Dec 16 2013

The Logic of God

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255 responses so far

255 Responses to “The Logic of God”

  1. mufion 16 Dec 2013 at 10:00 am

    Ultimately all morality is subjective in that it derives from value judgments which are necessarily human.

    The problem with this statement is that it appears to reduce morality to that of individual taste, whereas morality traditionally has social, cultural, and legal dimensions that, say, my taste for chocolate hardly approaches.

    We need a better term to communicate non-absolute morality (e.g. non-absolutism, intersubjectivity, transperspectivism, incremental objectivity, etc.) – one that isn’t so vulnerable to the charge (often by dogmatic theists) of moral relativism.

  2. Kawarthajonon 16 Dec 2013 at 10:07 am

    Happy Festivus everyone!

  3. gordieon 16 Dec 2013 at 10:37 am

    Objective moral values as a concept can only be confirmed when the aliens invite us to join their equivalent of Star Fleet!
    I’d love to hear Craig debate the difference between objective moral values and commonly subjective moral values. I’ve heard a few of his debates and there should be a drinking game based on them. Whenever he says:

    -it has to be option a or option b, there’s no other options
    -the vast majority of scholars agree that…
    -you don’t believe in killing children do you…(any emotional argument)

    you take a shot. You’d be very drunk at the end. Why he’s a regarded as a top apologist I’ve no idea.

  4. Jerry in Coloradoon 16 Dec 2013 at 10:38 am

    Excellent summary, Steven.

    But one thought:
    “Even if we do accept the premise that our universe had a beginning, this may simply be embedded in a deeper physical reality, something to do with quantum fluctuations in space-time, or something equally incomprehensible.” This leaves a lot of possibilities.

    But lends no support to reasons 2,3,4, or 5. Merry Xmas everyone.

  5. LittleBoyBrewon 16 Dec 2013 at 11:10 am

    Ah yes, Mr. William Lane Craig, who has expressed the sentiment that, when considering the slaughter if innocent Canaanite children, we should feel sorry for the poor Jewish soldiers who were traumatized by carrying out the will of their righteous god.

    That explains all that is wrong with faith.

  6. pdeboeron 16 Dec 2013 at 11:19 am

    Are there not other religions that offer other explanations of the origins of the universe? Are there not other religions that say that Jesus was not the son of God and did not do all the things said in the new testament?

    Is this so much a “gift” to atheists as propaganda for Christianity?

    This is not a secular God argument and in that case is subject to all the criticism of the bible.

  7. The Other John Mcon 16 Dec 2013 at 11:23 am

    The fine-tuning argument drives me nuts! Saying something like “gravity is finely tuned, ergo God exists” is like saying “the number pi is exact to infinite decimal places, ergo God exists”…we cannot conclude anything metaphysical from the observation that physical constants have specific values.

  8. Hosson 16 Dec 2013 at 12:03 pm

    I’m just glad Craig didn’t use his “Jesus’s empty tomb” argument, which I think is easily his dumbest argument.

    It’s a shame to see someone as smart as Craig continually refusing to accept a valid deconstruction of his fallacious arguments.

    I dislike Craig because of his smug rejection of logic, his smug proselytizing of fallacious reasoning, and his smugness in general.

  9. practiCal fMRIon 16 Dec 2013 at 12:33 pm

    Nice deconstruction. Some thoughts/questions:

    Re. #2, aren’t Craig’s first two explanations totally backwards? It was my understanding that (a) the universe exists precisely because some laws make it physically necessary – just as angular momentum and gravity make “sunrise” physically necessary – and also that the chance of live existing is one, because it does. Now, the reasons for the physical necessity are intriguing indeed, and start to overlap with Craig’s #1 in his arguments. We prefer to determine why the laws of physics are what they are. And as for chance, perhaps if you were a deity randomly creating universes and assessing each one for its probability for creating life then you’d be surprised when you succeed, but again for all we know there have been many previous universes for which the recipe was imperfect and no life arose. Again, we start to overlap on Craig’s first point.

    (In a similar vein, I would be (very marginally) interested to know whether Craig thinks that life exists only on this planet or elsewhere in this (current) universe. And if he concedes the possibility of life elsewhere, how he reconciles this with no mention of where we can look for it in the Bible. There can’t be an omission, can there?)

    Re. #3, as others have indicated, the definition of what is moral is all-important. Craig is using an anthropocentric view. Things get very complicated indeed if we lump duties with moral values. Many social insects would then seem to qualify as the most pious species on the planet! Humans got some catchin’ up to do!

    Re. #5, where to start? If all that is required is personal knowledge and experience then there are many mental illnesses that suggest the existence of all manner of phenomena. And what about aboriginal peoples who are just as convinced that their spirits keep the sun coming up, the flowers blooming, etc.? Do we reject their personal experiences just because we consider them abnormal in a literal statistical sense? Will Craig have reduced the basis for his position to a head count? If so, let’s follow this logic. When there was only a handful of Christians – Jesus and his disciples – then why should their experience have been considered more correct than those of the mentally ill who existed at the same time, or of all the aboriginal peoples? So his argument looks like post hoc justification for a majority view. And we know from many instances in history that the majority view can be wrong. Flat earth, anyone?

  10. elmer mccurdyon 16 Dec 2013 at 12:50 pm

    For God’s sake stop citing Hitchens. He was scum.

  11. LittleBoyBrewon 16 Dec 2013 at 1:34 pm

    Nothing like a little unsolicited ad hominem, elmer.

  12. superdaveon 16 Dec 2013 at 1:41 pm

    I was expecting Craig to use some logic, but these are actively offensive to anyone who isn’t a Christian.

  13. superdaveon 16 Dec 2013 at 1:42 pm

    sorry that was supposed to say “bad logic”

  14. Enzoon 16 Dec 2013 at 2:54 pm

    I was really hoping Craig’s article was going to contain some thought provoking arguments. Alas, I was dismayed at the poor showing. It seems that the people who buy this type of reasoning are just employing a lazy faith heuristic, cursorily reading and nodding along because it confirms their viewpoint. Go to directly to god, do not pass thinking.

  15. BillyJoe7on 16 Dec 2013 at 4:14 pm

    “For God’s sake stop citing Hitchens. He was scum”

    Care to flesh out your argument a bit, little fella.
    Here, refer to this for a refutation of any argument you may have against the late great Christopher Hitchens:

    http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=4KBx4vvlbZ8&desktop_uri=%2Fwatch%3Fv%3D4KBx4vvlbZ8

    And back on you regarding http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=scum ;)

  16. elmer mccurdyon 16 Dec 2013 at 5:46 pm

    If you want to argue against religious faith, it might not be a good idea to repeatedly cite someone who placed his faith in Bush and Cheney.

    I’m so very very happy he’s dead.

  17. rezistnzisfutlon 16 Dec 2013 at 5:52 pm

    Seems like the overriding premise is the preconception that a supernatural deity exists, and it is the abrahamic god of the christian bible. This seems to permeate pretty much all of his arguments, which is, of course, the presupposition argument. Of course, it goes without saying that it’s begging the question fallacy, and most of his arguments are arguments from ignorance.

    As far as the historical Jesus, I have yet to see compelling evidence. I realize it doesn’t really matter if there was a historical Jesus, but making claims about factual reality can, and should, be challenged. If they cannot even demonstrate that a historical Jesus exists first, then any other claims cannot even be addressed. This goes to the deeper question of God arguments – if one cannot demonstrate that God even exists, then all other claims are superfluous at best.

    Keeping in mind that nearly all biblical scholars are christians, many of whom are priests or pastors who have gone through seminary, so they, too, start with the preconception that the bible is true and that Jesus existed and search for evidence from there to support this. Even IF the claim that the majority of historians accept that Jesus the person actually existed, one could point to this as the reason why (putting aside examining the actual evidence, for which there is none).

    WLC has made a career out of trying to “logic” God into existence. I’ve read “Reasonable Faith” (or as much of it as I could stomach, some parts were just too painful to read) and it is so rife with logical fallacies and presuppositions that pretty much all of his arguments were invalidated by them. I think he’s well aware of logical fallacies, as he alludes to them often in his book, but he is either unaware of his own use of them, or hopes the reader won’t notice.

