Friday, January 29, 2010

What the Fool says (3)

'The universe could so easily have remained lifeless and simple - just physics and chemistry, just the scattered dust of the cosmic explosion that gave birth to time and space. The fact that it did not - the fact that life evolved out of nearly nothing, some 10 billion years after the universe evolved literally out of nothing - is a fact so staggering that I would be mad to attempt words to do it justice.' (R. Dawkins, The Ancestor’s Tale, p. 613).

Yes, it would be mad to attempt to describe the process by which something evolves from nothing since nothing is not something and therefore is not something that can be the subject of empirical enquiry. Like many a pseudo-philosopher (and ‘brilliant scientist’ to quote his publisher’s blurb), Dawkins treats the word ‘nothing’ as if it refers to a kind of something. If something can evolve out of it, it is not nothing, but if it is not nothing, what is it? On one level he seems to be saying that the universe evolved out of something we know nothing about, but he actually uses the phrase ‘literally out of nothing’. It looks like he is equivocating and does not consistently mean ‘literally out of nothing’, but rather ‘almost as if out of nothing’. But that is to make a quite different claim about the universe, and is no longer a claim about its origins, but is rather a claim concerning its post-original development.

According to Dawkins the universe would look different if it were created by God, and consequently God is a scientific hypothesis. But neither of these claims can he show to be correct. The difference between a situation in which there is a world created by God and one in which there is no world created by God is the difference between something and nothing. God is not a scientific hypothesis, although He is the precondition for the universe and hence for all activity in the universe, including the natural sciences. The natural sciences can each in their own limited ways investigate the post-original universe, what they cannot do is to investigate its metaphysical preconditions. From within their own discipline they cannot even comment meaningfully on these preconditions. For any scientist qua scientist to do so would be for them to commit a category error - a symptom that one might consider renaming 'Dawkins’ disease'.

1 comment:

  1. 'Nearly nothing' sounds like it belongs in the same category as 'almost unique'.


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