My Own Scale for Dumb Theistic Arguments

by Luke Muehlhauser on December 14, 2009 in General Atheism

demons of stupidity

We atheists tend to think some theistic arguments are more ridiculous than others. I hinted at this with my joke-post The Lunacy Scale. Now I’d like to reveal my current reaction to various theistic arguments.

Occasionally give me pause

  • Cosmological arguments

No Way, José

  • Ontological arguments

Waaaaaaay Terrible

  • Design arguments
  • Epistemological arguments (argument from reason, etc.)
  • Conceptualist arguments (argument from abstracta, etc.)

Profoundly, Jaw-Droppingly Awful; Like a Pauly Shore Movie

  • Arguments from religious experience
  • Axiological arguments (moral argument, etc.)
  • Pragmatic arguments (Pascal’s Wager, etc.)
  • Argument from the resurrection of Jesus
  • Fulfilled prophecy arguments
  • Arguments from the reliability of Scripture

Candidate for ‘Dumbest Idea of the Century’

  • Reformed Epistemology

So there, that’s my list. Maybe it will change by next year. And other atheists probably think differently. Maybe it’s design arguments that give them pause and ontological arguments that are at the bottom of their lists. What does your scale look like, atheists?

I suspect believers have a similar scale regarding atheistic arguments. If you’re a believer, I’d love to see which atheistic arguments are the most and least troubling to you.

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{ 187 comments… read them below or add one }

ayer December 14, 2009 at 6:25 pm

Hitchens, in the documentary “Collision” (which I watched the other day), tells his opponent Douglas Wilson in a candid conversation during a limo ride that he find the fine-tuning argument to be the most difficult to refute.

As a side note, reformed epistemology is not really an “argument” in the same sense as the other “de facto” arguments you list, since it only shows that there is no successful “de jure” challenge to Christian belief.

As far as atheistic arguments, I believe there would be a consensus among Christian apologists that the “emotional problem of suffering” is the best atheist argument (note that this is distinct from the “logical argument from evil,” which I believe even most atheist philosophers concede failed as a logical refutation of theism).

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Liam December 14, 2009 at 6:58 pm

I’ve never heard any Christian (including William Lane Craig) refute Raymond Bradley’s moral argument for Atheism

http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/raymond_bradley/moral.html

The essay is reasonably short but very detailed.

This and the Argument from B-Theory of Time are my favorite arguments against a personal god.

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Josh December 14, 2009 at 8:00 pm

Cosmological arguments are probably the hardest for me too. Everything else is so dumb it’s painful :(

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Alex December 14, 2009 at 8:10 pm

Does the order of the arguments within each category mean anything?

Pretty high up on my list (of theistic arguments that occasionally give me pause) are are cosmic fine-tuning design arguments and cosmological arguments. Among the silliest are probably the various strategies used to defend the explanatory adequacy of theism – theodicies, divine simplicity, etc.

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lukeprog December 14, 2009 at 8:10 pm

ayer,

Yeah, some of the epistemological arguments I refer to aren’t “de facto” arguments either.

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lukeprog December 14, 2009 at 8:11 pm

Lol, Josh.

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Roger, FCD December 14, 2009 at 8:15 pm

Ayer wrote:
“…“logical argument from evil,” which I believe even most atheist philosophers concede failed as a logical refutation of theism). ”

How is the Argument from Evil a failed argument?

A. God is Omnipotent.
B. God is Omnibenevolent, but
C. Evil uncaused by Man, but within the power of God to prevent exists.

A., by itself is consistent with C.
B., by itself is consistent with C. but,
A+B is inconsistent with C.

The most common ‘refutation’ I’ve encountered is some form of ‘But free-will cannot exist if we have no choice for evil.’ The problem with this argument is two-fold. The first is that proposition C. has nothing to do with Man. The second is that, disregarding the first fatal flaw, that we cannot imagine a world where all is Good, but has all the attributes that God supposedly requires for His creations is /entirely unimportant/; it’s an Argument from Ignorance and dies as soon as this is recognized.

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Scott December 14, 2009 at 8:19 pm

ayer, what’s the difference between “emotional problem of suffering” & the “logical argument from evil”?

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Kip December 14, 2009 at 8:25 pm

Roger, FCD: A+B is inconsistent with C.

The theodicy would dispute that part. Basically, maybe God has a good reason to allow C, such that allowing C results in more good than not allowing C. Or some such.

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Josh December 14, 2009 at 8:34 pm

You know what I think would be nice is a list of arguments against theism and how those rank. For example, I don’t find the problem of evil that convincing, but I find the more general problem of divine hiddeness to be a huge obstacle to omni-gods.

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rhys December 14, 2009 at 8:41 pm

Thomas Aquinas’s Argument from Degree is pretty awful, but it might fit under ontological arguments.

Also TAG is a ridiculous argument which bastardizes the very thing it uses as a premiss to try and infer the existence of an Infinite Mind (logic) it deserves to be piled with Jesus’ resurrection in terms of absurdity.

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Justfinethanks December 14, 2009 at 8:45 pm

note that this is distinct from the “logical argument from evil,” which I believe even most atheist philosophers concede failed as a logical refutation of theism).

Don’t count the logical argument out quite yet. Philosopher Nathan Hanna is currently working on a version of it that is immune to Plantiga’s free will defense.

http://nthanna.mysite.syr.edu/rpe.pdf

The Cosomological argument occasionally gives me pause. Teleological arguments affect me differently. “Fine Tuning” arguments give me (very brief) pause, whereas arguments for Intelligent Design in biology make me fantasize about the day when religion stops polluting the brains of these poor souls so that humanity will no longer have to endure their perverted view of reality.

Probably the dumbest argument for me is the “Argument from Beauty.” To even suggest that having an impression of the beautiful is incompatible with naturalism is breathtakingly stupid. I’m a little confused frankly with an otherwise smart guy like Swinburne would think that it is compelling.

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Robert Gressis December 14, 2009 at 8:45 pm

Hi Luke,

How much of Plantinga on reformed epistemology have you read? I ask because most atheistic philosophers I know are pretty impressed by Plantinga’s epistemological program, even if they don’t think it works to save rationality of belief in Christianity.

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Briang December 14, 2009 at 8:58 pm

The problem with the logical problem of evil, is that it can be refuted by showing only that it’s logically possible for God to coexist with evil. In order for something to be logically impossible, there cannot even be a possibility of it being true. This means that I can use the most improbable example to show that God and evil can coexist. You can say, “but that’s absurd!” I can respond, but it possible.

I think the evidential problem of evil has more going for it. This would be an argument that says that the evil in the world make it unlikely that God exists. In this case, the theist would have to argue that God’s existence is not unlikely. Now, coming up with a far-fetch situation where God might have good reason to allow evil, isn’t sufficient to refute the argument. I’d have to either argue that evil doesn’t make God unlikely, or that there is some evidence that outweighs the evidence from evil or some combination of the two. For example, I could show that there is a probable reason God allows evil. A Merely possible reason wont work anymore.

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Briang December 14, 2009 at 9:07 pm

Luke,
I’m surprised that the only argument that sometimes gives you pause is the cosmological argument and that the argument from design is under “way terrible.” I’m curious to know why design doesn’t ever give you pause. It seems the most intuitive of the arguments for God’s existence.

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lukeprog December 14, 2009 at 9:14 pm

Robert,

Really? Which atheistic philosophers are impressed by Plantinga’s epistemological program? I’ve read Plantinga’s 1981 Nous paper and some parts of Warranted Christian Belief, as well as several summaries of Plantinga’s positions by Christian philosophers (in ‘intro to philosophy of religion’ books, etc.).

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lukeprog December 14, 2009 at 9:17 pm

Brian,

This universe looks positively anti-designed. It looks exactly like it would if nobody had designed it, and nothing like it would if a tri-omni god designed it – from black holes to devastating infectious bacteria propelled by flagella.

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Roger, FCD December 14, 2009 at 9:21 pm

Briang: The problem with the logical problem of evil, is that it can be refuted by showing only that it’s logically possible for God to coexist with evil.In order for something to be logically impossible, there cannot even be a possibility of it being true.This means that I can use the most improbable example to show that God and evil can coexist.You can say, “but that’s absurd!”I can respond, but it possible.I think the evidential problem of evil has more going for it.This would be an argument that says that the evil in the world make it unlikely that God exists.In this case, the theist would have to argue that God’s existence is not unlikely.Now, coming up with a far-fetch situation where God might have good reason to allow evil, isn’t sufficient to refute the argument.I’d have to either argue that evil doesn’t make God unlikely, or that there is some evidence that outweighs the evidence from evil or some combination of the two.For example, I could show that there is a probable reason God allows evil.A Merely possiblereason wont work anymore.  

Sure, God can co-exist with evil, but then my Prop. B. is false and God is not Omnibenevolent.

Again, that we mere mortals cannot come up with how a universe can be both lacking in evil and meet all of God’s requirements for the universe is entirely immaterial, because it’s an Argument from Ignorance. God is Omnipotent, that such a universe could have been created by God is self-evident.

Logical Impossibility also fails as a defense for exactly the same reason.

I’m still confused as to how the argument from evil fails.

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Charles December 14, 2009 at 9:38 pm

Luke,

Do you count “fine tuning” type argument as cosmological or design?

(IMO, that’s the best one.)

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Briang December 14, 2009 at 9:51 pm

Roger, FCD: ortals cannot come up with how a universe can be both lacking in evil and meet all of God’s requirements for the universe is entirely immaterial, because it’s an Argument from Ignorance. God is Omnipotent, that such a universe could have been created by God is self-evident.

Logical Impossibility also fails as a defense for exactly the same reason.

I’m still confused as to how the argument from evil fails.

I’ll try to explain. Your argument:

A. God is Omnipotent.
B. God is Omnibenevolent, but
C. Evil uncaused by Man, but within the power of God to prevent exists.

A., by itself is consistent with C.
B., by itself is consistent with C. but,
A+B is inconsistent with C.

A + B + C do not entail a logical contradiction. In order to show that the propositions are logically inconsistent one would need to add a necessarily true proposition to the set. One possibility might be:
D If God is Omnipotent and Omnibenevolent, there would exist no evil uncaused by Man, but within the power of God to prevent.

The problem is how do we know that D is necessarily true? It’s not enough to show that it’s probably true. You must show that it’s necessarily true. It’s certainly not self evident. What if God could prevent the evil, but not without eliminating a greater good?

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lukeprog December 14, 2009 at 10:26 pm

Charles,

Fine-tuning is a design argument. I think it’s pretty bad.

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toryninja December 14, 2009 at 10:39 pm

If you’re talking about arguments against the Christian God, then probably either the problem of evil or some of the more possibly troubling parts of Scripture (whether moral, theologial, or historical critical).

If you’re just talking about a God-type in general, than I don’t really think there are any good atheistic arguments. They almost always argue against a religious idea of God anyway. I think if religious answers are not considered deism is by far the most rational position to currently hold.

Given that you find Cosmological arguments somewhat convincing I would have thought you would be some sort of deist as well. You actually sound like one most of the time anyway. I think mabye you just want to be on the Atheism Bandwagon.

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Robert Gressis December 14, 2009 at 10:40 pm

Quentin Smith, Richard Gale, and Paul Draper, off the top of my head. And then some atheist friends of mine who are professional philosophers.

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ayer December 14, 2009 at 10:50 pm

lukeprog: Robert,Really? Which atheistic philosophers are impressed by Plantinga’s epistemological program? I’ve read Plantinga’s 1981 Nous paper and some parts of Warranted Christian Belief, as well as several summaries of Plantinga’s positions by Christian philosophers (in ‘intro to philosophy of religion’ books, etc.).  

Quentin Smith, for one:

http://www.qsmithwmu.com/metaphilosophy_of_naturalism.htm

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toweltowel December 14, 2009 at 10:52 pm

Luke, others:

When you hear ‘design argument’, are you thinking argument for theism, or for some sort of divine intelligence?

Perhaps both sides are right: perhaps Luke is right that design arguments for theism are way terrible, and perhaps others are right that design arguments for some sort of divine intelligence are not all that bad. After all, looking at the world and making a guess, I’d certainly rank an amoral supernatural intelligence as far more likely than an absolutely perfect being.

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ayer December 14, 2009 at 10:54 pm

lukeprog: Brian,This universe looks positively anti-designed. It looks exactly like it would if nobody had designed it, and nothing like it would if a tri-omni god designed it – from black holes to devastating infectious bacteria propelled by flagella.  

Not sure how you reconcile this view with the fine-tuning of the constants built in to the initial conditions of the Big Bang. Even atheist physicists admit that those constants are exquisitely set to exactly what you would expect for a universe designed to be life-permitting.

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rhis December 14, 2009 at 10:56 pm

Arguments from religious experience are among the better defenses, IMO.

It amounts to, “I believe because I want to.” And, there’s not really much I can say that would impact this.

It’s not a rational position, but that only matters to people who care about rational consistency.

Briang: The problem is how do we know that D is necessarily true? It’s not enough to show that it’s probably true. You must show that it’s necessarily true. It’s certainly not self evident. What if God could prevent the evil, but not without eliminating a greater good?

It follows from the definition of benevolent. If I say, “Tom is a really kind guy” then this means that Tom is the sort of fellow who would stop to help an injured kitten.

If God’s actions are fundamentally incomprehensible to then we can’t call god omnibenevolent.

Any reasonable definition of the term would include a meaning like, ‘helps where possible.’

The next suggestion is that we’re in the best of all possible worlds. This is answered nicely in Mark Twains Letters from the Earth http://www.positiveatheism.org/hist/twainlfe.htm#7

Even in this case, we’ve just established something that God can’t do, and presumably I can (mitigate net suffering). So, this contradicts omnipotence.

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lukeprog December 14, 2009 at 11:14 pm

ayer,

Way more than 99.999999999% of spacetime in our universe is immediately hostile to all life. Saying the universe is designed for life is several orders of magnitude more absurd than saying the Sahara desert is designed for jellyfish.

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Robert Gressis December 14, 2009 at 11:38 pm

Luke,

The defender of the fine-tuning argument will reply that while it’s true that almost all of space-time is hostile to life, an even bigger “almost all” of theoretically coherent universes are completely incompatible with life. I take it that’s what they mean when they say the universe is fine-tuned for life; they mean this universe freakishly permits life to emerge.

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Al Moritz December 15, 2009 at 12:13 am

lukeprog:
Way more than 99.999999999% of spacetime in our universe is immediately hostile to all life. Saying the universe is designed for life is several orders of magnitude more absurd than saying the Sahara desert is designed for jellyfish.

The fine-tuning argument holds in the relation to the universe as a whole, and is not meant to address the question of why you cannot live on the sun or breathe on the moon. Of course sources of energy (stars) are needed to drive life and evolution, and of course you cannot live on them. Nor can you live in the, by necessity, frighteningly large stretches of empty space between them and planets. So what is the point? Nobody would deny that the light bulb is an invention that greatly enhances modern life. But when you would try to hold your hand around a light bulb that is turned on, you would burn it to pieces. Is the light bulb then “hostile to life”? Certainly not. This modest example, however, indicates how utterly irrelevant the argument from hostility for life really is.

Of heavy-weight atheistic and agnostic physicists and cosmologists, Weinberg is the only one who use the argument (and he accepts fine-tuning).

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Steven December 15, 2009 at 12:51 am

I’m curious; what exactly are your objections, briefly, to the argument from religious experience? I remember you wrote a short review of the Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, so I’d be interested in hearing what you have to say after having finished Kai Man Kwan’s article on it.

I don’t want to discuss the issue, just to read your thoughts.

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Jake de Backer December 15, 2009 at 1:31 am

Among the interminable mind-waste deployed by theists, I’d say the least persuading for me, personally, would be:

1) Any argument using or relying on the bible.
(e.g. Prophecies, Miracles, Resurrection)

2) Any argument from morality/divine-command theory.

3) Any argument appealing to emotions.
(i.e. But if there is no God, what’s the point of it all? Who mete’s out justice to evil-doers?)

4) Plantinga’s use of free-will to excuse evil and his abysmal Properly Basic theory.

