CPBD 043: Tim Mawson – A Fine-Tuned Universe

by Luke Muehlhauser on June 2, 2010 in Design Argument,Podcast

cpbd043

(Listen to other episodes of Conversations from the Pale Blue Dot here.)

Today I interview philosopher Tim Mawson. Among other things, we discuss:

  • Why atheists should pray to God
  • Why the usual answers to “What is the meaning of life?” tend to be unsatisfying
  • Fine-tuning as evidence for God

Download CPBD episode 043 with Tim Mawson. Total time is 47:01.

mawsonTim Mawson links:

Links for things we discussed:

Note: in addition to the regular blog feed, there is also a podcast-only feed. You can also subscribe on iTunes.

Previous post:

Next post:

{ 73 comments… read them below or add one }

Reginald Selkirk June 2, 2010 at 6:05 am

Why the usual answers to “What is the meaning of life?” tend to be unsatisfying

Ah, there’s my mistake. I was never concerned with whether the answers were satisfying, only with whether they were true.

  (Quote)

Reginald Selkirk June 2, 2010 at 6:09 am

His web page at Oxford has an incorrect spelling in his list of papers and book chapters, #20 “Mill’s Argument Against Religious Knoweldge,” therefore his entire argument is invalid.

  (Quote)

Alec June 2, 2010 at 7:01 am

I read his paper arguing for the existence of objective moral values, and didn’t find it very convincing. It seems to be another “We all really feel deep down that it’s wrong to murder, therefore it really is wrong to murder.”. Or am I missing something?

  (Quote)

noen June 2, 2010 at 7:25 am

Reginald Selkirk
“Ah, there’s my mistake. I was never concerned with whether the answers were satisfying, only with whether they were true.”

No, your mistake is in thinking that questions of meaning have true or false answers. Values are not true, only facts can be true or false.

  (Quote)

Atheist.pig June 2, 2010 at 8:43 am

Not a bad interview, I’m just left puzzled as to why Tim Mawson got challenged on all of the arguments he made, but fundy Sean McDowell got his ass kissed and compliments all over!

noen

No, your mistake is in thinking that questions of meaning have true or false answers. Values are not true, only facts can be true or false.

Are you going back on your previous assertion that you believe in moral truth noen? I even remember the example you gave as a moral truth. Do you?

  (Quote)

noen June 2, 2010 at 10:04 am

Atheist.pig
“Are you going back on your previous assertion that you believe in moral truth noen? I even remember the example you gave as a moral truth. Do you?”

I suspect you misunderstood me but I’ll do my best to explain. It’s also possible that I made a mistake somewhere down the line.

I don’t think there are any epistemic moral truths but I do think there are some moral truths that while epistemically subjective are nonetheless objective in the sense that they are observer independent. Therefore it isn’t up to me to decide if murder is right or wrong. We humans have come to the conclusion that it is wrong under some conditions. All the same if there were no humans then murder would be neither right or wrong.

  (Quote)

Roman June 2, 2010 at 10:11 am

What a lovely guy! Thanks to you both, I very much enjoyed this interview.

  (Quote)

Bill Maher June 2, 2010 at 11:26 am

Luke, you have really been hammering the FT Argument lately. You could bother getting one of the bajillion physicists that thinks the argument is garbage.

  (Quote)

lukeprog June 2, 2010 at 11:36 am

Yeah, this was a fun one!

  (Quote)

lukeprog June 2, 2010 at 11:39 am

Bill Maher,

It was not planned. It all depends on who responds to me, and who has time when. Sean Carroll, for example, has not replied to my request for an interview.

  (Quote)

Bill Maher June 2, 2010 at 11:45 am

Luke,
I didn’t mean to sound like an ingrate. It was nice of Mawson to do the interview and for you to put it up. :)

  (Quote)

Reginald Selkirk June 2, 2010 at 12:23 pm

In lieu of an interview, you could post on Carroll’s essay Why (Almost All) Cosmologists are Atheists.

  (Quote)

Reginald Selkirk June 2, 2010 at 12:28 pm

No, your mistake is in thinking that questions of meaning have true or false answers. Values are not true, only facts can be true or false.

I conceed the point. And ironically, I am one of those who holds that “moral truths” is a category error.

However, values are chosen based on beliefs about what is true. For example, whether we think putting lead in paint is good or bad may change if we have solid scientific data telling us that a) lead is very harmful to developing children and b) children eat paint chips.

I try to base my values as much as possible on true beliefs, or at least beliefs which are very likely to be true. As another example, living my life in service to a loving God does not seem satisfying to me because the case for the existence of said God is very weak.

  (Quote)

Rhys Wilkins June 2, 2010 at 3:06 pm

On the topic of Sean Carrol,

What sort of questions will you ask him Luke? Will it be more about his latest book (superb book by the way) or responses to cosmological and teleological arguments?

  (Quote)

Paul June 2, 2010 at 3:09 pm

Haven’t listened to the podcast but the following seems ironically funny/interesting

“Why atheists should pray to God”

Should listen to get context of this :-)

  (Quote)

ildi June 2, 2010 at 4:10 pm

Reginald Selkirk: thanks for your link to Carroll’s essay. I wish I could listen to these podcasts, but without a visual element my attention wanders.

