The Fine-Tuning Argument, Generalized

by Luke Muehlhauser on September 30, 2010 in Design Argument

Religious believers often claim that the universe is fine-tuned for life, and that this is evidence of God. In fact, this might be the modern believer’s favorite argument for God, and the one considered to be the strongest by atheists, including Richard Dawkins.

As such, it invites a careful examination.

This argument takes many forms, but we might generalize it like this:

  1. The apparent fine-tuning of the universe for life is explained by naturalistic design, naturalistic non-design, supernatural design, supernatural non-design, or some combination of those factors.
  2. The apparent fine-tuning of the universe for life is not explained by naturalistic design, naturalistic non-design, supernatural non-design, or a combination of factors.
  3. Therefore, the apparent fine-tuning of the universe for life is explained by supernatural design.

The argument is deductively valid, so if the premises are true then the conclusion must be true.

Premise 1 is not much debated. The four options given cover all possibilites. (If you think the apparent fine-tuning of the universe simply has no explanation – that it is mere chance or brute fact – I’m considering that possibility to be a kind of naturalistic non-design explanation.) But perhaps the fine-tuning of the universe could be explained by a combination of these options, so premise 1 is not certain.

So nearly all the action is on premise 2. If premise 2 is more probably true than not, then it may be fair to say that the apparent fine-tuning of the universe counts as genuine evidence for supernatural design.

Four options, but really two

Just so we’re clear, here are some examples of the four possibile explanation types:

  • Naturalistic design: our universe is a computer simulation, its parameters finely tuned by a physics student in a larger reality.
  • Naturalistic non-design: our universe is but one of trillions upon trillions, each with different parameters and laws, and of course living beings that can think about fine-tuning will only arise in those one-in-a-bajillion universes that have parameters suitable to the emergence of life.
  • Supernatural design: a powerful person that exists beyond any physical reality created our universe and fine-tuned it to produce life.
  • Supernatural non-design: a powerful person that exists beyond any physical reality unintentionally produced a bajillion universes with randomly-assigned parameters, and ours happens to be one of the few universes with parameters suitable to the emergence of life.

Most of the debate, however, has focused on two of these possibilities: supernatural design and naturalistic non-design. I may return briefly to the other two possibilities later, but for the most part I would like to set them aside.

I currently believe naturalistic non-design explains the apparent fine-tuning of our universe, and most people who disagree with me defend a supernatural design hypothesis. So those are the two possibilities on which I will focus.

For convenience, then, I’ll refer to supernatural design as “the supernatural hypothesis,” and I’ll refer to naturalistic non-design as “the naturalistic hypothesis.”

Some important clarifications

In my discussion of Al Moritz’s fine-tuning essay, I dismissed two common objections to the fine-tuning argument:

The first [objection] is this: “How can you say that the universe appears fine-tuned for life? Most of it is completely inhospitable and hostile to life.” But this is irrelevant. The fine-tuning argument applies to the universe as a whole. Extreme fine-tuning would be required for life to exist more commonly in the universe, of course, but it is also required for life to exist at all - even just on the tiny speck of dust on which it does exist.

The second objection is: “The fine-tuning for life is nonsense. We are adapted to the universe by evolution, not the universe is adapted to us.” This is again, irrelevant. The universe must be extremely fine-tuned for complex chemistry or evolution to exist at all.

Also, remember that admitting that our universe is fine-tuned for life does not immediately priviledge a design hypothesis:

Note that fine-tuning itself does not imply a person who did the fine-tuning. That is the most tempting explanation to human intuition, but these intuitions have turned out to be wrong time and time again. The orbits of the planets are not fine-tuned ellipses because of gods, but because of physics. Humans are not fine-tuned for their qualities because Yahweh crafted man from dust and woman from man’s rib, but because of the extraordinary power of natural selection and other evolutionary pressures. And as Moritz agrees, it appears that primitive biological systems need not have been fine-tuned for replication and evolution by a deity – instead, their properties emerged from chemistry.

Also, why talk about fine-tuning for “life” instead of fine-tuning for “intelligent life” or “conscious life” or something else? Defenders of the fine-tuning argument have put the emphasis in different places.

I admit my choice of “life” is arbitrary, but I don’t think it matters much. If the universe is fine-tuned for life, it is even more fine-tuned for intelligent life or conscious life. Where the distinction matters, we shall examine it – including, in the next post of this series.

What, exactly, is fine-tuned?

A few people – Victor Stenger and Fred Adams, for example – have questioned the idea that the universe is so finely-tuned as usually claimed. (But, Stenger’s arguments are problemmatic, and so are Adams’.) Instead, I will take the vast majority of cosmologists at their word when they say that if the parameters of our universe were much different, life as we know it could not exist.

For example, if the amount of matter in the universe had differed by 1 part in 1055, life could not have existed. If the universe had had too much matter, it would collapsed back on itself in a second. If it had had too little matter, it would have expanded too quickly for planets to form.

And if the strength of gravity or the strength of the weak force had differed by as little as one part in 10100, space would have likewise expanded or contracted too quickly for life to have evolved.

Many other examples of fine-tuning are given in, for example, my interview with astronomer Luke Barnes and also John Leslie’s Universes.

The point is this: if any of a couple dozen parameters of our universe had values that were the slightest bit different from what they are, life could never have evolved. So it looks (to some people) like some intelligence beyond our universe has monkeyed with the values so they would come out just right for life to evolve.

How this series will proceed

I have many objections to the fine-tuning argument – many objections to the claim that fine-tuning provides evidence for God.

But instead of “listing refutations” of the argument, I will entertain the possibility that some of the very smart people who defend the fine-tuning argument have answers to my objections. (How generous of me!) Thus, I will pose my objections as questions, and wait for answers from the argument’s defenders.

The next post will contain my first question to defenders of the fine-tuning argument like Al Moritz.

Update: I added “or some combination of factors” to premises 1 and 2.

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{ 182 comments… read them below or add one }

Emil Karlsson September 30, 2010 at 12:28 pm

“Most of it is completely inhospitable and hostile to life” is a general objection to a general teleological argument on the cosmological level (like how the argument from bad design is an objection to a general teleological argument on the biological level). It is not an attempt at refuting the deductive argument put forward by Craig.

“We are adapted to the universe by evolution” is a refutation of the rare earth hypothesis, not fine tuning.

The supposed “refutation” you have provided are really just attacks against straw men.

Also, remember that only constants that are dimensionless can be regarded as fine-tuned. The values of constants that are not dimensionless depend arbitrarily on the system of units used.

Thus, the strength of gravity, the strength of the weak force or the amount mass in the universe cannot, by definition, be fine-tuned constants, as their values depend on the system of units used.

You should probably say the ratio between the mass of the electron and proton (kg/kg cancels => dimensionless), the ratio between the strength of gravity and the strength of the weak force (Newton/Newton cancels => dimensionless).

Who is not understanding the fine tuning argument now again?

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Reginald Selkirk September 30, 2010 at 12:40 pm

<i.Premise 1 is not debated. The four options given cover all possibilites.

What about combinations of more than one choice?

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JMauldin September 30, 2010 at 1:03 pm

“Extreme fine-tuning would be required for life to exist more commonly in the universe, of course, but it is also required for life to exist at all – even just on the tiny speck of dust on which it does exist.”

No one that I know of makes the argument that the universe is not finely-tuned enough to produce life (because obviously we’re here) but that life itself is the focal point of the universe’s fine-tuning. “Most of it is completely inhospitable and hostile to life” is a refutation of arguments dealing with purpose.

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David September 30, 2010 at 1:30 pm

Gah, the fine tuning argument – like a newly-deceased man in a zombie apocalypse, it rises and rises again, lumbering forward in its cry, “Brains.”

Well I was going alright until the end of it. One more time, over and over again I see these tacit and unsupported assumptions smuggled into this argument. I’ll focus on two, which I think are my strongest objections:

1) That the constants are variable “input parameters” to the universe. Why is this the case? What universe-generator are we assuming that could have created any possible set of constants? How is it any different to ask “Why these constants?” as opposed to “Why is there something rather than nothing?” Theists have used the latter question for centuries and it’s still philosophically unimpressive but I don’t see any substantive difference between the two, other than that the latter is a bit newer. But I can’t for the life of me answer either question. Maybe someday someone will, but given the knowledge we have both questions seem like philosophical dead ends.

2) That the equations are brute fact. If we’re going to say the constants are input parameters to a possible universe, why aren’t we varying the equations? In fact, why have mathematical equations at all? A non-mathematical universe was imagined by human beings for centuries, why take those out of the pool of possible answers?

So to briefly recap:

1) What reason do we have for varying empirically-discovered constants? That is, why are these not simply considered brute fact?

2) What reason do we have for varying empirically-discovered constants and not empirically-discovered equations or math itself? That is, if the constants are not brute fact, then why is everything else considered to be brute fact?

This leaves us in a strange netherland of presuppositions where we assume one particular part of reality (physical constants) are variable, and another (laws, equations) are brute fact. This has the advantage of being mathematically agreeable but the disadvantage of being inconsistent.

Until these sorts of assumptions are justified I just find all arguments about fine-tuning completely unintelligible.

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Thrasymachus September 30, 2010 at 1:34 pm

I’m not convinced this is the most organic way to look at the argument. Just look at the relevant likelihood ratio on Bayes: is the apparent fine-tuning better explained Theism than not-Theism? Or evaluate whether P(F|T)>P(F|¬T). The alien design hypothesis and so on aren’t seriously held (in other words, we give them preposterously low priors) so they aren’t really in the confirmatorial game.

I’ve done a bit on Fine tuning on my blog. Look forward to seeing where you take it.

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Hermes September 30, 2010 at 2:00 pm

David, great summary.

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Hermes September 30, 2010 at 2:37 pm

Inspired by David, I’ll give it a stab myself.

I guess what bothers me most about fine tuning arguments is that they tend to take two angles;

1. Eliminate the competition, or at a minimum try to.

This step isn’t required. If I see a squirrel burring a nut or raiding a bird feeder, I don’t need to address the possibility that what I think is a squirrel is actually a traveling alien anthropologist investigating woodland creatures.

If my explanation is superior and backed by evidence, the argument I’m making will edge out other contenders.

Attacking the competition — if successful — only acts to increase doubt in the competition. It doesn’t help bolster confidence in the argument that is supposed to be the strongest one. Knock out the contenders but skip the work needed to bolster the alternate claim and you’ve just shown that nobody has a good argument. I’ll believe that, but so what?

2. Make claims about known unknowns as if they are known.

There are many things that we don’t know about how our slice of reality fundamentally works. If physicists and/or other competent professionals figure out those details, then and only then can we start to reliably speculate on if things can be different from what they are. The LHC might help solve those problems or may leave us wondering about other things that we currently have no answers for or that we are speculating about.

We may find out what parameters can differ from what we have observed, but we may find that fundamentally reality has only specific traits and can not every trait we could imagine. In that case, reality as a whole may not be sub-dividable and organized by sets of possible parameters.

So, what can we say? Not knowing isn’t a license to make things up. It’s an indication that you should label speculation as speculation and not treat it as evidence for a probable result let alone a possible or actual one. Not knowing the basics blows probability away as a serious angle as you can’t speculate on critical parts you know nothing about or that may be impacted by other critical unknowns we have yet to notice let alone the ones we have noticed; the known unknowns.

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Muto September 30, 2010 at 2:44 pm

David, while I fully agree with your description of the fine tuning argument as zombie consuming the brains of the apologetic movement, I want say something about your second point of critissism.
One of the best ways of determining whether a model has greater explanatory power, is if it resolves fine tuning problems: If constants that were thought to be contingent and in a narrow range to account for observed phenomena are explained by the new hypothesis. Ergo, it makes sense to assume such constants can be varied, because it may help us to find unifying ideas.This is a methological principle that was very helpful in the past

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Thomas September 30, 2010 at 2:56 pm

I talked to Stenger over email a while back and sent him the links to those posts by Luke Barnes. This is how he replied:

“I contacted Barnes and he dropped one of his objections. His other was minor and one I had already fixed.”

He didn’t elaborate any more on that, so take that as you will.

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Hermes September 30, 2010 at 3:08 pm

To go along with my #2, here is a question for anyone who thinks the fundamental properties of the universe are tunable;

Do we have any evidence that they are alterable?

I’m going to bet that the answer to that is no. Corrections appreciated.

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Torgo September 30, 2010 at 3:11 pm

Glad to see you tackling this topic. Here’s my question (not objection): How is the fine-tuning argument an argument for GOD instead of just an argument for a designer/fine-tuner? How does the theist get God out of this kind of argument?

A fundamental premise of such arguments is that life could not exist without all the fine tuning. This would appear to mean that there are constraints on how the creator of the universe can go about making life. The creator seems to have little choice in the kind of universe he can create if he wants life in it. Thus, if the argument is sound, it proves a creator of limited power and/or knowledge, which is not the God of traditional theism. So, again, is this really an argument for God?

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lukeprog September 30, 2010 at 3:23 pm

Reginald,

The options of premise 1 are worded so that they are mutually exclusive and mutually exhaustive. You’re right, it could be a combination, and thus we might reject premise 1, but that isn’t something I’ll consider for a while. But I will weaken the wording of the OP, there.

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Yair September 30, 2010 at 3:52 pm

Please, oh please focus on the correct physical finding. The finding is not that the constants are in the life-permitting range; that is a given from the weak Anthropic Principle. The finding is that slight alteration of the constants will create a universe that is no life-permitting. What the theist needs to show is that god will create a universe with this feature in its laws of physics. The naturalist, I’d argue, can just treat this finding as a brute fact about nature – but having an explanation for it would be nice nonetheless; some multiverse theories may be built the right way to provide such an explanation.

I’ll also reiterate my disdain for dismissing the two objections so casually. We just don’t know enough to do so. But we can proceed on the assumption that fine-tuning is correct, barring further research into the matter.

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oarobin September 30, 2010 at 3:57 pm

in addition to stenger and adams here are Carroll, Weinberg & Krauss, but i guess those cosmologist who say fine-tuning is an argument from ignorance or a plausibility argument based on speculative physics don’t know what they are talking about.
what i would like explain is this “Premise 1 is not debated.” . the very notion of fine tuned universe, seems to me, one of the most speculative and contested of all modern cosmological claims.

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Lamplighter Jones September 30, 2010 at 4:07 pm

Hi Luke,

Regarding the amount of matter in the universe affecting the possibility of life, do you have a link or a reference estimating the amount of matter in the universe?

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lukeprog September 30, 2010 at 4:47 pm

Emil Karlsson,

Not a strawman. These objections are often raised by atheists.

Re: “dimensionless.” This is precisely one of the objections I shall be raising.

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Rob September 30, 2010 at 4:53 pm

Suppose the argument is persuasive.

What then accounts for God being fine-tuned to be the type of god that would want a universe with life in the first place?

Why that kind of god rather than a god that was content with no universe?

Or a god that preferred a universe filled with nothing but unicorns farting rainbows?

Positing a god to explain the alleged fine tuning just pushes the question one step back, and ought to fall to Occam’s razor.

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Joel September 30, 2010 at 5:26 pm

Do note that Stenger attempts physical explanations for fine-tuning, and does not rely only on denying the narrowness of the life-permitting range of values. E.g. how the mass density of the universe is precisely determined by the fact that the universe starts out with zero total energy (the famous +ve energy of matter cancels out the -ve energy of gravity.

Luke, I also agree with Karlsson that the “unfriendliness” point ought not to be dismissed out of hand, like that. I believe that the overall fine-tuning of the universe needs to take into account such “unfriendliness” as well. After all, a universe that is 100% fine-tuned is less probable than a universe that has only certain aspects of it fine-tuned.

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EvanT September 30, 2010 at 5:41 pm

I’m really looking forward to reading this article.

Personally, I always considered this argument as too vague for my taste. We say “the universe appears fine-tuned for life”, but really, could there be a universe that supports life, but isn’t “apparently fine-tuned for it” and if there was, would we be able to tell them apart? (this ties in with your 1st rejected objection where you say “The fine-tuning argument applies to the universe as a whole. Extreme fine-tuning would be required for life to exist more commonly in the universe”). The definition of “fine-tuning” seems far too vague and maleable. Or are we just saying “as long as a universe supports life, we’ll call it fine-tuned cos it sounds cool”?

I also always considered Premise #2 as very weak in the sense that it depends on our current scientific knowledge. Sure, the universe looks fine-tuned now that we have only ours to work with and we’re only familiar with carbon-based life from a single planet. Will, for instance, the argument keep its strength if the Multiverse hypothesis proves to be true? Are we just looking at a clever rehash of the God of the Gaps?

And of course, Rob is correct when he wonders what sort of deity would be proven through this argument. I have no idea, but I’m pretty sure that the Christian omni-deity could be safely excluded from the candidate list.

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Kaelik September 30, 2010 at 6:10 pm

Luke,

“if the parameters of our universe were much different, life as we know it could not exist.”

Of course, but how about life as we don’t know it.

