Are You an Enchanted Naturalist?

by Luke Muehlhauser on January 19, 2010 in Worldview Naturalism

Naturalism is the view that only the natural world exists. Some naturalists think that naturalism commits them to nihilism – the denial of all objective value in the world. But other naturalists – too many to count – think there is lots of value in the natural world, including moral value.

Whatever one believes about the consequences of naturalism, there are two kinds of emotional response to naturalism. One is to throw up our hands in despair that our illusions about the afterlife, free will, intrinsic value, and intrinsic purpose have been shown to be false. This is what Alex Rosenberg called “disenchanted naturalism.” The opposite response is to laugh with glee and wonder at the surprising truths of the natural world. I called this “enchanted naturalism.”

The difference between the two is summed up in an xkcd comic.

nihilismThe first guy is a disenchanted naturalist. The guy who climbs the tree is an enchanted naturalist.

Of course, there’s no clear line between “disenchanted” and “enchanted” naturalists. These positions are better seen as two ends of an emotional spectrum.

enchanted naturalism spectrumSomebody like Albert Camus is pretty far to the left on the spectrum. Alex Rosenberg is a bit to the right of that. I might be somewhere in the purple on the right.

Rosenberg and I agree almost entirely on the facts, but we seem to have a different emotional reaction. We agree that there is no soul, no afterlife, no contra-causal free will, no intrinsic value, no “conscience” that can detect moral facts, no universal “purpose” to the universe, and no reason to comprehensively trust our intuitions.

Rosenberg’s reaction is: “So much for the meaning of history, and everything else we care about.”

My reaction is different:

This is the natural world… It is a world in which magic is impossible but teleportation is not. It is a world that moves without intelligence, yet blindly evolved creatures able to compose the symphonies of Beethoven and the plays of Shakespeare.

Think of it. The world once had nothing but dead matter, and yet it managed – completely by accident and without the intervention of an intelligent actor – to wake up one day and become self-aware. I think that is more amazing than any story about a magical being injecting life into dead matter. Ours is a story about dead matter that awakened itself.

It took 4 billion years for life to evolve from a single cell to a human. In another 5 billion years, our Sun will expand into a red giant and swallow the Earth.

But do you see what that means?

The creatures who stand at the sea and watch the Sun die will be as different from us as we are from single-celled bacteria.

The thought sends a shiver down my spine.

I, for one, am a thoroughly enchanted naturalist.

Rosenberg is a disenchanted naturalist. I am an enchanted naturalist.

My synapses fire with awe when I think of the fact that we evolved to believe we have free will even though we do not. They fire with wonder when I consider how we evolved such active imaginations to delude ourselves about souls and the afterlife. I marvel that intrinsic value does not exist and yet objective moral value (of a sort) really does. My heart skips a beat when I think of the epic struggle to minimize and control for our faulty intuitions and invent whole new ways of knowing about the world – ways that work. And I shiver with excitement when I think about the sheer awesomeness of the universe:


Disclose.tv Muse The Known Universe Video

What is your reaction to the natural world? Are you a disenchanted naturalist, or an enchanted one?

sun explodes

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{ 86 comments… read them below or add one }

Roman January 19, 2010 at 12:45 pm

Cool video.

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Silver Bullet January 19, 2010 at 1:43 pm

I’m on the purple end too.

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Lorkas January 19, 2010 at 1:53 pm

Purple Power!

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Justfinethanks January 19, 2010 at 2:34 pm

I too find the natural world enthralling, whether it be in science or the humanities. Honestly, the vagueness of the concept of “supernatural” gives me a sour taste in my mouth, so I’m glad there are good reasons to believe that we live in a naturalistic universe.

And before the theists who occasionally comment on this site come accusing “enchanted naturalists” of merely miring in self delusion, it’s important to remember that Christian theists have their own spectrum.

On the left you might have Calvinists who see humans as totally depraved worms, sinners in the hands of an angry God who determines, without our choice, who goes to hell or heaven according to which most glorifies Him. And on the right you might have Christian Universalists who believe that one day all men and women, despite what happens here on earth, will come to live forever with God in joy.

It would be awfully patronizing of anyone to tell a Christian theist that they are ignoring the depressing implications if Christianity is true in favor of happy delusion, just as it would be if a theist badgered an atheist for his or her positive reaction to living in a naturalistic universe.

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John D January 19, 2010 at 2:47 pm

Justfinethanks,

Excellent point.

Luke,

I’ve seen that video before, but without the Muse soundtrack. Did you add this? It would be great if the people who made these kinds of videos for museums were more attuned to the emotional power of rock music.

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Bryan January 19, 2010 at 2:59 pm

To answer your question first, I am an enchanted naturalist. Although I believe there is nothing beyond the natural world, I find the natural world science has so far described to be far more fascinating, amazing and full of meaning than any metaphysical world described by faith.

But I do have a question though, to the meaning of this:

Luke said “My synapses fire with awe when I think of the fact that we evolved to believe we have free will even though we do not”

Exactly where do you come to the conclusion we do not have free will? From a purely scientific (naturalistic, if you will) point-of-view there is no reason to think that free will does not exist – at least within limits. Both QED and the basic principals of chaos tell us that the universe does not act upon purely deterministic paths; ergo, there is an amazing amount of room for free-will to exist.

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Jeff H January 19, 2010 at 3:40 pm

Luke, being part-way through The Myth of Sisyphus right now, I can say that there’s at least one other big difference between you and Camus. You seem to believe that there are objective truths out there (about the world, for example), whereas, as far as I understand, Camus did not. He would say that you haven’t spent enough time contemplating the absurdity of the universe.

(On a side note: I’m not sure exactly what program was used to make that video, but there is one that is at least very similar called Celestia. It’s free to download, so anyone interested in taking a whirl through the galaxy should definitely check it out.)

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Bryce January 19, 2010 at 4:03 pm

Although I am not a naturalist, to take the comic and video to heart, it seems that the way to be enchanted is to lose self-consciousness, to forget about the fact that you’re an infinitesimal… well, I won’t run down the line. In other words, I fail to see how you’re not just posturing. I mean, so what if you get a shiver, if you feel elation and excitement?

As a theist, it looks like all you say amounts to “This feels good, so I’ll believe it.” It’s not the most persuasive. Even if I’m deluded, what have you got over me other than a different fantasy if you’re right?

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Robert Oerter January 19, 2010 at 4:07 pm

I wondered about the free will thing, too. Whenever I get in a discussion about free will, I offer to prove that I have free will. Then I announce, “I am going to wave my left hand.” Then I wave my left hand. (Or shake my foot, then act surprised and say, “I guess I don’t have free will after all. Sorry.”)

What could “free will” possibly mean if not that?

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lukeprog January 19, 2010 at 4:11 pm

Somebody else added the Muse soundtrack. It kept getting pulled from YouTube, so I had to find it on another site.