  (Quote)

lukeprog June 2, 2010 at 4:37 pm

Rhys,

I don’t write the questions until I have a guest confirmed.

  (Quote)

lukeprog June 2, 2010 at 4:41 pm

ildi,

You can watch a static image through the Maitzen interview on YouTube if you want. :)
http://www.youtube.com/user/CommonSenseAtheism#p/c/3C5FCE059BF4A4CA/0/8PkTaWTaSx0

  (Quote)

James Farrell June 2, 2010 at 5:17 pm

I’d echo Roman’s comment. Charming, disarming, articulate and engaging. I’ve listened to the other interviews with theists only out of a sense of duty; this is the first one I’ve actually enjoyed. The Mawson interview makes a good pair with the Luke Barnes one, the latter setting out the science of the fine-tuning puzzle, the former making the best case for the theistic solution. And Mawson has the honesty to lead his opponent straight to the nub of the issue, where others — I suspect — delay this moment as long as possible for fear of being exposed in a weak position.

  (Quote)

TaiChi June 2, 2010 at 6:21 pm

Great, lively interview, Luke.

On his argument that atheists should pray to God: I think this may apply to agnostics, but I don’t think it applies to atheists. My reason is that if someone is an atheist, rather than an agnostic, then they can’t be sincere in the way Mawson would seem to require, for it seems impossible to seriously address one’s thoughts to a being one thinks is non-existent. I could no more sincerely pray to Yahweh than to Cthulhu.

On his take on the multiverse: my understanding of the multiverse hypothesis is that the physical constants and laws differ from universe to universe, not that they differ in particular events occurring or not. This makes them different, and indeed a small subset of, all possible worlds in the philosophical sense. So it’s just not true that the multiverse hypothesis introduces a skeptical worry about the uniformity of nature, because in each universe nature will unfold according to its particular laws and constants, and will not deviate from these.

  (Quote)

Hermes June 2, 2010 at 6:58 pm

[ test post ... ]

  (Quote)

Hermes June 2, 2010 at 7:02 pm

Luke, FWIW I’m unable to post to the following area; http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=9017

The message can be Submitted, and will be rejected as a duplicate if posted again, but does not appear. I’ve tried posting from a couple different browsers.

  (Quote)

Hermes June 2, 2010 at 7:06 pm

Note to everyone:

Messages with links are not being posted. They are probably(?) being sent to moderation.(???)

  (Quote)

Atheist.pig June 2, 2010 at 8:15 pm

I don’t think there are any epistemic moral truths but I do think there are some moral truths that while epistemically subjective are nonetheless objective in the sense that they are observer independent. Therefore it isn’t up to me to decide if murder is right or wrong. We humans have come to the conclusion that it is wrong under some conditions. All the same if there were no humans then murder would be neither right or wrong. noen

I’d stop using the term “moral truth” then, its far too strong, as I could give you just as many examples of conditions where we humans come to a different conclusion on whether it is wrong to murder and this would vary from nation to nation, even person to person. The term “moral consensus” is more appropriate, and even this would be on shaky ground. We thought we’d reached moral consensus long ago that “torture was wrong” but Dick Cheney and a large percent of the American people draw a different conclusion in the interest of the public safety.
Our value system ought to be based on factual evidence wherever possible, not authority or intuition. Depending on what one means by “meaning”, of course this this can have true or false answers, even if we don’t always know if its true or false.

  (Quote)

Taranu June 2, 2010 at 11:24 pm

Luke,
Mawson is one fast speaker and I’m kind off having a hard time understanding what he says after you ask him why does he thinks a personal being beyond the Universe is the best explanation for its fine-tuning. From 31:10 to 31:25 right before you intervened. Could you please tell me what he says?

Also, what are your thoughts on his argument about why the M-verse hypothesis doesn’t explain why we are fine-tuned for the Universe? I’ve never heard it before.

  (Quote)

lukeprog June 2, 2010 at 11:47 pm

Taranu,

Mawson didn’t actually answer that question I asked around 31:05. Instead he talked about the plausibility of a particular naturalistic hypothesis.

I’d like to read his paper before saying anything about the strength of M-verse theories in explaining our fine-tuning to the universe.

  (Quote)

Taranu June 3, 2010 at 12:29 am

Luke,
I am talking about the part where he mentions the things that one is supposed to grant in order to get to the stage where the question why is God the best explanation of the fine-tuning can be asked.

  (Quote)

Rups900 June 3, 2010 at 3:36 am

Hey Luke and Taranu

You should definitely check out

Roger White’s 2000 paper, “Fine-Tuning and Multiple Universes,” Nôus 34, pp. 260–276.

and

Paul Draper’s co-authored 2007 paper, “Probabilistic Arguments For Multiple Universes,” Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 88, pp. 288 –307

The former uses confirmation theory to show that, “the fact that our universe is fine-tuned gives us no further reason to suppose that there are universes other than ours.” – i.e. the “This universe” objection.

The latter defends White’s paper, explains, “why Rodney Holder’s recent cosmological argument for multiple universes is unconvincing,” and develops, “a “Cartesian argument” for multiple universes,” which is not open to the objections previously noted, but, “given certain highly plausible assumptions about evidence and epistemic probability, the proposition which it treats as evidence cannot coherently be regarded as evidence for anything.”