  18. rezistnzisfutlon 16 Dec 2013 at 5:58 pm

    Elmer, your personal opinion of Hitchens aside, you do realize it’s ad hominems are logical fallacies? To paraphrase ,”Hitchen’s arguments are incorrect because he placed his faith in Bush and Cheney”. Obviously, putting one’s “faith” in Bush and Cheney, even if that were true, says nothing about the validity of one’s arguments.

    I’m not sure why you bring up Hitchens anyway as Dr. Novella never brought him up, at least here. Perhaps in the past, but your bringing it up here is tantamount to a red herring. Plus, you didn’t seem to make any point or argument with it. I suppose you’re assuming anyone here would agree with you that Hitchens was scum?

  19. elmer mccurdyon 16 Dec 2013 at 6:02 pm

    Yes, he did. Right at the beginning. I tend to assume reasonable people will know all the reasons he was scum at this point. The religious stuff doesn’t matter, at all.

  20. Hosson 16 Dec 2013 at 6:08 pm

    elmer

    “If you want to argue against religious faith, it might not be a good idea to repeatedly cite someone who placed his faith in Bush and Cheney.”

    Red herring.

    I’m pretty sure the arguments Hitchens used against religion stand on their own and has nothing to do with his position on the wars in the middle east.

    If you don’t like Hitchens, that’s fine, but don’t use fallacious reasoning to communicate your dislike.

  21. elmer mccurdyon 16 Dec 2013 at 6:12 pm

    Last comment: it’s just that, as I’ve said, it’s something he’s done repeatedly. Good ol’ Hitch. Makes me want to vomit. But good luck on persuading people.

    Carry on with your circle jerk, all.

  22. Sastraon 16 Dec 2013 at 6:45 pm

    Since the universe, like everything else, could not have merely popped into being without a cause, there must exist a transcendent reality beyond time and space that brought the universe into existence.

    Although you did a good job pointing out that this is debatable, the assertion Craig makes immediately following it is even more so:

    This entity must therefore be enormously powerful. Only a transcendent, unembodied mind suitably fits that description.

    Whoa, there’s a leap. It’s also basically the entire jist of his argument, since quantum vacuum fluctuations or asymmetry in the super strings or anything other than an Unbodied Mind blows his entire thesis away. Whatever “caused” the universe — or whatever “supports” or “holds together” the universe — has simply got to be like a mind in some critical sense. It’s conscious and/or aware and/or intentional and/or moral- or- morally sensitive or it’s simply NOT going to qualify as anyone’s version of God. And how does Craig get to this?

    Minds choose. That’s it.

    But what we know of “minds” makes it very problematic to first rip them out of the context of our experience, then take away all their history of development and mechanisms for behavior, then remove the context in which they make sense … and finally assume a single one of them is the primary Reality, the very first thing, simple and in need of no explanation and yet capable of doing everything and anything using it’s “mind power” even though it is “transcendent” and outside of space and time. Right. There is so much fail in there it’s hard to know where to start.

    And yet this is the part that Craig expects will just glide down easily and lead us into belief. Unless you’re already a dualist who believes in ESP, PK, and transcendent spiritual realms, it won’t make sense or feel familiar or even satisfy the criteria of an explanation. We get minds from a Mind Source. A Power Mind Force. Ah. Right. Just the way we get our morals from a Moral Source, which is moral in moral energy essence as is mandated by its moral nature of morality-giving power force. There you go. All explained.

    And — the BEST explanation, too.

    Clears everything up.

  23. rezistnzisfutlon 16 Dec 2013 at 6:50 pm

    If you want to call pointing out your logical fallacies and fallacious reasoning a “circle jerk”, go right ahead, puerile as it may be. I suppose since logic tends to be static and most of us here value logic, I suppose it may seem like a “circle jerk” to someone who doesn’t value it. However, what are we being “circle jerk” about in your mind, logic, or Hitchens? Logic for sure is highly valued on this forum. Many thought and words by Hitchens as well. Hitchens the person, well, there may be varying opinions on that, but those are opinions.

    Which leads me to this point: all you’ve really done is given your unsolicited, and frankly irrelevant to this discussion, opinion. In other words, you’ve made no point or argument, but just given an irrelevant opinion.

  24. Davdoodleson 16 Dec 2013 at 7:37 pm

    1. God provides the best explanation of the origin of the universe.

    Or, to put it another way, “god is in the gaps”.

    2. God provides the best explanation for the fine-tuning of the universe.

    Ditto

    3. God provides the best explanation of objective moral values and duties.

    Or, to put it another way, “the best explanation for why I’m not going berzerk right now is because a supernatural entity is stopping me”.

    4. God provides the best explanation of the historical facts concerning Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.

    Or, to put it another way, “god is the best explanation for the son of god”.

    5. God can be personally known and experienced.

    Or, to put it another way, “the best explanation for the voices in my head is that a supernatural entity is talking to me”.
    .

  25. Hosson 16 Dec 2013 at 7:46 pm

    Elmer
    “But good luck on persuading people.”
    What are you talking about? I really don’t know what you are referring to.

    “Carry on with your circle jerk, all.”
    I hope you know there are problems associated with extrapolating from single data points(in this case, aka personal experience).

  26. elmer mccurdyon 16 Dec 2013 at 9:07 pm

    I happen to be an atheist, but I haven’t taken part in the debate, aside from the usual reason that I really don’t like you people, because I think it’s completely trivial except insofar as it and some of Dr. Novella’s earlier posts try to rehabilitate Hitchens, on account of all the death and suffering that he helped promote. Honestly if you cite the guy again and again, you should at least be a little bit apologetic about it. For example, you could say, “I prefer Christopher Hitchens’ take (and, yes, I do realize that he was utterly evil, but never mind, I’m going to quote him anyway):”

  27. rezistnzisfutlon 16 Dec 2013 at 10:31 pm

    Elmer, you make many assumptions of us and continue to push your opinionated qualifications of Hitchens. For one, many, if not most, atheists do not regard Hitchens as “evil”. That’s a very strong label. Furthermore, his arguments stand on their own merits, so in reality one’s personal opinion about him as a person is irrelevant. What we’re trying to do is not apologize for Hitchens, but to point out your logical fallacy of red herring in this conversation, and ad hominem about Hitchens (ie, “Hitchens’ argument is wrong because he’s an evil person” as well as “This discussion is wrong because you cite the evil Hitchens in other, unrelated threads.”).

    You being an atheist does not speak to your critical thinking skills or skepticism. As far as I can tell, you haven’t displayed much proficiency in either.

    If you wish to make a relevant point about the discussion on “The Logic Of God”, especially if it somehow relates to Hitchens, then we’re all ears. Otherwise, as long as you continue to utilize logical fallacies on a skeptical forum, we’ll continue to point them out to you.

  28. Will Nitschkeon 16 Dec 2013 at 11:04 pm

    Not a bad article Steve, but then again you’ve picked an easy enough target to debunk. But you seem to have introduced a somewhat juvenile false dichotomy, with those who accept “faith” as rejecters of reason and atheists as rationalists. Humanity is complex and faith is best expressed as a continuum. Every claim must be evaluated on its merits, which is difficult. People have faith in religion, or various flavours of the ecological movement, or of progressive politics, or of “science in general”, or of authority, or of countless other things. No one here is exempt from ignorance.

  29. evhantheinfidelon 17 Dec 2013 at 1:21 am

    Will, Steve was merely using the definition of faith that those “of faith” use (doubtless in different words). I also think you’re reading into it too much if you see the false dichotomy, because it was never explicitly stated, and would contradict much of what the Dr. has said previously. However, I think it’s worth pointing out that the rational position to come to on the specific topic of God is the agnostic atheist. Sure, a person of faith can be otherwise rational, but so could a homeopath be about all other topics than their holy cow.

  30. ConspicuousCarlon 17 Dec 2013 at 4:23 am

    elmer mccurdyon 16 Dec 2013 at 5:46 pm

    If you want to argue against religious faith, it might not be a good idea to repeatedly cite someone who placed his faith in Bush and Cheney.

    An absurd and dishonest straw man. Nobody takes you seriously on that statement.

  31. BillyJoe7on 17 Dec 2013 at 7:30 am

    “I really don’t like you people”

    Oh, elmer.
    Really?
    On the other hand, we love you like a son.
    Yes we do.
    Because here you are again, entertaining us from the basement of your mommy’s house with your little foot stamping on the floor and your cute little mouth shrieking a full octave too high.