The most persuading but, as of yet, not persuading enough:

1) Cosmological or First Cause.

This is ostensibly the more likely avenue for theist’s to gain a potential foothold. Not because I think it’s likely someone flicked on the universe switch, but due to the inscrutable nature of the universes origins, if any argument were to validate the God claim one day, it would surprise me the least if it came from this angle. However, that there is a God in general would shock the absolute shit out of me.

I’ve passed nearly ten minutes going back and forth on whether or not to include the Fine-Tuning Argument. I do believe there is something compelling about the constants but I am somewhat assuaged by the consideration of just how non-conducive the universe is to life of all kinds. If our universe is designed for life, and we’re God’s special little creature’s… where the hell is everybody? I mean, if you are in a house where a massive party is taking place and the home owner spends 30 minutes telling you that the whole damn city is like this, just parties everywhere all day, in deed, the city was DESIGNED for parties and you leave, driving through their street then out of the neighborhood through some intersections and you see not a single light turned on, not so much as a single pointy party hat or hear one solitary note of music, it’s just nothingness, then well, perhaps you’re justified in thinking the home owner was kind of a fucking idiot. In any event, for any life to ever exist anywhere, their must be some initial sine qua non conditions predisposed to permitting life for the conversation about life to get off the ground in the first place. It seems, at least to me, a bit sinuous a route to take in advancing the case for God.

2) Argument from consciousness.
I, being a methodological naturalist, believe that there is probably a naturalistic explication due for this phenomena but the arrival of intelligence from non-intelligence is, or at least can be, quite compelling. I have a hard time with that when engaged in debates or conversations. Similar to the First Cause though, I think the theistic foothold in this department is also undeserved. That is to say, they are simply exploiting the scientific ignorance in the domain of neuroscience.

Conversely, for the atheistic arguments, I think the weakest are:

1) Our inability to denominate a source for objective moral values.
I think for this reason more than any other, we will still have a plethora of theist’s long after it’s proven to be intellectually deleterious to be so because people, mostly the unthinking populace (nearly everybody), sincerely want absolutes. It’s just easier. X is always wrong. Y is always right. No arguments. No armchair philosophizing about the consequences or justification. Now, the bible, whatever it is, certainly is not a consistent book of rules such as theist’s make it out to be but grounding ultimate right and wrong in God’s “nature” removes the tedious task of thinking for oneself about the actual nature of right and wrong. It’s almost Stockholm syndrome really. Pretending you don’t want to be told what to do but being “lost” when no one’s there to do it. Since we don’t have any good objective moral arguments on offer, I think that put’s us at a disadvantage concerning our conversion rates. Fortunately, the biblical God is such a detestable polestar of divine sadism that after the undecided folks pass over a few passages of Old Testament lore, he often converts the fence sitters for us.

2) Consciousness & The Origins of the Universe
Lacking a naturalistic explication for these events is an undermining aspect of these discussions. We have made progress concerning consciousness through our evolutionary understanding but nothing near a full-sweeping theory of consciousness. Nor do we have any commensurately easy “God did it” for naturalism. Stenger has produced some interesting ideas about the inherent instability of nothingness and Quentin has offered equally inspiring ideas about time and the origins but it is, for all intent’s and purposes, speculative and not very well evidenced. Much like the multi-verse idea; It’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility, and it commands some explanatory power but not awfully corroborated as of yet. At least, this has been my understanding given what I’ve read about these topics.

I’d say the stronger arguments at our command are:

1) Argument from Evil.
Logical & Evidential.

2) Schellenberg’s Hiddenness Argument.

3) The inconsistencies, contradictions, timeline discrepancies and uncorroborated accounts of history in the bible equip us with nothing less than a fortress from which to mount apposite attacks on the veracity, validity, relevance and historical worth of the bible.

4) The incompatible-properties Argument’s against God’s supposed nature.

J.

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Beelzebub December 15, 2009 at 1:46 am

Al Moritz: The fine-tuning argument holds in the relation to the universe as a whole, and is not meant to address the question of why you cannot live on the sun or breathe on the moon.

The problem I have with the fine-tuning (anthropic) argument is that it only goes far enough to prove very tenuous points and not far enough to make a strong argument. Each individual instance of the many points it makes consist of statements like “if the gravitational constant was slightly off we wouldn’t have stars…” or “if the strong force were slightly weaker we wouldn’t have heavy elements and therefore no chemistry,” and so on. These are all individually dishonest propositions, forming a collectively invalid conclusion. What is being done is this: small tweaks are being made in physical laws and then the consequence is being judged back here in our universe. To construct a truly solid argument, what has to be shown is that out of the range of possible universes, complete and consistent in themselves, only ours is capable of forming life within its select islets of hospitality.

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Haecceitas December 15, 2009 at 1:50 am

As for the atheistic arguments, I’d rate them as follows:

1. Divine hiddenness. (Quite often gives me a pause, though ultimately fails to persuade)
2. Problem of evil. (Sometimes gives me a pause.)

Others range from weak to absurd, IMO.

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Hermes December 15, 2009 at 3:19 am

Isn’t the problem of evil kinda moot?

After all, I don’t know of anybody that argues for a generic omnimax deity.

It’s always a named one — usually in these conversations Yahweh in some form. If it’s Yahweh, the OT and NT don’t support the contention that that deity is an omnimax and handily argue against it.

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Hermes December 15, 2009 at 3:41 am

toryninja: If you’re just talking about a God-type in general, than I don’t really think there are any good atheistic arguments. They almost always argue against a religious idea of God anyway.

Well, till someone makes a claim there’s really nothing to discuss. The ideas promoted for deities are usually incoherent even when the deity is specifically named.

toryninja:
I think if religious answers are not considered deism is by far the most rational position to currently hold.

Pantheism and deism are logically coherent and do not contradict. That said, there’s no positive evidence — and it may be logically impossible for there to be positive evidence — in direct support of either set of deities. As such, how would someone know that such entities/beings/…/things/… are more plausible then the alternative deity (deist deity not pantheist deity *or* pantheist deity not deist deity)?

I never get deists or pantheists pushing their beliefs so I’m perfectly happy to respect those ideas as plausible if not probable.

———

Note: Try and not use the word “God” for a generic deity claim, as “God” especially when capitalized is a named deity — “Yahweh” — and tends to add confusion and grant those that argue for Yahweh the ability to argue for a generic deity and then swap in Yahweh/Jesus/… at the last moment.

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Aeiluindae December 15, 2009 at 5:09 am

I’m gonna go out on a limb here and postulate some things in response to the logical argument from evil. Basically, I think point B and C make unreasonable assumptions about what is good for us. I think people mistake omnibenevolence for a blind desire to cause no pain. Consider this, if a parent catered to their child’s every whim and never allowed them to experience any kind of negative emotion, and never set any rules, they would be considered a terrible parent by most people I know. How then, can we expect God to do for us what we can probably agree is terrible to do for our children? Also, I do not think death is inherently evil. It is simply a part of the natural world, neither good nor evil. I know I’ve missed many situations here/ Can anyone think of any situations where pain is evil and should be prevented by God at all costs? I’ll try to formulate a satisfactory response.

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drj December 15, 2009 at 5:15 am

lukeprog: This universe looks positively anti-designed. It looks exactly like it would if nobody had designed it, and nothing like it would if a tri-omni god designed it – from black holes to devastating infectious bacteria propelled by flagella.  

I’ve often thought that all our nice neat illustrations and diagrams in things like biology text books often lead people astray. You see all these perfectly organized, and precise renditions of a cell, DNA, the organelles, or even the insides of an animal. Those sorts of renditions make things look designed… Then you go look under a microscope, or dissect a specimen… and it all looks like a bunch of disorganized glop, in which barely anything is distinguishable.

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Thomas Reid December 15, 2009 at 5:47 am

Roger, FCD: Sure, God can co-exist with evil, but then my Prop. B. is false and God is not Omnibenevolent.Again, that we mere mortals cannot come up with how a universe can be both lacking in evil and meet all of God’s requirements for the universe is entirely immaterial, because it’s an Argument from Ignorance. God is Omnipotent, that such a universe could have been created by God is self-evident.

First, there is no explicit contradiction with your A + B + C. As Briang correctly pointed out, you need to add another premise (or premises) to complete your argument.

Second, what is “argument from ignorance” supposed to mean? What the theist provides is a possible reason for God permitting evils (for example, they could not be eliminated without the elimination of even greater good), and such reason is not incompatible with God’s other characteristics. So it is not self-evident, and it is not proven, that if God is all-powerful and all-good, then the universe would exist without natural evils.

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Reginald Selkirk December 15, 2009 at 6:27 am

Briang: I’m curious to know why design doesn’t ever give you pause. It seems the most intuitive of the arguments for God’s existence.

I would draw a distinction between the biological design argument and the fine-tuning argument. I don’t find either one convincing, but the current state of the biological design argument is that it has been completely, utterly, comprehensively refuted by biological science, and that continued attempts to push the argument fall either a) outright dishonesty or b) a degree of ignorance so massive it is dishonest to continue arguing rather than remedy one’s ignorance.

But I put Pascal’s Wager right at the top of my list.

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ayer December 15, 2009 at 7:02 am

lukeprog: ayer,Way more than 99.999999999% of spacetime in our universe is immediately hostile to all life. Saying the universe is designed for life is several orders of magnitude more absurd than saying the Sahara desert is designed for jellyfish.  

Actually the size and mass of the universe are part of the necessary fine-tuning for life, as astronomer Hugh Ross has pointed out:

“Astronomers have discovered that the total mass of the universe acts as a catalyst for nuclear fusion and the more massive the universe is, the more efficiently nuclear fusion operates in the cosmos. If the universe is too massive, the mass density too great, then very quickly all the matter in the universe is converted from Hydrogen into elements heavier than iron, which would render life impossible because the universe would be devoid of Carbon, Oxygen, Nitrogen, etc…If the universe has too little mass, then fusion would work so inefficiently that all that the universe would ever produce would be Hydrogen, or Hydrogen plus a small amount of Helium. But there again, the Carbon and Oxygen we need for life would be missing.”

http://www.cosmicfingerprints.com/audio/newevidence.htm

P.S. on a side note, doesn’t the line that the universe is overwhelmingly hostile to life mean atheists have given up on Sagan’s idea that the universe is teeming with life (which justified SETI funding)?

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Al Moritz December 15, 2009 at 7:17 am

Jake de Backer: I’ve passed nearly ten minutes going back and forth on whether or not to include the Fine-Tuning Argument.I do believe there is something compelling about the constants but I am somewhat assuaged by the consideration of just how non-conducive the universe is to life of all kinds. If our universe is designed for life, and we’re God’s special little creature’s… where the hell is everybody?I mean, if you are in a house where a massive party is taking place and the home owner spends 30 minutes telling you that the whole damn city is like this, just parties everywhere all day, in deed, the city was DESIGNED for parties and you leave, driving through their street then out of the neighborhood through some intersections and you see not a single light turned on, not so much as a single pointy party hat or hear one solitary note of music, it’s just nothingness, then well, perhaps you’re justified in thinking the home owner was kind of a fucking idiot. In any event, for any life to ever exist anywhere, their must be some initial sine qua non conditions predisposed to permitting life for the conversation about life to get off the ground in the first place.

Someone with first-hand, high-quality, everyday professional experience of the sheer vastness and alleged “hostility” of the universe is the astronomer Allan Sandage, Hubble’s student and by some considered to have been the greatest observational cosmologist of the Fifties through well into the Eighties, and still active today with several papers a year. It did not prevent him from becoming a Christian at age 60. He said: ” We can’t have an understanding of the universe in any clear way without the supernatural.”

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Al Moritz December 15, 2009 at 7:20 am

Beelzebub:
The problem I have with the fine-tuning (anthropic) argument is that it only goes far enough to prove very tenuous points and not far enough to make a strong argument.Each individual instance of the many points it makes consist of statements like “if the gravitational constant was slightly off we wouldn’t have stars…” or “if the strong force were slightly weaker we wouldn’t have heavy elements and therefore no chemistry,” and so on.These are all individually dishonest propositions, forming a collectively invalid conclusion.

So all the atheistic and agnostic cosmologists who make such propositions (Smolin, Susskind, Hawking, Weinberg, Rees, Tegmark, to name just a few prominent ones) are dishonest? Interesting.

The fine-tuning argument in itself is not a religious argument, unlike what many atheists claim. Only the extension as a design argument is theistic, whereas atheistic cosmologists often see no other way out than the multiverse.

What is being done is this: small tweaks are being made in physical laws and then the consequence is being judged back here in our universe.To construct a truly solid argument, what has to be shown is that out of the range of possible universes, complete and consistent in themselves, only ours is capable of forming life within its select islets of hospitality.

It is a misunderstanding that the fine-tuning argument says that ours is the *only* possibly hospitable universe. All it says is that a life-supporting universe is extremely unlikely to arise by chance, from random physical constants.

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lukeprog December 15, 2009 at 7:43 am

Robert,

Yes. But I’ve never understood how the analogy is supposed to work. We are fine-tuned for the universe, not vice-versa. I think it was Douglas Adams who pointed out it would be silly for a puddle to look at the hole it’s in and exclaim, “How marvelously this hole fits me! Fits me perfectly! It must have been designed for me!”

I have lots of other objections, but I’ll write about them later. I know I had a very long discussion about this somewhere in the comments of this blog, but I’m not sure where now.

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lukeprog December 15, 2009 at 7:46 am

Steven,

Unfortunately, Kai Man Kwan’s article doesn’t even discuss the most basic objection to arguments from religious experience; namely, that other people have contradictory religious experiences.

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ayer December 15, 2009 at 8:07 am

lukeprog: Robert,Yes. But I’ve never understood how the analogy is supposed to work. We are fine-tuned for the universe, not vice-versa. I think it was Douglas Adams who pointed out it would be silly for a puddle to look at the hole it’s in and exclaim, “How marvelously this hole fits me! Fits me perfectly! It must have been designed for me!”I have lots of other objections, but I’ll write about them later. I know I had a very long discussion about this somewhere in the comments of this blog, but I’m not sure where now.  

This attitude toward fine-tuning has been impressively refuted by John Leslie, as described below:

“Not surprisingly, fine-tuning arguments unsettle those who embrace the philosophy of naturalism, since a straightforward interpretation of the evidence points in favor of an intelligent creator. Some of the naturalist responses are common and are worth mentioning here. The first amounts to a nonchalant shrugging of the shoulders. Many adherents to philosophical naturalism give a response along the following lines: Because humans exist, the laws of nature clearly must be the ones compatible with life. Otherwise, we simply wouldn’t be here to notice the fact. To argue against this line of reasoning, John Leslie makes the analogy of surviving an execution at a firing squad completely unharmed. Here, Leslie argues that the naturalist’s argument above is analogous to saying, “Of course all of the shots missed, otherwise I wouldn’t be here to notice that I’m still alive!” A much more logical approach would be to seek out an explanation for why such an unlikely event occurred. A good scientific explanation satisfies curiosity, whereas this kind of explanation does nothing to offer any resolution.”

http://biologos.org/questions/fine-tuning/

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Alex December 15, 2009 at 8:19 am

ayer: have you read Elliott Sober’s criticism of that scenario?

http://philosophy.wisc.edu/sober/black-da.pdf

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Rich December 15, 2009 at 8:20 am

ayer: Not sure how you reconcile this view with the fine-tuning of the constants built in to the initial conditions of the Big Bang. Even atheist physicists admit that those constants are exquisitely set to exactly what you would expect for a universe designed to be life-permitting.  (Quote)

“Built in to”..”exquisitely set to”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Begging_the_question

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Al Moritz December 15, 2009 at 8:26 am

lukeprog: Robert,Yes. But I’ve never understood how the analogy is supposed to work. We are fine-tuned for the universe, not vice-versa. I think it was Douglas Adams who pointed out it would be silly for a puddle to look at the hole it’s in and exclaim, “How marvelously this hole fits me! Fits me perfectly! It must have been designed for me!”I have lots of other objections, but I’ll write about them later. I know I had a very long discussion about this somewhere in the comments of this blog, but I’m not sure where now.