  (Quote)

Rups900 June 3, 2010 at 3:38 am

Oh yeah I have both if you cannot get hold of them.

  (Quote)

Bill Maher June 3, 2010 at 4:17 am

Rups, is there anyway you could post those papers? They sound worth a read.

  (Quote)

Hermes June 3, 2010 at 4:56 am
Bill Maher June 3, 2010 at 5:52 am

Hermes, do you have the Draper paper? :P

  (Quote)

Hermes June 3, 2010 at 6:10 am

Nope. Google came up dry.

  (Quote)

lukeprog June 3, 2010 at 7:37 am

Thanks, Rups.

  (Quote)

Rups900 June 3, 2010 at 7:43 am

I could either email them to Luke or if you give me an email I could send them to you.

  (Quote)

Rups900 June 3, 2010 at 7:45 am

Oh yeah that is the right one Hermes but I have actual Nous version if wanted.

  (Quote)

Tim Mawson June 3, 2010 at 11:58 am

Thanks everyone for listening and for your posts – for the complimentary ones obviously (I’m not above flattery), but also for the critical ones.

I have a few comments on some of the critical posts that may be helpful:-

In response to Alec, who said, “I read his paper arguing for the existence of objective moral values, and didn’t find it very convincing. It seems to be another “We all really feel deep down that it’s wrong to murder, therefore it really is wrong to murder.”. Or am I missing something?“, I say:-

I think the most interesting argument I give in the paper is one I gave in the interview too – to the effect that we cannot reason about any topic without supposing that there are some objective norms of rationality, that is to say that without supposing that it’s true – whether we like it or not – that it’s better to think some ways rather than others. To make this point as vivid as possible to you, Alec, I’d say this: if you’ve read my paper and found it unconvincing, do you regard your being unconvinced as some sort of achievement on your part? If so, you must think that my argument really shouldn’t convince people and that you’ve done as you should in remaining unconvinced by the end of it. But if that’s what you think, then you are committed to there being standards of how one should not and how one should think. So, you’re committed to thinking that there are norms of rationality that apply whether or not people would like them to apply. That argument is in the second half of the paper and I did give it – or try to give it – in the interview; that was the point of my talking about a world in which people felt as affectively drawn to denying modus ponens as we do to affirming it. I claim that that’s a bad feature of their world although, ex hypothesi, they think it’s a good feature.

In response to TaiChi, who said, “if someone is an atheist, rather than an agnostic, then they can’t be sincere in the way Mawson would seem to require, for it seems impossible to seriously address one’s thoughts to a being one thinks is non-existent. I could no more sincerely pray to Yahweh than to Cthulhu.”, I say:-

I do go into this a bit in my paper – if you send me a note or an email (I’ll stick my address and contact details at the bottom of this post), I’ll send it or email it to you. (It will come out/has come out [not sure] in International Journal for Philosophy of Religion if you have access to that; it may also be available from my webpage already.) In essence:- How’s about this for an analogy? You fall over the edge of a cliff and are hanging desperately from a protruding root, which is about to crack and send you hurtling to your doom hundreds of feet below. Your only hope is that there’s someone on top of the cliff with a rope; you didn’t see anyone just before you fell over and you probably would have done had they been there so you’re almost sure there’s no-one there. Nevertheless, when you cry out, ‘Is there anyone there?’, you’ll be sincere. So you can be sincere in praying even if you think that there’s almost certainly no God.
Not a perfect analogy, I grant, but analogies never are and I think that your thinking about the differences might be interesting for you, but write to or email me and I’ll send you the paper. That goes for anyone else reading this too who finds it hard to find a paper of mine through my webpage – I’m always glad (and mildly surprised) to have readers.

TaiChi, you also said, “On his take on the multiverse: my understanding of the multiverse hypothesis is that the physical constants and laws differ from universe to universe, not that they differ in particular events occurring or not. This makes them different, and indeed a small subset of, all possible worlds in the philosophical sense. So it’s just not true that the multiverse hypothesis introduces a skeptical worry about the uniformity of nature, because in each universe nature will unfold according to its particular laws and constants, and will not deviate from these.” To this I’d say:-
Yep – that’s the nature of the standard multiverse views; I’m talking about a non-standard one, which I argue the atheist will be driven to if he/she is to eliminate fine-tuning at what I call a ‘higher level’; I mention this briefly in the interview, but I do go into it in more detail in the lecture. (N.B. the paper Luke’s put the link up for was a lecture I gave at the Royal Institute of Philosophy last year; in the interview I refer to it as ‘my lecture’ and also as a paper – it’s not that there’s two things that I’m referring to – it’s just that one thing, now available in paper form.) In essence, I’d say then that yours would be a fair point if I was talking about the standard ones and you’ll need to be the judge of whether or not the atheist really needs to move beyond those, but do read the lecture before you judge.

Taranu, you said, “why does he thinks a personal being beyond the Universe is the best explanation for its fine-tuning.” I’d say:-

Ah, apparently (according to Luke anyway), I didn’t answer that; whoops. Anyway, the answer is in the lecture/paper I’ve just referred to; it is rather difficult to compress into a post, but I say that the maximal multiverse hypothesis (as I call the non-standard one [see above comment] that I say the atheist is drawn to in order to eliminate fine tuning at all levels) explains the fine tuning of the universe to us better than the God hypothesis BUT the God hypothesis explains the fine tuning of us to the universe better than that. What’s the difference between the universe being fine tuned for us and us being fine tuned for the universe? Fair question. But I give an answer in the lecture/paper.

