Troy Nunley Responds to Elliot Sober on Design Arguments

by Luke Muehlhauser on April 12, 2010 in Design Argument,Video

Elliot Sober has written some of the best criticisms of design arguments in the past few decades. Here, Troy Nunley of Denver Theological Seminary replies to some of Sober’s criticisms.

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{ 85 comments… read them below or add one }

Hermes April 12, 2010 at 6:48 pm

[ grumble ]

The video is from a seminary, Troy Nunley immediately [1:15] says he’s ‘taking on opponents’, mentions the discredited bacterial flagellum as an example of something usually said to be part of ‘design’ (hope he retracts that later?), talks as if he takes evolution as a given (a bright spot), and then says that fine tuning is not so likely ‘if left to chance … or the atheistic hypothesis’.

The *what*? Really? What atheist says that? Who besides a creationist doing a quote injection says such nonsense?

He then continues his review with a backdrop of a nebula for his slides. This only reminds me of what Douglas Adams wrote;

“Space is big – really big – you just won’t believe how vastly, hugely mind-bogglingly big it is. You may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist, but that’s just peanuts to space.”

Sentence after sentence he’s losing me, and making me wonder if the little credit I’ve given theologians is actually excessive.

[ bumping the speed of playback up 25% ]

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Hermes April 12, 2010 at 6:58 pm

[13:00] — I’m done. That was just embarrassing.

If I miss it when he drops the distortion field, please let me know where and when. I can only hope he’s not serious.

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Conor Gilliland April 12, 2010 at 7:30 pm

Dr. Nunley earned an MA and PhD in philosophy from the University of Missouri-Columbia. He is a philosopher not a theologian, though I’m sure he’s competent in that field as well.

Also, his article on this topic was published in Philosophia Christi, a peer-reviewed journal, so yes Hermes, he is serious.

Instead of covering your ears and ignoring his arguments you should listen to the whole thing, including his presentation of Sober’s arguments, which is actually the main thrust of the video. The beginning of the video is a sketch of the argument. Later he gets into the finer points. Deal with the arguments, not the man. But to deal with the arguments, you have to hear them first.

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Justfinethanks April 12, 2010 at 7:39 pm

Neat.

A couple observations.

1)Advanced physics is way over my head.
2) This guy seems pretty smart, so I REALLY wish he wouldn’t quote Hugh Ross and Dembski. The rest of those dudes he cites are legit.
3) I don’t it is quite true to say that the only evidence for a multiverse is the fine tuning. The Many Worlds interpretation is apparently a mainstream interpretation of Quantum Mechanics that allegedly solves a lot of problems in that field. I haven’t the foggiest why because… see 1.
4)Plantiga is funny.
5) I’ve always found the firing squad thought experiment to be not very analogous to the AP. A proper analogy would only have the observer conscious after the occurrence of an improbable event, and this thought experiment has the observer conscious both before and after.

Hermes: [13:00] — I’m done.

If you are pressed for time, I’d suggest skipping to about 20:50 in the first video. That’s when he introduces Sober’s argument for the Weak Anthropic Principle and then proceeds to get into the meat of his reply. I’m probably going to have to watch it again myself because I don’t think I quite get how exactly he is changing how you should take into account the observer selection effect in such a manner that renders the WAP null.

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lukeprog April 12, 2010 at 8:03 pm

Yeah, I don’t see the problem with Nunley’s talk. Except for a few sentences, I didn’t think anything he said was outrageous or unfair.

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Hermes April 12, 2010 at 8:12 pm

Instead of covering your ears and ignoring his arguments you should listen to the whole thing, including his presentation of Sober’s arguments, which is actually the main thrust of the video.

Great. Give me a time index where it gets interesting or where he offers retractions or reasonable refinements to the issues I mentioned. So far, he owes me an apology for the dreck in that first 13 minutes.

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Hermes April 12, 2010 at 8:17 pm

Justfinethanks, I appreciate it. Does he offer any comments/retractions/clarifications on his garbage at the front? I just can’t take him seriously if he’s making such zingers so early. I can spend my time on other things.

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Mark April 12, 2010 at 8:27 pm

Interesting lecture. A few things. First, the most sophisticated defenders of the fine-tuning argument seem to have accepted that even had the life-permitting range of physical constants been very wide (though finite), it would still be about as much evidence for theism. The narrowness of the life-permitting range plays essentially no role in the argument nowadays, so it’s hard to see why it was included in the presentation except to wow laymen who don’t know any better.

Second, it should at least be noted that the version of Sober’s argument Nunley’s referring to (from the 2004 article “The Design Argument”) is rather out of date. Sober developed more nuanced views on the role of observation selection effects in his 2009 article “Absence of Evidence and Evidence of Absence” in order to deal with examples like the firing squad. However, since Nunley seems to be going in a different direction, I’m not sure this matters much.

Third, I was a little confused by what he said on observation selection effects. He claimed that P(O|H1&OSE) = P(O|H2&OSE), where O is the observation of catching 50 big fish, H1 = “there are at least 50 big fish,” H2 = “there are under 50 big fish” and OSE = “my net can only catch big fish, and I already know there are at least 50 big fish.” Put this way, H2 and OSE are logically inconsistent and so P(O|H2&OSE) is undefined. The error here is including your previous knowledge of there being 50 big fish in the lake as part of your observation selection effect. We should instead be reducing OSE to OSE* = “my net can only catch big fish.” But then P(O|H1&OSE*) is rather high, whereas P(O|H2&OSE*) is exceedingly close to zero: no matter how biased your net is, you’re not going to observe catching 50 different big fish if there aren’t that many big fish in the lake!

I’m going to watch the video again and try to see whether/how this affects the rest of his case.

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Charles April 12, 2010 at 8:27 pm

You are correct. One can make a fairly strong case for the multiverse without a single reference to fine-tuning. You don’t even need the Big Bang.

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Justfinethanks April 12, 2010 at 8:29 pm

I appreciate it. Does he offer any comments/retractions/clarifications on his garbage at the front?

Well, the first twenty minutes was just a sort of introduction to the fine tuning argument, so you don’t really need to watch that part if you know what it says. He’s replying to Sober’s argument for the Weak Anthropic Principle, which accepts the fine-tuning as true, but rejects it as evidence for design because of how that evidence was acquired. Both Sober and Nunley are making epistemological arguments it appears, not scientific ones, so he isn’t trying to contradict anything in mainstream science.

Like I said, try it again starting from 20:50. When he starting citing Hugh Ross as an authority I also thought the talk would go seriously downhill, but actually it turned out pretty inoffensive and thoughtful.

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Hermes April 12, 2010 at 8:29 pm

Luke, is this one of Elliott Sober’s papers you refer to in your intro?

How Not to Detect Design

Would you recommend a different one instead?

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Hermes April 12, 2010 at 8:33 pm

Justfinethanks, it is appreciated. I honestly have little confidence in Nunley and am looking at Sober’s comments directly myself instead.

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Mark April 12, 2010 at 8:45 pm

Hermes, no, the relevant articles of Sober are “The Design Argument” and “Absence of Evidence and Evidence of Absnece,” both of which you can find on Sober’s website.

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lukeprog April 12, 2010 at 11:05 pm

Charles,

Who, for example, makes this case?

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Dan April 13, 2010 at 3:35 am

Charles,Who, for example, makes this case?  

luke –

For starters theres leading quantum physicist David Deutch ( A pioneer in the field of quantum computing who is professor at Oxford University). See his classic book “The Fabric Of Reality”.

It seems to me that most physics based theories around the big bang are seeming these days to REQUIRE some form of multiverse just for the number to add up. String theory certainly does.

Not only this but there are also promising glimpses of the idea of a multiverse ( and out universes place in it ) becoming for the first time a TESTABLE idea. See the article Touching The Multiverse” in the March 6 issue of New Scientist.

