Hello and greetings: This message comes to you from Robert Bumbalough, a strong atheist. I have enjoyed your review and have typed my comments below. I will italicize your statements to make it easier to read.
You wrote We can acquire more knowledge, but we can never acquire absolute knowledge of the actual world.
I don't understand what you mean by "absolute" or "knowledge". Your statement here seems ambiguous (as does most of the rest of your review) and may be a constructive equivocation or sorts. However, indexical empirical experiences are 100% certain given healthy sense perception. Brain states are events that can neither be falsified or ratified, but such events are integrated into our cognition by conceptualization. Assigning symbols to our concepts allows us to then form propositions that predicate something about a subject. Non-contradictory means of identification, logic derived from material existence, employed then validates or repudiates one's propositions. If the former, then 100% certainty ensues.
I am now typing. I introspectively recall that I commanded my fingers to strike the keys. These propositions predicate that typing was actively occurring by my own actions. I conclude that I have 100% complete certainty that this just happened because my memory of typing is both a basic foundational belief that is coherent with the evidence of seeing typing on the screen. Thus my introspective memory and the current experience of seeing typing constitute evidence that can only exist if I was actually typing. There is a chain of casualty from the evidence to a conclusion that I am 100% justified in believing I was typing when I typed "I am now typing. I introspectively recall that I commanded my fingers to strike the keys."
Epistemology using both foundationalism and coherentism in non-contradictory ways coupled with explication of how 100% certain evidence logically causes a conclusion due to casualty of material existence yields 100% certain belief or true justified belief. If true justified belief is knowledge, then multiple combined coherent and foundational streams of evidence from material existence that provide strong support for a hypothesis can yield 100% certainty the hypothesis is indeed true because reality is casual due to the law of identity, A=A.
That existence exists, and that which exists is something having attributes, and that one is consciously aware of existence cannot be evaded. Any attempt to circumvent foundational objective axioms of reality, must use those same foundational objective axioms to do so thus rendering its own argument spurious by virtue of some type of stolen concept fallacy.
Your assertion that The world of mathematics is a special case--but as noted below, it lacks the attribute of existence. Mathematicians will argue vigorously against your position. And even if an ontology of information can be shown to only comprise encodings between material, physical elemental units due to casual interactions and relative juxtapositionings of brain events, reality's allowable operations stemming from A=A law of identity and casualty still means that if there were no human beings, maths would still be discoverable and encodable and thus still exist. The distinction where your point fails is between actual and potential. With physical brains figuring out maths (or logics), maths (or logics) are actual, without brains, then maths are only potential. But in either case they still exist. Or so I think at any rate.
Mostly for the sake of politeness... This is funny. You previously wrote You religious fanatics are crucially unable to deal with the reality of truth in the limited way we humans can deal with that truth. Isn't it a bit disingenuous to accuse your religious readers of being non-human and then offer an olive branch of politeness?
I think that a super-intelligent god would have been aware of information theory before we discovered it in the last century.... I think you're confusing omniscience with intelligence. They are not the same. O means God knows all true propositions. A proposition is a predication of something about a subject. A predicate is an assertion of something about a subject in a proposition. Since God does not have sensory abilities, it is then thought to actively predicate what reality is or is not. That is what is meant by Creation. Intelligence means "capacity for learning, reasoning, understanding, and similar forms of mental activity." God, according to nominal Christianity, cannot learn because it knows all true propositions and thus predicates reality. God cannot reason or understand because it is immutable, unchanging, and transcendent. Spatiality and temporality are required for casualty. Casualty is necessary for reasoning or understanding. God cannot be intelligent. You're importing common Christian fallacies and ambiguities about the nature of Christianity's God to your argument. But that is not at all surprising as Christianity is a conglomerate of Hellenistic and Jewish mysticism wrapped in ritual and obfuscated by superstitious veneration.