Well hope those comments are of interest; thanks again for all yours. Sorry if I missed something that called for a response.

Tim

If you want to contact me:-
Dr Tim Mawson
Fellow and Tutor in Philosophy
St Peter’s College
Oxford
OX1 2DL
tim.mawson@philosophy.ox.ac.uk

  (Quote)

Paul June 3, 2010 at 12:23 pm

Dr. Mawson -

I haven’t heard the podcast yet but I’ve read the various comments w/ regards to it.

One of your responses to TaiChi

“I do go into this a bit in my paper – if you send me a note or an email (I’ll stick my address and contact details at the bottom of this post), I’ll send it or email it to you. (It will come out/has come out [not sure] in International Journal for Philosophy of Religion if you have access to that; it may also be available from my webpage already.) In essence:- How’s about this for an analogy? You fall over the edge of a cliff and are hanging desperately from a protruding root, which is about to crack and send you hurtling to your doom hundreds of feet below. Your only hope is that there’s someone on top of the cliff with a rope; you didn’t see anyone just before you fell over and you probably would have done had they been there so you’re almost sure there’s no-one there. Nevertheless, when you cry out, ‘Is there anyone there?’, you’ll be sincere. So you can be sincere in praying even if you think that there’s almost certainly no God.
Not a perfect analogy, I grant, but analogies never are and I think that your thinking about the differences might be interesting for you, but write to or email me and I’ll send you the paper. That goes for anyone else reading this too who finds it hard to find a paper of mine through my webpage – I’m always glad (and mildly surprised) to have readers.”

If you grant me layman’s language as I am not a philosopher – I find the analogy interesting but lacking.

In the scenario described (presumably) the person wants to live and he “knows” other people exist. So though unlikely (given scenario) that another person would be nearby to rescue him I understand the sincerity of that person wishing there was a rescuer nearby.

Where I fail is that I have no experience of God, see no evidence for God’s existence, etc. I don’t know how I could be sincere in praying to something I have no experience of nor any meaningful concept of what that deity might be. Further, assuming a deity of some sort actually existed, why is prayer desired. What is prayer supposed to accomplish?

Am I missing something? I realize you said the analogy was not perfect. But at the moment I find it imperfect and un-applicable.

I hope to, hopefully soon, listen to the podcast. Does the podcast answer some of these questions?

Maybe you or someone else on this thread can elucidate for me.

Regards,

Paul

  (Quote)

Paul June 3, 2010 at 12:34 pm

Luke -

The regular blog feed is broken and the podcast does not seem to have been added to the podcast only feed.

  (Quote)

Tim Mawson June 3, 2010 at 12:38 pm

Paul – thanks for that.
Well, your points are well made and your questions well posed; my comments in the interview do, I think, address some of them, though not all (e.g. ‘What’s prayer
supposed to accomplish?’ is a big question only one aspect of which I touch). I don’t think I can say anything helpful at this stage that wouldn’t just be a repeat of what’s in the interview and perhaps paper, so I suggest you have a listen to the interview and send me a note/email if you’d like to read the full paper and can’t find it any other way.
Best wishes,
Tim

  (Quote)

Hermes June 3, 2010 at 1:20 pm

Rups900, thanks, though I’ll leave it to others who are more keenly interested to take you up on it.

I knew that the link I provided was not as authoritative as the Nous version you have, yet I decided to post the link as a service to the shy lurkers who may not be brave enough to contact you. (I’m guessing that the publicly available pre-release is probably substantially the same as the one you have, though that assumption may be a big mistake.)

I leave it to the truly interested to put their need for accuracy above any feelings of shyness and take advantage of the opportunity you have generously offered.

  (Quote)

lukeprog June 3, 2010 at 1:38 pm

Paul,

Where is the regular blog feed broken? In your feed reader? If you click the feed link in the upper-right of the site it redirects to Feedburner and displays all the posts properly.

  (Quote)

Paul June 3, 2010 at 3:23 pm

I clicked on the links at the end of your post.

Had not realized the icon on the top right was a link – until just now.

Why I didn’t try the “download” link in the body of the post – well.. No excuse other than I er, um, missed it.

  (Quote)

Bill Maher June 3, 2010 at 5:49 pm

Dr. Mawson seems like a really nice guy. I think that deserves kudos if nothing else.

  (Quote)

lukeprog June 3, 2010 at 5:53 pm

Paul,

Ah! But I see the regular blog feed link there is broken! Thanks.

  (Quote)

TaiChi June 3, 2010 at 11:11 pm

@ Tim Mawson

You fall over the edge of a cliff and are hanging desperately from a protruding root, which is about to crack and send you hurtling to your doom hundreds of feet below. Your only hope is that there’s someone on top of the cliff with a rope; you didn’t see anyone just before you fell over and you probably would have done had they been there so you’re almost sure there’s no-one there. Nevertheless, when you cry out, ‘Is there anyone there?’, you’ll be sincere. So you can be sincere in praying even if you think that there’s almost certainly no God.” ~ Tim Mawson

Yes, I think I could be sincere in doing that. I don’t think it counts as praying, since I take praying to be an intentional communicative action, and so an action which necessarily has a kind of directedness, towards an audience. But yes, I can form the mental words and wait to see what happens, if that is all that is required.