Yes, the argument of: We are adapted to the universe by evolution, not the universe is adapted to us. However, if one studies fine-tuning it is clear that this argument is uninformed. How can you even think about evolution of life when no heavier elements than hydrogen and helium are formed, when there is no time for evolution because stars burn far too fast, when there is no chemistry, and when not even atoms exist due to wrong mass relationships between protons and neutrons or because they are torn apart by too rapid expansion of the universe due to a cosmological constant that is too large? The argument completely misses the point.

Evolution is only possible under exceedingly special circumstances, not just biological evolution, but physical evolution of cosmological structures (galaxies, stars, planets etc.) as well.

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Haukur December 15, 2009 at 8:27 am

Luke: If you’re a believer, I’d love to see which atheistic arguments are the most and least troubling to you.

Thanks for that interesting challenge, Luke! I’ll give it a shot.

The Good

* Argument from harmful superstition – often gives me pause
* No gods, no masters – hard not to find the appeal in rejection of any and all greater authority

The Perplexing

* Arguments that empiricism and testing are the best way to approach the world and what we should base our life decisions on – followed by no attempt to empirically demonstrate that atheists are happier, better or more successful than other people.

* Arguments (or appeals to authority) involving out of context quotes from pagan philosophers who were not atheists.

The Bad

* Arguments that the world is evil/bad/awful and that there is something fundamentally wrong with human beings. Bonus points for following up with tech-rapture stuff about cryonics, consciousness-uploading and “the singularity”. If I was in the market for this stuff I would have bought it from the Christians already.

* Arguments that assume that all religions can for all practical purposes be treated like the form of Christianity the atheist author in question is most familiar with. And, oh boy, is that a lot of arguments.

The mind-meltingly stupid

* Almost anything the typical atheist writes about morality.

* Argument from the graveyard of the gods. “When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.” It’s not even that this makes no sense against paganism – it doesn’t even make sense against Christianity.

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Jeff H December 15, 2009 at 8:29 am

I’d say that, for me, the strongest argument is likely the fine-tuning argument. It’s not that it necessarily is convincing to me, but as of yet any explanation for why the universe is fine-tuned (multiverse, God, Flying Spaghetti Monster) is ad hoc. So, trading one ad hoc explanation for another one seems fairly benign. Ultimately, though, I think the best answer is simply, “I don’t know.” Because I don’t – nobody does.

The cosmological argument, though it used to “give me pause”, no longer does. It seems intuitive, and though Craig does an excellent job in obfuscating the problems with it, it has a serious equivocation in the term “begins to exist” that makes it worthless. The other difficulty is the explanation of how time itself can “begin” to exist.

As for design arguments, I’d have to split that up a little more finely. The design of the human brain (along with consciousness), for example – although I think that there is a natural explanation for it, I can at least understand the inability to understand how it could have evolved. The banana as the “atheist’s worst nightmare”, however….well, let’s just say that that’s my candidate for “dumbest idea of the century.”

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Aeiluindae December 15, 2009 at 9:13 am

@Jeff H
Funny. Those arguments that give you pause are the ones that reaffirmed my choice to accept the existence of a god after I discovered logic and stopped being an idiot creationist.

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Lee A. P. December 15, 2009 at 10:15 am

Uh, did ayer just quote creationist Hugh Ross?

really?

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ayer December 15, 2009 at 10:15 am

Rich: “Built in to”..”exquisitely set to”

I am just using the same figures of speech used by cosmologists (who came up with the term “fine-tuning” after all, not the theologians) in their work.

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Jake de Backer December 15, 2009 at 10:37 am

Lee A.P.,

Can’t you read? It was “astronomer” Hugh Ross.

J.

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Thomas Reid December 15, 2009 at 10:45 am

Alex: ayer: have you read Elliott Sober’s criticism of that scenario?

http://philosophy.wisc.edu/sober/black-da.pdf

I think Sober misuses the observation selection effect (OSE) as a reubttal to the argument. He claims (p17):
“Pr(constants are right * Design & A3) = Pr(constants are right * Chance & A3) = 1.0″

This proposition “reflects the fact that our observation that the constants are right is subject to an OSE. Recognizing this OSE is in accordance with a weak anthropic principle — ‘what we can expect to observe must be restricted by the conditions necessary for our presence as observers’ (Carter 1974).”

Now the “fine-tunist” can agree that since we are around we should expect to see the right constants. But this avoids the issue at hand. He is simply confirming that if we exist, then the constants must be right for our existence. This is not an explanation for why the constants are right given that it is overwhelmingly more likely that they wouldn’t be right for us if everything was left to chance.

In the prisoner scenario, Sober uses the concept of the blindspot to maintain that the prisoner is required to claim that intending to miss and firing at random are equally probable (p20). This is because if he were killed he wouldn’t be around to assess the situation. But I fail to see:
(1) How the prisoner’s existence entails (if I understand Sober correctly) that he adopt this position.
(2) How it is an explanation for the prisoner’s survival.

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Charles December 15, 2009 at 10:51 am

You’re both right. Hugh Ross is both an astronomer and a creationist. Specifically, he is an old earth creationist.

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ayer December 15, 2009 at 10:59 am

Charles: You’re both right. Hugh Ross is both an astronomer and a creationist. Specifically, he is an old earth creationist.  

Hmm..I guess no one has a refutation about the point on the mass of the universe required to permit life.

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Reginald Selkirk December 15, 2009 at 11:09 am

ayer: A much more logical approach would be to seek out an explanation for why such an unlikely event occurred.

That would be a much more common approach, but it is not clear to me that it is more logical. If you go that route, then you have to accept the argument of every lottery winner and disaster survivor that they were specially chosen for some purpose.

Wiccan lottery winner plans to open witch school

Bartlett, who formerly operated a bookkeeping service, says the winning ticket came to him after he promised “the powers that be” that he would use his winnings to quit his job and teach full-time.

A: I won’t accept an argument from big numbers.

T: Oh but these are really, really big numbers!

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Al Moritz December 15, 2009 at 11:25 am

Haukur: The mind-meltingly stupid
* Argument from the graveyard of the gods. “When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.” It’s not even that this makes no sense against paganism – it doesn’t even make sense against Christianity.

Exactly.

Luke,

That is why you should get rid of that phrase in your blog heading. I like your blog quite a bit, I appreciate that it is much fairer than the usual (often irrational) atheist rant, and I think you have good points under your link “Why This Blog Is Different”. I like a lot in your attitude, while I disagree with you on most issues, obviously. Just trying to help you make your blog even more intelligent — also by helping you get rid of the mind-meltingly stupid (nice and rarely heard phrase, Haukur).

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Robert Gressis December 15, 2009 at 11:30 am

Reginald Selkirk wrote,

That would be a much more common approach, but it is not clear to me that it is more logical. If you go that route, then you have to accept the argument of every lottery winner and disaster survivor that they were specially chosen for some purpose.

A: I won’t accept an argument from big numbers.
T: Oh but these are really, really big numbers!”

Well, imagine that someone won the lottery, not only once, but 1,000 times in a row. Would you think, “geez, that was lucky!”? Surely at some point…say, the third time…you’d think, “this is rigged!”

I know what you can say in response: “I would think that is rigged, but the difference is, we’re dealing with human beings, and we know that human beings rig things, so what we’re really doing is comparing two unlikely scenarios; i.e., we’re asking, ‘which is more likely–the rigging, or the person winning by accident?’ and the answer is, clearly, the rigging. Thus, your analogy is inapplicable.”

I think this is a good response, but I think the advocate of fine-tuning (note: I’m not impressed by the argument from fine-tuning) can respond: “well, we’re doing the same thing: we’re asking, ‘which is more likely–that there is a non-random explanation for why the universe permits life, or that a universe just spontaneously appeared that would permit life?’ And we conclude that the former scenario is more likely. And that leaves us with two possible scenarios: there is a designer who rigged things so that the universe can permit life, or there is a multi-verse so vast that it’s not unlikely that a life-permitting universe is one of its universes. We think each of those scenarios is worth taking seriously, but not the random one.”

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Robert Gressis December 15, 2009 at 11:34 am

Actually, I like Luke’s quote. What’s the problem with it supposed to be?

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Jeff H December 15, 2009 at 11:44 am

Aeiluindae: @Jeff H
Funny. Those arguments that give you pause are the ones that reaffirmed my choice to accept the existence of a god after I discovered logic and stopped being an idiot creationist.  

Well apparently you got rid of the “creationist” part but never stopped being an idiot. Kidding! :D

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Reginald Selkirk December 15, 2009 at 11:47 am

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Reginald Selkirk December 15, 2009 at 11:50 am

Robert Gressis: I think this is a good response, but I think the advocate of fine-tuning (note: I’m not impressed by the argument from fine-tuning) can respond: “well, we’re doing the same thing: we’re asking, ‘which is more likely–that there is a non-random explanation for why the universe permits life, or that a universe just spontaneously appeared that would permit life?’ And we conclude that the former scenario is more likely.

Do we? But we accept the concept of randomness. We have huge industries dedicated to it (casinos). Therefore, a random explanation does not entail any new, otherwise unevidenced entities, whereas a creator god or gods does.

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Aeiluindae December 15, 2009 at 11:58 am

Jeff H:
Well apparently you got rid of the “creationist” part but never stopped being an idiot. Kidding!   

Finally, someone on the plethora of atheist blogs with a sense of humor.

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Alex December 15, 2009 at 12:06 pm

TR: Sober states quite explicitly that the issue isn’t whether the prisoner’s survival requires explanation, or whether he is required to believe that Chance and Design are equally probable. The issue is whether his survival gives him information that allows him to assign a higher likelihood to the Design hypothesis. The OSE doesn’t allow him to do that. The intuitive appeal of the contrary comes only from the adoption of the bystander’s perspective, which is akin to simply ignoring the OSE, and thus illegitimate.

But I still think that the probability version of the argument ((Pu) – p.21) is more defensible than Sober thinks, at least.

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Thomas Reid December 15, 2009 at 12:07 pm

Reginald Selkirk: That would be a much more common approach, but it is not clear to me that it is more logical. If you go that route, then you have to accept the argument of every lottery winner and disaster survivor that they were specially chosen for some purpose.

Selkirk, you should stick to unicorns my friend. Neither scenario is analogous. It is not remarkable that someone won the lottery. It’s not even remarkable if they predict it beforehand, for anybody could do that. Take your example with Bartlett, the lottery, and his school. What would be interesting is the following:

(1) If Bartlett wins, a school will be built
(2) If anybody else wins, no school will be built
(3) A school is built

Should we be surprised a school was built? Maybe not. But do consider what were the chances of it happening randomly.

Next consider what would happen if instead of a school, an individual room of a school is built, again only if Bartlett wins. Bartlett would have to win the lottery several times for any school to be built. Add also the condition that if anyone else wins the lottery, any partially-built school will be destroyed. Suppose we stumble upon a completed school, with even just a few rooms. Should we be surprised to find a completed school? Yes, for it is far more probable that no school would exist.

Of course if my rudimentary understanding of currect cosmology is correct, these scientists talk in probabilities that are much, much smaller than odds of winning the lottery.
The improbability lies not in the fact that any universe exists, but one that exihibits the conditions necessary for life. The force of the design argument grows as the probability shrinks.

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Aeiluindae December 15, 2009 at 12:10 pm

Reginald Selkirk:
Do we? But we accept the concept of randomness. We have huge industries dedicated to it (casinos). Therefore, a random explanation does not entail any new, otherwise unevidenced entities, whereas a creator god or gods does.  

The issue with randomness in the situation of the universe is the fact that, unless there are an infinite number of universes, there was only one throw of the dice on all the little universal constants, so to speak. When something only happens once and the result is one of the most improbable results, you wonder why. Its like throwing one billion dice and having them all show sixes on the only time you throw them. Actually a life-supporting universe is probably way more improbable than that, I don’t know the numbers. While something like that could happen by chance, it seems far more likely that the dice were weighted. And in the case of the universe…

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Chris December 15, 2009 at 1:30 pm
Al Moritz December 15, 2009 at 1:31 pm

Robert Gressis: Actually, I like Luke’s quote. What’s the problem with it supposed to be?

Do I really need to explain this? What does God as the basis of all existence have to do with clowns like the Flying Spaghetti Monster, Zeus or Apollo? It is the same with Russell’s asinine teapot and God. Can the stupid teapot orbiting around Mars or whatever planet be the ground of all existence? It is insulting to the intelligence of theists.

Granted, atheists often like this kind of argument, but practically all theists will agree on the stupidity of this kind of argumentation. So if atheists want to use it, they are really just talking to themselves, while making themselves ludicrous in the eyes of theists. If you want to convince theists of their alleged “delusion”, using stupid arguments is really doing nothing, it is just an intellectual turn-off.

Certainly, the atheist can say, we just use it as an analogy for unprovable claims, but really, the analogy is asinine for the reason mentioned.

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Aeiluindae December 15, 2009 at 1:46 pm

@Al Moritz
They do provide entertainment for the theists, though. Even more entertainment is provided by atheist websites that use snarky quotes about religion taken from theists (I saw one quote Blaise Pascal recently). It funny, there’s currently a whole section of Christians who are as fed up with most religion as some atheists.

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Reginald Selkirk December 15, 2009 at 1:50 pm

Thomas Reid: Of course if my rudimentary understanding of currect cosmology is correct, these scientists talk in probabilities that are much, much smaller than odds of winning the lottery.

Oh I see, so you’re talking about really, really big numbers. To the various people making that argument: you can stop now. I don’t even care if they are really, really really big numbers. The counter-argument still works.

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Reginald Selkirk December 15, 2009 at 1:55 pm

Al Moritz: Do I really need to explain this? What does God as the basis of all existence have to do with clowns like the Flying Spaghetti Monster, Zeus or Apollo? It is the same with Russell’s asinine teapot and God. Can the stupid teapot orbiting around Mars or whatever planet be the ground of all existence? It is insulting to the intelligence of theists.

I don’t see how that is an insult to their intelligence. Perhaps it is an insult to their ego.

Al Moritz: but practically all theists will agree on the stupidity of this kind of argumentation.

Without ever successfully explaining how it is stupid, clownish and asinine, except that their personal choice of deity is special, and not at all like those other deities.

Just for you, Mr. Moritz: Special Pleading

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Ari December 15, 2009 at 2:07 pm

ayer:
Actually the size and mass of the universe are part of the necessary fine-tuning for life…
…P.S. on a side note, doesn’t the line that the universe is overwhelmingly hostile to life mean atheists have given up on Sagan’s idea that the universe is teeming with life (which justified SETI funding)?  

The fine-tuning argument is interesting, but I don’t understand why a supposedly all-powerful, or even very powerful, God would create our specific universe with anything even resembling our fundamental constants, let along slight variations of them. Why make suns, planets, black holes? Why atoms? In our universe these things are necessary for life, but in all conceivable universes? In our universe life barely clings to almost infinitesimal scraps of rock floating in an unimaginably vast void.

Is this really the best an omnipotent god can do?

Responding to your PS, Luke means that most of spacetime is empty space, which is of course inhospitable to life. Sagan means that many planets have life on them. These are very different things.

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Chris December 15, 2009 at 2:08 pm

Apparently I goofed the hyperlink before, so

The Argument from Sumerians
http://www.theonion.com/content/news/sumerians_look_on_in_confusion_as

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Al Moritz December 15, 2009 at 2:10 pm

Reginald,

well, obviously you haven’t understood at all what I was saying. You might want to study philosophy some more. This might also give you a clue why none of the greats in the history of philosophy were believers in Zeus, Apollo, the teapot etc., but many were theists.

(Hint: the greatness of philosophers is not measured according to agreement with them.)

I will not discuss this Zeus-teapot issue any further, it is just too silly.

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Derek December 15, 2009 at 2:22 pm

Al Moritz

I don’t mean any disrespect, but I still dont understand why the quote is so stupid and I dont see an explanation in your response. You say that all theists agree on the stupidity of the argument and atheists tend to like it but that does nothing to speak to the veracity of the argument.

Surely you agree on the existence of Jews, Muslims, Hindus, pagans etc. and yet you do not accept their claims. So you have either rejected their claims by assessing them objectively or you have rejected their claim because you were born Christian and adopted the religion of your parents.