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lukeprog January 19, 2010 at 4:11 pm

Bryan,

Re: no free will, stay tuned to my series on Gary Drescher’s book.

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lukeprog January 19, 2010 at 4:13 pm

Robert,

That’s voluntary free will, not libertarian free will. Libertarian free will is the traditional notion of free will. Voluntary free will is the notion that compatibilists are willing to accept.

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Justfinethanks January 19, 2010 at 4:25 pm

Even if I’m deluded, what have you got over me other than a different fantasy if you’re right?

Wow, I sure called that one.

It really seems to me like you are making a category error. You are saying that the delusion of Christianity (assuming Christianity is false) is equal to the delusion of being joyful under naturalism (assuming naturalism is true). But this is comparing the truth value of a metaphysical stance vs. the emotional reaction to a metaphysical stance, and these are two seperate things.

It would make sense to call either theism or naturalism “delusional.” But it would make little sense to call being happy, enchanted, or enthralled GIVEN theism or naturalism “delusional.” When really, it’s not a matter of failing to grasp truth, but rather a matter of perspective.

And again, no one ever tells theists that they shouldn’t be happy under their world view, even though it certainly has its depressing implications (e.g. hell, lack of autonomy). So why do theists constantly tell happy atheists that they SHOULD be depressed?

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Charles January 19, 2010 at 5:03 pm

I would very much like to be a naturalist of the enchanted variety. Like to. But I can’t.

In grad school I had a very bad experience that destroyed my love for the sciences. I have yet to recover it.

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ildi January 19, 2010 at 5:27 pm

Charles: I would very much like to be a naturalist of the enchanted variety. Like to. But I can’t.In grad school I had a very bad experience that destroyed my love for the sciences. I have yet to recover it.  

Maybe shows like NOVA and Mythbusters could do it?

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kennethos January 19, 2010 at 5:48 pm

Hi Luke:
The cartoon is cute. And the video is nice also (music is great, obviously). Overall, another excellent post, and thank you for composing it.
But I’m curious: why does enchanted naturalism exist? Do you or other naturalists have any rationale for the existence of an attitude of enchantment, or why that might be preferred to the nihilistic perspective.
Also, I wonder about one other thing. Maybe you can shed some light on it:
Quoting from your quote (dunno if this is you, or somebody else) “Think of it. The world once had nothing but dead matter, and yet it managed – completely by accident and without the intervention of an intelligent actor – to wake up one day and become self-aware. I think that is more amazing than any story about a magical being injecting life into dead matter. Ours is a story about dead matter that awakened itself.”
Where exactly did the matter come from, i.e. the molecules, the atoms, nuclei, etc.? I won’t even ask about how dead matter awakened itself, or came to life. I’m still trying to fathom where, in a naturalist universe, completely by chance and accident, with no intelligent agents whatsoever, how nothing somehow generated matter. I’m not interested in any protests about not needing a “Goddidit” answer. I just want to know the naturalistic explanation for where the matter originated. If you could please enlighten me on this, I’d appreciate it. Thanks!

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lukeprog January 19, 2010 at 5:53 pm

Charles,

What the hell was that?

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lukeprog January 19, 2010 at 6:07 pm

kennethos,

I’m pretty sure somebody is an expert on the evolutionary story behind emotions of awe and wonder, but it’s not something I’ve had time to read much about.

Same thing about where matter comes from… not my something I’ve spent a lot of time on.

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Beelzebub January 19, 2010 at 6:31 pm

Justfinethanks: So why do theists constantly tell happy atheists that they SHOULD be depressed?

I think the answer to this is obvious. Theists all but fall over themselves to inform any atheist within earshot that if they were naturalists they would be the disenchanted variety; this they understandably find quite objectionable. I think this is the single greatest factor establishing and maintaining the modern theistic world-view.

Charles: In grad school I had a very bad experience that destroyed my love for the sciences. I have yet to recover it.  

At the risk of sounding like a Christian trying to counsel you in your crisis of faith (perhaps by referring you to CS Lewis), I suggest that you may just be sick of the topic, or maybe your interests just may not lie in science. But you don’t need to be Carl Sagan to be a naturalist; there are plenty of other ways to enjoy the world. There’s nothing inherently wrong with hedonism, for instance.

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Sabio Lantz January 19, 2010 at 7:34 pm

The Name
Why not call them Nihilistic Naturalism vs. Nascitistic Naturalism (nasci = spring forth, live = Nascitism (celebration of life))[I just coined it] :-) But I do love “enchanted” — but disenchanted is a bit derogatory, but then Nihilistic is no better either, eh? Maybe they would like to call themselves “Realistic Naturalists”. We should ask them. This is like the Theravada vs. Hinayana word choice in Buddhism.

The Emotions
I like that you emphasize that is an emotional stance — not intellectual. But many fall into their emotional stances just because of their natural dispositions. Luke, your photos always look a little “wired” and it is fitting for your great creative writing. And heck, I’d take hypomanic over hypodepressive any day.

But here is my question. If one is on the negative or depressive side of temperaments, is the naturalistic philosophy a curse. Maybe it should only be prescribed for natural happy-go-lucky folks. The only other way I see to solve it is develop a way to cultivate emotions — work on the cognitive brain (naturalism) then work on the emotional (enchantedism).

Cultivation of emotions is not something you hear atheists talk of much — but it is the focus of many sorts of religiosity. Here then, I think lies a challenge.
I hope that was clear.

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SteveK January 19, 2010 at 9:19 pm

Luke,

I think that is more amazing than any story about a magical being injecting life into dead matter. Ours is a story about dead matter that awakened itself.

A more amazing story, perhaps, but the faith required to believe it actually occured is even more amazing.

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lukeprog January 19, 2010 at 9:20 pm

Sabio,

“Disenchanted” is Alex Rosenberg’s term.

You ask an interesting question about whether naturalism is good for depressive people. I don’t know the answer. I think exercise, a smart diet, and cognitive-behavioral therapy are good for cognitive therapy, and none of that requires religion.

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Molly January 19, 2010 at 9:45 pm

Thanks for this post, Luke. I am definitely an enchanted naturalist, but sometimes I lose my footing a little and slip into disenchantment. I recently went to the exhibition at the Rubin Art Museum where that video was showing. To see so many cosmologies across thousands of years and then culminating with this video was nothing short of amazing!

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lukeprog January 19, 2010 at 10:14 pm

Molly,

I’m curious to hear what it is that slips you into disenchantment at times.

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Charles January 20, 2010 at 12:49 am

Beelzebub:
I suggest that you may just be sick of the topic, or maybe your interests just may not lie in science.But you don’t need to be Carl Sagan to be a naturalist; there are plenty of other ways to enjoy the world.  

That is an accurate description of where I’m at.