For the universe to count as fine tuned, it has to also be true for life as we don’t know it. And hey, we don’t know that. So there is literally no way to know if the universe is fine tuned.

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Nordon September 30, 2010 at 7:19 pm

I think this argument fails in my view because it assumes too much that life has intrinsic value. While life is valuable to us, and also quite a rare occurrence in the universe, I see no reason to believe that this is so. You could apply this argument to just about anything you consider insignificant, even a rock floating in space with a particular shape, colour, indentations and spin. You’d first have to prove to me that life has some intrinsic value for me to seriously consider that maybe the universe being fine-tuned for it merits a design hypothesis. Otherwise, it all just sounds like question begging to me.

But please do let me know if you think I’m wrong, and why. I am interested in different views on the subject. Only thing is, at the moment, as it has been presented, I remain unconvinced.

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Joel September 30, 2010 at 7:26 pm

Nordon,

Exactly. That is one one of the assumptions, and is found in premise 1 (“explained by…”). Wouldn’t need an explanation if there is nothing special about it, just as we wouldn’t need any explanation for any other configuration of molecules into some lifeless rock.

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Nordon September 30, 2010 at 7:34 pm

Aye, Joel. I suppose that is one of the assumptions but then the argument seems to read back to me as “life is special and life must have been designed because life is special because it was designed by a creator”.

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Jeff H September 30, 2010 at 7:43 pm

I’m currently reading The Non-existence of God by Nicholas Everitt, and he makes what I think is a good point. In addition to what others have said about whether the constants are actually alterable, the fine-tuning argument also assumes that all of the values of the constants (and combinations of values) are equiprobable. It may be the case that gravity could have assumed a different value, but that it is vastly more probable that it would assume the value it in fact has. In order to determine this probability, however, we would need access to multiple universes. Since we don’t, it’s impossible to determine a probability of these values, and so we can’t say that the values are equally probable.

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Nordon September 30, 2010 at 7:50 pm

I should also add that due to a lack of a real grasp of how the universe came to be, whether or not these constants could have ended up any other way, and general related unknowns, we can’t really attend to premise 2.

I’m sorry, you may disagree with me here, but we have quite an amazing range of possible naturalistic explanations, some of which not even found yet that would need to effectively be ruled out in order to appeal to a supernatural one. In other words, you’re not rational in appealing to the supernatural until indeed all naturalistic explanations are exhausted and dismissed (when dealing with an uncertain situation as this one). Otherwise, yes, there is no caricaturing going on, this does sound a lot like a god-of-the-gaps in disguise.

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lukeprog September 30, 2010 at 7:55 pm

Guys! You’re raising all my objections before I get to! :)

Just kidding… please do keep sharing your thoughts.

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Chip September 30, 2010 at 7:57 pm

Very eager to read this series. The fine tuning argument is the only theistic argument that’s really “on my radar”; the others I just find completely unpersuasive.

RE: the “life as we don’t know it” objection:
Surprisingly, I don’t think that objection holds. As Luke pointed out, differences in some of these constants would prevent any complex matter from forming whatsoever! Hard to see how you could get anything in such a universe that we could reasonably call “life”.

RE: “What fine-tuning problem?”
As a physicist, I know there is a strong feeling among my medium or high energy colleagues that these constants don’t just “happen” to have these weird values, as brute facts. Either there is some underlying physics that explains them, or a multiverse which “anthropically” generates them, or something… but the numbers are too many and too strange-seeming to be satisfying as brute facts.

Many “fundamental” constants turned out to be related to others that were more truly fundamental, e.g. the Stefan-Boltzman constant. We can derive it from these other constants, using physics we understand, and it just feels good, like we really learned something. Many (including myself) think there has to be “something like that” for many of these constants.

Then again, “weird numbers” might not be such a good argument… there’s always pi :)

So they could turn out to be brute facts, and we should acknowledge that, but in the meantime we should act as though they aren’t and try to figure out an explanation.

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tmp September 30, 2010 at 8:20 pm

I don’t really understand the fine tuning argument. We are complex lifeforms wondering how unlikely it is for universe to produce complex lifeforms. It is like asking a lottery winner just how unlikely it is for one to win a lottery. For us to ask the question, the universe needs to have produced us, and the probablility does not really matter all that much; it has already happened.

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tmp September 30, 2010 at 8:28 pm

Sorry, naturalistic non-design is already mentioned. I just got confused by the mention of trillions upon trillions universes.

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Joel September 30, 2010 at 9:38 pm

My tiny contribution; what objections I have discovered to the Craig-type fine-tuning argument (that Luke uses here):

In regards to P1) fine-tuning/friendliness to life being improbable:
1) Unfriendliness to life. On the whole, the universe is not fine-tuned for life, or if it is, not very much so.
2) Life, let along our form of it, is not special and therefore needs no special explanation. (e.g. the lottery winner example brought up above)

In regards to P2) design being one of the explanations:
3) Unjustified inference from fine-tuning. We have knowledge of houses being built by humans, and can thus infer that some house in the woods is built by some human. We have no such prior knowledge about the universe, and so cannot draw any significant inference.
4) Counter-productivity. The fact that life rests on the knife-edge of fine-tuning indicates, not that there is some sort of special design for life, but that there is no supernatural designer concerned for life.
5) Boeing 747 Gambit, with Kolmogorov complexity and Solomonoff improbability applied. Id est, design only regresses the problem of improbability, so improbability is not in itself an argument for design.
6) Bad explanation. The design hypothesis seems no better than poof magic, or !wizard.

In regards to the explanation not being physical necessity or chance:
7) Various physicalist explanations for the different values (e.g. the ratio of electrons to protons is determined by conservation of charge, a fundamental law of physics)
8) Range of life-permitting values may be larger than we thought, allowing for chance to be a sufficient explanation.
9) Multiverse. The multiverse theory is of course independently supported by the Everitt interpretation of quantum mechanics (while design has been falsified in many fields of knowledge, from weather prediction (!Zeus) to biological life (!Yahweh).
10) Infinitesimal probabilities. If there really is an infintely range for the values to vary across, then all possible outcomes are equally improbable.

That’s all I know, and I’m interested to know if all of them work, and if there are any others.

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Doubting Thomas September 30, 2010 at 10:42 pm

Good stuff. Here´s another design-argument for theism that occured to me. (This is one of Swinburne´s arguments in The Existence of God.)

The orbits of the planets are not fine-tuned ellipses because of gods, but because of physics

Yes, but where did the physics come from? Why is our universe behaving according to we call ‘the laws of nature’? Why just these laws? What explains the stunning fact that every bit of matter in our universe behaves in excatly the same way according to simple laws?

Naturalism must leave these questions unanswered brute facts. Theism can provide an ultimate explanation for the existence of an ordered universe. Therefore, I think, the fact that the universe is ordered according to laws of nature gives some evidence for theism and counts against naturalism.

(There is another ‘Thomas’ here, so I changed my name to ‘Doubting Thomas’.)

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Eric September 30, 2010 at 10:43 pm

Chip –
Many “fundamental” constants turned out to be related to others that were more truly fundamental, e.g. the Stefan-Boltzman constant. We can derive it from these other constants, using physics we understand, and it just feels good, like we really learned something. Many (including myself) think there has to be “something like that” for many of these constants.

Then again, “weird numbers” might not be such a good argument… there’s always pi :)

I am glad you brought this up. We once thought the boiling point of water was a universal constant. We know know it is contingent on quantum physics. Luke Barnes, who lukeprog has mentioned, has suggested that whatever a fine tuned constant is contingent upon will have the same problem of fine tuning. Of course it sounds as if he is setting up a permanently mobile goal post. However we don’t know what the explanation of the explanation of the explanation (etc…) of our fine tuning arguments will bring to light. We may find the conditions of our universe are necessary, vary throughout the universe or who knows…

Chip –
So they could turn out to be brute facts, and we should acknowledge that, but in the meantime we should act as though they aren’t and try to figure out an explanation.

Obviously scientists should never just consider these laws to be brute facts. Scientists must always investigate the possibility they could be variable and contingent. The problem is that it is a possibility they are brute facts, just as it is a possibility they are variable. However, although scientists find it to be their job to investigate the latter possibility (just in case it is true), the latter possibility does not REQUIRE an explanation any more than the former. If I were to say that it is a possibility that I will win a million dollars tomorrow, would it be rational of me to require an explanation from someone on why I will win a million dollars? This is an objection I have brought to Luke Barnes. He has not answered…

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Eric September 30, 2010 at 10:51 pm

Thomas –
Naturalism must leave these questions unanswered brute facts. Theism can provide an ultimate explanation for the existence of an ordered universe. Therefore, I think, the fact that the universe is ordered according to laws of nature gives some evidence for theism and counts against naturalism.

Lets say I granted this. Would the fact that life REQUIRES such finely tuned laws not be evidence for naturalism and against theism?

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Joel September 30, 2010 at 11:03 pm

Doubting Thomas,

The laws of physics are descriptions of the physical world, not literal laws. It’s not that electrons happen to act the same way; it’s because things that act the same way are labelled with the same name.

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Josh September 30, 2010 at 11:08 pm

One of the weirdest issues is that people seem to think that say, all values of the constants are a priori equiprobable. But that of course makes no sense, since the uniform distribution on R is not a probability measure at all…

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Doubting Thomas October 1, 2010 at 12:54 am

Joel,

The laws of physics are descriptions of the physical world, not literal laws. It’s not that electrons happen to act the same way; it’s because things that act the same way are labelled with the same name.

Yes I agree with this. This is Swinburne´s view too (although his “S-P-L -view of the laws of nature” is a bit more complicated). But this is in fact a stunning thing: Why does every chunk of matter in our universe behave in excatly the same way? They “happen” to? The universe just happens to be extremely ordered? Naturalism must leave this as a happy coincidence.

Swinburne´s illustration: You buy many packs of cards and open them. They all got ace of spades at the top. What do you conclude? “Well, this is just the way things happen to be and we got to live with this. There is no explanation for the fact that these cards are ordered in this same way.” Clearly this is crazy. Some machine or a person put the cards in that order. It´s the same thing with this universe. That matter behaves in the same way according to simple laws isn´t just a happy brute fact – clearly it´s more plausible to say that there is one cause behind this order.

http://www.closertotruth.com/video-profile/Arguing-God-with-Analytic-Philosophy-Richard-Swinburne-Part-1-of-3-/1031

Eric,

No, I can´t see your point.

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Joel October 1, 2010 at 1:26 am

Doubting Thomas,

You need to justify why things behaving one way (e.g. having the same properties) is less probable than things behaving in another way (e.g. having different properties). That one is less probable than another is the same assumption behind the “why is there something rather than nothing” questions; why is nothing more likely than something?

In any case, I can make a tentative case for why things being the same is simpler than things being different. Let’s use kolmogorov complexity, where the complexity of a state of affairs is given by the length of its shortest description in some universal description language. The string of “111111111111111″ is described as “15 ’1′s” and is far simpler than the string of “jdbnghemcfhgkwv”, whose shortest description is itself. So the description of a cube of pure gold is far shorter than the description of a human.

A universe whose basic particles acted in the same way will correspondingly be far simpler, a priori, than a universe who has 10^45 particles, all of which are different.

Of course, the different particles could be theoretically described in some algorithm like “all prime numbers” but then there will be basic similarities.

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Doubting Thomas October 1, 2010 at 3:55 am

Joel,

You need to justify why things behaving one way (e.g. having the same properties) is less probable than things behaving in another way (e.g. having different properties).

Look at the card pack -analogy again. So would you conclude that the fact that the cards are ordered in the same way is a normal thing to be expected, not in need of further explanation? If not, there is your justification.

This analogy shows that there is a strong presupposition of randomness. Without a cause (a person who ordered the card pack), there is indeed a strong presupposition that the cards have no particular order.

So naturalism doesn´t lead us to expect the kind of order we do in fact find in this universe (this is because a presupposition of randomness). On the other hand, the regular and simple behaviour of physical objects is just what we would expect if theism were true. Therefore this gives some evidence for theism. Or so the argument goes.

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Joel October 1, 2010 at 4:30 am

Doubting Thomas,

Your example is a disanalogy. You confuse identity with arrangement.

Your claim is that it is surpising and deserving of explanation, that (say) basic units like electrons all have the same properties. In your example, the cards are the basic units, and what is surpising is that the cards are arranged in an orderly way (e.g. A->2, from spade to clubs). But that involves arrangement, not identity.

Your example would only work if it were the way that electrons were arranged that is being argued; but it is not.

You would have to argue instead that

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Joel October 1, 2010 at 4:31 am

tl;dr

There is order across the nature of objects, and there is order across the arrangement of objects.

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Joel October 1, 2010 at 4:37 am

I really wish there’s an edit button.

Continuing the broken post:

You would have to argue instead that it is surprising that the cards’ identities are consistent.

And this in turn shows that your example is quite the flawed one. Electrons are identical. Cards are not. In effect, your argument by analogy is like this:

The different (e.g. A, K, Q, J…) cards are arranged in an orderly method, and that is surprising. Similiarly, all electrons have the same properties, and that is therefore surprising.

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Hermes October 1, 2010 at 5:55 am

Naturalism must leave these questions unanswered brute facts. Theism can provide an ultimate explanation for the existence of an ordered universe.

Thomas, I don’t get it. Both sentences are forced assertions. You must have known that when you wrote them, so why write them?

It doesn’t support your case to just make statements that are tied to your preconceived conclusions. What it does do is make me less likely to take your word for any trivial statements when you make such whompers.

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Bill Snedden October 1, 2010 at 6:47 am

Doubting Thomas:

Naturalism must leave these questions unanswered brute facts. Theism can provide an ultimate explanation for the existence of an ordered universe.

Umm….no. All “theism” does is push the “brute fact” back another level. I.e., why is “god” orderly?

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Doubting Thomas October 1, 2010 at 6:50 am

Joel,

the argument is an argument from temporal order or regularity. Matter behaves regularly in exactly the same way (according to simple laws). So the universe exhibits temporal order or causal order and the claim is that this is a remarkable fact that needs a further explanation.

You are probably right that the analogy isn´t perfect, because the arrangements of cards is an example of spatial order. But still, I think that the analogy is useful, because it brings out well the intuition that order needs some furher explanation.

So you said that “You would have to argue instead that there is order across the nature of objects…” and this what I´m doing actually. The premiss of the argument is that the universe exhibits temporal order.

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Doubting Thomas October 1, 2010 at 7:11 am

Hermes,

Come on. I made a small comment where I just gave an outline of the argument. You can disagree with those premises of you want.

Why is naturalism incapable of explaining the laws of nature (or the fact that matter behaves in a certain ordered way)? Because the regular behaviour of matter according to simple laws is a fundamental feature of physical reality. Any explanation of the laws themselves would have to transcend the physical world. But according to naturalism, there isn´t anything outside the physical world. So this is why naturalism can´t in principle explain this. But given theism, there is a person outside the physical world whose purposes and intentions would lead us to expect the kind of order we in fact see in the universe. Or so the argument goes.

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Rob October 1, 2010 at 7:17 am

Doubting Thomas,

You wrote:

“So the universe exhibits temporal order or causal order and the claim is that this is a remarkable fact that needs a further explanation.”

And your explanation is “God did it”. OK. But you also believe that God is orderly. You also believe God is not random. So you believe that God’s attributes are brute facts.

So why is it OK for you to believe that God’s orderliness is a inexplicable brute fact, while it is not OK for a naturalist to believe that the orderliness of the universe is just an inexplicable brute fact?

I am not saying the orderliness of the universe is an inexplicable brute fact. I am merely pointing out the extreme feebleness of Doubting Thomas’s argument.

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Chip October 1, 2010 at 7:18 am

(Doubting Thomas:)
You are probably right that the analogy isn´t perfect, because the arrangements of cards is an example of spatial order. But still, I think that the analogy is useful, because it brings out well the intuition that order needs some furher explanation.

But what right do you have to that intuition? Your entire mental life has been built up by interacting with your environment, in the only universe we know of. How could you draw any justified inference about whether or not we ought to be surprised by the underlying order? How many other universes did you examine?

Myself, I have a very difficult time imagining what an essentially-chaotic universe would even look like. For me, the fact that there is underlying order doesn’t cry out for explanation, because I just couldn’t imagine how there couldn’t be some kind of order.

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Rob October 1, 2010 at 7:27 am

Chip,

Good point. The theistic intuition that reality ought to be random and chaotic is unjustified. Another unjustified intuition sometimes encountered is that there ought to be nothing.

Why does the theist intuit that there ought to be nothing? Or if there is something, it ought to be chaotic? Why? These intuitions go against all our shared common experience.

I have never understood this. The thinking is so bizarre, it makes me think I will never understand religious folks, because their minds just work so differently from mine.

How can I understand someone whose understanding of reality is guided by unjustified intuition, rather than the day to day inter-subjective experience we all share?

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Doubting Thomas October 1, 2010 at 7:29 am

Bill,

Umm….no. All “theism” does is push the “brute fact” back another level. I.e., why is “god” orderly?