If you simply accepted the beliefs of your parents, without assessing other religious claims, then it appears plausible that you could not understand why the quote does make sense. You would not have rationally rejected other faith claims; you have merely dismissed them.

However if you rationally assessed each claim and settled on Christianity, then you must have had doubts about claims of other religions, and found there to be insufficent evidence to support such extreme claims. In addition you must have found some evidence, or at least a convincing logical argument for Christianity, specifically.

Therefore, as atheists, it seems reasonable for us to ask what this evidence is. Either you must claim that all other religious claims are inherently less reasonable than yours (their’s need evidence but your your arguments don’t) or you have found evidence, (in which case, please share.) If you don’t make and support either claim, then the quote is still valid because we still feel that your faith is based on nothing more than mythology and desire.
And you have at some point not applied the rigorous “outsider test” to your own beliefs.

I understand how you could not like the quote, but not why it is so stupid.

Now I am not trying to be overly argumentative, but I just don’t understand why it is so quickly dismissed, because it was that very idea that caused me to start looking for more evidence for the Christian God, and that search ultimately ended with my rejection of all dieties.

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Lee A. P. December 15, 2009 at 2:34 pm

Al Moritz:
Do I really need to explain this? What does God as the basis of all existence have to do with clowns like the Flying Spaghetti Monster, Zeus or Apollo?It is the same with Russell’s asinine teapot and God. Can the stupid teapot orbiting around Mars or whatever planet be the ground of all existence? It is insulting to the intelligence of theists.
Granted, atheists often like this kind of argument, but practically all theists will agree on the stupidity of this kind of argumentation. So if atheists want to use it, they are really just talking to themselves, while making themselves ludicrous in the eyes of theists. If you want to convince theists of their alleged “delusion”, using stupid arguments is really doing nothing, it is just an intellectual turn-off.
Certainly, the atheist can say, we just use it as an analogy for unprovable claims, but really, the analogy is asinine for the reason mentioned.  

Your “God” your “ground of all being” with his contradictory attributes, his anthropomorphic properties, his invisible, ineffableness is fucking asinine to the extreme. He is every bit as much a clown as a celestial teapot or invisible, microscopic all powerful gnome’s that live in my ass. That’s the point man.

That’s the entire fucking point. We are tired of the crazy “mysterious” excuses you make for your God that disqualifies him from being examined in any meaningful way. Millions used to believe in Zeus too bro.

Your God concept is a bad joke. Philosophers didn’t believe in Zeus? You ever heard of the Stoics asshole?

Tell your fucking all powerful, invisible cock sucking God, who is set to torture billions forever for their non-belief in a book that contains stories of talking fucking animals, to show himself. If he refuses, he goes into the same pot as the tea pot, the ass gnomes, faries, elves and Zeus.

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Paul December 15, 2009 at 2:34 pm

Ari: The fine-tuning argument is interesting, but I don’t understand why a supposedly all-powerful, or even very powerful, God would create our specific universe with anything even resembling our fundamental constants, let along slight variations of them. Why make suns, planets, black holes? Why atoms? In our universe these things are necessary for life, but in all conceivable universes? In our universe life barely clings to almost infinitesimal scraps of rock floating in an unimaginably vast void.

Is this really the best an omnipotent god can do?

The following is a bit tongue-in-cheek and a bit serious (though not fully developed)

I assume God can create life (or life can exist) in a non-material world (whatever that actually means). At least I think heaven is a non-material world (bad choice of words? hopefully you get the point).

So life can exist in at least one other universe/world – the non-material. I don’t know what the corresponding constants are for that “world” (zero?) but certainly it doesn’t match the material world we know.

Anyways, I infer from this that what kinds of universes can (or cannot) sustain life would be entirely up to God’s discretion.

So if, say the constants were half of what they are – and our science tells us that life as we know it couldn’t exist in that universe. Seems to me this makes sense if you are a naturalist. It doesn’t make sense to me if you are, say, a Christian theist. Nature doesn’t constrain God. God defines nature. God could simply will (or whatever it is God does) and make that universe amenable to life.

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Alex December 15, 2009 at 2:40 pm

Moritz: when the issue of that quip came up previously, most theists explained the reasons why they reject the existence of other gods (if they do), and why they are not applicable to Yahweh. That doesn’t seem to be what you are saying, which is that Yahweh is the ground of all being, or something. Assuring everyone else how obviously stupid an atheist must be to use such an argument doesn’t help you avoid the responsibility of explaing how you’re not engaging in special pleading.

So, why *is* Christianity more likely to be true than any other sufficiently developed magical explanation of the universe?

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Lee A. P. December 15, 2009 at 2:50 pm

Al, I apologize sincerely for calling you an asshole. You didn’t deserve that. You are probably not an asshole. I stand by the insults I hurled at your invisible, illogical, mass murdering, mass tormenting, fake God though.

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Thomas Reid December 15, 2009 at 3:20 pm

Reginald Selkirk: Oh I see, so you’re talking about really, really big numbers. To the various people making that argument: you can stop now. I don’t even care if they are really, really really big numbers. The counter-argument still works.

Right, thanks. It’s clear your metaphysics prevents you from accepting a supernatural explanation for the practical incomprehensibility of some of these numbers, and demands the explanation to be randomness. I guess the question would be, how certain of your metaphysics are you?

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Jake de Backer December 15, 2009 at 3:45 pm

Lee A. P.: Al, I apologize sincerely for calling you an asshole. You didn’t deserve that. You are probably not an asshole. I stand by the insults I hurled at your invisible, illogical, mass murdering, mass tormenting, fake God though.  

Awesome.

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Beelzebub December 15, 2009 at 4:02 pm

Al Moritz: It is a misunderstanding that the fine-tuning argument says that ours is the *only* possibly hospitable universe. All it says is that a life-supporting universe is extremely unlikely to arise by chance, from random physical constants.  

That may be a better definition of the argument, but it’s still complete speculation unless you can 1) convincingly list the full range of possible universes, including how they would each survive initial expansion, 2) given the potentially bizarre configurations of matter in each, show that life would only be possible in a vanishing small percent of them.

It’s also important to focus on the last part of 1) A universe has to survive initial expansion, which in itself will create selective conditions for physical constants. It’s quite possible that the big bang initiated and failed many times before getting conditions right.

Finally, you have to read statements issued by physicists very critically. Many of Hawkings “fine tune” quips may be of the selective condition type I mentioned in the preceding. Tegmark has ties to the Templeton Foundation and is hence is not to be trusted.

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Robert Gressis December 15, 2009 at 4:05 pm

Al Moritz:
Do I really need to explain this? What does God as the basis of all existence have to do with clowns like the Flying Spaghetti Monster, Zeus or Apollo?It is the same with Russell’s asinine teapot and God. Can the stupid teapot orbiting around Mars or whatever planet be the ground of all existence? It is insulting to the intelligence of theists.
  

Ah, I see. I took it to be something like, “when you see why you reject Hinduism [or Buddhism, or Judaism, or Islam, or Christianity], you’ll see why I reject Christianity [or Hinduism, etc.].

I didn’t think of the orbiting teapot or the FSM because they’re not real religious views that anyone has ever held. Moreover, they’re not really the same kind of thing as the religious views people hold, so I didn’t rate them as “possible”–i.e., psychologically possible for a normal person–gods.

Regardless, I always imagined in my head the masthead quote going like this: “When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours. And the reason, of course, is that I don’t believe in anything supernatural. Not that I can define what supernatural is, but I know it when I see it. It’s, like, angels and deities and shit. And souls. Probably libertarian free will. Maybe abstract objects. Probably qualia. Probably not thoughts, though I want to keep my options open. Anyway, that’s what I don’t believe in.”

Obviously, that would be less elegant as a quote for a masthead.

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Alex December 15, 2009 at 4:23 pm

Huh? Christians reject other gods because they don’t believe in anything supernatural?

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Charles December 15, 2009 at 4:51 pm

Alex,

Atheists reject YHWH for the same reason they reject Zeus, Xenu, and Allah.

All are equally improbable.

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Haukur December 15, 2009 at 5:01 pm

Robert Gressis: Actually, I like Luke’s quote. What’s the problem with it supposed to be?

I’ve gone on at some length on my opinions on that in previous threads. But here’s a point I haven’t made before: The quote comes across as supremely arrogant. It’s basically saying: “Hey, believer, you’re so stupid and unreflective that you don’t even understand why you reject the gods you reject. If you were smart like me you’d be an atheist.”

Why would Luke, the sympathetic atheist, lead with that kind of attack? How about something that will make believers think without immediately putting them on the defensive? How about something that will actually give people pause? Luke’s a smart guy, I’m sure he could dig up something way more thought-provoking and useful than this. Something that would do a better job of setting an appropriate tone for this blog (a blog which I find frequently thought-provoking and usually not just composed of knee-jerk attacks).

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Al Moritz December 15, 2009 at 6:49 pm

Lee A. P.:
Al, I apologize sincerely for calling you an asshole. You didn’t deserve that. You are probably not an asshole.

No problem, Lee A.P., and apology accepted. I didn’t even pay attention to the “asshole” thing amongst all your “cock sucking” (your term) rant. I don’t have such a lack of self-confidence that someone calling me an asshole could shake me (if my wife would call me an asshole I might have a problem). And perhaps I am an asshole anyway :-)

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Al Moritz December 15, 2009 at 7:00 pm

O.k., I now see where the problem with atheists not understanding my dismissal of the “gods” argument may come from. Since arguments for the existence of God are philosophical arguments, they can only address the existence of the God of the philosophers, whose attributes are contained in those of the God of the three great monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) but not vice versa. I was therefore naturally arguing from strictly the God of the philosophers — an eternally existing spirit, i.e. immaterial being, that is infinite and all powerful, the ultimate cause of and basis for all existence.

Yet some atheists make the categorical mistake to assume that Christians try to argue for the existence of the Christian God by employing philosophical arguments, which is not possible (if some Christians indeed try to do that, then they commit the same categorical fallacy, and that would be special pleading indeed). Then of course questions arise like why the Christian God, and not Yahweh or Allah. In fact, if there would be no philosophy as basis for theology, these could indeed, at worst, be viewed as different “gods”. However, from the philosophical attributes of God it is clear that there can only be one God (as given by His infinity; why that is so, you can read in philosophy books). As Pope John Paul II once told a cheering crowd of Muslims, “we all believe in the same God”. Of course, religions are different, but the basis of this are only differences in interpretation of divine revelation — when and to whom it took place. Only divine revelation can inform about, for example, a Christian God and a triune God — yet these theological attributes can *not* be deduced from philosophy alone. The choice for a particular religion rests on historical and theological arguments, not on philosophical ones.

In philosophy, God has always been The Absolute, the basis for all existence, from Plato and Aristotle over Aquinas, Descartes, Kant, Hegel etc. etc. to modern times. Certainly, in some philosophies God is more immanent (e.g. in Spinoza’s pantheism), in others more transcendent (e.g. Aquinas and any philosophy motivated by one of the great monotheistic religions). Yet since God is always The Absolute, the basis for all existence, it may now perhaps be understandable why philosophically educated, intellectual theists find comparisons of God with Zeus, Apollo (with all the co-gods that these impotent clowns apparently need) and the friggin’ teapot so unbearably silly.

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Al Moritz December 15, 2009 at 7:07 pm

Haukur: I’ve gone on at some length on my opinions on that in previous threads. But here’s a point I haven’t made before: The quote comes across as supremely arrogant. It’s basically saying: “Hey, believer, you’re so stupid and unreflective that you don’t even understand why you reject the gods you reject. If you were smart like me you’d be an atheist.” Why would Luke, the sympathetic atheist, lead with that kind of attack? How about something that will make believers think without immediately putting them on the defensive? How about something that will actually give people pause? Luke’s a smart guy, I’m sure he could dig up something way more thought-provoking and useful than this. Something that would do a better job of setting an appropriate tone for this blog (a blog which I find frequently thought-provoking and usually not just composed of knee-jerk attacks). 

Amen. Indeed, Luke’s masthead quote is completely unworthy of his blog, and he should quickly find something different.

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Robert Gressis December 15, 2009 at 7:11 pm

Alex,

Duh. My bad. Obviously that’s not why Christians reject other religions.

Maybe the quote should have been “When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yous. Namely, because you and I find different basic premises plausible.”

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Alex December 15, 2009 at 7:12 pm

So, what you’re saying is, the argument doesn’t apply to someone who accepts the existence of the philosophers’ God but has no further theological commitments? I don’t think that’s the target audience.

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TK December 15, 2009 at 7:14 pm

Thomas Reid: This is not an explanation for why the constants are right given that it is overwhelmingly more likely that they wouldn’t be right for us if everything was left to chance.

The following is not an academic question. What actual evidence do we have that the constants are “overwhelmingly more likely” to be life-inhospitable if everything was left to chance?

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Al Moritz December 15, 2009 at 7:20 pm

Alex:
So, what you’re saying is, the argument doesn’t apply to someone who accepts the existence of the philosophers’ God but has no further theological commitments? I don’t think that’s the target audience.  

Or perhaps you have not quite understood what I was saying?

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Al Moritz December 15, 2009 at 7:29 pm

Al Moritz: Or perhaps you have not quite understood what I was saying?  

(Hint: I believe in the Christian God.)

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Thomas Reid December 15, 2009 at 7:53 pm

TK: The following is not an academic question. What actual evidence do we have that the constants are “overwhelmingly more likely” to be life-inhospitable if everything was left to chance?

My position, which I think is sound irrespective of how you’d like to define “actual evidence”, is that we infer the microscopic probability of a life-hospitable universe by determining the results of cosmological models provided random inputs of the constants and initial conditions. Possible ways to defeat this inference would be to attack either the models or demonstrate that particular inputs are required out of necessity.
Were you restating the weak anthropic principle by asking a rhetorical question? Or, does the lack of observed multitudes of inhospitable universes prevent us from making the inference I described?

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drj December 15, 2009 at 8:37 pm

Thomas Reid: My position, which I think is sound irrespective of how you’d like to define “actual evidence”, is that we infer the microscopic probability of a life-hospitable universe by determining the results of cosmological models provided random inputs of the constants and initial conditions. Possible ways to defeat this inference would be to attack either the models or demonstrate that particular inputs are required out of necessity.

Some scientists have attempted to quantify what kind of variation is acceptable, in the values of the universal constants, where star formation is still possible. Stars are assumed to be at least a sign that a universe is potentially life supporting.

In the paper linked below, they seem to have found that over roughly 25% of the “parameter spaces”, the resulting universes were capable of some kind of star formation. http://arxiv.org/abs/0807.3697

I don’t have time to track them down now, I’ve run across other experiments from time to time, with similar results.

Obviously, these sorts of studies have the potential to completely sterilize any design argument based on the fine-tuning of the cosmological constants (and may have done so already, for the time being).

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lukeprog December 15, 2009 at 9:21 pm

Al,

I’ve written elsewhere explaining what I mean by that quote. It is nothing so stupid as:

1. Lots of gods are obviously false.
2. Therefore your god is false.

That would be a really dumb argument, and I’ve never defended it.

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lukeprog December 15, 2009 at 9:23 pm

Robert,

I’m preparing some posts about analogies and the fine-tuning argument, since I get so many questions about it. But why are you not impressed with it?

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Briang December 15, 2009 at 10:24 pm

I’d like to know what are the arguments for the other gods. This is an objection often raised by atheists, that all religions somehow cancel each other out. I’ve tried to take it upon myself to check out the other religions to see how good there arguments are. Here’s a summary of my findings:

1) Christianity: primary argument is the resurrection of Jesus.

2) Islam: primary argument is that the Quran is so perfect that no one can write any equaling it.

3) Hinduism: I haven’t found any arguments in favor of Hinduism. (they don’t seem to have apologetics.)

4) Buddhism: I found one internet article arguing for Buddhism. It’s arguments were basically what we hear from atheists. There are so many contradictory gods out there, none of them are true. It argued for reincarnation by an analogy of the cycle of life and death seen in nature.

