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Keith Ward - doubting Dawkins


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Initial post: 30 Oct 2008 11:31:31 GMT
Has anyone else read "Why There Almost Certainly Is A God" (Lion Hudson, 2008)?

The blurb on the cover makes strong claims to have refuted TGD, but my reading of it is that it's very poor - much sleight of hand and little weight.

AMC

In reply to an earlier post on 31 Oct 2008 12:15:33 GMT
Last edited by the author on 31 Oct 2008 12:19:07 GMT
JA Foxton says:
Hi AMC,

No, but I've read 'Is Religion Dangerous?' by Keith Ward and can relate to your comments. This is further supported by the assessment which the philosopher Nicholas Everitt made of his treatment of the relationship between theism and morality, "In summary, Ward's account appears confused and inconsistent."

Posted on 10 Mar 2009 09:08:16 GMT
Chris says:
I know I have left it 5 months before adding to this - but I hadn't read the book and so didn't want to comment! (needless to say I won't be adding to the 1984 discussion!!)
I have now read Ward's book, and disagree with A M Cameron. We may not agree with Ward's conclusion's, but he does seriously address Dawkins comments on religion and God, and why it is reasonable and probable to believe in God. He looks more fully at issues from a philosophical approach, and I would recommend anyone who has read the God delusion to read this, if simply to read an alternative voice, and listen to an academic who is thoughtful.

In reply to an earlier post on 10 Mar 2009 14:00:54 GMT
Neutral says:
JAF

A rather predictable response from yourself both in your own comments and those of Nicholas Everitt who actually claims the existence of God is disprovable. Not exactly an unbiased source. I have read Ward's book but have yet to review them and concur with Chris's conclusion, "I would recommend anyone who has read The God Delusion to read this, if simply to read an alternative voice, and listen to an academic who is thoughtful". Of course that implies being interested in listening to alternative voices.

Posted on 10 Mar 2009 16:37:05 GMT
Chris says:
Neutral - I look forward to reading your review. I don't think JA Foxton does a predictable response - in my mind he is always thoughtful and thought provoking. Perhaps one can't simply quote someone else to back up a point of view (I wonder what Ward says of Everitt?), but J A Foxton has been, and remains, a very helpful contributor to these pages.

In reply to an earlier post on 10 Mar 2009 17:20:32 GMT
Neutral says:
Chris

Perhaps I've been reading contributions from another J A Foxton. I'll wait and see which JAF contributes to this debate.

In reply to an earlier post on 11 Mar 2009 13:55:14 GMT
JA Foxton says:
Hi Chris,

Thank you for your kind comments. Based upon this I have just ordered Keith Ward's book and look forward to being able to discuss it with you.

Posted on 11 Mar 2009 14:40:00 GMT
Chris says:
Oh dear - hope you're not disappointed!! but thank you. I trust that even if you do not come to the same conclusions as Ward, and based on other postings I would be surprised if you do, nevertheless I hope that you can see how someone at least begins answering the God Delusion, and how I would hope thoughtful people see 'the God Delusion' and 'Why there is almost certainly a God' as an exploration. Too many reviewers, for me, seemed to think the God Delusion was the last word on the subject.

In reply to an earlier post on 19 Mar 2009 11:54:32 GMT
JA Foxton says:
Hi Chris,

The previous book by Keith Ward which I read struck me as a very reasonable and well-balanced book. I'm afraid that I cannot say the same for this one which, in my opinion, did not reach the same standard.

Reading the book did explain one mystery though. I had noticed that neither you nor Neutral actually developed any arguments based upon it. Now I think I understand why: it is not easy to identify any arguments which can be developed!

It really isn't easy to know where to go with this one. I could go through the book point by point but am not convinced that it warrants so much attention. Many of his arguments (including his treatment of the Boeing 747 gambit) seem to rest heavily on his assumption that consciousness will remain inexplicable. This hasn't had a lot of treatment on this forum and could be worth exploring. But I'm open to suggestions if there is anything you would like to consider.

In reply to an earlier post on 19 Mar 2009 12:33:28 GMT
Neutral says:
JAF

I haven't read this book by Keith Ward although re-reading my previous post it was easy to get the impression that I had. I was referring to Ward's "Is Religion Dangerous" which I have read but haven't reviewed yet.

In reply to an earlier post on 19 Mar 2009 12:38:33 GMT
JA Foxton says:
Neutral,

Fair enough. Would you like me to edit my previous post to remove your name?

In reply to an earlier post on 19 Mar 2009 12:58:14 GMT
Last edited by the author on 19 Mar 2009 13:04:31 GMT
Neutral says:
JAF

I have no strong feelings one way or another but thanks for mentioning it.

