bookmark_borderAdamson’s Cru[de] Arguments for God – Part 3

Campus Crusade for Christ sponsored a website called EveryStudent.com, a site that targets college students as its primary audience.  The director of the website is Marilyn Adamson.   Adamson wrote a key article for the website called “Is There a God?” which provides six reasons in support of the claim that God exists.   Adamson completely destroys her own credibility in the opening paragraphs of the article where she presents an obviously bad argument that constitutes the first of the six reasons.
I had planned to address a possible reply to my objection in this post, a reply asserting that cosmic pluralism is a speculative theory which has not been established by scientific observations and evidence.  However, it is more important to clarify Adamson’s initial argument for the existence of God, so I will address this reply to my objection in another post later in this series.
A portion of Adamson’s first argument is presented in the opening paragraphs, and it can be summarized in two sentences:
(SJR) The size of the Earth is just right, so that the Earth can sustain plant, animal and human life.
(RDS) The Earth is the right distance from the Sun, so that the Earth can sustain plant, animal and human life.
In the previous post in this series, I have already presented a major objection to this argument.  But before I go any further, I think it would be helpful to clarify Adamson’s reasoning.
One serious problem with Adamson’s arguments is that they are very sketchy and thus are unclear. Most of her argument for this first point is left unstated, which means that it is the readers of her article who must do all the heavy lifting.   In order to thoughtfully and critically evaluate her reasoning, one must first read between the lines in order to guess at the missing premises and inferences that were left out of her presentation of this argument.
Although it would be possible to make use of the above two premises in a sophisticated version of a Fine Tuning argument, it is clear that this is NOT what Adamson had in mind.  The most obvious clue to her intentions comes in the following sentence from her presentation of the first argument (emphasis added by me):
Earth is the only known planet equipped with an atmosphere of the right mixture of gases to sustain plant, animal and human life.
This sentence implies that the Earth is a rare or unique planet in having properties that make it capable of sustaining plant, animal and human life.  Such a claim does not fit well with a Fine Tuning type of argument.
If this were a Fine Tuning argument, then Adamson would be arguing that the laws of nature and the configuration of matter and energy that were present in the initial moments of the big bang were such as to make it PROBABLE that natural processes would result in the development of planets (like the Earth) with properties that make them capable of sustaining plant, animal and human life.
But this sentence suggests the very opposite view.  It suggests that the existence of a planet with properties that make it capable of sustaining plant, animal and human life is IMPROBABLE, given what we know about the laws of nature and about the configuration of matter and energy in the universe and about the natural processes involved in the development of stars and planets, assuming that there was no God to guide or intervene in the natural processes that led to the formation of stars and planets.
Because of this clue, we can infer an important unstated premise of Adamson’s argument, which I will refer to as the Natural Improbability Thesis or NIT:
(NIT) Given our knowledge of the laws of nature, and of the general configuration of matter and energy in the universe, and of the natural processes involved in the development of stars and planets, it is IMPROBABLE that natural processes would lead to the formation of at least one planet with the right size and at the right distance from a sun that would make it capable of sustaining plant, animal and human life (if there was no God to guide, or intervene in, those natural processes).
This assumption suggests a contrast with the alternative view that there exists a God who could, and who probably would, guide, or intervene in, natural processes in order to bring about the formation of a planet capable of sustaining life.  This second key unstated premise of Adamson’s argument I will call the Divine Guidance Thesis or DGT:
(DGT) If God exists, then given our knowledge of the laws of nature, and of the general configuration of matter and energy in the universe, and of the natural processes involved in the development of stars and planets, it is PROBABLE that at least one planet would come to exist with the right size and at the right distance from a sun that would make it capable of sustaining plant, animal and human life, because if natural processes would not cause this to happen on their own, then God would probably guide, or intervene in, those natural processes to bring about the existence of such a planet.
In short, if there is no God, then (given what we know about natural laws and processes in the physical universe) a life-friendly planet like the Earth probably would NOT have developed, but if there is a God, then (given what we know about natural laws and processes in the physical universe and what we know about God’s purposes and inclinations) a life-friendly planet like the Earth probably would have developed.
The conjunction of (NIT) and (DGT) implies that the explicitly stated premises of Adamson’s argument provide evidence for the existence of God.   That is to say, if (NIT) and (DGT) are both true, then (SJR) and (RDS) would provide some evidence for the existence of God.  But if (NIT) is false (or dubious), then Adamson has failed to show that (SJR) and (RDS) constitute evidence for the existence of God.  And if (DGT) is false (or dubious), then Adamson has failed to show that (SJR) and (RDS) constitute evidence for the existence of God.
Both of these important unstated premises of Adamson’s argument are problematic and questionable.  That is the problem with CLARITY.   If you present an argument clearly, which involves explicitly stating your basic assumptions and inferences, then people who read your argument can rationally and critically evaluate your argument, and if your reasoning involves false or questionable assumptions, or illogical inferences, this will make it much easier for others to see that your argument is defective.
By leaving most of her argument unstated, Adamson hides the false or questionable assumptions of her argument, and makes it difficult for others to rationally and critically evaluate her argument.  Thus, even if this first argument was a solid argument (which it assuredly is not), Adamson’s sketchy presentation of this argument makes it difficult for readers of her article to rationally and critically evaluate this argument, and it makes it easier for college students to be taken in by an illogical or defective argument.
The main problem with (NIT) is that we know that the universe contains a fantastically huge number of stars and planets of various sizes and configurations, so it is a matter of common sense that some of the planets in the universe are bound to be of the right size and the right distance from a sun so that those planets would be suitable for sustaining plant, animal and human life.
There are additional factors required to make a planet capable of sustaining plant, animal and human life besides the size and location of the planet, but Adamson’s argument focuses on these two important factors, and given the focus on these two factors, (NIT) seems clearly to be false.
Given our knowledge of the laws of nature, and of the general configuration of matter and energy in the universe, and of the natural processes involved in the development of stars and planets, it is actually PROBABLE that natural processes would lead to the formation of at least one planet with the right size and at the right distance from a sun that would make it capable of sustaining plant, animal and human life; there is no need to assume the existence of a God to account for the existence of such a planet.  The laws of nature, general configuration of matter and energy in the universe, and the natural processes involved in the development of stars and planets are sufficient by themselves to make the existence of a planet with the right size and at the right distance from a sun extremely probable, virtually certain.
There are about 200 billion galaxies in the observable universe (we cannot observe the entire universe because some parts of the universe are more than 13.7 billion light years away, so there has not been enough time for light from stars that far away to reach the Earth) .  There are about 100 billion stars in a galaxy, on average.  So, the approximate number of stars in the observable universe is:
200,000,000,000 galaxies  x  100,000,000,000 stars/galaxy =
 20,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars
That is a lot of stars!
What about planets?  How many planets are there?  There are at least 100 billion planets in our galaxy, the Milky Way galaxy, and there might well be about 10 trillion planets in our galaxy.  If we use the lower estimate and assume this to be an average number for a galaxy, then the approximate number of planets in the observable universe is about the same as the number of stars:
200,000,000,000 galaxies  x  100,000,000,000 planets/galaxy =
 20,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 planets
That is a lot of planets!
Clearly, with this huge number of stars and planets of various sizes and distances from each other, it is virtually certain that at least one planet in the universe would be the right size and at the right distance from a sun in order to make the planet suitable for sustaining plant, animal and human life.  According to one estimate, based on recently gathered astronomical data, there are probably 15 to 30 billion planets in the observable universe which would be of the right size and at the right distance from a sun to be suitable for sustaining life.
Therefore (NIT) is clearly false, and Adamson has failed to show that her factual premises (SJR) and (RDS) provide any evidence for the existence of God.
 

bookmark_borderAdamson’s Cru[de] Arguments for God – Part 2

If you are meeting someone for the first time, it is a good idea to put your best foot forward, to be polite, kind, positive, and friendly.  If you are trying to persuade someone to take the idea that there is a God seriously, it would be a good idea to put your best foot forward, to lay out some of your best and strongest arguments right up front.
But in her article “Is There a God?” Marilyn Adamson puts forward some obviously illogical and defective arguments for the existence of God at the very beginning of her case.  No professional philosopher would put forward such crappy arguments as those that make up Adamson’s first “reason” for believing in God, so it is very unlikely that Adamson’s article was looked over by a professional philosopher or that Adamson consluted a professional philosopher for feedback on her article.
The jaw-dropping stupidity and ignorance of those initial arguments made it difficult for me to continue reading the article or to take seriously anything else that Adamson had to say in support of her belief in the existence of God.  She completely destroyed her own credibility in the opening paragraphs of the article.
Here is the first of the six reasons Adamson gives for believing that God exists:
==================================

1. Does God exist? The complexity of our planet points to a deliberate Designer who not only created our universe, but sustains it today.

