Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Not off to a good start

I have been pretty busy this past week and today is the first chance I've had (or taken) to sit down with Scott Hahn and Benjamin Wiker's Answering the New Atheism: Dismantling Dawkins' Case Against God. So far, the first chapter (don't even get me started on the intro) has not impressed me.

Chapter 1: Dawkins' God: Chance

The entire chapter has been spent in attempts to discredit Dawkins' book by casting doubt on his illustrations. Much has been made of an illustration from The Blind Watchmaker, which I have not read, about what might happen if a statue of the Virgin Mary started to wave her hands. If, after all scientific examination had been unable to explain the event (I suppose we are to assume that no mistakes have been made) then, according to Dawkins, the event must be explained by a chance alignment of molecules to produce the effect of a wave.

Without having read the Blind Watchmaker myself, I do not know what context - if any - that was pulled from. On its own, however, I would have to disagree with Dawkins myself. If a marble statue of the Virgin Mary (or of Mickey Mouse or Abraham Lincoln) started to wave its arms, and all scientific solututions and all chicanery were ruled out, then I would have to say that it was a miracle. You read that right: if my apartment got up and took a bath in the river, I would call that a miracle, no matter how long the odds. But that's only because these events are impossible. And if the authors of this book want to call faith, then there again I have faith in science. If it is impossible to happen, then it didn't happen. It may be frustrating to call this event impossible and a miracle, but then remember that it didn't actually happen. In every case of a weeping statue, an easy scientific explanation is close at hand. I remember hearing the odd bit of 'scientific trivia' that, physically, it is impossible for bumblebees to fly (I don't know how widespread that little gem is, but I have heard it repeated a few times). The rebuttal which I heard only once) has always stuck with me: nothing that is 'physically impossible' happens. To follow this absurdly simple bit of wisdom then, anything that happens is possible, everything that has happend has been possible. No miracle required. So what if the odds against life forming were long? Clearly it happened.

It seems that Hahn and Wiker are saying that, because the odds of life forming are so long, it must not have happened and Dawkins is a fool for insisting that it did. The writers here have shaded Dawkins' illustrations and made them look absurd and then using them in an attempt to discredit the rest of his argument.

Chapter 2: Pride and Prejudice

Well. This chapter seems to be stating that, although evolution may have happened (hey - the Catholics believe it did! -pg 50) it must have had an intelligent designer along the way. That's great. Because it's improbable that this all happened, it must have been God (a.k.a. magic). I will confess that I really got lost in this chapter and ended up skipping through some parts. There was an excessive use of statistics and numbers that seem to be largely irrelevant to the conversation - monkeys on typewriters, tornadoes in a junkyard, etc. The authors make all of the mistakes that they accuse Dawkins of making. For example, assuming the result in the equation. They state near the beginning of the chapter their answer to the question of life:
"To begin with, while God can create instantaneously or over any period of time He wishes, chance needs a long, long, long time to accomplish the most meager results." (pg 25)
I agree. God is more effective than chance. And maybe if God had designed us, he might have done a better job. But this just assumes 1) that god did it and 2) that god is actually God, to whom a whole list of attributes otherwise irrelevant to the creation of the universe.

I can't take any more of this book today.

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