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Hermes April 13, 2010 at 4:18 am

Thanks Mark.

Dan, what’s the likelihood that if that pans out, ‘multiverse’ (or derivatives) will replace ‘quantum’ for ‘fine merchants of woo’?

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rvkevin April 13, 2010 at 4:37 am

Isn’t the fine tuning argument just a big example of confirmation bias? We confirm the one hit of a universe that is suitable for life and don’t observe any of the misses. Same with the firing squad, the people before and after probably shared a quite different fate, but we are asked to consider a sample of one. To ask “what if this really rare thing happened?” without counting the misses is trivial. This is what I think the essence of the anthropic principle is, which seemed to go unaddressed and he just waived the multi-verse off without consideration.

He basically just asserts that the probability of god existing and creating the universe is higher than it naturally occurring. Does anyone know how he calculated the probability of god?

I don’t think it is a particularly good example. It basically assumes that there is no chance that they can all miss unless intentionally. The situation is assuming no mechanical failure (all bullets fire), and no human error (marksmen) at close range with multiple shooters (the original had 50). Now, if I asked people whats the chance that Tiger Woods would miss a one inch putt 50 times in a row, I bet people would say that would never happen unless intended, just like the firing squad. Which leads to 1. If they intend to hit them, then they will hit them. 2. They did not hit them. Therefore, they did not intend to hit them. To compare this to the formation of the universe would essentially say that there it is not possible naturally, which I don’t think he has shown.

And then he creates a straw man of the anthropic principle to mean that after the shooting, if he survived, he would make it a background assumption that he would have survived. Is it really too hard to understand that if he survived afterward, it means that he didn’t get hit (lethally), not that we should assume that he would not have gotten hit? And I’ve never heard the fishnet comparison before, but I think the puddle analogy is much more suitable to the fine tuning argument.

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Hermes April 13, 2010 at 5:09 am

He basically just asserts that the probability of god existing and creating the universe is higher than it naturally occurring. Does anyone know how he calculated the probability of god?

I’d be curious about that too — though I’ve never heard of a theist who seriously did that kind of calculation. It always starts with the presumption of their specific set of deity/deities, or sneaks it in at the end as an exercise in slight of hand from some insisted on precondition or another set earlier in the discussion.

When they flip the conversation and throw in howlers like ‘chance’ being the only other option, and then boldly assert that’s what others claim, that I loose all respect for them.

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Reginald Selkirk April 13, 2010 at 6:28 am

I’d be curious about that too — though I’ve never heard of a theist who seriously did that kind of calculation.

Here is a calculation by Victor Stenger rebutting one done by Stephen Unwin.

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Charles April 13, 2010 at 6:44 am

Charles, Who, for example, makes this case?  

Hugh Everett wrote a paper in 1957. He didn’t use any of the modern terminology. The term ‘many-worlds’ wasn’t coined until the 70s. As I understand it, he simply removed the assumption that wave functions collapse. The multiverse is the result of that idea.

That’s quantum mechanics. In order to apply this to the moment of creation, we also need to assume/show that the Big Bang was something like a vacuum fluctuation, and I thing given what we know about length scales involved, I think this is a very reasonable thing to say.

If I had to assign probabilities, I would put the first paragraph at 75 percent and the second at 10. I am not a cosmologist.

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Hermes April 13, 2010 at 7:25 am

Here is a calculation by Victor Stenger rebutting one done by Stephen Unwin.

Thanks. I’m going through it now. Strange stuff.

Unwin starts out with 50/50 as the probability that ‘God’ (His specific deity, or a philosophical generic deity concept?), then he uses altruism, evil, weighs prayer and as having a 50/50 effect, … making me wonder where all that evidence is actually demonstrated. Definitely stacking the numbers without shame.

Yet, what is most striking isn’t the bias he shows towards each item in the formula, but the choice of the items in his formula. Why choose those specific ones? Yes, the items are concepts that come up in theistic conversations, yet there’s no reason to pick that over some other more direct or indirect method. At the onset, Unwin is setting himself up to have a sophisticated discussion about tired and thread born issues.

As for Ford’s reply, it just shows the opposite side of the same theistic set of presuppositions; he’s doing the ‘is not’ to Unwin’s ‘is too’ argument. I’m glad that he did, yet it’s not leading towards an increase in knowledge. (That’s probably appropriate, since to actually gain or share knowledge would require addressing some other topic that Unwin did not bring up. At that point, why bother with Unwin’s burdened calculations at all?)

[ reads on to bottom of p.4 ]

STENGER: Of course, many of you are likely to say this is a silly exercise, that the numbers used are a matter of taste and obvious prejudice. However, I think it is useful to go through it anyway.

Yep.

STENGER: The mathematically challenged are often awed by any sort of quantitative calculation and are likely to view Unwin’s work as providing scientific support for their beliefs. It does no such thing.

Agreed. It’s incoherent. My brother in law loves these kinds of arguments, though, especially when the person speaking is a Christian and has a science degree.

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Martin April 13, 2010 at 7:37 am

Something bugs me about the fine-tuning argument, and maybe someone could help me understand what’s wrong with this objection since I never see atheist philosophers using it:

For you to argue fine tuning, don’t you have to have the result in mind beforehand? A royal flush is an improbable and amazing hand to be dealt, but that’s only because we all know what a royal flush is before the cards are dealt.

As I said, atheist philosophers don’t seem to use this objection, so there must be something wrong with it, but what?

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Haecceitas April 13, 2010 at 7:44 am

A royal flush is an improbable and amazing hand to be dealt, but that’s only because we all know what a royal flush is before the cards are dealt.

If you’re dealt with a royal flush and you learn the rules only after that, it is still equally improbable and amazing. If the rules are arbitrarily made up afterwards, the situation is obviously very different. But I guess most would argue that the existence of life vs. no life isn’t similarly arbitrarily made up difference, even though we can learn the difference only after the fact.

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Hermes April 13, 2010 at 7:45 am

Martin, I’ve heard people give objections like that a few times before. Off hand, though, I admit I do not have a reference.

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lukeprog April 13, 2010 at 7:59 am

Haecceitas,

Why isn’t it a made-up difference? Why is intelligent life the thing with intrinsic value or whatever rather than, say, a cosmos of singing gasses, or any other possible state of affairs? It seems very much to me that fine-tuning defenders have indeed only defined that a royal flush is valuable AFTER the they drew that hand.

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Hermes April 13, 2010 at 8:00 am

Haecceitas: But I guess most would argue that the existence of life vs. no life isn’t similarly arbitrarily made up difference, even though we can learn the difference only after the fact.

Yet, unless other universes can be observed, we have no data to go on except for our current universe where the hand that’s been dealt is one where we are here because of the universe-equivalent of being dealt a royal flush.

That said, note that the issue is not one of being arbitrary or not. The LHC could help us unravel the fundamental nature of the cosmos (regardless of how many universes there are or potentially could be in reality). Will it? Not looking won’t answer that question, nor should it give us any confidence in our uninformed guesses.

Conversations based on this type of speculation, of course, can quickly devolve into meaningless claims and counter claims.

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Martin April 13, 2010 at 8:16 am

Haecceitas,

What Luke said.

Isn’t it being a “life chauvinist” to claim that life is the royal flush? There may have been any number of equally bizarre and interesting phenomena if the constants of the universe had been different (as Luke says, “singing gasses”). What is the justification for saying that conscious observers have more intrinsic value than any other phenomena that might have come about?

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Martin April 13, 2010 at 8:53 am

All right, I submitted this question to ReasonableFaith. Luke, I stole your example of singing gasses because it makes me laugh.