Many examples showing God’s design could be given, possibly with no end. But here are a few:
The Earth…its size is perfect. The Earth’s size and corresponding gravity holds a thin layer of mostly nitrogen and oxygen gases, only extending about 50 miles above the Earth’s surface. If Earth were smaller, an atmosphere would be impossible, like the planet Mercury. If Earth were larger, its atmosphere would contain free hydrogen, like Jupiter. Earth is the only known planet equipped with an atmosphere of the right mixture of gases to sustain plant, animal and human life.
The Earth is located the right distance from the sun. Consider the temperature swings we encounter, roughly -30 degrees to +120 degrees. If the Earth were any further away from the sun, we would all freeze. Any closer and we would burn up. Even a fractional variance in the Earth’s position to the sun would make life on Earth impossible. The Earth remains this perfect distance from the sun while it rotates around the sun at a speed of nearly 67,000 mph. It is also rotating on its axis, allowing the entire surface of the Earth to be properly warmed and cooled every day.
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Adamson goes on to give a couple more examples, but these first two are sufficient to show the stupidity and ignorance of this first set of reasons or arguments.
Let’s summarize these two arguments.  The size of the Earth is just right:
(SJR) The size of the Earth is just right, so that the Earth can sustain plant, animal and human life.
The Earth is the right distance from the Sun:
(RDS) The Earth is the right distance from the Sun, so that the Earth can sustain plant, animal and human life.
These are clearly and obviously bad reasons for believing in God.  A little knowledge about philosophy or about astronomy or about the history of cosmology and astronomy would have prevented Adamson from putting forward these stupid and ignorant arguments.
If a philosopher had reviewed her article, or if an astonomer had reviewed her article or if someone with knowledge of the history of philosophy or the history of cosmology or the history of astronomy had provided feedback to Adamson, we would have been spared from having to read this ignorant and illogical crap.
One obvious objection to these arguments (and to other similar arguments) has been available for over 430 years:
Giordano Bruno introduced in his works the idea of multiple worlds instantiating the infinite possibilities of a pristine, indivisible One. Bruno (from the mouth of his character Philotheo) in his De l’infinito universo et mondi (1584) claims that “innumerable celestial bodies, stars, globes, suns and earths may be sensibly perceived therein by us and an infinite number of them may be inferred by our own reason.”  ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cosmic_pluralism)
If there are “innumerable” stars and planets and “innumerable” solar systems, then it is to be expected that some of those planets would be the right size and the right distance from a star (i.e. a sun) so that it could sustain plant, animal and human life.   If you buy just one lottery ticket, you probably will not win the lottery, but if you buy millions of lottery tickets, then you will have a good chance of winning the lottery.  This is a very simple and obvious point related to probability.
The same logic applies to the probability of there being a planet that is the right size and the right distance from a star so that the planet can sustain plant, animal and human life.  If the universe contains billions or trillions of solar systems, then it is to be expected that some planets would be the right size and the right distance from a sun so that they could sustain plant, animal and human life.  There is no need for the hypothesis of an intelligent designer to explain the existence of a planet with the right size and located at the right distance from a sun to support life.  Any professional philosopher or astronomer would understand this point and would immediately reject these two arguments put forward by Adamson.
Bruno’s theory about the universe is called “cosmic pluralism”:
Cosmic pluralism, the plurality of worlds, or simply pluralism, describes the philosophical belief in numerous “worlds” in addition to Earth (possibly an infinite number), which may harbour extraterrestrial life.  
( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cosmic_pluralism)
Actually, this idea was around long before Bruno was born.  In fact, cosmic pluralism was introduced into western thought near the very beginning of western philosophy by Anaxagoras, a pre-socratic philosopher:
If Empedocles acheived a kind of immortality as a precursor of Darwin, his contemporary Anaxagoras is sometimes regarded as an intellectual ancestor of the currently popular cosmology of the big bang.  Anaxagoras was born around 500 BC in Clazomenae, near Izmir, and was possibly a pupil of Anaximenes. …
Here is his account of the beginning of the universe: ‘All things were together, infinite in number and infinite in smallness; for the small too was infinite.  While all these things were together, nothing was recognizable because of its smallness.  Everything lay under air and ether, both infinite’ (KRS 467).  This primeval pebble began to rotate, throwing off the surrounding ether and air and forming out of them the stars and the sun and the moon.  The rotation caused the separation of dense from rare, of hot from cold, of dry from wet, and bright from dark.  But the separation was never complete, and to this day there remains in every single thing a portion of everything else. 
The expansion of the universe, Anaxagoras maintained, has continued in the present and will continue in the future (KRS 476).  Perhaps it has already generated worlds other than our own.  As a result of the presence of everything in everything, he says,
men have been formed and the other ensouled animals.  And the men possess farms and inhabit cities just as we do, and they have a sun and a moon and the rest just like us.  The earth produces things of every sort for them to be harvested and stored, as it does for us.   I have said all this about the process of separating off, because it would have happened not only here with us, but elsewhere too. (KRS 498)
Anaxagoras thus has a claim to be the originator of the idea, later proposed by Giordano Bruno and popular again today in some quarters, that our cosmos is just one of many which may, like ours, be inhabited by intelligent creatures.  
(A New History of Western Philosophy, Volume 1: Ancient Philosophy, by Anthony Kenny, p.24-25)
The idea of cosmic pluralism has been around for nearly 2,500 years!  This idea was born at about the same time that western philosophy began to exist.
Presumably, Adamson is ignorant of ancient philosophy, and has no knowledge about Anaxagoras and his idea of cosmic pluralism.  Presumably, Adamson is ignorant of the history of philosophy in the Renaissance and the history of the Roman Inquisition (Bruno was burned at the stake –by the brilliant intellectual Christians who were leaders of the Roman Inquisition–for his various dangerous and heretical ideas, including cosmic pluralism).  But because cosmic pluralism has been a part of Western thought for about 2,500 years, even someone who is completely ignorant about the history of philosophy and the history of astronomy ought to be aware of this view of the universe.
Has Adamson never seen a Star Trek episode or movie?  Has Adamson never seen a Star Wars movie?  Has Adamson never read a science-fiction book or story?  Science-fiction stories and movies commonly assume the truth of cosmic pluralism, so one would have to religiously avoid reading any science-fiction story or watching any science-fiction movie or any science-fiction television program in order to be unfamiliar with the idea that our universe might be filled with solar systems and with planets that are the right size and that are at the right distance from a sun, so that they can support plant, animal and human life.  What planet did Adamson come from?  Apparently, she came from a planet where there are no science-fiction stories, no science-fiction movies, and no science-fiction television programs.  What a sad little world that must be.
One might object, at this point, that cosmic pluralism is a matter of speculation.  Anaxagorus was not a scientist, at least not in the modern sense.  He did not use a telescope to observe the planets in our solar system or the stars in our galaxy.  Bruno was not a scientist; he was a philosopher and theologian.  Bruno arrived at his theory of the universe based on abstract philosophical and theological reasoning, not on the basis of empirical science, not on the basis of careful observations and measurements, not on the basis of experiments.  Science-fiction stories and movies might well assume the truth of cosmic pluralism, but that doesn’t mean that we ought to believe that cosmic pluralism is true; fiction can be based on false or unproven assumptions.
In the next post in this series, I will address this question about whether cosmic pluralism is reasonable and whether there is scientific evidence to support it.

bookmark_borderG&T Rebuttal, Part 2: Chapter 3

Chapter 3. In the Beginning There Was a Great SURGE

 
G&T tell us that the “Cosmological Argument is the argument from the beginning of the universe” (74). That is sloppy; G&T have conflated the family of arguments known as ‘the’ cosmological argument with one specific version of that argument (the kalām cosmological argument). But let that pass. G&T formulate the argument as follows.
1. Everything that had a beginning has a cause.
2. The universe had a beginning.
3. Therefore the universe had a cause. (75)
This argument is clearly deductively valid—i.e., its conclusion follows from its premises. If one accepts its conclusion, there are three pertinent questions to answer.
First, what bearing does the argument have on metaphysical naturalism? If sound, the argument would also refute metaphysical naturalism. (Since nothing can cause itself, the universe would require a cause outside of itself, something that is incompatible with naturalism.)[1]
Second, what sort of cause did the universe have? G&T argue that the cause of physical reality, if it exists, must be self-existent, timeless, nonspatial, immaterial, very powerful, highly intelligent, and personal.
Third, what was the universe created from? There are three options.