It´s no objection to a theory that it doesn´t have an explanation of the explanation. If a theory explains some phenomena better than any other, then the fact that this phenomena occurs supports that theory. So if theism explains the temporal order of the universe and naturalism doesn´t, then this order supports theism over naturalim. Period.

Also, every worldview has a stopping point that explains everything else but isn´t itself explained. So the question must be, which does a better job in terms of explanatory power, the brute fact of theism or the brute fact of naturalism? Theists argue that by postulating God we can explain a multitude of diverse phenomena that would otherwise be left unexplained.

Still, theist can say that the brute fact of theism has a higher prior probability than the brute fact of naturalism, bacuse theism is simpler. This is a big argument of Swinburne. (I don´t have time to defend this now.)

Lastly, theists can say that God is a necessary being, whereas the universe is contingent. Therefore asking what explains God or why is He like that isn´t any more a sensible question than why is bachelors unmarried.

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Patrick October 1, 2010 at 7:44 am

“It´s no objection to a theory that it doesn´t have an explanation of the explanation”

Yes it is. That’s why we have Occam’s Razor.

Occam’s Razor exists for exactly this purpose: someone has proposed a solution that supposedly provides an explanation of a bunch of facts, but it does so by positing a bunch of additional asserted facts that are supported by nothing except that they explain the earlier set of facts.

As for the necessary being issue, I think you hit it right on the head. Theists can certainly SAY that God is a necessary being. They cay SAY a lot of things. But in reality we all know they just stole the concept of a “necessary” fact from the logicians and stapled it to their God to make him look bigger and better than before.

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Doubting Thomas October 1, 2010 at 7:47 am

Rob,

two points come to my mind. First, according to Swinburne the brute fact of theism is simpler than the brute fact of naturalism. The physical universe is a very complex thing and that there would be this order in it without any explanation at all is a very complicated hypothesis. One simple God with infinte powers, however, would be far simpler stopping point. Also, all of God´s attributes follows from just three properties (omnipotence, omniscience and perfect freedom). The other attributes follow from these and so they aren´t additional complications. So the brute fact of a one simple God is far simpler than the brute fact of the physical universe. Or this what Swinburne argues.

Second, the universe is clearly contingent. So the naturalist must say that the existence of a physical cosmos and its ordeliness is a contingent brute fact whereas a theist can say that God is a necessary being.

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Rob October 1, 2010 at 7:48 am

Doubting Thomas,

You wrote:

“It´s no objection to a theory that it doesn´t have an explanation of the explanation.”

Are you intentionally missing the point? If you are trying to explain “orderliness”, then positing a god that is orderly is in no sense an explanation. You are just begging the question.

You are smuggling in the phenomenon you are trying to explain.

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Doubting Thomas October 1, 2010 at 7:59 am

Patrick,

Ockham comes to play only when the two theories have equal explanatory power. A more complicated hypotheis may be preferred because it explains the phenomena in a way that the simpler one doesn´t.

someone has proposed a solution that supposedly provides an explanation of a bunch of facts, but it does so by positing a bunch of additional asserted facts that are supported by nothing except that they explain the earlier set of facts.

Science postulates unobservable extra entities to explain a bunch of phenomena all the time! Atoms, photons, molecules, distant planets, etc. It does so because by postulating these extra entities it can explain a bunch of facts that would otherwise be left unexplained. These postutaled extra entities must have some prior probability (simplicity, background evidence) and great explanatory power. And this exactly what theism also does.

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Baal October 1, 2010 at 8:05 am

Talk of the apparent knife edge of fine-tuning causes me to think of that other knife edge, the idea that life occurs on the edge of chaos.

That basically it is only in that transitional zone between order and chaos that anything like life could occur. Too far in the direction of chaos and you couldn’t have replication; too far in the direction of order and you couldn’t have the necesary change for evolution.
If it is true that it’s only on the edge of chaos that you find complex and interesting behaviours like life then all you might need are universes that are neither too orderly nor too chaotic.
All the things that we might consider necessary for life, like stars that last long enough to create heavy elements etc., are only necessary for life as we know it.
Perhaps there is a whole range of different universes based on different constants with their own zones of transition between order and chaos that could give rise to life-like structures, even if those structures are so unlike life as we know it that we mightn’t even recognise it as like if we could encounter it.

I always hear theists argue that there must be a god to explain just how orderly the Universe is.
I’ve never heard one say ‘Just look at the Universe, it has just the right amount of chaos. Not too much, not too little. There must be a god.’

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Rob October 1, 2010 at 8:14 am

“Atoms, photons, molecules, distant planets” are all empirically measurable things.

If a scientist were to “explain” gravity by saying that invisible gremlins were moving things around, then that would be analogous to your theistic “explanation”.

I have to think that you are just jerking our chains now.

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Hermes October 1, 2010 at 8:18 am

Doubting Thomas:
Why is naturalism incapable of explaining the laws of nature (or the fact that matter behaves in a certain ordered way)? Because the regular behaviour of matter according to simple laws is a fundamental feature of physical reality. Any explanation of the laws themselves would have to transcend the physical world.

Feel free to back that up.

But given theism, there is a person outside the physical world whose purposes and intentions would lead us to expect the kind of order we in fact see in the universe. Or so the argument goes.

Got any evidence for such person(s)? Additionally, how do you know what they want, how do you know it has the ability to act on a physical world, … and so on?

Why not Debbie in another universe making our universe as an art project? The theme could be fire in the darkness, and like most kids Debbie doesn’t pay attention to every little wiggly crawly thing that she can’t see. Why your assertion of theism — god belief — and not Debbie’s art project?

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ayer October 1, 2010 at 8:21 am

“It´s no objection to a theory that it doesn´t have an explanation of the explanation”
Yes it is.”

It may be an “objection”, but it is a failed one. See:

http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=6113

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Roger3 October 1, 2010 at 8:27 am

Bill,

Umm….no. All “theism” does is push the “brute fact” back another level. I.e., why is “god” orderly?

It´s no objection to a theory that it doesn´t have an explanation of the explanation. If a theory explains some phenomena better than any other, then the fact that this phenomena occurs supports that theory. So if theism explains the temporal order of the universe and naturalism doesn´t, then this order supports theism over naturalim. Period.

I hear this all the time, even Luke says it. Well, yes, it is trivially true. The problem is that you are misunderstanding the objection: The objection is not that your explanation does any amount of explaining – it does, and very trivially. The objection is that you’re doing your explaining by positing the existence of something that naturally requires exactly the same explanation that you’re purporting to explain in the first place.

To rephrase: If the answer to the question “Why is there order?” is ‘God’, then granted that you have indeed answered the question it is a perfectly reasonable response to ask that you justify “why God is ordered.” That you can’t answer even the most basic questions regarding God without resorting to brute facts about the existence of God and His omni* properties is most definitely a knock on the explanation ‘God’ because that explanation is unnecessary: We already have brute force assertions. What has your ‘explanation’ added? It seems to me that an explanation has to add something, and ‘god’ doesn’t add anything to our knowledge. It’s ontologically superfluous.

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Rob October 1, 2010 at 8:33 am

Thanks Roger3, I was about to say exactly that. Ayer, you too are missing the point.

It is not our objection that God is unexplained. Our objection is that asserting that God JUST HAS orderliness as a brute fact is not an explanation of orderliness.

If you are trying to explain phenomenon X, then “phenomenon X” can be no part of the explanation.

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Hermes October 1, 2010 at 9:13 am

Rob, very good points (intuition abuse and brute fact smuggling).

I had a conversation with someone who insisted that the shroud of Turin was Jesus’ burial cloth and not a forgery. He pointed to the marks along the head, the hands, the feet, and then he said something that just blew me away. He said that the shroud must be Jesus because it had Jesus’ face on it. Er…what????

After I regained my composure, I then asked him how he knew what Jesus looked like when nobody made art with his image on it in his lifetime, and the Bible has so few details about his appearance. He went silent at that point, so I guess he experienced some cognitive dissonance.

God to Christians who actually think it exists is tangible. [Not all Christians do think that deities exist. I suspect that group is substantial.] Like a persistent experience similar to a waking dream, or a slice of imagination pushed onto the world, the deity and other spirits have substance because they seem to be independent.

That’s why when some Christians make claims about disasters and diseases being caused because of how humans behave, many Christians take those wild unsupported assertions seriously. Either the deity actively caused the disaster/disease, or the deity simply refrained from preventing those events or germs from causing havoc.

I think that is similar to what is happening here. Thomas may see his idea of a deity in every reflection, so of course it’s OK to assume it is already supported by what we see in reality. It’s right there! It’s real! It just makes sense that his deity did it and we’re the stubborn ones for not taking his explanations in the way that he does.

As for his comments on naturalism, I’m fully willing for the sake of the argument to throw naturalism out the window. Doing that, though, doesn’t bolster his claims about deities. All that work is still to be done and it can’t be done based on asserting that an intuition or a brute fact has anything to do with reality.

If I agreed that his assertions were an accurate explanation for reality, I’d be a theist of some sort in that instant. I’d be happy to change my mind because I want to have a better idea about what reality is and I see no reason to cling to false ideas or ones that are less likely.

Yet, when theists attack naturalism, they are considering that if naturalism was out of the way their specific sectarian assertions would all the sudden be the default ones. Well, no. It doesn’t work that way.

I don’t have any problem with saying I don’t know something. I also don’t have any problem in making judgments based on what I do know. When I examine the many and varied claims about Christianity, I’m left with the conclusion that most if not all theistic Christians don’t have a case for their specific deity. Could some deities or deity exist? Sure. Some are logically coherent and are consistent with reality. The general categories of deist and pantheist deities are acceptable. Why aren’t I a deist or a pantheist? Because there is no positive evidence in support of either type. Unlike varied theistic Christian claims that are typically brought up, the pantheists and deist constructions aren’t ruled out though they may not even be discoverable.

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lukeprog October 1, 2010 at 9:27 am

Where is Steve Carr?

I miss his debate instant replays.

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Rob October 1, 2010 at 9:36 am

Concerning what constitutes a legitimate explanation, this from Dennett in Consciousness Explained:

“When we learn that the only difference between gold and silver is the number of subatomic particles in their atoms, we may feel cheated or angry — those physicists have explained something away: The goldness is gone from gold; they’ve left out the very silveriness of silver that we appreciate. And when they explain the way reflection and absorption of electromagnetic radiation accounts for colors and color vision, they seem to neglect the very thing that matters most. But of course there has to be some “leaving out” — otherwise we wouldn’t have begun to explain. Leaving something out is not a feature of failed explanations, but of successful explanations.

Only a theory that explained conscious events in terms of unconscious events could explain consciousness at all. If your model of how pain is a product of brain activity still has a box in it labeled “pain,” you haven’t yet begun to explain what pain is, and if your model of consciousness carries along nicely until the magic moment when you have to say “then a miracle occurs” you haven’t begun to explain what consciousness is.”

This seems to be the heart of the problem here. The theists are unwilling to “leave out” of there explanation (God) that phenomenon (order) which they are trying to explain. And until they are willing to bite the bullet and do that, they are not explaining anything.

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Hermes October 1, 2010 at 9:44 am

Rob, excellent.

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ayer October 1, 2010 at 9:45 am

Rob: “It is not our objection that God is unexplained. Our objection is that asserting that God JUST HAS orderliness as a brute fact is not an explanation of orderliness.”

I think your confusion stems from a misunderstanding of exactly what classical theism is positing. Positing something as a “brute fact” is positing something that you admit is contingent but have no explanation for. Positing something as metaphysically ultimate is quite different. As Edward Feser recently pointed out:

Edward Feser: “Now the classical arguments for God as first cause or first principle of the world (by which I mean those developed within classical philosophy, whether Neo-Platonic, Aristotelian, or Thomistic or otherwise Scholastic) are, when properly understood, precisely arguments to the effect that the world of composite things – of compounds of act and potency, form and matter, essence and existence, and so forth – could not possibly exist even in principle were there not something non-composite, something which just is Pure Actuality, Subsistent Being Itself, and absolute Unity. . .So, it seems to me that what is more fundamental to classical theism is the notion of God as that which is absolutely metaphysically ultimate – a notion that encompasses both Anselm’s conception of God and the God-as-cause-of-the-world approach of Aquinas, Maimonides, and all the others, and which accounts for the centrality of divine simplicity to classical theism.”
http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2010/09/classical-theism.html

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Roger3 October 1, 2010 at 9:49 am

Baal said:

Talk of the apparent knife edge of fine-tuning causes me to think of that other knife edge, the idea that life occurs on the edge of chaos.

That basically it is only in that transitional zone between order and chaos that anything like life could occur. Too far in the direction of chaos and you couldn’t have replication; too far in the direction of order and you couldn’t have the necesary change for evolution.

I think most theists (and some atheists) have failed to appreciate just how unbelievably easy it is to get order out of chaos. In fact, all of nature pretty much depends upon this property of chaotically ordered systems.

In fact, I would expand the position to include the idea that it’s no knife-edge at all. Order and Chaos are not some mutually exclusive positions, the two are quite thoroughly interrelated at all levels. There is no such thing as ‘Complete Order’ and there is no such thing as ‘Complete Chaos’[*]. The two notions are only viable in relation to each other and in a rather bold assertion, I would say that they are only viable definitions in relation to each other and nothing else. The science of studying chaotic systems is exactly the study of how chaos arises from order and order arises from chaos. The Mandlebrot Set and Julia Sets are perfect examples of chaos arising from perfectly ordered instructions. The expectation of patterning in random distributions is a perfect example of order arising from perfectly chaotic instructions.
——-

[*] It’s not a proof, but for an example of what I mean, understand that there are guaranteed patterns in random distributions: take any finite expression of numbers as long as you like, say two trillion 0′s all in a row: that expression’s in Pi, it’s in e, it’s in phi, in fact, it’s in an infinite number of numbers. (That expression might be in ALL the Reals once you subtract out the Integers and the Rationals, I’m not sure.)

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Reidish October 1, 2010 at 9:53 am

There are some great comments here, thanks to all. I wonder, for those of you who are not persuaded by teleological arguments, could you list what you consider the top resources (books, papers, what have you) for the opposing view? I doubt I’ve read the best responses out there.

Luke, if you’ve already compiled something like this, just point me to it.

Thanks,
R

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Roger3 October 1, 2010 at 10:03 am

Ayer said:

I think your confusion stems from a misunderstanding of exactly what classical theism is positing. Positing something as a “brute fact” is positing something that you admit is contingent but have no explanation for. Positing something as metaphysically ultimate is quite different. As Edward Feser recently pointed out:

Ok, I accept your definition of metaphysically ultimate, just like I accept the idea of God as explanation. Now justify it.

Until you do, ‘metaphysically ultimate’ is just another ontologically superfluous brute fact. It’s turtles all the way down and this is why ‘explanations’ that do not provide actual explanation fail. You’re still misunderstanding the argument: You cannot avoid the infinite regress at all. At some point you are left with nothing but brute facts, and any ontology that includes ‘god’ as an entity is automagically superfluous.

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Rob October 1, 2010 at 10:17 am

Ayer,

You wrote:

“Positing something as a “brute fact” is positing something that you admit is contingent but have no explanation for”

I never said anything about contingency.

Don’t get me started on Feser. His elaborate scholastic metaphysics is just plain silly in light of what we have leaned from science in the last few hundred years. Are you aware how fringe his views are?

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Rob October 1, 2010 at 10:23 am

Reidish,

Atheism Explained is a hoot, and unmasks the fallacies that lie at the heart of so many theistic arguments. It’s philosophy for the lay person, so may not be what you are looking for. The Miracle of Theism and The Case against God are a bit more sophisticated, but still readable for a dabbler like me. Anything by Michael Martin too.

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lukeprog October 1, 2010 at 10:31 am

I haven’t, not on fine-tuning.

‘Theism and Explanation’, by Gregory Dawes, is applicable.

The coverage of the fine-tuning in Everitt’s ‘Non-Existence of God’ and in Oppy’s ‘Arguing about Gods.’

I haven’t looked at that part of Sobel’s ‘Logic and Theism.’

There is of course the famous McGrew-Vestrup paper.

Neil Manson has some good work on it.

Vic Stenger has a whole book on fine-tuning coming out in April, but I haven’t liked his stuff much so far.

In defense of the FTA, required reading is Collins, Holder, Leslie, and Barrow-Tipler.

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Doubting Thomas October 1, 2010 at 10:37 am

Rob said:

“Only a theory that explained conscious events in terms of unconscious events could explain consciousness at all.”
(These are actually Dennett´s words, Consciousness Explained, 454.)

After quoting Dennett and some other guys, Charles Taliaferro comments like this:

This seems to be an intelligible, materialist goal. Theism reverses the order of explanation. Theism treats all the laws of nature and the entire cosmos as a result of intentional activity. As such, the account of physical realities and non-conscious, non-mental events, must, in the end, appeal to an intentional reality. One might well reverse all of Dennett´s claims within a theistic framework and claim that any explanation of the physical, non-intentional world that did not break out into a deeper, intentional account would be question begging and not genuinly explanatory. (Taliaferro, “Naturalism and the Mind”, 149-150, in Moreland & Craig (eds.): Naturalism: A Critical Analysis)

So when you guys are insisting that a genuine explanation must be non-intentional, you are just begging the question against theism. Theistic and naturalistic frameworks are completely different and we must understand each other if we are going to make any progress.