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Alec April 13, 2010 at 9:44 am

Hugh Everett wrote a paper in 1957. He didn’t use any of the modern terminology. Theterm ‘many-worlds’ wasn’t coined until the 70s. As I understand it, he simply removed the assumption that wave functions collapse. The multiverse is the result of that idea.That’s quantum mechanics. In order to apply this to the moment of creation, we also need to assume/show that the Big Bang was something like a vacuum fluctuation, and I thing given what we know about length scales involved, I think this is a very reasonable thing to say.If I had to assign probabilities, I would put the first paragraph at 75 percent and the second at 10. I am not a cosmologist.  

I’ve heard mention before of the idea that the Big Bang was a result of a quantum fluctuation. Could someone direct me towards somewhere where legitimate scientists defend this idea (I’ve heard the idea before, and find it very interesting, I just want to make sure it’s defended by actual scientists and it’s not just some idea that’s floating around the internet).

Thanks

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Haecceitas April 13, 2010 at 10:06 am

Haecceitas,Why isn’t it a made-up difference? Why is intelligent life the thing with intrinsic value or whatever rather than, say, a cosmos of singing gasses, or any other possible state of affairs? It seems very much to me that fine-tuning defenders have indeed only defined that a royal flush is valuable AFTER the they drew that hand.  

Since you are essentially asking why the existence of intelligent life would be special to the intelligent designer that the proponent of the teleological argument is trying to prove, the answer would seem to be that such a designer (being intelligent and personal him/her/itself) would have a special reason to value the existence of personal, intelligent beings. And the neat thing about personal explanation is that what a person values becomes very relevant in considering what that person is likely to do.

To anyone who is willing to accept the objectivity and basic apprehensibility of values as part of his/her background beliefs when evaluating the teleological argument, this type of reasoning will presumably hold more promise than to a relativist/non-objectivist (if there are any items of moral knowledge that we have, the value of persons would be a prime candidate). But to some extent, this line of reasoning should work independently of the objectivity of values, since all things being equal, a person would always have a special reason to prefer a scenario that entails the existence of other persons over one that entails their non-existence.

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Mark April 13, 2010 at 10:45 am

Since you are essentially asking why the existence of intelligent life would be special to the intelligent designer that the proponent of the teleological argument is trying to prove,

I’m not sure that’s exactly what he’s asking. I figured he’s asking why we should single out the aptness of the physical constants for life as in special need of explanation. Why is the fact that the constants are life-permitting important, if some coincidences are not in need of explanation?

Putting this aside, I think the considerations you raise aren’t very plausible. The designer of the universe, if one exists, has a totally alien psychology for all we know. Why would we assume he has the same interests as we do?

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Hermes April 13, 2010 at 10:59 am

Haecceitas: such a designer (being intelligent and personal him/her/itself) would have a special reason to value the existence of personal, intelligent beings.

Why?

Without straining, I can think of a dozen reasons why that would not be the case.

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Reginald Selkirk April 13, 2010 at 11:25 am

Why (Almost All) Cosmologists are Atheists
by Sean M. Carroll

Quantum Gods
by Victor Stenger

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Haecceitas April 13, 2010 at 12:40 pm

I’m not sure that’s exactly what he’s asking.

I agree that the question is open to other interpretations as well, so it might be that I didn’t answer the exact question that he was asking.

I figured he’s asking why we should single out the aptness of the physical constants for life as in special need of explanation. Why is the fact that the constants are life-permitting important, if some coincidences are not in need of explanation?

I think the point is that we should seek explanations that make our observations more to be expected than they would be without them, if we can do this without needlessly complicating things a lot. Such explanations aren’t always available, and I’m pretty sure that some of you see theism as a needless complication as well, so that it fails to meet the criteria. But I don’t see theism as such (which could be a long discussion by itself).

Putting this aside, I think the considerations you raise aren’t very plausible. The designer of the universe, if one exists, has a totally alien psychology for all we know. Why would we assume he has the same interests as we do?  

The point about objective values would be that if such values exist and are in any way knowable, they wouldn’t be limited to the psychological traits that a particular species happens to have. So I fail to see why that consideration would be assuming the similarity of interest in any illicit way. Rather, it would be implied by the definition of objective values. So the major issue is whether one accepts this as a background belief when examining the argument. My claim is just that if one does, it can support the inference to design.

The other point I made was that all other things being equal, a person would always have a special interest in the existence of persons vs. the non-existence of persons. Like I said, this may be a somewhat weaker point all by itself, but still I fail to see how it’s unwarranted. Granted that I can’t totally transcend the pecularities of my personal characteristics as a human being, which may distort my assessment a little, but it still appears to be just the most natural thing for a person qua person to value the personal. Perhaps our intuitions just differ on this?

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Haecceitas April 13, 2010 at 12:43 pm

Why?Without straining, I can think of a dozen reasons why that would not be the case.  

Can you share a few of those reasons?

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Haecceitas April 13, 2010 at 12:56 pm

The designer of the universe, if one exists, has a totally alien psychology for all we know. Why would we assume he has the same interests as we do?

Also note that for the argument to be a good c-inductive argument, all that is required is that the existence of intelligent, personal beings is more likely on the design hypothesis than on the hypothesis of non-design. So even if the existence of other personal beings isn’t the overwhelming #1 concern for a personal designer, it is surely a distinguishing feature of a life-permitting universe that wouldn’t be irrelevant to the designer, whereas the fact that a universe with certain laws and initial conditions would give rise to life can play no role whatsover in explaining why this particular universe exists on the non-design hypothesis.

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Alex April 13, 2010 at 1:15 pm

Nunley seems to be unfamiliar with any work on fine-tuning and observation selection effects other than Sober’s. He seems to be either unfamiliar with actual proposed models of multiverses (e.g. eternal inflation) or just downplaying those models to his audience. He also repeats a very silly objection to the hypothesis of a multiverse, namely that a multiverse would not allow one to reason probabilistically about very rare events (this is silly because even though there are universes where vastly improbable events occur, it’s proportionally unlikely that you’ll happen to be in one of those rather than in a “normal” universe where the other player is just cheating.)

Otherwise, I don’t think he presented his own argument very clearly, but the conclusion that observation selection effects without the assistance of a multiverse don’t count against fine-tuning seems likely, so I’ll have to read his written work on this.

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Hermes April 13, 2010 at 1:34 pm

Haecceitas: Can you share a few of those reasons?

Well, to point out that I’m not a unique little snowflake on this issue, Mark already covered some of the general categories. His comments alone could generate thousands of examples even with someone using a modest amount of imagination.

Along those lines alone, as has been pointed out better by others elsewhere, our own universe seems to be ‘designed’ to kill everything — including us — all the while making as many black holes as possible, not that doing one is exclusive of doing the other. All this on a universal scale that is not often understood.

For another example generator, consider your own example. Even under the Christian mythos, the ‘personal’ deity is not a peer but a superior said to be infinite in all respects. As such, there is no reason to make limited inferiors to have a relationship with as they offer nothing. Only a limited set of deities (one or more) would have a desire for other limited entities.

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Haecceitas April 13, 2010 at 2:18 pm

Along those lines alone, as has been pointed out better by others elsewhere, our own universe seems to be ‘designed’ to kill everything — including us — all the while making as many black holes as possible, not that doing one is exclusive of doing the other.All this on a universal scale that is not often understood.

These are noteworthy points when considering whether the universe is in fact designed for life. They’re not really reasons why a designer would not value personal, intelligent beings. I thought you were mainly objecting to that.

For another example generator, consider your own example.Even under the Christian mythos, the ‘personal’ deity is not a peer but a superior said to be infinite in all respects.As such, there is no reason to make limited inferiors to have a relationship with as they offer nothing.Only a limited set of deities (one or more) would have a desire for other limited entities.  