Creation ex nihilo: physical reality was created out of nothing by the will of a timeless and immaterial person a long time ago.

Creation ex materia: creation out of some pre-existent, eternal matter

Creation ex deo: creation out of the being of God.

G&T argue that the scientific evidence supports creation ex nihilo.
I shall provide a very brief summary of G&T’s support for both premises, before providing some critical comments about G&T’s assessment of atheistic and Christian interpretations of the evidence.
(i) G&T’s support for premises (1) and (2):
(a) The Law of Causality: On behalf of premise (1), which G&T call “The Law of Causality,” G&T argue that the Law of Causality is “the fundamental principle of science;” and observation shows that things don’t happen in the universe without a cause. For reasons that will soon be clear, I shall refer to the “Law of Causality” as the “Law of Causal Beginnings.”
As stated, however, premise (1) is false. The kernel of truth in (1) is what I shall call the “Law of Temporal Causal Beginnings,” namely, that everything that had a beginning in time has a cause.
This is why our observation shows that things which begin in the universe (and so in time) have a cause. Quantum mechanics events aside, I agree with G&T that it would be absurd to believe that cars, mountains, or whales could just pop into existence without a cause. But what about things that have a beginning which happens at the beginning of time itself (i.e., with time)? We know of only one such thing and that is the universe itself.  And there is good reason to doubt that time (and so the universe) have a cause. It’s logically impossible for time itself to have a cause since causes always precede their effects in time. So to say that time itself had a cause is to say, “Before time existed, something happened and then at a later time, time began to exist,” which is self-contradictory.
In order to avoid this problem, some theists have argued that God’s creation of the universe is simultaneous with its beginning. Even if simultaneous causation is possible, which is debatable, that simply solves one problem and creates a bigger one. If God’s causing the universe is simultaneous with the universe’s beginning, then it’s entirely arbitrary to pretend that God is the ‘cause’ while the universe is the ‘effect.’ If “God’s causing the universe” and “the universe’s beginning” are simultaneous, one could just as easily say, “God had a beginning,” and, “The universe caused God.” Both of those statements are incompatible with theism.
But in fact simultaneous causation seems inapplicable to God’s (alleged) causation of the universe. First, even simultaneity expresses a temporal relationship between causes and effects. It seems to be a contradiction in terms to say that the beginning of the universe is simultaneous with an atemporal (timeless) cause.[2] For that implies there was a time when there both was time and was not time, which is a self-contradictory statement. Second, simultaneous causation seems to involve “states of other things that pre-exist the effects in question.”[3] But that entails that the total cause includes something that existed prior to the partial cause which is simultaneous with its effect. In short, the concept of simultaneous causation provides no reason at all to think that premise (1) applies to things (like the universe) which begin with time.
There is an even deeper problem with G&T’s defense of premise (1), however. If we abbreviate “thing that had a beginning” as B and “had a cause” as C, then it is clear that premise (1) expresses a categorical generalization, i.e., it has the form “All Bs are Cs.” If there is even just one counter-example (i.e., at least one B is not also a C), then (1) is false. Is it?
It appears that, In support of (1), G&T appeal to observation, namely, “All observed Bs are Cs,” and infer the categorical generalization, “All Bs are Cs.” In other words, G&T seem to be implicitly relying upon an inductive argument form known as simple enumeration to a generalization. The implied argument is this.
(1) All observed things in the universe with a beginning have a cause.
(2) Therefore, all things with a beginning have a cause.
where B is called the “reference class” and C is called the “attribute class.” The problem is called the “reference class problem,” i.e., the problem of deciding which class to use when stating a generalization. In the case of our universe’s origin, it is far from clear which reference class should be used because our universe belongs to many different reference classes. Wes Morriston, a philosopher at the University of Colorado at Boulder, explains.

Here are some other well-attested empirical generalizations, each of which is incompatible with that hypothesis [supernatural creation ex nihilo] about the origin of the universe.
(A)   Material things come from material things.
(B)   Nothing is ever created out of nothing.
(C)   Nothing is ever caused by anything that is not itself in time.
(D)   The mental lives of all persons have temporal duration.
(E)    All persons are embodied.[4]

Consider, for example, the generalization in Morriston’s (A), which we’ll call the “Law of Material Causality.” That generalization supports an argument I’ll call the “Anti-Creation Ex Nihilo Argument”:
1. Everything that had a beginning comes from pre-existing material.
2. The universe had a beginning.
3. Therefore, the universe came from pre-existing material.
If the universe came from pre-existing material, then it follows that the universe was not created “out of nothing” (ex nihilo). Rather it was created out of pre-existing material (ex materia). But that entails that supernatural creation ex nihilo is false.
(b) The Universe’s Beginning: On behalf of premise (2), G&T offer five lines of scientific evidence, which they summarize in the mnemonic acronynm “SURGE,” which represents (a) the Second law of thermodynamics, (b) the Universe is expanding; (c) Radiation from the big bang; (d) Great galaxy seeds; and (e) Einstein’s theory of general relativity. In addition, G&T offer one a priori argument—which they mistakenly call the kalām argument—to show that the universe cannot be infinitely old. G&T conclude, accordingly, that the universe had a beginning.
I agree with G&T that it is now beyond reasonable doubt that our universe, as it is now, has existed for a finite time. Whether our universe, in any form, has existed for a finite time may be open to reasonable doubt, however. But let’s put that issue to the side and assume,  but only for the sake of argument, that G&T are correct and our universe had a beginning. As G&T admit, the evidence for Big Bang cosmology shows more than just the fact that our universe has a finite age.

In fact, chronologically, there was no “before” the Big Bang because there are no “befores” without time, and there was no time until the Big Bang. Time, space, and matter came into existence with the Big Bang. (79, italics mine)

In other words, the evidence for Big Bang cosmology also shows that time itself began with the Big Bang (i.e., our universe began with time). Here’s the problem for the proponent of the kalām argument. Although our universe is not eternal (i.e., infinitely old), it’s still the case that it has always existed (i.e., for all of time). But, for the reason just given, it follows that time itself (and hence our universe) cannot have a cause. Thus, once the evidence about our universe’s beginning is fully stated, that evidence does not support theism over naturalism.
(ii) Atheistic Interpretations of Big Bang Cosmology: This is where G&T’s partisanship really comes unleashed. As I read them, G&T discuss and reject three atheistic explanations of Big Bang cosmology:  (1) a view they call the ‘Cosmic Rebound Theory;’ (2) Stephen Hawking’s ‘Imaginary Time’ hypothesis; and (3) the hypothesis defended by chemists Peter Atkins and Isaac Asimov.
When I first read this chapter, three things stood out. First, for each of the views they discussed, G&T neither quote proponents of these views nor fairly explain their values. Regarding (1), why do defenders of the ‘Cosmic Rebound Theory’ think that view is correct? G&T never say. In fact, G&T never even name anyone who promoted such a view. Turning to (2), whereas it is called the “Hartle-Hawking model” or the “no boundary model” in the literature, G&T even rename it to the ‘Imaginary Time’ hypothesis to suit their rhetoric. Many people believe that Stephen Hawking is one of the greatest scientists, if not the greatest scientist, alive today.  But if someone knew nothing about Hawking other than what they read in G&T’s book, they’d get the mistaken impression that Hawking is a quack whose theories are not taken seriously, even by Hawking himself! As for (3), G&T don’t even bother to tell the readers what Atkins’s view is; they just proceed to quote William Lane Craig’s refutation.
Second, G&T don’t respond to the best critics of the kalām cosmological argument.[5] In fact, their book may even mislead their readers by making it appear as if only nontheists reject the argument. But that’s false. Thomas Aquinas, who has been called “more or less the official philosopher of the Roman Catholic Church and esteemed as the greatest Christian philosopher even by many Protestants,” rejected it.[6] In the present day, philosopher Wes Morriston  (quoted earlier) has written some of the best critiques of the argument, while he was still a Christian. It is unfortunate that G&T chose to ignore the critiques of both Aquinas and Morriston in their book.
Third, like many theistic apologists who use the kalām cosmological argument, G&T use the following “money quote” from nontheist philosopher Anthony Kenny.

