything, and 5 said they saw everything and certainly no one ran down the aisle at all, the fact that the 80 might disagree about the color of the man’s jersey would not much reduce our confidence that indeed a guy wearing some color of jersey did indeed run down the aisle. We would say that probably the 15 somehow failed to see what happened and the 5 are totally mistaken.

          With more information we might construct an alternative explanation for what the 80 saw, an explanation that would validate the denials of the 5. But that explanation would have to have a lot going for it to overwhelm the testimony of such a large majority. The athiest rationalizations for my spiritual experiences and those of such a large part of humanity still seem pretty weak to me, especially considering how powerful, ancient, and near universal is the impulse to religion in human kind.

          A person’s experience of God may be unfalsifiable in the sense that no one and nothing (such as a camera) else was or will be able to witness it, but it is hypothetically, if not practically, falsifiable in the sense that if you did have the experience yourself you would be able to say whether it was sufficient evidence of God or not for you. When Pascal proposed his wager it was not because he thought it was convincing proof for God; he thought it was sufficient rationale for a person to try to cultivate faith through religious practice. I’d say the same thing for my “eye witness” argument; it lends weight to the God hypothesis, making it more worth attempting to test. Personally the only test I know of is to sincerely devote one’s life to connecting with God and see what happens.

          What do you suggest would be the challenge of the neurological discovery you reference? As you put it it doesn’t suggest anything to me beyond what you said.

          • Tdawwg says:

            The example is a classic one from law school: it’s supposed to teach the unreliability of eyewitness testimony. You’re actually misconstruing it: in both a court of law and in real life, that no-one can agree on the color of the jersey actually questions even the jersey’s existence, as well as anything else definite one might claim about the man and his actions. The point being that we often don’t see what we think we saw, or remember correctly what we actually did see.

            So if you take all of the “evidence” of personal revelations of God, you’d have a much bigger evidentiary problem than the blue jersey: for John the Baptist it was the heavens opening, for Saul–Paul it was a blinding light that toppled him from his horse, for Moses it was speaking with YHWH amid lightning on Sinai face to face, for Arjuna it was the direct revelation of Krishna as his horseman, etc. etc. ad nauseam. To try to cobble together any reasonable argument for all of these experiences, you’d have to do some pretty heavy lifting, theologically, rhetorically, veridicially, etc. It simply can’t be done. So I’d say that the “evidence” of your personal experience of God is a terrible argument for the proof of said God, as it would tally with few others’. And again, you can’t take your experience and demonstrate it to anyone except using subjective criteria like “This happened” or “I prayed”: no photos, no proof, no smoking gun as it were.

            The neurological discovery locates God within our heads, our mental chemistry. That the same “God effect” can be produced by other types of thinking, though, like thinking about Cookie Monster, Captain America, etc., really calls the possibility of God’s existence into question. It would seem that our experience of God is a neurological trick that our minds play on us. Google around “God module” “Steven Alpert” etc. and take a look for yourself.

            This isn’t to attack your faith, BTW: I’m a deeply agnostic Catholic for what it’s worth. But I’d be careful when using real-world truth-claims to speak about otherworldy phenomena that aren’t amenable to scientific or veridicial proof, and may not even exist. Cf. Gould’s nonoverlapping magisteria, etc.

    • Cowicide says:

      Nope. I meant Dawkins. I think chances are good that he’s right, but he’s a total jerk about it. When I wrote that I didn’t realize what a hostile environment he was in, to be honest, but I still think he’s a putz.

      So you think when people like Dawkins mock religious wackos like Christians who believe crazy shit like walking on water and stuff… he’s a total jerk and putz?

      What do you think of this putz?

      Scientologists …. stupid, deluded, cult-wacko asses … the thought of these people being hacked to death with machetes warms my wicked heart …

      - Xopher

      [cough]

      • Xopher says:

        There’s a difference between “believing crazy shit” and doing actual evil in the real world. Dawkins makes no distinction between people who do the latter and people who do not. Scientology does evil in the real world; I also believe it’s a conscious scam (i.e. that the people benefitting from it don’t actually believe the crazy shit, but are just using it to bleed money from the gullible). If that’s true of, say, the RCC, they’d be equivalent, but I think most of them actually believe in the things they teach.

        And btw, Cowicide, using quote selection to make someone look like a putz is a putzish act in itself.