Posted on 19 Mar 2009 15:08:58 GMT
Chris says:
J A Foxton - thanks for posting "The previous book by Keith Ward which I read struck me as a very reasonable and well-balanced book. I'm afraid that I cannot say the same for this one which, in my opinion, did not reach the same standard." Your opening remarks in this forum didn't imply you found his book reasonable and well balanced!

I will try and say what it was that made me think it was valuable in my next posting - but 2 quick points. One is that I did say you wouldn't come to Ward's conclusions, and the other is quite simply it surely is important to find an author who does try and address Dawkins points.

I suppose the main point is about this whole consciousness debate. What is it? Where does it come from? But as I say I'll open this up more fully another time.

In reply to an earlier post on 19 Mar 2009 21:02:52 GMT
JA Foxton says:
Hi Chris,

"Your opening remarks in this forum didn't imply you found his book reasonable and well balanced!"

You might like to have a look at the review which I posted of this book. You will probably gather that I had some reservations about it. It was these reservations which were uppermost in my mind when responding to AMC. Hope this clarifies things.

Posted on 20 Mar 2009 14:39:47 GMT
Chris says:
Thanks JA Foxton - that does clarrify it! Thank you.

Why did I think Ward was a worthwhile read? His thoughts on consciousness opened up the God Delusion's arguments and elaborated upon them, and sought to show not that there is 100% provable evidence for God, but that theists have some good grounds for believing in God. It simply shows that believers are not unthinking deluded individuals - the way that Dawkins heads towards and others have stated.

There was also another element - Ward writes that he thinks he has shown the superiority of his world view "but then I would say that wouldn't I". I liked his style, having never read a book by him before.

Posted on 20 Mar 2009 16:49:46 GMT
Chris says:
J A Foxton - have now read your review of Ward's other book so thank you. One area of development in thought I had was this question of probability - Ward seems to consider the improbablity of the universe to be part of the reasoning - now I know this is a controversial area, but have you ever read what the probablity of a world that sustains life is? I haven't, but wonder if you had?

In reply to an earlier post on 20 Mar 2009 21:52:50 GMT
JA Foxton says:
Hi Chris,

"but have you ever read what the probablity of a world that sustains life is?"

I haven't and, in addition, I would be very wary of any claims that we can calculate this. Even if we had a really good understanding of abiogenesis, it is difficult to imagine that we could produce theoretical calculations. If we tried to provide probabilities from an experimental basis, then I suspect we would lack sufficient data to do this either.

I will post some other thoughts on probability and his version of the argument from design presently.

Posted on 20 Mar 2009 21:55:34 GMT
JA Foxton says:
"It is not true that the postulate of an intelligent creator is superfluous. For such a creator would raise the probability that the process would result in intelligent life by an enormous amount. In fact it would make it virtually certain, as opposed to being just one possibility amongst countless others. That might not give us any new biological information so it might be superfluous to scientific understanding. But it would not be superfluous to philosophical understanding, for which it is reasonable to accept a hypothesis that raises the probability that the world should be as it is." [Why There Almost Certainly Is a God p37]

I think that it is confusions about probability which are at the heart of many of the problems with design arguments. Would the following example mirror what he is doing above?

Someone has just won the lottery. There are two hypotheses. The first is that they were just lucky. The second is that the lottery was rigged. Now, if the lottery was rigged, this greatly increases the probability that this person would win. In fact, it would make it virtually certain. From a philosophical perspective it is reasonable to accept a hypothesis that raises the probability that the world should be as it is. Hence, the lottery was rigged.

In addition, any creation myth will serve equally well to raise the probability; you could even make up your own.

Posted on 20 Mar 2009 21:58:22 GMT
JA Foxton says:
Chris,

"The design argument, in its seventeenth-century form - finding the existence of organic life-forms to be too improbable to have arisen spontaneously by chance - may have been superseded by Darwin." [p40]

Yes. But wasn't teleology pretty well dead in the water already? Hume only lacked Darwin's theory to put the final nail into the coffin.

He then continues,

"But the design argument still lives, as an argument that the precise structure of laws and constants that seem uniquely fitted to produce life by the process of evolution is hugely improbable. The existence of a designer or creator God would make it much less improbable. That is the New Design Argument, and it is very effective."

Unfortunately, putting the word 'new' in front of a logically flawed argument does not magically make it valid. The argument from design has its own thread on this forum. To summarise, the argument from design is very unusual since we can have mathematical certainty that it is logically flawed.

However, Keith Ward is actually retreating somewhat from the traditional argument and is heading towards the fine-tuning argument. This argument is best considered as a third alternative. It is not orthodox science but it would be a mistake to conclude that it supports the theistic position. In fact, it opposes the notion of a creative deity. Again, I have posted on this and will be glad to provide references to specific posts, if you are interested. However, a quick glance at the universe will reveal that it clearly isn't fine-tuned for life.