Yes, God is a stopping point of theism and there is no further explanation for his existence. The reason why postulating God behind the contingent and complex physical cosmos; its orderliness; its fine tuning for carbon based life; the emergence of consciousness; and religious experience, has great explanatory power, is because without postulating God these things would be left unexplained and mysterious. So without one “brute fact” of theism, there would be many brute facts. Also, the prior probability of theism is higher than naturalism because one simple God is a simpler stopping point than the complex physical cosmos with all its features. (Again, I´m just defending Swinburne´s case for theism here.)

You guys have certainly made me think. I have to go and study more. Thanks for the discussion. Later.

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ayer October 1, 2010 at 10:40 am

Rob: “I never said anything about contingency.”

So you accept the concept of metaphysically necessary being?

Rob: “Don’t get me started on Feser. His elaborate scholastic metaphysics is just plain silly in light of what we have leaned from science in the last few hundred years. Are you aware how fringe his views are?”

If he is “fringe” then so are John Hick (Cornell, Princeton, Univ. of Birmingham-England), Keith Ward (Oxford), Hans Kung (Univ. of Tubingen), etc., since he was selected to write the introduction to the thought of Aquinas by the same publisher who published works of those “non-fringe” authors. But then maybe there is a problem with your definition of “fringe”?

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Rob October 1, 2010 at 10:43 am

Ayer,

Interesting that in that Feser post he acknowledges that the god he argues for is not the same god Plantinga and Swinburne argue for. Not the same sort of god at all.

So it seems to me these guys need to get their terminology straight. They use the same word, “God”, but it has completely different meanings. But they carry on as if they are all theists. But that just means that calling yourself a theist is meaningless.

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Roger3 October 1, 2010 at 10:47 am

Ayer,

Here’s another way to look at the issue:
You include God as axiomatic (through the doctrine of metaphysically ultimate).

Great, I’m happy to allow you to. Now pick one and only one of the following options:
1. Your system of explaining the world is complete or,
2. Your system of explaining the world is consistent.

If your system of explaining the world is complete, then my argument against ontological superfluity holds because your system is necessarily inconsistent: IOW, it’s turtles all the way down.

If your system of explaining the world is consistent, then my argument is as follows: What we know of the universe is already known to be inconsistent, and adding axioms will not make it consistent by anything less than an innumerably infinite series of axioms. It’s still turtles all the way down.

You simply cannot define your way out of an infinite regress, at all, ever. Brute facts are exactly already members of that innumerably infinite series of axioms. “God” is just a substitution for that innumerably infinite series of axiomatic statements in exactly the same way that I can state lim(x->inf) x = inf where x is an additional brute fact. I can state it finitely, but that does not mean the instantiation of what I state is finite.

IOW: either way, I get to ask you ‘why?’ forever. In the first case, I’m pointing out the inconsistency of your system. In the second case I’m forcing you to add axioms to your system.

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Rob October 1, 2010 at 10:48 am

Ayer,

Among professional philosophers, theism is a fringe view. And among theistic philosophers, almost all don’t think Aquinas’s “Five Ways” are any good.

Yet Feser spends his career flogging these tired old dogs, that even his theistic colleagues have abandoned. He’s fringe.

But, that does not make him wrong. He’s wrong for other reasons.

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Rob October 1, 2010 at 10:55 am

“So you accept the concept of metaphysically necessary being?”

I don’t accept the concepts of contingency and necessity. But I might, if I studied it, which I have not to any degree.

But suppose I did accept the concept of a metaphysically necessary being? Then it seems to me the best candidate for this being is the vacuum state. I doubt the vacuum cares if I masturbate or eat pork.

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ayer October 1, 2010 at 11:03 am

Rob: “But I might, if I studied it, which I have not to any degree.”

That is your key problem, right there.

Rob: “Among professional philosophers, theism is a fringe view.”

Among the professional philosophers who are most familiar with the arguements, theism is the majority view. See:
http://philpapers.org/surveys/results.pl?affil=Target+faculty&areas0=22&areas_max=1&grain=coarse

But I’m glad you agree that the popularity of a view is irrelevant to its truth.

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Rob October 1, 2010 at 11:05 am

Doubting Thomas,

Interesting comment, but now you just sawed off the branch you were sitting on all day.

Here is the problem. You claimed that the theistic explanation was scientific. But now you have done a 180.

So is theism a scientific explanation, or not?

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Lee A. P. October 1, 2010 at 12:01 pm

Fine tuning makes more sense in terms of an alien or an extra-dimensional deity entering this universe and tinkering with it scientifically so that it produces life. It does not make sense in terms of a supernatural, magical creator God.

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Doubting Thomas October 1, 2010 at 12:01 pm

Rob,

when did I say that theism a scientific explanation? Never.

There are two kinds of explanations that we use. Scientific explanations (initial conditions, relevant laws of nature) and intentional/personal explanations (agent with basic powers and intentions/purposes). Now we can judge the justification of both of these kinds of explanations in terms of explanatory power and prior probability. But they are still different and distinct kinds of explanations. (Some have said that you can reduce personal explanations to scientific ones, but I don´t buy that.)

Theism offers a personal explanation to the existence of the world, its fine tuning, consciousness, etc. In fact theism tries to explain everything logically contingent via a personal explanation.

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Rob October 1, 2010 at 12:15 pm

Doubting Thomas,

Your words:

“Science postulates unobservable extra entities to explain a bunch of phenomena all the time! Atoms, photons, molecules, distant planets, etc. It does so because by postulating these extra entities it can explain a bunch of facts that would otherwise be left unexplained. These postutaled extra entities must have some prior probability (simplicity, background evidence) and great explanatory power. And this exactly what theism also does.”

So, is theism exactly like science, or not?

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ayer October 1, 2010 at 12:34 pm

Rob: “So, is theism exactly like science, or not?”

In the respect that science sometimes postulates unobservable entities (and in the case of string theory, makes postulations that are empirically non-falsifiable), yes, theism is like science. In the sense that it supplies an ultimate explanation, whereas science supplies much more limited explanations, it is not. This isn’t that hard.

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Rob October 1, 2010 at 1:07 pm

Ayer,

It seems that this dispute reduces to what we understand a good explanation to be. Theism, for all the reasons stated above, is the opposite of what I understand a good explanation to be.

I do not think Thor’s anger is a good explanation for thunder and lightning. But, using your framework, that would be an outstanding explanation. I do not think demon possession is a good explanation for epilepsy. But, using your framework, demon possession is a really good explanation for epilepsy.

The scientific explanation of lightning and epilepsy seems to me much more virtuous. But, I understand that demon possession must seem like an equally virtuous explanation to you.

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ayer October 1, 2010 at 1:17 pm

Rob: “It seems that this dispute reduces to what we understand a good explanation to be.”

No, the dispute reduces to the fact that you do not grasp the distinction between “an explanation” and “ultimate explanation.” See the following for a good example of the latter:

http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5847

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Roger3 October 1, 2010 at 1:23 pm

Ayer,

No, I’m pretty sure that Rob understands perfectly well what an ‘ultimate explanation’ is. Unfortunately, an ‘ultimate explanation’ boils down to a shortcut for adding an infinite number of axioms to an inconsistent system to make it both complete and consistent.

Either ‘God’ is such a collection of infinite axioms, in which case we’ve successfully defined Him away and Rob’s objection obtains, or ‘God’ is not such an explanation and you have an uncountably infinite number of explanations to go, in which case Rob’s objection obtains.

Either way, Ultimate Explanation doesn’t cut it: You’re asking for your system to be both countably complete and consistent. You cannot do this.

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Rob October 1, 2010 at 1:44 pm

Bertrand Russell on ultimate explanations: “you’re looking for something which can’t be got”.

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Rex October 1, 2010 at 2:46 pm

I am a lifelong atheist, but only recently “out”. I have been studying various aspects of these debates for a long time, and as a layman and outsider, I have a few thoughts to add.

If anyone has seen or heard these concepts before, please forgive the redundancy and point me to where I can learn more.

When I see the fine tuning argument, I am always taken back to the argument regarding the “design” of the human eye. The design people always say that it was designed perfectly for this environment. Sidestepping the biological arguments against design, I refer to the fact that our sun outputs the most energy in the exact wavelength that our eyes perceive the best. The sun was burning before life arose here. It was part of the evolutionary environment. Our eyes evolved (sloppily) to try to take the best advantage of the preexisting environment.

Similarly, the fine tuning argument always works from the end of the problem backward. I usually do not see the argument that if the gravitational constant and the amount of matter in the universe were different, that a different form of life might have had just as good a chance of evolving in that different environment. A different universe might have a different gravitational constant, but by the same token, different order might arise out of different circumstances giving rise to life that we might have trouble recognizing.

If some of the wilder theories are to be believed, our universe may be part of a collection of an infinite number of them. The really unstable ones might wink out of existence instantly, but there could be an untold number of them with just slightly different parameters than ours, each self contained, with rules that work internally, but not interchangeably.

My point is that our order arose from our chaos in this way because our gravitational constant and our amount of matter and any other relevant variable is set at a certain value in our universe. These things make sense for conditions in this universe, and that is why they are the way that they are.

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ayer October 1, 2010 at 3:23 pm

Rex: “A different universe might have a different gravitational constant, but by the same token, different order might arise out of different circumstances giving rise to life that we might have trouble recognizing.”

The problem is that you are underestimating the effects of varying the constants. The constants have to be exquisitely fine-tuned to even have a universe that does not either collapse back in upon itself or one which expands so rapidly that matter can never coalesce.

Rex: “If some of the wilder theories are to be believed, our universe may be part of a collection of an infinite number of them.”

Yes, but the problem here is that these are “wild” theories that mainly serve as an ad-hoc “theism avoidance mechanism.” They are more metaphysical than scientific since they are are non-falsifiable. Stephen Hawking now appears to have joined this bandwagon:

John Horgan, Scientific American: “M-theory, theorists now realize, comes in an almost infinite number of versions, which “predict” an almost infinite number of possible universes. Critics call this the “Alice’s restaurant problem,” a reference to the refrain of the old Arlo Guthrie folk song: “You can get anything you want at Alice’s restaurant.” Of course, a theory that predicts everything really doesn’t predict anything, and hence isn’t a theory at all. Proponents, including Hawking, have tried to turn this bug into a feature, proclaiming that all the universes “predicted” by M-theory actually exist. “Our universe seems to be one of many,” Hawking and Mlodinow assert.”
http://www.scientificamerican.com/blog/post.cfm?id=cosmic-clowning-stephen-hawkings-ne-2010-09-13

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Roger3 October 1, 2010 at 3:57 pm

Ayer,

So you’re rejecting multiverse explanations for precisely the reason most people reject god explanations? Seems a bit strange, but welcome. A simple substitution of God for Multiverse in your statements shows that you think that God is an ad hoc naturalism avoidance mechanism. Because of the mutually contradictory stance your argument creates, I’m confident that the argument format is invalid. There’s a logic error there somewhere.

Also, your first paragraph is an argument from incredulity. I’d be very careful with that. It’s not certain that the parameters in our universe are all that exquisitely fine-tuned. Inflation, for one, seems to have an effect on lots of those parameters. Not only that, you argue that weak gravitational constant universes don’t seem to allow matter to coalesce, but aren’t you positing exactly the type of bodiless entity that might just inhabit such a universe? If you’re a dualist, why would we need matter to have mind anyways?

Lastly, I noticed you haven’t commented at all on my argument as to why the term “metaphysically ultimate,” consists of an error of understanding the restrictions placed upon any axiomatic system in terms of their completeness and consistency. Is this because you don’t feel you understand the issue or that you feel I’m committing some extra grievous error of logic that’s not worth commenting on?

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Steven October 1, 2010 at 4:26 pm

Ayer,

I think that’s sort of a mischaracterization of M-Theory. The original idea (hope) was that there would be one and only one geometric manifold that would satisfy the equations of M-theory. However, Ed Witten showed this to be false, and there are actually infinitely many possible geometries that could satisfy the M-theory equations. M-theory doesn’t “predict” that there are infinitely many universes, M-theory only requires that there be at least one geometric manifold (ours), however, there are infinitely many *possible* geometries that could satisfy that requirement.

The real let down in all of this, is that even if M-theory really is the grand unified theory that physics is looking for, we will never be able to fully define the geometry of our universe, and therefore the grand unified theory will never be complete. Now, I’ll concede that taking the next step and saying (like Hawking and others) that all those universes necessarily exist is a pretty big leap. I wouldn’t bet any money on them being right about that, but wouldn’t bet against them either.

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Márcio October 1, 2010 at 5:02 pm

“Humans are not fine-tuned for their qualities because Yahweh crafted man from dust and woman from man’s rib, but because of the extraordinary power of natural selection and other evolutionary pressures.”

Can these processes be tested and reproduced, so we can see if they are really this powerful?

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ayer October 1, 2010 at 6:07 pm

Roger3: “So you’re rejecting multiverse explanations for precisely the reason most people reject god explanations? Seems a bit strange, but welcome.”

No, I’m just saying that the multiverse theory is no more “scientific” than theism. I find theism more persuasive since it resolves find-tuning, the contingent nature of any universe or multiverse, and explains why even a multiverse cannot be past-eternal under the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem.

Roger3: “Not only that, you argue that weak gravitational constant universes don’t seem to allow matter to coalesce, but aren’t you positing exactly the type of bodiless entity that might just inhabit such a universe? If you’re a dualist, why would we need matter to have mind anyways?”

Not sure what you mean here–a supernatural entity could exist in a universe without matter? Well, ok, but then that be “game over” for naturalism.

Roger3: “Is this because you don’t feel you understand the issue or that you feel I’m committing some extra grievous error of logic that’s not worth commenting on?”

I would like a clearer explanation of your point, yes. Does this relate in some way to Godel’s incompleteness theorem?

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ayer October 1, 2010 at 6:10 pm

Steven: “Now, I’ll concede that taking the next step and saying (like Hawking and others) that all those universes necessarily exist is a pretty big leap. I wouldn’t bet any money on them being right about that, but wouldn’t bet against them either.”

Since the multiverse theory is nonfalsifiable, there would be no point in placing any “bets.” It will come down to which alternative is viewed as more plausible as a metaphysical proposition–theism or the multiverse?

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Steven October 1, 2010 at 10:35 pm

Well, I wouldn’t say that multiverse theories are nonfalsifiable, they are falsifiable, just as M-theory is, in principle. In practice they are unfalsifiable, due to our lack of ability to confirm or deny either one in any experimental way. Which in my opinion, leaves both multiverse theory and supernatural propositions as philosophical dead ends, at least for now. The fine tuning argument fails for the same reason.

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kilopapa October 2, 2010 at 12:14 am

Let’s not forget these wonderful things that the earth is “fine tuned” for: Hurricanes, Earthquakes,Plagues, Tornadoes,Volcanic eruptions,Tsunamis, Mudslides, etc.

And don’t forget the marvelous way that our bodies seem fine tuned for AIDS, Cancer, Smallpox, Polio, Birth Defects, Malaria, etc.

What a god!! Pardon me while I bow my head in honor of his fine tuning awesomeness!

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Doubting Thomas October 2, 2010 at 2:22 am

Rob asked:

“So, is theism exactly like science, or not?”

ayer answered:

“In the respect that science sometimes postulates unobservable entities (and in the case of string theory, makes postulations that are empirically non-falsifiable), yes, theism is like science. In the sense that it supplies an ultimate explanation, whereas science supplies much more limited explanations, it is not. This isn’t that hard.”

So no Rob, theism isn´t science. It´s a metaphysical theory about everything logically contingent. It claims to explain various features of the world by a voluntary action of a personal being. That´s why theistic explanations are intentional/personal explanations. But you can judge whether some personal explanation is a good one with the same criteria as you judge scientific explanations.

When I said that “this is exactly what theism does” I meant that theism, like science, postulates unobservable extra entity beihind observable phenomena in order to explain various phenomena. The crucial question then is whether this postulate does the required job. But all I mean is that theism does some same moves that science does. But that certainly doesn´t mean that theism is a scientific hypothesis. It´s much deeper than that. Theism, like ayer said, offers an ultimate explanation of existence, the world and various features in it.

You also said:

“The scientific explanation of lightning and epilepsy seems to me much more virtuous. But, I understand that demon possession must seem like an equally virtuous explanation to you.”

I agree completely that we should prefer a scientific explanation if there is one. But some things are either “too odd” or “too big” things for science to explain. For example, why is there a physical world in the first place and why is it governed by these laws? These question are too big for science so there cannot be in principle a scientific explanation for them. So we have two alternatives: Either leave these questions as brute unexplained facts, or offer a personal explanation for them. Theism tries to offer a personal explanation for these ultimate questions. To me it´s irrational to stop the search for an explanation where science stops.

