Saturday, May 19, 2007

Such bandwidth!

My series of posts inspired by DawkinsThe God Delusion finally ends (I really ought to be thinking more about logic) with his rather comic view of God. Someone once said, that when people told him that they did not believe in God, he asked them which God they did not believe in, and it strikes me that I would not believe in a God described by the following two points, which Dawkins was adding to an earlier response (the possibility of hallucinations etc.) to claims that personal experiences of God cannot be scientifically refuted:

"First, that if God really did communicate with humans that fact would emphatically not lie outside science. God comes bursting through from whatever other-worldly domain is his natural abode, crashing through into our world where his messages can be intercepted by human brains – and that phenomenon has nothing to do with science? Second, a God who is capable of sending intelligible signals to millions of people simultaneously, and of receiving messages from all of them simultaneously, cannot be, whatever else he might be, simple. Such bandwidth! God may not have a brain made of neurones, or a CPU made of silicon, but if he has the powers attributed to him he must have something far more elaborately and non-randomly constructed than the largest brain or the largest computer we know."
(Dawkins 2006: 154)

Dawkins’ God seems here to be like the leader of some alien invaders from a parallel universe, because surely the Creator of this world would not need to “burst” or “crash” into it—no more than a human author would have to magically appear inside her characters’ fictional world in order to influence them. Of course, fictional characters are not alive, like we are, but that was only an analogy, and the key word is ‘Creator’ (if we have one, this universe is more her/his world than it is our world).
...... Her/his messages might bypass our brains (designed as they would have been for our dealings with this material world) and be received via our consciences (in some immaterial way), or they might be relayed via angels (for whom this world might be like the seas are to us, i.e. not so much unnatural—are houses natural?—as just relatively uncomfortable), or they might indeed arise within our brains, but since those would be brains that s/he made (or is making), so such information would hardly have to travel more than the zero distance from the tip of her/his metaphorical pen (which would be quite unlike any part of Creation) to the metaphorical paper (Creation).
...... No analogy is perfect, so consider another. In Flatland, mathematical creatures of both 2 and 3 dimensions occupy the same space, the former in a plane through which the latter might move as easily as they move through any of the planes of space. E.g. a cube passing through Flatland might seem to appear from nowhere, first as a small equilateral triangle, growing and changing into a rotating hexagon before reverting to a shrinking triangle and disappearing again—or as some other sequence of 2-dimensional shapes. It might be quite mysterious, to the dimensionally challenged Flatlanders, how the different possible sequences could be the same thing, but nonetheless Flatland is just part of the natural abode of the cube.
...... Now, perhaps elves would burst into this world upon the backs of unicorns, from their natural abode (Elfland), were they not fictional, but the Creator would be more like something that was to this world (Creation) as this world is to such fictional realms, were s/he to exist. And whatever the Creator is composed of (if anything), it would hardly be like the stuff of this world, whence we can hardly conclude that s/he must have any kind of elaborately and non-randomly constructed information-processor (although of course s/he might have, e.g. a host of angels).
...... Dawkins’ second point relates to scientific refutation because his argument for the improbability of God rests on our need to explain a complex God—but why should the Creator not be simple? Cf. how an author need not contain anything like her own complicated plots (just the insight, imagination and inspiration to construct such things, with pen and paper); cf. how a sphere is not a complicated Dr. Triangle/Mr. Hexagon character (within Flatland). Anyway, the theory of evolution having shown us one way in which complex (physical) structures might arise from simple (physical) beginnings, the assumption that the Creator could not be simple is an odd one for Dawkins to make.
...... Anyway, whether the Creator is complex (in certain respects, and from our point of view) or simple, there is hardly any necessity to her/him being non-randomly constructed. If s/he had an origin (and why should s/he?), it would be quite mysterious (why should it not be?), so maybe s/he arose randomly (and if we don’t know out of what sort of stuff, how can we say if it is unlikely?) and maybe s/he was constructed (why not an infinite sequence of Creators?). (But there should be time enough for Theology later, if there is any point to doing any.)


Alejandro said...

Hello, I arrived here from your comment at my blog. I agree with some of the points you make against Dawkins (I especially like the author analogy for God, which I have used also here), but I think you are missing Dawkins' point (which I must admit he does not make too clearly) when you say:

"but why should the Creator not be simple? Cf. how an author need not contain anything like her own complicated plots (just the insight, imagination and inspiration to construct such things, with pen and paper)"

An author does have to contain something like her plots. All real (human) author we are familiar with have a complex brain structure in which concepts for the characters and plots are represented, and these complex brain structures have emerged gradually by natural selection. Dawkins is implicitly assuming naturalism about consciousness: "mind", "creative intention", "imagination" and related concepts are not suitable ultimate points for ending a chain of explanations, because however simple and basic they might seem to us "from the inside", they are really expressions of a hugely complex material structure that needs millions of years of evolution to come to exist.

I think Dawkins is overstating the power of his argument because he does not see materialism about mind as a disputable philosophical position but as a straightforward scientific fact. (I say this even while I am a materialist as well; I just think it is a philosophical position, with which others can reasonably disagree... even if I believe they are wrong.)

Enigman said...

Upon reflection I don't think I was missing Dawkins' point (although I've yet to absorb the details of your position, so I may be wrong, of course). His second point (in my quote) was explicitly that any ability to process so many signals simultaneously must be much more complex than our brains. But my point was that such processing might not be, in reality (and given that there is such a God, which was also Dawkins' assumption, within that quote), as complicated as it looks to us. Another (weak) analogy might be, the difference between how bats, massing in the twilight, might use their brains to calculate where they all were, via echo location, whereas we'd just glance up; and to complete this (weak) analogy, add in that God is this world's Author by assuming that such glances are as simple as they seem to be, as simple as our imagination might be if materialism is false (as it might well be if there is, as Dawkins is here assuming, a God). Many thanks for your comment though (and please correct me again, if I'm missing your point).

Enigman said...

A better analogy might be electrons (thought of as primitive posits, along with quarks), as compared with some robots, each of which is designed to locate similar robots in its environment and interact with them according to a simple formula that depends, in an inverse square way, upon the other robots’ distances from it (and if electrons are made of strings, then cf. strings compared with similar robots). Another analogy is with many-minds interpretations of quantum mechanics, where even though the world’s existence would seem to need less explaining (being in a sense simple) than a bare watch would (for all that the latter would be in a sense simpler), it would contain all the complexity of the apparent world (cf. a sphere, which contains all sorts of fractal substructures).

John said...

Most of the arguments for the christian "creator" god-idea are in effect about whether there is a big daddy in the sky looking after us---and threatening to punish us if we are naughty---and as such are quite primitive and childish in their "understanding".

By contrast atheists are (quite rightly) rejecting this nieve infantilising father god idea---in typical adolescent fashion. But they are also failing to really see the big picture altogether.

This essay discusses the nieve "reasoning" behind the "creator" god idea.

Also a related reference.