Sunday 19 June 2011

Making stuff up is not an argument

Against my better judgement I followed a link posted by Unbelievable? on Facebook (and also apparently on Twitter):

Exploring Why Richard Dawkins Is Chickening Out « With All I Am

It's part of the general Christian hay-making over Richard Dawkins' refusal to debate William Lane Craig. I've already stated why I think Dawkins is right not to waste his time so I won't reiterate that here. The purpose of this post is to deal with repeated nonsense of Craig's that some theists think are valid arguments.

Craig claims to have refuted the arguments Dawkins uses in The God Delusion. The first time I saw these refutations I was unimpressed but didn't consider them further. So I'm a little surprised (perhaps I shouldn't be, now that I'm more familiar with Craig's modus operandi) to find them still quoted — as they are in the linked post:
First, in order to recognize an explanation as the best, one needn’t have an explanation of the explanation. This is an elementary point concerning inference to the best explanation as practiced in the philosophy of science. If archaeologists digging in the earth were to discover things looking like arrowheads and hatchet heads and pottery shards, they would be justified in inferring that these artifacts are not the chance result of sedimentation and metamorphosis, but products of some unknown group of people, even though they had no explanation of who these people were or where they came from. Similarly, if astronauts were to come upon a pile of machinery on the back side of the moon, they would be justified in inferring that it was the product of intelligent, extra-terrestrial agents, even if they had no idea whatsoever who these extra-terrestrial agents were or how they got there. In order to recognize an explanation as the best, one needn’t be able to explain the explanation. In fact, so requiring would lead to an infinite regress of explanations, so that nothing could ever be explained and science would be destroyed. So in the case at hand, in order to recognize that intelligent design is the best explanation of the appearance of design in the universe, one needn’t be able to explain the designer.
Sorry, but if you don't have any kind of explanation for the designer, you can't claim the designer as an explanation for anything else. Craig's example of finding alien artefacts on the far side of the moon would lead us to further investigations. We wouldn't simply stop there and say Aliensdidit. That wouldn't be an explanation, it would be mere speculation.
Secondly, Dawkins thinks that in the case of a divine designer of the universe, the designer is just as complex as the thing to be explained, so that no explanatory advance is made. This objection raises all sorts of questions about the role played by simplicity in assessing competing explanations; for example, how simplicity is to be weighted in comparison with other criteria like explanatory power, explanatory scope, and so forth. But leave those questions aside. Dawkins’ fundamental mistake lies in his assumption that a divine designer is an entity comparable in complexity to the universe. As an unembodied mind, God is a remarkably simple entity. As a non-physical entity, a mind is not composed of parts, and its salient properties, like self-consciousness, rationality, and volition, are essential to it. In contrast to the contingent and variegated universe with all its inexplicable quantities and constants, a divine mind is startlingly simple. Certainly such a mind may have complex ideas—it may be thinking, for example, of the infinitesimal calculus—, but the mind itself is a remarkably simple entity. Dawkins has evidently confused a mind’s ideas, which may, indeed, be complex, with a mind itself, which is an incredibly simple entity. Therefore, postulating a divine mind behind the universe most definitely does represent an advance in simplicity, for whatever that is worth.
This is a spectacular failure in argumentation. Craig's description of "an unembodied mind, as a remarkably simple entity" is sheer invention. There's nothing whatever to back up this assertion. "A divine mind is startlingly simple," says Craig. Based on what? He's making this stuff up and pretending it's real. It's not, and it's certainly not a refutation of Dawkins' argument or anyone else's.