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Richard Dawkins What if you are Wrong?

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A Question of Belief

One of the first criticisms that Dawkins raises in his book The Blind Watchmaker is what he calls the fallacy of "the argument from personal incredulity.Incredulity means disbelief, mental rejection, doubt, uncertainty: the state of being unsure or dubious of something.

Richard Dawkins is very selective, and considering he is a Darwinian it is surprising to find there is nothing natural about his selection process. His personal incredulity argument when examined means that if Dawkins can believe something then it is probably OK for the general public to believe it. But if he cannot believe it then it is unlikely to have any validity whatsoever. In this regard he sets himself up as being no different to a sixteenth century pope. Believe what I believe or be prepared to be named as dangerously unorthodox and a heretic.

If you want to follow his thinking then please read the following.

He writes: Wherever we have an X in a real live animal, where X is some organ too complex to have arisen by chance in a single step, then according to the theory of evolution by natural selection it must be the case that a fraction of an X is better than no X at all; and two fractions of an X must be better than one; and a whole X must be better than nine-tenths of an X. I have no trouble at all in accepting that these statements are true of eyes, ears including bat ears, wings, camouflaged and mimicking insects, snake jaws, stings, cuckoo habits and all other examples trotted out in anti-evolution propaganda.

Dawkins accepts all of the above has happened, he is a believer in something no person has ever seen. I am incredulous, so according to Dawkins I should not be taken seriously. He is entitled to his opinion, but then again, so am I. Let’s examine his thesis: does the argument from personal incredulity stand up in the real world?

A teacher looks up at the last boy in a line. All the rest have handed in their homework. This boy looks sheepish and in mute answer to his teachers outstretched hand just shrugs.

Where is your history assignment?

The boy mumbles, I was attacked by a savage dog on the way to school and it chewed up the book and then ran away with it, otherwise I would have brought it to show you.

The teacher is incredulous and perhaps harshly sends the boy to see the headmaster. Few people would accuse the teacher of being unreasonable even though the story could have been true. A high degree of incredulity was perfectly reasonable because of the statistical improbability of the boys story being true. If the boy continued with the same excuse every time his history homework was due then the incredulity factor would go through the roof.

In other words there were good scientific reasons to doubt the story: statistics and the laws of probability. Personal incredulity is therefore a good test of what is likely to be untrue. This principle applies to evolution of the human eyeball. Also to echo location in bats and all his other examples. Dawkins will argue I have taken no account of the time factor, the millions of years: because given so much time anything, however unlikely, could happen. Supposing the theory is put to the test and his incredulity argument was given a massively generous advantage. The evolution of the human brain and eyeball, plus an image processing system and the necessary millions of years. Would that decrease the incredulity factor?

Not for me it doesnt, and for the following reasons. Somehow connections have to be forged between the eyeball and the image forming and processing units already located in the brain. The eyeball, brilliant though it is can see nothing without its astonishingly complex neural links to the brain. In fact the potential for sight is just an expensive luxury that has a huge cost in terms of energy, storage and information. The same can be said of the image creation and processing unit.  Up to this point the entire apparatus contributes nothing unless one is connected to the other. For these units to be useful in a human there cannot be any noticeable delay between light photons hitting the lens and the necessarily immediate response from the image processing system located in the brain. Sight therefore is not just amazing in itself it is an example of amazing cooperation between nerves and tissue. The incredulity factor remains intact even when Dawkins is given millions of starters for ten. It just cannot happen without purposeful intent followed by planning, complex design concepts and construction. There is no analogy for what Dawkins proposes. Such events have never ever been seen to happen; not  in nature nor in a laboratory. They are in fact close to inconceivable and counter intuitive on an unimaginable scale. To suppose all this occurred by accident rather than design is to push the word "incredulity" beyond its rather modest dictionary definition.

The Personal Incredulity Argument, when faced by a faith such as that owned by Dawkins, is a guide to many of the decisions we routinely make during our lifetime. Otherwise we would believe everything zoologists like Dawkins, gurus, priests, politicians, advertisers and beauticians tell us.

Richard Dawkins himself uses personal incredulity as an intellectual tool. He does so regarding God and religion. It is the foundation on which his philosophy and atheism is based. His mental rejection of faith in the supernatural has largely conditioned his mind-set. His argument about the eye falls to the ground because what he demands of evolution is the capacity to create and save thousands of small beneficial progressive advantages. These must somehow arrange themselves according to an organisational plan that according to his belief never existed.

I will quote again the comments made by Dawkins at the beginning of this article. They lay out his thinking with absolute clarity, but notice that his example is entirely theoretical. He does not, cannot give an observed example of the process he describes: the development of an organ, or a wing, or an eye. Since when did a counter-intuitive argument trump common sense? Personal incredulity is based on common sense, on what is usual. No-one is arguing that what is considered usual or commonsensical is an infallible guide. Just that statistically it's more often right than the argument proposed by Dawkins.

He writes: Wherever we have an X in a real live animal, where X is some organ too complex to have arisen by chance in a single step, then according to the theory of evolution by natural selection it must be the case that a fraction of an X is better than no X at all; and two fractions of an X must be better than one; and a whole X must be better than nine-tenths of an X."