Yep – that’s the nature of the standard multiverse views; I’m talking about a non-standard one” ~ Tim Mawson

Ah, good. Well, I’ll dig into your papers, then.

  (Quote)

Taranu June 4, 2010 at 7:57 am

Luke,
I posted a comment the other day and I see it didn’t appear. Maybe it’s because my signal keeps dropping. Anyway, I was wondering if you will start a bibliography for the fine-tuning argument just like you did for the Kalam. That would be great.

About Mawson’s challenge. If an atheist prays and God calls out to him, how is he going to tell if it really is God and not a voice in his head, a pure psychological event? Also, doesn’t one of your earlier posts about overcoming the ultimate bias come into play as well? http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=557

  (Quote)

Taranu June 4, 2010 at 7:58 am

Luke,
I posted a comment the other day and I see it didn’t appear. Maybe it’s because my signal keeps dropping. Anyway, I was wondering if you will start a bibliography for the fine-tuning argument just like you did for the Kalam. That would be great.

About Mawson’s challenge. If an atheist prays and God calls out to him, how is he going to tell if it really is God and not a voice in his head, a pure psychological event? Also, doesn’t one of your earlier posts about overcoming the ultimate bias come into play as well?

  (Quote)

Taranu June 4, 2010 at 7:59 am

I think it’s because of the links I added in those previous comments that they weren’t posted. Sorry about that.

  (Quote)

noen June 4, 2010 at 8:00 am

TaiChi
I don’t think it counts as praying, since I take praying to be an intentional communicative action, and so an action which necessarily has a kind of directedness, towards an audience.

Intentionality is not to be confused with intending.

Intentionality is a quality of directedness or aboutness that conscious minds have. You can be said to have intentionality even while asleep. English is the culprit here.

The concept of prayer includes cries or shouts so a cry for help while hanging above an abyss would be a prayer.

  (Quote)

lukeprog June 4, 2010 at 1:32 pm

Taranu,

It was probably caught by my spam filter. Every few days I scan through it and release anything that’s not spam.

  (Quote)

TaiChi June 4, 2010 at 5:08 pm

Noen,
Since I didn’t use the word “intentionality”, I can’t see why you criticize me for confusing it with “intending”. If English is the culprit, it is a culprit in a plot of your own making.

“The concept of prayer includes cries or shouts so a cry for help while hanging above an abyss would be a prayer.” ~ Noen

The concept of God includes the concept of a person. I am a person. Therefore, I must be God.

  (Quote)

Hermes June 4, 2010 at 5:20 pm

All hail TaiChi! Let the groveling commence!

  (Quote)

kilopapa June 6, 2010 at 2:13 am

Whenever I see the earth described as being “fined tuned” for life I can’t help but think of these forms of life also- AIDS,Cancer,Small Pox,Malaria,the Black Plague etc.(I read that small pox is a human specific virus. Thanks, God!!) It seems pretty fine tuned for hurricanes,earthquakes,tornadoes and tsunamis also.
You might even say that our own bodies are “fine tuned” for the multitude of fatal viruses,bacterias and parasites that infect humankind around the world.
(Oops,I forgot.Gods ways are mysterious)

  (Quote)

Keith June 7, 2010 at 6:55 am

Excuse me if this point has already been addressed, but I have strong objections to the “atheists should pray” experiment. My objection is not that such an exercise would be difficult to perform with sincerity. My objection is that the result of such an exercise, whether it be positive or negative, would be inherently unscientific because it is so subjective. In other words, why should we believe that there really is a voice in our head telling us it’s God?

At worst, this experiment boils down to a coercive psychological trick: suppose that our minds worked in such a way that a sincere act of prayer, perhaps repeated daily for a few weeks, was self-fulfilled by a wishfully-thinking imagination. We are so intent on hearing something that our minds make something up. Indeed, is this not what happens to anyone who claims to hear God? Asking atheists to pray, then, is simply an attempt at a brainwashing exercise.

  (Quote)

Hermes June 7, 2010 at 9:56 am

Keith, I took the ‘experiment’ as equally useless and possibly deceptive, so I ignored it.

Besides, when I’m asked by Christians to pray, I often ask them if they would switch from prayer to meditation.

What follows is often a needlessly long discussion on a simple subject; what is meditation? In each instance, the Christians often want to add in extra layers to meditation when meditation is prayer unencumbered by targets and other junk (including yourself, or words, or other entities). They suspect that meditation is some kind of cultish ritual, and in that suspicion they are so close to the truth of their own situation.

Prayer — a form of meditation — abuses that base and focuses it towards a goal. As you noted, it’s a form of brainwashing. Prayer takes a meditative state — a state that can be conducive to brainwashing — and adds a target for that brainwashing to focus on. That’s why meditation (called prayer or not) is often used in cult/religious practices.

The ‘prayer experiment’ here is really just an attempt at using manipulation at a distance. Substitute different targets from different cult/religions and the push could be towards Allah or Vishnu or The Glorious Leader. It is abusive even if the indoctrinated don’t see any harm to it.

