Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Problem of a Complex God

More good stuff on some of my favorite pet themes.

Here's the most interesting section of the article:

Most effective is Dawkins's chapter "Why There Almost Certainly Is No God," which not only sheds logical light on the so-called anthropic principle and the "worship of gaps," but also demolishes yet again the hoary "argument from design." This chestnut has had numerous stakes driven through its heart, but like a cinematic version of the undead, it keeps resurrecting itself, staggering, zombielike and covered with flies, back into public view. Dawkins confronts the version concocted by the astronomer Fred Hoyle, who evidently knew more about stars than about evolution. According to Hoyle, the probability of living things' having been created completely by chance is about that of a windstorm's blowing through a junkyard and spontaneously creating a Boeing 747.

Dawkins agrees that chance alone would not be up to the task but then shows, painstakingly, that natural selection is precisely the opposite of chance: It is an extraordinarily efficient way of generating extreme nonrandomness. Moreover, God as ultimate explanatory device for complexity is especially depauperate, since we cannot credibly maintain that God is less complex than a Boeing 747. In short, God, for Dawkins, is "the ultimate 747": Insofar as the problem is explaining complexity, it hardly suffices to posit the spontaneous and uncaused existence of something that is infinite orders of magnitude more complex.

I think Dawkins's point is that we don't need one big improbable thing to happen in order to have the universe, or our planet, or life, or evolution. We just need 1 or 2 small things to overcome their improbability to set us on a path that becomes increasingly less random as events accumulate.

The bit about the unlikelihood of God is more rhetorically satisfying. If the human brain is more complex and sophisticated than any of its inventions, shouldn't the designer of the universe be more complex than his creation? And if it is unlikely that the universe should come from nothing, than isn't it even more unlikely that God came from nothing? Heh.

Religion gives us a reductio ad absurdum of ever more implausible explanations. I prefer the notion that however unlikely, the existence of the universe is the ultimate Black Swan.