His argument suggests an X can be made through many incremental stages beginning with a small piece of the letter X. This must be followed by another and then another and another and another, and each must be saved and placed in the correct position, otherwise an X could not be formed. This suggests something that Dawkins could never endorse. That the process had an X in mind and was working towards a definite and specified shape, just like the folding of a protein which has to be as specific as a key for your front door lock. There is also the problem of when to stop, because if the process continues in one area unchecked, or maybe develops an unwanted curve in another, or ceases growing altogether it will no longer look like an X. If a further mutation caused a curve to occur at any place then almost any letter in the alphabet could occur.

Any of this is possible during the evolutionary process as described By Dawkins. Why? Because as Dawkins insists, evolution has no end in view. There is no target, there is no round of applause when the X is perfected because the process had no idea an X was intended. And if the newly formed X cannot be guaranteed to slip into the right context then how likely is it that a coherent purposeful sentence could be formed? If the X is analogous to a working organ like a lung, then the scenario only gets worse. Because the creation of a lung is more like a series of well constructed chapters or books. According to the Dawkins story this book is being written by a process that at least has an alphabet. But critically there is no intelligent author to place the words in a manner that makes sense, or convey meaning or obey the many rules of spelling and grammar.

Dawkins is a zoologist. I am an artist who has taught art. I can tell Richard Dawkins that you can get a trillion poor amateur artists working day and night for five billion years on an undefined project and that they will never achieve either by accident or design the wonders of the Sistine Chapel in Rome. And consider that comparing natural selection and mutations to poor artists is doing them a massive favour. Mutations have a well-deserved reputation for fouling things up.

What follows is an example from nature that triggers my personal incredulity. The very kind of argument that upsets Dawkins.


The Archer Fish





















The Incredulity Argument

It looks an average little fish, but it is anything but average, it is one of the wonders of the natural world.

What follows is from the Daily Mail Science Section.

The fish that SPITS to kill: Archerfish use complex physics to accurately 'shoot down' flying prey with jets of water. Physicists from the University of Milan looked at the different trajectories of spit squirted by archerfish . They discovered jets of water consistently hit insect targets at a faster speed than they left the animal....Archerfish also take into account the way light bends as it enters water as well as the effects of gravity....the animal is able to instinctively take into account light refraction and other physics principles such as the PlateauRayleigh instability to be one of the most accurate hunters in the natural world...

While the fish might not be aware it is solving physics problems, it is able to adjust the angle and speed of its spit to accurately catch its dinner. Strangely, the spit actually accelerates when it climbs higher, which is the opposite to what happens when a ball or bullet is fired upwards, as a combination of gravity and air resistance usually slow moving bodies uses the way water 'bunches' and forms into droplets in tandem to make a powerful jet of spit. The creature ensures that the water jet does not break up into droplets by ensuring the water at the back of the stream is moving faster than the front so that when fast lumps touch slower ones in front, they join together to make a large accelerating blob that strikes the insect with amplified force. By using this technique, the fish concentrates the energy of the stream into the front blob to hit the insect harder than if it hunted at point-blank range.

When an archerfish selects its prey, it rotates its eye so that the image of the prey falls on a particular portion of the eye and its lips just break the surface, squirting a jet of water at its victim.

It does this using the narrow groove in the roof of its mouth. The creature presses its tongue against this groove to form a narrow channel, then contracts its gill covers to force a powerful jet of water through the channel. The resulting jet of water can be up to five metres long. The fish can alter the power of the shot for prey of different sizes.

Just consider how many ingenious processes are engaged in ensuring this fish is able to gather its daily food. Everything described is in situ for this one vital reason: survival. It could be described as an example of irreducible complexity. What part of this total system could be removed without rendering the process much less efficient or unusable. Would it be unreasonable if such interconnected ingenuity and the appearance of purposeful design led me to consider that the cause of such an engineering miracle may be an intelligent designer?

Am I just an idiot with a credulous nature or is it possible that Richard Dawkins is horribly wrong? That a degree of personal incredulity concerning what he proposes is not just a perfectly natural response, but one based on evidence, statistics and probability. Something that cannot be said for the theory he upholds.

Dawkins uses an argument that is closer to a fairy story than anything related to science. It goes something like this: archer fish obviously exist and only Darwinism can account for their existence. He will look you in the eye and tell you this is the great fact of evolution, a fact beyond any possibility of doubt. On the basis of that lone pseudo "fact" Dawkins completes his circular argument. The fish exists, if it's complexity raises design problems then remain undaunted, since evolution is the only theory capable of explaining how all the particular elements that ensure its survival came together. The problem is that the mechanics underpinning this Darwinian miracle have never been observed occurring under any natural conditions, it has only been assumed on the basis of the above “fact”.

Dawkins relies on what he thinks is a profound truth. Because both the archer fish and it's astonishing mechanism for gathering its daily food co-exist then evolution must be the answer to what would otherwise be a conundrum. This is a belief that belongs either in the sphere of religion or myth, it does not belong in science. To sustain his absolute belief in evolution he has had to reject God or any supernatural agent as a cause. His personal incredulity stands at the crossroads of his objections to God, Intelligent Design and Creationism and as an argument it is intellectually barren.