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Sabio Lantz January 20, 2010 at 3:56 am

@ Luke
You forgot culture in your cure for depression. Culture is drastically important — from home, to city, to nation. And culture is fragile. I compared mainland China and Taiwanese culture (both of the same parent culture) change over several decades. The change in the people were amazing. Religion was not the issue, but there it was a culture imposed by government. We either get intentional about our emotional culture or it will be guided for us by those who know how to yield a gun or yield advertising. Many people in religion get this, do many atheists?
[I agree. I too am a fanatic on good food and exercise, but we don't want to run to cognitive therapy after years of poor emotional culture. -- that is very expensive and inefficient]

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TH January 20, 2010 at 7:29 am

Bryce: Although I am not a naturalist, to take the comic and video to heart, it seems that the way to be enchanted is to lose self-consciousness, to forget about the fact that you’re an infinitesimal… well, I won’t run down the line. In other words, I fail to see how you’re not just posturing. I mean, so what if you get a shiver, if you feel elation and excitement? As a theist, it looks like all you say amounts to “This feels good, so I’ll believe it.” It’s not the most persuasive. Even if I’m deluded, what have you got over me other than a different fantasy if you’re right?  

“This feels good, so I’ll believe it” is a misreading of the post. The question is whether the truth feels good or not. It is possible to see the truth of naturalism as exciting, enthralling, enchanting

As a theist your truth probably feels good, too. Great, now let’s try to figure out whose truth is really true.

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TH January 20, 2010 at 7:36 am

SteveK: Luke,
A more amazing story, perhaps, but the faith required to believe it actually occured is even more amazing.  

Hardly. The conclusion that inanimate matter can give rise to life is simply where a dispassionate analysis of empirical evidence leads. In contrast, the conclusion that the Christian God exists and that the Bible is true comes from deeply emotional spiritual experiences, not empirical evidence.

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lukeprog January 20, 2010 at 7:38 am

Sabio,

Of course you’re completely correct. Culture is a huge issue. I think CBT should be a last resort when good food, exercise, charity work, more socializing, and improved culture have already been tried.

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TH January 20, 2010 at 7:53 am

kennethos:
I’m still trying to fathom where, in a naturalist universe, completely by chance and accident, with no intelligent agents whatsoever, how nothing somehow generated matter.

A naturalistic universe did not generate matter and energy, rather something “outside” the universe did in “causing” this one. What is “outside” the universe can not be called naturalistic since naturalism characterizes our universe alone and we have no idea what laws govern other universes (or even if they exist).

You can not use laws that originate with and characterize our universe to infer specifics of how our universe came into being. If you do, you’ve pretty much adopted a decidedly theistic position from the start, that certain laws must transcend matter, energy and our universe. And if you’re doing that, you might as well embrace your inner Christian and forget about all this evil atheist stuff.

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kennethos January 20, 2010 at 7:58 am

Luke:

lukeprog: kennethos,I’m pretty sure somebody is an expert on the evolutionary story behind emotions of awe and wonder, but it’s not something I’ve had time to read much about.Same thing about where matter comes from… not my something I’ve spent a lot of time on.  

Thank you for an honest answer. I find folks citing any “evolutionary story” to be little more than a “we don’t know, this is the best explanation we could find” angle, which for your forum is fine, it *IS* the best explanation naturalism can come up. I usually stick that into “their religious feeling” file, since it’s what it boils down to.
Discerning where matters comes from seems like a somewhat more important issue. People are talking all about evolution this and that, and other esoteric matters, without having any concrete understanding or explanation for the foundational issue, i.e., where it came from. Reading and studying ethics and atheism is fine for you, but if you consistently ignore the deeper questions…this is where atheists fail in my book over and again. I have yet to see a scientifically reasonable answer for a very simple question.
Thanks again for a good conversation!

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John D January 20, 2010 at 8:54 am

I just want to point out how statements like those made by Kennethos (above) are relevant to the whole “who designed the designer” debate that we were having on this site last week. Luke suggested that a good explanation need not itself require an explanation. I agree.

However, statements like this from kennethos reveal that the “who designed the designer” retort can be useful. Kennethos is criticising atheists for not having a complete explanation of where everything came from. Surely I could criticise theists for not having a complete explanation of where God came from.

Round and round we go…

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Bill Snedden January 20, 2010 at 9:00 am

@kennethos: Where did “god” come from? When you understand why that question is incoherent, you will understand why yours is as well…

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kevin January 20, 2010 at 11:02 am

@Sabio
As a “son-in-law of Taiwan” (台灣女婿) who lived there for a few years, I’m curious about your comparison of Taiwanese vs. Mainland culture. Could you expand on that a little?

By the way, CBT is something that can be self-taught, so it doesn’t have to be expensive or a method of last resort. In fact, it can be one of the methods in your toolkit for cultivating emotions (or responding flexibly to emotions). I actually prefer mindfulness-based CBT, which is gaining empirical support.

I like your analysis of intellectual vs emotional stance. Most atheist discussion online is focused on the intellectual. In my view of a meaningful/flourishing life, atheism/naturalism/rationalism is only one component, the other being the cultivation of emotions and value-driven behavior.

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TH January 20, 2010 at 12:16 pm

kennethos: I have yet to see a scientifically reasonable answer for a very simple question [where did it all come from].

Science, as a study of the natural world, has no guarantee of understanding anything beyond this universe because it necessarily adopts methodology that is only known to work in this one. So, science, naturalism, atheism has no guarantee of helping you understand where it all came from, and you have a serious misconception if you think it even makes sense to expect an answer.

But you have an ulterior motive in asking the question; you already believe in a system of methods and beliefs that does answer the ultimate question– theism– and you probably want to make a point of that superiority. However, your mistake is in thinking theism is better because it answers more questions. It is not whether a system of methods and beliefs answers more questions that matters, it is whether or not its answers are CORRECT.

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Beelzebub January 20, 2010 at 2:42 pm

TH: A naturalistic universe did not generate matter and energy, rather something “outside” the universe did in “causing” this one. What is “outside” the universe can not be called naturalistic since naturalism characterizes our universe alone and we have no idea what laws govern other universes (or even if they exist).

This is where I think terminology fails us. As things stand we have “naturalism” and “supernaturalism” as complements composing the whole. This is why we have some philosophers saying that what caused the universe was necessarily “super-” natural. I think that’s a very bad use of language. Unless you’re going to invent a new word like “epi-natualism” to describe things outside our universe apart from the supernatural, I think you need to call anything that doesn’t correspond to the incoherency of supernatural natural. So what happened before the big bang was natural, to describe it otherwise is just conceding ignorance and the limitations of our conception of the natural order.

“Supernatural” has so much connotative baggage from religion that the project should be to utterly destroy it as a concept. As The Who wrote: “Let’s forget it better still.”