This is one of the reasons why if someone does meditate, I don’t suggest they meditate to anything beyond a simple unencumbered point of focus (dots on a ceiling, a specific simple thought like “red” or “water”, a random sound). This is not to oversell meditation, though — it has at best marginal utility — but to point out that it is probably popular with cults/religions because it (along with other repetitive practices) can be used to manipulate other people.

While I think that meditation without the cult/religion add-ins can be a beneficial practice, it is in a similar way to getting a massage can be — but not as satisfying.

* * *

How about this? Prayer: A form of chiropracty used to extract money from a brain instead of a spine with potentially greater damage to the supplicant.

  (Quote)

Freethinker June 8, 2010 at 6:27 pm

I agree with the others that said directing someone to pray to a particular deity is essentially a form of brainwashing. When I was about 11, our dog died. I wanted to believe that the dog was still alive in some conscious form. I wanted to believe this so badly that I visualized the ghost of my dog walking across the room. Do I believe today that the ghost of my dog walked across the room? No. I think the power of suggestion derived from my religious upbringing caused me to see something that wasn’t there.

Many, if not most, atheists were brought up in a religion and have sincerely prayed at one time or another. I know I did as a child, up into my mid teens.

Should Christians who are not 100% sure that the Christian deity exists pray to Allah, Vishnu, and some of the other thousands of deities that man has believed in? Should Protestants try praying to the Virgin Mary?

Should we also hold seances to try to communicate with deceased relatives? Or try to communicate with UFOs? Also, even if you prayed and were to receive an answer, how would you know it is God and not some other being that is in another realm of existence?

  (Quote)

Zeb June 9, 2010 at 5:51 am

Should Christians who are not 100% sure that the Christian deity exists pray to Allah, Vishnu, and some of the other thousands of deities that man has believed in? Should Protestants try praying to the Virgin Mary?

My recommendation, and I think this is what Mawson was talking about, is to pray to whoever, if anyone, is “out there,” and ask that they indicate which, if any, of the gods or religions you should accept. That kind of prayer looks a lot less like brainwashing to me than the behavior of atheists who every time they get any sort of personal intimation of spiritual reality plug their ears and yell “la la la not real not real not real,” so to speak.

My own experience for what it’s worth (which should be next to nothing for anyone who does not know my character) is that I was raised Catholic and was very earnest in prayer and study throughout adolescence. I had many “spiritual” experiences that confirmed my faith. But then in my first semester of college the intellectual underpinnings of my faith were knocked out (by a priest in a class on scripture at a Catholic university, no less), and I lost my faith. After nine months of hard agnosticism and global skepticism I was brought back to Christian faith, and later Catholicism, through just the kind of prayer Mawson advocates. Obviously it was just confirmation bias acting on hallucinations caused by psychological distress, unless it was all real. If there is a God it’s not unreasonable to expect he does want to be known by humans. As to your question about whether if we get a real answer we can know its source – I can only explain by analogy, that it’s like falling in love. You’ll know it when you feel it. It can be denied, or you can mistake something else for it, but if you’re open to it you’ll know it when you feel it.

  (Quote)

Hermes June 9, 2010 at 6:20 am

My recommendation, and I think this is what Mawson was talking about, is to pray to whoever, if anyone, is “out there,” and ask that they indicate which, if any, of the gods or religions you should accept. That kind of prayer looks a lot less like brainwashing to me than the behavior of atheists who every time they get any sort of personal intimation of spiritual reality plug their ears and yell “la la la not real not real not real,” so to speak.

Zeb, meditative and repetition induced states of mind can have powerful physiological effects. It’s not a mistake that cults use them, or that Muslims are encouraged to pray pointing towards Mecca 5x a day.

Why add a ‘cry’ or any other layer to meditation except to get around any conscious investigation and feed on emotions?

  (Quote)

Hermes June 9, 2010 at 6:38 am

After nine months of hard agnosticism and global skepticism I was brought back to Christian faith, and later Catholicism, through just the kind of prayer Mawson advocates.

No doubt, it is effective as a form of proselyting. Consider that what he’s advocating that kind of prayer(meditation) might be that he looks at non-Christians as apostate Christians with cultural indoctrination — like you were. To me, because of the psychological effects of the mediative state, the request smacks as a cheap form of manipulation, and is frankly condescending if not immoral.

  (Quote)

Zeb June 9, 2010 at 8:12 am

Why add a ‘cry’ or any other layer to meditation except to get around any conscious investigation and feed on emotions?  

Spoken like a good naturalist. Obviously the contents of prayer are irrelevant because they have no real referents.

Now is not the time to defend meditation, whether contentless like those wildly emotional Zen Buddhists do, or content laden like the Catholic rosary or Hindu mantras. Nothing in what Mawson said or in what I related indicates that type of prayer. Based on his dark room analogy, he is advocating a conversational address (“God or other higher power, if you’re there please let me know.”) followed by an attitude of open listening. An earnest quest to find what, if anything, is there would require some repetition over an extended period, but nothing like the kind of meditation that induces strong physiological effects.

I know what you mean, this could be like Charles Manson saying, “Just try one hit of acid and one orgy, and then see if you feel differently about joining the Family.” But I see no reason to suspect Mawson is pursuing that sort of strategy even in a much less extreme way, and I don’t think intellectually and emotionally strong people need to fear the consequences of experimenting with openness. You can always reject what you find, as so many have done.

