Not bad odds for God’s existence, Dawkins says

February 27, 2012

Richard Dawkins and Rowan Williams enjoy a polite conversation at Oxford last week.

It’s clear that this latest wave of “new atheism” is on its last legs when its leading proponent, Richard Dawkins, the symbol of the movement, refuses to self-identify as an atheist. He’s merely an agnostic, he tells the Archbishop of Canterbury in this very polite debate last week.

He would say, I’m sure, that he hasn’t changed positions, and that calling himself an agnostic is in keeping with his commitment to science: no one can prove with certainty that God either does or doesn’t exist, and to be an atheist implies certainty.

That seems reasonable, except wasn’t the whole point of new atheism to get people off the fence about God’s existence? After all, Dawkins didn’t write The God Delusion to convince believers to abandon faith—unless he imagined that telling them on nearly every page that they’re morons was a persuasive tactic.

No, the book was for insiders—for those already convinced but who weren’t out of the closet. “Jump in,” he said. “The water’s fine.” I wouldn’t blame some of his fans for feeling betrayed.

Besides, I thought it was O.K. to self-identify as an atheist if you believed that the odds for God’s existence were vanishingly small. When I read Dawkins’s odds against God, 6.9 out of 7, I now understand why he only calls himself an agnostic. (Although I think it’s only fair to ask what peer-reviewed scientific journal these numbers come from!)

Those really aren’t bad odds… a 1.43 chance out of a hundred that God exists. This is from a man, after all, who by his own argument already believes in a lot of luck.

Here’s what I mean: In The God Delusion, he concedes that while it seems very unlikely that we should live on a planet, Earth, which possesses all the necessary conditions to support life, that’s only because we fail to understand that there are billions and billions of planets in the universe. So if the odds of finding one planet that supports life are one in billions, then the odds really aren’t so bad.

O.K., Prof. Dawkins, but what are the odds that we should find ourselves in a universe that has billions and billions of planets such that one planet has all the conditions necessary to support life? Dawkins anticipates this question in his book when he proposes a multiverse.

Yes, it’s true, he would say, that it seems extremely unlikely that we should live in a universe that has billions and billions of planets such that one planet has all the conditions necessary to support life, but that’s only because we fail to understand that there are billions and billions of universes—a multiverse—and we happen to find ourselves in one of them that has billions and billions of planets such that one planet has all the conditions necessary to support life.

What are the odds, then, that we should find ourselves in a multiverse, which has billions and billions of universes, one of which—our own—has billions and billions of planets, such that one of them has all the conditions necessary to support life.

Do you the problem? Dawkins is just playing with large numbers. He’s begging the question. He’s pushing the extreme unlikeliness of our existence further and further out. He would agree that there’s no way around the fact that we’re just really, really lucky to be here.

In fact, I would love for Dawkins to calculate those odds. In which case, even he might concede that while no one knows for sure, God’s existence is more likely than God’s non-existence.

One Response to “Not bad odds for God’s existence, Dawkins says”

  1. Tom Harkins Says:

    Certainly playing the “odds game” can never elevate atheism over theism. But cannot something similar be said with respect to evolution? Classic evolution is based on “chance” (non-directed) occurrences. What are the “chances” that “chance occurrences” could result in the world we see around us (including ourselves)? “Vanishingly small.” Since, therefore, we reject the “mechanism” of classic (atheistic) evolution, why should we cater to its “specific claims” (if the generalizations can even be called “specific” in the first place). We are listening to people who are “wrongheaded” coming out of the gate, and convinced about what they are wrongheaded about–passing it off as dogma which cannot be questioned. Since I question that dogma (being a “vanishingly small” likelihood), why should I defer to these very same people as “experts” when they tell me their deductions based on such a false premise? I don’t think I should.

    How we see things often depends on what glasses we are we are looking through. If you start with specific presumptions, you are going to interpret what you see differently from what someone else with different presumptions interprets from what he sees–even if you are looking at the same thing.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 164 other followers