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Sabio Lantz January 20, 2010 at 3:04 pm

@kevin
I will post in the next 2 weeks on this topic. But for now, put simply, Mainland’s culture inspired laziness, backbiting and suspicion. Taiwan’s economic system maintained diligence and cooperation (though they had suspicion in the beginning). Only now is the Mainland slowly regaining its destroyed culture. It only takes 2 generations to destroy a culture. This is why I wonder about evolution of culture since it has no memory for the ratcheting effect needed in other evolutionary mechanisms.
Please e-mail me by visiting my site because I don’t want to hijack the thread.

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TH January 20, 2010 at 3:51 pm

Beelzebub:
This is where I think terminology fails us.As things stand we have “naturalism” and “supernaturalism” as complements composing the whole.

I see your point, but I’m trying to escape the error of applying laws inferred from our universe’s behavior to areas clearly outside of that domain. For example, all causes require effects; well, yes, but only if time is a proper dimension. The past is often a useful guide to the future; well, yes, if there is sufficient uniformity at certain timescales. Almost everything we think of as “applied naturalism” would fail if we couldn’t rely on these assumptions. While I think it is entirely possible to adapt to very different laws (quantum mechanics comes to mind), theists like kennethos refer to “chance”, “accident”, “intelligent agents” as if these characteristics of our universe somehow apply universally to all universes.

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Leon January 20, 2010 at 5:58 pm

Luke, could we get a link to the xkcd comic?

I imagine many supernaturalists also get a sense of enchantment from the natural world — possibly the very same one (if we’re talking about science or tree-climbing :-).

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SteveK January 20, 2010 at 6:53 pm

TH: Hardly. The conclusion that inanimate matter can give rise to life is simply where a dispassionate analysis of empirical evidence leads. In contrast, the conclusion that the Christian God exists and that the Bible is true comes from deeply emotional spiritual experiences, not empirical evidence.  (Quote)

Hardly. There is no empirical evidence that supports your conclusion. If there was, you could demonstrate empirically life coming from non-life today – and you can’t. By contrast, the empirical evidence we DO have – all of it – says life always comes from life.

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Justfinethanks January 20, 2010 at 7:18 pm

There is no empirical evidence that supports your conclusion. If there was, you could demonstrate empirically life coming from non-life today – and you can’t. By contrast, the empirical evidence we DO have – all of it – says life always comes from life.

SteveK, there is no empirical evidence that supports your conclusion. If there was, you could demonstrate the existence of the supernatural realm today – and you can’t. By contrast, the empirical evidence we DO have – all of it – says events always have natural causes.

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ildi January 20, 2010 at 7:47 pm

SteveK:
Hardly. There is no empirical evidence that supports your conclusion. If there was, you could demonstrate empirically life coming from non-life today – and you can’t. By contrast, the empirical evidence we DO have – all of it – says life always comes from life.  

That may be true today, but I would keep an eye out on the work of Jack Szostak of Harvard Medical School.

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Justfinethanks January 20, 2010 at 8:03 pm

That may be true today, but I would keep an eye out on the work of Jack Szostak of Harvard Medical School.

Yeah, given the amount of exciting research and progress that is being made into abiogenesis, it’s odd that this is the God of the Gaps move that theists want to pull. Theistic evolutionist Francis Collins once said (and I’m paraphrasing, I forget what the exact quote was): “Do you really want to stake your faith on the prospect that scientists will NEVER discover a naturalistic origin of life?”

To a surprisingly large number of theists, the answer is “yes.”

Let’s see how well that works out for them in the coming years.

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SteveK January 20, 2010 at 8:55 pm

Justfinethanks: SteveK, there is no empirical evidence that supports your conclusion. If there was, you could demonstrate the existence of the supernatural realm today – and you can’t. By contrast, the empirical evidence we DO have – all of it – says events always have natural causes.  (Quote)

First, I’m not making a statement about the supernatural. I’m making a statement about what has been observed and can be demonstrated. That’s what TH wanted.

Second, you can’t develop an experiment that can detect ‘natural’ in any physical mechanism so there is no empirical evidence (strictly speaking) that can support what you are claiming. What does ‘natural’ look, smell, taste, feel or sound like so that you can say you have observed it? Can you put ‘natural’ in a room? No.

You are making a metaphysical claim, which is fine. People do it all the time – even scientists.

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SteveK January 20, 2010 at 9:08 pm

ildi: That may be true today, but I would keep an eye out on the work of Jack Szostak of Harvard Medical School.  (Quote)

Look forward to the results.

BTW, I certainly don’t stake MY faith on the prospect that scientists will never discover a naturalistic origin mainly for the reasons I gave above regarding the observation of ‘natural’.

Francis Collins (if he said it) is incorrect to think ‘natural’ can be detected directly using the 5 senses or described in purely physical terms (which is what scientists do). If he thinks it can, I’d like to hear him describe it completely in those terms.

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SteveK January 20, 2010 at 9:34 pm

Justfinethanks: Yeah, given the amount of exciting research and progress that is being made into abiogenesis, it’s odd that this is the God of the Gaps move that theists want to pull. (Quote)

Notice that I described what we observe and can demonstrate today (life coming from life) so there is no ‘gap’ in my reasoning.

However, notice the ‘gap’ in your reasoing that you fill with a promisary note of hope in the future. That hope being, someday we will be able to observe and demonstrate that inanimate matter can give rise to life. It may happen. It may not happen. For now that theory takes a back seat to what we KNOW and can demonstrate today – aka evidence.

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ildi January 21, 2010 at 5:02 am

However, notice the ‘gap’ in your reasoing that you fill with a promisary note of hope in the future.

Um, no, there’s no gap; quite the opposite. There are several promising lines of research to follow. Promissory note? You’re using an accounting term to describe the scientific method? No, there’s no contract, no unconditional promise.

Also,

Second, you can’t develop an experiment that can detect ‘natural’ in any physical mechanism so there is no empirical evidence (strictly speaking) that can support what you are claiming. What does ‘natural’ look, smell, taste, feel or sound like so that you can say you have observed it? Can you put ‘natural’ in a room? No.

Actually, yes. “Natural” is what science studies. It’s what the room is, and everything in the room. Unless you’re going the Matrix route, but methodological naturalism is the core principle of the scientific method.

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TH January 21, 2010 at 7:51 am

SteveK:
Hardly. There is no empirical evidence that supports your conclusion. If there was, you could demonstrate empirically life coming from non-life today – and you can’t. By contrast, the empirical evidence we DO have – all of it – says life always comes from life.  

The conclusion that inanimate matter can give rise to life is a hypothesis based on empirical evidence that mutation with natural selection can produce arbitrary complexity (the limitations come from the actual environmental conditions that give rise to mutation rates and natural selection pressure).

As a hypothesis for the origin of life, it is not as strongly supported by empirical evidence as other scientific hypotheses, but all things considered, it is a reasonable conclusion without a strong competitor.