By definition, it is impossible for there to be created gods who are on the same level as the God of Christian Theism. But sure, going by Christian assumptions, you’re probably right that God would have good grounds for creating beings that are more powerful and intelligent than humans. It also happens to be part of the Christian teaching that he has done so. At the same time, I do not think that humans would be inherently not worth creating. There can be value in a variety, so having different kinds of created beings with various degrees of intelligence does not look like a bad choice. If I’m free to draw on the full range of Christian doctrine, I can also make the point that we are currently not in our final state which is intended to be much higher than it currently is. But this would get us very far indeed from the argument from fine-tuning.

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Mark April 13, 2010 at 3:17 pm

I think the point is that we should seek explanations that make our observations more to be expected than they would be without them, if we can do this without needlessly complicating things a lot.

I don’t think this is necessarily true. For instance, if you decide to play poker with someone and he deals you a pair of 4′s in the first hand, I don’t think this is good evidence that the dealer wanted you to get 4′s (even though this would make the hand much less surprising). There must be something more going on, no?

The other point I made was that all other things being equal, a person would always have a special interest in the existence of persons vs. the non-existence of persons. Like I said, this may be a somewhat weaker point all by itself, but still I fail to see how it’s unwarranted. Granted that I can’t totally transcend the pecularities of my personal characteristics as a human being, which may distort my assessment a little, but it still appears to be just the most natural thing for a person qua person to value the personal. Perhaps our intuitions just differ on this?

I’m afraid so. Why assume a superbeing in control of time and space would even have any desires? Presumably we could design an artificial intelligence with no particular interest in doing anything, so I don’t see how this sort of thing can be ruled out.

Also note that for the argument to be a good c-inductive argument, all that is required is that the existence of intelligent, personal beings is more likely on the design hypothesis than on the hypothesis of non-design.

I think the point is that if the prior probability of a life-friendly designer is inscrutable, the likelihood of design by a life-friendly designer over chance isn’t going to help much. We could just as easily load all sorts of similarly unevidenced auxiliary propositions into the chance hypothesis, e.g., by looking at P(fine-tuning|chance + an unknown naturalistic life-favoring process).

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Hermes April 13, 2010 at 3:33 pm

By definition, it is impossible for there to be created gods who are on the same level as the God of Christian Theism.

Great. Let me be blunt. I reject your attempt at granting your deity unjustified privilege.

Point being: I am not a Christian. To me, the general deity Yahweh is just another claimed-to-be-special god, one of thousands, fundamentally no different.

This does not mean I am unaware of Christian doctrines. Like Emelda Marcos’ shoes, there are so many.

If anything, after decades of Christians making bold claims about their special deity without supporting those claims — and insisting on privileged consideration for those claims — I give Christian deity claims on average *less* credit than I do many other types of deity claims. Way above Christian claims are those of deists and pantheists.

Then again, maybe I’ve been misinformed by those other self-described Christians? Maybe you have the one unique and true take on a real deity that the others have so hamfistedly promoted?

Right now, you have a chance at showing support for such a power grab, but just taking it without offering support is not acceptable. It is rude, and deserves a response in kind.

[ other choice comments deleted ]

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Bram van Dijk April 14, 2010 at 6:38 am

There are a few problems that I see with this talk.

1. The firing squad tale misses the point. It assumes that the existence of god who creates a universe (the firing squad that fires) is given. The question is just whether this intended for us to be in that universe (missed intentionally) of whether that is just by chance (missed by chance).
The whole point of the design argument is to argue that there is a god, so this analogy is begging the question.

2. He claims that the telephone survey still gave some information of the popularity of the two candidates. However, that is because the selection effect is not perfect. It is like a 9 inch holes, when you are looking for fish larger than 10 inches. It makes it less likely that you find fish smaller than 10 inches, but it is not impossible to find fish smaller than 10 inches. With the WAP this is not the case. We can only observe anything if we are here. It is perfect selection.

3. He should use Bayesian statistics and take prior probabilities into account. Hi argument in the end seems to go like this:
H1: A god exists and this god created the universe and has a preference for us humans;
H2: A universe came about by chance;

Then sure: us being here is evidence for H1 over H2.
However, the prior probability of H1 is of course a lot lower than that of H2.

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Reginald Selkirk April 14, 2010 at 7:47 am

What is the point of the firing squad example? Why invoke a firing squad rather than a lottery? Does it add any legitimate logical arguments, or does it (as I suspect) just amplify the emotional appeal?

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rvkevin April 14, 2010 at 11:23 am

What is the point of the firing squad example? Why invoke a firing squad rather than a lottery? Does it add any legitimate logical arguments, or does it (as I suspect) just amplify the emotional appeal?  

I vote for emotional appeal. It would require a suspension of the natural laws to prevent the bullets from reaching their target, unless they aimed elsewhere intentionally (They were described as marksmen so there accuracy should not be questioned). You might as well ask, whats the chance that they put the muzzle to his skin and missed? The chance is zero. So unless he argues that the chance of of the universe occurring naturally is zero, I don’t see it fit as an analogy.

However, with a lottery example, we know that there are winners, and they occur naturally, despite each outcome being so improbable. Despite the low odds, if you continually play, you will win the lottery. The problem is that we have not observed the times when the universe formed and failed to form intelligent life (collapsed into its original state, etc.) so we see the one successful attempt and people say “its so improbable, it must have been intentional.” It would be like if I could erase my memory every time I lost the lottery, and then when I win (even if its after billions of tries), I exclaim, “why the odds are so astronomically small that I would win on my first time, I think I have evidence that the gods are in my favor.” Would I be convincing?

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Haecceitas April 14, 2010 at 1:50 pm

I don’t think this is necessarily true. For instance, if you decide to play poker with someone and he deals you a pair of 4’s in the first hand, I don’t think this is good evidence that the dealer wanted you to get 4’s (even though this would make the hand much less surprising). There must be something more going on, no?

Right. There’s also the issue of prior probability. Most certainly, the fact that someone deals me a pair of 4s is more likely on a design hypothesis than on a chance hypothesis. So it is reasonably good evidence. But here the problem is that the prior probability of the hypothesis that he wants to deal me a pair of 4s is very low (apart from the fact that I got dealt a pair of 4s, I have no reason at all to think that he wanted to deal me any particular cards, and even if he did, I’d have no independent reason to think that it would be a pair of 4s that he wants to deal). So the evidence seems to raise the probability very significantly, but nowhere near enough to make it overall probable. It’s perfectly possible for someone to think the same about the design argument. But there would be some significant differences, such as the fact that most proponents of natural theology would not restrict their case just to design.

I’m afraid so. Why assume a superbeing in control of time and space would even have any desires? Presumably we could design an artificial intelligence with no particular interest in doing anything, so I don’t see how this sort of thing can be ruled out.

It doesn’t need to be ruled out. I’m happy to take it as one possibility among many. But still, when we reflect on the concept of a person, it has as its integral part the idea of intentional action, so if we are talking about a personal being, it’s in no way unlikely that such a being would want to do something would act accordingly. Whether we’d call those desires as such may not be that important.

I think the point is that if the prior probability of a life-friendly designer is inscrutable, the likelihood of design by a life-friendly designer over chance isn’t going to help much.

Sure, if there’s no fine-tuning, there probably won’t be a compelling fine-tuning argument.

We could just as easily
load all sorts of similarly unevidenced auxiliary propositions into the chance hypothesis, e.g., by looking at P(fine-tuning|chance + an unknown naturalistic life-favoring process).  

The same evidence can give some confirmation to more than one hypothesis at the same time. So this wouldn’t necessarily make the fine-tuning irrelevant to the truth of theism. It might just be that one would need some further considerations in order to decide between theism and the naturalistic alternative.

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Haecceitas April 14, 2010 at 2:07 pm

Great.Let me be blunt.I reject your attempt at granting your deity unjustified privilege.

