Feb 242012

There was surprise when Prof Dawkins acknowledged that he was less than 100 per cent certain of his conviction that there is no creator.

Prof Dawkins said that he was “6.9 out of seven” sure of his beliefs, referencing the seven point scale of belief that he sets out in his bookThe God Delusion.

The philosopher Sir Anthony Kenny, who chaired the discussion, interjected: “Why don’t you call yourself an agnostic?” Prof Dawkins answered that he did.

An incredulous Sir Anthony replied: “You are described as the world’s most famous atheist,” to which Prof Dawkins retorted, “Well not by me!” to much laughter among the audience.

The two men were taking part in a public “dialogue” at Oxford University at the end of a week which has seen bitter debate about the role of religion in public life in Britain.

I don’t think this story is as much of a big deal as it is being made out to be. Very few atheists would take the position of a 100 percent certainty that there is no God. Though I think it is an error to describe anybody who has high certainty that there is no God as an agnostic. For them they have weighed the evidence and not found that nothing is known or can be known of the existence of the God, but that enough is known to positively accept that there is no God. An agnostic sits on the fence and sees the balance of what can be known as inconclusive for either side.

No word yet if he will rename his book the “The God Delusion” to the “The 6.9 out of 7 there is no God Delusion.” Though I find it quite interesting that he considers this a significant scale. Especially since so many of the numbers involving chance evolution are quite large involving double exponents. For example a 0.98571428571429 chance there is a God by his scale is whopping compared to a purely natural chance of life evolving as it has.  The 0.98571428571429 chance is quite reasonable compared to the old millions of monkeys typing out the works of Shakespeare eventually.

Prof Dawkins told him: “What I can’t understand is why you can’t see the extraordinary beauty of the idea that life started from nothing – that is such a staggering, elegant, beautiful thing, why would you want to clutter it up with something so messy as a God?”

On the subject of evolution my thought is that “However God brought about the human race is fine with me. I just know he was involved.”

A biologist like Dawkins focuses on life evolving out of nothing, but conveniently leaves out that the universe could not evolve out of nothing. The need for “reality” involving space and time requiring an “unconditioned reality” outside of space and time is covered quite excellently in Fr. Robert Spitzer’s New Proofs for the Existence of God: Contributions of Contemporary Physics and Philosophy.  Fr. Spitzer also recently did a very nice job on two hours of Catholic Answers Live and I quite enjoyed his responding to an atheist who called in on the impossibility of omnipotence.

Another area why I think this is overblown is that while the majority of believers also have a high certainty of God, they do not have absolute certainty.  Blessed John Henry Newman in his book “An Essay In Aid Of A Grammar Of Assent” really delves into the subject of certainty and knowledge.  There is essentially no one who does not have doubt on the subject.

…both the believer and the unbeliever share, each in his own way, doubt and belief, if they do not hide from themselves and from the truth of their being. Neither can quite escape either doubt or belief; for the one, faith is present against doubt; for the other, through doubt and in the form of doubt. It is the basic pattern of man’s destiny only to be allowed to find the finality of his existence in this unceasing rivalry between doubt and belief, temptation and certainty. Perhaps in precisely this way doubt, which saves both sides from being shut up in their own worlds, could become the avenue of communication. It prevents both sides from enjoying complete self-satisfaction; it opens up the believer to the doubter and the doubter to the believer; for one, it is this share in the fate of the unbeliever; for the other, the form in which belief remains nevertheless a challenge to him. – then-Cardinal Josef Ratzinger “Introduction to Christianity

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  23 Responses to “Overblown reaction to Dawkins’ “6.9 out of 7” certainty there is no God”

  1. “What I can’t understand is why you can’t see the extraordinary beauty of the idea that life started from nothing – that is such a staggering, elegant, beautiful thing, why would you want to clutter it up with something so messy as a God?”