Now it’s very possible that these are not the best representations of the arguments for the various religions. Perhaps there exists some very good Hindu apologetics that will convert me. I’m sincerely interested in the best possible defenses of the various world religions. However, I’ve yet to fine anything that comes close to the intellectual rigor of Christianity.

You can go online and find pseudo-medical “cures” for all kinds of things. Just because someone is practicing pseudo medicine does not invalidate real doctors. Why should I trust a real medical doctor when there are so many snake oil salesmen out there?
Example: http://www.crocodileblood.co.uk/

Now unless I hear a good reason why I should think that the guy selling crocodile blood is on par with real medical research, I think I’m in my rights to stick with the mainstream medical industry.
I say the same with other religions. I certainly can’t disprove every one of them any more then I can debunk the crocodile blood. I just have not found any good reason to think they’re true. I don’t see the kind of academic rigor I see in Christianity, so I don’t have any reason to expect to fine good reasons in the future. On the other hand, I do have good reasons for why I think Christianity is true.

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eric December 15, 2009 at 11:17 pm

while the fine tuning argument is one that does give me intuitive pause, and the argument against from the generally inhospitable nature of the cosmos does not succeed in diffusing it to my mind, i still dismiss it eventually, in part because it seems misstated.

can we say that the universe is fine tuned for life, when we still (to my knowledge) have no testable theories for how life is created?
it is acceptable to say that the universe seems fine tuned for us, but our understanding of what constitutes life and how is perhaps too underdeveloped to claim that our kind of life is the only kind and without us there is no life (“us” being “carbon-based” lifeforms, i suppose).
i hope it’s not deemed ridiculous to go all “E.T” when the subject itself is as grandiose as “what the universe is made for.”

and even though i still find the fine tuning argument emotionally compelling – a whole universe designed for me! – it becomes hard to hold on to once i zoom out my perspective and realise that my own type of self-conscious, god-creating life is almost certainly a tiny blip on a seemingly infinite calendar of incomprehensible randomness. i suppose the blip always appears significant when examined by the blip itself, still… even though life may continue to exist post humans it’s difficult for me to imagine that cockroaches are god’s truly chosen people.

totally rambling now (actually rambling this whole time…sorry), but i think the fine-tuning argument speaks to that most essential curiosity in us all to know WHY we are here. i kind of don’t understand why this drive itself isn’t listed as argument for theism.
as an atheist i say to myself that there is no reason, or that the question is absurd, and that this occurred only because it did. it so happens that thinking and questioning creatures evolved and survived on this earth alongside other (seemingly) non-questioning ones and now we will see how all this questioning turns out. but of course this is less satisfactory than my questioning human existence being the purpose of everything’s existence, and the fact that creatures who think this way at all exist itself begs the question of whether or not these creatures are right or not to think this way… and again WHY?
the wall between atheists and theists may simply be our responses to “why?”
perhaps to the theist it seems there must be an answer. to the atheist perhaps the question is its own answer.

besides all that, i think it’s apparent from these extensive comments that both theist and atheist readers of this blog at least still view fine tuning as a highly debate-worthy subject, higher on our own lists than “Waaaaaaay Terrible”, and i appreciate all the great input on the subject thus far from both sides.

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Robert Gressis December 15, 2009 at 11:53 pm

Hi Luke,

The main reason I’m not impressed with it is that I don’t trust the physicists’ probabilities. I don’t think we can be very confident at all about the probabilities of life emerging in another universe, especially because naturalism is obviously false. :)

Even supposing that the physicists’ probability calculations are right, there are lots of things in our universe that couldn’t emerge in almost any universe, such as rocks. So, not only is our universe shockingly life-permitting, it’s also shockingly rock-permitting. Admittedly, life, especially intelligent life, is the most complex thing in the universe (of which we’re aware). but I’m not sure that’s enough to properly describe the universe as life-, rather than as rock-permitting.

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Haukur December 16, 2009 at 2:24 am

Briang: I haven’t found any arguments in favor of Hinduism. (they don’t seem to have apologetics.)

Well, they do, but you may not be the target audience for them. For some material in English you could check Voice of India. I found How I Became a Hindu by Sita Ram Goel to be a particularly good read. Hindu apologetics typically seem to be defences of Hinduism against attacks by Islam, Marxism and Christianity. Similarly, Taoist apologetics seem to mostly have to do with refuting Buddhist and Confucian attacks on Taoism. In both cases the texts may have some underlying assumptions which you don’t share (like typical Christian or atheist apologetics will have underlying assumptions that a Taoist will not share).

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TK December 16, 2009 at 3:10 am

Thomas Reid: My position, which I think is sound irrespective of how you’d like to define “actual evidence”, is that we infer the microscopic probability of a life-hospitable universe by determining the results of cosmological models provided random inputs of the constants and initial conditions.

This is closer to the question I’m getting at. “Random” with respect to what probability density function? Uniform? Log-uniform? Normal? Log-normal? Gamma? Why one of these distributions and not another, and what evidence is there that universes generated uncaused, ex nihilo, follow that distribution?

The scenario you describe is the correct way to go about it and could furnish strong evidence of fine-tuning at work, but only once this question is answered. But it hasn’t been answered. Not even close. From a single data point (one universe), it’s beyond premature to make inferences about the probability of any arbitrary universe coming into existence.

An analogous scenario: You observe one member of species X. It’s somewhere around 6 feet tall. From this, you attempt to generalize the probability that a member of that species will be between 5’11″ and 6’1″.
The probability could be really small (say, if you’re using a random probability distribution over [0', 10000'] – about 1.6*10^-5) or really large (say, if you’re using a normal distribution with a mean of 6′ and a standard deviation of 1″ – about .68 in that case). Or it could be some other number. Who knows? From just one member of the species, you’ve got no reason to prefer one over the other.

The really baffling thing to me is that apologists aren’t the only ones guilty of fallaciously and prematurely choosing a distribution for no reason at all. Physicists themselves tend to do it. (Oh, but don’t even get me started on how bad some physicists are at probability.)

The paper drj posted above is a great one–I’d just like to add to it that 25% of the relevant parameter space being conducive to star formation doesn’t necessarily mean that 25% of all random universes determined by those parameters will be star-friendly. Again, you’ve got to specify the distribution.

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TK December 16, 2009 at 3:24 am

In the above comment, the line:
“say, if you’re using a random probability distribution over [0', 10000']”
should say
“say, if you’re using a uniform probability distribution over [0', 10000']”

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Al Moritz December 16, 2009 at 3:52 am

lukeprog:
Al,
I’ve written elsewhere explaining what I mean by that quote. It is nothing so stupid as:
1. Lots of gods are obviously false.
2. Therefore your god is false.
That would be a really dumb argument, and I’ve never defended it.  

Luke, but on the face of it, that appears to be exactly the argument. If that is not what is meant, fine, but it makes no sense using a masthead quote that has a hidden meaning below the obvious one that needs to be explained. If you want to keep that masthead quote, you need to put your whole explanation below it — which, of course, invalidates its effect as concise attention-getter.

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Al Moritz December 16, 2009 at 4:01 am

drj: Some scientists have attempted to quantify what kind of variation is acceptable, in the values of the universal constants, where star formation is still possible.Stars are assumed to be at least a sign that a universe is potentially life supporting.
In the paper linked below, they seem to have found that over roughly 25% of the “parameter spaces”, the resulting universes were capable of some kind of star formation.http://arxiv.org/abs/0807.3697
I don’t have time to track them down now, I’ve run across other experiments from time to time, with similar results.
Obviously, these sorts of studies have the potential to completely sterilize any design argument based on the fine-tuning of the cosmological constants (and may have done so already, for the time being).

I have, among other things, addressed this paper and Stenger’s claims in the article that pops up when you click on my name in my posts.

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TK December 16, 2009 at 4:28 am

Al, thanks very much for the link to your article. It provides plenty of food for thought.

Before I head off to bed for the night (day?), I couldn’t help but notice this bold claim at the end of the article:

Nothing can spontaneously come out of nothing.

I know you’re a scientist–can you furnish any evidence of this claim? Specifically, has anyone ever performed an experiment involving observing “nothing” for an extended period of time and verifying that nothing spontaneously comes out of it? Do you have a big box full of nothing hiding in your lab somewhere?

I don’t think anyone’s ever observed “nothing”, period. The only stuff we’ve ever observed is “something”.

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Al Moritz December 16, 2009 at 5:21 am

TK,

you’re welcome. I have addressed the issue you mention quite extensively in my article, also the difference between the philosophical nothing and physical “nothing”. It should become clear once you read the article. Have a good night on your end of the globe.

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lukeprog December 16, 2009 at 6:08 am

Al,

I don’t know what to say. My masthead comment doesn’t say anything like the two-step argument I denied.

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Al Moritz December 16, 2009 at 6:16 am

Luke,

well, if you have to defend it that way then it’s of no use. If you want to reach an intelligent theistic audience, you have to remove it and find something else.

Your blog is much better than this.

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Briang December 16, 2009 at 6:55 am

Haukur:
Well, they do, but you may not be the target audience for them. For some material in English you could check Voice of India. I found How I Became a Hindu by Sita Ram Goel to be a particularly good read. Hindu apologetics typically seem to be defences of Hinduism against attacks by Islam, Marxism and Christianity. Similarly, Taoist apologetics seem to mostly have to do with refuting Buddhist and Confucian attacks on Taoism. In both cases the texts may have some underlying assumptions which you don’t share (like typical Christian or atheist apologetics will have underlying assumptions that a Taoist will not share).  

Thanks for the info.

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Rich December 16, 2009 at 7:06 am

ayer: I am just using the same figures of speech used by cosmologists (who came up with the term “fine-tuning” after all, not the theologians) in their work.  (Quote)

Does that make them right?

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Rich December 16, 2009 at 7:36 am

Al Moritz: Luke,well, if you have to defend it that way then it’s of no use. If you want to reach an intelligent theistic audience, you have to remove it and find something else.Your blog is much better than this.  (Quote)

Its a great quote, let me help you with it, please?

Why do you reject other gods?

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Al Moritz December 16, 2009 at 7:56 am

Rich:
Its a great quote, let me help you with it, please?Why do you reject other gods?  

I think I have explained that above. And no, the quote is still not great. If *only* atheists find it great, what’s the point? It’s preaching to the choir, just like fundamentalist atheist Dawkins does. Again, Luke is much better than that.

BTW, I should clarify my post. The first sentence,

O.k., I now see where the problem with atheists not understanding my dismissal of the “gods” argument may come from,

should be supplemented with:

and why they may not understand why my argumentation is not special pleading (for the Christian God).

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Haukur December 16, 2009 at 7:57 am

lukeprog: I don’t know what to say. My masthead comment doesn’t say anything like the two-step argument I denied.

It does, on the other hand, definitely say that the believer is so unreflective that a) he doesn’t understand important aspects of his own worldview and b) consquently doesn’t understand the reasons for the atheist position. That’s just incredibly condescending and unhelpful, even if it were true – and you haven’t made the case that it is true, or even made a serious attempt at doing that.

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Rich December 16, 2009 at 8:07 am

Haukur, why do you reject other gods?

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Rich December 16, 2009 at 8:19 am

Al, FSM or orbiting teapot can be given the same attributes as your god. The only real issue seems to be no-one put the same effort into the back-story..?

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Haukur December 16, 2009 at 8:26 am

Rich: Haukur, why do you reject other gods?

Your question assumes facts not in evidence.

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Al Moritz December 16, 2009 at 8:30 am

Rich: Al, FSM or orbiting teapot can be given the same attributes as your god. The only real issue seems to be no-one put the same effort into the back-story..?  

An assertion that shows that you have no clue about philosophy.

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Rich December 16, 2009 at 8:51 am

Al Moritz: An assertion that shows that you have no clue about philosophy.  (Quote)

Al, they can be given those attributes. You may baulk and claim it ridiculous, but man cannot know the mind of teapot. He pours in mysterious ways. Maybe I have no clue about philosophy. I certainly don’t know enough, but I’m working on it. Obviously it’s a club where the really, really good philosophizer such as yourself get to stop dialogue dead by asserting others “have no clue about philosophy”.

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Rich December 16, 2009 at 8:52 am

Haukur: Your question assumes facts not in evidence.  (Quote)

Apologies.

Do you reject any gods?

Do you accept any gods?

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Haukur December 16, 2009 at 9:20 am

Rich: Apologies.

Do you reject any gods?

Do you accept any gods?

Okay, now I could ask you to define ‘reject’ and ‘accept’ but we don’t actually have to do this the hard way. Briefly: I don’t think people who worship other gods than I do are doing anything fundamentally different than what I do. I’m not keen on rejecting gods though you could probably put me down as rejecting certain theologies.

How about you? Do you reject all gods? Do you reject Alethea? If so, why?

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Al Moritz December 16, 2009 at 9:24 am

Rich:
Al, they can be given those attributes. You may baulk and claim it ridiculous, but man cannot know the mind of teapot. He pours in mysterious ways. Maybe I have no clue about philosophy. I certainly don’t know enough, but I’m working on it. Obviously it’s a club where the really, really good philosophizer such as yourself get to stop dialogue dead by asserting others “have no clue about philosophy”.

Actually, I don’t think I am a really, really good philosophizer — apart from philosophy books, I have read many internet posts of people who are, and I cannot measure up to them. I just had the immense fortune (really, luck, not much merit of mine, except an open mind to the opportunities presented) to have acquired an adequate and solid philosophical foundation to my thinking. I know enough about philosophy to be able to see how science and theology can easily be synthesized into one coherent world view, and I have learned to detect and decode the many transgressions of atheists when it comes to confusing the boundaries of science and philosophy. This was also aided by my education as a scientist. There is simply too little analytical thinking going on in that area, and I don’t fall into the many traps and confusions that others do (or if I ran into confusions, I could resolve them for myself without too much pain). This was extremely helpful in my intellectual journey as a believer, confronted with many atheist claims.

In short, had it not been for philosophy, I might today be an atheist too. I guess I was just fortunate.

“Man cannot know the mind of teapot. He pours in mysterious ways.” Love this one, hehe.

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Rich December 16, 2009 at 9:28 am

Hi Haukur – thanks for engaging me meaningfully! (glares upthread).

‘Accept’ or ‘reject’ are belief statements, and so exist on a continuum. I reject all gods (that is think it very unlikely but not impossible that they exist). Deism seems a better bet to me, but no gods ever is what I find most likely). I reject Alethea as a god, but not the concept of reality. I think there are some criteria a god must have that we could probably agree on with a bit of back and forth.

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drj December 16, 2009 at 9:29 am

So, the criteria for determining whether an argument is a bad one, is its ability to stimulate argumentation? Does that make sense at all?

If everyone conceded and decided to throw out every argument the opposition thought was stupid, there’d be nothing left to argue about. This place would get quiet real quick.

So, with that in mind, I strenuously and unapologetically contend that Jesus is magic AND that when you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours!

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Al Moritz December 16, 2009 at 9:51 am

drj:If everyone conceded and decided to throw out every argument the opposition thought was stupid, there’d be nothing left to argue about.This place would get quiet real quick.

Atheism has some good and intelligent arguments, such as the problem of evil, inconsistencies in the Bible, or the multitude of religions, to name just three of them. Not that they cannot be refuted (which I will not try now, since these are whole new discussions), but they are good arguments to make.

So why not stick with the good arguments, and throw out the stupid ones? And yeah, the masthead comment on this blog remains “mind-meltingly” (love this word) stupid, unless proven otherwise.

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Thomas Reid December 16, 2009 at 9:54 am

TK: This is closer to the question I’m getting at. “Random” with respect to what probability density function? Uniform? Log-uniform? Normal? Log-normal? Gamma? Why one of these distributions and not another, and what evidence is there that universes generated uncaused, ex nihilo, follow that distribution?The scenario you describe is the correct way to go about it and could furnish strong evidence of fine-tuning at work, but only once this question is answered. But it hasn’t been answered. Not even close. From a single data point (one universe), it’s beyond premature to make inferences about the probability of any arbitrary universe coming into existence.

TK, thanks for the clarification. I would just make a couple of points in response.

