Monday, April 25, 2011

Dawkins’ Faith in Blind Luck (or Blind Faith in Dumb Luck)

Richard Dawkins’ strongest argument against the probability of God (as if God’s existence were based on a probability) comes in chapter 4 of his book The God Delusion. He himself states of this chapter that it is the “central argument of my book”  (157) and concludes at the end the chapter “God almost certainly does not exist” (158). So one might expect some strong arguments in Chapter 4. If so, you’d be either disappointed or pleasantly surprised, depending on your point of view. This chapter also reveals that Dawkins’ atheism is really a matter of faith rather than science, and, in fact, that he has a stronger faith and hope than most theists. His, in fact, is a blind faith in luck.

Chance or Natural Selection? Before developing his arguments against God’s existence, Dawkins firsts attempts to refute the Creationist argument that belief in atheistic evolution is a belief in mere chance or luck to explain the complex design we see in the universe. According to Dawkins, Creationist and Intelligent Design proponents see only two alternatives for the origins and development of life: “chance” or “Intelligent Design.” Since theists see it as counterintuitive to attribute highly complex order and design to mere random chance, there must have been a Designer.  Dawkins counters that the two mutually exclusive alternatives, however, are not “chance” and “design,” but rather “Natural Selection” and “design.” Natural Selection (NS), not chance, is the mechanism for creating order out of disorder. Natural Selection is the metaphorical “crane” that directs the process.

But does natural selection remove all random chance from the equation. First, Dawkins himself fully admits that NS is only applicable to living systems. It does not apply to the origin of life to begin with, nor to the order we see in physics and cosmology (e.g., Why is the universe controlled by ordered laws?). I’ll deal with the very important issue of origins and cosmology later. For now, Dawkins’ faith in Natural Selection as the mechanism that makes the improbable occurrence of highly complex systems probable, is something to be admired (he has amazing faith in this “solution of stunning elegance and power” 121). But Dawkins’ argument has at least one major fault. Dawkins believes that NS is the mechanism by which new, complex systems arise.  He states, in essence, that NS is the only solution because NS is a cumulative process, which breaks the problem of improbability up into small pieces (e.g., improving the vertebrate eye, or perhaps the hand bones being mutated to act more like the prototype of a wing). “Each of the small pieces is slightly improbable, but not prohibitively so. When large numbers of these slightly improbable events are stacked up in a series, the end product of the accumulation is very very improbable indeed, improbable enough to be far beyond the reach of chance.” (121). Natural selection, by breaking the process into tiny bits of evolution at a time, turns the very, very improbable into the probable.

The fault with this solution is that NS does not produce any new material. Dawkins sees it is a mechanism, but NS can only act on material that is produced by some other process. He completely ignores that needed other process, at least in this book—for good reason, I believe. The only proposed source for new genetic material upon which NS can act is genetic mutation. The thing is, mutations are almost exclusively caused by injury (think of radiation exposure) or random copying errors in the DNA duplication process—both of which are negative processes. Has anyone ever observed a beneficial birth defect in humans, for example? Mutations are almost always harmful. But what evolutionists need are beneficial genetic mutations upon which NS can act by favoring the mutated progeny over the already existing populations of a species. Are we to believe that the incredible, well-working complexity we see in the world today was all caused by accidents and random mistakes?

We have to believe that random mutations, not just a few but millions upon millions upon millions, will prove beneficial to a species. This is like believing that randomly changing the inner workings of a supercomputer by closing your eyes and clipping some wires or soldering in some new circuits in a random location will improve the workings of the computer. Or that making continual, small copying errors in copying a short poem like “Roses are red, violets are blue…” will eventually result in writing War and Peace. Where NS would come in is when such a random change actually does prove to be beneficial you keep that computer and base future designs on it—only to randomly change those as well, perhaps by mistakes in the manufacturing process. Now, if you made such random changes enough times, you might get lucky once in a while and produce a better computer. But how many changes will you have to make before you get lucky enough to make one minor improvement? And what happens to the computer while you are making all those bad changes before you get a lucky good mistake? And how many of the lucky good changes will have to occur to turn a 1970’s-era calculator into 21st century supercomputer that can beat the all-time best players in a game of jeopardy? Of course, in this illustration we started with the calculator already in place. To parallel real life, however, we would have to start with a something even more simple, like an abicus perhaps. No, we’d have to go further back and start instead with a random collection of minerals and elements, but now with no mechanism either for reproducing or selecting better mistakes. Dawkins completely ignores all this. But no matter how he tries to remove chance from the process, he cannot. And Dawkins fully recognizes this. Next week I’ll talk about origins, and we’ll see just how desperate Dawkins gets.

1 comment:

  1. i am following your articles and am struck with your wisdom and great use of the language...i am not so rich in the deep stuff, but i get it loud and clear...i only wish i could impart it to those i know who are atheists..i really don't think they dwell on why they are what they are..they just don't seem to want to be accountable to anyone..or obey anyone...great stuff!! i am hungry for more knowledge ..thanks so much for caring for all of us ...