Friday, December 17, 2010

Dawkins - Peerless Stinker


From time time to time this blog degenerates into a samey mix of horses, guns, space creatures and cheap jibes against the fast disappearing ACoC (Anglican Church of Canada) and its larger sister TEC (The Episcopal Church). To say nothing of the all too easy game of awarding "alien heads" to offending ecclesiastics.

So here's some philosophy to even things out; it's a reflection on Dawkins' take on Aquinas' 4th Way and you'll have to forgive the length but I like the argument.

First, the 4th Way itself, from the Summa:

Among beings there are some more and some less good, true, noble and the like. But 'more' and 'less' are predicated of different things, according as they resemble in their different ways something which is the maximum, as a thing is said to be hotter according as it more nearly resembles that which is hottest; so that there is something which is truest, something best, something noblest and, consequently, something which is uttermost being [i.e. maximally ontologically secure]; for those things that are greatest in truth are greatest in being, as it is written in [Aristotle's] Metaph. ii. Now the maximum in any genus is the cause of all in that genus; as fire, which is the maximum heat, is the cause of all hot things. Therefore there must also be something which is to all beings the cause of their being, goodness, and every other perfection; and this we call God.

Dawkins doesn't like this at all and decides to sneer:

"That's an argument? You might as well say, people vary in smelliness but we can make the comparison only by reference to a perfect maximum of conceivable smelliness. Therefore there must exist a pre-eminently peerless stinker, and we call him God."

But Aquinas is dealing with properties that have an intrinsic and logical, as opposed to de facto, maximum. Eric Mascall explains:

"Goodness, so the argument claims, demands as its cause a God who is good; while heat, though it necessarily demands a God whose knowledge of possible being includes an idea of heat, does not demand a God who is hot as its cause, but only a God who can create."

Peter Williams sums up:

"In modern philosophical terminology, Aquinas is arguing along the following lines:

  1. Things exist in the world around us that exhibit finite degrees of great-making properties (e.g. being, goodness, truth, beauty)

  2. The existence of something exhibiting a great-making property to a finite degree implies the existence of something that possesses the property in question to a maximal degree

  3. Therefore, all great making properties possessed in finite degree by beings in the world around us, including being, are possessed to a maximal degree by something

  4. An effect cannot exceed the greatness of its cause

  5. Therefore, there exists a maximally ontologically secure being that possess every great-making property possessed by its effects to a maximal degree; and this we call God.
It should at least be clear that Aquinas' argument is logically valid and consequently that this line of thought cannot be dismissed with a jeering reference to smelly people, which is all Dawkins does."

Well said, Peter Williams.

This site supports Aquinas -- not that he needs it.




All Seeing Eye said...

But that's Dawkins' only and standard attack line: reductio ad absurdum.

He's the equivalent of a dropped-on-his-head-as-a-child blog commenter who, when you are trying to explain a point and reach for an analogy makes you you instantly regret it.

Once you've opened the door to comparing something to a polar bear then you're stuck with it even when the analogy has run its course and the argument has moved on.

Deus est non foetidus

LSP said...

You're right Eye - Dawkins as "dropped-on-head-as-a-child blog commenter about sums it up.

You'd have thought that he would have bothered to get some Oxford Thomist - there's a few - to explain the 5 ways to him. But that wouldn't have helped his argument, or book sales.


Silverfiddle said...

Dawkins is an educated fool. He shows how anyone schooled in debate can literally argue for or against anything at all.

He reminds me of a little child casting stones at a bronze statue.

It gives him delight to mock God, but The Lord Almighty is impervious to his pathetic, impotent rantings.

Anonymous said...

Well said Sir. Dawkins regularly spouts childish arguments and yet is somehow treated as a towering intellectual genuis.Another example of such nonsense is his repeated ridiculous comparison of belief in "God" with that of a teapot orbiting the moon or a flying spaghetti monster.

No one throughout history has ever marvelled at the complexity of the universe and concluded the existence of said teapot or spaghetti monster however many have concluded the possible existence of a god. The reason for this is that there is no comparison.

LSP said...

I agree with you Silverfiddle, God seems to have managed the Dawkinsian onslaught, but then again he's not "foetidus", as The Eye reminds us.

LSP said...

" comparison." Well said, Anonymous!

God bless.

Greg Tingey said...

Your logic and philosophy is badly out of date.

Why MUST there be a "perfect" anything?
No reason at all.
This is an unjustified, unprovem and unsupported ASSUMPTION by Aquinas and his followers.
No evidence at all, either.
Logic FAIL.

Define: "goodness", come to that!
Socrates, or Bentham's definition, anyone?
Or any of the others.
IF you are talking strict logic, that is.....

And ,,, ops ...
Peter Williams point 4 is plain WRONG.
Ask a chemist or a biologist or physicist.
You can get "super-additive" properties, and "Emergent" ones, never mind run-away chain reactions.