        • Cowicide says:

          Dawkins makes no distinction between people who do the latter and people who do not.

          That’s simply not true, he makes that distinction repeatedly. Read his full articles, watch the entirety of his lectures. You are mischaracterizing him for your own false argument.

          Scientology does evil in the real world; I also believe it’s a conscious scam

          And Christianity isn’t? Hahaha…

          Cowicide, using quote selection to make someone look like a putz is a putzish act in itself.

          Well, at least you admit you looked like a hypocritical putz, so it all worked out well. I’m not sure which is more putzy, quoting someone directly or mischaracterizing someone?

  87. KremlinLaptop says:

    “What if you’re wrong?”

    Then I’m wrong.

    It’s really very simple isn’t it? Yet the people who ask this are scared silly by the proposition that they might be wrong, suggesting it causes them to bluster with indignation at the thought and then alternatively they wield the question thinking it’s the sharpest intellectual rapier on offer. Yet… for people who don’t find immense comfort within the bowels of ignorance there really isn’t any sort of shame or horror with discovering you’re wrong.

    Being wrong – for me at least – more often than not doesn’t mean I’ve been defeated but rather it means I’ve discovered something completely new and fascinating that I could barely comprehend before. Being wrong for me often means the next line of thought is: “I don’t know, but I’m going to find out.”

    It’s a bit more problematic for people who base all their belief and views on one set of teachings to admit something might be wrong. Being wrong is… being wrong, it won’t really lead anywhere.

    “What if you’re wrong?” is a fair enough question, even if it’s just a lead into Pascal’s Wager, but there will need to be extraordinary proof to convince me that I am indeed wrong.

    Then I’ll just say, “Hm, seems I was wrong,” and my world won’t fall apart over it – instead I’ll have discovered something new. (This is ignoring the fact that any proof convincing enough of a higher power would have to explain it in such detail that it would make belief irrelevant and worship meaningless – at least from my view point.)

  88. Anonymous says:

    Although Dawkins correctly points out the relation between upbringing and religious persuasion, does he actually address the point he isn’t making? That people of all ages, lifestyles, circumstances, and so on, all seem to be drawn to something higher, even if imaginary?

  89. Anonymous says:

    Based on Dawkins’s treatment of those who disagree with him, I doubt he’d change his mind even if the proof was in a peer-reviewed science journal. Dawkins attitude does not seem to be that God can’t really be proven or disproven, but more of the form “Me and the other scientists have already disproven God and if you don’t agree, you’re an idiot.”

    I’m with a number of the other commentors in that he fails to answer the question she asked. She didn’t say “What if you’re wrong, which means I’m right”, which is the question Dawkins answered, but “What if you’re wrong?” i.e. what if there is some form of God, what would that do to your beliefs?.

    Dawkins has this annoying tendency to attack straw men. Whether he does it delibrately in order to appear more correct or he is so set in his ways that he consistently misunderstands what people are saying.

  90. scriptedfate says:

    I still don’t understand her question. So I looked up ‘what if’ on Wikipedia… apparently it’s a phrase used to try and get us to think of what logically follows if the proposition were true.

    So if Richard Dawkins is wrong and the God of Abraham sent his Son to die for our sins, and a woman who is not a virgin when she is married shall be cast out, etc. etc…. then what? Well… then Mr Dawkins will not go to go to Heaven, and through his books and lectures has caused a bunch of other people to not go to heaven.

    That’d be the appropriate answer, I guess… But that’s boring, and wouldn’t even merit a post on youtube. His response is much more interesting.

    • Chris Spurgeon says:

      I think Dawkins would say that if one could prove him wrong…and by that I don’t mean some “I know God is real because I feel it in my heart” or “There must be a Creator because we can’t explain all of creation any other way” bollocks…I mean prove him wrong with actual demonstrable positive proof of an all-powerful, all-knowing diety, then he would change his mind and admit he was wrong.

      But that’s kind of the point…no such evidence has been presented. In the light of that lack of decent evidence thinking there’s no God is a more reasonable conclusion than thinking there is one.

    • Anonymous says:

      No…if he’s wrong, we don’t know what would happen. Why if he’s wrong do you assume the path he is destined to take comes from the Bible?

  91. Avram / Moderator says:

    “Juju of the mountain”? Really, Mr Dawkins?

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