According to the Big Bang Theory, the whole matter of the universe began to exist at a particular time in the remote past. A proponent of such a theory, at least if he is an atheist, must believe that the matter of the universe came from nothing and by nothing.[7]

At first glance, what Kenny describes does sound absurd. But Kenny is no dummy; philosophical charity demands that we try to understand why someone as brilliant as Kenny would write such a thing. What would it mean to believe that “the matter of the universe came from nothing and by nothing?”
One interpretation, which I shall call the scientific interpretation since it seems to be held primarily by scientists, treats “nothing” as if it were a something, such as a giant empty box into which the universe suddenly began.[8] The problem with this interpretation is that it reifies “nothing.” As philosopher Bede Rundle explains,

… accounts of physical reality as ‘coming out of nothing’ risk not taking ‘nothing’ seriously, perhaps replacing it by ‘nothingness’ to make, as it were, something out of nothing.[9]

But there is another option. According to this second interpretation, which I call the philosophical interpretation, there is no “giant empty box,” i.e., there is no “nothing” for the universe to “come from.” Instead, according to this interpretation, there was no time at which the universe did not exist; and there is no place the universe came from.  This is the interpretation favored by philosophically sophisticated nontheists, such as Sean Carroll, Graham Oppy, Keith Parsons, Bede Rundle, and Quentin Smith.[10]
Let us now return to the Kenny “money quote.” G&T do not distinguish these two interpretations, perhaps (?) because Kenny himself does not, so it’s unclear which interpretation Kenny favors.  On the scientific interpretation, Kenny’s statement does make the combination of atheism and Big Bang cosmology sound absurd. But, as we’ve just seen, many competent authorities disagree with that interpretation, so any appeal to Kenny as an authority is fallacious (assuming he even holds this view). On the scientific interpretation, however, the combination is not only not absurd, but plausible.
(iii) Big Bang Cosmology and the Genesis Accounts: G&T quote astronomers Robert Jastrow and Robert Wilson, who both apparently claim, without qualification, that Big Bang cosmology confirms the Genesis accounts of creation. This curious assessment, however, understates the evidence. On the one hand, Big Bang cosmology is strong evidence for one logical implication of Genesis, namely, that everything in our universe is only finitely old. But, again, that fact hardly exhausts what modern cosmology has to say about the Genesis accounts. NASA explains the first moments after the “Big Bang” as follows.

According to the theories of physics, if we were to look at the Universe one second after the Big Bang, what we would see is a 10-billion degree sea of neutrons, protons, electrons, anti-electrons (positrons), photons, and neutrinos. Then, as time went on, we would see the Universe cool, the neutrons either decaying into protons and electrons or combining with protons to make deuterium (an isotope of hydrogen). As it continued to cool, it would eventually reach the temperature where electrons combined with nuclei to form neutral atoms. Before this “recombination” occurred, the Universe would have been opaque because the free electrons would have caused light (photons) to scatter the way sunlight scatters from the water droplets in clouds. But when the free electrons were absorbed to form neutral atoms, the Universe suddenly became transparent. Those same photons–the afterglow of the Big Bang known as cosmic background radiation–can be observed today.[11]

Furthermore, according to modern astronomy, the entire solar system, including the earth, didn’t even form until approximately 8.7 billion years after the Big Bang.
In contrast, Genesis 1 tells a very different cosmological story. According to Genesis 1, God created the earth on the first day and the sun on the fourth. Thus, Big Bang cosmology is strong evidence against the literal chronology of Genesis accounts. But this entails that, when the available evidence from cosmology is fully stated, that evidence makes it probable that a literal interpretation of the Genesis accounts are false.

Rebuttal to Geisler’s and Turek’s “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist”

Notes
[1] In the interest of simplicity, I am treating the expression “the universe” as it appears in G&T’s argument as synonymous with “physical reality.”
[2] Wes Morriston, “Must the Beginning of the Universe Have a Personal Cause? A Critical Examination of the Kalam Cosmological Argument” Faith and Philosophy 17 (2000): 151.
[3] Wes Morriston, “Causes and Beginnings in the Kalam Argument: Reply to CraigFaith and Philosophy 19 (2002): 233-44 at 240.
[4] Wes Morriston, “Doubts about the Kalam Cosmological Argument,” in Debating Christian Theism (ed. Meister, Moreland, and Sweis, New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), 29.
[5] Paul Draper, Adolf Grünbaum, Wes Morriston, Graham Oppy, Bede Rundle, and Quentin Smith.
[6] Edward Feser, The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism (South Bend, Indiana: St. Augustine’s Press, 2008), Kindle location 1538.
[7] Anthony Kenny, The Five Ways: St. Thomas Aquinas’ Proofs of God’s Existence (New York: Schocken, 1969), 66, quoted in G&T 2004, 81.
[8] See, e.g., Isaac Asimov, Beginning and End (New York: Doubleday, 1977), 148, quoted in G&T 2004, 414, n. 11; Peter Atkins, Creation Revisited: The Origin of Space, Time, and the Universe (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1994), 139; Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow, The Grand Design (New York: Bantam, 2010); Lawrence Krauss, A Universe from Nothing: Why There is Something Rather than Nothing (New York: Free Press, 2012); and Victor Stenger, God: The Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows that God Does Not Exist (Buffalo: Prometheus, 2007), 115-17.
[9] Bede Rundle, Where There Is Something Rather Than Nothing (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 117-18.
[10] See Sean Carroll, “Why (Almost All) Cosmologists Are Atheists,” Faith and Philosophy 22 (2005): 622-640; Graham Oppy, “Review of J.P. Moreland (ed.), The Creation Hypothesis” The Secular Web (1998), http://infidels.org/library/modern/graham_oppy/review-m.html; Keith Parsons; and Rundle 2004.
[11] NASA, “The Big Bang” National Aeronautics and Space Administration (March 8, 2013), http://science.nasa.gov/astrophysics/focus-areas/what-powered-the-big-bang/.

bookmark_borderLink: Why Science Cannot Explain Why Anything At All Exists by Luke Barnes

Physicist and cosmologist Luke Barnes wrote an interesting post in his blog a while ago about why science cannot explain why anything at all exists. I’m inclined to agree with him. Here is how he summarizes his own argument in his own words.

A: The state of physics at any time can be (roughly) summarised by three things.
1. A statement about what the fundamental constituents of physical reality are and what their properties are.
2. A set of mathematical equations describing how these entities change, move, interact and rearrange.
3. A compilation of experimental and observational data.
In short, the stuff, the laws and the data.
B: None of these, and no combination of these, can answer the question “why does anything at all exist?”.
C: Thus physics cannot answer the question “why does anything at all exist?”.

For details, go here.