    What I can’t understand is why he can’t see the extraordinary beauty of the idea that life began as a pure gift from God – that is such a staggering, elegant, beautiful thing, why would you want to clutter it up with something so messy as unguided, purposeless evolution-from-nothing?

    I’d also say that it matter very little what we *want*. Even if I was convinced Dawkin’s argument was more “staggering, elegant, and beautiful”, that wouldn’t matter unless it was true. We’re seeking the truth, not mere “elegance”.

    (Though as a Catholic, I believe the two converge in one system–in one person–Christ, the Creator God incarnate.)

  2. Both the believer and the unbeliever share doubt and belief.

    Sometimes I think that there’s no way we are all going to find a way to get along, but then I read something like that. Gives me hope!

  3. Brandon,

    “We’re seeking the truth, not mere “elegance””

    Though it is quite awesome that these are usually not exclusive and that one can lead to the other.

  4. […] Overblown Reaction to Dawkins’ “6.9 out of 7″ Certainty There is No God – Jeff Miller […]

  5. Totally agree (per my endnote). But Dawkins seems more content with the latter at the expense of the former.

  6. […] I agree with Jeff Miller that we shouldn’t try to make too much hay of Richard Dawkins’ recent comments that he is more properly considered an agnostic, and that his certainty that there is no God is a “6.9 out of 7.” This isn’t the first time Dawkins has made such comments, and they don’t really change any of his positions. The problem is that Dawkins is still speaking as if the positivistic, empirical scientific method is the only way of knowing anything. Presumably, Dawkins would put his non-belief in unicorns at something similar to 6.9 out 7. Science has no proof of unicorns, so there is no reason to believe that they exist — but science also cannot positively demonstrate that unicorns don’t exist, so their non-existence cannot be technically stated with absolute certainty. God, in Dawkins’ view, is similar. Science does not have positive evidence that there is no God, but the very absence of any evidence at all (in Dawkins’ view) for God places God into a similar category with unicorns. No scientific evidence for them, therefore no reason to believe. The problem with his view is still his scientism, and his ignorance of and rejection of evidence and types of reasoning that don’t fit exactly into the narrow confines that empirical science is competent to investigate. Share this:FacebookTwitterEmailMoreStumbleUponDiggLinkedInPrint […]

  7. How does an agnostic choose to live? Would they pray in case there was a God, or not pray because there might not be a God? I suppose it would depend on where they fell on the continuum between certain belief and certain unbelief.

  8. Dawkins idea of life rising from no/thing seems quite compatible with theism. Years back, I did some very informal research, inquiring of those professionals in the Church (priests, brothers and nuns) if they never doubting the phenomenon of a godhead. With no exceptions, each reported that they had prolonged periods of such doubts. Faith is in the “unseen.” And faith is as responsive to doubt as love is to alienation. It is unkind to Mr. Dawkins to see him as any other than a searcher dealing with a pilgrimage of his own.

  9. “Perhaps in precisely this way doubt, which saves both sides from being shut up in their own worlds, could become the avenue of communication. It prevents both sides from enjoying complete self-satisfaction; it opens up the believer to the doubter and the doubter to the believer; for one, it is this share in the fate of the unbeliever; for the other, the form in which belief remains nevertheless a challenge to him.”
    How beautifully said. I consider pointing out this shared existential fate to be a big part of my own blogs work. I wonder if Ratzinger goes so far as to recognises that atheism can be equally integritous in its pursuit of truth or whether he is stuck with Pauline notions of atheism as willful rejection of the obvious; a position paralleled by atheists themselves towards theists all too often.

  10. […] ran across this- Overblown Reaction to Dawkins’ “6.9 out of 7″ Certainty There is No God __________________ Your socks stink. To view links or images in signatures your post count must […]

  11. If Dawkins were rational (or better read in philosophy/theology) he would take is 6.9/7 as a probability of 1/70 that God exists, and use Pascal’s Wager to insure that he would participate in the afterlife of heaven. But like most unbelievers, he is neither rational nor well-read.