    (:

  32. BillyJoe7on 17 Dec 2013 at 7:34 am

    “a somewhat juvenile false dichotomy”

    A false dichotomy between a theist and an atheist?
    Whatever do you mean?

  33. delphi_oteon 17 Dec 2013 at 7:45 am

    The argument from first cause (Craig’s first argument) gets way more credit than it deserves. It is flagrantly intellectually dishonest. Basically, it is the following syllogism.

    1) everything that exists needs a cause
    2) the universe exists
    3) therefore an uncaused being exists that caused the universe

    They violate the first premise immediately. That is flagrant intellectual dishonesty. Such an argument should be denigrated and ridiculed, and the people who use it should be scorned.

  34. tmac57on 17 Dec 2013 at 10:31 am

    delphi_ote- Absolutely on the mark! This seems so obvious that I cannot understand why those making that argument continue to use it. It would be much more honest to just say “I believe in god because that’s what I choose to believe” rather than trying to justify god’s existence into being through twisted logic. Intellectually dishonest is rightly used in that context.

  35. Hausdorffon 17 Dec 2013 at 10:36 am

    Nice take down. As is typically the case, WLCs arguments are terrible. It is truly puzzling that he is so popular.

  36. roadfoodon 17 Dec 2013 at 4:13 pm

    Like every other “logical proof” of God’s existence that I’ve ever read, it is just so clear that the author started out with “I know God exists” and then went to “therefore it must be logical provable” and then found (more accurately made up) the proof. I know this will never happen, but just once I’d like to see a true believer honestly start from the premise that God may or may not exist, and then try to find verifiable evidence for the former.

    My favorite fallacy in Mr. Craig’s article is this: “Since the universe, like everything else, could not have merely popped into being without a cause, there must exist a transcendent reality beyond time and space that brought the universe into existence. This entity must therefore be enormously powerful.”

    He just silently switched from “transcendent reality” to “entity”. That’s a pretty glaring omission of logic for someone purporting to be making a logical argument.

    Now, if Mr. Craig could justify that switch, give us a logical foundation for why this “transcendent reality” must be an entity, could not be an unintelligent property or force, I could at least give him credit for making a logically connected and consistent argument, rather than just making stuff up.

  37. Will Nitschkeon 17 Dec 2013 at 4:18 pm

    @evhantheinfidelon

    “Will, Steve was merely using the definition of faith that those “of faith” use (doubtless in different words). I also think you’re reading into it too much if you see the false dichotomy…”

    Steve’s quote:

    “Faith is the surrender of the mind, it’s the surrender of reason, it’s the surrender of the only thing that makes us different from other animals. It’s our need to believe and to surrender our skepticism and our reason, our yearning to discard that and put all our trust or faith in someone or something, that is the sinister thing to me. … Out of all the virtues, all the supposed virtues, faith must be the most overrated”

    All of us have faith in different things. Most self declared ‘sceptics’ have faith in science – and a lot of science is at best junk, or their preferred political or social ideology.

  38. Hosson 17 Dec 2013 at 5:28 pm

    Will

    “All of us have faith in different things. Most self declared ‘sceptics’ have faith in science – and a lot of science is at best junk, or their preferred political or social ideology.”

    Why are you equating axioms with faith? It seems to serve no purpose except for blurring the major distinctions between the two. One is logically necessary, while the other is logically flawed.(One of many differences)

    Don’t make a false comparisons using ambiguous language to camouflage the logical error.

  39. catplanet24on 17 Dec 2013 at 5:34 pm

    WLC <>

    Dr. Novella
    <>

    While I ultimately agree with Dr. Novella about evidence concerning the existence of “God”, I don’t think his answer to argument #3 is adequate.

    WLC never stated one HAS to believe in objective morality; his point is that if you do, you have to explain how you do so without a god. Certainly, a great number of rank and file atheists dispute the notion of objective morality, but a large number of atheists (including a large number of atheist philosophers) do assert morality is objective. To paraphrase atheist philosopher Massimo Pigliucci, if you dispute morality is objective, concepts like moral progress or asserting FGM in certain cultures is “wrong” are no longer available to you.

    Obviously, I think the objections of WLC (and atheist moral relativists in general) can be answered, but that would take a little more time. (See the Craig debate against atheist ethical philosopher Shelly Kagan on youtube to learn more. Some have stated this was Craig’s worst debate, so I’m many of you will like it. Just pay close attention how philosphers use terms like “objective”.)

  40. catplanet24on 17 Dec 2013 at 5:37 pm

    For some reason, the quotes below were left out of the beginning of my post above:

    WLC says “Even atheists recognize that some things, for example, the Holocaust, are objectively evil. But if atheism is true, what basis is there for the objectivity of the moral values we affirm?”

    Dr Novella says
    “He is essentially saying that objective morality exists because God gives it to us, and the existence of objective morality proves God exists. “

  41. Hosson 17 Dec 2013 at 5:51 pm

    Here is a decent blog article by Massimo Pigliucci on faith and reason.

    http://rationallyspeaking.blogspot.com/2009/04/faith-and-reason.html

  42. rezistnzisfutlon 17 Dec 2013 at 8:17 pm

    Will,

    I think you’re committing an equivocation fallacy. The “faith” you’re attributing to skeptics is a trust and confidence in science – it’s well deserved because, quite simply, science works. We can also, at any time, review the evidence, and we know that science is based on physical evidence (for the most part, and as with any human endeavor, science isn’t always done perfectly). Religious faith, on the other hand, the kind of faith Dr. Novella is referring to, is the belief in something without evidence. The word “faith”, obviously, has multiple definitions, and our “faith” in science is not the same as someone’s religious faith.

    Anyone who has any understanding of science knows that science isn’t perfect, doesn’t have all the answers, and not all studies are equal. It takes a skeptical eye and critical thinking skills to evaluate evidence that studies present. We do put some trust in experts in fields we aren’t trained in, but again, that trust is generally deserved, especially when it comes to matters of consensus.

    While some ideologues misuse science and misunderstand it, that’s not typically the stance of skeptics. We tend to follow where the scientific evidence leads, not search for evidence that fits our ideology. That’s what religious people and ideologues do.

  43. Will Nitschkeon 17 Dec 2013 at 8:34 pm

    @rezistnzisfutl

    I’m not making an “equivocation fallacy”. I’m pointing out an “equivocation fallacy”. Most religious people doesn’t claim their religious understanding is perfect. Unless you want to indulge in silly caricatures, of course. Or focus on extremists.

    Your idealogical position seems to be that self declared sceptics are smarter than other types of people because other types have ‘religious faith’ whereas “sceptics” do not. Instead, sceptics have faith in “consensus” and so on. Which is a more ideologically sound kind of faith. BTW, “consensus” is a rule of thumb at best. The claim is: if a large group of academics believe X and have believed X for a very long time, then X is likely to be true than not true. But that doesn’t make it true. You’re still engaging in faith, whatever alternate words you come up with.

  44. Will Nitschkeon 17 Dec 2013 at 8:36 pm

    @Hoss

    “Why are you equating axioms with faith? It seems to serve no purpose except for blurring the major distinctions between the two. One is logically necessary, while the other is logically flawed.(One of many differences)
    Don’t make a false comparisons using ambiguous language to camouflage the logical error.”

    There are no axioms in life, only mathematics.

    Aren’t you the one engaging ambiguity? The point I’m making is fairly clear. It’s just not popular to those who feel they are intellectually superior to those they wish to criticise.

  45. Hosson 17 Dec 2013 at 9:28 pm

    “There are no axioms in life, only mathematics.”

    Sounds like you’re not familiar with mathematical axioms.
    http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Axiom

    “Aren’t you the one engaging ambiguity? The point I’m making is fairly clear. It’s just not popular to those who feel they are intellectually superior to those they wish to criticise.”

    How about you stop with the coy personal attacks and actually address the logical arguments being made.