bookmark_borderOne Problem with Swinburne’s Case for God – Part 2

In a previous post I pointed out three different problems related to the third argument in Richard Swinburne’s systematic case for the existence of God.  The third argument is the final argument of his arguments from the nature of the universe.  It is his Teleological Argument from Spatial Order (hereafter: TASO):
(e3) There is a complex physical universe that is governed by simple natural laws and the values of the constants of the laws and of the variables of the universe’s initial conditions make it probable that human bodies will evolve in that universe.
Therefore:
(g) God exists.
The first problem is that the premise might well be false.  The fact that human bodies did evolve several billions of years after the Big Bang, does NOT imply that this event was probable or likely.  In fact, it seems rather improbable that HUMAN bodies would evolve just the way that they did.  However, Swinburne does not really mean “human bodies” literally here.  He means any sort of body that would be suitable for a ‘humanly free agent’, so that leaves open a wide variety of possibilities in addition to the kind of human bodies that actually exist.  Nevertheless, it is not clear to me that it was probable that bodies suitable for ‘humanly free agents’ would evolve in our universe;  the evolution of such bodies could be a lucky accident.
The second problem is that it seems IMPROBABLE that God would use the slow and (literally) painful process of evolution to bring about animals and human bodies, when God could have designed and created millions or billions of animals and humans in the blink of an eye.  God had no need to use the natural biological process of evolution, and no need to build such a process into the fabric of the universe.    Most importantly, instantaneous creation would have bypassed hundreds of millions of years of animals suffering and dying from disease and parasites and predation and injury.  A huge amount of animal suffering was involved in the natural process of evolution, so a perfectly morally good person clearly would NOT have used evolution to produce human bodies when there was a much better solution ready at hand.  So, it seems clear to me that contrary to Swinburne’s view, (e3) does not provide evidence in support of the existence of God, even assuming (e3) to be true; rather it provides evidence AGAINST the existence of God.
The third problem is the most serious, because it affects his whole systematic case for the existence of God. Unlike the premises of his first two arguments for God, the premise of TASO requires a great deal of background knowledge.  In order to know that (e3) is true, one must first know, at least, that the theory of evolution is the correct theory of human origins.
In order to know that the theory of evolution is true, one must know a significant number of scientific concepts, facts, and theories from a variety of scientific disciplines (chemistry, biology, physics, geology, paleontology, anthropology, and astronomy) plus one must have some awareness of philosophy of science and the history of science.  For all practical intents and purposes, Swinburne has sucked in most of modern scientific knowledge (at least at the level of high school biology, chemistry, etc.) into the background knowledge of TASO and thus into the background knowledge in all the remaining arguments in his case for God.
One big problem is that knowledge of evolution clearly involves knowledge of the problem of evil, at least knowledge of the problem of natural evil.  In order to know that evolution has occurred one must be aware of the fact of natural death, predation, disease, accidental injury, and natural disasters.  Thus, in order to evaluate the success or failure of TASO, one must deal with the problem of evil, at least with the problem of natural evil.
One option Swinburne has would be to simply dump TASO, to completely remove it from his sequence of arguments, and move on to the first argument in the next phase of arguments (that are based on human life).  That is probably his best option.  But if Swinburne insisted on retaining TASO as the third argument in his sequence of arguments for God, then he would have to deal with the problem of natural evil as part of the evaluation of TASO.
On the face of it, the problem of natural evil sinks TASO; that is to say, if we add (e3) and the required background knowledge to the previous information from his first two arguments, then TASO would REDUCE rather than increase the probability that God exists.  In order to avoid TASO reducing the probability of God, Swinburne would have to engage his theodicy for explaining natural evil, and he would have to do so as a part of his evaluation of TASO.
Swinburne explains natural evil or justifies the perfect goodness of God in view of natural evil by making a few basic points:

  • Natural death provides a limitation on the amount of suffering that one animal or human must endure.
  • The vulnerability of animals and humans to being killed provides many opportunities for humans to make significant choices between good and evil.
  • The existence of evil desires (that cannot be helped) in humans makes it possible for humans to have freedom of choice between good and evil.
  • The frequent occurrence of suffering and need that results from accidents, diseases, and natural dangers and disasters provides humans with opportunities to help and comfort animals and humans.
  • The frequent occurrence of suffering and need that results from accidents, diseases, and natural dangers and disasters provides humans with opportunities to investigate and learn about nature (or to choose lazy indifference and ignorance) and with choices in the use of such knowledge either to cause more suffering and need or to help reduce suffering and need or to simply not make use of the knowledge.

It appears to me that in explaining or justifying natural evil, Swinburne focuses in on human beings, and especially on the fact that human beings have freedom to make significant choices for good or evil.  In other words, in order to justify God in the face of natural evil, Swinburne must now pull the problem of moral evil into the picture.  That means, that in order to evaluate TASO and to avoid the conclusion that TASO actually REDUCES the probability that God exists, Swinburne must deal with the whole problem of evil, both natural evil and moral evil.
Furthermore, in order to deal with the problem of moral evil, Swinburne must assume that humans have conscious awareness and moral awareness.  But the next two arguments in Swinburne’s sequence of arguments are based on the premises that humans have conscious awareness and moral awareness.  Thus, in order to evaluate TASO, Swinburne must incorporate not only his response to the problem of evil (which was supposed to be argument number seven in his sequence) but also he must incorporate his argument from consciousness and his argument from moral awareness.  That means that at least three other arguments in his carefully constructed sequence of arguments must be dealt with all at once and summed up all together, in order to evaluate the success or failure of TASO.
Some of the points justifying natural evil (listed above) come from Swinburne’s argument from Providence, so it is hard to see how he could avoid pulling in that argument as well.  Thus, it appears that four out of five of Swinburne’s arguments from the nature of human life must be dealt with in order to evaluate TASO.
This makes a complete mess of his careful sequence of arguments, and destroys the logical neatness of his whole strategy, which is to add facts one at a time, and to analyze the impact of those facts one at a time.  But TASO requires that most of his remaining arguments must be examined all at once, or evaluated all together and not as separate bits of evidence added one bit at a time.
If I am correct in this analysis, then I think Swinburne really has no other option but to toss out TASO completely, and he must simply jump from his second argument from the nature of the universe to his first argument from the nature of human life (the argument from consciousness).  Otherwise, he is forced to abandon his basic strategy of adding facts one at a time, and to evaluate the significance of these facts one at at time.
 