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Hermes October 2, 2010 at 5:28 am

Theism tries to offer a personal explanation for these ultimate questions. To me it´s irrational to stop the search for an explanation where science stops.

Theistic ‘explanations’ are arbitrary; almost anything — let alone any set of theistic deities — could be swapped in and offer as much explanatory value, and no predictive value. That’s why they are rejected, not because of anything to do with science. It’s OK not to know, but it’s nonsense to say since we don’t know that the answer is X, Y, or Z. That ‘search’ you are promoting is not a search at all, it’s giving up and planting a flag; it is exactly what you are criticizing.

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Hermes October 2, 2010 at 5:32 am

[ error: The first paragraph of my last post was not quoted properly. Thomas wrote it. ]

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Rob October 2, 2010 at 6:32 am

Doubting Thomas,

Thanks for your clarification concerning in what ways you think theism is analogous to science.

Could you explain to me why scientist ought not appeal to a personal agent for any phenomenon they to not yet have an explanation for? For example, we really don’t know why some people get Lou Gehrig’s disease and some people don’t. Why, according to your framework and understanding of “explanation”, is it not legitimate for me to say that ALS is caused by an undetectable swarm of transcendent ALS
midges? These ALS midges have committee meeting where they decide by majority vote whom to inflict with ALS.

It seems to me, according to your framework, that my invisible midge theory really rocks as a good explanation. If you disagree, please tell me why.

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ayer October 2, 2010 at 7:49 am

Steven: “Which in my opinion, leaves both multiverse theory and supernatural propositions as philosophical dead ends, at least for now. The fine tuning argument fails for the same reason.”

No, they are scientific dead ends, not philosophical dead ends. If an issue is outside the realm of scientific falsification one can still decide which explanation is more plausible than the others, as Hawking has done with M-theory, which it appears he intends to hold as his position (over theism) even if it is and remains nonfalsifiable.

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Lorkas October 2, 2010 at 7:51 am

“Naturalism must leave these questions unanswered brute facts. Theism can provide an ultimate explanation for the existence of an ordered universe. Therefore, I think, the fact that the universe is ordered according to laws of nature gives some evidence for theism and counts against naturalism.”

“It´s no objection to a theory that it doesn´t have an explanation of the explanation. If a theory explains some phenomena better than any other, then the fact that this phenomena occurs supports that theory.”

Theism leaves the existence and orderliness of God as a brute fact, while my new theory of Supertheism–that God’s orderliness is explained by the existence of Supergod, who designed and created God–explains God’s orderliness.

Therefore, I think the fact that God exists and is orderly provides evidence that Supertheism is true and counts against Theism.

Please explain why your argument re: Naturalism vs. Theism is any different from this argument regarding Theism vs. this theory that I just pulled out of my ass.

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ayer October 2, 2010 at 7:55 am

Rob: “Could you explain to me why scientist ought not appeal to a personal agent for any phenomenon they to not yet have an explanation for?”

Because science’s very definition is the search for natural causes of phenomena:
“Methodological naturalism is a cornerstone of science, embraced by both practitioners and philosophers of science.”
http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Methodological_naturalism#Methodological_naturalism_and_the_anti-science_movement

This is the entire argument against the teaching of “intelligent design” in science classrooms. Are you saying you side with the intelligent design community on what constitutes science?

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Rob October 2, 2010 at 8:04 am

Ayer,

I will not get sidetracked by the naturalism vs supernaturalism demarcation.

I am asking a simple question. Why, according to your understanding of what a good explanation is, is a transcendent horde of ALS causing midges not a good explanation of ALS?

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ayer October 2, 2010 at 8:35 am

Rob: “Why, according to your understanding of what a good explanation is, is a transcendent horde of ALS causing midges not a good explanation of ALS?”

Because you have provided no good reasons for thinking such things exist and are the cause of ALS, when e.g., all other diseases are caused by naturalistic factors?

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Rob October 2, 2010 at 8:50 am

Ayer,

I have provided no good reason? Sure I have! ALS is a disease that afflicts some people and not others. A committee meeting of freely voting ALS midges explains this perfectly.

So the fact that ALS exists is great evidence for the existence of transcendent ALS midges. At least according to your framework of what a good explanation is.

It seems you are borrowing my framework for what a good explanation is. I agree, according to what I think a good explanation is, the midge theory is a disaster.

But that is not my question.

I want to know, within your framework of what a good explanation is, why is the midge theory no good?

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ayer October 2, 2010 at 8:59 am

Ayer: “At least according to your framework of what a good explanation is.”

Since I have said nothing about “my framework,” how do you know what it is?

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Doubting Thomas October 2, 2010 at 9:08 am

Rob,

interesting question. Here´s what came to my mind.

The Midges Hypothesis (MS) has explanatory power, because it would explain our observations. The problem is that we can come up with an infinite amount of hypotheses which would explain the observations. So we have to judge these hypotheses in terms of prior probability. Now, the prior probability of MS is extremely low! It´s complicated and its completely against our background knowledge. So we should reject MS.

Ok, now you might just say that we should reject every theistic explanation for the same reason. But here is a crucial point to consider: The scope of the MS was pretty small (it tried to explain just one phenomena), so there is plenty of background evidence left outside of it (and MS doesn´t fit to that background evidence). But theism, on the other hand, is a very large hypothesis (“hypothesis” in an analogous way). It is so large, that it tries to explain everything logically congintent, apart from itself. Therefore there is not much else left outside of its scope. So there is in fact no background evidence left to consider in the case of theism, because it tries to be “a theory of everything”. If science can get a TOE some day, there is no background evidence outside of it. Now, this is why theism can postulate completely new kinds of entities to explain some phenomena. Theories so big that there is not much left outside of their scope can postulate new kind of entities compared to other theories.

So, theistic explanations have explanatory power (they lead us to observe what we observe and there is no adequate rivals) and their prior probability is not so low, because theism is fairly simple and background knowledge drops out because theism is so big theory. This is certainly one reason why your parody-analogy fails. MS has an extremely low prior probability, theism hasn´t.

One reason why you think that the Midges Hypotheis is anaologous to Theism might be that both are unobservable. But like I have been in pains to show, unobservability is no objection to a theory any more than it´s an objection to the existence of quarks!

Maybe there is more to say about this. But this is what came up to me now.

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Doubting Thomas October 2, 2010 at 9:16 am

So the Midges Hypothesis is to be rejected because of its extremely low prior probability. Now we can of course invent an infinite amount of theories consistent with the data, most of which will be quite crazy.

Now, I want to ask from you, Rob, why on earth are these Midges Hypotheses analogous to Theism? Why do you think that a theist should consider them to be good explanations? I have already said that I reject them because of their low prior probability and I have also said that the prior probability of theism is not so low. So have you got any other reasons why theism and midges are on the same boat? Because I can´t see it.

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Rob October 2, 2010 at 9:29 am

Ayer,

Thomas provided a framework, and you have been defending it.

Doubting Thomas,

Again, you are borrowing from what I think a good explanation is. But according to you “intentional/personal explanations” are good explanations. According to you, we can posit agents with basic powers of intention. We can even posit invisible undetectable agency as a good explanation.

And that is exactly what I have done. I have taken your framework for a good explanation and perfectly explained everything we observe about ALS. I have also explained perfectly everything we will observe about ALS is the future. Also, the scope issue is a non-starter. I can easily expand my midge theory to explain a bunch of other stuff.

So please. Don’t use my criteria for what a good explanation is. Use your own.

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Rob October 2, 2010 at 9:36 am

Doubting Thomas asks:

“So have you got any other reasons why theism and midges are on the same boat?”

My midge theory is analogous to theism because I completely pulled out of my ass an invisible agent to “explain” something unexplained.

Why does the universe exist? The theist pulls an invisible agent out of his ass: God made it! Why is the universe so finely tuned for life? The theist pulls an invisible agent out of his ass: God fine tuned it!

It is quite easy to “explain” anything by just making up an invisible agent.

But that is not an explanation at all. It’s just making up stuff.

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Hermes October 2, 2010 at 9:53 am

Thomas, as before;

Theistic ‘explanations’ are arbitrary; almost anything — let alone any set of theistic deities — could be swapped in and offer as much explanatory value, and no predictive value. That’s why they are rejected, not because of anything to do with science. It’s OK not to know, but it’s nonsense to say since we don’t know that the answer is X, Y, or Z. That ‘search’ you are promoting is not a search at all, it’s giving up and planting a flag; it is exactly what you are criticizing.

In addition…it’s not an explanation if it isn’t backed by evidence. It’s a guess, and doesn’t merit being labeled an explanation. The whole failed and evidence-free proposition of scientific creationism (ID) is the proposal of a guess that is supposed to offer predictions but only offers guesses once those retroactive ‘predictions’ are investigated. Whales, eyes, bacterial flagellum, … ignorance is fine when you know what it is that you don’t know, but asserting to know when you don’t isn’t acceptable.

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Doubting Thomas October 2, 2010 at 10:41 am

Rob said:

“According to you, we can posit agents with basic powers of intention.”

Yes I do. We all do! What is the explanation of why you wrote an answer to me? What about something like this: A person P (Rob) had a basic power B to act and he chose to act because he had an intention I. So you chose to write me in order to fulfill your intentions/purposes. Now, is this some how an inferior explanation to a scientific, mechanistic explanation? “Rob did it!” is somehow a bad explanation?? Why on earth is that? We use personal/intentional explanations all the time.

You then say:

“We can even posit invisible undetectable agency as a good explanation.”

Just as we can posit invisible particles as a good explanation. Why couldn´t we posit personal agency to explain some ultimate questions if otherwise those questions would be left unexplained and mysteriuous? You haven´t yet offered good reasons why theistic personal explanations cannot be genuine explanations apart from just assuming that non-human intentional agency is not a good explanation. Why isn´t it a good explanation? Lack of explanatory power? Low prior probability? I´m not convinced of your arguments yet.

And again, your explanation of the ALS has explanatory power, but we can come up with an infinite number of explanations consistent with the data. That is not the issue. I have said that the midget hypothesis has an extremely low prior probability. It´s complex and doesn´t fit at all to our background knowledge. Theism, on the other hand, is simple and the background evidence drops out in case of theism.

Theism posits intentional agency to explain things in the same way as we all do all the time. We use intentional explanations all the time. I get the feeling that the reason why some naturalists do not like theistic explanations is because they unjustifyidly just assume that scientific explanations are the only legitimate ones. But that is false. Intentional explanations are perfectly legimitate.

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Rob October 2, 2010 at 11:13 am

Doubting Thomas,

It’s a “midge” theory, not a “midget” theory.

Your claim that my midge theory has a low prior probability while theism does not have a low prior probability is just an arbitrary assertion.

“Rob did it” is a great explanation because my existence can be inter-subjectively verified.

“Midges did it” is terrible because midges cannot be inter subjectively verified (like God).

Hydrogen atoms are invisible, but they can be inter-subjectively verified by any number of ways.

Thomas, you and I have a fundamental disagreement about what constitutes a good explanation. If Theism is a good explanation for fine-tuning, then invisible midges having committee meetings is a good explanation for ALS.

But invisible midges is a terrible explanation. And so is “god did it”.

“Why couldn´t we posit personal agency to explain some ultimate questions if otherwise those questions would be left unexplained and mysterious?”

Because just making stuff up is not what I understand an explanation to be. I realize you disagree. If something is mysterious, I am comfortable with that. What I think is intellectually dishonest is to just pull something out of your ass, and then claim you have “explained” it. You have not explained anything. You are just pretending to.

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ayer October 2, 2010 at 11:31 am

Rob: ““Rob did it” is a great explanation because my existence can be inter-subjectively verified.
“Midges did it” is terrible because midges cannot be inter subjectively verified (like God).”

And “M-theory” cannot be “inter-subjectively verified” either, and yet is embraced by Stephen Hawking. So the question is: which is more plausible–the multiverse or theism?

Your principle “the only good explanations are those that can be ‘verified’” itself is not subject to such ‘intersubjective verification’–so why should it be accepted? Because you pulled it out of thin air?

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Rob October 2, 2010 at 11:51 am

Ayer,

“Your principle “the only good explanations are those that can be ‘verified’””

I endorse no such principle. Nice try though!

Take up the M-theory business with Hawking. I’m not a physicist, and am in no position to judge whether it’s any good or not.

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Hermes October 2, 2010 at 12:30 pm

Thomas and Ayer, do you got the goods? If so, slap it down on the table. Done. It’s that friggen simple. Really.

If not, then any similar ‘explanation’ (AKA “a guess”) is equal to any other similar ‘explanation’ that has nothing backing it. That’s the point. It’s the reason for the quote at the top of every page of this blog. It’s the same point you’ve been told about for many many months here and it hasn’t changed one damn bit, and it’s not going to change.

Got something? Show me. Done.

Won’t show me? What exactly are you waiting for?

Can’t show me? Well, that’s interesting. Isn’t it?

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Doubting Thomas October 2, 2010 at 1:00 pm

Hermes,

Thomas and Ayer, do you got the goods? If so, slap it down on the table. Done. It’s that friggen simple. Really.

The link was funny, but come on. Is it that simple? Do we have to take God in our hands and show it to you? Wow.

And if we can´t do this, it´s “interesting”? Nah.

I have said many times now that theism offers an intentional explanation for the existence of the contingent cosmos and various features in it that has explanatory power and not too low a prior probability. If you disagree, then (i) challenge the idea of intentional explanations, (ii) challenge the explanatory power of theism, or (iii) argue that theism indeed has a very low prior probability.

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Doubting Thomas October 2, 2010 at 1:21 pm

Rob,

Sorry, “midge” of course! I´m not English, so these things might happen!

Background knowledge plays a crucial role in assessing the prior probability. Midge theory doesn´t fit to our background knowledge at all. So it has a very low prior probability. The prior probability of theism is not so low, as I have argued. Give an argument if you think otherwise.

And like ayer said, some scientific theories cannot be “inter-subjectively” verified, nor can be the claim that good explanations must be verified itself be verified in such a way. So there is something wrong with this criteria. Isn´t your claim like the self-refuting verification criteria of logical positivist?

What I think is intellectually dishonest is to just pull something out of your ass, and then claim you have “explained” it. You have not explained anything. You are just pretending to.

This is standard stuff from anti-theists. God did it doesn´t explain anything, etc. But what I have asked is why? Does a theistic personal explanation lack explanatory power? Low prior probability? What´s exactly wrong with it?

If Theism is a good explanation for fine-tuning, then invisible midges having committee meetings is a good explanation for ALS.

Why on earth would that be true!? Midge theory´s prior probability rules it out, like I have said. You are still not offering any genuine arguments against theistic explanations.

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ayer October 2, 2010 at 1:34 pm

Rob: “I endorse no such principle. Nice try though!”

Ok, then we can ignore your insistence that an explanation must be “intersubjectively verified”, and you will need to drop that point of criticism of Doubting Thomas.

Rob: “Take up the M-theory business with Hawking. I’m not a physicist, and am in no position to judge whether it’s any good or not.”

Ok, so unless you have some academic credentials regarding the origins of ALS, we can similarly ignore your speculations in that area.

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Rob October 2, 2010 at 1:35 pm

DT,

You have not argued that the prior probability for midge theory is low and high for theism, you have just asserted it. The prior probabilities seem to me exactly equal to each other.

(i) challenge the idea of intentional midges as explanations

(ii) challenge the explanatory power of midge theory

(iii) argue that midge theory indeed has a very low prior probability

(I have said over and over, we have different understandings of what a good explanation is. My midge theory shows why I think invoking invisible personal agents is idiotic. We are going in circles now. I’m bored.)

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ayer October 2, 2010 at 1:37 pm

Hermes: “Thomas and Ayer, do you got the goods? If so, slap it down on the table.”

Define how you operationalize what you mean by “goods”, “slap it down” and “table” in this context and there might be a basis for further discussion. Otherwise how can we know where the goalposts are and that you won’t keep moving them?

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Rob October 2, 2010 at 1:40 pm

Ayer,

“Ok, so unless you have some academic credentials regarding the origins of ALS, we can similarly ignore your speculations in that area.”

Dude. I don’t really support the invisible midge theory.

“Ok, then we can ignore your insistence that an explanation must be “intersubjectively verified”, and you will need to drop that point of criticism of Doubting Thomas.”

Inter-subjective verifiability is a good criteria for weather something exists. Right? I did not say it was absolutely necessary in all cases.

That is why “Rob did it” is a good explanation. But I never generalized inter-subjective verifiability like you are implying I did. Knock it off.

I’m done. Chow.

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ayer October 2, 2010 at 2:02 pm

Rob: “Inter-subjective verifiability is a good criteria for weather something exists. Right? I did not say it was absolutely necessary in all cases.”

Ok, then we agree on that. Philosophical arguments are also a good criteria for whether something exists in some cases, e.g., in the case of theism: arguments like the cosmological argument, the argument from contingency, the fine-tuning argument, and the moral argument constitute good reasons for believing God exists. The problem with the “midge” explanation is that there are no such good reasons for believing they exist. Case closed.