  46. Will Nitschkeon 17 Dec 2013 at 9:43 pm

    @Hoss

    Unless you write something interesting I won’t read your posts. But your posts illustrate the point I’m making. You invoke a magical wand called an “axiom” that can apparently decide complex matters of truthiness. This is to be distinguished from “religious faith”. Because religious people have faith, which is bad. Axioms, are, however, good. Presumably their magic doesn’t work, but your magic does. Of course, it’s all nonsense of the same form. Which was my original point. And BTW, I am critical of people who feel they are intellectually superior to those they criticise but may turn out to be dumber or at least not any smarter. You shouldn’t take that as a personal affront, unless you consider yourself one of those elite superior minds that felt slighted.

  47. rezistnzisfutlon 17 Dec 2013 at 10:05 pm

    Your idealogical position seems to be that self declared sceptics are smarter than other types of people because other types have ‘religious faith’ whereas “sceptics” do not. Instead, sceptics have faith in “consensus” and so on.

    This illustrates my point. For one, we don’t hold an ideological position – we go where the evidence leads, which is pretty much the opposite of ideology. For another, where you are committing the equivocation fallacy is in the claim that a skeptic’s “faith” in science is no different than that of a religious person’s, in that our “faith” is in the consensus, etc..

    As I tried to explain before, the primary difference between religious faith and trust and confidence in science and a scientific consensus is the physical, verifiable, tangible evidence science produces. Furthermore, the proof is in the pudding – science works, and there’s no denying it. Religious faith, on the other hand, is putting faith in something that has no evidence.

    So, the “faith” you attempt to ascribe to skeptics is not the same faith a religious person holds. It’s arguable that “faith” is an appropriate term to use, and one that theists often claim those who place trust and confidence in science use because they want to make it look like science and skepticism are just another form of religion, which belies a fundamental misunderstanding of science. I expect this is done in order to reduce the importance of science and inflate the value of one’s own religious belief.

    I don’t think anyone here is claiming they are smarter than religious people. For one, I used to be religious and I don’t claim to be more intelligent (maybe more educated and experienced, but not more intelligent). There are many religious people who are in the genius category and more intelligent than I am. The difference is that skeptics have learned to utilize critical thinking skills to evaluate factual claims such as the existence of a god.

    Again, I expect it’s claimed that skeptics think they are smarter than others in order to make them appear arrogant and condescending. This is clearly untrue. What is arrogant is proclaiming with certainty the existence of something that has no evidence for existence (in other words, expecting to just take someone’s word for it) and thinking that that position is favorable to an all-powerful, all-knowing deity.

  48. Will Nitschkeon 17 Dec 2013 at 10:20 pm

    @rezistnzisfutl

    You’re missing the point with your by-the-numbers discussion of why amateur skeptics are smarter than other types of people. We appeal to evidence where we have evidence. We appeal to facts, where we have facts. But evidence is subject to interpretation and there are no such things as “brute facts”. Facts require frames of reference.

    Critical thinking skills will not help you answer the question, is there a God? Or was the universe designed? (Although it will help you avoid a lot of silly mistakes.) Because to answer such questions, you need more than logic. You need understanding.

    My general observation is that amateur skeptics are just as dumb as religious people, but dumb about different sorts of things. In fact, let’s generalise that rule to apply it to everyone.

    There is no difference between a believer and an amateur skeptic if one declares the universe was designed and the other declares it wasn’t. But let’s not go over old turf. My original point was that the religious person has religious faith in what he believes, and the amateur skeptic has ‘good’ faith in what scientists tend to believe. But the value of the faith of the believer or the skeptic, is very much determined by the question being asked. If you’re asking the big questions, you’re not on firm ground. And if you think your ground is firmer, that’s an idealogical conviction, not a logical conclusion.

  49. Davdoodleson 18 Dec 2013 at 2:50 am

    @Will: “I’m not making an “equivocation fallacy”. I’m pointing out an “equivocation fallacy”. Most religious people doesn’t claim their religious understanding is perfect.”

    Nor do scientists or scientific skeptics. But that’s not the point.

    Religious folk claim, on no demonstrable evidence, a high level of certainty that whatever ‘god’ their preferred religion worships, exists. As a matter of literal fact.

    Scientists, in contrast, try to tease out from what can be seen, measured and repeatably tested, information about this world that we are in. And they do so in a way that is designed to remove as much ambiguity, wishful thinking and hubris as possible from their humble endeavors.

    Or, to put it another way, science does what religions (and their fellow travelers the CAM industry) refuse to do: test their hypotheses and abandon what is bullshit.
    .

  50. Will Nitschkeon 18 Dec 2013 at 3:35 am

    @Davdoodles

    What has your post got to do with my pointing out that faith is a continuum, not an absolute?

    Like most religious people, amateur skeptics express high degrees of certainty about all sorts of things that are deeply uncertain.

    When Steve wrote -

    “Actually physicists debate whether or not our universe had a beginning. This cannot be taken as an uncontroversial premise. Stephen Hawking argued that our universe may be temporally finite yet unbound, just as it is spacially finite but unbound.”

    He is essentially indulging in gibberish. Our best scientific theories about the origins of the universe suggest a big bang style event. Either you deal with the best evidence or you don’t. Steve wants to indulge in some speculation because he doesn’t want to find anything that the religious person might be asserting as plausible. Notice how easy it is for reason, logic and evidence to get tossed aside?

  51. The Other John Mcon 18 Dec 2013 at 7:49 am

    Indulging in gibberish? Maybe you should take that up with Hawking, Will. Or try looking up what that means, it ain’t gibberish.

    What is an amateur versus a professional skeptic?

    “My original point was that the religious person has religious faith in what he believes, and the amateur skeptic has ‘good’ faith in what scientists tend to believe. But the value of the faith of the believer or the skeptic, is very much determined by the question being asked. If you’re asking the big questions, you’re not on firm ground. And if you think your ground is firmer, that’s an idealogical conviction, not a logical conclusion.”

    So a scientist or skeptic that is making no grand claims but instead calling “bullsh!t”, and pointing out that there is no firm ground for wild unsubstantiated claims, this is an ideological conviction? No, it is the opposite. Your position, as you have described it, sounds more like nihilism than anything else.

  52. The Other John Mcon 18 Dec 2013 at 8:13 am

    This conversation reminds me of an interesting question I read recently (I think it was Sam Harris who posed it):

    How do you convince someone that something is true using logic, reason, and evidence, if that person doesn’t value logic, reason, or evidence? Some people just don’t care, aren’t interested, and/or aren’t swayed in the slightest by these things. Sharing some basic philosophical assumptions seems critical to having a useful conversation or debate. Otherwise we are talking past eachother.

    Will, people have repeatedly pointed out that having “faith” in an invisible sky monster that supposedly created the universe and loves us and doesn’t like gay marriage is different, in every way imaginable, from having “faith” in science. You want to claim faith is a continuum, fine, but in reality the separation is so vast between the two modes of thinking that it is just plain silly to treat them as roughly the same thing, just slightly different in practice.

    Science is two things that go well together: a body of knowledge, and a way of thinking (rationally, critically, logically, etc.). Faith is simply a way of thinking (and much different one), with no accompanying body of knowledge. This is why they are different.

  53. Steven Novellaon 18 Dec 2013 at 8:41 am

    Will – I have never taken the position that skeptics are smarter than religious people. In my writing I consistently advocate for:
    - Neuropsychological humility. Everyone has a flawed brain subject to bias, distorted memory, and misperception.
    - I specifically point out that we are all human – with these same failings
    - What I advocate for is a process (not a belief)
    - That process includes critical thinking, reliance on objective evidence, use of valid logic and philosophy, scientific methods, and balancing independent thought with respect for hard-won scientific consensus.
    - This is a very different process than that which results in religious faith, which is based upon authority and tradition, perhaps revealed knowledge, and subjective experience.

    So – you are starting with a straw man that my regular readers immediately see through.
    You then move on to a false equivalency that entirely misses the scientific skeptical message.

    Put briefly – I am not saying that some people are better than others. I am saying that some methods of seeking knowledge and understanding are better than others (some are valid and some are not).

    Regarding my comment about the universe having a beginning – seriously, read Stephen Hawking if you want an accessible overview. My only point is – this is not an uncontroversial premise. But – even if we take it as a given, the argument is still invalid. Therefore I did not have to point out that the premise cannot be taken for granted. Meanwhile you appear to confidently speculate about my motivations, which really just reveal your own motivated reasoning.

