David Berlinski and the creation of the universe


(Isaiah J. Armstrong) #1

So I’ve been reading David Berlinski’s The Devil’s Delusion for the last while now, and in Chapter 7 he takes on Richard Dawkins’ reasoning (or ‘proof’, as Dawkins puts it) for God’s inexistence. Dawkins writes about it in chapter 4 in his book The God Delusion. The way I understand it is that, since the universe is improbable, God is improbable and therefore nonexistent. That’s Dawkins’ reasoning, and in The Devil’s Delusion, Berlinski challenges this. Dawkins includes what he calls the “the Ultimate Boeing 747 gambit” which he doesn’t like (Berlinski writes, “it has been an irritation to Dawkins ever since it made its appearance”).
First to explain this “gambit.”
To accomplish this, I’ll again quote Berlinski, “The appeal to a Boeing 747 is meant to evoke a lighthearted quip attributed to the astrophysicist Fred Hoyle. The spontaneous emergence of life on earth, Hoyle observed, is about as likely as a tornado sweeping through a junkyard and assembling a Boeing 747 out of the debris.”
Dawkins tried to take Hoyle’s “gambit” and refute it, but Berlinski shows that he missed the whole picture. This leads to my question, but before I get to this, I want to add the footnote that this book is full of complex arguments that bend the mind, or at least my mind. It dances through scientific and philosophical pretensions that atheists try to cover up. I find this book a very tough read, but i love it, even though I don’t understand all of what he means, so i very well could be misunderstanding some of his arguments. With this, I’d like to give a quote from Berlinski’s book that seriously perplexes me:

When expressed as Dawkins expresses it, the Ultimate 747 gambit explodes and then gutters out inconclusively. But often arguments of this sort carry with them a shadow, one prepared in a pinch to take over from the main character. In the case of the 747 gambit, the shadow is given over to meditations concerning the structure of rational explanations. It is an important topic, and one that Dawkins is prepared to cover in the cloak of his carelessness.
A single power assumption is at work throughout: Unlikely events require an explanation. The power assumption trails in its two additional assumptions. The first is that old standby: The universe is unlikely. And the second has long stood by: If God created the universe, He must be more unlikely than the universe He created. From the power assumption and its sidekicks, an infinite regress very quickly arises, one in which God requires an explanation, which in turn triggers the demand for yet another explanation, and so another God. (italics original)

He continues on, but my question is: How did he get to that second assumption? is there something i’m missing or misunderstanding? He’s talking about the 747 gambit, right? I can’t wrap my head around this, and until I understand it i won’t continue the book. Can anyone please explain how Berlinski got to the second assumption?


(christopher van zyl) #2

Do you mean this?


(Jimmy Sellers) #3

@O_wretched_man, I think what is being said is the universe is complex. If God exists and he created the universe then he must be more complex implying that God must have need to be created and so on.
The Christian position is that God is self existent and if self existent he is not complex. Dawkins seems to miss this. I think he does the same thing with the watchmaker argument.
My thoughts. Hope you continue your read.


(Andrew Bulin) #4

I really enjoy Berlinski! :grin:
His crass and wit makes me laugh.

In this book, he is quite hard on Dawkins, not pulling any punches.

Berlinski’s frustration is how “careless” (as he would say) Dawkins was in constructing illogical arguments to prove that God does not exist because the improbable universe means an even more unlikely God.

The inference Dawkins champions cannot prove anything about God’s existence, and if it cannot prove anything about God’s existence, it cannot come close to proving anything either.

“The key difference between the radically extravagant God hypothesis,” he writes, “and the apparently extravagant multiverse hypothesis, is one of statistical improbability.” It is? I had no idea, the more so since Dawkins’s very next sentence would seem to undercut the sentence he has just written. “The multiverse, for all that it is extravagant, is simple,” because each of its constituent universes “is simple in its fundamental laws.” If this is true for each of those constituent universes, then it is true for our universe as well. And if our universe is simple in its fundamental laws, what on earth is the relevance of Dawkins’s argument?

A key statement in chapter 7 reveals the frailty of a deductive scientific method being only as useful as we have tangible data to deduce from:

But scientific atheists should at least be open to the possibility that scientific explanations by their very nature come to an end well before they have done all the work that an explanation can do.

Then ironically they are allowed to lose themselves in backtracking theories without end of improbability:

Less demanding critics might observe that shoveling problems backward until they are out of sight is not only the tactic of common sense but the only tactic in common use. When scientists appeal to various unobservable entities—universal forces, grand symmetries, twice-differential functions as in mechanics, Calabi-Yau manifolds, ionic bonds, or quantum fields—the shovel is in plain sight, but what has been shoveled is nowhere to be seen. Why physicists should enjoy inferential advantages denied theologians, Zuckerkandl does not say.

I really enjoyed this book, and another (less humorous and even more woody in its content) that could be a companion to this is Thomas Nagel’s book, Mind & Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False

I found it to be an even more challenging read, but it highlighted how the scientific process and reductionism can be self-defeating to those who think they can eliminate an “improbable God” by using its principles. In fact, when you consider how there is no natural substance to the aspects of the mental (like consciousness, preference and general introspective thought), then the mental is not a reality, or reductionism is not a full proof method.

Materialist naturalism leads to reductionist ambitions because it seems unacceptable to deny the reality of all those familiar things that are not at first glance physical. But if no plausible reduction is available, and if denying reality to the mental continues to be unacceptable, that suggests that the original premise, materialist naturalism, is false, and not just around the edges. Perhaps the natural order is not exclusively physical; or perhaps, in the worst case, there is no comprehensive natural order in which everything hangs together—only disconnected forms of understanding (pp. 15,16).

I think it has a lot of interesting talking points so when you’re done with Berlinski, you may want to check out Nagel. :slight_smile:


(Isaiah J. Armstrong) #5

Yes that is what I struggle with.


(Isaiah J. Armstrong) #6

Why does that assume that just because God is complex, he also needs to be created? Do you mean that since something is complex it needs a creator?


(Isaiah J. Armstrong) #7

Yes I enjoy Berlinski as well. The Devil’s Delusion is certainly a great book in so many ways; I’d recommend it to anyone. I can’t wait to finish it!


(christopher van zyl) #8

Two thoughts on this.

  1. I think the reason he gets to this is because of infinite regress. So what is an infinite regress? In a chain of reasoning, the evidence for each point along the chain relies on the existence of something that came before it. Which in turn relies on something even further back, and so on, with no starting point.
    Here’s an example from Aquinas and his 5 ways.
    The argument from motion:
    We currently live in world where things are moving.
    Movement is caused by movers (things that cause motion).
    Everything moving must’ve been set into motion by something else that was moving.
    Something must have started the movement.

Or better explained is this way

Objects are in motion
Everything in motion was put into motion by something else.
There CAN’T be an INFINITE REGRESS of movers.
So there must be a first mover, itself UNMOVED, and that is God.

So we see that Dawkins fails to realize what he is doing when he says you need an explanation for everything. If he does this to his own worldview, he gets stuck by the big bang. What first put that into motion? There has to be an unmoved first mover.

  1. Dawkins fails to realize that Christians don’t believe in a created God. So often he says that you say God created the universe, but that is just an even more complicated explanation, and on top of that, who created God?
    So it fails in many ways.

Does this help?


(Isaiah J. Armstrong) #9

Yes it does. I remember John Lennox saying that when Dawkins is asked who created his godless universe, he doesn’t like the question.
Thank you for clarifying it for me. I am now free to continue the book!