OK. But I don’t see it as unjustified privilege. Rather, it follows from a set of philosophical considerations.

Point being: I am not a Christian.To me, the general deity Yahweh is just another claimed-to-be-special god, one of thousands, fundamentally no different.

In my thinking, the primary reference was to a more generic “God of the philosophers”, rather than Yahweh, even though I happen to think that the two aren’t incompatible (just focusing on different aspects of the concept of God to some extent). It was you who directed the conversation specifically to Yahweh.

Then again, maybe I’ve been misinformed by those other self-described Christians?Maybe you have the one unique and true take on a real deity that the others have so hamfistedly promoted?Right now, you have a chance at showing support for such a power grab, but just taking it without offering support is not acceptable.It is rude, and deserves a response in kind.[ other choice comments deleted ]  

That would be a very long conversation. As far as the jump from a generic monotheism to Christianity is concerned, my main concern would be to establish that when one examines history from an explicitly theistic perspective, the task of arguing for the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection becomes easier. But another point would be that some of the Christian doctrines that may seem “weird” to many, are actually not that problematic and make good logical sense from my perspective.

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Haecceitas April 14, 2010 at 2:14 pm

What is the point of the firing squad example? Why invoke a firing squad rather than a lottery? Does it add any legitimate logical arguments, or does it (as I suspect) just amplify the emotional appeal?  

The firing squad example illustrates the fact that the occurrence of the unlikely event is at the same time a precondition for observation (if the marksmen hadn’t missed, he would not be there to make the opposite observation). This part at least seems pretty analogous to how it appears if one grants that there exists just one universe and that its being life-permitting is very improbable. The point (for Leslie and Swinburne, at least) is that there’s still something that calls for an explanation (in terms of either God, multiverse, or both).

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Hermes April 14, 2010 at 5:13 pm

OK. But I don’t see it as unjustified privilege. Rather, it follows from a set of philosophical considerations.

Would a Hindu agree with your philosophical considerations?

In my thinking, the primary reference was to a more generic “God of the philosophers”, rather than Yahweh, even though I happen to think that the two aren’t incompatible (just focusing on different aspects of the concept of God to some extent). It was you who directed the conversation specifically to Yahweh.

That is correct. It was a presumption on my part. Tell me, what named deities did you consider when you wrote the following;

the answer would seem to be that such a designer (being intelligent and personal him/her/itself) would have a special reason to value the existence of personal, intelligent beings.

—–

my main concern would be to establish that when one examines history from an explicitly theistic perspective, the task of arguing for the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection becomes easier.

Hindu theism, Muslim theism, or Aztec? Who’s on your dance card?

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Troy Nunley April 14, 2010 at 5:21 pm

To Hermes: If you are disgusted with the fact that I claim the odds of fine-tuning on design are far better than on atheism, take it up with Elliott Sober. He concedes this point. Check his footnote in his March 2009 article. And no, he’s not a raving creationist as you well know. As for the “rah rah” for fine-tuning up front, Sober is fair-minded enough to do the same when he presents his arguments on the subject. Sorry you find it so despicable. And the appeal to “chance” as an alternative was proposed very early on by Sober, not me.

To Mark: The video was made last year. You will find that Sober’s new paper does nothing to derail the points made here and I address this in my paper coming out in “Philosophia Christi” this year. Your third point seems pretty on the mark. But the problem is not that under those circumstances P(O|H2&OSE) is undefined, but rather it is simply zero. Incidentally, Sober has be revising the content of his OSE for ages. I also document those developments in my upcoming paper if you’re interested.

To Lukeprog: Thanks for the compliment on fairness. I try not to misrepresent. To your point regarding fine-tuning doing something “identifying the mark to be hit after the fact,” yeah, it does something like that. Two points. The likelihood principle Elliott Sober adopts does not discriminate between hypotheses that predict and those that retrodict or explain. Second, I’m not too sympathetic to the claim that fine-tuning arguments involve some kind of “anthropic bias” or “anthropocentrism.” The question is (assuming God is the putative Designer as Sober allows) can we expect a God to have such biases. I think there is reason to believe so. Things, I admit, are a lot more difficult without the assumption that the “intelligent designer” in question is God.

To Justfinethanks: Same as I said to Lukeprog. If either of you come up with good rebuttals on Sober’s behalf send me a line (or better yet, send him a line and tell him to work one up pronto!)

To rvkevin: Yes, the fine-tuning argument involves confirmation bias, or as Sober and I put it “biased polling.” My point, pace Sober, is that this does not eliminate evidence, but merely diminishes its weight. See my upcoming paper for the details (or write me directly at Denver Seminary).

To Alex: what you call a “silly objection” I actually endorse. Explain the silliness?

To Bram van Dijk, Reginald Selkirk amd rvkevin: Haecceitas hit the nose on the mark with his last post. Sober is aware of the difficulty. He has attempted, failed and revised his attempts to deal with this problem. His latest attempt is in the 2009 March article. And I argue in my forthcoming article that his approach is still wrong, largely based on arguments presented in the videos here.

Thanks all.
Troy Nunley

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lukeprog April 14, 2010 at 5:49 pm

Hi Troy,

I’m not too interested to defend Sober, actually. In fact I think the WAP and also Sober’s attempted resurrection may not be good objections to the fine-tuning argument. I think the more salient point is the point I made about it being none too impressive to decide after the fact which poker hand is valuable, and then say the poker hand you got was incredibly improbable. This is the anthropic bias of which you speak. And I don’t think I understand your rebuttal about expecting God to have an anthropic bias. Have you written on that topic in more detail elsewhere?

Luke

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lukeprog April 14, 2010 at 5:56 pm

BTW, one point I would object to in the Nunley talk is at 12:15, “The only reason for buying into a multi-universe theory is to derail the fine-tuning argument.” But that claim appears to be disproven by the fact that the first serious multiverse theory was proposed in 1957 by Hugh Everett, a couple decades before anyone was writing about the ‘fine-tuning’ of the initial constants of the universe.

Also, I object to the opening pun on “tune in…”. :)

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lukeprog April 14, 2010 at 6:00 pm

Also, a bit later, Troy says: “There seems to be no possibility of coming up with evidence [for multiple universes] in the future.” I’m not sure why that would be. Many models that require multiple universes render very precise predictions that could be tested in OUR universe.

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Troy Nunley April 14, 2010 at 6:06 pm

I grant you the point on poker hands. Low probabilities alone prove nothing. Would a GOD fine-tune a universe had he created one? I thinks so. Sure, he might have other reasons for building a universe than to populate it with life, but that does seem a strong reason since such a being is by definition a benevolent sort. Anyways, all the argument against Sober requires is that He would be more likely to do it than Chance (Sober’s proposed contender) would.
And I’m not so moved by the fact that multiverse theories have a longer history than fine-tuning arguments. If they won any good deal of admiration for their plausibility prior to fine-tuning arguments, yes, then I would retract my statement. But you can imagine my skepticism there…
Can there be evidence for multiple universes? I don’t see how it will render predictions. The theory is in the business of retrodicting. But if you can give examples of possible novel (!) predictions it might or does yield, then I’ll consider them.

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Mark April 14, 2010 at 6:17 pm

Dr. Nunley, I’m not sure if you’re coming back to read this, but if so thanks for stopping by and leaving these comments!

You will find that Sober’s new paper does nothing to derail the points made here and I address this in my paper coming out in “Philosophia Christi” this year.