You CAN, quite easily get effects bigger than the greatness of the cause.
Logic, knopwledge and history FAIL.

Anyway, I thought the ontological "argument" had been nailed down (pun intended) a long time ago.

The spite and malevolance directed against a quietly-spoken scientist is amazing.

Snarky Basterd said...

In another area of philosophy, regarding smelliness, I would say to Dawkins: He who smelt it dealt it.

All Seeing Eye said...

@Greg, it has been my experience on t'internet that those who resort to 'FAIL' slang do so because they have no coherent argument to offer.

Using it twice, as you do, merely reinforces the observation.

I like the idea though, that logic and philosophy can be "badly out of date". Perhaps the logic that you perceive as mouldy cheese is seen by others see as having the maturity and richness of a vintage wine.

Silverfiddle said...

Greg: You are an example of why people who do not know what they are talking about risk embarrassing themselves. You are obviously a stranger to formal logic, for logic does not go "out of date" like a carton of milk.

Aquinas' logic is flawless, as even an atheist educated in such matters will tell you. Your problem is with his premises, not the logic itself.

I suggest you go study up before further polluting this forum with your illogical muddle.

Dawkins in not "quietly spoken," he is an arrogant, smirking provocateur who is not satisfied with not believing, but must mock those who do.

BTW, I love the way Ben Stein eviscerated him at the end of "Expelled." It's a classic scene.

LSP said...

Thanks for the comment Greg but I'm confused.

You say that Aquinas assumes that God exists. But that's exactly what he doesn't do, hence the five ways. You may disagree with them, like Dawkins, but they're not assumptions.

You also claim that the ontological argument has been "nailed down long ago." Plantinga would disagree with you, but regardless - Anselm's proof isn't in question here, Aquinas' 4th way is, and it's a different argument than Anselm's.

"Good" is being considered as the object of desire. If you're a utilitarian it's "usefulness".

A cause is greater than it's effect because it produces it.

Surely for "quietly-spoken" you mean "outspoken"?

greg tingey said...

First: my background is physics and engineering, so I know my basic science, and the underlying philosophy, at least.
In no particular order:

You do know that Ben Stein in "Expelled" is a deliberate public liar, don't you?
He deliberately misrepresents, and distorts, and quote-mines ....
(etc ad nauseam).

Ontological argument.
No serious scientist or philosopher is going to buy it at this late date.
Certainly no-one after Kant.

"Reductio ad absurdum is a very powerful argument: it works.
If it is self-contradictory rubbish - then it is and must be,invalid."

I stand by my assertion, backed up by almost anything done seriously in science since shall we say 1859?

For argumentative evidence, I require, erm EVIDENCE.
Logic alone, and a priori reasoning are not enough, as all scientists should know.
Theory must conform to evidence, and to observation and testing, and the three must (should) be in a constant three-way feedaback loop.
That is how real knowledge advances, discarding known wrong results hypotheses and even thories.
We know that fire is not caused by Phlogiston - we don't need to go there again - ever. Ditto geocentric universes. Ditto the Ontological argument - or didn't anyone notice my comment about effects exceeding causes?

Fomal logic works - PROVIDED it is tested against reality.
The most flawless logical, even "perfect" argument can nonetheless be destroyed by one observed fact, or the uncovering of a false assumption underlying that argument.
Silverfiddle, please take note of that, also.

LSP said...

You know what they say Greg, "Facts Mr. Gradgrind, facts!"

Given the proverbial mill owner's caveat, perhaps you're unaware of the serious modern philosophers that back the Ontological argument? Godel, Hartshorne, Malcolm, Plantinga - to name several. Aquinas argued against the argument, interestingly.

Viz. Cause & effect - either very smart people, like Aristotle, were in reality very stupid, or you're missing the point...


Silverfiddle said...

Well Greg, the "deliberate public liar" got the smirking Christian-basher to admit that there must be a first cause. Priceless!

Since you're so damned smart, I won't insult your intelligence by explaining what a category error is. Science has nothing to do with this issue.

And Kant's arguments still stand.

How do you know you car is still in the garage as you sleep? How do you know your wife isn't cheating on you when you're not around? How do you know the Peloponnesian War happened?

Or, for a Rumsfeldian spin, How do you know what you don't know?

Everything cannot be reduced to a math problem. I'll refer you back to my comment on category errors.

greg tingey said...

Science has everything to do with the issue.
Does the (any) assumption conflict with observation and experiment?
If so, then the assumption is false.

I would remind you that Stein is a known liar.
Nothing he says AT ALL can be believed or trusted.
For a start.
There's plenty more where that came from .....

Silverfiddle said...

You're grasping at straws now, Greg. Stein totally owned Dawkins at the end of that movie. Dawkins admitted there must be a first cause. What say you?

Also, I suggest you go learn about category error. You have an obvious blind spot.

Shouting "Science!" like the guy from that 80's video just ain't cuttin' it.