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Hermes October 2, 2010 at 2:38 pm

Ok, then we agree on that. Philosophical arguments are also a good criteria for whether something exists in some cases, e.g., in the case of theism: arguments like the cosmological argument, the argument from contingency, the fine-tuning argument, and the moral argument constitute good reasons for believing God exists. The problem with the “midge” explanation is that there are no such good reasons for believing they exist.

Well, of course, the answer to the cosmological argument, the argument from contingency, the fine-tuning argument, and the moral argument is that the midges are responsible in each case.

Case closed.

Indeed. It is.

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Roger3 October 2, 2010 at 3:10 pm

Ayer,

Your point that “It’s no objection to a theory that it doesn’t have an explanation.” Is well taken. The God-accomplished-it theory fails on several fronts, but I’m not going to address those here, Luke did that quite nicely in his post Who Designed the Designer? on Jan 13, 2010 as you pointed out earlier.

The question that I’m going to answer is whether or not the notion of ‘metaphysically ultimate’ is coherent in the context of a fine-tuning argument. I say it is not. And it is not because it is subject to either Cantorian diagonalization or more generally, Godel’s theorems on incompleteness and undecidability.

The reason metaphysically ultimate arguments for fine-tuning fail is because at their hearts, they are positing an additional axiom that supposedly ‘completes and makes consistent’ the physics involved. This is not possible. Physics is a formal system. Any formal system of sufficient explanatory merit is either complete OR it is consistent. Physics is such a formal system. Science and most forms of logic are too.

Let us suppose that physics is consistent. In that case it cannot be complete. In other words, in order to make it complete, one would have to introduce an axiom into the system that allows for it to be complete. Godel’s first proof shows that the introduction of that axiom forces the system into incompleteness all over again. In fact, it is not possible to create a consistent system with any countably infinite set of axioms. Any consistent, complete system must have *at least* as many axioms as the Reals. In physics, these axioms are brute facts – you will always be able to explain away your current set of brute facts, but only in terms of other brute facts – it is indeed turtles all the way down! Either God is either just another brute fact (and unnecessary per Luke’s arguments of Jan 13, above) or God is a stand in for an uncountable collection of brute facts, in which case God is semantically indistinguishable from physics (and therefore unnecessary). This cannot be what you are defending, that physics is indistinguishable from God, so therefore the next paragraph defines what you are defending.

Let us now suppose that physics is complete. In that case it cannot be consistent. In other words, there are statements about physics which are true that cannot be proven within the framework of physics itself. If we posit God as not supervening on physics, then why posit God at all? This cannot be what you’re arguing, so we are left with one and only one selection: If we then posit God as supervening upon physics, and therefore allowing physics to be consistent, the concept of God itself is inconsistent and requires something that supervenes on God in order to allow the concept of God itself to be consistent.

In every case, when confronted with ‘God’ as an explanation, it is perfectly acceptable to ask, ‘Why God?’ because it is an illustration of the infinite regress that is absolutely unavoidable if your explanation is to have the property of answering the ‘metaphysically ultimate’ question that you desire it to.

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Hermes October 2, 2010 at 4:58 pm

What I’d like, once in a while, is just a simple admission from a theist what the real deal is.

That they believe because they believe for personal reasons, for social reasons, but not based on evidence or logic or facts. Private and personal reasons, not public ones.

That mentioning any reasons for their religion to others has nothing to do with having a conversation based on finding mutually arrived facts. That it is recruiting of others or to shore up their own doubts.

That they are part of a tribe and that this is a tribal struggle for them.

That they admit that they do not know for a fact that their sectarian beliefs are superior to the sectarian beliefs of others — be they Catholics or Lutherans, Baptists or Buddhists, Trinitarians or Taoists, Mormons or Sunnis, or a Russian Orthodox in New York or a Hindu in Mumbai.

Finally, that they neither need to justify their beliefs nor defend them. That they do not need to insist that others agree with them at all for no reason at all on any premise. That it’s fine someone disagrees.

That is, as long as they keep their private beliefs private. When it becomes public, it would be nice to see them hold to the same rules that apply to everyone else on any other topic not related to their sectarian and personal religious ideas.

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MichaelPJ October 2, 2010 at 6:15 pm

Thomas,

Yes I do. We all do! What is the explanation of why you wrote an answer to me? What about something like this: A person P (Rob) had a basic power B to act and he chose to act because he had an intention I.

Right. And indeed, our folk model of the universe includes quite sophisticated modules devoted to predicting humans, which are articulated in terms like “intentions” etc.

But then we discovered that people were made of the same stuff as everything else, and they had these amazingly complicated biological structures inside them called “brains” which appeared to be doing all the work. And so we realized that all our folk psychological explanations could in some sense be cashed out as neurological ones (note: I’m not denying that mental state terms are useful high-level descriptions).
In much the same way, we used to think of objects as solid and unified things. Then we realised that objects were made of molecules, and our talk about objects could be cashed out at a lower level. From that point on it would be ridiculous to talk about objects in the absence of molecules, “disembodied objects”, as it were. Even though “objects” have a perfectly good status in our normal discourse*.
Likewise, thousands of years ago, when all we had were black-box, high-level models of people, then it would seem reasonable to stick a person-like black box behind the lighting, say. Say a god (a disembodied person) did it. Then we realised that all the people were embodied, and at that point it became implausible to talk about disembodied people.

In other words, it’s inappropriate to talk about people having “basic powers” and suchlike because we’ve realised that such talk is in fact high-level, and not basic at all.
So unless you can give me a reason to think that talk of people causing things is anything but a high-level description of a complex lower-level reality, positing a person as cause in the absence of the particles which we now understand as the causal agents is ridiculous.

That, of course, is what I think. You may well disagree. But it’s worth acknowledging that this disagreement may be a root cause of the main disagreement.

*Example: saying “I moved G-9 to G-10″ is a high-level, abstracted description of what actually happened when you picked up a piece, moved it etc.

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ayer October 2, 2010 at 6:35 pm

Roger3,

Interesting, but I disagree with your description of the implications of Godel’s theorem for theism. Indeed, his theorem has profound theistic implications:

” * There has to be something outside that circle. Something which we have to assume but cannot prove
* The universe as we know it is finite – finite matter, finite energy, finite space and 13.8 billion years time
* The universe (all matter, energy, space and time) cannot explain itself
* Whatever is outside the biggest circle is boundless. So by definition it is not possible to draw a circle around it.
* If we draw a circle around all matter, energy, space and time and apply Gödel’s theorem, then we know what is outside that circle is not matter, is not energy, is not space and is not time. Because all the matter and energy are inside the circle. It’s immaterial.
* Whatever is outside the biggest circle is not a system – i.e. is not an assemblage of parts. Otherwise we could draw a circle around them. The thing outside the biggest circle is indivisible.
* Whatever is outside the biggest circle is an uncaused cause, because you can always draw a circle around an effect.”
http://www.cosmicfingerprints.com/blog/incompleteness/

For this reason Godel was himself a theist: ““The world is rational,” (Wang, 1996: 316) asserted Gödel, evoking philosophical theism, “according to which the order of the world reflects the order of the supreme mind governing it” (Yourgrau, 2005: 104-105).”
http://www.metanexus.net/magazine/tabid/68/id/9796/Default.aspx

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Mo October 2, 2010 at 9:00 pm

The fine-tuning argument just doesn’t hold water for me. There is no evidence for this one particular being fine-tuning the universe. If someone is advocating a “designer” then you could basically invoke any type of “designer” to the playing field but it wouldn’t be proving anything.

For example, the theist says, “Look at how fine-tuned the universe is, there must be a timeless, immaterial being that created it”. But someone else could say: “Look at how fine-tuned the universe is, there must be several timeless, immaterial engineers that made the universe”, or “there must be a timeless, immaterial alien that made the universe”. But do any of those assumptions actually prove those statements to be true? Nope. The argument makes it seem like the universe is a mechanism where someone inputs fine-tuned numbers to generate life. I think its better to say that this is the natural state in which the universe exist.

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ayer October 2, 2010 at 9:13 pm

Mo,

The fine-tuning argument (at least as defended by William Lane Craig) concludes only that the universe is designed:

1. The fine-tuning of the universe is due to either physical necessity, chance, or design.
2. It is not due to physical necessity or chance.
3. Therefore, it is due to design.

It does not specifically mention God as the designer; however, it is part of the cumulative case Craig makes (i.e., the cosmological argument shows an spaceless, timeless, immaterial, enormously powerful, personal first-cause of the universe; the fine-tuning argument shows that there was an intelligent designer of the universe; the moral argument shows God is the locus of objective moral values; the fine-tuning argument shows that there was an intelligent designer of the universe; etc.).

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mojo.rhythm October 3, 2010 at 1:47 am

Ayer,

1. The fine-tuning of the universe is due to either physical necessity, chance, or design.
2. It is not due to design
3. Therefore, it is due to physical necessity or chance.

What gives the original syllogism precedence over this reformulation?

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Doubting Thomas October 3, 2010 at 2:55 am

Michael PJ,

yes indeed. I said a while back that some people have said that intentional explanations can be reduced to scientific ones. If you are going to disregard “folk psychology” and be an eliminativist or something like that, you are not going to impressed by “intentional explanations”.

This is an important issue, because if intentional explanations are really just a subclass of scientific ones, then we don´t have any experience of genuine intentional explanations and the case for theistic explanations is weakend significantly. So this is a crucial issue, I agree.

I of course think that reducing intentional explanations to mechanistic ones totally destroys human action, rationality and responsibility, but this is another vast topic. But I agree with you when you say that “…it’s worth acknowledging that this disagreement may be a root cause of the main disagreement.”

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Doubting Thomas October 3, 2010 at 3:01 am

Hermes,

if that was supposed to be somekind of an argument, then it was a big ad hominem.

Why can´t you say the same things about atheists? Human beings are self-deceptive and many times irrational creatures. So no matter what they believe, people are probably going to believe some things “because they believe for personal reasons, for social reasons, but not based on evidence or logic or facts. Private and personal reasons, not public ones.”

If you think that only religious people do this, but “rational sceptics” don´t, then I think you might be deceiving yourself.

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MichaelPJ October 3, 2010 at 3:46 am

ayer,

Wow. Is that your blog? I really hope not. Strangely enough, recently someone linked me to this post (http://scienceblogs.com/goodmath/2010/05/the_danger_when_you_dont_know.php) as an example of the “dangers of knowing a little”, and most of it consists of a thorough demolition of that argument. And as someone who has studied mathematical logic, I can tell you that he’s quite right. Trust me, Godel’s theorem is completely irrelevant to the matter at hand.

As for Godel himself, sure, he was a clever guy and he believed in God. I doubt it was for that reason, since he understood his own theorem. In fact, he tried to come up with a formal version of the ontological argument (which, as ever, had contentious premisses). However, he also believed that we get our knowledge of mathematical entities through a kind of “intuition” analogous to perception. I’m not sure I know of any modern philosophers of mathematics who hold that view.

Thomas,

I specifically said that I wasn’t denying the usefulness of folk psychology as a high-level description. That makes me a reductionist, but not an eliminative reductionist.

This is an important issue, because if intentional explanations are really just a subclass of scientific ones, then we don´t have any experience of genuine intentional explanations and the case for theistic explanations is weakend significantly.

That’s not quite the argument. There is nothing wrong with intentional explanations, just as there is nothing wrong with objectual explanations. A high-level explanation is just more abstract and conveys less information. A lot of the time, that’s a good thing! If you tell me that Rob left me that letter, for example, I don’t need (or want) to know the exact conditions of his internal organs.

Here’s another angle. Suppose you tell me “Rob broke your window” (Rob was the cause of my window breaking, if you like). Was it just Rob, exercising one of his “basic powers”. Well, no, it was the brick that he threw. Did he throw it by using his “basic power”? No, his arm moved and that threw the brick. Did he move his arm by using his “basic power”? No, it was caused by a motor neuron firing. Did he fire the neuron by using his “basic power”? No, it was caused by neurological processes.
(Compare: “Thomas broke your window” “How?” “Oh, he just used his basic power to cause it to happen” “???”. Human actions are always phsically mediated. Apart from anything else, we have inductive evidence that all persons are embodied)

The fact is, there is no evidence for magical interruptions of “basic power” into the causal chain that leads to human action. Now, if you have neurological evidence of magic going on in the brain, I think a lot of people are going to be very interested!

(This is all very similar to arguments you can have in the free will debate: I’m guessing you’re some kind of contra-causal or agent-causation libertarian, Thomas? And of course there are many people who think that determinism etc. does not in the slightest destroy human rationality, free will etc.)
So I guess the point is that it’s not really plausible to propose “unsupported” intentional explanations (any more).

Of course, once again, I’m sure you disagree, but it might be enlightening for you to tell us why.

Hermes,
Loath as I am, I have to agree with Thomas. Be as critical as you want of people’s arguments, but questioning their motives never ends well, IMHO.

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Hermes October 3, 2010 at 6:37 am

Thomas, I’m glad to get your attention. If you can tune down your indignation, I think we’ll get along just fine.

I’ll try and address your comments later as I am helping my family today.

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lukeprog October 3, 2010 at 7:32 am

Lots of good comments here.

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Hermes October 3, 2010 at 9:06 am

Thomas, that list was not an argument and it was not an attack. If anything, it was muted frustration wrapped in kindness. It’s my honest opinion, and a plea for more honesty and less self-indignant offense.

As for your comments about atheists and humans in general being self-deceptive, I fully agree with that. I regularly deceive myself, though I make an effort not to, and as I’ve said before there is nothing inherent in atheism that makes an atheist less likely to be deceived or more likely to make rational or logical decisions. I’ve even pointed out a few examples of atheists that I know that are impulse and emotion driven and rarely consult reason or restraint.

Yet, even Craig has admitted that his belief is based on personal revelation, not reason. Frank, who posted on CSA yesterday, also made other personal comments on why he believes. That was refreshing. As I stated, I have no problem with that. If private beliefs are kept private. I also don’t have any problem with you questioning what I write, as I did indeed make a public comment.

In public, though, there are other expectations of fairness. If you are working with the best available evidence, and acknowledge that in your decisions without either ignoring or skirting what you are informed of, then we have a working conversation. We can reach mutual conclusions since we are working with the same world and the same facts, not our own private ones.

If this is your intent — to deal with facts and evidence as a whole and to reach mutual conclusions — then the message was not directed at you or anyone like you even if I personally think specific people reach that goal or not.

Does that make more sense? Do you consider that fair?

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ayer October 3, 2010 at 10:27 am

MichaelPJ,

No, I don’t have a blog, but the theistic implications of Godel have been discussed not only in the blogosphere but by, e.g., physicist Paul Davies in his book “The Mind of God”. See:

http://www.amazon.com/Mind-God-Scientific-Basis-Rational/dp/0671797182/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1286126673&sr=8-1
and, in a related vein, see Davies here:

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/24/opinion/24davies.html?_r=1

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MichaelPJ October 3, 2010 at 11:30 am

ayer,

Unfortunately, I really don’t have the time or inclination at the moment to read Davies’ book, although I’m sure it is good. As for the article, I was not terribly impressed, but we’d be heading a bit far afield if I went into why. As far as Godel goes, he didn’t mention him at all as far as I could see.

All I’m really trying to say is two things:
1) From what I know of Godel’s theorem, the argument you give is a horrifying misunderstanding/missaplication of it. For details, check the blog post I linked to. As far as I can tell it’s correct.
2) I know a fair amount about mathematical logic, and I’ve read a reasonable amount of fairly technical material on Godel’s theorem. After that, I know enough to realise that it is a very precise and complicated result. I’m not entirely sure what the philosophical implications are, if there are any. My advice, then, is that unless you’re considerably more expert than I am, you should refrain from trying to use it in argument, because neither you nor your opponents are likely to understand it properly.

I have similar reservations about arguments involving quantum physics put forward by people who are not physicists and have not studied quantum physics in detail. It’s complicated stuff, and I think we should have the humility not to draw conclusions from our limited understanding of the material!

Hermes,
It looked like an attack to me! Perhaps that is because the frustration is more evident than any kindness. I appreciate that it’s easy to get frustrated in these debates, but I find venting said frustration to be positively counter-productive. Again, IMHO of course.

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Hermes October 3, 2010 at 12:05 pm

MichaelPJ, as others have said, and in the same spirit, ‘I gratefully accept the rebuke’. [x]

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ayer October 3, 2010 at 12:13 pm

MichaelPJ,

Actually, I agree that Godel’s theorem does not provide an “argument” as such for or against theism; I was simply pointing out that Roger3′s claim that it demonstrates there can be no “metaphysically ultimate” is overreaching, and that, if it has any implications in that regard, it tends to be pro-theism.

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MichaelPJ October 3, 2010 at 12:34 pm

ayer,

Ah! Sorry, I didn’t actually read that post. I didn’t think it was discussing something I was interested in at that point. My mistake!