I’ll definitely be on the lookout for that paper; fine-tuning arguments are a hobby of mine. As I understand your claim, you want us to be evaluating the posterior probability of O&OSE, where O is the observation of fine-tuning and OSE is the observation selection effect. But Sober 2009 insists that we should never be looking at probabilities of events per se, but instead of our observation of those events. So according to him, we should be looking at the probability of O* = observing that the universe is fine-tuned and that we’re under an observation selection effect. Moreover, perhaps he’d say that our observation O* is itself the product an observation selection effect for the exact same reason our observation of fine-tuning simpliciter is under an OSE. If so, this would be a major disanalogy with the “Dewey Beats Truman” telephone case. For in that case, while our survey sample may be biased, our observation that this is so is not itself the product of a biased observation process (and hence it’s ripe for use as evidence, however meager).

Your third point seems pretty on the mark. But the problem is not that under those circumstances P(O|H2&OSE) is undefined, but rather it is simply zero.

I’m not sure I follow. If by “OSE” here you mean “The net can catch can only catch 10+ inch fish, and I know there are 50+ 10-inch fish in the lake,” then P(H2&OSE) = 0. As I understand it, conditional probability isn’t defined when conditionalizing on zero-probability events, at least outside of jointly continuous probability distributions.

If on the other hand by “OSE” you meant what I called “OSE*” = “The net can only catch 10+ inch fish,” then P(O|H2&OSE*) is not quite zero, since there’s always a possibility that I’ll hallucinate having caught 10+ inch fish or whatever. It’d nevertheless be exceedingly close to zero. But I don’t see why that would be a problem.

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Martin April 14, 2010 at 6:28 pm

Troy,

I grant you the point on poker hands.

I hope there is a better answer than this; in my view this objection completely destroys the fine tuning argument. It’s not fair to invent the rules of the game (which hands are valuable) after the hand has been dealt, and then defining your hand as a valuable one.

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lukeprog April 14, 2010 at 6:30 pm

Troy,

My objection at this point would turn to the explanatory inadequacy of the theistic hypothesis as usually presented by theists, drawing on the work of Greg Dawes in Theism and Explanation.

I outline two major multiverse theories and some of the precise predictions they entail here. An example of a novel prediction that could be verified or falsified with future scientific experiments is the ‘new law’ of Smolin’s theory, as I describe in the linked article.

Let me switch from poker hands to the lottery. I’m not sure why you think theism has greater explanatory power here than chance. Once we realize that we have only defined what the winning lottery card is after drawing that same lottery card, then we can see that chance explains the situation perfectly. If chance is the correct explanation, somebody had to win. The probability of that is 1. So I’m not sure how theism’s explanatory power will be greater than that. It is certainly more ad-hoc.

There are lots of fine distinctions I’m leaving out, but that’s the basic idea.

Also, do you adopt Wykstra’s response to the problem of evil? If so, I think that leaves you without access to design arguments, as argued by Scott Sehon.

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Hermes April 14, 2010 at 6:34 pm

Troy Nunley: To Hermes: If you are disgusted with the fact that I claim the odds of fine-tuning on design are far better than on atheism, take it up with Elliott Sober. He concedes this point. Check his footnote in his March 2009 article. And no, he’s not a raving creationist as you well know. As for the “rah rah” for fine-tuning up front, Sober is fair-minded enough to do the same when he presents his arguments on the subject. Sorry you find it so despicable. And the appeal to “chance” as an alternative was proposed very early on by Sober, not me.

Mr. Nunley, thank you for personally responding. My opinion of your presentation reversed a bit just on the attempt. Once again, thanks.

Unfortunately, that was not my focus. This was;

[2:15 ~ 2:25] “… and not so likely to have occurred if the universe were had been left to something like chance. Or on the atheistic hypothesis. …”

What I asked for was a name; who said that? Specifically, what atheist said that and what justifies it being labeled as ‘the atheistic hypothesis’?

Perhaps you have a name and some basis for asserting that chance is an argument generally used by atheists, thus supporting the comment that it is ‘the atheistic hypothesis’?

While I had multiple criticisms, I am primarily interested in that.

If you were either speculating or thinking of a generic characterization of atheists from a non-atheist point of view, then that’s understandable to a point. As that is basically stereotyping atheists, and is not accurate, what do you offer as a correction of this mis-attribution? What will you say (if anything) in the future on similar topics?

* * *

Why am I making a big deal about this?

Simple.

Educated Christians — and some not so educated — hear people like yourself make comments like this and then bring them up to me later as if they are my personal thoughts or beliefs. They even argue that since I am an atheist, I must think a great many things that Christian apologists attribute to atheists that I almost never hear my fellow atheists say about themselves. I don’t consider this acceptable or ethical.

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Troy Nunley April 14, 2010 at 7:04 pm

Cool it Hermes. We all get fellows from the “other camp” attributing beliefs to us wrongly. And if as bright a guy as Sober attributes things wrongly to Design theorists (he does, I critique him on it in two articles) I’m sure you’re hands are not clean either.
As for the “acceptable and ethical” retort, did you mean to refer to me or those who approached you with a misunderstanding? If me, I see nothing immoral about making an imprecise comment if the imprecision was not intended. If others made the mistake in how they read my sort comment, they’re novices; it’s rude to regard their misunderstandings as unethical.
I do not equate atheism and the “chance hypothesis” here insofar chance is understood as a random process in which each possible outcome is equiprobable (a definition Sober has sometimes used). I’m sure “chance” of some sort has to play into the atheistic account of how this came about, but I made no commitment as to where or how. Indeed the chance hypothesis is even broadly compatible with the theistic explanation (though hardly plausible on it). The “or the atheistic hypothesis” comment that I made simply asserts there are alternatives (plural) to theism that don’t account for this observation of fine-tuning as well as the theistic hypothesis (or Design hypothesis, which again is not quite the same thing).

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Troy Nunley April 14, 2010 at 7:07 pm

And incidentally I don’t know what atheist equates chance and their view of origins of the universe. I never claimed there was one.

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Hermes April 14, 2010 at 8:54 pm

Is that a retraction, an affirmation, you don’t know what atheists (in general) think? What?

Plain words if you have them, and I’ll respond in kind.

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Bram van Dijk April 15, 2010 at 12:49 am

Hi Troy, thanks for responding:

To Bram van Dijk, Reginald Selkirk amd rvkevin: Haecceitas hit the nose on the mark with his last post.

The firing squad example illustrates the fact that the occurrence of the unlikely event is at the same time a precondition for observation (if the marksmen hadn’t missed, he would not be there to make the opposite observation). This part at least seems pretty analogous to how it appears if one grants that there exists just one universe and that its being life-permitting is very improbable. The point (for Leslie and Swinburne, at least) is that there’s still something that calls for an explanation (in terms of either God, multiverse, or both).

But the analogy of the fishnet also shows what happens when an event is a precondition for its observation. So what is the difference betwen the two? I think it is this: with the fishnet we don’t know if there are small fish (if god exists), however, with the firing squad we do know that the firing squad exists and has an intention. The question is whether that intention is just to shoot and kill (god just wanted to create a universe and by luck we appeared into that universe) or the intention was to miss (god created the universe for us).

So, the firing squad analogy shows the following:
P1: god exists, god created the universe, god has the ability to finetune the universe.
H0: god intentionally finetuned it.
H1: the finetuning happend by chance.
O: There is a finetuned universe.
Pr(O|P1, H0) > Pr(O|P1, H1)
Which shows that it is not an argument about the existence of god anymore.