  54. Steven Novellaon 18 Dec 2013 at 11:44 am

    catplanet – I did not want to get into a full discussion of “objective” morality, which is why I linked to my prior extensive discussions of it.

    Craig is playing on ambiguity in the word “objective”. He is saying – OK, we know the holocaust was objectively wrong, and ultimate objective morality can only come from God, therefore God exists.

    But you can derive philosophically “objective” morality from first principles using valid philosophical arguments (as per Massimo). Which makes it as objective as we can get.

    In any case – this does not add up to “God exists.” Craig consistently uses premises that are distorted or cannot be assumed, and makes unjustified leaps of logic.

  55. Bronze Dogon 18 Dec 2013 at 12:46 pm

    Sastra:

    But what we know of “minds” makes it very problematic to first rip them out of the context of our experience, then take away all their history of development and mechanisms for behavior, then remove the context in which they make sense … and finally assume a single one of them is the primary Reality, the very first thing, simple and in need of no explanation and yet capable of doing everything and anything using it’s “mind power” even though it is “transcendent” and outside of space and time. Right. There is so much fail in there it’s hard to know where to start.

    It’s the traditional bio/anthrocentrism. They put a human-like mind as the necessary foundation of the universe for the purpose of creating human minds. The universe and gods thus exist to bring us about. Just like fate intervened to bring Calvin of Calvin & Hobbes’ ancestors together for countless generations to specifically produce him so that he could watch Looney Toons. Aren’t we special?

    Meanwhile, we generally see humanity as an unintended product. I think we’re a really interesting unintended product, but I admit there’s biological, neurological, and cultural biases influencing my perspective. A lot of that comes from the fact that I have the capacity to form a perspective in the first place.

    Regarding Hitchens: I don’t like him, so I’ll preferentially cite or quote other atheists over him. But a cogent argument is a cogent argument, even if it does come from a person some of us have strong political disagreements with.

    Will Nitschke:

    We appeal to evidence where we have evidence. We appeal to facts, where we have facts. But evidence is subject to interpretation and there are no such things as “brute facts”. Facts require frames of reference.

    Like the observable universe, you mean? We perform experiments and measure the results. We form hypotheses and theories that make testable predictions and see which ones most reliably come true. We also use those theories to predict what evidence we expect to find and go looking for it. If the predictions come out wrong, we modify the explanation to fit the experimental results or the new evidence.

    Critical thinking skills will not help you answer the question, is there a God? Or was the universe designed? (Although it will help you avoid a lot of silly mistakes.) Because to answer such questions, you need more than logic. You need understanding.

    This sounds like an appeal to Other Ways of Knowing. As for the question of gods, I’d first start with the question “what is a god?” Without a coherent answer to that question, it’s kind of pointless to ask if one exists. Since there’s no widespread consensus on the definition, it’s reckless to assume I know what’s being proposed when arguing with a random stranger on the internet.

    If you’re asking the big questions, you’re not on firm ground. And if you think your ground is firmer, that’s an idealogical conviction, not a logical conclusion.

    Says who? This assertion itself sounds like ideologically motivated special pleading to me, throwing up arbitrary brick walls against honest inquiry into certain subjects because you find it uncomfortable or inconvenient. I’m sure many of yesterday’s unanswerable “big questions” have their answers taught in grade school today.

  56. rezistnzisfutlon 18 Dec 2013 at 2:24 pm

    Critical thinking skills will not help you answer the question, is there a God? Or was the universe designed? (Although it will help you avoid a lot of silly mistakes.) Because to answer such questions, you need more than logic. You need understanding.

    This is special pleading. You’re right in that critical thinking skills aren’t useful in answering such a question as “is there a god” because there is nothing to critically evaluate. It’s not even philosophically valid because there is nothing to to base a discussion on. The best anyone can hope to do is speculate, because there is nothing else to base anything on when it comes to that question. In other words, it’s unfalsifiable and no conclusion can be drawn.

    The same goes with “was the universe designed?”. Considering that there is no good reason to base any sort of conclusion about an intelligent designer, and all the evidence DOES point to purely naturalistic origins, speculations about a designer are fruitless and unanswerable.

    The fact that everything we do know about the universe is naturalistic, and that there is no evidence of anything outside the natural universe, the honest conclusion is that by far the most likely explanation is a purely naturalistic origin.

    Where critical thinking skill do help us is when factual claims are made. You make a factual claim that the universe was created by your christian god of the bible. We can then critically evaluate that claim. If all you have is your word and the word of some of the authors of an ancient book (all of whom were true believers who began with the same conclusion themselves), then that’s not much to hang your hat on.

    And that’s where we can say that skepticism and critical thinking are superior to faith claims in their utility, because, quite succinctly, it’s foolish to simply accept something based solely on the word of individuals who cannot, or refuse to, back up their claims, especially if those claims are extraordinary in nature.

    What “understanding” are you referring to? One can “understand” what’s written in the bible. One can “understand” scientific concepts like Theory of Relativity or Bernoulli’s Principle. How does understanding increase the probability of a factual claim?

  57. rezistnzisfutlon 18 Dec 2013 at 2:48 pm

    I’ve never heard of an amateur skeptic. A skeptic is a skeptic. If there is a distinction between “amateur” and “professional” skeptics, why would we generalize them?

    You say that there is no difference between a believer who declares the universe was created and an “amateur skeptic” who declares it wasn’t. This is a strawman because a skeptic won’t make such a declaration. What they will say is that there’s no evidence for a created universe so there’s no reason to believe it was created, and every reason to conclude that it had purely naturalistic origins. Since a skeptic isn’t making a gnostic claim, this is false equivalency.

    The reason that skeptics value scientific explanations over religious ones is that the scientific ones are able to provide physical evidence that can be verified and observed for oneself, and the religious person cannot. This is what separates religious faith from “faith” in science as a tool and body of knowledge, and why you continue to commit the equivocation fallacy.

    We can trust that science works and that the body of knowledge has value because we can view the evidence for ourselves. We know science works because it’s responsible for nearly all innovation, technology, and progress. Religion provides none of this.

    Let me spell it out for you:

    A) Religious faith – belief in something in spite of the lack of evidence.

    B) Faith in science – trust and confidence in the tools and knowledge of science because it works, produces tangible results that are repeatable and verifiable, and has actual physical evidence that can be independently examined.

    I don’t like to resort to dictionary definitions, but just to further illustrate my point of equivocation, there are several definitions of the word “faith”, and you are attempting to use one definition of the word “faith” to apply to two different scenarios inappropriately.

    1. confidence or trust in a person or thing: faith in another’s ability.
    2. belief that is not based on proof: He had faith that the hypothesis would be substantiated by fact.
    3. belief in God or in the doctrines or teachings of religion: the firm faith of the Pilgrims.
    4. belief in anything, as a code of ethics, standards of merit, etc.: to be of the same faith with someone concerning honesty.
    5. a system of religious belief: the Christian faith; the Jewish faith.

    -http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/faith

    There are problems with these definitions, but the point should be clear. An equivocation fallacy is such that one inappropriately uses the incorrect definition of a word that has multiple meanings and applies that to a specific outcome, which is what you’re doing. We have faith in science because it works and because of the evidence, you have faith in your religious beliefs because of, well, nothing.

  58. Davdoodleson 18 Dec 2013 at 5:08 pm

    “An equivocation fallacy is such that one inappropriately uses the incorrect definition of a word that has multiple meanings and applies that to a specific outcome, which is what you’re doing. We have faith in science because it works and because of the evidence, you have faith in your religious beliefs because of, well, nothing.”

    Exactly. There is no “continuum” as Will suggests, it is in fact almost the opposite, a dichotomy.

    People trust (or “have faith in”, if we wish to indulge Will’s word games) science because it works. In turn, it works because it uses the scientific method, which requires abandoning dead ends and producing replicable, observable results.

    Religion (and here I generalise and speak only of Bible-centric religions) does none of that whatsoever. It is not a relative of science, just a little further this-way-or-that along a spectrum of thought based on what need be observed and what can be acceptably imputed. It is science’s polar opposite.

    This is hardly controversial. Anyone who knows their Bible (and its surprising how little most christians seem know of it) will be familiar with John 20:24-29. The parable of doubting Thomas (as it is commonly known) is unambiguous – those who believe in god without evidence are superior to those who require evidence.
    .