Now I know very well the objections of Intelligent Design, that information can’t evolve, that the gaps in the fossil record are where the hand of The Designer appears. However, the work of the Discovery Institute is driven by the conclusion that God exists, which in turn comes from deeply emotional spiritual experiences, not empirical evidence. This backwards approach to science, setting out to prove a metaphysical preconception at any cost, is evident in the shoddy quality of their work and failure to publish any significant findings.

And spare me any complaints of conspiracies to stifle Intelligent Design in scientific journals. Good work will be published, bad work won’t. Especially good, solid work is the only way to overturn existing consensus and ID hasn’t come anywhere close to that. Deal with it.

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Lorkas January 21, 2010 at 9:47 am

As for “how did something come from nothing?”, watch this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ImvlS8PLIo It’s a talk given by Lawrence Krauss titled “A universe from nothing”.

He demonstrates that, first of all, there is no such thing as nothing–at least not in our spacetime. What we call “nothing” is actually a stew of particles fleeting in and out of existence constantly.

He also demonstrates that it’s not that special for something to come from “nothing”–it happens all the time, everywhere. Of course, we’re talking about the subatomic level here, but once we’ve shown that it is in principle possible for something to come from nothing spontaneously, we’ve answered the question you posed above.

Finally, he demonstrates that, based on the geometry of the universe, the total energy in the universe is equal to 0. This means, of course, that no energy was input at the beginning of the universe, so it doesn’t require a creator to explain why it exists. Physics has demonstrated that the universe could have generated spontaneously from quantum events. If God did create the universe, he did it while hiding behind a veil of naturalism.

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ildi January 21, 2010 at 10:10 am

Physics has demonstrated that the universe could have generated spontaneously from quantum events.

That doesn’t bode well for the Leibnizian cosmological argument, does it?

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ayer January 21, 2010 at 3:20 pm

Lorkas: He demonstrates that, first of all, there is no such thing as nothing–at least not in our spacetime.

That’s not the issue–the issue is the origin of spacetime itself.

Lorkas: He also demonstrates that it’s not that special for something to come from “nothing”–it happens all the time, everywhere.

That is not “nothing”–that is a quantum vacuum, which is a rich energy field that behaves according to specific laws.

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SteveK January 21, 2010 at 4:50 pm

Actually, yes. “Natural” is what science studies.

And supernatural (causes) is what theology studies. Here, the human is considered to be, in essence, a spiritual being.

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Lorkas January 21, 2010 at 6:02 pm

ayer: That’s not the issue–the issue is the origin of spacetime itself.

Why do you think I added that qualifying phrase at the end? The point is that it reduces “nothing” to a concept that no one has even demonstrated to exist. If we know that “nothing” is an impossible state in our spacetime, then the burden of proof is on the person who wants to assert that it can exist elsewhere.

ayer: That is not “nothing”–that is a quantum vacuum, which is a rich energy field that behaves according to specific laws.

That’s why I put “nothing” in quotes. What we refer to as “nothing” in everyday speech doesn’t actually exist (or in any case, it has never been observed), but if you ask someone what is inside a vacuum, they are likely to respond “nothing”. This is a concept that doesn’t exist in nature, and there’s no non-naive reason, mathematical or otherwise, to suppose it can ever exist. A state of quantum fluctuation is more stable than a static void, so much so that quantum fluctuations gave rise to all the matter in the universe.

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ildi January 21, 2010 at 6:35 pm

And supernatural (causes) is what theology studies.

To great effect, I might add! Here, let me turn on my supernatural reading lamp and post a comment on the supernatural internet with my nifty supernatural computer… er, um, as I was saying…

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ayer January 21, 2010 at 7:26 pm

Lorkas: The point is that it reduces “nothing” to a concept that no one has even demonstrated to exist.

I agree that “nothing” does not exist,since it implies nonexistence of anything. It is a very tricky word. It is better defined as “the absence of anything, including spacetime.” And that is a perfectly coherent concept.

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SteveK January 21, 2010 at 10:15 pm

ildi: To great effect, I might add! Here, let me turn on my supernatural reading lamp and post a comment on the supernatural internet with my nifty supernatural computer… er, um, as I was saying…  (Quote)

Despite your obvious wit, this does nothing to support the claim that there is empircial evidence that ALL causes are ‘natural’.

Empirical science limits its detection to efficient and material causes. The remaining two cannot be explained in traditional naturalistic terms which means they are not ‘natural’. Unhindered by this problem, some naturalists set out to overcome it by tweaking the definition of the word ‘natural’ until it could explain the remaining causes.

Nowadays ‘natural’ has a wide range of definitions. Final causes are now considered ‘natural’ in some circles even though they cannot be shown, empirically, to be natural causes. Evolutionary causes being an example of this. It’s a worldview philosophy.

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SteveK January 21, 2010 at 10:55 pm

TH: The conclusion that inanimate matter can give rise to life is a hypothesis based on empirical evidence that mutation with natural selection can produce arbitrary complexity (the limitations come from the actual environmental conditions that give rise to mutation rates and natural selection pressure).nbsp; (Quote)

How does the fact that arbitrary complexity can be produced via certain mechanisms support your hypothesis that life can come from non-life? I don’t see the connection at all. Remember what you said, which was the reason for my comment. You said:

“The conclusion that inanimate matter can give rise to life is simply where a dispassionate analysis of empirical evidence leads.”

I have solid empirical evidence for my claim. So solid that I can show it to you again and again. No analysis required, just observation. Where is the empirical evidence for your claim? You say you have evidence, but you can’t SHOW me or EXPLAIN to me (without question begging) HOW it supports your hypothesis that life can come from non-life.

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Lorkas January 21, 2010 at 11:12 pm

ayer:
I agree that “nothing” does not exist,since it implies nonexistence of anything.It is a very tricky word.It is better defined as “the absence of anything, including spacetime.”And that is a perfectly coherent concept.  

There are plenty of perfectly coherent concepts that don’t actually turn out to exist. In fact, there are coherent concepts that turn out to be physically impossible. A perpetual motion machine is one example: everyone understands that a PMM is a machine that keeps doing work without needing energy to keep it going, so the concept itself is coherent, but that doesn’t mean that it can actually exist.

Now, “the absence of anything, including spacetime” is a perfectly coherent concept, but that doesn’t mean that it’s a possible state of affairs in reality. Sure we can picture what “nothing” is, but that doesn’t mean it can really exist (so to speak).

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James Gray January 22, 2010 at 1:16 am

How far to the right am I? I think intrinsic values do exist, but I don’t see how this makes me any less of a naturalist than anyone who thinks we have minds.

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ildi January 22, 2010 at 5:48 am

Despite your obvious wit, this does nothing to support the claim that there is empircial evidence that ALL causes are ‘natural’.