I think you can publish a nice paper about this, and I’d accept the co-authorship;-)

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rvkevin April 15, 2010 at 12:50 am

To Bram van Dijk, Reginald Selkirk amd rvkevin: Haecceitas hit the nose on the mark with his last post.  -Nunley

“This person who was intended to be a victim of a shooting, takes of his blindfold and says, wow, I think that I have some evidence that these people intended to miss me as opposed to the hypothesis that they tried to hit me, but I got ridiculously lucky”-Nunley

I find it funny how you say that they intended to kill him, but since they missed, its evidence that they didn’t intend to kill him. But what if they intended to kill him and fail, what would you conclude? To say that they didn’t intend to kill him would contradict yourself. To say its the result of chance would be unlikely for such a low probability event, but reasonable if there is an adequate level of confirmation bias. What other options are there? Why not a miracle, or a supernatural force comparable to Neo tampering with the flight path of the bullets? Why is the supernatural not preferred over chance, especially considering if guardian angels were watching over him, wouldn’t it be much more likely that they would intervene and he would have a significantly higher chance of survival than left by chance? After all, isn’t that what the fine-tuning argument is trying to establish in relation to the formation of the universe? As the angels demonstrate, just because a supernatural entity is likely to produce a rare outcome if they did exist, their probability of actually existing isn’t even considered, nor preferred over the slim chance of a natural occurrence. If the supernatural is not preferable over chance in the firing squad case, I find it similarly unconvincing when considering the formation of the universe. How do you go about calculating the probability of a supernatural entity that existed and created the universe?

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Bram van Dijk April 15, 2010 at 12:59 am

To put it another way: the firing squad analogy can never be used as an argument for the existence of the firing squad.

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Thomas Reid April 15, 2010 at 2:38 am

Bram van Dijk:

So, the firing squad analogy shows the following:
P1: god exists, god created the universe, god has the ability to finetune the universe.
H0: god intentionally finetuned it.
H1: the finetuning happend by chance.
O: There is a finetuned universe.
Pr(O|P1, H0) > Pr(O|P1, H1)
Which shows that it is not an argument about the existence of god anymore.

If you accept the inequality above, for what do you think you have evidence if not H0? Then, since P1 is necessary for H0, don’t you think you have a piece of evidence for the existence of God?

Suppose you come to believe that rain only falls if there are rainclouds in the sky. Let’s say you live in Gullibleville, where one day you hear the familiar sounds on your roof leading you to believe that there are raindrops hitting it. If you’re convinced that it’s more probable than not that raindrops are hitting your roof, wouldn’t you say that you have evidence for rainclouds in the sky? Even if you live in Gullibleville, and even if it’s possible that there could be rainclouds in the sky and it not rain, that still seems like a reasonable inference to me.

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Troy Nunley April 15, 2010 at 5:39 am

To Hermes: It was no retraction, it was a clarification. And I looked on the web to see whether you were as serious about the moral gravity of misrepresenting other persons view as you present yourself to be.
It took seconds…From the commonsenseatheismblog, Feb 24, 2010. Pretty recent. A certain Joshua Blanchard wrote: Can’t we still just say that Intelligent Design is a quirky minority group wielding lots of power, descendant from crazy seventh day adventist profits? I think it’s unfair to burden the great religious traditions with such movements.
You replied in part: I’d be glad to … as soon as the members of those great religious traditions stand up and say something in sufficient numbers to counter such nonsense.
I think this says enough regarding your passion for representing opposing views fairly.
For Bram, rvkevin and Reid: As much as I admire your discussion of disanalogies between fishnet cases and the fine-tuning/firing squad stuff, I’m afraid time forbids that I engage at length. However, I think several of us are in agreement that the fishnet case is a flawed analogy. Bear in mind that I only grant the legitimacy of it to Sober for sake of argument. I’ll be back to reread your points and see if I can offer some other thoughts. Thanks.

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lukeprog April 15, 2010 at 5:46 am

Troy,

If you have any thoughts on my latest response to you here, I’d like to hear them.

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Reginald Selkirk April 15, 2010 at 6:16 am

Once we realize that we have only defined what the winning lottery card is after drawing that same lottery card, then we can see that chance explains the situation perfectly. If chance is the correct explanation, somebody had to win. The probability of that is 1.

Well, no. You are apparently thinking of an example where a stub from each ticket is put in a bin, and a winner drawn from the bin. This is not always the scenario.

In most large lotteries, the logistics of putting millions of ticket stubs in a bin is prohibitive, and the winning number is chosen with some other procedure which is resumed to be random. Marked balls bouncing around in a glass globe is a frequent choice. Sometimes, the numbers chosen through such a procedure do not appear on any actual chosen ticket. Usually in such cases, the prize money is held over until the next drawing.

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Bram van Dijk April 15, 2010 at 6:31 am

Thomas:

So, the firing squad analogy shows the following:
P1: god exists, god created the universe, god has the ability to finetune the universe.
H0: god intentionally finetuned it.
H1: the finetuning happend by chance.
O: There is a finetuned universe.
Pr(O|P1, H0) > Pr(O|P1, H1)
Which shows that it is not an argument about the existence of god anymore.

If you accept the inequality above, for what do you think you have evidence if not H0?

Yes, it is evidence for H0, but agains H1 which is: “God created the universe, but did not finetune it, but it turned out to be finetuned by chance after all.” It is not evidence for theism over atheism. that is the whole point.

It is not Pr(O|H1, P1)>Pr(O|H2) but Pr(O|H1, P1)>Pr(O|H2, P1).

Suppose you come to believe that rain only falls if there are rainclouds in the sky. Let’s say you live in Gullibleville, where one day you hear the familiar sounds on your roof leading you to believe that there are raindrops hitting it. If you’re convinced that it’s more probable than not that raindrops are hitting your roof, wouldn’t you say that you have evidence for rainclouds in the sky? Even if you live in Gullibleville, and even if it’s possible that there could be rainclouds in the sky and it not rain, that still seems like a reasonable inference to me.

I don’t see the point of this analogy. There is no OSE in here.

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Hermes April 15, 2010 at 6:42 am

Troy Nunley, the comment you quoted from me is one I stand by as being entirely supportable and valid. The words of yours that I quoted are in error, and I was asking for a simple retraction and promise not to repeat it again. That is not what you offered.

Thank you for re-affirming what I’ve found elsewhere.

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Mark April 15, 2010 at 8:02 am

Hermes, I really don’t think we should be polluting this discussion with such awkward reproaches. Better to just talk about the arguments, don’t you think?

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Thomas Reid April 15, 2010 at 8:11 am

Hi Bram van Dijk. Regarding my raincloud analogy you wrote:

I don’t see the point of this analogy. There is no OSE in here.

Neither did I see an OSE in your example, but I’m not sure that’s relevant to the point you were trying to make.

With your example, it seems that you’re saying evidence for H0 (God intentionally fine-tuned it) cannot count as evidence for P1 (God exists, God created the universe, God has the ability to fine-tune the universe) over ~P1:

Yes, it is evidence for H0, but agains H1 which is: “God created the universe, but did not finetune it, but it turned out to be finetuned by chance after all.” It is not evidence for theism over atheism. that is the whole point.

But again, notice that your P1 is necessary for your H0 to be true. So if you become convinced that H0 is more likely true than H1, I don’t see how that doesn’t count in favor of P1.

That is what the raincloud analogy was trying to show. If you become convinced that it is more likely than not that rain is hitting your roof, and if you know that a necessary condition for rain hitting your roof is the fact that rainclouds would be in the sky, then it seems to me that your observation counts as evidence for rainclouds in the sky. You wouldn’t say that rainclouds aren’t in the sky if you knew they were necessary for rain to hit your roof, right?

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Hermes April 15, 2010 at 9:35 am

Mark, pending further comments on this, I am done.

My motivation and lack of congeniality stems from having to stomp out too many fires sparked by people who listen closely to folks like Mr. Nunley. That he answered as he did, instead of simply retracting what he said, is discouraging. It is rare that I am able to address those who foster these types of attitudes in academic circles, so I pounced on the chance to do so, without regret.