First, I think we can agree that it is impossible to obtain the data you asked about. Therefore it is impossible to infer the probability function based on observation of data points. So if you’re calling the discussion “premature” on account of that I would say it’s a maladroit description. Postulating a probability function implies a multiverse, and I will agree that the debate around fine-tuning does center on the choice between a multiverse and a designer. I would simply remark that there is no metaphysical difference between the two. As such, the person who postulates any density function is on the same footing as someone who postulates a designer.

Second, I think a specified probability function other than uniform would itself have some kind of tuning, just by the very nature of what a function is. Would you agree? If not, think about how are the parameters established? Wouldn’t it be strange to find that the gravitational constant across multiple universes follows a log-normal distribution? What could explain that?

If I understand string theory adequately, one of its benefits is that it gets around the fine-tuning that we observe (or as you might say, “we think we observe”). But it does so only at the expense of, for example, postulating a specific, required number of space dimensions. So the fine-tuning moves from the universe into the geometric demands of string theory. Similarly, on your postulation of a multiverse from which we could deduce the probability function, the fine-tuning we observe directly moves into the shape of the function.

I’m interested in your thoughts, thanks for the fruitful question.

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Reginald Selkirk December 16, 2009 at 10:10 am

Robert Gressis: I didn’t think of the orbiting teapot or the FSM because they’re not real religious views that anyone has ever held.

Woman jailed for ‘worshipping tea pot’

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Reginald Selkirk December 16, 2009 at 10:21 am

Al Moritz: Do I really need to explain this?

Yes. And you have failed to do so. Repeating various synonyms for “stupid” (clownish, asinine, etc.) is not the same as explaining why your special pleading is not special pleading.

Al Moritz: (Hint: I believe in the Christian God.)

Oh really? Which book of the Bible contains the phrase “ground of all existence”?

Al Moritz: O.k., I now see where the problem with atheists not understanding my dismissal of the “gods” argument may come from. Since arguments for the existence of God are philosophical arguments, they can only address the existence of the God of the philosophers, whose attributes are contained in those of the God of the three great monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) but not vice versa.

No. For example, the God of the philosophers is omnibenevolent. But the God of the Bible committed a huge number of immoral acts (e.g. genocide), and supposedly even created evil itself (Isaiah 45:7).

Al Moritz: Then of course questions arise like why the Christian God, and not Yahweh or Allah.

What? You are claiming that the Christian God is not identical with Yahweh?

Al Moritz: and why they may not understand why my argumentation is not special pleading (for the Christian God).

That’s right, Mr. Moritz, I cannot understand why special pleading is not special pleading.

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Al Moritz December 16, 2009 at 10:29 am

Al Moritz: And yeah, the masthead comment on this blog remains “mind-meltingly” (love this word) stupid, unless proven otherwise.  

My apologies, Luke, I went too far with this one. However, please pause and give it some thought why you should remove the quote. I have given my reasons.

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Al Moritz December 16, 2009 at 10:37 am

Reginald Selkirk:
Oh really? Which book of the Bible contains the phrase “ground of all existence”?

As a Catholic, I do not base my faith solely on the Bible, but also on the teachings of the Church, which I believe are divinely inspired (of course, you will counter-attack).

What? You are claiming that the Christian God is not identical with Yahweh?

Huh? Please read my post again.

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Robert Gressis December 16, 2009 at 11:02 am

@ Reginald Selkirk:

I don’t consider the article you posted a counterexample to my claim. Here’s the relevant information from the article:

Kamariah Ali, a 57 year old former teacher, was arrested in 2005 when the government of the Muslim majority country demolished the two storey high sacred tea pot and other infrastructure of the “heretical” Sky Kingdom cult.
For the eccentric sect, which emphasised ecumenical dialogue between religions, the tea pot symbolized the purity of water and “love pouring from heaven”.
But in Malaysia, despite constitutional guarantees of freedom of worship, born Muslims such as Mrs Ali are forbidden from converting to other religions.
Passing sentence, the Sharia judge Mohammed Abdullah said: “The court is not convinced that the accused has repented and is willing to abandon any teachings contrary to Islam. I pray God will open the doors of your heart, Kamariah.”
Mrs Ali has already been jailed once for apostasy, for 20 months in 1992.
“This has to stop. They can’t be sending her again and again to prison for this,” her lawyer, Sa’adiah Din, told reporters.

So, a couple of things here. (1) The teapot is a symbol. It’s not at all clear from the article that the people who “worship” it think it actually exists. (2) Her “religion” emphasizes ecumenical dialogue between the religions. Given that she was already jailed once in 1992 for apostasy, and given that Malaysia supposedly guarantees freedom of religion, I imagine her point with her organization is to push the issue to the Malaysian courts.* (3) She’s a 57-year old teacher who has been jailed once before for apostasy. We’d need more information to know this, but it could very well be that she’s actually read Russell, and so chose the teapot as her symbol for that very reason.*

*-Turns out I was wrong about this. Looking around more into her organization, it turns out it’s not her organization at all, but rather that of Ayah Pin, a fellow who claims he’s been dead seventeen times, claims that he’s the reincarnated Jesus, Buddha, etc., and is apparently familiar with Mill’s harm principle. She follows Pin.

Who knows why they chose a teapot symbol? Regardless, they don’t worship the teapot, they worship Pin (and honestly, I’m not so sure about that either; they really seem to me as they’re skeptics who are trying to push the Malaysian courts into making the right decision).

See http://www.thestandard.com.hk/stdn/std/Weekend/GD23Jp01.html

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Al Moritz December 16, 2009 at 11:30 am

Al Moritz:
However, please pause and give it some thought why you should remove the quote. I have given my reasons.

And I think Haukur made some good points.

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Rich December 16, 2009 at 11:57 am

Reginald Selkirk: Woman jailed for ‘worshipping tea pot’  (Quote)

Teapot said we’d be persecuted for our beliefs..

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Haukur December 16, 2009 at 12:32 pm

Al Moritz: My apologies, Luke, I went too far with this one. However, please pause and give it some thought why you should remove the quote. I have given my reasons.

Well, my apologies too in case Luke took offense. My choice of words was meant to reflect the tongue-in-cheek hyperbole of the original post. And I think Al Moritz made some good points too, in particular “If *only* atheists find it great, what’s the point?”

Luke, when you understand why you dismiss all the other possible masthead quotes, you will understand why I dismiss yours.

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Bebok December 16, 2009 at 2:39 pm

Lee A. P.,

You wrote:

“Your God concept is a bad joke. Philosophers didn’t believe in Zeus? You ever heard of the Stoics asshole?”

Can you tell me which Stoics did you mean? The Stoics I know were kind of pantheists and rejected all mythological gods.
As for the Greek philosophers (not only the Stoics) I think Al Moritz makes a point.

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Haukur December 16, 2009 at 3:28 pm

Bebok: Can you tell me which Stoics did you mean? The Stoics I know were kind of pantheists and rejected all mythological gods.

The Stoics conceived of Zeus as a pantheistic, cosmic god but that doesn’t mean that they didn’t believe in Zeus. Similarly, Christian philosophers may conceive of YHWH as a “ground of all being” type of god, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t believe in YHWH.

But the Stoics were usually content with the traditional gods, either as a part of their system or at least as not in conflict with it. Two examples from the top of my mind; Epictetus wrote:

“Be assured that the essential property of piety towards the gods is to form right opinions concerning them, as existing and as governing the universe with goodness and justice. And fix yourself in this resolution, to obey them, and yield to them, and willingly follow them in all events, as produced by the most perfect understanding.”

Marcus Aurelius wrote:

“But in truth [the gods] do exist, and they do care for human things, and they have put all the means in man’s power to enable him not to fall into real evil.”

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Bebok December 16, 2009 at 4:40 pm

Haukur,

Stoics surely didn’t identify their one and the only God-Nature-Universe with Zeus or Jove, like Christian philosophers identify their “ground of all being” with Yahweh.

Marcus Aurelius also wrote:

“There is one universe and one god in everything, and one substance, and one law and common reason in all rational beings, and one truth and one aim for homogeneous beings using one reason.”

Varro accurately noticed that there were three theologies: poetic, civil and natural, and mythological gods only belonged to the first two. That Stoics were content with the traditional gods usually meant they respected the civil cults, not that they actually believed in all those jumbled stories. Yet I guess Epictetus was more likely to mix those theologies up and Marcus Aurelius was generally inconsistent.

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Haukur December 16, 2009 at 5:16 pm

Bebok: Stoics surely didn’t identify their one and the only God-Nature-Universe with Zeus or Jove, like Christian philosophers identify their “ground of all being” with Yahweh.

What do you mean? What’s the difference supposed to be? The Stoic philosophers no doubt thought that they had arrived at a more profound understanding of Zeus than that typically held by the common people. And Christian philosophers typically think they have a more profound understanding of YHWH than the typical layman (otherwise, what would be the point?). Note the Jack Good quote in Luke’s most recent post:

Most church schools teach concepts of God that are, at best, appropriate for children…

Bebok: “There is one universe and one god in everything, and one substance, and one law and common reason in all rational beings, and one truth and one aim for homogeneous beings using one reason.”

Yup, that’s monistic pantheism for you. It’s not in conflict with traditional paganism but it certainly is in conflict with Christianity.

Bebok: That Stoics were content with the traditional gods usually meant they respected the civil cults, not that they actually believed in all those jumbled stories.

I’m still not sure what you mean or where you’re going with this. It’s true that pagans have usually not taken their myths as literally as Christians have traditionally taken theirs – but that’s not to the Christians’ credit.

I’m off to pray and sleep. Thanks for the discussion, everyone!

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Ben December 16, 2009 at 5:21 pm

There are only really bad arguments for Christianity and then even worse than that.

The fine tuning argument was as dead in the water as the original version of the argument was when the first atheist who asked who created (a fine tuned) god. The rebuttal predated the argument. Not sure why that’s a stumbling block.

Anyway, I can say one of the most embarrassing truths that has come out of the neoatheist skirmishes is the shear body count of modern atheist regimes. Somehow saying, “Well if you want something done right, call atheism,” just isn’t humorous enough to get over that. Dark humor, ftw! If only.

Ben

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drj December 17, 2009 at 9:18 am

Ben: The fine tuning argument was as dead in the water as the original version of the argument was when the first atheist who asked who created (a fine tuned) god. The rebuttal predated the argument. Not sure why that’s a stumbling block.

What a great way to put it. The theist answer to fine tuning of the constants, is essentially hypothesizing an ADDITIONAL finely tuned constant. Then, through the wonders of special pleading, this additional, undetected constant, gets adorned with the concept of “necessity”, while for no good reason, the others are simply contingent and could have been otherwise.

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Ben December 17, 2009 at 9:30 am

drj: What a great way to put it.

Thanks. Glad you liked it.

drj: Then, through the wonders of special pleading, this additional, undetected constant, gets adorned with the concept of “necessity”, while for no good reason, the others are simply contingent and could have been otherwise.

Yes, the same old non-explanations reshuffled into the deck.

I think fine tuning lacks a certain qualitative analysis to it that the atheist talking points largely already address if theists ever dared to really step up to the plate. I mean a hypothetical sentient video game character (who was interested in philosophy of course) would have oodles of high teleological indications in game play that there are video game designers and gamers “out there” in some world beyond the pixel-scape. All we have is a big dumb universe that just so happens to have a bare minimum of basic rules that allow various iterations of evolution to play out. It looks much more like an accident based on incidental measure of consistency rather than the outstanding philosophical case Duke Nukem and Lara Croft would have for various design companies.

Ben

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lukeprog December 17, 2009 at 9:39 am

Ben,

You forgot. God is special. He’s the one fine-tuned thing that doesn’t require an external explanation. Because he’s special.

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Ben December 17, 2009 at 9:41 am

lukeprog: You forgot. God is special. He’s the one fine-tuned thing that doesn’t require an external explanation. Because he’s special.

Hehe, yes, I’ve coined the fallacy, “argument from exceptional assertion” for that one.

Ben

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Robert Gressis December 17, 2009 at 11:41 am

Ben,

Where in the philosophical literature do you see the argument from exceptional assertion forwarded? Maybe when Russell claimed the existence of the universe was a brute fact?

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Bebok December 17, 2009 at 12:51 pm

Haukur: The Stoic philosophers no doubt thought that they had arrived at a more profound understanding of Zeus than that typically held by the common people.

Are you sure? Do you know any texts suggesting that? Christian philosophers usually say that the timeless, transcendent, omniscient etc. being was at the same time a Jew born to a virgin, who worked miracles, rose from the dead and so on, while Stoics did not think that their God-Nature was at the same time the one who had been fed by a goat, married his sister, turned into different animals and so on. And why Zeus? Not in every myth he is the boss of it all. Why not Eros, Uranus, Gaia or Moirae? The case of Roman religion is even more confusing. There were a number of very different concepts of Jove, like Iuppiter Fidius, Iuppiter Fulgur, Iuppiter identical with Zeus, there were also a number of other major gods and goddesses officially taken over from the conquered nations, like Cybele or Mitra, and nobody tried to examine which one was the greatest, what was the nature of any particular one or the relations between them, not to mention trying to make a coherent system out of that mess. To my knowledge, the product of Stoic natural theology had nothing to do with Zeus or any other particular mythological god. Yet I may have overlooked something, obviously.

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Haukur December 17, 2009 at 4:55 pm

Zeus is the supreme god of the Greeks. As Hesiod said:

Then, next, the goddesses sing of Zeus, the father of gods and men, as they begin and end their strain, how much he is the most excellent among the gods and supreme in power

Yes, the Stoics may not have thought Zeus had literally been fed by a goat and so on but that wasn’t a view unique to them at all. Like Julian concedes, before digging into some Christian myths:

Now it is true that the Hellenes invented their myths about the gods, incredible and monstrous stories.

Similar things were said by Xenophanes, Herodotus, Plato etc. and none of them were Stoics. Still, it is true that there are some differences here with Christianity. Christians have traditionally been much more inclined to take their myths literally. But you still have Christian philosophers who do not think YHWH is literally the type of being you’ll find “walking in the garden in the cool of the day” but that doesn’t mean they don’t believe in YHWH.

More generally, Christians have a strong tendency to unite around orthodoxy while pagans have a tendency to unite around orthopraxy. Christians believe it is crucially important to have correct beliefs about the divine while pagans usually do not assign this the same overriding importance, often being more concerned with correct action.

It’s sometimes suggested that the pagan philosophers were somehow closer to Christianity than to popular paganism but that doesn’t seem to be borne out by the facts. Certainly, when a Stoic became emperor he vigorously fought against Christianity and promoted the pagan cults. And when a Platonist became emperor he vigorously fought against Christianity and promoted the pagan cults.

Long after the pagan cults had been suppressed there were still pagan philosophers around. Even in the 15th century, at the very end of the Roman Empire, its most celebrated philosopher (Plethon) was a crypto-pagan.

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lukeprog December 18, 2009 at 12:55 am

Robert,

Lol, yeah, that assertion of Russell’s always seemed empty to me.

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Derrida December 18, 2009 at 2:32 am

Based on the number and severity of flaws, I would rate the theistic arguments as follows:

Bad

1) Teleological arguments: Gap problem, even if the argument is correct, doesn’t point to a god, or even a single being. Not everything that is complex, intricate, improbable, etc is designed. The universe isn’t as well designed as a God could design it. Why did God have the desires that He had to design a universe like this?

2) Cosmological arguments: Gap problem. No reason to accept that everything that begins to exist/ exists contingently has a cause. No reason to think that the universe had a beginning or is any more contingent than God himself. Timeless creation is impossible, as creating something means beginning to create it then finishing creating it; if God is timeless, and hence changeless, He either couldn’t start creating the universe or couldn’t finish creating it.

3) Consciousness argument. Gap problem. All the neurological evidence suggests that the mind depends on the brain, implying no disembodied minds. Dualism doesn’t explain intentionality/consciousness any better than materialism.

Unconscionable

4) Moral argument. Gap problem. Are there objective moral values? Argument from ignorance. Genetic fallacy, just because moral intuitions are evolved, doesn’t mean there is no morality. Euthyphro dilemma, shows the poverty of DCT. Morality can be understood as reasons for action, no need for the supernatural.