  12. I always wonder who Fr Spitzer is talking to. Even the most benign comments (like “hello”) are filled with dissertations on Velvict Bolling Ball Theory of Expanding and Bouncing Multiverses. I guess that sounds impressive to a layman. But he doesn’t have a physics degree that I know of, so is a PhD in Physics going to really listen to him? I don’t know a huge number of professional scientists but none of them seem willing to be told how to interpret their work by a philosopher who they’d normally view as a bearded voodoo doctor (even though Fr Spitzer doesn’t have a beard).

    I can’t tell if he’s baffling his audience with bs or dazzling them with brilliance.

  13. As an Atheist, The likelyhood of any god is very very small. But, like Dawkins, If any evidence of a god was presented, I would be very interested in it. None ever has been. As I understand the christian god, If he did exist, I would acknoledge him but would still not worship him. Old testiment is just too morally objectionable.

  14. On page 51 of the God Delusion, the probability of the non-existence of God is given as 6 out of 7, not 6.9.

  15. I suspect Dawkins may have meant “nearly nothing” rather than literally “nothing” when he said “life started from nothing” for at another time he clarified the distinction saying: “The fact that life evolved out of nearly nothing, some 10 billion years after the universe evolved out of literally nothing, is a fact so staggering that I would be mad to attempt words to do it justice.” Also, while Dawkins accepts that (random) “chance” plays a role in the theory of evolution, he denies the claim that it’s “purely natural [random] chance of life evolving as it has”, and instead refers to “natural selection” which he does not describe as mere random chance. For example, when he was asked, “A lot of people think that evolution is all about random chance,” he responded: “That’s ludicrous. That’s ridiculous. Mutation is random in the sense that it’s not anticipatory of what’s needed. Natural selection is anything but random. Natural selection is a guided process, guided not by any higher power, but simply by which genes survive and which genes don’t survive. That’s a non-random process.” Or when asked, “What do people most often get wrong when they try to understand evolution?”, he responded: “It’s the idea that it is a theory of random chance. That single misunderstanding alone accounts for just about everything you will read on so-called arguments against evolution, things like, ‘I can’t believe that something as complicated as an eye could come about by chance.’ Well of course it couldn’t come about by chance! How could it be possible to be so stupid as to think that anybody could ever suggest that it comes about by chance? Natural selection is the very opposite of chance — that’s the whole point!” Thus, Dawkins’ view is not about “millions of monkeys typing out the works of Shakespeare eventually”.

  16. @Bob Kurland, in regard to your comment regarding Dawkins and Pascal’s Wager, alleging that “But like most unbelievers, he is neither rational nor well-read”, how “well-read” must one be to know of Dawkins’ famous response: “What if I’m wrong??? What if you’re wrong about the Great Juju at the Bottom of the Sea.” Or, when there are many “gods” throughout man’s history that might each have some possibility of being true according to someone, then which one to choose and why? Apparently, people of different religions may believe/bet on different “gods”, each according to his/her own beliefs/betting scheme. Was it a “rational” choice/wager you made after “reading” up on all the alleged “gods”? Because according to your holy book, “You did not choose me, but I chose you” and “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him”. Perhaps believers in the Great Juju at the Bottom of the Sea have a similar teaching.