Posted on 20 Mar 2009 22:00:01 GMT
JA Foxton says:
"The moral is that it takes a very intelligent being to devise a set of laws and a suitable environment (with the right degree of oxygen and nitrogen, the right distance from a star and the right protection from the most destructive cosmic debris) to produce a process that will result in the origin of complex replicating organisms." [p37]

It is difficult to believe that this sort of nonsense is being trotted out by a philosopher. Was the earth 'created' with the right degree of oxygen? Or could it have been produced by plants?

If you don't like this idea and assume the whole lot was produced by a divine conjuring trick, then the levels of oxygen and nitrogen become entirely irrelevant. Unless, that is, God was doing it as a bet with one of his mates. "Here, bet you can't produce a planet with creatures that need an 80/20 mix of nitrogen to oxygen. Oh, and I'll throw in another tenner if you can make some of them walk on their hind legs."

Posted on 20 Mar 2009 22:00:56 GMT
Last edited by the author on 20 Mar 2009 22:20:03 GMT
JA Foxton says:
Hi Chris,

You may have noticed that Keith Ward was quite careful in his choice of language. On page 60 he said,

"Physicists have shown that if they [the laws of this universe] were [different], even by a minute degree, it is highly unlikely that carbon-based life-forms like us could ever have existed."

And this is the wholly unwarranted assumption that underpins this. The whole thing isn't really about life - it is about carbon-based life. And, specifically, carbon-based life which is *like us*.

In reply to an earlier post on 20 Mar 2009 22:53:03 GMT
Last edited by the author on 20 Mar 2009 22:54:04 GMT
Neutral says:
JAF wrote, "But wasn't teleology pretty well dead in the water already?" If you read scientists such as Paul Davies it's very much alive and Davies is no supporter of ID.

JAF also wrote, " a quick glance at the universe will reveal that it clearly isn't fine-tuned for life." which is a supposition based on the mythical struggle for existence. Scientists cannot agree on the probability of there being another earth or universe in which life as we know it exists and have come to opposite end conclusions using the same propositions. The main argument used against the fine tuning argument is the suggestion that it is a re-statement of the "God of the Gaps" proposition.

Finally JAF contended, "the argument from design is very unusual since we can have mathematical certainty that it is logically flawed." This is impossible unless one knows the purpose of the design in the first instance. All JAF can say with any confidence is , "I cannot see the design principle involved in the mathematical analysis provided." That remains a matter of opinion even if the mathematics itself is a matter of fact.

However, this is an interesting debate which I will only rejoin when I've had the chance to read the book.

In reply to an earlier post on 21 Mar 2009 07:35:04 GMT
JA Foxton says:
Neutral,

I am acquainted with the work of Paul Davies. You are correct in his teleological stance and that he is no supporter of ID: he is scathing about it. I'm afraid that his fine-tuning arguments do not address the issues which I have raised elsewhere on this forum.

Your comments about fine-tuning and the 'mythical struggle for existence' appear to have no relevance to the points I made. Nor would I agree that the 'main argument used against the fine tuning argument is the suggestion that it is a re-statement of the "God of the Gaps" proposition.' In fact, I can't remember this argument being used against it at all!

And finally with regard to the argument from design being logically flawed, your comments about us needing to know 'the purpose of the design in the first instance' is, once again, irrelevant. What I can say with confidence is, 'The argument from design is logically flawed.'

Posted on 21 Mar 2009 14:07:35 GMT
JA Foxton says:
Throughout the book there are frequent references to 'materialism.' To set this up as a suitable target is to set up a straw man. What he should be targeting is metaphysical naturalism. This wouldn't have been a soft target. There are coherent accounts of metaphysical naturalism which do consider issues of beauty, morality etc. and it is, in my opinion, inexcusable that he does not appear to be aware of this.

Posted on 21 Mar 2009 14:08:58 GMT
JA Foxton says:
"But in this [philosophical] world there are very few materialists, who think we can know that mind is reducible to electrochemical activity in the brain, or is a surprising and unexpected product of purely material processes." [p14]

Maybe this just indicates how out of touch philosophers are with neuroscience? If we read popular accounts of consciousness do any of these authors hold that mind is something other than what brains do? (There are odd moments when one or two authors appear to throw a lifeline to those who think mind-stuff is distinct, but they are few and far between and, possibly, just the last remaining traces of dualistic thinking.)
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Discussion in:  The God Delusion forum
Participants:  7
Total posts:  74
Initial post:  30 Oct 2008
Latest post:  5 Aug 2013

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The God Delusion
The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins (Paperback - 21 May 2007)
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