5) Religious experience. Serious gap problem. Indistinguishable from wishful thinking. Subjective, and not available to anyone else. Contradictory experiences that match prior belief. Can’t be tested, no verifiable information. Explained by social pressures.

Laughably absurd

6) Prudential arguments. No evidence that believing in God makes you happier/healthier. Religion the cause of much moral confusion/suffering. Can’t bring myself to accept comforting falsehoods.

7) Miracles. Gap problem. Whenever miracles can be scientifically tested, they turn out to be fraudulent, too easy to fake. Laws of nature count as evidence against miracles.

Would have to be retarded to accept

8 ) Ontological argument. Begs the question: if God exists, then God is perfect, if God is perfect then God exists. Perfection doesn’t imply existence.

9) TAG. Begs the question: uses logic to explain how God accounts for the laws of logic. Argument from ignorance. God is dependent on logic, otherwise He could make free perfectly good creatures.

I need to go take a shower now.

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rhys December 18, 2009 at 2:42 am

ayer,

Way more than 99.999999999% of spacetime in our universe is immediately hostile to all life. Saying the universe is designed for life is several orders of magnitude more absurd than saying the Sahara desert is designed for jellyfish.

I couldn’t possibly agree more Luke. I used to think the fine-tuning argument was the best they had, but now it makes cringe with embarrassment for ever thinking such a mind-numbingly stupid thought. It is like saying that 6 million Olympic sized fucking swimming pools that could collectively hold no more then one molecule of fucking H2O are exquisitely fine tuned to contain water. It is so absurd that any PhD philosopher of religion who seriously espouses this as a legitimate argument for theism has just committed the intellectual equivalent of self-disembowelment with a wooden cooking spoon.

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ayer December 18, 2009 at 7:47 am

rhys: ayer,Way more than 99.999999999% of spacetime in our universe is immediately hostile to all life. Saying the universe is designed for life is several orders of magnitude more absurd than saying the Sahara desert is designed for jellyfish.I couldn’t possibly agree more Luke.I used to think the fine-tuning argument was the best they had, but now it makes cringe with embarrassment for ever thinking such a mind-numbingly stupid thought.It is like saying that 6 million Olympic sized fucking swimming pools that could collectively hold no more then one molecule of fucking H2O are exquisitely fine tuned to contain water.It is so absurd that any PhD philosopher of religion who seriously espouses this as a legitimate argument for theism has just committed the intellectual equivalent of self-disembowelment with a wooden cooking spoon.  

Methinks you (and Luke) doth protest too much. The fine-tuned initial conditions are built into the singularity when the “size” of the universe was that of a dime. The size of the universe today is a function of the age of the universe (the length of time it has been expanding since the Big Bang), which is the precise length of time required for those initial conditions to result in the environment required for life. Dawkins and Hitchens are right on this one–fine-tuning is among the best theistic arguments, which is why their only response is that “cosmology has yet to find its Darwin.”

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drj December 18, 2009 at 7:59 am

ayer: Dawkins and Hitchens are right on this one–fine-tuning is among the best theistic arguments, which is why their only response is that “cosmology has yet to find its Darwin.”  

I think design arguments have a pretty tempting emotional persuasiveness to them, if presented well. Probably not all that dissimilar what a theist must feel in the face of a well presented emotional argument about needless suffering. Design arguments work very well against our innate conspiratorial bias, and push all the right buttons.

But, design arguments are very bad logical arguments and any persuasiveness they do have is easily dispelled by a minimal amount of dispassionate, critical examination. See Ben’s comments to see how that works.

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Janus Grayden December 18, 2009 at 9:45 am

The Cosmological Argument is difficult because it’s such a watered down statement. Basically, anyone who is relying on that has retreated to the most vague and unprovable aspect of their deity.

When someone says that it’s possible that a prime motivator created everything, I agree with them. Sure, it’s entirely possible. We don’t know how the universe came to be. That’s why we’re not going to stop researching what actually happened and simply take it on good faith that a being of immense power made everything and call it a day.

Besides that, it’s just not a good argument because it doesn’t lead anywhere. Saying that something at some point created everything doesn’t logically lead to Jesus dying on the cross for my sins, not eating pork and praying five times a day, holding cows sacred, or any combination thereof. I can agree with a person all day long about cosmological arguments but, at the end of the day, I still won’t believe in their particular God. To lead into why their God is correct, they’ll need to refer to one of the absurd and readily refutable arguments you listed.

Of course, if they’re a Deist, I’ll just stick with granting them that it’s possible and mentioning that there are a number of competing theories that are also possible, but that doesn’t make them all automatically true.

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lukeprog December 18, 2009 at 9:50 am

ayer,

I don’t see how your response meets my objection. As the universe was expanding and changing it has produced all kinds of new elements and conditions. In the scale of everything it has produced in its entire history, complex life on Earth appears as if a single molecule of H20 in a vast array of 6 million empty swimming pools, and appears only for a blip in time before disappearing. It is profoundly arrogant and bizarre to say that from everything else that has happened in the space and time of the universe, it was fine-tuned for complex life on Earth. If anything, it was fine-tuned to make black holes, which are common and take up most of the mass of the universe.

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Bebok December 18, 2009 at 10:56 am

Haukur: Christians have traditionally been much more inclined to take their myths literally. But you still have Christian philosophers who do not think YHWH is literally the type of being you’ll find “walking in the garden in the cool of the day” but that doesn’t mean they don’t believe in YHWH.
More generally, Christians have a strong tendency to unite around orthodoxy while pagans have a tendency to unite around orthopraxy. Christians believe it is crucially important to have correct beliefs about the divine while pagans usually do not assign this the same overriding importance, often being more concerned with correct action.
It’s sometimes suggested that the pagan philosophers were somehow closer to Christianity than to popular paganism but that doesn’t seem to be borne out by the facts. Certainly, when a Stoic became emperor he vigorously fought against Christianity and promoted the pagan cults. And when a Platonist became emperor he vigorously fought against Christianity and promoted the pagan cults.
Long after the pagan cults had been suppressed there were still pagan philosophers around. Even in the 15th century, at the very end of the Roman Empire, its most celebrated philosopher (Plethon) was a crypto-pagan.

I totally agree. That was not my point, though. I didn’t try to defend Christianity in any way.
Neither the God-Nature of Stoics, nor the God of Xenophanes, God-Creator from Plato’s Timaeus or Aristotle’s Prime Mover were “deeper understandings” of Zeus. Greek “theistic” philosophers were often openly hostile towards mythology. For example, Aristotle wrote:

“Our forefathers in the most remote ages have handed down to their posterity a tradition, in the form of a myth, that these bodies are gods, and that the divine encloses the whole of nature. The rest of the tradition has been added later in mythical form with a view to the persuasion of the multitude and to its legal and utilitarian expediency; they say these gods are in the form of men or like some of the other animals, and they say other things consequent on and similar to these which we have mentioned.”

Haukur:
Zeus is the supreme god of the Greeks. As Hesiod said:
Then, next, the goddesses sing of Zeus, the father of gods and men, as they begin and end their strain, how much he is the most excellent among the gods and supreme in power

Note what he writes about Eros, the first god who emerged, at the same time:

“…and Eros, the fairest of the deathless gods;
he unstrings the limbs and subdues both mind
and sensible thought in the breasts of all gods and all men.”

Zeus was generally the supreme god, but limited in many respects at the same time. I haven’t noticed any hint of apologetics of Zeus in the Greek philosophers’ writings. I don’t think we can say that Xenophanes, Plato, Aristotle or the Stoics believed in any kind of Zeus.

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Derrida December 18, 2009 at 11:42 am

Fine tuning may be the least worst argument for God’s existence, but it still doesn’t support supernaturalism.

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SteveK December 18, 2009 at 12:30 pm

Luke,

He’s the one fine-tuned thing that doesn’t require an external explanation. Because he’s special.

Everything requires an external explanation? News to me, really. So you basically agree with the ‘turtles all the way down’ approach – or just for fine-tuned things? Anyway…I don’t know that theology teaches that God is fine-tuned. Necessary, yes. Immutable, yes. Eternal, yes.

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Rich December 18, 2009 at 12:53 pm

If you’re going to have an uncaused cause, go for the universe. We at least know it’s real.

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drj December 18, 2009 at 2:01 pm

SteveK: I don’t know that theology teaches that God is fine-tuned. Necessary, yes. Immutable, yes. Eternal, yes.

I don’t think theologians traditionally use the words “fine-tuned”, but I don’t really see any relevant difference, do you?

How could one consider a ‘perfect being’ anything but finely tuned? He is the most finely tuned thing that can possibly exist.

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ayer December 18, 2009 at 2:20 pm

lukeprog: If anything, it was fine-tuned to make black holes, which are common and take up most of the mass of the universe.

Are you saying that the same variety and number of constants have to be set to precise values for the universe to be a “black-hole permitting” universe as to be a “life-permitting universe”? (i.e., a black-hole-permitting universe is as rare in the panoply of possible universes as one that produces sentient life)? I would like to see a citation for evidence of that.

Further, even it that were the case, are you saying that you see nothing more remarkable about a universe that produces intelligent life that can ask deep questions about that universe, than a universe that produces black holes. Even Carl Sagan recognized the qualitative difference with sentient life, as I recall he would rhapsodize about the remarkable fact that the universe has become “self-aware” with humanity.

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rhys December 18, 2009 at 5:31 pm

ayer:
“Dawkins and Hitchens are right on this one–fine-tuning is among the best theistic arguments, which is why their only response is that “cosmology has yet to find its Darwin.”  

Ive got nothing against your theistic beliefs, but the fact that you accept the argument from fine freakin tuning is just bizarre beyond words. The argument from fine tuning makes 4 assumptions:

1) Human life is the pinnacle goal of the universe; human life is not the byproduct of mindless forces

Only presupposed theistic belief can warrant this assumption, so we are back to begging the question.

2) God exists

The fine tuning argument assumes that God was already there and had an opportunity and a motive to rig the universe in our favor. The likelihood of the fine-tuning of the universe, given that God exists is quite high, but the probability of God existing, given the balance of the initial conditions could still be extremely low. This is standard conditional probability theorem.

3) A unifying theory that proposes the possibility of a super-force assigning all the values the constants currently hold will never come to fruition

The theist has to ardently oppose this with all his will if he is to promote the fine tuning argument, since if evidence for a super-force comes out, it is by definition a much superior explanation then Goddidit.

4) All possible combinations of the physical constants are equally probable

This assumption is naive. There is no way of determining how probable each combination of constants is unless you see it tried out. A good analogy is a six sided die. You do not calculate the probability of rolling a 3 by adding up every possible outcome, since rolling the die and landing on a corner or an edge is technically a possible outcome. What you do is you roll the die as many times as possible and calculate the average amount of times you hit a 3. Similarly, the only way to calculate the probability of getting a different combination of initial conditions for the beginning of the universe is to examine the initial conditions of other universes and calculate the bell distribution of values. Since this is the only universe we know of, as far as we can tell the probability of this universe appearing is exactly 1/1. No intervention from sky daddies required.

And lastly, it is arrogant beyond words to think that the entire universe was divinely knob-twiddled by a playful architect solely for our pleasures and pastimes. We have literally existed for only .0000182481752% of the universes history. Even our own Earth is remarkably hostile to us. There are snarling predators who will kill us, flesh eating bacteria which literally eat our insides out, tornadoes that rip through cities destroying homes and killing thousands, cyclones, hurricanes, cataclysmic tsunamis, extreme temperatures, solar flares, destructive meteors, super-volcanoes, gamma-ray-bursters, cosmic rays, and so on. We go 8000 meter up we suffocate from lack of oxygen. We go down 2000 meters we burn to a crisp from the Earth’s core temperature. If we are exposed to the vacuum of space we die a horrible painful death within 3 minutes, not to mention that even in an astronaut suit we would succumb to the violent blasts of cosmic and gamma rays that are so prevalent in deep space. Even if you assumed that every single star in the galaxy had one Earth-like planet, and you ignored all the massive voids found between galaxies, the universe would be 99.9999999999999999999999999999999999927% deadly to life. I’m sorry I’m not going to mince words. To sit there with a straight face after those facts and say that the universe is fine tuned for intelligent life is downright fucking bananas.

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Haukur December 18, 2009 at 6:33 pm

Bebok: Greek “theistic” philosophers were often openly hostile towards mythology.

Yes, we’ve been over this several times now. The Greek philosophers (and other Greek writers) felt free to reject any myths they didn’t feel fit with their theology. They also felt free to interpret myths allegorically. Generally, the myths they objected to were those that showed the gods in a bad light. Plato didn’t think mythology as such was an evil or useless thing or that every myth should be rejected.

Bebok: I don’t think we can say that Xenophanes, Plato, Aristotle or the Stoics believed in any kind of Zeus.

You obviously have some familiarity with this subject and it puzzles me that so far into this exchange we still seem so distant from understanding each other. Why did the Stoics call the supreme being Zeus if they “didn’t believe in any kind of Zeus”? Why did Cleanthes write Hymn to Zeus if he “didn’t believe in any kind of Zeus”? Why did he call Zeus “Most glorious of the immortals, invoked by many names, ever all-powerful, Zeus”? Why did he include lines like the following if he thought the deity he was worshipping was not the same as the god worshipped by his countrymen?

So great is the servant which you hold in your invincible hands, your eternal, two-edged, lightning-forked thunderbolt.

Saying the Stoics “didn’t believe in any kind of Zeus” is starting to sound to me like that old chestnut in which the Iliad and the Odyssey “were not written by Homer, but by another man named Homer”.

We shouldn’t see the Greek mythology as the main defining constituent of the Greek religion. You brought up Varro’s system and that model does have some use, it gives us three parts:

1. Poetry (mythic theology)
2. Philosophy (natural theology)
3. Worship (civil theology)

While the myths have some relevance to philosophy and worship they’re only central in poetry.

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ayer December 18, 2009 at 7:14 pm

rhys: 1) Human life is the pinnacle goal of the universe; human life is not the byproduct of mindless forces

Only presupposed theistic belief can warrant this assumption, so we are back to begging the question.

No, that is determined by the discovery that the constants are precisely tuned to produce life and then asking the question: why would that be? It has to be either law, chance or design. Design is posited as an inference to the best explanation.

rhys: 2) God exists

The fine tuning argument assumes that God was already there and had an opportunity and a motive to rig the universe in our favor.

I have no idea where you are getting that from; there are clearly three possible explanations for the apparent fine-tuning: law, chance or design. The argument does not assume God, it posits God as the best explanation of those three.

rhys: 3) A unifying theory that proposes the possibility of a super-force assigning all the values the constants currently hold will never come to fruition

The theist has to ardently oppose this with all his will if he is to promote the fine tuning argument, since if evidence for a super-force comes out, it is by definition a much superior explanation then Goddidit.

If such a theory is established, then “law” will be the proper explanation for the apparent fine-tuning. But it would still require an explanation for “where did the law come from”?–(a lawgiver, perhaps?)

rhys: 4) All possible combinations of the physical constants are equally probable

This assumption is naive. There is no way of determining how probable each combination of constants is unless you see it tried out.

Absent an explanation that the value of the constants are required by some law of nature, it is perfectly reasonable to assume a range of possibility for the constants; and cosmologists do so all the time

rhys: And lastly, it is arrogant beyond words to think that the entire universe was divinely knob-twiddled by a playful architect solely for our pleasures and pastimes.

As I noted above, that idea that a universe producing sentient life and, as Sagan said, “becoming aware of itself”, does not cry out for an explanation is just bizarre. Of course it does.

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lukeprog December 18, 2009 at 8:03 pm

Great link, Derrida.

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lukeprog December 18, 2009 at 8:07 pm

ayer,

I’m not sure what you’re saying. Are you suggesting that for something to be “fine-tuned,” it should be the case that the constants must be most narrowly constricted for permitting that thing such that one tiny tweak in any of them would eliminate the given result? If so, I hereby proclaim the universe was fine-tuned to create Venus, since had the constants been tweaked even a tiny bit then a planet with the exact chemical and physical makeup would never have existed.

