Saturday, August 27, 2005

Daffy Dawkins

Bill Vallicella notes Richard Dawkins's review of Swinburne's Is There a God? It's yet another sad case of Dawkins not knowing his limitations; or, rather, it would be sad if it weren't mildly entertaining. I have vivid memories of a page in The Blind Watchmaker in which, in the course of a single argument, Dawkins manages to equivocate among three completely different meanings of 'simplicity' (material simplicity, causal simplicity, and theoretical simplicity). Dawkins is always interesting, and sometimes makes good arguments, but the man also sometimes seems to have about as much ability to build a good rational argument as I have the ability to build a living cat. This unfortunately seems to be a case of the latter, as The Maverick Philosopher shows. I'll only add to Vallicella's excellent points that the review suggests to me that Dawkins is still muddled about the sort of simplicity relevant to good explanation; this seems to be why he completely misses Swinburne's point about the smallest number of brute facts. Dawkins keeps trying to treat all simplicity of explanation as merely the reduction of an object or event to simple constituents, so he tends to make odd assumptions when it comes to other kinds of explanation.

I'm not really convinced that Swinburne's approach is a particularly good one. But it, at least, has rational merit; at least enough to take more seriously than Dawkins's critique.

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