bookmark_borderOne Problem with Swinburne’s Case for God

In The Existence of God (2nd edition, hereafter: EOG), Richard Swinburne lays out a systematic cumulative case for the claim that it is more likely than not that God exists.
I have a specific objection to the third argument in this case, but I believe this objection throws a monkey wrench into the works, and creates a serious problem for the case as a whole.
To understand my objection, it is important to understand the general logical structure of Swinburne’s case for the existence of God. It is always natural and tempting to immediately focus in on the question of the truth of the premises of an argument for God, so in order to get a clear grasp on the logical structure of Swinburne’s case, it may be best to FIRST consider that structure apart from the specific content of the premises of the arguments in his case. The content of the premises will be important to make my objection, so we will get to the specific content at a later point.
One key idea in Swinburne’s logic is that we begin from a state of ignorance in which we are to imagine that we know ZERO empirical claims (both facts and theories). Swinburne thus controls the flow of empirical data, introducing one fact at a time, and arguing that in each case (with the exception of the problem of evil)  that the added fact increases the probability of the hypothesis that God exists.
The basic strategy is to (1) put forward an empirical fact, (2) show that the empirical fact is more likely to be the case if God were to exist than if there were no God, (3) conclude that the fact increases the probability of the hypothesis that God exists above the a priori probability that God exists (i.e. the probability based on ZERO empirical facts), then (4) introduce a second fact, (5) show that the second fact is more likely to be the case if God exists (and the first fact is the case) than if God does not exist (and the first fact is the case), (6) conclude that the second fact in conjunction with the first fact increases the probability that God exists above the probability based on the first fact by itself, (7) put forward a third fact, (8) show that the third fact is more likely to be the case if God exists (and the first two facts are the case) than if God does not exist (and the first two facts are the case), (9) conclude that the third fact in conjunction with the previous two facts increases the probability of the hypothesis that God exists above the probability based on just the previous two facts, and so on…slowly increasing the probability of God’s existence with each new fact.
Swinburne changes the strategy a bit when he gets to the argument from religious experience (in Chapter 13 of EOG), but the above pattern of reasoning is supposed to hold up until that point, and the above pattern of reasoning, filled in with the empirical facts that Swinburne has selected, is supposed to get us to the point where the probability of the existence of God is about .5 (meaning there is about a 50/50 chance that God exists).
Swinburne uses Bayes’ theorem to justify key inferences in his reasoning, so I will reformulate the above description of the logical structure of Swinburne’s case in terms of conditional probability statements.  Let’s use the letter e for evidence, plus a number to indicate which empirical claim we are talking about in the sequence of empirical claims introduced by Swinburne.  Thus, e1 represents the first empirical  claim in Swinburne’s case, and e2 the second empirical claim, and so on.
g: God exists.
k: [tautological background knowledge – analytic truths, truths of logic, math, and conceptual truths]
The probability of e1 being the case given that God exists is written this way:
P(e1|g & k) 
Here is how we represent the idea that the first factual claim is more likely to be the case if God exists (and we have only tautological truths as background knowledge) than if God does not exist (and we have only tautological truths as background knowledge):
P(e1|g & k) > P(e1|~g & k)
From this Swinburne makes use of Bayes’ theorem and infers that e1 provides evidence that increases the probability that God exists, over the a priori probability that God exists (the probability based on ZERO empirical facts):
P(g| e1 & k) > P(g| k)
Then Swinburne introduces a second factual claim e2. Again Swinburne argues that this factual claim is more likely to be the case if God exists than if God does not exist (now assuming e1 as part of our background knowledge, for after consideration of the first argument we are no longer completely ignorant of all empirical facts):
P(e2|g & e1 & k) > P(e2|~g & e1 & k)
From this Swinburne makes use of Bayes’ theorem and infers that the addition of this second empirical fact to the first empirical fact has again increased the probability of the existence of God, over what it was based on just the first fact by itself:
P(g| e2 & e1 & k) > P(g| e1 & k)
Then Swinburne introduces a third factual claim: e3. Again Swinburne argues that this factual claim is more likely to be the case if God exists than if God does not exist (now assuming both e1 and e2 as part of our background knowledge):
P(e3|g & e2 & e1 & k) > P(e3|~g & e2 & e1 & k)
From this Swinburne makes use of Bayes’ theorem and infers that the addition of this third empirical fact to the first empirical fact has yet again increased the probability of the existence of God, over what it was based on just the first two facts:
P(g| e3 & e2 & e1 & k) > P(g| e2 & e1 & k)
There are problems and objections that can be raised against each of the particular arguments that Swinburne uses to get up to the point where the probability of the existence of God supposedly reaches the halfway mark, but this post will focus on the third argument in the systematic cumulative case that Swinburne presents: The Teleological Argument from Spatial Order (hereafter: TASO).
TASO can be stated fairly briefly:
(e3) There is a complex physical universe that is governed by simple natural laws and the values of the constants of the laws and of the variables of the universe’s initial conditions make it probable that human bodies will evolve in that universe.
Therefore:
(g) God exists.
Remember, this is NOT a deductive proof for the existence of God.  (e3) is put forward NOT as a conclusive reason for (g), but merely as evidence for (g); (e3) is an empirical claim that is supposed to increase the probability of (g) relative to the probability of (g) based on just the two previous empirical claims:
(e1) There is a complex physical universe.
(e2) There is a complex physical universe that is governed by simple natural laws.
One problem is that it is not clear to me that (e3) is in fact true.  The fact that human bodies evolved once in this universe does NOT imply (by itself) that it was probable that human bodies would evolve in this universe.  I think a good deal of argumentation and evidence would be required to establish the truth of (e3).
Another more important problem with (e3) is one that Swinburne himself mentions and briefly discusses: “What reason would God have for taking an evolutionary route?” (EOG, p.188).  Swinburne goes on to talk about the beauty of the long cosmological “evolution” of the universe, and the beauty of plants and animals that resulted from the long history of biological evolution.  But this is all beside the point. God, being omnipotent and omniscient, could have brought about all of the beautiful plants and animals on earth including human beings in the blink of an eye.
God had no need to use the natural biological process of evolution, and no need to build such a process into the fabric of the universe.  The story in Genesis makes much more sense than evolution as the way that God would create animals and humans.  If there really was an omnipotent and omniscient person, then that person could have brought about all life on earth in an instant.  Most importantly, doing so would have bypassed hundreds of millions of years of animals suffering and dying from disease and parasites and predation and injury.  A huge amount of animal suffering was involved in the natural process of evolution, so a perfectly morally good person clearly would NOT have used evolution to produce human bodies when there was a much better solution ready at hand: create plants, animals, and humans instantly, as in the book of Genesis. So, it seems clear to me that contrary to Swinburne’s view, (e3) does not provide evidence in support of the existence of God, even assuming (e3) to be true.
But there is a deeper problem here than just the inductive inference from (e3) to (g).  What do we need to know in order to determine that (e3) is true?  I think we have to know, or have good reasons to believe, that the theory of evolution is true, and I think we have to know, or have good reasons to believe that the Big Bang theory of the universe is true.  What do we need to know in order to determine that the theory of evolution is true and that the Big Bang theory is true?  I think we need to know at least a little about: chemistry, biology, physics, paleontology, geology, cosmology, and astronomy.  We might not need to be experts in any of these scientific fields, but we need to have some grasp of some key facts, concepts, and theories in these areas of knowledge.
Furthermore, since the theory of evolution has been generally opposed by many Christian and Muslim religious believers, we need to have given some consideration to the problem of the apparent conflict between science and religion.  For example, if the Pope were to declare that evolution is a false theory, would that be a sufficient reason to reject this theory, even given all of the scientific evidence we have supports the theory?  What if the Bible clearly teaches that God created the world 6,000 years ago, is that sufficient reason to reject the theories and findings of geology and astronomy that indicate the age of the earth to be billions of years?  Unless one has done some thinking about science vs. religion, I don’t see how one can be fully justified in believing the theory of evolution. In sum, to have a justified belief in the theory of evolution and the Big Bang theory, one must have a bit of knowledge about the history and philosophy of science, in addition to knowing a good deal of scientific facts, concepts, and theories from several scientific disciplines.
OK.  Here is the big problem.  In order to know that (e3) is true, one must have a good deal of knowledge about science and about a number of important scientific disciplines, including a good deal of basic facts, concepts, and theories from a variety of scientific disciplines.  This means that the background knowledge that is in play in evaluating this third argument has grown exponentially.  A large portion of human knowledge has been pulled back into the picture, and Swinbure has completely lost control of the flow of data.  Because of the significant amount of empirical facts, concepts, and theories that are required to determine whether (e3) is true,  it is difficult to distinguish between such a sizable collection of information and knowledge and our normal everyday background knowledge.
One very important implication of this is that the problem of evil has itself been pulled back into the picture.  Knowing that the theory of evolution is true involves knowing that there has been hundreds of millions of years of animal suffering from disease, injury, parasites, and predation.  Swinburne’s strategy was to put off the problem of evil until after several empirical facts that favor the existence of God had been put forward one at a time, and the probability of the existence of God had been bumped upward several times.  But since the problem of evil has come rushing back in with just the third argument, it is no longer clear whether his logical strategy can work.  At any rate, the problem of evil cannot be dealt with after three or four more factual claims have been put forward in support of God’s existence.  The problem of evil must be faced as part of the consideration of the significance of (e3).
 

bookmark_borderThe Carrier-Barnes Exchange on Fine-Tuning

Reader GGDFan77 asked me for my thoughts on the exchange between Dr. Richard Carrier, who I respect and consider a friend, and Dr. Luke Barnes regarding fine-tuning arguments. I initially responded in a series of comments in the combox for my post about Hugh Ross’s estimates for the probability of life-permitting prebiotic conditions. But those turned out to be so lengthy that I think the topic deserves its own dedicated post.
Here’s some brief context for readers not familiar with the exchanges between Dr. Richard Carrier and Dr. Luke Barnes:
* Dr. Carrier wrote an essay, “Neither Life Nor the Universe Appear Intelligently Designed,” in The End of Christianity (ed. John Loftus, Buffalo: Prometheus Books, 2011), pp. 279-304.
* Dr. Barnes wrote a four part series on his blog critiquing that essay by Carrier.
* Dr. Carrier and Dr. Barnes had an extensive back-and-forth exchange in the combox on Carrier’s blog.
Let me preface my comments by saying that I have a lot of empathy for any writer, including Dr. Carrier, who is trying to use the formal apparatus of Bayes’ theorem in a way that is accessible to a beginning-to-intermediate audience, which I take to be the target audience of The End of Christianity. If you go for too much precision and formalism, you risk losing your audience. If you focus too much on accessibility, you risk misunderstandings, oversimplifications, and outright errors. Finding the right balance isn’t easy.

Part 1

With all due respect to Dr. Carrier, I find part 1 of Dr. Barnes’ critique to be very persuasive and, in fact, to be a prima facie devastating critique. (I quickly skimmed the combox on Dr. Carrier’s site to see if they debated anything relevant to part 1, but I didn’t find anything, so it appears that the points in part 1 of Dr. Barnes’ series have gone unchallenged by Dr. Carrier.)
In particular, I agree with the following points by Dr. Barnes.

  • “Bayes’ theorem, as the name suggests, is a theorem, not an argument, and certainly not a definition.”
  • “Also, Carrier seems to be saying that P(h|b), P(~h|b), P(e|h.b), and P(e|~h.b) are the premises from which one formally proves Bayes’ theorem. This fails to understand the difference between the derivation of a theorem and the terms in an equation.”
  • “Crucial to this approach is the idea of a reference class – exactly what things should we group together as A-like? This is the Achilles heel of finite frequentism.”
  • “It gets even worse if our reference class is too narrow.”
  • “This is related to the ‘problem of the single case’. The restriction to known, actual events creates an obvious problem for the study of unique events.”
  • “Carrier completely abandons finite frequentism when he comes to discuss the multiverse.”
  • “Whatever interpretation of probability that Carrier is applying to the multiverse, it isn’t the same one that he applies to fine-tuning.”
  • “If we are using Bayes’ theorem, the likelihood of each hypothesis is extremely relevant.”

