QandA tommorrow night on ABC1 is being touted as a showdown between the Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, George Pell, and evangelistic atheist and author Richard Dawkins. I assume that if any debate is had, neither side will give an inch and that any serious discussion will be stifled.
I actually think that both Pell and Dawkins illustrate something quite fundamental about the mindset in which we find ourselves living in in the 21st Century; that is one which is very much Greek in nature.
Fundamentally our mindset in the West is cast by a very Greek way of thinking; that is that evidence reveals the conclusions that you are looking for. Science is predicated on the the idea of observing something and producing a theory to fit the evidence observed or making a prediction and then testing the hypothesis. Even Christianity itself is influenced by the thought that creation reveals the creator through the act of observance; this I suspect is largely because the New Testament itself was written in Greek which was the lingua franca at the time and this more than likely influenced the way of thinking of its early followers.
Dawkins however likes to lie to people. Just to emphasise the fact, I'll say this again: Dawkins likes to lie to people.
I think that a key proof of this is something which he oft repeats. This is an example:
"What's wrong with believing in a god, regardless of who that god is?"
"I think it's false. I think it's a matter of belief without evidence and as a scientist and an educator, I like the idea that we belive things because there's evidence."
- Dawkins, The Hour from CBC Canada.
If you haven't read "The God Delusion" then I can suggest that you do because it illustrates something which is both unfair and a logical fallacy. You can not base an argument destroying something from a particular standpoint and then use that exact same standpoint to prove an equal argument which you have just denounced.
The biggest problem that I have with Dawkins though is that little thing in science called "Reification". Science is about building models or explanations. A model and an explanation is fine but the model itself is not reality
“If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving around the sun in a elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by out most powerful telescopes. But if I were to go on and say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is an intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it. I should rightly be thought of talking nonsense. If, however, the existence of such a teapot were affirmed in ancient books, taught as the sacred truth every Sunday, and instilled into the minds of children at school, hesitation to believe in its existence would become a mark of eccentricity and entitle the doubter to the attentions of the psychiatrist in an enlightened age or of the Inquisitor in an earlier time.”
- Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (p52) 2006.
You can not suggest that the burden of proof lies on a theist to prove the existence of god by assuming that yours is the only possible view of the world and then to demand proof on that basis if you've already rejected evidence which may have been submitted. All that really proves is that both an atheist and a theist interprets with world through an a priori filter.
Setting this aside for a second, I'd like to present a short film:
I have a few interesting questions for Mr Dawkins. Firstly, if we assume that God is being which lives in a dimension beyond the sixth, then how are we even supposed to observe him directly? Just like a two-dimensional flat-lander living with their perception inside the second dimension but who might through their actions exist in the third, if God operates by manipulating the sixth, seventh or eight dimensions, then how exactly do you design an experiment to disprove that? Again I instantly realise that I've shifted the burden of proof back onto the theist which is unfair but given that we're both interpreting with world through an a priori filter, what else do you expect?
Secondly, what would happen if God did in fact decide to provide proof of his existence but you have rejected it outright because of your a priori filtering? If you deliberately choose to reject evidence, then that isn't actually science but something which moves into the realm of faith, which Dawkins accuses others of having without base.
Jesus not only claimed to be God, but then attempted to provide proof of that. People can choose to either accept or reject his claims, it's up to them. Given that we have four independent accounts of his death and resurrection in the Gospels, three other direct accounts in the epistles, nevermind the fact that Josephus, Tacitus and even the prefect Marcellus wrote of the existence of Jesus' (and in Marcellus' case his death and resurrection), if you presented ten witnesses to something in a court of law, then the ratio decendii of that thing happening would be enough to take it as fact, but I digress.
Getting back to the original subject of having a Greek mindset, Christians view nature itself as proof that God exists; Dawkins rejects this outright.
According to Hebrew tradition though, God is not in nature or a part of nature but outside of nature. Interestingly, Hebrew thinking says that God is not revealed in nature but hidden away from it. Hebrew tradition very much states that God can not be found in nature but can only be found in words.
Hebrew tradition also starts from an a priori standpoint but makes no claims that if you study nature you will find proof positive of negative of the existence or non-existence of God. From a Hebrew mindset, the evidence does not reveal the conclusion that you are looking for; science can not help you.
I think I rather like this idea. If God isn't part of nature, he certainly is not going to be observable inside it. That poses an even bigger problem for someone whose trying to prove or disprove his existence, which is what virtually everyone with a Greek mindset tries to do.