My rebuke, such as it is, is then of course just as applicable to Roger3. A few particular complaints, from my own limited understanding
1) it is not clear to me that physics is a formal system in the necessary sense.
2) even if it is, it’s far from clear that it is the specific kind of formal system to which Godel’s theorems apply.
3) the paragraph discussing the possibility of physics being “inconsistent” is pretty unclear to me. In particular, unless you deny that the law of excluded middle applies to reality, any inconsistent physics is a false physics!

However, I personally find the concepts of “metaphysically ultimate” and “ultimate explanation” to be somewhat obscure, but if you don’t mind, I don’t really want to go into it. I’m happy to let you two keep at it. Just don’t abuse Godel! Either of you!

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Hermes October 3, 2010 at 4:59 pm

Related; It’s not a question of how vs. why; it’s about what.

Excerpt;

But probability doesn’t enter into it. If by “probability” Collins means likelihood, is he assuming random distributions of various constants? Since we don’t understand the causal relationships between the various properties involved, we have no way of knowing what kind of variability is possible. And of course there’s the fact that any universe containing sentient observers like us must be complex (otherwise we wouldn’t be here), and so our observations are necessarily constrained. Whether he takes a frequentist or Bayesian view, Collins has no rational basis for assuming a “lack of probability”.

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Doubting Thomas October 4, 2010 at 2:47 am

Michael PJ,

So your point is that “human actions are always phsically mediated. Apart from anything else, we have inductive evidence that all persons are embodied.” So talk about “divine, direct bacic powers” is something we have no background knowledge at all. This is I think the same remark that Mackie made in response to Swinburne:

“All our knowledge of intention-fulfillment is of embodied intentions being fulfilled indirectly by way of bodily changes and movements which are causally related to the intended result, and where the ability thus to fulfill intentions itself has a causal history, either of evolutionary development or of learning or of both. Only by ignoring such key features do we get an analogue of the supposed divine action.” (Mackie, Miracle of Theism, 100)

You then continue: “The fact is, there is no evidence for magical interruptions of “basic power” into the causal chain that leads to human action. Now, if you have neurological evidence of magic going on in the brain, I think a lot of people are going to be very interested!”

I love how “magic” is aways brought into the discussion at this point! To me it´s just rhetorics. Anyway, I claim that there actually isn´t any evidence from neuriscience against the suppostion that we are substantial souls who freely cause our neurons to fire when we make choices. Neuroscientist Wilder Penfield noticed that “There is no place in the cerebral cortex where electrical stimulation will cause a patient . . . to decide” (The Mystery of the Mind, 77). I think that we are directly aware of making free undetermined choices all the time (I choose to move my fingers like I do now when I´m typing this response in order to fulfill my intentions and purposes) and that there is actually no empirical evidence whatsoever against this. When a scientist makes the universal claim that all neural events have physical causes (because the scientist has presupposed the causal closure during her experiments), she doesn´t make that claim as a scientists, but as a naturalist.

What´s my point? That we are souls who make undetermined choices is at least possible. It just happens to be that in fact human beings fulfill their inetntions always inderectly (because they are embodied), but not much follows from this, because it´s certainly possible for beings to fulfill their intentions directly. Now I think that all I have to do here is to defend the coherence of some kind of dualism and free will, not their plausibility. If it´s coherent to suppose that we can make intentions and choices directly without bodies, then divine intentional action is certainly possible, and theistic intentional explanations are on the table.

On the other hand, it´s not sure how big a role our background knowledge plays here. Like Swinburne says, “Seeing indirect personal causation at work in the world, we see that personal causation is a type of causation and so personal explanation is a type of explanation. We see that its simplest form would be direct personal causation, and so are led to postulate that at work to explain the complexities around us.”

And yes, I´m a libertarian and these issues are very close to the free will-debate. I think that “the consequence argument” is pretty strong showing that determinism is incompatible with moral responsibility and some form of “the argument from reason” shows that determinism is incompatible with rationality. I know that many philosophers and scientists don´t think so, but not much follows from that. Anyway, I´m not ready to defend these issues now. My point is here that we can use theistic intentional explanations even though we humans fulfill our intentions as a matter of fact only indirectly. If your arguments is to go through, you´d have to show that reductive physicalism is somehow necessary – that it´s somehow incoherent to suppose that there could be disembodied beings who could make choices and intentions directly.

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Doubting Thomas October 4, 2010 at 3:01 am

Hermes,

You said: “We can reach mutual conclusions since we are working with the same world and the same facts, not our own private ones.”

Hmm.. There something too “positivist” here.. The fact is that our private basic beliefs influence the way we interpret “the same world and the same fact”. All perception is theory laden. This is just the epistemic situation of human beings and we have to live with that. So I´m afraid that, alas, it´s rather improbable that we reach very many mutual conclusions, because we look at the same facts through different eyes, so to speak. But we can certainly discuss and try to find as much common ground as possible and then look whose arguments makes more more sense. Or something like that.

So we can reach to different conclusions but discuss our disagreements with respect and honesty. And yes, we certainly can get along just fine.

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MichaelPJ October 4, 2010 at 3:32 am

Thomas,

Yup, sounds like Mackie and I are in agreement here!

I agree that the use of “magic” is rhetorically motivated. From my point of view, “basic causal powers” are indistinguishable from magic, and the claims you make naturally sound much less plausible with “magic” substituted in! Think of it as the natural extension of scare quotes :P

I’m just going to pick at a few things here. Firstly, regarding us being “directly aware of making free undetermined choices”.
Here’s a psychological experiment that’s been done. Subjects are shown a coloured dot on a screen, which then disappears and is rapidly replaced by another coloured dot some distance to one side. Now, if you do this fast enough, subjects will report seeing the dot actually move from the first position to the second (and back, if you keep it going). The real weirdness starts if the two dots are different colours. Then subjects will report seeing the dot change colour as it moves, with the change occurring half way! This occurs even the first time, that is, they report having seen the change before they could have seen what the second colour would be. Now, this isn’t directly applicable to what we’re talking about, but it illustrates the fact that our brains can lie to us about what we’re “directly aware” of*.
Also, it’s interesting that the example you gave wasn’t obviously undetermined (moving your fingers in order to type the response). You acted in order to fulfil an intention, and so your actions were (to some extent) determined by that intention!
Obviously I have responses to the consequence argument and suchlike, but as you say, this isn’t the place.
Regarding what you say later (where you quote Swinburne), I think I would disagree that we see indirect personal causation at work in the world. We see personal causation at work, certainly, but it’s not a case of it being a basic type of causation, indirectly mediated by matter, it’s a case of it being a high-level description of a more complicated pattern of causation (cf. my, admittedly imperfect, analogy with objects). So perhaps you would interpret me as denying the existence of “real” personal causation? Of course I’m not, I’m just saying that it reduces to something else.

I’m not going to go into criticism of dualism here, but suffice it to say that I do think it’s either incoherent, doesn’t do what you want it to, or ends up being a weird kind of physicalism (if it has causal effects, we can do experiments on it, and it becomes a perfectly respectable part of the natural world!). The interesting thing is that these sorts of beliefs are all interconnected. Belief in dualism makes libertarian free will more plausible, and both of those make belief in God more plausible; while belief in God also makes dualism and libertarian free will more plausible (and of course this applies to atheists/naturalists as well)! So often I find that I’m drawing on what I think in another area to assess the plausibility of claims in another, and it’s important to acknowledge that.

* Here’s another one, just cos it’s awesome. It turns out that the saccades in which your eyes scan the nearby environment are totally ballistic. This means that with some cameras and a quick computer, you can predict where someone’s eyes will flick to. So they strap the subject into a head brace and put a screen with text on it in front of them. Then, whenever they detect a saccade, they change the word you’re about to look at. So to an outside observer, the page is a constantly shifting mess. The subject notices nothing! Absolutely nothing. It looks perfectly normal to them.
So your brain also lies to you about your awareness of things in your peripheral vision.

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Rob October 4, 2010 at 7:43 am

DT said:

“Anyway, I claim that there actually isn´t any evidence from neuriscience against the suppostion that we are substantial souls who freely cause our neurons to fire when we make choices.”

When I scratch my nose, there is a troop of invisible substantial gremlins which which guide my finger to the right spot. There is no evidence from neuroscience against this supposition.

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Hermes October 4, 2010 at 7:47 am

So we can reach to different conclusions but discuss our disagreements with respect and honesty. And yes, we certainly can get along just fine.

There are many things that we as individuals will never agree on in any detail. That said, there are many more that we can either generally understand about each other or definitively learn about the world that we share.

If we share reality — if we aren’t solipsistic balls of goo that are incapable of communication or investigation — then we can make clear statements about reality and reach similar conclusions especially if the evidence is honestly evaluated. We can limit our statements to what we know, while not arbitrarily rejecting what we do not like. Conversely, if I don’t know something now, I can guess what the answer may be, but I can’t say that I know it and you are under no obligation to agree with me.

As an example, as I mentioned elsewhere, I do not reject all cultural truths that religions may promote. Neither do I reject all literal claims of religious groups. I am a bit concerned that literal claims in religion tend to trump the cultural truths, and that additionally that both the cultural truths and the literal claims are not open to investigation. This tendency in religion is clearly observed as beliefs and dogmas are often held in higher esteem above an honest inquiry.

I discussed one set of issues elsewhere with another visitor to Luke’s blog, there are literal claims that the Earth is a certain age and that Humans have been around for a certain length of time. Using the best available evidence [discussion here] we can both come to a single general answer to each, and have a generally high level of confidence in each answer. We don’t need to go back into our own presuppositions to do so, and every detail can be investigated. It is not a valid difference in opinion when facts are available. As Alan Sokal said;

If you are sloppy about evaluating evidence, then you are ethically liable for the mistakes that you’ve made. [ ~45:00 mark ]

The main point is … it’s important when you make claims about factual matters in the world, to understand clearly what is the evidence on which those claims are based and to and try evaluate that evidence as impartially as possible. [ ~45:50 mark ]

Source: http://colinmarshall.libsyn.com/index.php?post_id=404357

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Rob October 4, 2010 at 8:50 am

MichaelPJ,

Can you point me to the saccade/shifting text experiment? I’m familiar with the other findings you mentioned but not that one. Thanks.

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MichaelPJ October 4, 2010 at 8:53 am

Rob,

I’m afraid I can’t give you an exact reference, but Dennett mentions it in Consciousness Explained. As I recall, he thought it was so surprising he actually went and had it tried on himself. He got strapped in, waited a few minutes, and then asked when they were going to start. They told him it was already on!

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Rob October 4, 2010 at 9:37 am

OK thanks, I have that book I’ll see if I can track it down.

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ildi October 4, 2010 at 10:18 am
ayer October 4, 2010 at 11:03 am

Ildi,

It looks like Davies stirred up quite a hornets’ nest with that article. I have trouble reconciling what PZ Myers wrote in his contribution in at Edge.org with what Luke wrote above, however:

Myers: “When someone says that life would not exist if the laws of physics were just a little bit different, I have to wonder…how do they know? Just as there are many different combinations of amino acids that can make any particular enzyme, why can’t there be many different combinations of physical laws that can yield life? Do the experiment of testing different universes, then come talk to me. Until then, claiming that the anthropic principle, an undefined mish-mash of untested assumptions, supports your personal interpretation of how the universe exists and came to be is a self-delusional error.”

Luke: “I will take the vast majority of cosmologists at their word when they say that if the parameters of our universe were much different, life as we know it could not exist.”

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ildi October 4, 2010 at 11:50 am

PZ Myers is saying that we don’t have any basis for thinking that “life as we know it” is the only option.

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lukeprog October 4, 2010 at 7:57 pm

Good link, ildi.

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ayer October 5, 2010 at 7:57 am

Ildi,

Well, he’s just wrong about that. The cosmological constant must be fine-tuned just to prevent the universe from expanding so fast that matter itself (much less life) could ever form, or from collapsing back in upon itself in a “big crunch”. See:

Robin Collins: “Now, the fundamental theories of particle physics set a natural range of values for the cosmological constant. This natural range of values, however, is at least 1053 that is, one followed by fifty-three zeros—times the range of life-permitting values. That is, if 0 to L represent the range of life-permitting values, the theoretically possible range of values is at least 0 to 1053 L. 2 To intuitively see what this means, consider a dartboard analogy: suppose that we had a dartboard that extended across the entire visible galaxy, with a bull’s eye on the dartboard of less than an inch in diameter. The amount of fine-tuning of the cosmological constant could be compared to randomly throwing a dart at the board and landing exactly in the bull’s-eye!”
http://academic.udayton.edu/WilliamRichards/Intro%20essays/Collins,%20Fine-tuning.htm

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Roger3 October 5, 2010 at 10:19 am

Ayer,
Strangely, now that I know of your specific objections, I no longer need to resort to the more complicated ideas behind a positivist view of physics and math. I can go straight to the ideas that you’re basing your objection on. Specifically, I can successfully oppose the idea that the ‘metaphysically ultimate’ anything suffices as an explanation because it is a simple misunderstanding as to the nature of the infinite. I’ve inlined my comments with yours.

* There has to be something outside that circle. Something which we have to assume but cannot prove.

False. Well, trivially true, but not in the way you think it is. This is precisely what I’m trying to explain to you. Anything ‘outside’ the circle must necessarily supervene on what’s inside. If it does so, then it is merely a set of additional axioms. The metaphysically ultimate isn’t a coherent concept. Either your explanation encompasses what’s already known or it’s irrelevant.

* The universe as we know it is finite – finite matter, finite energy, finite space and 13.8 billion years time.

So the universe is bounded in the past, that’s not an argument for future boundedness. We do happen to know that the total net energy of the universe is 0 (Sean Carroll over at Cosmic Variance has an explanation that’ll suffice for our needs here – look up his Google Talk), but that does not in any way shape or form mean that it’s finite. There are lots of bounded (uncountably infinitely many, actually) but infinite entities: x∈R:0 < x < 1 is one such.

* The universe (all matter, energy, space and time) cannot explain itself.

Nor does it need to. There is nothing there that requires explanation: it simply is. You’re presupposing that life has intrinsic value outside of whatever intrinsic value we ourselves apply to it. Justify that position. If you need god to do so, my answer will be that you’ve unnecessarily multiplied your entities by at least two: God and intrinsic value outside of consciousness.

* Whatever is outside the biggest circle is boundless. So by definition it is not possible to draw a circle around it.

There is no set of all sets. You’re trying to define a biggest cardinal. You’ll have to talk to Cantor about that. He’s going to violently disagree with you from his grave. So will Godel. So will every other mathematician since Hardy.

* If we draw a circle around all matter, energy, space and time and apply Gödel’s theorem, then we know what is outside that circle is not matter, is not energy, is not space and is not time. Because all the matter and energy are inside the circle. It’s immaterial.

You’re still trying to define a set of all sets. Can’t be done.

* Whatever is outside the biggest circle is not a system – i.e. is not an assemblage of parts. Otherwise we could draw a circle around them. The thing outside the biggest circle is indivisible.

This is an equivalent statement to ‘Metaphysically ultimate’, and it’s still not possible.

* Whatever is outside the biggest circle is an uncaused cause, because you can always draw a circle around an effect.”

We’ve defeated the idea of a ‘biggest circle’ so the rest follows from there.

* For this reason Godel was himself a theist: ““The world is rational,” (Wang, 1996: 316) asserted Gödel, evoking philosophical theism, “according to which the order of the world reflects the order of the supreme mind governing it” (Yourgrau, 2005: 104-105).

Chaitin might disagree and he’s proved an even more surprising result: There are uncountably infinite numbers of unproved and unprovable statements. Not just a limited number of specially crafted, counterintuitive statements, but a literal infinity of infinities of such statements.

That you think there can be an uncaused cause, a metaphysically ultimate or something outside the circle of all things just means that you do not understand the nature of the infinite. There are many, many positive things that we can say about infinite collections and one of the primary things we can say is that there is no ‘last infinity’, no ‘uncaused cause’ and no ‘metaphysically ultimate’. To say that there is such a thing is exactly equivalent to saying that lim(x→inf)(x) ≠ inf. That statement cannot possibly be true, in any possible world. It is and always has been turtles all the way down.

Some references:
Omega and why maths has no toes, (for) Gregory Chaitin, http://plus.maths.org/content/omega-and-why-maths-has-no-toes

Godel and Physics, (against) John D. Barrow, http://arxiv.org/PS_cache/physics/pdf/0612/0612253v2.pdf

Godel and the end of physics, (for) S. W. Hawking,
http://www.damtp.cam.ac.uk/strings02/dirac/hawking/

The Wikipedia pages on Theory_of_Everything, Cantor’s_first_uncountability_proof, Diagonal_argument_(disambiguation) and

There are constant references in all of these works to Stanley Jaki, who sides with Hawking and Chaitin, indeed, he’s the one who convinced Hawking that he was right, but his paper @ http://pirate.shu.edu/~jakistan/JakiGodel.pdf seems to be unavailable atm. Considering that Chaitin developed the arguably most important extension to Godel’s theorems to date, and that his writing is especially considered with the epistemology of mathematics, I’m fairly certain that we should be paying attention to what he has to say. Given Hawking’s ability to admit that he’s wrong (see Black Holes and information loss), esp. considering the contents of his new book, I would also put far more weight on what he says than people who disagree with him. John Barrow makes some good points as to the possible configurations of the universe that would allow for a complete and consistent ToE, but it’s far from a given that such would obtain in our universe.