In addition, I would add the following comment.

  • In his essay, Carrier writes: “Probability measures frequency (whether of things happening or of things being true).” Not exactly. The frequentist interpretation of probability measures relative frequency, but the frequentist interpretation of probability isn’t the only interpretation of probability. There are “many other games in town” besides that one; there is also the epistemic interpretation of probability (aka “subjective” aka “personal” aka “Bayesian”), which measures degree of belief. Thus, to say that probability just is relative frequency is to beg the question against all the rival interpretations of probability. (And, for the record, I’m actually a pluralist when it comes to probability; following Gillies, I think different interpretations can be used in different situations.)

Part 2

Here are my thoughts on Part 2 of Dr. Barnes’ reply.

This simulation tells us nothing about how actual cars are produced.

I strongly agree.

The fact that we can imagine every possible arrangement of metal and plastic does not mean that every actual car is constructed merely at random.

I agree.

Note a few leaps that Carrier makes. He leaps from bits in a computer to actual universes that contain conscious observers. He leaps from simulating every possible universe to producing universes “merely at random”.

I agree.

 This is a textbook example of affirming the consequent, a “training wheels” level logical fallacy.”

I think this is an uncharitable interpretation of Carrier’s statements by Barnes.

False. Obviously False.

I disagree with Barnes. Here is the passage by Carrier which Barnes is referring to.

It simply follows that if we exist and the universe is entirely a product of random chance (and not NID), then the probability that we would observe the kind of universe we do is 100 percent expected.

Let’s abbreviate the statement “we exist” as B (for our background knowledge); the statement “the universe is entirely a product of random chance (and not NID)” as C (for chance); and the statement “we observe the kind of universe we do” as E (for evidence). Then we can abbreviate the paragraph just quoted as:

Pr-L(E | B & C) = 1, where Pr-L represents a logical probability.

It seems to me that Carrier is correct. Contrary to what Barnes writes, however, it doesn’t follow that we can’t conclude it is highly probable someone was cheating in a game of poker. It just means that the correct way to show that cheating took place is not to use an argument analogous to the argument Carrier is refuting.
Aside: Reading the exchange between Carrier and Barnes reminds me of one of my wishes for people who use Bayes’ Theorem in this way: I really wish people would explicitly state the propositions they are including in their background knowledge. It avoids misunderstandings and misinterpretations.

Carrier says that “if the evidence looks exactly the same on either hypothesis, there is no logical sense in which we can say the evidence is more likely on either hypothesis”. Nope. Repeat after me: the probability of what is observed varies as a function of the hypothesis. That’s the whole point of Bayes theorem.”

I think Barnes is being uncharitable to Carrier. When Carrier writes, “the evidence looks the same,” I interpret him to mean “when the evidence is equally likely on either hypothesis.”

All that follows from the anthropic principle…

I need to study this section in detail, but I think agree with Barnes.
I would add the following. In his essay, Carrier writes this:

Would any of those conscious observers be right in concluding that their universe was intelligently designed to produce them? No. Not even one of them would be.

It would be most helpful if Carrier would explicitly defend this statement: “No. Not even one of them would be.” Unless I’ve misunderstood his argument, I think this is false. If we include in our background knowledge the fact that Carrier’s hypothetical conscious observers exist in a universe we know is the result of a random simulation, then we already know their universe is the result of a random simulation. Facts about the relative frequency aren’t even needed: we know the universe is the result of a random simulation.
If, however, we exclude that from our background knowledge, so that we are in the same epistemic situation as the hypothetical observers, then things are not so easy. Again, it would be helpful if Carrier could spell out his reasoning here.

Part 3

Let’s move onto Part 3 of Barnes’s reply.

“Refuted by scientists again and again”. What, in the peer-reviewed scientific literature? I’ve published a review of the scientific literature, 200+ papers, and I can only think of a handful that oppose this conclusion, and piles and piles that support it.

I think Dr. Carrier absolutely has to respond to this point by Dr. Barnes or publicly issue a retraction.

With regards to the claim that “the fundamental constants and quantities of nature must fall into an incomprehensibly narrow life-permitting range”, the weight of the peer-reviewed scientific literature is overwhelmingly with Craig. (If you disagree, start citing papers).

This strikes me as a devastating reply. Like the last point, I think Dr. Carrier absolutely has to respond or else issue a retraction.

He can only get his “narrow range” by varying one single constant”. Wrong. The very thing that got this field started was physicists noting coincidences between a number of constants and the requirements of life. Only a handful of the 200+ scientific papers in this field vary only one variable. Read this.

Ouch. Same as the last two points.

“1 in 8 and 1 in 4: see Victor Stenger”. If Carrier is referring to Stenger’s program MonkeyGod, then he’s kidding himself.

I haven’t studied MonkeyGod enough to have an opinion, so I have no comment on this one.

In all the possible universes we have explored, we have found that a tiny fraction would permit the existence of intelligent life. There are other possible universes,that we haven’t explored. This is only relevant if we have some reason to believe that the trend we have observed until now will be miraculously reversed just beyond the horizon of what we have explored.

If I understand Dr. Barnes’ point correctly here, then I think he is making a simple appeal to induction by enumeration and I think his argument is logically correct.

In fact, by beginning in our universe, known to be life-permitting, we have biased our search in favour of finding life-permitting universes.

I find this point very interesting. I hadn’t even thought of it that way, but I think he’s right.

Nope. For a given possible universe, we specify the physics. So we know that there are no other constants and variables. A universe with other constants would be a different universe.

think I agree with this.

How does a historian come to think that he can crown a theory “the most popular going theory in cosmological physics today” without giving a reference? He has no authority on cosmology – no training, to expertise, no publications, and a growing pile of physics blunders.

Ouch.

In any case, the claim is wrong…

I don’t have the physics expertise to evaluate this paragraph.

By what criteria is that the simplest entity imaginable? If the point is lawless, why does it evolve into something else? How does it evolve? What evolves? What defines the state space? If it is a singular point, how are there now many spacetime points? Why are they arranged in a smooth manifold? Why spacetime? What if space and time aren’t fundamental? It’s not clear that a lawless physical state makes any sense. Even if it does, if it’s lawless, why do we observe a law-like universe?

Good questions.

Fine-tuning doesn’t claim that this universe has the maximum amount of life per unit volume (or baryon, or whatever). So this argument is irrelevant.

Dr. Barnes is, of course, correct that fine-tuning doesn’t logically entail that this universe has the maximum amount of life per unit volume, in the sense that “fine-tuning” is logically compatible with “the universe NOT having the maximum amount of life per unit volume.” But I disagree with Dr. Barnes that the hostility of life is irrelevant. In fact, as I’ve argued before, focusing only on facts about “fine-tuning” while ignoring facts about “course-tuning” (i.e., the hostility of the universe to life) commits the logical fallacy of understated evidence.

Part 4

Let’s move onto part 4 of Dr. Barnes’ reply. Barnes writes:

What is Carrier’s main argument in response to fine-tuning, in his article “Neither Life nor the Universe Appear Intelligently Designed”? He kept accusing me of misrepresenting him, but never clarified his argument.

I agree.

Bayes’ theorem follows from Cox’s theorem, which assumes only some reasonable desiderata of reasoning.

I haven’t studied Cox’s theorem, so I can’t comment on that directly. Instead, I want to point out that Bayes’s theorem also follows from the Kolmogorov axioms of the probability calculus plus the definition of conditional probability.

A given proposition Ki can play the role of “background” or “evidence”, depending on the term.

I agree.

Talking about “the prior” or “the likelihood” in such a context is ambiguous. Better to use notation.

I strongly agree.

Look closely at p(o | ~NID.b’). This is the probability that a universe with intelligent observers exists, given that there is no intelligent cause of their universe, and given background information b’ that does not imply o. This is exactly the probability that Carrier is afraid of, the one that could equal an “ungodly percentage” (pg. 293). It is the probability that “the universe we observe would exist by chance” (pg. 293). Carrier argues that this term is irrelevant because ignores o. It does, but rightly so. The posterior does not ignore o. Look at Bayes’ theorem: p(H|EB) = p(E|HB) p(H|B) /p(E|B).  Both E and B are known, and yet the likelihood p(E|HB) just ignores the fact that we know E! Rightly so! This is the whole point of Bayes’ theorem.