However, all established natural causes are supported by empirical evidence. What empirical evidence do you have for the supernatural, again? What, exactly, has the theological study of the supernatural added to the human body of knowledge?

Where is the empirical evidence for your claim? You say you have evidence, but you can’t SHOW me or EXPLAIN to me (without question begging) HOW it supports your hypothesis that life can come from non-life.

Good point, but the only reason I personally cannot show the empirical evidence is because I am not a biologist or geneticist, so I have to take the word of experts when they say the lines of research are promising. For example, from wiki:

The RNA world hypothesis proposes that a world filled with life based on ribonucleic acid (RNA) predates the current world of life based on deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and protein. RNA, which can both store information like DNA and act as an enzyme like proteins, may have supported cellular or pre-cellular life. Some hypotheses as to the origin of life present RNA-based catalysis and information storage as the first step in the evolution of cellular life.

which I believe is the direction in which Jack Szostak is conducting his research.

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ayer January 22, 2010 at 6:53 am

ildi: What empirical evidence do you have for the supernatural, again?

How about:

1) the exquisite fine-tuning of the physical constants of the universe for intelligent life
2) the origin of spacetime itself in a universe that is not past-eternal (per Borde-Guth-Vilenkin)

3) the evolution of intelligent life itself: “In their Anthropic Cosmological Principle, Barrow and Tipler list ten steps in the evolution of homo sapiens, including such steps as the development of the DNA-based genetic code, the origin of mitochondria, the origin of photosynthesis, the development of aerobic respiration, and so forth, each of which is so improbable that before it would have occurred, the sun would have ceased to be a main sequence star and incinerated the earth. They report that “there has developed a general consensus among evolutionists that the evolution of intelligent life, comparable in information processing ability to that of homo sapiens is so improbable that it is unlikely to have occurred on any other planet in the entire visible universe.””
(http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5355)

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Lorkas January 22, 2010 at 8:16 am

ayer: How about:

1) the exquisite fine-tuning of the physical constants of the universe for intelligent life
2) the origin of spacetime itself in a universe that is not past-eternal (per Borde-Guth-Vilenkin)
3) the evolution of intelligent life itself

None of those are evidence for supernatural, ayer. They’re evidence that we don’t know everything about this universe yet. Those things have unknown causes, but that doesn’t imply that the causes are supernatural. All of those arguments can be reduced to:

1) There are some things that we haven’t explained yet.
2) Those things are caused by God!
3) Therefore, God exists (or, by extension, supernatural causes exist)

You haven’t found positive evidence of a supernatural cause, you’re merely asserting one to explain things that we don’t know yet, which is a totally dishonest stance to take. I might as well say that since we don’t know the origin of language, it must have been invented by invisible fairies from another dimension who used sufficiently advanced technology to genetically modify human populations all over the world at the same time to give them grammar and syntax. The structure of the arguments is the same, but you probably think that yours gives good reason to believe in a creator while mine doesn’t give good reason to believe in invisible fairies from another dimension.

Perhaps one day we will discover something that shows everyone that there is a God who created the universe, but that “something” will never take the form of an argument from ignorance.

ayer: each of which is so improbable that before it would have occurred, the sun would have ceased to be a main sequence star and incinerated the earth

Might I see those calculations? What? They didn’t share them? Ah, that’s because it’s utter bullshit. Think about it: there are thousands (at least!) of variables in every one of those scenarios, and we don’t even know most of them. This probability is not just difficult to calculate–it’s impossible with our current state of knowledge.

They probably never did any calculations, they just asserted that those events were too improbable to occur before the sun asploded us. If they did do calculations, they can’t possibly share them with anyone, because they would quickly be revealed as bogus.

ayer: “there has developed a general consensus among evolutionists that the evolution of intelligent life, comparable in information processing ability to that of homo sapiens is so improbable that it is unlikely to have occurred on any other planet in the entire visible universe.”

I guess I wasn’t privy to that consensus. Most “evolutionists” I’ve spoken express the contrary opinion that there are so many planets that it’s unlikely that none of them (aside from Earth) have developed intelligent life, though that could be the case. The thing is, evolutionists realize that the development of complexity is much more probable than non-evolutionists typically believe, given self-replicating entities in a resource-limited environment (the requirements for evolution to occur).

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ildi January 22, 2010 at 9:14 am

the exquisite fine-tuning of the physical constants of the universe for intelligent life

You mean the apparent fine-tuning of the physical constants of this universe for our form of intelligent life? We’ve had this discussion before, a supernatural explanation is superfluous (e.g., “physicist hacker” or multiverses).

the origin of spacetime itself in a universe that is not past-eternal (per Borde-Guth-Vilenkin)

This is empirical evidence for a supernatural explanation? How so? I think you’re already having this conversation with Lorkas in this thread…

the evolution of intelligent life itself

Yes, I always turn to physicists when I want to understand evolutionary theory.

Regarding the anthropic principle, in particular the FAP:

The proper scientific usage of the anthropic principle in physics and cosmology, is a cautionary statement against making unwarranted assumptions based on the observer’s frame of reference. Directly it refers to the tautology that the universe must be able to support life because we are here to observe this fact. Or more broadly, that anything we do observe in the universe must necessarily be skewed by our limited frame of reference from within the very system we are trying to observe.

One of the rules that defines over arching laws of nature, is that they cannot be frame dependant. Einstein’s law of relativity must hold true on the other side of the galaxy, just as it does here, otherwise it cannot be called a true law of nature.

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ayer January 22, 2010 at 12:51 pm

Lorkas: Perhaps one day we will discover something that shows everyone that there is a God who created the universe, but that “something” will never take the form of an argument from ignorance.

This is where your naive faith in science degenerates into “scientism.” When dealing with the very origin of spacetime, or whether evolution is teleological, we will never have “scientific” proof one way or the other, because science can only provide evidence of material cause and effect relationships within spacetime. The discussion on these issues will always be a philosophical “inference to the best explanation.” And the God hypothesis, as opposed to the naturalistic hypothesis, is the best explanation of the three phenomena I listed.

Of course, you are free to refuse to attempt to provide an explanation and remain in agnostic limbo; but that does not prevent others from making the reasonable inference to God.

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drj January 22, 2010 at 2:46 pm

ayer: each of which is so improbable that before it would have occurred, the sun would have ceased to be a main sequence star and incinerated the earth

Its always puzzling to see something like this. Bill Craig is obviously a smart, competent guy, so you just have to wonder what the heck is going on in these instances, when he appears to believe and repeat or publish such utter crap. I’d be tempted to think he was an incompetent idiot, but we know that he isnt. Yet, what is one to make of this?