I also regard myself as an agnostic, though basically because a negation cannot be proven. Square circle? That which is self-contradictory cannot exist.
such a diabolical god who would lie to our faces on such a scale... According to the Christian fairytale. God cannot lie. To reconcile this with omniscience means that if God is real, then we are not. If reality is the product of God's imagination, then nothing exists independent of God's imagination and there is no truth other than God. So whatever God predicates would then be not even true or false because false only occurs in contradistinction to true, and true happens, if and only, if existence is independent of consciousness. Dawkins has almost no understanding of Christianity. I'm only now, after studying it for several years beginning to get it. Christianity is an insidious evil because it teaches that we are only fantasies in the mind of God. How sick is that?
and even physical space itself is ultimately curved and 'imperfect'. Imperfect compared to what? The platonic realm of the gods from whence cometh information? You can't have your cake and eat it too. If you can't know reality with "absolute certainty", you can't know some other reality with sufficient certainty to make a comparative judgement regarding perfection. What does perfection mean anyway? Isn't the notion of perfection itself ambiguous sort of like Anselem's quality of greatness?
...child's faith in the parents... Christianity conceives of faith as hypostatization of the hope believers hold for a reward in an afterlife. A child's set of brain events encoding evidence-feedback-action-reaction constitutes integration of facts drawn from material existence by sensation, perception, conceptualization. This is not faith. True justified belief based on evidence occurs by reasoning from facts of reality.
...He wants to change our consciousness in hopes of influencing people, so that more people would be aware of the possibility of changing their religious beliefs.... Why would you care what Dawkins wants regarding religious people, if you think them hardly human?
Faith also addresses the reality that they are also intellectually lazy and foolish, though most of them are less willing to admit to those traits. I use my evolved ability to suspend disbelief and to believe any proposition to divide my mind into multiple personalities. One me, is very useful as a watchdog over the other me to prevent the later me from making quite so many mistakes in our various endeavors. Faith can be a virtue when properly used for one's own benefit. We make our own mythology and are better for it.
...we don't have the time to check the evidence for everything, so we have to start by taking a lot of things on faith. Presupposing Hume was right about induction flies in the face of the fact that reality is not fictional. Randomness associated with chaotic, non-linear dynamic perturbations in harmonic phenomena and that ostensibly stemming from experimental setup variance is part of material existence and can be counted and specifically compensated. This has nothing to do with faith. Stop borrowing from the Christian world view.
However, the more important attribute of the rare great scientist is an ability to figure out WHICH evidence to search for. Sometimes it involves looking at old evidence differently. In that case, the evidence exists, but no one else can see its true meaning. What distinguishes "looking at evidence differently" from mathematics? Why does one exist but the other lack such an attribute?
...while the religious fanatic is looking for 'absolute' meaning as a handout from some god. Contrasting methodological naturalism's basal doubting with the religious person's desire for emotional comfort stemming from personal assurance is a category mistake founded on a stolen concept of certainty. Again you can't have your cake and eat it too. If reality is not understandable due to inescapable randomness, as would be the case if inductive reasoning can not be trusted, there can be no epistemic justification for any claim couched as 100% certain. If one constructs Bayesian probability arguments from strong priors, however, a rational case can be adduced. Such an approach can be more productive in dealing with believers as opposed to insulting them.
about Hitler and Stalin.
I like Ayn Rand on the subtle distinctions between Hitler and Stalin.
A cult is defined as "a particular system of religious worship, esp. with reference to its rites and ceremonies. " http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/cults?r=75
Hitler's Nazi Party were mostly economic religions, but they were following the traditional historical trajectory of rapid growth followed by suppression leading to a militaristic and extremist response. I think this is another fallacy in Dawkin's reasoning. Economics is the science that deals with the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services, or the material welfare of humankind. This presupposes that humans have fundamental rights stemming from our interaction with existence. Characterizing economics in any form as a religion, (a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe), in context of bashing such beliefs is to construct a package deal that abrogates fundamental human rights to self, to life, to one's own reasoned determinism. To do this in a discussion of totalitarian cruelty is to setup a contradiction. Dawkins could have made his point in other ways without the contradiction.
Yes, I'm personally sure that objective reality will eventually grind their fantasies to dust, but that's the way of the world, after all. I think its a contradiction to argue from inductive uncertainty and then invoke objectivity as these are mutually exclusive concepts.
I think this book is an interesting and thoughtful summary of many complicated topics. Having read the book three years ago, I agree with your summary. Perhaps, I'll read it again next year. The night stand has 14 books on it now, so off I go to catch up a bit. I have enjoyed your review, and although we disagree on many issues, we do share an essential optimism for our future as a species. Best Wishes for Your Success.