News Bits

by Luke Muehlhauser on March 31, 2010 in News

Paper of the week: William Hasker, “Is Christianity Probable? Swinburne’s Apologetic Programme” (Religious Studies, 2002). Quote: “Swinburne still has a lot of work to do if he is to overcome the problem of dwindling probabilities.”

A reader has made his own redesign of my gods poster, probably an improvement. I still want to improve my original design, but for the life of me I cannot get InDesign to do what I want. If anybody is an expert with that program, please contact me.

Greta Christina on fine-tuning.

Actually a pretty good article at WikiHow: How to Persuade a Christian to Become an Atheist.

Today’s quote from the Ultimate Atheism F.A.Q.:

{1.07} What are naturalism, non-naturalism, and supernaturalism?

There are many ways to define these terms, but here is one useful way to think of them:

Naturalism is the view that there aren’t two kinds of things, like bodies and spirits; there’s only one kind of stuff, the same kind of stuff that composes brains and trees and stars. Most philosophers are naturalists, probably because everything we’ve studied that we once thought to be non-natural has turned out to be natural, and it seems likely the trend will continue.

Non-naturalism is the view that some things – perhaps abstract objects or moral values – are not natural. But the non-naturalist still maintains that non-physical minds do not exist, which would be called supernaturalism.

Supernaturalism, then, is the view that at least one non-natural mind exists, and that perhaps many non-natural minds exist. So if you believe in any kind of god, you’re a supernaturalist. If you don’t believe in God but you do believe in ghosts or fairies or other non-natural minds, you’re also a supernaturalist.

More details here.

Please suggest other questions you would like to see added to the Ultimate Atheism F.A.Q.

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Rob March 31, 2010 at 7:54 pm

Carrier had a recent post adding to his prior efforts at defining naturalism.

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lukeprog March 31, 2010 at 9:13 pm

Yeah, it sounds like he and I have basically the same notion of supernatural. I can’t remember if he considers a dualism of natural and supernatural, or if he finds the third category of non-naturalism useful, as I do.

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Newman March 31, 2010 at 11:15 pm

I don’t really get the problem of dwindling probabilities. If the probability of the existence of God is .5, and the probability of the resurrection .9, why doesn’t that raise the probability of the existence of God to .9 instead of lowering the probability of the resurrection to .45?

The same is argued by Tim and Lydia Mcgrew in this paper

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Sly April 1, 2010 at 2:46 am

I don’t really get the problem of dwindling probabilities. If the probability of the existence of God is .5, and the probability of the resurrection .9, why doesn’t that raise the probability of the existence of God to .9 instead of lowering the probability of the resurrection to .45?
The same is argued by Tim and Lydia Mcgrew in this paper  

Basic understanding of how probabilities work. The probability of A AND B cannot be superior to the probability of A, as A and B includes A. It will always be worse then just A, assuming that B is not 100%.

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Rob April 1, 2010 at 5:22 am

McGrew and Mcgrew argue that if the resurrection occurred, then the probability of a god existing approaches one. But that’s just false. If a dead man came back to life, there are many many explanation on offer other than “a god must have done it”.

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John D April 1, 2010 at 5:23 am

Yeah I presume (I haven’t read it) that it’s because the probability of the resurrection is conditional upon the probability of God.

In other words, the pre-established (but probabilistic) existence of God is part of the background evidence that goes into calculating the probability of the resurrection.

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Paul Wright April 1, 2010 at 5:23 am

See also conjunction fallacy, burdensome details.

There’s something odd about Hasker’s paper: he argues that Swinburne’s approach is wrong because people do not in fact form their beliefs the way Swinburne attempts to, but there does not seem to be an argument in the paper that the way people in fact form their beliefs makes them more likely to be true than if they formed them Swinburne’s way.

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John D April 1, 2010 at 5:24 am

McGrew and Mcgrew argue that if the resurrection occurred, then the probability of a god existing approaches one

Sounds like they’re approaching it from the opposite direction to Swinburne. Swinburne’s work begins by first establishing that God’s existence is probable and only then moving on to specific Christian beliefs.

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Mark April 1, 2010 at 4:22 pm

Hmm, I didn’t think the Greta Christina article was very good. For one, modern fine-tuning arguments generally center around the ripeness of various physical parameters for life, not on the ripeness of Earth’s particular chemical composition for life. Even if we establish that life was likely to arise in this universe (given its parameters), the thrust of FTA is that the parameters were unlikely to have allowed this in the first place.

For another thing, she seems to be committing a major probabilistic error: “Yes, life on Earth is wildly improbable. And if it hadn’t happened, some other weird chemical stew would have arisen on Earth, one that didn’t turn into life.” That is, although life was improbable, if life hadn’t existed some other improbability would have obtained. But one could say that about virtually any surprising event. If I flip a coin a hundred times and it always lands on heads, I could just say, “True, the probability of the coin always landing heads is just 1 in 2^100. But this is the exact same probability of any sequence of a hundred coin flips if the coin is fair, so I shouldn’t conclude that the coin is biased.” Presumably, I shouldn’t be comparing the probabilities of specific outcomes, but the probabilities of types of outcomes, e.g., that the coin always lands on one side vs. that the coin lands on different sides with no simple pattern. Similarly, a proponent of FTA would say I should be asking whether a habitable-type universe is less probable than an uninhabitable-type universe.

Her comments about the significance of the universe being “poorly-tuned” for life in certain ways are equally confused.

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Michael April 4, 2010 at 4:42 pm

Have to agree with Mark. The argument from fine-tuning is not simply from improbability, which is all that she answers, but other aspects as well. Imagine a ball pit of a few billion white balls. If I reach in, my chances of getting that particular ball is highly improbable, yet not totally surprising. On the other hand, what if there are 3 blue balls, and the rest are white. I am told that if I don’t get a blue ball, I will be killed. Buzzkill. If I reach my hand in and find a blue ball, the probability of me getting this ball is exactly as unlikely as getting a white one, but this one entails something else! I get to live!

This is a common mistake among teleological objections, since teleology is about purpose (from τέλος-meaning final end, or according to Aristotle, the final cause, or purpose), not just chance. So it’s the fact that the universe is life permitting, not that it’s random, that makes it special. There are many example to show he faulty logic (playing cards another famous one-any hand is just as improbable, but if I get 10 straight royal straights, you won’t buy “it was just as improbable as any other hand.”)

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