  (Quote)

Hermes June 9, 2010 at 8:33 am

Spoken like a good naturalist. Obviously the contents of prayer are irrelevant because they have no real referents.

But I’m not a naturalist. Neither did I say that ‘the contents of prayer are irrelevant’. I actually said something quite different.

Now is not the time to defend meditation, [ ... snip ... ]
An earnest quest to find what, if anything, is there would require some repetition over an extended period, but nothing like the kind of meditation that induces strong physiological effects.

Are you considering defending meditation, or are you saying that you think I am?

  (Quote)

Zeb June 9, 2010 at 10:04 am

OK, I’m sorry, maybe I was leaping to conclusions. I’ll take your question at face value.

Why add a ‘cry’ or any other layer to meditation except to get around any conscious investigation and feed on emotions?

One adds the ‘cry’ because one is seeking to initiate dialogue. Is that not obvious? But I don’t think mediation is even the subject, which is why I said I won’t defend it at this time. We’re talking about a type of prayer that is purely dialogical.

  (Quote)

Tim Mawson June 9, 2010 at 10:12 am

Thanks for the comments that I see have been left since I last ‘visited’ with you.
I fear that what I say below will appear only ‘abusive’, ‘condescending’ and possibly even ‘immoral’ to those who have already characterized my position as such, and it is for them that it is intended, so it is in hope rather than expectation of its being useful that I offer it now. (No doubt that in itself will have appeared condescending to at least some; to you, my apologies.)
First, I believe these objections are all – at least prima facie – good ones, good enough certainly to deserve an answer.
Second, I address all of them – I would even hazard answer all of them – in my paper. This link to it should work:-
http://www.springerlink.com/content/a77r315j041p4213/. (Let me know if it doesn’t and I’ll send you the paper directly.)
For example, in the paper I talk at some length about whether an implication of my argument is that we should try to contact UFOs (I mention UFOs, but use as my primary example trying to find out if there are fairies at the bottom of the garden [that's the first objection I consider]); I discuss the force of the ‘It’s self-imposed brainwashing’ objection (I call this the danger of ‘false positives’ [it's the second objection I consider]); and whether Christians, for example, should engage in say abstaining from prayer for a period of time by the logic of my argument – that’s the third issue. I also discuss several other lines of objection which might be raised to my argument (and may well be raised by future contributors to this online discussion). So please do read the paper. Well, my apologies if you think that I’ve just abused you. (Surely you had to expect that an academic would abuse any audience he thought he had in the sense of try to persuade them to read his papers?)
Tim

  (Quote)

Tim Mawson June 9, 2010 at 10:21 am

Dear All,
My apologies once more: I’ve just tried the link I gave in my last post from my computer at home and see in doing so that from there it asks for money before it’ll let me read my paper (from my office computer it doesn’t; it’s all free and easy), which I guess means that unless you can go through an academic institution’s server or some such, you’ll be charged. If you find yourself keen to read my paper but unwilling to pay for the pleasure, I’d quite understand; in that case, send me an email or note and I’ll send it either by email or in hardcopy. Tim

  (Quote)

Hermes June 9, 2010 at 2:16 pm

Tim, if someone else referenced your paper they may have a local copy that is not behind a gated database. Do you have a string that can be searched on, say a sentence from the first paragraph with an unusual combination of words?

Example (using Google);

“who comes forth from Heliopolis” (search string within quotes)

As for my comments, I was speaking generally not specifically to your intent. I can’t read your mind or know your intentions. If you know the power of meditative states, then I’m less cordial. They are not toys, and just try it is not a cost-free request, regardless of the ends.

  (Quote)

Tim Mawson June 9, 2010 at 11:01 pm

Dear Hermes,
Thanks for sending this. I did try a few searches through google following your suggestion and in fact they all took me back to the publisher’s copy, so I fear it’ll be pay for it; wait until it does leak out into ‘local copy’ format somehow; or ask me for a copy.
Best wishes,
Tim

  (Quote)

Paul Wright June 11, 2010 at 2:18 am

I mentioned this podcast on my blog, and Simon T asked “Does Mawson also think that Christians should pray to all the other possible gods to reveal themselves?” That’s a good question, and I don’t recall it being mentioned in the podcast, so I thought I’d ask it here in case Dr Mawson is still reading.

  (Quote)

Alex June 21, 2010 at 7:17 pm

A reaction just in case someone is still watching this thread (I just listened to the interview):

I think a lot of effort has been wasted on Tim’s claim that life is valuable in some sense that privileges universes fine-tuned for life over all other configurations of the physical constants (each just as improbable). I think this sort of approach isn’t necessary to mount a successful fine-tuning argument for either theism or multiverse hypotheses. I just don’t see how it could be particularly meaningful to talk about a phenomenon’s “crying out for explanation” (which I think the “special” status of life is being used to argue for) in isolation of available hypotheses capable of explaining the phenomenon.

