In a Socratic dialogue I wrote published in issue 122 of "Philosophy Now", I have Socrates conversing with a scientist (Moe), on a park bench. Socrates has come down from the clouds to take an afternoon stroll. Moe's got some books with him, "The God Delusion" and "The Selfish Gene" by Richard Dawkins, and Susan Blackmore's "The Meme Machine". My argument put by Socrates is that all things that have come to be can be called effects, and if causes then only particular causes, but still fundamentally, effects. What I see in both science and philosophical discourse is a confounding of cause and effect, one example: Darwin's 'natural selection'.

Questions: Cannot natural selection, as a causal agency, be defined as an effect since it's describing a process that takes place? We can ask: where is natural selection? If one tries to answer by pointing to something that happens, they are pointing to an effect, not a cause at least in the universal sense (ie.: First Cause), not so? The importance of the issue is that many people, such as Richard Dawkins, uses Darwin to toss out the idea of God. But the grounds are insufficient. One commits a fallacy, does not one, when they use the explanation of a particular cause (natural selection) to dismiss the idea of a universal cause (God)?

  • Cheers, in questioning the curious confusion evident in the two discourses you named, you have singled out Spinoza's major complaint about employing induction to obtain certainty. He agreed with you that searching for certainty among a veritable infinity of contingent objects can only result in mistaking effects for causes. Natural selection, by definition with its randomness and happenstance, cannot cause anything. And as you so aptly put it, 'Where is natural selection?' Just one tip, prepare for the hailstorm headed your way! All the Best, – user37981 Oct 28 '20 at 3:19
  • They frame it differently, for them it is the idea of God (extraordinary claim) that needs to be established in the first place (by extraordinary evidence). And since the attempt to do it from "order and design" runs into alternative explainations by natural means, God gets tossed out as redundant. So one needs alternative ways of arguing for him, but the inference from first cause to God in any recognizable sense does not work either, it is known to be invalid, see SEP. First cause can be empty faceless nothing instead. – Conifold Oct 28 '20 at 3:41
  • 2
    Already discovered by Aristotle; see Final cause – Mauro ALLEGRANZA Oct 28 '20 at 7:16
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  • You're assuming Dawkins particular subject matter expertise in a branch of science makes him an expert in philosophical discourse and his ramblings on philosophy are noteworthy. – Swami Vishwananda Oct 29 '20 at 5:15

Short Answer

From the perspective of a scientific athiest, the natural sciences require very specific types of processes, reasoning, and evidence to validate the existence of beings. To start with the narrative of God and then conduct science to find explication and empirical results sufficient to explain that narrative has not gone well for even natural theologians historically, and as such God is simply a bad scientific theory. Of course, anyone with a religious epistemology would disagree simply because of different metaphysical presumptions including that God exists and is a universal cause. A scientist simply claims that such a presumption is an attempt to admit a claim without empirical evidence and against basic philosophical razors such Hitchen's razor. From WP:

"What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence."

You have decided to attack the theory of evolution indirectly, which is perhaps equal to atomic theory in significance and surety for scientists, but you do so with Aristotelian metaphysics (in the modern sense) which suffers from the deficiency of nearly 2,400 years of ignorance of history, philosophy, mathematics, and science. To reason about 21st-century scientific achievement and its philosophical implications with a philosophy conceived of in antiquity is bound to lead to problems. The failure of Aristotelian physics around 500 years ago obviously foreshadows the same short-comings in his argumentation.

Long Answer

You cover a lot of ground, but as an athiest, there's a difference in methodology between faith and skepticism, so two different metaphysical positions are at play. Science doesn't accept that which it cannot prove using one of the scientific methods. As such, in accordance with a proper understanding of materialism or physicalism, gods are at best an abstraction and have no physical embodiment to affect change. You seem to argue:

P0: Universal and particular causes exist.
P1: God exists and is a universal cause.
P2: Natural selection is a particular cause.
P3: Universal causes are ontologically prior to particular causes.
C: Natural selection cannot refute God's existence since God is required for natural selection.

A scientist just has a set of counterclaims to shift the burden of proof:

P'0: Universals and particulars are epiphenomenal, constructed, or non-existent.
P'1: One needs to use science to prove God's existence since he is not a brute fact.
P'2: Natural selection is a teleological biological definition and not an actual thing, and is ontologically prior to humans.
P'3: Mankind is ontologically prior to gods based on all the gods that have come and gone.
C': Therefore, according to physicalist, materialist, and empiricist thinking, atoms and their self-ordering are ontologically prior to humans which conceive of gods mistakenly from an evolutionary bias for agency detection.

Now here's the rub. What constitutes an informal fallacy is contextually driven, for a fallacy must be a persuasive inference that lacks adequate warrant and backing. And backings are often metaphysical presumptions (P0-P3 vs. P'1-P'3). So we are essentially dealing with aspects of the Agrippan Trilemma. How does one chose from various axioms? Science seems to suggest it's based on our feelings. From Antonio Demasio's Somatic Marker Hypothesis:

The somatic marker hypothesis, formulated by Antonio Damasio and associated researchers, proposes that emotional processes guide (or bias) behavior, particularly decision-making.1

"Somatic markers" are feelings in the body that are associated with emotions, such as the association of rapid heartbeat with anxiety or of nausea with disgust. According to the hypothesis, somatic markers strongly influence subsequent decision-making. Within the brain, somatic markers are thought to be processed in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPFC) and the amygdala.

Thus, believers believe because it feels good, and skeptics deny for the same reason.

  • I welcome answers such as this, from an atheist, though ... I'm a Christian with a leaning toward critical thinking, hence, philosophy. My thinking is more Kantian, since it's the first work in philosophy I picked up from a library shelf. I said to myself, 'yes, I know what this is all about.' And after studying it (analyzing it) for the past 50+ years, I can say my first impression is on the mark. – liikanen Oct 29 '20 at 14:53
  • Welcome! I hope you become a regular contributor. I'm an advocate of using logical discourse for educational purposes. As a confirmed member of the ELCA, I perfer Dennett's friendliess to Dawkins militancy but find the psychology of religion preferable to the doctrines. You might want to review Charles M Saunders profile and history, as he is an unabashed theist who expresses his skepticism of science in philosophical terms. A review of his posts and questions might give you some insight into the nature of this community. Good luck! – J D Oct 29 '20 at 15:01
  • @CharlesMSaunders I may be one of Darwin's bulldogs, but I certainly appreciate your pursuit of rational truth. :D – J D Oct 29 '20 at 15:02
  • @SwamiViswananda Any technical reason for the downvote or you just emoting? – J D Oct 29 '20 at 15:17
  • As one answer suggested I was crediting Richard Dawkins with philosophical understanding, I'll qualify it by quoting Dawkins view of all the philosophical/theological arguments offered thus far for the existence of God ... they are not just weak, they are 'spectacularly weak'. This I respect and agree with. And this is enough to make Dawkins a philosopher. I take a broader view of what a philosopher is and is not. – liikanen Oct 29 '20 at 15:26

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