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James Gray January 22, 2010 at 4:24 pm

ayer:
This is where your naive faith in science degenerates into “scientism.”When dealing with the very origin of spacetime, or whether evolution is teleological, we will never have “scientific” proof one way or the other, because science can only provide evidence of material cause and effect relationships within spacetime. The discussion on these issues will always be a philosophical “inference to the best explanation.”And the God hypothesis, as opposed to the naturalistic hypothesis, is the best explanation of the three phenomena I listed.Of course, you are free to refuse to attempt to provide an explanation and remain in agnostic limbo; but that does not prevent others from making the reasonable inference to God.  

Ayer,

Some people seem to have the need to explain everything in the universe even when doing so is impossible. God is a wild speculation. Some people are too skeptical to care for such hypotheses. They want to only believe what passes a certain threshold of certainty. “Scientism” of a sort is legitimate when we only want to accept that something is true (or even say much about how possible it is that it is true) when i passes a scientific threshold of certainty.

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TH January 22, 2010 at 5:33 pm

SteveK:
How does the fact that arbitrary complexity can be produced via certain mechanisms support your hypothesis that life can come from non-life? I don’t see the connection at all. Remember what you said, which was the reason for my comment. You said:“The conclusion that inanimate matter can give rise to life is simply where a dispassionate analysis of empirical evidence leads.”

A dispassionate analysis of empirical evidence leads one to realize that arbitrary complexity can be produced via mutation and selection on chemicals, on clay templates, on molecules, on cells, on life. Therefore, inanimate matter can give rise to life (in all likelihood). For specifically which empirical evidence I’m talking about, see any Evolutionary Biology textbook.

I have solid empirical evidence for my claim. So solid that I can show it to you again and again. No analysis required, just observation

That life comes from life? Useless since you don’t define life. Define the simplest life form. Now subtract one nucleotide. Is it alive or not?

Life came from replicating molecules. The alternative is emotional and spiritual experiences that convince you that God is real and that the Bible trumps empirical evidence. Nah.

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Lorkas January 22, 2010 at 10:00 pm

ayer: Of course, you are free to refuse to attempt to provide an explanation and remain in agnostic limbo; but that does not prevent others from making the reasonable inference to God.

Well, when you put it like that… I guess I should assert to know what I can’t possibly know, and pretend that I am reasonable in asserting it.

From now on, I shall dedicate my life to spreading the good news of the invisible fairies, who created the universe using sufficiently advanced technology that’s timeless and spaceless. That’s a perfectly reasonable inference, after all (according to my pal ayer).

Your method for answering questions about origins is what I refer to as the “make shit up” approach. You simply assert that we’ll never be able to answer the question, so assuming that it was created by a desert deity who demands blood sacrifice in retribution for our shortcomings, but sent his son to cover the debt is suddenly reasonable. If you were arguing for the deist position, then your argument might at least be respectable (until we do unravel the mystery of the origin of spacetime, that is), but you’re trying to pull a bait-and-switch with the Christian deity, which is utterly dishonest. It’s much more respectable and honest to suspend judgement on questions that can’t be answered yet.

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Al Moritz January 23, 2010 at 5:59 am

Of course you cannot argue philosophically for Christianity. You can philosophically only argue for the fact that it is reasonable to assume the existence of God. That is why on the level of pure reason all intellectual Christians other than Bible fundamentalists only argue for philosophical theism. Yet once the reasonability of the God concept is established, then one can infer that it makes sense to trust divine revelation (by definition knowledge that humans cannot acquire by themselves), which may then entail belief in Christianity.

But to assert that intellectual Christians want to argue from the fine-tuning of the laws of nature or related things straight towards the specific characteristics of God as revealed in Christianity — now that is simply false, a strawman argument.

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ayer January 23, 2010 at 6:46 am

Lorkas: If you were arguing for the deist position, then your argument might at least be respectable

Al Moritz: ut to assert that intellectual Christians want to argue from the fine-tuning of the laws of nature or related things straight towards the specific characteristics of God as revealed in Christianity — now that is simply false, a strawman argument.

I agree that the fine tuning and cosmological arguments only give you a generic monotheistic God; but making an inference to the resurrection of Jesus as the best explanation of the historical data gives you Christianity. It is a cumulative case approach.

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drj January 23, 2010 at 7:40 am

ayer: I agree that the fine tuning and cosmological arguments only give you a generic monotheistic God; but making an inference to the resurrection of Jesus as the best explanation of the historical data gives you Christianity. It is a cumulative case approach.  

There’s nothing about the constants that precludes a deist God.

Al Moritz: But to assert that intellectual Christians want to argue from the fine-tuning of the laws of nature or related things straight towards the specific characteristics of God as revealed in Christianity — now that is simply false, a strawman argument.  

They come pretty close – they argue not for a deist God, but specifically for a theistic, personal God, that conveniently has the types of attributes that the three major monotheisms expect Him to have.

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Al Moritz January 23, 2010 at 7:47 am

ayer: I agree that the fine tuning and cosmological arguments only give you a generic monotheistic God; but making an inference to the resurrection of Jesus as the best explanation of the historical data gives you Christianity.It is a cumulative case approach.  

Yes, but you cannot argue for the Christian God on philosophical grounds. You can do this only on historical grounds (as you say) and on theological ones.

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Al Moritz January 23, 2010 at 7:57 am

drj:
They come pretty close – they argue not for a deist God, but specifically for a theistic, personal God, that conveniently has the types of attributes that the three major monotheisms expect Him to have.  

No they don’t. The attributes of the God of the philosophers are contained in the specific attributes of the Christian God, but not the other way around. You cannot argue for the Trinity on philosophical grounds, for example. You can only argue on theological and philosophical grounds that, once known by divine revelation (which goes beyond what human reason alone can know on its own), belief in the Trinity is reasonable. This is a fundamental difference.

As for the issue of a theistic vs. a deistic God: you can argue that a deistic God makes little rational sense. Why would a God who cares so much about life that He endowed the universe with exquisite fine-tuning not care about creation at all once it is initiated?

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Lorkas January 23, 2010 at 11:23 am

ayer: I agree that the fine tuning and cosmological arguments only give you a generic monotheistic God; but making an inference to the resurrection of Jesus as the best explanation of the historical data gives you Christianity. It is a cumulative case approach.

The resurrection of Jesus isn’t the best explanation of the historical data. “And then a miracle happened” is never the best explanation unless you already have positive evidence that miracles can occur in the first place. Anyway, it’s always surprising to me how people can manage to accept all of the miracles from their belief system and reject all of the miracles from other belief system.

You’re probably not inclined to believe in Islam because Allah writes his scriptures in the clouds or because Muslims argue that the best explanation of the 1st-Century historical data is that Judas was transformed to appear like Jesus and was crucified on the cross in Jesus’s place (which is no less plausible than “Jesus came back to life”. If we’re going to allow miracles to be considered “the best explanation”, then I can’t see any way that your miracle is more likely than the Muslim version of the miracle).