  59. Will Nitschkeon 18 Dec 2013 at 5:16 pm

    @The Other John Mc

    According to your characterisation you are either a Believer or a Nihilist. That is to say, if you don’t believe (have faith) you must reject everything. Can’t the question simply be left open? The common trait of the Believer is they are deeply uncomfortable with uncertainty. The common trait of the skeptic is to appeal to ‘science’ in order to address that uncertainty; how is that less self delusional for the big philosophical questions?

    The conceit I am pointing to is best illustrated using your own words -

    “..but in reality the separation is so vast between the two modes of thinking that it is just plain silly to treat them as roughly the same thing, just slightly different in practice…”

    That’s not what I wrote, but leaving that aside, the idea that there is a vast gap between ‘Believers’ and (for want of a better word) ‘Knowers’ is no more than swagger. A list of readily quotable logical fallacies tucked under your arm doesn’t make you smarter. Nor do incantation words such as ‘axioms’ or ‘logic’. You may want to believe that the gap between you and the religious (or the general population) is vast, but it’s no more than outrecuidance.

  60. Davdoodleson 18 Dec 2013 at 6:26 pm

    “You may want to believe that the gap between you and the religious (or the general population) is vast, but it’s no more than outrecuidance.”

    Again, as has been stated clearly on a number of occasions, nobody taking issue with your argument is asserting that any person is better, or smarter, or special in any way, than another.

    What is being asserted is that there are two WAYS OF THINKING about the universe, its contents, how it all works, and its causes (if any).

    One way relies, as a starting proposition, on a safe, humble and demonstrable presumption that the human brain is an imperfect object for sorting out what is correct and incorrect. In order to mitigate the impact of inevitable incorrect conclusions, it adopts the scientific method. And it works, by and large.

    The other way starts from an utterly un-supported, proposition that we are special, that we were created for some purpose, by a hitherto-unobserved sentient entity which exists in no hitherto-identified location. It then speculates wildly, and always self-servingly, from that point.

    It is clear where the outrecuidance resides.

    Cool word, by the way :)
    .

  61. Steven Novellaon 18 Dec 2013 at 6:39 pm

    Right – the skeptical position is one of ultimate humility. It is based on doubt.

    The opposite of Belief, by the way, is doubt, not knowing.

    I will quote myself:

    “What do you think science is? There’s nothing magical about science. It is simply a systematic way for carefully and thoroughly observing nature and using consistent logic to evaluate results. Which part of that exactly do you disagree with? Do you disagree with being thorough? Using careful observation? Being systematic? Or using consistent logic?”

  62. ccbowerson 18 Dec 2013 at 6:47 pm

    “That’s not what I wrote, but leaving that aside, the idea that there is a vast gap between ‘Believers’ and (for want of a better word) ‘Knowers’ is no more than swagger.”

    Will – You have repeatedly misrepresenting arguments that others are making by conflating the ways of thinking with categories of people (e.g. confusing arguments against belief and faith with arguments against believers). The reality is that individuals and groups are more complex, and it more meaningful to discuss ways of seeking knowlege that have been shown to work (science and philosophy) versus ways of seeking knowledge that don’t (those that rely on logical fallacies such as authority and tradition).

    You keep going back to labels of groups and then using equivocation to create a false equivalence. After all of your words, I still wonder what meaningful point you are trying to make.

  63. Will Nitschkeon 18 Dec 2013 at 7:11 pm

    @Steven Novella

    “So – you are starting with a straw man that my regular readers immediately see through.
    You then move on to a false equivalency that entirely misses the scientific skeptical message.”

    Your regular followers aren’t upset by me stating a straw man, but because I’m pointing out they aren’t smarter than those individual they think they are smarter than. To claim I’m stating there is a equivalency is, however, an actual straw man, as I stated faith is a continuum not an all or nothing proposition. (I.e., scientific knowledge is “disguised” faith or some nonsense like that.)

    If we want to get nitpickety about straw men I have nowhere stated that all methods of deriving useful knowledge are equivalent. I’m hardly a relativist. What I am pointing out is that there are *NO* methods available to anyone for answering big philosophical questions such as: Is there a beginning to the universe? Was the universe designed? What is consciousness? And so on.

    It’s easy enough to de-construct claims of certainty made by a religious individual but it’s a step too far to replace them with alternatives that are on the same shaky ground. I.e., if Hawking knows the answer then he can show us the maths. If he doesn’t, and he doesn’t, he can speculate in the same vein as the religious absolutest. The second game sounds more sciency, but it’s all just the same sort of conjecture.

    (It’s a nitpickety point, but it’s a fool’s errand to point out flaws in another’s argument by replacing them with your own flawed speculations, because you feel you need to offer a counter explanation that contradicts anything the religious believer might currently claim as true.)

  64. Davdoodleson 18 Dec 2013 at 7:41 pm

    “Your regular followers aren’t upset by me stating a straw man, but because I’m pointing out they aren’t smarter than those individual they think they are smarter than.”

    I don’t think “upset” is the right word.

    It is, however, somewhat jarring to see you repeatedly making a baseless assertion about other writers’ beliefs, despite repeated confirmation that nobody here holds that belief.

    It’s frankly getting a little weird.
    .

  65. ccbowerson 18 Dec 2013 at 7:56 pm

    “To claim I’m stating there is a equivalency is, however, an actual straw man…”

    Later you say:

    “…it’s a step too far to replace them with alternatives that are on the same shaky ground.”

    and

    “The second game sounds more sciency, but it’s all just the same sort of conjecture.”

    Not false equivalence? Yeah. OK.

    You are doing just that and you apprently can’t recognize it. Notice that you use the word ‘same’ both times which is as blatant as it gets. You are also making use of the nirvana fallacy. As if not having the answers to certain questions at a given time implies a fatal flaw in a given process. With some of your questions (e.g. the beginning of the universe) you may be confusing the unanswered with the unanswerable. Unless you have special knowledge with regards to that question, that is a currently unanswered question, but, so what? At various points in the past we hadn’t figured out all sorts of things that we do know now, so to judge based upon the content of our current knowledge is not helpful.

    Looking at the progress obtained with different methods is the way to evaluate the merits of different methods of acquiring knowledge, and that’s where science distinguishes itself

  66. Hosson 18 Dec 2013 at 8:04 pm

    Will

    An experiment(I’m curious how this will turn out)

    “Your regular followers aren’t upset by me stating a straw man, but because I’m pointing out they aren’t smarter than those individual they think they are smarter than.” – Will Nitschke

    -

    “Right – the skeptical position is one of ultimate humility. It is based on doubt.” – Steven Novella

    “Again, as has been stated clearly on a number of occasions, nobody taking issue with your argument is asserting that any person is better, or smarter, or special in any way, than another.” – Davdoodles

    “Put briefly – I am not saying that some people are better than others. I am saying that some methods of seeking knowledge and understanding are better than others (some are valid and some are not).” – Steven Novella

    “Will – I have never taken the position that skeptics are smarter than religious people.” – Steven Novella

    “I don’t think anyone here is claiming they are smarter than religious people. For one, I used to be religious and I don’t claim to be more intelligent (maybe more educated and experienced, but not more intelligent). There are many religious people who are in the genius category and more intelligent than I am. The difference is that skeptics have learned to utilize critical thinking skills to evaluate factual claims such as the existence of a god.” – rezistnzisfutlon

    “Again, I expect it’s claimed that skeptics think they are smarter than others in order to make them appear arrogant and condescending.”- rezistnzisfutlon

    Why keep saying the samething after being contradicted?

  67. Hosson 18 Dec 2013 at 8:29 pm

    Science “Faith”
    Conditional
    Proportions belief to evidence
    Method for self correction based on evidence
    “Speculation” of how the universe works based on evidence

    Religious Faith
    Unconditional
    No evidence/ rejects contradictory evidence
    Method of self correction not based on evidence
    Speculation of how the world is, not based on evidence

    Science “faith” is “speculation” tethered to emperical evidence. Religious faith is pure speculation.

  68. Steven Novellaon 19 Dec 2013 at 7:14 am

    Will – Religious faith and acceptance of science as a valid method are not even on the same spectrum – that is why your position is incorrect. And you keep repeating the “skeptics are smarter” charge – can you support that assertion with any text?