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ildi October 5, 2010 at 1:28 pm

ayer:

The cosmological constant must be fine-tuned just to prevent the universe from expanding so fast that matter itself (much less life) could ever form, or from collapsing back in upon itself in a “big crunch”.

According to Victor Stenger in Is the Universe Fine-Tuned for Us?:

If dark energy is in fact the vacuum energy implied by a cosmological constant, then we have a serious puzzle called the cosmological constant problem (Weinberg 1989). As the universe expands, regions of space expand along with it. A cosmological constant implies a constant energy density, and the total energy inside a given region of space will increase as the volume of that region expands. Since the end of inflation, volumes have expanded by 120 orders of magnitude. This implies that the cosmological constant was “fine-tuned” to be 120 orders of magnitude below what it is now, a tiny amount of energy. If the vacuum energy had been just a hair greater at the end of inflation, it would be so enormous today that space would be highly curved and the stars and planets could not exist.

Design advocates have not overlooked the cosmological constant problem (Ross 1998). Once again they claim to see the hand of God in fine-tuning the cosmological constant to ensure that human life, as we know it, can exist. However, recent theoretical work has offered a plausible non-divine solution to the cosmological constant problem.

Theoretical physicists have proposed models in which the dark energy is not identified with the energy of curved space-time but rather a dynamical, material energy field called quintessence. In these models, the cosmological constant is exactly 0, as suggested by a symmetry principle called supersymmetry. Since 0 multiplied by 10120 is still 0, we have no cosmological constant problem in this case. The energy density of quintessence is not constant but evolves along with the other matter/energy fields of the universe. Unlike the cosmological constant, quintessence energy density need not be fine-tuned.

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ayer October 6, 2010 at 9:52 pm

Stenger denies that apparent fine-tuning exists, which is absurd. As Luke points out: “Instead, I will take the vast majority of cosmologists at their word when they say that if the parameters of our universe were much different, life as we know it could not exist.”

Even Hawking admits that the “apparent” fine-tuning exists (although he resorts to the multiverse to explain it):

Hawking: “Also, most of the fundamental constants appearing in our theories appear fine-tuned in the sense that if they were altered by only modest amounts, the universe would be qualitatively different, and in many cases unsuitable for the development of life. For example, if protons were 0.2% heavier, they would decay into neutrons, destabilizing atoms.”
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704206804575467921609024244.html

If there are no atoms, there is no life–period.

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Wissam October 7, 2010 at 5:53 am

http://quasar.as.utexas.edu/anthropic.html

Excellent refutation of the fine-tuning argument!

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al friedlander October 7, 2010 at 12:47 pm

Enjoyed this thread. Good points/discussion from both theists and non-theists alike.

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JonathanElliot October 10, 2010 at 8:39 pm

“I have many objections to the fine-tuning argument”

I guess this may seem a little churlish, but how many is “many”? Is this an attempt to overwhelm the opposition by force of numbers? Is three, “many”. How about ten? More than ten? Would it be preferable to say “I have seven arguments”?

While it might seem trivial, I think these sorts of questions are won in peoples’ minds by HOW you argue as much as WHAT you argue. If I come across as a trimphalistic dickhead, I’ll lose the battle no matter how good my arguments are. I try (and probably fail) to come down on the Socratic side.

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wissam October 19, 2010 at 3:03 am

Best refutation of design:

1. (x)(Ox–>Dx)

For all x, if x is extremely ordered, then x is designed. (Basically, all design arguments rely on this premiss).

2. Ogm

God’s mind is extremely ordered. (God is omniscient, duh! Note that we are dealing with functional complexity, not physical complexity.)

3. l=Dgm

Therefore, God’s mind is designed [1,2, M.P.].

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Hermes October 19, 2010 at 5:53 am

Wissam, I like it!

FWIW…

I’ve heard a few Christians make the argument that their God is ultimately simple and thus does not fit that and similar refutations. I take that maneuver as a tactical step where they show that they will throw not only their mother under the bus but also anything they can get their hands on; logic, reason, reality, … as long as they don’t fail to confront a possible problem. Oh, what a tangled web! [2]

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wissam October 19, 2010 at 8:39 am

@ Luke,

I actually used this argument against a Christian once. Guess what! He outright denied that God’s mind is ordered and claimed that an unordered divine mind is no problem for Christians.

I love when that happens. Christians will probably deny most of their principles when arguing with atheists.

Problem of evil–> “God does not intervene; he wants to preserve our free will!”

The Bible cannot be literally true–> “Christians don’t believe that Biblical stories are literally true, what the hell’s the matter with you?”

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wissam October 21, 2010 at 5:55 am

http://www.discovery.org/a/91

Robin Collins provides the most rigorous formulation of the fine-tuning argument. Some atheists might even find it convincing; I know I did. All his premises are fairly uncontroversial.

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wissam October 21, 2010 at 6:01 am

The first [objection] is this: “How can you say that the universe appears fine-tuned for life? Most of it is completely inhospitable and hostile to life.” But this is irrelevant. The fine-tuning argument applies to the universe as a whole. Extreme fine-tuning would be required for life to exist more commonly in the universe, of course, but it is also required for life to exist at all – even just on the tiny speck of dust on which it does exist.

Bad one, luke. This is the probabilistic argument from scale which calls in more observations (the age of the universe and its hostility towards life) to reduce the probability that God exists given these observations.

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lukeprog October 21, 2010 at 8:27 am

wissam,

But that’s a separate argument. It has nothing to do with the fine-tuning argument.

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MichaelPJ October 21, 2010 at 8:49 am

There’s a lot of interesting stuff in that Collins article, but there is at least one gaping hole, which is that the “prime confirmatory principle” is just false. In fact it’s a pretty basic misunderstanding of Bayes’ Theorem.

Collins writes,

Simply put, the principle says that whenever we are considering two competing hypotheses, an observation counts as evidence in favor of the hypothesis under which the observation has the highest probability (or is the least improbable).

This leads to absurd conclusions. Suppose I go to the shop and they have run out of milk. Then, since if there is a grand (and thorough) conspiracy to frustrate my interests, it is very probable that they would have emptied the shop of milk, whereas it is only somewhat probable that the shop just ran out, the lack of milk provides more evidence for the conspiracy. Which is bollocks.

The conspiracy (rightly) has a much lower prior probability and you need to take that into account. Unfortunately, that makes it much harder for Collins to make his arguments!

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wissam October 21, 2010 at 10:25 am

//wissam,

But that’s a separate argument. It has nothing to do with the fine-tuning argument.
//

Well, given fine-tuning alone, theism might be more probable than naturalism. BUT we’re not given only fine-tuning! Calculation of conditional probability should take into account ALL relevant information, and the fine-tuning argument fails to do that.

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wissam October 21, 2010 at 10:40 am

Anyway, I have a suggestion:

Why don’t you make a bibliography of the fine-tuning argument (whenever you have the time)?

Can you tell us what your objections (or questions) to the fine-tuning argument are? Sorry if I’m being impatient but the fine-tuning argument (in my opinion) has some force and it’s making me uncomfortable.

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lukeprog October 21, 2010 at 10:48 am

wissam,

But the scope of this series is, explicitly, the fine-tuning argument.

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lukeprog October 21, 2010 at 10:49 am

wissam,

No. You’ll have to wait. :)

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Chip October 21, 2010 at 6:48 pm

Hi Michael,

This leads to absurd conclusions. Suppose I go to the shop and they have run out of milk. Then, since if there is a grand (and thorough) conspiracy to frustrate my interests, it is very probable that they would have emptied the shop of milk, whereas it is only somewhat probable that the shop just ran out, the lack of milk provides more evidence for the conspiracy. Which is bollocks.

The conspiracy (rightly) has a much lower prior probability and you need to take that into account. Unfortunately, that makes it much harder for Collins to make his arguments!

Actually, the quote you gave from Collins sounds about right to me. Usually the term “evidence” refers to everything except the priors. Under that definition, I think Collins’ statement is fairly unobjectionable.

I think the lack of milk would provide more evidence for the conspiracy than that they just ran out of milk. I also think the most reasonable explanation, given only that there was no milk, is no conspiracy. I’m making the distinction between “provides more evidence for X” and “shows that X is the best explanation”. As you say, priors matter.

So, fine-tuning could be evidence for theism. It could also be good evidence for theism. It could also be insufficient evidence for theism. And any atheist could easily believe all of this simultaneously.

(Whether fine-tuning actually is good evidence for theism is, of course, another question, which I’m pretty undecided on at the moment…)

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MichaelPJ October 22, 2010 at 2:15 am

Chip,

Um. Alright. I guess if you understand evidence like that, then Collins is right. I would never use it like that myself, for precisely the reason you outlined. In the situation Collins is talking about, where you have two competing hypotheses, it seems very strange to say that something provides “evidence for” the one (and not the other), but not “good evidence”.

At any rate, that weakens Collins’ thesis to the point of irrelevance. If he shows that fine-tuning is evidence for theism in the sense that the lack of milk is evidence for the conspiracy, then I’m not sure why we should be remotely interested.

On that note, it would appear that given any event, that event provides “evidence” in Collins’ sense for an omnipotent deity who wants nothing other than for that to happen, rather than for any other hypothesis. Because the conditional probability in the first case is 1.

I think that’s absurdity enough to refute either Collins’ conclusions or the usefulness of his notion of evidence; take your pick.

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wissam October 22, 2010 at 6:30 am

I do have one objection to one version of the fine-tuning argument:

First of all, it is important to note that the existence of life without fine-tuning is not at all so surprising under naturalism nor does it make theism more likely.

Now, to the argument:

1. If God exists, he freely created all physical laws of OUR universe ex nihilo.

This proposition (essential to theism) entails
2. Possibly, God does not choose to create the physical laws of our universe.

And

3. If God does not created these physical laws, then they would not exist.

From 3 and 4, we can deduce that
4. The physical laws of our universe are not necessary.

However, the fine-tuning argument consists of the proposition that physical laws are necessary. When I speak of physical laws, I mean physical cause and effect relationships.

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wissam October 22, 2010 at 6:33 am

I made some grammar mistakes. It’s fine, you got the idea. I think my argument can apply to all versions of the fine-tuning argument.

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wissam October 22, 2010 at 6:38 am

http://www.talkreason.org/index.cfm?category=15

I would recommend the article titled, “Why Fine-tuning does not support Supernaturalism”.

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wissam October 22, 2010 at 3:06 pm

Has anyone heard of the old natural law argument for God. It sounds strikingly similar to the fine-tuning argument. The natural-law argument states that because there are consistent and predictable natural laws in the universe, there must be a law-giver who set those laws in motion. That law-giver is assumed to be God.

However, this argument was brilliantly refuted by Bertrand “the genius” Russell :)

“Why did God issue just those natural laws and no others? If you say that he did it simply from his own good pleasure, and without any reason, you then find that there is something which is not subject to law, and so your train of natural law is interrupted. If you say, as more orthodox theologians do, that in all the laws which God issues he had a reason for giving those laws rather than others — the reason, of course, being to create the best universe, although you would never think it to look at it — if there was a reason for the laws which God gave, then God himself was subject to law, and therefore you do not get any advantage by introducing God as an intermediary.”

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wissam October 22, 2010 at 3:12 pm

I should really proof-read before I press Enter. Anyway, isn’t the natural law argument a bit similar to the fine-tuning argument? I think it makes the same basic point but in different form.

The arguments go roughly as follows: The consistency of natural laws in our universe which accounts for the excellence of it (life-friendliness) supports theism over the atheistic single universe hypothesis (or is more striking under naturalism than under theism).

True? And if so, doesn’t Bertrand Russell’s objection demolish the fine tuning argument?

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Ignostic Morgan [ Morgan-LynnGriggs Lamberth] December 2, 2010 at 7:11 pm

Luke, no, ti’s the fine tuning argument that is irrelevant whilst we are adapted to our environment rather than it being adapted to us as that argument claims and as all teleological ones do that we are wanted outcomes via divine teleology when the actual evidence as Lamberth’s atelic/ teleonomic argument reveals that the weight of evidence reveals teleonomy at work- no planned outcomes! Were it adapted to us, then He would be in charge whilst science as Stenger would ever note that no, no being had us in mind but just the operation of natural selection, that non-planning, anti-chance agency of Nature and other natural causes. Of course, randomness enters the scene in the form of mutations and the cooling- period and the flowering plants arriving as well as many maintain the arrival of the asteroid, causing the demise of the dinosaurs, letting some primates evolve to be human. The little anthropic principle just observes the parameters that permitted life to evolve rather than that they just had to teleologically. Thus, it complements naturalism rather than supernaturalism, Luke! The laws of nature operate rather than His intent-agency. We adapt to them rather than they adapt to us as the fine- tuning argument has it backwards! Had those conditions listed had not arrived, then we would not be here or any comparable being due to convergence as my friend Jerry Coyne notes in his ” Seeing and Believing” and Amiel Rossow notes about how Kenneth Miller takes intelligent design out the front door, but brings it back through the back one under directed-evolution , both articles @ Talk Reason, which is just the new Omphalos argument that seemingly, teleonomy works but He had to have His epistemic distance from us [ John Harwood Hick], which John L.Schellenberg calls the hiddenness problem that He hides Himself that, why, He might as well not exist! Like the old Omphalos argument, the new one presents the deceiving God!
Not only does the supernatural violate the Ockham, it contradicts natural causation rather than complementing it! Thus, religion from the side of science cannot be compatible with it whilst from the side of religion, religion can be compatible with its twin superstition the paranormal, what my friend Paul Kurtz calls ” The Transcendental Temptation.”
Not only does the teleonomic argument eviscerates all teleological arguments, it eviscerates any with intent such that God has no referents as Primary Cause, Grand Actor in history [no favouring the USA or saving Jewry ,> ah, that Shoah!>], no Grand Miracle Monger and so forth such that He cannot exist! That He has contradictory, incoherent attributes means again that He cannot exist! Plus, since each of our naturalist arguments against Him also rob Him of referents, they add to the atelic argument that He has no referents and thus cannot exist!
Luke, that’s a quintuple whammy!
Luke, the teleonomic argument, following Ernst Mayr’s use of the term teleonomy, means, as Paul B.Weisz notes in ” The Science of Biology” that teleology means putting the-event before the cause and the future before the present, therewith negating time, making for backwards causation. He uses the term causalism rather than the one teleonomy. He notes that scientists can change conditions to affect outcomes that would not happen were there that teleology. He finds that religion and science are two different languages whilst I find the former just grunts!
William Lane Craig and Richard Swinburne postulate Him as that personal explanation, but as noted, no teleology presents itself to science and again that begs the question of wanted outcomes.
Per Lamberth’s argument from pareidolia, people see intent and designs when only intent and patterns present themselves. Again, science enters the scene as scientists are investigating how and why people see that pareidolia – agency, intent. Theology reduces to animism behind one spirit, albeit supposedly externally to Existence.
As Hans Reichenbach’s argument from Existence notes, as Existence [ the Metaverse] is all there is, no external being or matter whence it came can exist. As Hawking and Mlodinow and others would note, the laws of conservation behind the quantum fields leave no room for any external agency. See David Mill’s ” Atheist Universe” and what Rudiger Vaas maintain about the eternal Metaverse. Google Rudiger Vaas to find his two articles on the matter. One is how Immanuel Kant errs in his dichotomy about the finite versus the infinite universe.
As one philosopher notes, these arguments are fun to dissect, and I add are good mental exercise.
After eons of not producing any evidence for Him and probaly never will, here as Stenger notes, where there should be mountains of evidence, and in accordance with Charles Moore’s auto-epistemic rule, absence of evidence is indeed evidence of absence and thus no argument from ignorance! Appeals to Him rank with arguments for the perpetual motion machine.
Yet, with Kai Nielsen in naturalism and Religion” and my friend Graham Robert Oppy in ” Arguing about Gods,” we rationalists/naturalists must perforce be fallibilists. Thus, this argumentation requires fine-tuning!
Supernaturalism cannot gainsay the presumption of naturalism!
[ These friends are internet onesFacebook and otherwise.]
Google arguments about Him-that square circle, the ignostic-Ockham, the problem of Heaven, the presumption of naturalism and Skeptic Griggsy to find more on all this and more. This is atheism in a nutshell!
http://Ignostic Morgan’s Blog. blogspot.com
http:// Carneades.aimoo.com
http:// Skeptic Griggsy.wordpress.com
http:// Democritus’s Posterous.posterous.com and each of those portals has more of my blogs. Sweet retirement!

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Ignostic Morgan December 2, 2010 at 7:14 pm

Wissam and Lord Russell rock!

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