The “Jesus and/or his followers made up his resurrection” explanation has the advantage of invoking only mechanisms that have been observed to occur in the natural world (people making shit up), while both the Christian miracle story and the Muslim miracle story invoke unobserved mechanisms like miraculous transformation or days-later resurrection (and flying off into the sky, and turning water into wine, and various other physics/chemistry/biology-defying claims).

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ildi January 23, 2010 at 3:04 pm

But to assert that intellectual Christians want to argue from the fine-tuning of the laws of nature or related things straight towards the specific characteristics of God as revealed in Christianity — now that is simply false, a strawman argument.

But that is exactly what you are doing here. You state:

The attributes of the God of the philosophers are contained in the specific attributes of the Christian God

Very well, but you don’t say here what you purport the attributes of the god of philosophy to be.

Then you state:

Why would a God who cares so much about life that He endowed the universe with exquisite fine-tuning not care about creation at all once it is initiated?

At best, fine tuning implies a designer. This designer could possibly be an advance civilization; Andrei Linde’s chaotic inflationary theory implies that you don’t need cosmic resources to create a universe. Using “God” to connote this designer is disingenuous because most people already have a lot of attributes they assume for God that is not implied in the fine-tuning argument.

Second, saying that God fine-tuned the universe for intelligent life makes the tacit assumption that there was an intention to create intelligent life. Intelligent life could just be an artifact of the parameters of our universe. We are because the cosmological constants are what they are, not that the constants were set at certain values so that we could be.

Third, I don’t know about you, but if this universe is your idea of “exquisite fine-tuning,” I’d hate to see what sort of work you would find acceptable from a general contractor. The universe is more like a dank hovel with no plumbing and electricity than a custom-built mansion. Intelligent life is barely hanging on by the skin of its teeth. Hey, does God work for the government?

So from sentence to sentence you’ve slowly morphed from a god of philosophy (which in this case would be better identified as a possible designer – not even a deist god) to an interventionist God who supposedly exquisitely fine-tuned this universe (which just so happens is 99.999% uninhabitable).

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ayer January 23, 2010 at 6:57 pm

ildi: At best, fine tuning implies a designer.

That’s true. But that is why the fine-tuning argument is combined with the kalam cosmological argument (which gives you a spaceless, timeless, immaterial, enormously powerful mind as the cause of the universe) and the moral argument (which gives you a morally perfect being as the ontological grounding for objective moral values). Put the three arguments together and you get the God of classical monotheism. Add the resurrection of Jesus as the best explanation of the historical data and you get Christianity.

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James Gray January 23, 2010 at 7:10 pm

ayer:
That’s true.But that is why the fine-tuning argument is combined with the kalam cosmological argument (which gives you a spaceless, timeless, immaterial, enormously powerful mind as the cause of the universe) and the moral argument (which gives you a morally perfect being as the ontological grounding for objective moral values).Put the three arguments together and you get the God of classical monotheism.Add the resurrection of Jesus as the best explanation of the historical data and you get Christianity.  

Philosophers are not by and large convinced by those arguments. If you want to accept them because you are personally convinced, that’s fine, but it isn’t irrational to deny them. I suspect most of these arguments are posted on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy with the response philosophers have given. If you want to prove these arguments “must be accepted by every rational person,” you have a tremendous undertaking to attempt.

Here is the entry on the Cosmological argument, for example: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/cosmological-argument/

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lukeprog January 23, 2010 at 7:58 pm

Geez, ayer, you are prolific…

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ayer January 23, 2010 at 8:03 pm

James Gray: ut it isn’t irrational to deny them

Sure, I never said it was. It’s just that they are more plausible than the alternatives.

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ayer January 23, 2010 at 8:05 pm

lukeprog: Geez, ayer, you are prolific…  

You’re right, and I don’t really have time for it. I enjoy interacting with your blog, but I am getting close to having to “retire” (it’s been interesting to see how the other side thinks, though) :)

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lukeprog January 23, 2010 at 9:05 pm

ayer,

That’s too bad. I’ll miss you. :(

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ayer January 23, 2010 at 9:17 pm

lukeprog: ayer,That’s too bad. I’ll miss you.   

Thanks, but if and when you have kids, you will learn the true meaning of “lack of time” and your sympathy for my plight will be complete :)

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James Gray January 23, 2010 at 10:50 pm

ayer:
Sure, I never said it was.It’s just that they are more plausible than the alternatives.  

That is also a tremendous undertaking to argue, even though it would be a lot easier than what I suggested. I have written about why I don’t think God is a necessary foundation for morality.

Basically something becomes less plausible when it requires (potentially) unnecessary metaphysical commitments and more plausible when it explains more. Most philosophers find that religious doctrine tends to want to explain everything, and it is not clear exactly how much is really being explained despite the heavy use of metaphysical commitments. Ideally, theories involving God would explain enough to warrant the metaphysical commitments involved, but it isn’t even clear if and when that is the case.

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drj January 24, 2010 at 7:00 am

ayer: That’s true. But that is why the fine-tuning argument is combined with the kalam cosmological argument (which gives you a spaceless, timeless, immaterial, enormously powerful mind as the cause of the universe) and the moral argument (which gives you a morally perfect being as the ontological grounding for objective moral values). Put the three arguments together and you get the God of classical monotheism. Add the resurrection of Jesus as the best explanation of the historical data and you get Christianity.

This was exactly my point – the cosmological argument specifically excludes deism, and argues for a very Christian God right off the bat. In fact, it is meant to basically leave a person who accepts the argument with three options: Judaism, Islam, and Christianity.

In other words, in spirit, the arguments are very close to:

Fine-tuning, therefore Christianity.
The universe began to exist, therefore Christianity.
Morals, therefore Christianity.

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ildi January 24, 2010 at 12:40 pm

lukeprog: Geez, ayer, you are prolific…  

Well, it’s pretty easy to be prolific when you can cut and paste the same answer most of the time:

But that is why the fine-tuning argument is combined with the kalam cosmological argument (which gives you a spaceless, timeless, immaterial, enormously powerful mind as the cause of the universe) and the moral argument (which gives you a morally perfect being as the ontological grounding for objective moral values). Put the three arguments together and you get the God of classical monotheism. Add the resurrection of Jesus as the best explanation of the historical data and you get Christianity.

I have to say, though, that ayer’s canned answer made for a good apologetics syllabus for me, and as a bonus I heard about the concept of the physicist hacker for the first time.

Based on my readings, this rational, scientifically-trained person finds, for example, the fine-tuning argument and “minimum facts” model to be thin gruel indeed…

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kevin January 26, 2010 at 8:54 am

hey Luke (and everyone),
I just came across a relevant article at Less Wrong (nice site, by the way, which I found via Overcoming Bias, thanks to your recommendation): Joy in the Merely Real

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