I’ll write more about fine-tuning arguments later, no time now…

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rhys December 18, 2009 at 9:01 pm

ayer,

I can tell you have been listening to Dr Craig’s work. The trichotomy that he posed to solve the problem is false, and here is why:

Read the word fine tuning. That word carries alot of pre-supposition with it. It firstly says that there was something to be tuned, and secondly that something did the tuning. Now if you already believe in God and think he had a reason to monkey around with the physics of the universe, then fine tuning is probable. However, the probability of God existing, given that the initial conditions are balanced for intelligent life can still be quite low. Like I said above this is standard conditional probability that you learn in freshman level.

Dr Craig gives 3 solutions to the fine tuning ‘problem’

(1) Law
(2) Chance
(3) Design

Law
Despite his most polemic efforts, Dr Craig has not ruled out law, or shown why a natural law could not suffice as a good explanation. He has just stated that we haven’t found a plausible candidate yet.

Chance

This is just faulty reasoning. The burden of proof is on Dr Craig to show that other combinations of initial values are at least plausible, and he has to show that they are just as probable as our universe. Only a-posteriori reasoning can accomplish this and we are in no position to do such a thing.

Design

Craig only infers design because he eliminates the previous 2 (tried to). There is no positive reason whatsoever to think that God fine tuned the universe.

The main point I want to reemphasize is that we have no evidence whatsoever to support the claim that other possible universes with different combinations of constants are just as probable as ours. In fact it is much more likely not to be the case because assuming any possible universe could have formed, ours did. The actual likelihood of this universe forming is exactly 1/1. God or no God, 1/1.

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Steven December 18, 2009 at 10:13 pm

lukeprog: Steven,

Unfortunately, Kai Man Kwan’s article doesn’t even discuss the most basic objection to arguments from religious experience; namely, that other people have contradictory religious experiences.

Yes he does. He deals with it on page 536.

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ayer December 19, 2009 at 9:46 am

lukeprog: ayer,I’m not sure what you’re saying. Are you suggesting that for something to be “fine-tuned,” it should be the case that the constants must be most narrowly constricted for permitting that thing such that one tiny tweak in any of them would eliminate the given result? If so, I hereby proclaim the universe was fine-tuned to create Venus, since had the constants been tweaked even a tiny bit then a planet with the exact chemical and physical makeup would never have existed.I’ll write more about fine-tuning arguments later, no time now…  

No, but you’re getting closer. It’s absurd to choose one example of a category (e.g., Venus in the category of planets), but of course planet formation is a precondition for human life so if the universe was fine-tuned for human life it would also have to be fine-tuned to produce planet as part of the chain of causation leading to human life. And that is precisely the case:

“Another finely tuned value is the strong nuclear force that holds atoms — and therefore matter — together. The sun derives its ‘fuel’ from fusing hydrogen atoms together. When two hydrogen atoms fuse, 0.7% of the mass of the hydrogen atoms is converted into energy. If the amount of matter converted were slightly smaller — say, 0.6% instead of 0.7% — a proton would not be able to bond to a neutron and the universe would consist only of hydrogen. Without the presence of heavy elements, planets would not form and hence no life would be possible. Conversely, if the amount of matter converted were increased to 0.8% instead of 0.7%, fusion would occur so rapidly that no hydrogen would remain. Again, the result would be no planets, no solar systems and hence no life.”

http://www.allaboutscience.org/cosmic-fine-tuning.htm

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ayer December 19, 2009 at 9:54 am

rhys: Law
Despite his most polemic efforts, Dr Craig has not ruled out law, or shown why a natural law could not suffice as a good explanation. He has just stated that we haven’t found a plausible candidate yet.

That’s true, but that is why law is not the best explanation (currently). “Law” is not the default position requiring all other positions to bear the burden of proof; if there is law, it must be demonstrated. So far, it has not been (and cosmologists are not hopeful that it will be, which is why all the attention is paid to multiverse theories, even though they are non-falsifiable and thus more like metaphysics than physics).

rhys: Chance

This is just faulty reasoning. The burden of proof is on Dr Craig to show that other combinations of initial values are at least plausible, and he has to show that they are just as probable as our universe.

Not at all; physicists can easily change the constants in the formula and arrive at different possible universes; the burden is on the one claiming that these constants are somehow necessary values to come up with an explanation of why this is.

rhys: In fact it is much more likely not to be the case because assuming any possible universe could have formed, ours did. The actual likelihood of this universe forming is exactly 1/1. God or no God, 1/1.

So are you saying the multiverse theory should be thrown out as absurd, since ours was the only possible universe? (even though you have provided no evidence that that is the case).

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rhys December 19, 2009 at 7:48 pm

Ayer!

I’m happy to discuss these issues with you, but I hate having to repeat myself and re-clarify obvious points.

Chance

What you must understand is to calculate the probability of a possible initial configuration, you have to roll the dice and see how many times your value comes up! that is how you calculate probability! For the theist to say that our universe is improbable he has to observe other universes and see what constants they have compared with our own and see how commonly ours come up! Scribbling numbers on a chalkboard only shows what possible combinations can be attained, not what probable combinations be be obtained!

The theist is the one making the affirmative claim here! He is saying:

(a) There are possible worlds where the universe could have had a different configuration

(b) These possible worlds are just as probable as the one we observe

Do you understand? The onus is on the theist to demonstrate why these worlds are just as probable and the only way to do that is to:

Observe lots of other universes and see what values all the forces took

I hope I have clarified my reasons why I think the fine tuning argument is just a really appalling argument from ignorance.

No I am not saying there is no such thing as a multiverse! I am merely saying there is no proof for it yet. I am taking the default position of doubt until there is positive evidence that corroborates the claim. For instance if some of the predictions of string theory are confirmed, then the multiverse idea will seem more appealing. Or if we can confirm the mother universe fragmenting scenario, then that will also be positive evidence for the claim of a world ensemble.

Oh yeah and there’s also the huge ass problem where a perfect God should not need to create a universe then fine tune it, it should be able to support life on its own without the values needing to be monkeyed around with.

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ayer December 20, 2009 at 4:57 am

rhys: What you must understand is to calculate the probability of a possible initial configuration, you have to roll the dice and see how many times your value comes up!

I’m sorry, but you’re just wrong about “possibility” and “probability”. The theoretical formulas that physicists use to describe the universe entail that the constants can have a wide range of values–that’s the science and that’s the default position. There would not be so much work on the idea of multiverses if that were not the case (why waste time on a nonfalsifiable idea which gets those who work on it accused of doing metaphysics and not physics if a multitude of universes were not possible as shown by the formulas?)

rhys: Oh yeah and there’s also the huge ass problem where a perfect God should not need to create a universe then fine tune it, it should be able to support life on its own without the values needing to be monkeyed around with.

You’re just wrong here too. The whole point of fine-tuning is that the initial conditions were fine-tuned–not “after the fact.”

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rhys December 20, 2009 at 5:45 am

Why do I even bother? I’m not saying your dumb or anything, but you just steadfastly refuse to grasp what I am saying to you!

Scribbling numbers and formulas on a blackboard can tell you the possible combinations, what it cannot tell you is if those combinations are likely to occur!

This point is so damn important but you keep freakin ignoring it!

I can tell you have been listening to Dr Craig. He has a twisted interpretation of the multiverse theory. Here is how he thinks it came about:

Atheist materialist scientist #1: Gee! We know that the universe is finely tuned! Uh-oh this might prove the existence of God! We can’t have that now can we! I don’t want there to be a God, he might send me to Hell!

Atheist materialist scientist #2: I know what to do! lets make up some ad-hoc bullshit about there being squillions, squillions and squillions of different universes all with different values and see if that solves the problem!

Atheist materialist scientist #1: Spiffing idea chap! Atheism has been saved again! Thats what I’m talking about baby! Now lets go and snort lines of coke, have sex with prostitutes and commit mindless transgressions until our cocks fall off number Two!

Atheist materialist scientist #2: Right on number One!

Meanwhile, back in reality:

The multiverse is predicted by:

> The many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics

> Cyclic theories of the universe

> String theories

And so on. Physicists most certainly did not posit a world ensemble merely as a knee jerk reaction to this supposed fine tuning that theists go bananas about.

Plus there are ways to verify the idea of a world ensemble. The fragmenting universe scenario and string theory both makes testable predictions. If these are confirmed, this corroborates the multiverse hypothesis.

The MagicManDunIt hypothesis cannot predict anything. It cant be falsified, verified, tested, it does not increase our knowledge, it doesn’t simplify anything. In a nutshell, Godditit is by definition the furthest thing from an explanation there is.

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ayer December 20, 2009 at 9:47 am

rhys: Physicists most certainly did not posit a world ensemble merely as a knee jerk reaction to this supposed fine tuning that theists go bananas about.

I’m sorry, you’re wrong again. The theistic implications of fine-tuning definitely contributed to the formulation of the multiverse theory, as made clear in this Discover magazine article from 2008 (with the amazing title “Science’s Alternative to an Intelligent Creator(!)–the Multiverse Theory”):

“Physicists don’t like coincidences. They like even less the notion that life is somehow central to the universe, and yet recent discoveries are forcing them to confront that very idea. Life, it seems, is not an incidental component of the universe, burped up out of a random chemical brew on a lonely planet to endure for a few fleeting ticks of the cosmic clock. In some strange sense, it appears that we are not adapted to the universe; the universe is adapted to us.

Call it a fluke, a mystery, a miracle. Or call it the biggest problem in physics. Short of invoking a benevolent creator, many physicists see only one possible explanation: Our universe may be but one of perhaps infinitely many universes in an inconceivably vast multi­verse. Most of those universes are barren, but some, like ours, have conditions suitable for life.

The idea is controversial. Critics say it doesn’t even qualify as a scientific theory because the existence of other universes cannot be proved or disproved. Advocates argue that, like it or not, the multiverse may well be the only viable non­religious explanation for what is often called the “fine-tuning problem”—the baffling observation that the laws of the universe seem custom-tailored to favor the emergence of life.” http://discovermagazine.com/2008/dec/10-sciences-alternative-to-an-intelligent-creator

You’ll also notice: “the existence of other universes cannot be proved or disproved.” In fact, Leonard Susskind, one of the fathers of the multiverse theory, is campaigning for science to jettison falsifiabilty as the criterion of a good scientific theory because the multiverse can never be falsified. Thus we are left with a choice of metaphysical alternatives: God or an infinite number of universes. Take your pick as to which is most plausible.

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rhys December 20, 2009 at 7:58 pm

what the heck?

I posted my reply to this twice and it still didnt go through!

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lukeprog December 20, 2009 at 8:14 pm

rhys,

Sometimes stuff gets stuck in the spam trap until I have time to let it through.

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rhys December 21, 2009 at 3:00 am

Ok, cheers luke

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Bebok December 21, 2009 at 5:46 pm

Haukur,

As for the Stoics and Zeus, I’ve found one fragment in Diogenes Laertius that definitely confirm your view:

“And this is why the end may be defined as life in accordance with nature or, in other words, in accordance with our own human nature as well as that of the universe, a life in which we refrain from every action forbidden by the law common (orthos logos) to all things, as is identical with Zeus, lord and ruler of all that is.” (7,88)

I’ve also found a pun-based fragment suggesting that Stoics’ god is a kind of combination of many mythical gods:

“He is, however, the artificer of the universe and, as it were, the father of all, both in general and in that particular part of him which is all-pervading, and which is called many names according to its various powers. The give the name Dia because all things are due to (dia) him; Zeus (Zena) in so far as he is the cause of life (zen) or pervades all life; the name Athena is given because the ruling part of the divinity extends to the aether; the name Hera marks its extension to the air; he is called Hephaestus since it spreads to the creative fire; Poseidon, since it stretches to the sea; Demeter, since it reaches to the earth. similarly men have given the deity his other titles, fastening, as best they can, on some one or other of his peculiar attributes.” (7,147)

And one more, similar:

“God is one and the same with Reason (nous), Fate (heimarmene), and Zeus; he is also called by many other names.” (7,136)

I guess you were right, then. I overlooked those fragments last time I was reading that. On the other hand, there are fragments saying Zeno or Chrysippus despised Zeus and other mythical gods.
Cleanthes’ Hymn is a good example too, though we should remember that those days being an innovatory poet was no virtue, so hymn’s author had to stick to the convention and there was no convention of writing a hymn to a vague supreme being. Thus, authors of such works had to address them to some mythical gods, like epic poets had to admit they were mere tools in the hands of Muses (not necessarily believing in it) or tragedians had to write chorus’ parts in Doric (not necessarily being familiar with it). There was also no possibility to say something like “our civil god doesn’t exist, so worshiping him is pointless” without being exiled (at least). So there were some philosophers who could worship certain gods and write poems about those (or the other) gods without believing in them, and also write philosophical texts on supreme beings not identifying them with any of those mythical gods.
I thought that a link between natural and civil theology in the case of Stoics had been usually something like “common people believe in mythical gods that admittedly don’t exist, though worshiping them introduces some order into society and this very order is a god itself”, not like “mythical gods exist, but we understand their nature better than the common people”, though I am not sure about that anymore.
Yet, I’m still pretty sure about Plato and Aristotle. Do you think that, say, Aristotle’s Prime Mover is a deeper understanding of Zeus as well?

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Ben December 23, 2009 at 12:53 am

Robert Gressis: Where in the philosophical literature do you see the argument from exceptional assertion forwarded?

I’m not going to canvas the literature looking up explicit references for you. If you haven’t seen various theistic arguments amount to little more than a special assertion (as far as professional and lay opinions go alike), then oh well.

Robert Gressis: Maybe when Russell claimed the existence of the universe was a brute fact?

Certainly theists are not the only ones guilty of having sacred assertions. I’d have to see Russell’s actual argument to comment further.

Ben

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Haukur January 18, 2010 at 5:55 pm

Bebok,

I’m sorry I didn’t notice you had replied once more! I think we had a good exchange here and your last post makes several good points.

I concede I don’t know exactly how Aristotle and Plato thought of Zeus and the other traditional gods. As for “prime mover”, I gathered Aristotle got the phrase from Aeschylus who applied it to Zeus but I can’t find a good source at the moment so maybe I’ve got this wrong.

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Bebok January 26, 2010 at 8:14 am

Haukur,

Now I didn’t notice your reply. I have never heard Aeschylus’ phrase story and I can’t find it anywhere.

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Haukur January 26, 2010 at 2:46 pm

Let’s see, Wikiquote cites Agamemnon l. 1485 as “Zeus, first cause, prime mover; for what thing without Zeus is done among mortals?” – I suppose we could check the Greek and see if it matches the wording Aristotle uses but I’d prefer some scholarly commentary laying out the connection, if connection there is.

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Bebok January 26, 2010 at 4:58 pm

In Aeschylus it’s “panaitios panergetes”:

http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Aesch.+Ag.+1485&fromdoc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0003

while in Aristotle it’s “ti ekinese proton” or “kinoun ti proton”:

http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Aristot.+Met.+7.1041a&fromdoc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0051
http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Aristot.+Met.+9.1049b&fromdoc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0051

so it’s not even “he”, it’s “it”.

I think the connection is really unlikely.

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Haukur January 26, 2010 at 5:33 pm

Great, thanks for digging it up! Apparently I was misinformed at some point but panaitios panergetes is still an awesome phrase. Glad to have that one cleared up.

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Joel Duggins March 6, 2010 at 9:19 pm

I am a Christian believer, and this is the requested list of anti-Christian arguments. It should be noted that this is not a mental list I have had. It is a bit strange to group things in this way.

Occasionally give me pause

* Missing archeological evidence for particular recorded Biblical events

No Way, José

* The Problem of Pain
* Moral Argument for Atheism

Waaaaaaay Terrible

* Argument from historical failure of Christians
* Who designed the designer?
*
Profoundly, Jaw-Droppingly Awful

* Argument from flaws in the natural world
* Argument from the Crusades, Inquisitions, etc.
* Pragmatic arguments (we don’t need God, etc.)
* Belief in God is just superstition

Candidate for ‘Dumbest Idea of the Century’

* Argument from biological and/or situational determinism

That is my list. The order in each division is irrelevant. If my placement for any of these needs defending, let me know.

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