Monday, July 14, 2008

Contra-Theism Argument: 'Crackpot' Analogy?

Yes, Virginia, there is a teapot . . .
. . . sighted somewhere over Utah.
(Orbiting Teapot Image from Wikipedia)

A long-time commentor here who goes by the cybername "Sonagi" posted an interesting remark on my recent "Fundamentalism" blog entry, and I'll post my response to one of her points concerning Richard Dawkins, which I first quote:
"Dawkins addresses the argument that we cannot know for sure that God does not exist through an analogy. Suppose someone told you that there was a teapot orbiting the Sun. There is no way to disprove this since even the strongest telescopes could not detect such a small object. However, there is no evidence to support the existence of a teapot, either. Likewise, he asserts that there is no evidence of the existence of God, apart from compilations of ancient texts written by numerous authors."
Now for my brief response:
Dawkins's argument here (which I believe he's borrowed from Bertrand Russell) seems rather weak to me. God wouldn't be just another object in the universe; he's supposed to be the ground of all existence, the noncontingent guarantor of all contingent things. How would one find evidence of the sort that Dawkins demands, for the analogy presupposes a scientific kind of empiricism?
Please note that I'm limiting myself to this one point and stating that I don't find this teapot analogy especially helpful. It might have some force against belief in a god who supposedly lives on Mount Olympus, for one could go there and look, and one might express skepticism to then be told that this god is invisible and therefore escapes empirical verification by the eyes. Since such a god supposedly lives in this world, and specifically upon Mount Olympus, then one is justified in expecting some positive empirical evidence for that 'fact'.

But God as the noncontingent guarantor of all contingent things . . . hardly comparable to a teapot in my opinion.

A coffee pot, on the other hand, might present sufficient grounds for argument.

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At 6:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You arguing against my paraphrase of Dawkins' argument as I recall it. Since you've shown interest in Dawkins' ideas, I'm guessing you might look further when you have time. As an agnostic who is sympathetic to many of Dawkins' arguments, I found his "Root of All Evil?" hyperbolic in parts. For instance, he visits now-discredited Ted Haggard's church service prior to Haggard's disgrace and to Haggard's face, likens it to Goebbels at the Nuremburg rally. The comparison draws a blank from Haggard, a flawed man who lacked self-control and broke the law but never preached hatred or doing harm to others.

At 6:30 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Yes, I should check out more about Dawkins, I suppose, but who knows when I'll have time?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 12:07 PM, Blogger Malcolm Pollack said...

Hi Jeffery,

If you want to read Dawkins, skip The God Delusion, and read his real work: The Selfish Gene, The Blind Watchmaker, and my recent favorite, The Ancestor's Tale. He is really quite brilliant, but as much as I agree with the theme of TGD, it is too much of a rant, and it is rather philosophically careless. (Bill Vallicella has given the teapot argument a thorough flaying too, along exactly the lines you follow here.)

A coffeepot? Sufficient grounds? Ouch.

At 12:28 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Malcolm, thanks for the suggestions.

On my pun -- which I admit was in 'poor taste' (oops!) -- I used to sit for hours in the Sufficient Grounds coffee shop in Berkeley, grading student essays, so I knew that I'd one day be able to pun on that cafe's name.

Well . . . that day has come.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 6:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There's no point re-inventing the wheel. Dawkins has been answered many times and in many ways. Try, for instance, David Berlinski's The Devil's Delusion: Atheism and its Scientific Pretensions (Crown Forum, 2008) or John Lennox's God's Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? (Lion, 2007).

At 7:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

For God's sake, Jeffery -- haven't we been pun-ished enough? Upun what do I base my conclusion? you ask. I'd rather not say. But believe me, I have sufficient grounds.

At 7:48 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

David Berlinski . . . I think that I only learned of him after reading a book by his daughter, Claire Berlinski: Menace in Europe.

I lead a sheltered life . . . here in my cave, reinventing wheels and arguments . . . and ignoring people. I don't think that I've even heard of John Lennox.

Now, I have five more books for my reading list.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:57 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Sorry about what seems like cruel and unusual pun-ishment . . . but in my pun-ctilious work as pun-dit, one can never pun-ish enough.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 4:23 PM, Blogger John B said...

I haven't read THE GOD DELUSION, but my impression is that Dawkins gets drawn toward the atheism debate much more than he really wants. He has written umpteen wonderful books about science, but people dwell on his one anti-theistic book, which I felt was written more as a reaction to people trying to politicize his populist work.

Ay any rate, Dennet is a much better authority and representative for atheism, IMO.

At 4:47 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I agree, John B, with your opinion.

Dennet is a genuine philosopher, a professional and respected in the field. Dawkins is just an intelligent but poorly informed amateur in philosophy.

As Clint Eastwood once put it (as a character in a film), "A man's gotta know his limitations."

Jeffery Hodges

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At 1:09 AM, Blogger John B said...

Although, it should be noted, Dawkins and his pop-sci precursor Carl Sagan didn't necessarily do a bad thing by tying philosophy with their all-encompassing, inter-disciplinary approaches to science. They're just not the strongest representatives of the atheism.

It should likewise be noted that many philosophers are rank amateurs in science, but nonetheless make an awful lot of commentary on it.

Hopefully we can see some inter-disciplinary people step up and fill in the gap between.

At 3:59 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

John B, the best person whom I ever saw for bringing science to the public was Jacob Bronowski in his series The Ascent of Man, which would be rather dated now (and wasn't focused solely upon science), but it was so much superior to Carl Sagan's effort in Cosmos that I could never endure the latter.

Bronowski, on the other hand, wasn't making atheist arguments and didn't have a particular ax to grind, so he didn't play the same role as Dawkins . . . or Sagan.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:29 PM, Blogger John B said...

Never saw COSMOS, my fond memories of Sagan stem from other works like DRAGONS IN EDEN.

At any rate, Jared Diamond is really outdoing himself as a pop sci writer. He doesn't touch on atheism/creationism, but he's a strong supporter of evolution, in the E. O. Wilson sense of mingling biology, sociology, and everything else.

At 4:20 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I read Dragons of Eden many years ago, way back when I was a Junior in college, and I recall enjoying it but no longer recall why.

Jeffery Hodges

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