An analogy: if you throw a coin 100 times and record the sequence of heads and tails and get an unremarkable result (i.e. well within the explanatory adequacy of the null hypothesis of a fair coin), there is nothing about your result that requires you to look for an explanation of your specific sequence (which has the likelihood of 2^(-100) on the null hypothesis). However if your result is all heads (which has the same likelihood as any of the unremarkable sequences) it seems to require explanation. I don’t think it’s reasonable to claim (as Tim does analogically, with regard to fine-tuning for intelligent life) that an argument that the all-heads sequence “cries out for explanation” whereas the unremarkable sequence doesn’t requires the assumption that uniformity (or simplicity, etc.) has intrinsic value. A more reasonable approach seems to be to say that something’s “crying out for explanation” depends on the availability of a hypothesis that adequately explains the phenomenon and has an non-negligible prior probability. In our coin case I’d say that all-heads indicates an explanation that involves someone fooling you (say with a trick coin that has heads on both sides); in the fine-tuning case, constants just right for life should raise your probability for God’s existence assuming that God is likely to create a universe with intelligent life (or your probability for the multiverse, assuming that a multiverse is likely to create universes like ours).

One can also turn our intuitive reaction to the “unremarkable” coin-toss sequence on its head by postulating that you later obtain compelling evidence that your specific outcome was predicted before you started tossing the coin. Here it’s plainly visible how something that seemed uninteresting becomes interesting not by a change in its feature, but by a substantial shift in your prior probability of a hypothesis conferring a likelihood of unity on your observations, i.e. by an adequate explanation becoming available.

  (Quote)

Zeb June 22, 2010 at 8:30 am

Well said Alex, though the situation does also require a prior probability not just that God is likely to fine tune the universe for life, but that such a God even exists. In your coin example, imagine the the US mint made 2^100 coins that were known to be perfectly fair, and one that was known to land always heads. They throw the weighted coin into a bin the all the others, stir them up, and ask you to pick one and flip it 100 times. If it comes up all heads, what would you say? (If I understand probability correctly, there are equal chances of picking the weighted coin vs picking a fair coin and tossing all heads.) Granted, unless an atheist has a convincing argument that the chance of a fine tuning God existing is 0, I don’t see how anyone could argue that the chance of God is between 0 and the chance of a life permitting universe forming randomly – that window is too narrow. Such an atheist’s situation would be as if you were told that there was one weighted coin in a bin of an unknown number of fair coins, and you picked one that came up all heads. Such a result makes the weighted coin explanation more likely, but how much more likely than what?

  (Quote)

Alex June 22, 2010 at 9:18 am

I did assume a non-zero and non-negligible prior for God (i.e. a prior that would end up making God more probable than chance after you take fine-tuning into account), but maybe I should have made this point more clear. Of course you won’t have an objective prior for God, but that’s where the Bayesian model becomes less useful.

In any case, it’s not really realistic to assign God’s prior to something lower than the probability of a single universe being fine-tuned (given chance). That seems to be required only if you think God and chance are mutually exclusive and jointly exhaustive and want chance to beat God in the posterior probabilities. But there are other more or less viable options, such as the various theories that imply multiple universes, or something like Bostrom’s simulation hypothesis, etc. Alternatively, you could be optimistic about the ability of theoretical physics to gradually eliminate some of the fine-tuning. But if someone doesn’t think any of these options are viable at all, fine-tuning should provide strong evidence for hypotheses positing agents finely tuning universes.

  (Quote)

Ignostic Morgan [ Morgan-LynnGriggs Lamberth] December 2, 2010 at 7:38 pm

Noen, yes, the paradox- wide reflective subjectivism underpins objective-observer independent- morality as you so state!
Google the presumption of humanism- covenant morality for humanity.

  (Quote)

TRIALNERROR January 31, 2011 at 12:52 am

I saw this fine-tuning argument for God demolished in the Teleological Arguments section of Nicholas Everitt’s “The Non-existence of God” (Routledge 2004). Basically, he says that, since it is impossible to subject the universe to any kind of empirical testing, concerning the combination of values for universal natural forces etc we have no way of knowing what the relative probabilities of any of the myriad possibilities actually are. It may very well be that the set of values which obtains in our universe is in fact an inherent feature of our universe and – if we were able to fully comprehend how the universe is made up – we would be obliged to accept that it just couldn’t have happened any other way, or at least the chances of any other combination of values arising would be infinitesimally minute. The short answer is that we simply don’t know what is more or less probable, but theists and apparently a few physicists tend to make the utterly untenable assumption that all the possible variations are equally probable. Picture Tim Mawson, (or William Lane Craig), standing outside his house on a very overcast day. He gazes up at the heavy dark thunderhead lowering above, and cries “Behold the Hand of God!” when suddenly, out of that cloud, emerges not dining-room chairs or elephant’s genitals or grains of sugar or clots of blood or whatever, but a million million drops of life-giving thirst-quenching rain. Well, there is a chance that any kind of tangible object could fall out of a raincloud, but nobody would be so silly as to imagine they all have equal probability. Why should we make such an assumption concerning the Universe? We can’t pick up the universe and roll it like a die, we can’t compare it with other universes – not even if we are Philip Pullman, (and he killed off God anyway) – and even if we could, there is no guarantee we would be any the wiser. I submit, it is useless to talk about how improbable the combination of values which obtains in our universe is when we have no way of knowing if all possibilities have equal probability.

  (Quote)

Leave a Comment

{ 1 trackback }