Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Search for the Levitating Super-Turtle

Atheists: The New Gays "Prior to 9/11, it would have been career suicide for a public figure to come right out and say God is a fairy tale. Now it’s a feature of popular culture. You can see it on cable of course, in shows such as BullSh*t, Real Time, The Daily Show, and Southpark. But it’s also a feature of network TV. The main character on House is written as the most brilliant human on the planet, and he’s an atheist."

"Ask a deeply religious Christian if he’d rather live next to a bearded Muslim that may or may not be plotting a terror attack, or an atheist that may or may not show him how to set up a wireless network in his house. On the scale of prejudice, atheists don’t seem so bad lately."

A good preview of Dawkins book is here.

I've recently finished reading both "The God Delusion" and "The Goldilocks Enigma" and I found both books quite good. Seeing as though so many people commented last time I thought I'd post a bit more about what I think this time.

Much like the disappointment of revisiting old television shows of your youth, Dawkins' book is great for pointing out how truly bad those stories taught at Sunday school were, including Noah, Lot and Abraham. Although I must admit, even as a child I found the story of the flood and "The A-Team" both rather unbelievable. There are other interesting topics, like coming up with morals without religion, but I think these are better covered elsewhere.

One of the main things I got out of this book is that progress is about conscious raising. Most improvements have come about when a society becomes aware of a problem and goes about trying to solve them. Historically this includes human rights, more recently global warming and ones to fully take hold like animal rights. The other thing I got out of it is that I don't have as many problems with religion as Dawkins.

I found Dawkins the least convincing when he diverges from his areas of expertise especially when he tries to cover cosmology. This is especially apparent when you compare his counter argument against teleology (things look like they were designed therefore there must be a designer). Dawkins explanation in relation to biology is clear and concise but for cosmology its rather glossed over and there seems to be a bit of hand waving. He doesn't provide a good argument why evolution on a universal scale is well founded. This is where Paul Davies' book provides some better arguments for a rational creation of the universe.

Davies is actually a little bit more open to the idea of God than Dawkins which, when he chooses a different explanation, makes his arguments more convincing. The possible explanations of the universe he discusses include: absurd (no real cause), unique (there are no free parameters for the universe to be the way it is), the multiverse (String theory), intelligent design (God or Gods), the life principle and the self explaining universe. He says he prefers the latter two explanations. I found the most interesting explanation given is the self explaining universe. It uses quantum mechanics, casual loops and the requirement for the universe to understand itself.

The last chapter of the book is certainly the best and I wish he spent the whole book on the ideas in it instead. His description of the infinite regress as the levitating super-turtle is great. He also describes how Platonism is incorrect, especially at the beginning of the universe, and how the laws of physics have emerged over time.
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