    You are essentially declaring certain questions off limits to scientific inquiry, but you do not justify this.

    Scientists can explore questions such as consciousness and the ultimate origins and fate of our universe. These are not easy, to be sure. But they are absolutely amenable to exploration, and this does not amount to any kind of “faith.”

    Hawking does, in fact, propose a specific mathematical reason for saying that we can model space-time in such a way that the universe is temporally finite but unbound. This still includes a big bang, by the way. My point in bringing this up was to point out that Craig was taking as a premise something he clearly does not understand.

  69. tmac57on 19 Dec 2013 at 10:42 am

    Concerning the idea that there is no way for science to answer the big philosophical questions,I am quite sure that almost every well established thing that we now know about the earth,physics in general,our solar system,space,galaxies,and the universe,were once seemingly ‘unanswerable questions’ as well.
    First century and older civilizations could not have even dreamed of the Hubble telescope,or the Curiosity rover on Mars,or that we would even know that Mars is just another planet like Earth.Assuming that we don’t destroy ourselves first,or descend into widespread belief in myth while abandoning the carefully worked out base of knowledge that science,critical thought,and yes,philosophy have created,I think we have a good chance of unraveling a great many more mysteries,and who knows,maybe even the biggest one of all.But if we stop at God did it,we won’t go anywhere,which is what held back civilization for many centuries.We should once and forever abandon that pre-scientific way of trying to truly understand our world,and leave it to people for them to use as they wish for their own private lives.

  70. Will Nitschkeon 20 Dec 2013 at 12:15 am

    @ Steven Novella

    “Religious faith and acceptance of science as a valid method are not even on the same spectrum…”

    So if you believe a scientific ‘truth’ that is later debunked, replaced, or in some way modified, this is not in the same ballpark as that of the religious believer? The religious believer accepts claim X because he has derived it from an authority he trusts, i.e., a sacred text, religious leader, historical sage, etc. He may have no direct knowledge of the subject but has faith in the pronouncement. This faith may or may not be absolute. (Some later type of exegesis may motive the believer to change his belief, and this can happen more readily than some might expect. A common technique is to decide that something that was previously viewed as literal is now metaphorical.)

    The amateur skeptic accepts claim X because he has derived it from an authority he trusts, a journal article, a report commissioned by government and issued by the Royal Society, or a famous scientist of the past. Or he can appeal to something almost completely worthless, such as ‘consensus’. (Depending on your definition, the accumulated opinions of experts who don’t actually know the solution to a problem or question.) Later, the position turns out to be wrong in part or completely, which tends to happen a lot, at least for currently interesting questions. Nonetheless, the skeptic has held his belief in ‘good’ faith.

    Your claim is that the two scenarios are qualitatively different. However, you are making an assertion, not an argument. What I am pointing out is that both the Believer and the Skeptic hold a certain belief, both in error, and both dependent on the same sort of thing. The Skeptic has better methods (for what they are worth, when it comes to tough problems) and the smarter ones will better qualify that belief. But the skeptic cannot dispense with relying on faith any more than the religious person.

    As for lose ends: I am not asserting that certain questions are off limits to scientific inquiry. If I don’t have a rope, I can’t climb a cliff. I’m not telling people not to try to climb the cliff. But until someone shows up with a rope, nobody is going to get very far. And if you insist on making the attempt, I might get sarcastic.

    Hawking’s proposal is probably not much more informed than yours or mine, or Craig’s. You might prefer philosophising from a physicist rather than a religious believer, but it’s been my observation that some of the dumbest philosophy I’ve read has come from the minds of physicists and mathematicians. Although they have certainly not cornered the market.

  71. Will Nitschkeon 20 Dec 2013 at 5:16 am

    A couple of general comments. It’s probably more productive to read the lines than read between the lines, so to speak. If you don’t understand what I wrote, seek clarification, rather than attack strawmen. These comments I’ve ignored.

    It’s one thing to profess humility, quite another to actually live by that standard. One commenter is “quit sure” that science will answer the big philosophical questions. Based on what…? None have been answered yet. Isn’t that a faith based assertion?

    Let’s not get fixated on who is smarter than who. This is more about hubris than smarts. The commenters here can’t have it both ways. You can’t profess humility while simultaneously refusing to concede that the mind of the skeptic is subject to the same sort of errors made by the religious. Steve described it as the skeptic existing on a different (mental?) ‘spectrum’ to that of the religious. Whatever that may mean. Others have declared that they have ‘axioms’ that protect them from folly, and so on. So the narrative is, “oh yes we are humble so we’re not like the religious who are not humble. We don’t make *their* mistakes. Except of course, I’ve run into far too many skeptics who hold faith based beliefs concerning politics, economics, ecology, the list is rather long. Understanding a few logical fallacies won’t protect you. If you want to believe X, you’re going to believe X, and you’ll fight hard to preserve the plausibility of X. That’s human nature.

  72. BillyJoe7on 20 Dec 2013 at 7:38 am

    Well, Will, I think you should climb down off that pedestal you’ve climbed yourself up on.
    You’re now starting to look distinctly, instead of just faintly, ridiculous.
    Is that an ad hominem? Yes it is.
    Is that an ad hominem fallacy. Nope.

  73. Steven Novellaon 20 Dec 2013 at 9:44 am

    Will – you continue to base your arguments on loosely defining words and shifting definitions as you go. This is a tactic we are all very familiar with. You are deceiving no one but yourself.

    Scientific skepticism is about approaching knowledge with humility and systematic doubt.
    Religious faith is about accepting belief without knowledge or evidence, based upon authority and tradition. It is the opposite of doubt.

    Science has a proven track record. Calling that “faith” in order to make a false analogy to religion is just muddied thinking.

    The very fact that you state, “if you believe a scientific ‘truth’” shows that you do not understand our position or the difference between science and faith.

    Science is not about belief or truth. It is about using valid methods, evaluating the evidence, and arriving at models which account for and predict the evidence. We tentatively accept models that work, with degrees of confidence. Meanwhile scientists look for, even hope for, flaws in the model which point the way to new testable ideas.

    Having confidence in a model that has a proven track record of successful predictions is in no way akin to religious faith, no matter how many times you assert it.

    Similarly, equating modern cosmology and theoretical physics to philosophy does not make it so. And you still completely miss my point. There are still too many unknowns about the origin of the universe to use a definitive “beginning” allegedly from “nothing” as a premise for an argument about God. You have somehow twisted this into me having “faith” in the philosophizing of a physicist. You are drowning in your own narrative

  74. tmac57on 20 Dec 2013 at 11:59 am

    Will,your repeated equivocation between the ways of knowing (and errors in) science versus religion are so blindly off the mark as others here have tried to explain to you,that it is clear that you either do not take on board what we say,or maybe you don’t understand what is being said. Who knows,but it is also clear that you aren’t on the same page with everyone else here. But your line of argument reminded me of this from Issac Azimov in his essay ‘The Relativity of Wrong’:

    The young man then quoted with approval what Socrates had said on learning that the Delphic oracle had proclaimed him the wisest man in Greece. “If I am the wisest man,” said Socrates, “it is because I alone know that I know nothing.” The implication was that I was very foolish because I knew a great deal.
    Alas, none of this was new to me. (There is very little that is new to me; I wish my corresponders would realize this.) This particular thesis was addressed to me a quarter of a century ago by John Campbell, who specialized in irritating me. He also told me that all theories are proven wrong in time.
    My answer to him was, “John, when people thought the Earth was flat, they were wrong. When people thought the Earth was spherical, they were wrong. But if you think that thinking the Earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the Earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together.”
    The basic trouble, you see, is that people think that “right” and “wrong” are absolute; that everything that isn’t perfectly and completely right is totally and equally wrong.
    However, I don’t think that’s so. It seems to me that right and wrong are fuzzy concepts, and I will devote this essay to an explanation of why I think so.