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Troy Nunley April 15, 2010 at 3:42 pm

To lukeprog: I’ll definitely look at your article (sorry I’m a bit swamped at present). A novel prediction would be nice; more importantly, if the multiverse hypothesis itself is doing work that a single universe can’t then that would be significant. I’ll look into that.
As to the second issue (lotteries), yes, someone had to win. Moreover, if (1) there’s a multiverse and (2) there’s a vast enough number of universes in it then fine-tuning does not seem to me to be a good argument. Consider that (2). By way of the lottery analogy, it would still be a sign of contrivance if there were several thousand tickets for sale, the winner is specified in advance, only 100 tickets sold and someone won anyways. That’s the situation, I take it, if the number of universes (analogous to actual ticket sales) is small.
Otherwise, point taken.
To Hermes: Generally, Mark is correct. Your “discouragement” with people like me will doubtless increase and exacerbate as time goes on, so please try to find a healthier way to deal with that than you’ve exhibited here.
Suggestion: try to figure out if Sober’s argument really does fail the way that I argue, or rather demonstrate, it does. Wouldn’t it be a lot more fun if you proved me wrong? Trust me, I’ve gotten a lot more fun out of demolishing both his actual arguments against design than I ever did pointing out what I regarded as his mistakes in characterizing I.D. (not that I ever called his behavior “unethical” or demanded an apology or anything. Heavens no).

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Hermes April 15, 2010 at 3:54 pm

Troy, for the last time, the question I had for you is not about Sober’s words at all but yours.

Since you are passing suggestions around, I suggest to you that you get your facts straight and stop repeating mistakes of other apologists. That you retract the ones you are aware of. How do you generate genuine interest in your primary topic if you send time reinforcing existing Christian fables like the bacterial flagellum being an example of design and atheists saying everything is based on chance. Those are only two of many examples I encountered in your talk.

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Hermes April 15, 2010 at 3:58 pm

I have no further comments. Pretend I wasn’t even here.

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Mark April 15, 2010 at 4:54 pm

Dude, all he said was, “When you hear about Intilligent Design, usually you think about arguments from biological complexity like the bacterial flagellum.” He just mentioned it in order to serve as a contrast to the type of design argument he was about to present. You’re making a mountain out of an unusually small molehill.

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Reginald Selkirk April 15, 2010 at 4:58 pm

As to the second issue (lotteries), yes, someone had to win.

Already refuted. Someone is not paying attention.

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Mark April 15, 2010 at 4:59 pm

Also, Dr. Nunley, I’m curious if you saw/had any thoughts on my response on behalf of Sober above (which you can find by doing a ctrl + f search on this page for the term “O*”).

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lukeprog April 15, 2010 at 6:32 pm

Troy,

Sure, I agree with all that in your latest post.

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lukeprog April 15, 2010 at 6:34 pm

Geez. Reading through this thread of comments makes it clear why academics like Troy rarely comment here, even though a huge number of them subscribe.

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rvkevin April 15, 2010 at 7:42 pm

I don’t agree that the fishnet case is flawed. Its just that when you transfer the conditions to the firing squad case, you don’t keep them the same. Concerning P(O&OSE|H1)=P(O&OSE|H2) for the firing squad example. If the the chance of them intending to kill him and missing is zero so even with the strongest OSE, there will never be a population to select from, P(O&OSE|H1)=/=P(O&OSE|H2) and is not analogous to the fishnet. If you change the conditions and say there is a chance of missing, then I don’t find anything strange with such an outcome.

It would be like if I were to investigate executions and I advertised to anyone who participated in an execution as the target to come be interviewed and they would be my sample. Not to anyone’s surprise, everyone I interviewed survived their execution. Now, I agree, if you change the hypothesis to say, “There are at least 50 people who survived their execution when their executioner intended otherwise”, then it would convey some information, but that’s not what we’re concerned about about. We want to know the probability of interviewing someone who survived an execution when they were intended to be killed with this OSE. If such an event is possible, then everyone I interview would confirm that they survived. So, how is it odd that P(O&OSE|H1)=P(O&OSE|H2) when P(O&OSE|H2)=100%?

Its just that in the firing squad case, you eliminate the element of chance. It would be like me asking the probability of someone placing a soccer ball on the goal line and then missing the net accidentally. They would have to intentionally aim away from the target to miss. So it follows logically that they intended to miss. 1. If they intend to hit the target, they will hit the target. 2. They did not hit the target. Therefore they did not intend to hit the target. It would seem that for the firing squad example to have any weight in this aspect, you would need to demonstrate that the universe is unable to form by “chance”.

One last thing to say about the fishnet and firing squad comparison. Let’s say the fishermen puts a net out in the ocean at random that is only able to catch one fish (bigger than Nemo). A fish of sufficient size swims in and thinks, “The odds that I would be the one to swim into this net are so remarkably low, I think I have evidence that the fisherman intended to catch ME.” How is this any different than the firing squad example? In essence, it shows that in the case of the firing squad (if possible), we are placing special meaning on one particular outcome, when in reality, its compatible with chance and implies no intention.

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Troy Nunley April 15, 2010 at 8:53 pm

WOW, Gee leez, I didn’t expect so many posts. I am humbled. I will try to give every person who raised a point against my argument their fair say and my reply. Please be patient because I’ve enjoyed this and I hope for more.
I end on a sad note. I’ve had a round with Hermes. I sincerely hope it ends well. Obviously the whole purpose of philosophy is to get beyond quibbling of this sort. But some of the (reading into) points about me saying atheism amounts to chance and such have to go.

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Troy Nunley April 15, 2010 at 9:04 pm

Don’t read too much into that last part, Hermes.

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Bram van Dijk April 15, 2010 at 11:16 pm

Hi Thomas,

With your example, it seems that you’re saying evidence for H0 (God intentionally fine-tuned it) cannot count as evidence for P1 (God exists, God created the universe, God has the ability to fine-tune the universe) over ~P1:

I didn’t give an example of my own, my point is that the firing squad analogy is flawed. I tried to show why.

Maybe fine-tuning could be an argument for the existence of god, but not in the firing squad analogy, because in the firing squad analogy P1 is always true, even when ~H0.

Because even when the firing squad missed by chance, the firing squad still exists and did fire.

So in the firing squad analogy it is always assumed that god exists and created the universe. The only question left is whether he fine-tuned it on purpose or by accident.

So, if the existence of god is already in the premises, it can never be the conclusion of the argument.

Put differently: if you want to conclude from the firing squad analogy that god exists you are simply begging the question.

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So I don’t think the raindrop analogy works. As I understand it that argument goes as follows:
P1: Fine-tuning can only come from god (raindrops always come from rainclouds)
P2: There is fine-tuning (I hear raindrops on my roof)
C: god exists.

But I would say that that there is no proof for P1. And if the WAP works, it would show that P2 is false.

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Bram van Dijk April 22, 2010 at 3:24 am

Troy,

Maybe you’ll still read this.
You said in the talk that instead of Pr(O|H,OSE) it is better to work with Pr(O,OSE|H).

However:
Pr(O,OSE|H)=Pr(O|H,OSE)Pr(OSE|H)

So, the way you take the OSE into account actually mixes up two arguments. The first is the design argument – Pr(O|H,OSE) – and the second is some sort of cosmological argument – Pr(OSE|H) – which could roughly represent the probability that there is something rather than nothing given different hypotheses.

The main point is that Pr(OSE|H) is independent of O, the observation that there is some form of fine tuning. Thus, for the fine tuning argument it is irrelevant.

So, I think you are wrong in claiming that it is a better representation of the design argument. It only adds some irrelevant (to the design argument) probability to the equation.

Besides, if you start going the route you take, you should walk it all the way IMHO and include prior probabilities:
Pr(O,OSE,H)=Pr(O|H,OSE)Pr(OSE|H)Pr(H)
where Pr(H) is the prior probability for hypothesis H.

I would guess that the prior probability of god existing would be lower than that of god not existing. But then again, such Bayesian probabilities are subjective.

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