1. Here I think Dr. Barnes is being just a tad snarky (“This is exactly the probability that Carrier is afraid of”).
2. This may be a nitpick, but I wouldn’t word things the way Dr. Barnes does, when he writes that p(o | ~NID.b’) is “the probability that ‘the universe we observe would exist by chance.'” Instead, I would define that probability in plain English as “the probability that intelligent observers exist conditional upon our background knowledge conjoined with the hypothesis that a non-terrestrial intelligent designer did NOT design the universe.” The key difference here is that the latter phrasing keeps the distinction between “the universe we observe” and “intelligent observers exist.”
3. I strongly agree with this: “Carrier argues that this term is irrelevant because ignores o. It does, but rightly so. The posterior does not ignore o. Look at Bayes’ theorem: p(H|EB) = p(E|HB) p(H|B) /p(E|B).  Both E and B are known, and yet the likelihood p(E|HB) just ignores the fact that we know E! Rightly so! “
4. Again, this may be another nitpick but I agree and disagree with this statement: “This is the whole point of Bayes’ theorem.” Not exactly; here I think Dr. Barnes is unwittingly presupposing the epistemic interpretation of Bayes’s theorem. Based on that interpretation, he’s correct. On rival interpretations–such as the frequency interpretation–we wouldn’t talk about knowledge at all, but the relative frequency among some reference class.

Here’s the problem with the argument above. What (3) shows is that, since f follows from o, I need not condition the posterior on f. There is a redundancy in our description of what we know. But that does not mean that the posterior p(NID|f.b) is independent of the “ungodly percentage” p(o | ~NID.b’). The surprising fact on ~NID, that a life-permitting universe universe exists at all, cannot hide in the background. We can draw it out. It’s right there in equation (7).

I agree. Dr. Barnes is making a very similar point to the one I make below, where I talk about pushing the problem back a step.

There a couple of different versions of NID floating around Carrier’s essay….

I agree with pretty much this entire section of Dr. Barnes’s essay.

Question 5: What mathematician should I read to learn about reference classes and why probabilities measure frequencies? Is Carrier a frequentist or a Bayesian?

Actually, this is a question not best suited for a mathematician, but a philosopher. In my opinion, the “go-to” reference books for this question are (1) Choice & Chance by Brian Skyrms and (2) Philosophical Interpretations of Probability by Gillies.

Question 9: Moving on to Carrier’s scientific claims, there’s some explaining to do.

I think Dr. Carrier must directly answer the questions in the bulleted list that follows.

This time could have been spent showing that I am wrong. More time is spent attacking me than defending, or even explaining, his case. Take the comment on January 7, 2014 at 8:43 am. Of 14 sentences: 1 clarification of a previous comment, 2 repetitions of points from his article that I agreed with, 2 claims contrary to mine (hurray! interaction!), and 9 that merely accuse of error and incompetence.

I strongly agree. I hope that Dr. Carrier will directly respond to Dr. Barnes without the personal attacks.

Carrier’s Endnote 23

GGDFan777 also asked me to parse endnote 23 of Dr. Carrier’s essay. Unless otherwise indicated, the quotations are from that endnote.

This is undeniable: if only a finely tuned universe can produce life, then by defintion P(FINELY TUNED UNIVERSE | INTELLIGENT OBSERVERS EXIST) = 1, because of (a) the logical fact that “if and only if A, then B” entails “if B, then A” (hence (“if and only if a finely tuned universe, then intelligent observers” entails “if intelligent observers, then a finely tuned universe,” which is strict entailment, hence true regardless of how that fine-tuning came about; by analogy with “if and only if colors exist, then orange is a color” entails “if orange is a color, then colors exist”; note that this is not the fallacy of affirming the consequent because it properly derives from a biconditional), and because of (b) the fact in conditional probability that P(INTELLIGENT OBSERVERS EXIST)=1 (the probability that we are mistaken about intelligent observers existing is zero, a la Descartes, therefore the probability that they exist is 100 percent) and P(A and B) = P(A|B) x Pr(B), and 1 x 1 =1.

I agree.

Collins concedes that if we include in b “everything we know about the world, including our existence,” then P(L | ~God & A LIFE-BEARING UNIVERSE IS OBSERVED) = 100 percent (Collins, “The Teleological Argument,” 207).

I don’t have access to the material by Collins, but I don’t have any reason to doubt that what Carrier says here is correct.

He thus desperately needs to somehow “not count” such known facts. That’s irrational, and he ought to know it’s irrational.

Sigh. I think the statement “desperately needs” is snarky and off-putting. I think these two sentences are uncharitable to Collins, for reasons I will explain below.

He tries anyway (e.g., 241-44), by putting “a life-bearing universe is observed” (his LPU) in e instead of b. But then b still contains “observers exist,” which still entails “a life-bearing universe exists,” and anything entailed by a 100 percent probability has itself a probability of 100 percent (as proven above). In other words, since the probability of observing ~LPU if ~LPU is zero (since if ~LPU, observers won’t exist), it can never be the case that P(LPU|~God.b) < 100 percent as Collins claims (on 207), because if the probability of ~LPU is zero the probability of LPU is 1 (being the converse), and b contains “observers exist,” which entails the probability of ~LPU is zero.

I agree with his analysis, but — you knew there was a “but” coming — I think this misses the point, which seems to be a restatement of the anthropic principle dressed up in the formalism of probability notation. Yes, if we include “(embodied) intelligent observers exist” in our background knowledge (B), then it follows that a life-permitting universe (LPU) exists. But that isn’t very interesting. In one sense, this move simply pushes the problem back a step.
To see why, we can (in a sense) do a Bayesian analysis in reverse. Abstract away everything we know, including our own existence, and include in our background knowledge only the fact that our universe exists. Based on that fact alone, the prior (epistemic) probability of “(embodied) intelligent observers exist” is not 1 on naturalism and it is not 1 on theism.
In the jargon of academic philosophy of religion, the proponent of a fine-tuning argument for theism is asking us to compare the epistemic probability–not relative frequency–of a life-existing universe conditional upon theism to the epistemic probability of a life-existing universe conditional upon naturalism. To respond to that argument with “But we exist” misses the point.
The proponent of the fine-tuning argument can, should, and will respond, “No shit, Sherlock. Everyone agrees that we exist. The question is whether the life-permitting preconditions of our universe is evidence relevant to theism and naturalism.”

If (in even greater desperation) Collins tried putting “I think, therefore I am” in e, his conclusion would only be true for people who aren’t observers (since b then contains no observers), and since the probability of there being people who aren’t observers is zero, his calculation would be irrelevant

Again, I find the snark (“greater desperation”) off-putting, but let’s put that aside. At the risk of repeating myself, the fact that each of us knows that we exist doesn’t make fine-tuning arguments go away. Yes, we know that our universe is life-permitting because we know that we exist. But why is our universe life-permitting? Some philosophers (including both theists and atheists like Paul Draper) argue that that is evidence favoring theism over naturalism. If they are right, then so be it. But if they are wrong, they are NOT wrong because we exist. That objection just doesn’t work.

(it would be true only for people who don’t exist, i.e., any conclusion that is conditional on “there are no observers” is of no interest to observers).

Dr. Carrier doesn’t speak for all observers. I’m an observer and find the question of interest. So does Paul Draper. So do many atheist philosophers who don’t think fine-tuning arguments work, including Bradley Monton, Keith Parsons, Graham Oppy, Quentin Smith, and so forth. So do many (but not all) theist philosophers. So do many non-philosophers of all stripes. If he doesn’t find the question of interest, that’s fine. But, at risk of stating the obvious, his lack of interest in the argument isn’t a defeater for the argument.

bookmark_borderInteresting Blog Post about a Multiverse

Where Are We in the Multiverse?” (@ Why There is and Why There Is Anything)
Here’s the first paragraph:

There are two avenues from modern physics to the belief that the universe we see around us is not all there is, but is instead one of infinitely many like it. The first is inflationary cosmology; the second is quantum mechanics.  Though very different, these two multiverse models share two features: first, they both posit objective physical probabilities that tell us how likely we are to be in some portion of the multiverse rather than telling us how likely the multiverse is to be some way or another; and second, they both have a problem with prediction and confirmation.  I’ll discuss the relationship between self-locating probability and confirmation in these theories.