  17. The presentation of God, assuming he exists, is so flawed that faith is a requirement. I don’t see how any Christian could convince an atheist of anything.
    1) Christ came to save all mankind, but hell exists. If anyone is in it, Christ failed in his mission, regardless of whose choice it was. So, we have an omnipotent God who fails in his goals.
    2) Despite the existence of Chinese civilization prior to the Hebrews in the desert, God appears only to the Hebrews and selects them as his chosen people. How could an atheist accept the concept of a fair God who created all of humanity? Certainly he is not fair in the human sense, and that is all we have. If you redefine fairness to say “He is infinitely fair in ways we don’t understand”, then you are just redefining the concept of the word “fair” to suit your needs.
    3) Despite the fact that man has been on earth for at least 100,000 years, God appears to have popped into civilization about 4500 years ago, then again about 2000 years ago, and subsequently vanished. His effects on faith have been long lasting, but they have been almost non-existent on human behavior. In fact, many abominations are performed in His name to this day. This is a corollary to point 1 – human behavior has not changed, despite the Son of God coming on earth precisely to change it. Again, a failure of the mission. The Church says that humans are responsible. So what? It’s still a failure of the mission.
    4) Finally, the punishment for a lifetime of acts is infinite, incendiary torture. It is interesting that torture is forbidden as intrinsically evil on earth, but perfectly justifiable retribution for sins in the afterlife. That’s interesting enough, but add to it the idea that humans are going to exist in perfect happiness in full knowledge of the fact that many of their brethren are suffering for all eternity calls the concept of Christian love into question.

    If, on earth, a father loves his 3 year old, he won’t let him put his hand on a hot stove, no matter how attractive the fire might be to the child. God has no problem with this, and instead says, “Aha! – the child chose to to that, not me!” Humans, by definition, cannot understand infinity, so the analogy is apt – they are children who can’t comprehend the consquence, yet that is their punishment.

    None of this makes sense, unless you have faith. I do, but I don’t know whether it’s a gift, or a curse.

    Faith cannot be reasoned. You either have it or you don’t, but you certainly can’t prove it.

  18. Why should Dawkins’ characteriaztion of 6.9 out of 7, be so surprising when he said as much on page 51 of “The God Delusion”? What is amusing is that Dawkins sees no distincion between probability as the self-ranking of personal opinion, such as his agnosticism of 0.987 and probabiltiy as mathematical probability, such as the 0.167 probability of rolling the sum, seven, with two dice. (See deltaepsilonsigma.org, the Journal vol LV, no. 1, 2010)

  19. Robert Drury, in your love of Dawkins, do you “see no distinction between” yourself and Dawkins? Or how is it that you “see” as Dawkins?

  20. In reply to the questions of Monkey at a keyboard: (1) The command to love one’s neighbor as oneself requires a distinction between one’s neighbor and oneself. (2) I “see” as Dawkins sees, because I read “The God Delusion” in which Dawkins expresses his views to his readers in an attempt to convince them to concur in the truth as he sees it.

  21. Robert Drury, you may see as you think he sees. But that does not mean you see as he sees. And I very much doubt what you think he sees matches well with what he sees.

  22. @TomR
    In response to your arguments.

    1) How the Lord saves is love. It is by definition is freely given and freely received. If man can not reject love he is not free and thus can not make the decision to love. He must be able to reject salvation if he is free to accept it.

    2) I k now many who say He is infinitely GOOD. Out of that would any measure of fairness flow. Flawed definitions of fairness and goodness lead to the Handicapper General. Jesus made it clear the King will judge based on their opportunities. See Matthew 25:37. Tell me how that is unfair. Just as you wouldn’t expect the same total amount of taxes from the millionaire and the pauper, apparently neither does the Master. See Matthew 25:14-30.

    3) The Lord just not pop in and out, he has been with Man since Eden and has been forming them until the marriage feast, with the incarnation and passion of Christ. Since then he has been fully present with the church through the Holy Spirit and Holy Mass. Many miracles occur in every generation, look at the “miracle of the sun” in 1917, the miracles of St. Padre Pio (1887-1968), the miracles of St. Charbel (1828-1898), or all the miraculous healings at the Shrine at Lourdes or any other shrine.

    Matthew 28:20 “Behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

    4) The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, all the other tortures are the consequence of this separation. Only in the Lord can man find happiness, by rejecting that font of grace man will descend to “The Lord of the Flies,” and given an infinite time horizon, infinitely so.

  23. If what you wrote answers any of what I asked, I’m happy for you. I don’t see it, but it could be because I’m already so evil that there is no hope for me.

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