    That is the essence of the piece,but to get the full context you really should read it in it’s entirety:

    http://hermiene.net/essays-trans/relativity_of_wrong.html

  75. Mlemaon 22 Dec 2013 at 5:19 am

    For me, it’s important to differentiate between religion, on the one hand, and on the other hand: the acknowledgement of (or belief in, if you wish) everything that is knowable to humans still remaining a subset of what might or may exist. Science is about continuing to expand what is knowable – therefore a vital part of being human. But we are ourselves always a subset of knowable reality. I’m probably not explaining that well, but it’s the reason why I see no conflict between essential faith and science. It was a Jesuit priest who postulated the big bang. He made no assertions as to its relevance to the existence of God. Nor did he postulate that there was nothing more to learn about the origin of the universe.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georges_Lema%C3%AEtre

    Dr. Novella thinks that faith is an over-rated virtue. Perhaps it is. I don’t know how to know whether it is or not. In Christianity, the bigger sinner is not the one who denies God’s existence, but the one who mischaracterizes God for his own purposes.

  76. Mlemaon 22 Dec 2013 at 5:40 am

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LhtaXzu2kto

    “I don’t know why you always have to be judging me, because I only believe in science…”

  77. BillyJoe7on 22 Dec 2013 at 7:40 am

    Mlema,

    Lemaitre was a wise person, much wiser than his pope, because, of course, now we have the inflationary universe/quantum foam/multiverse which, although not proven, are natural extensions of present cosmological theory which explains what we do know.

    But, you have to be joking, faith and science are in direct conflict in nearly every sense.
    But Essential Faith? What on earth can you mean?
    It’s Christmas and I’m willing to cut a little slack, but that sounds like a deepity to me.

    http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Deepity

  78. Bronze Dogon 22 Dec 2013 at 3:04 pm

    To reinforce the record, no, I don’t think atheists or skeptics are smarter. Being intelligent and using reason are two different things. There are plenty of perfectly intelligent people who construct elaborate, fallacious rationalizations for irrational beliefs. There are also plenty of skeptics of unexceptional intelligence who know how to spot a house of cards and yank out the foundational fallacies. By the same token, being more “educated” or better-read in a subject isn’t a surefire way to be right, either.

    A few months back, I tripped up a theist trying to make a first cause argument because I wanted him to explain what he meant by “necessary,” “contingent,” and such. I think it was an Aristotelian system of causality or something he was working under, and was demanding that my fellow skeptics and I grant him the first link his argument before moving onto the more familiar ground. I wanted him to dumb it down for me since I can’t well grant him something if I don’t know what he’s asking for. What I got was a link to a few definitions that didn’t clear things up followed by anger and confusion when I asked questions testing my interpretation of the definition. I wasn’t playing dumb on that occasion, but in his case, it seemed to me that his education/reading was more indoctrination, preventing him from questioning his premises. He wanted to build up from what he thought was a common foundation, but I was willing to question even that.

    Atheists, skeptics, and scientifically minded people recognize that we’ve all got a lot of irrational baggage and premises waiting to be questioned. We try to remain humbly self-aware so we don’t get stuck in the common pitfalls of self-deception as often. The whole reason we get into debates like this is because that self-awareness can be taught in the form of critical thinking. Many of us are ex-theists who don’t want to see others making the same mistakes we did. We aren’t a superior race, we’re people, both ordinary and exceptional, who’ve learned a particular, useful approach to asking and answering questions. While there’s invariably skeptics and atheists who just like to pat themselves on the back (Every self-identified group of people have those sorts), many of us want to teach critical thought because we sincerely think it will do the world a lot of good.

  79. BillyJoe7on 22 Dec 2013 at 5:06 pm

    Bronze Dog,

    At sixteen I was a theist (devout catholic) and a believer in the paranormal (in particular, levitation).

    Two years later I was an atheist and sceptic, though I wouldn’t have recognised those terms at the time. Knowledge is what changed it for me. Reading outside my area of influence. I have often wondered why knowledgeable people (like WLC, for instance) still cling to faith. The only reasons I can think of is that they were either more deeply indoctrinated and, therefore, remain imprisoned by their past; or their dire life circumstances are such that they have a deep need to believe. Most converts would be in this category. Fear of death and annihilation is probably another explanation. None of these things applied to me and, hence, I was able to escape the clutches of religion and blind faith.

    I have never looked back.

    I would empathise with those who have been so affected, except for the fact that they do not appear to be in need of any help. In fact, most are under the delusion that it’s people like me who need help. Most of the people I know are religious and I have no problem with them. I don’t even mind if they try to convert me. Even the smug ones. Sort of amusing in a way, since I’ve actually been there. But I draw the line at religious people who try to force their views on others (ie via threats or legislation).

    The most amusing thing is when religious people try to rationalise away awkward scientific facts. WLC is a prime example. I suppose you’ve heard his justification for the slaughter of children as depicted in the bible. Crazy stuff. It’s hard to believe that he doesn’t have moments of doubt. No doubt he has trained his mind to stay rigidly on track. Same with the paranormal and people like DC. The rambling word salad and verbal diarrhoea. Surely he must know, on a deep level, that it’s all nonsense.

    “Essential Faith”, though? That’s a new one on me. But I wait with amusement at an explication. (:
    (Sorry, Mlema, I know it’s Christmas, but I can’t help myself)

  80. Will Nitschkeon 22 Dec 2013 at 6:31 pm

    @Steven Novella

    “Will – you continue to base your arguments on loosely defining words and shifting definitions as you go.”

    Unless something interesting is written, this post will most likely conclude my remarks on this topic.

    Steve, the point I’m making is clear. (Vaguely claiming that my reasoning is poor is no more than a lazy style of ad hominem.)

    I’m also making a modest point. Let’s recap because you’re sidestepping it. Professing humility is not the same thing as being humble. There are countless ways the amateur skeptic falls into the same traps as the religious believer. Such as beginning with a conclusion and working backwards to select evidence. Or engaging in logically fallacious modes of thinking for emotive reasons or out of ignorance. Or by interpreting evidence incorrectly. Or by drawing conclusions from insufficient evidence (also called ‘speculating’). And for all kinds of sociological reasons such as group think. The biggest and most common of all is to rely on authority, specially in areas of research that are poorly understood. Skeptics seldom declare, “we don’t know” or “I don’t know”. They choose a consensus position or the most ‘plausible’ theory or hypothesis from a long list, which they hold mentally as ‘true’ until subject to future revision. This doesn’t always happen, but it happens routinely. And as I’ve already pointed out, that’s the same mode of thought employed by the religious believer. And all this, of course, only scratches the surface.

    The mind of the sceptic is not qualitatively different from the mind of the religious. That’s not even a slightly controversial statement to make, because both groups share the same biology and much of the same environment. But a religion is focused not on acquiring new information, but on social stability, cohesion and the mental states of its followers. (It’s actual intention is to resist new information for as along as possible.) But I would speculate that a religion focused on acquiring new information would make the same sorts of discoveries as secular academics. The only differences would be in their manner of theological or philosophical interpretation. Carl Sagan once described the process of scientific discovery as a type of worship. (And no, he didn’t carelessly choose the wrong word. He made that point quite deliberately.)

    And finally, there is nothing written above, especially so in the comments section, that gives me much hope that I might be wrong. The illogic and anger on display, the attempts to pay lip service to ‘higher principles’ while simultaneously dissing them, is better evidence of the point I’m making, than anything I could write on this topic. You know, a true skeptic would have replied, “Will, what a bunch of boring and unremarkable statements you’ve made… The non religious, even and especially skeptics, can fall into the same mental traps? Of course! Science is evolving and a lot of claims of scientific certainty made today will look foolish in the near future. This is something we’ve got to constantly guard against, especially if it comes from within our own ranks.” But no, nothing like that. Instead, lots of mumbling about how the skeptic is incapable of thinking the thoughts of the religious. How the *method* puts one on a different mental “spectrum” to those dumb or poor people who lack the *method*. To borrow a phrase from the Believer, God help us.

  81. JJ Borgmanon 22 Dec 2013 at 10:54 pm

    The logic of god. All you have is a complaint. About method? Your “modest” point? Okay, I’ll say it: you are boring. Heard it.

  82. BillyJoe7on 23 Dec 2013 at 2:38 am

    Oh. Sweet. Jesus.

    But I’m happy to have my impressions of Will Nitschke confirmed.

    He IS boring. Not saying anything worth reading. Just typing words arranged into sentences and paragraphs. Over and over. The same “message”. Boring. Boring. Boring. And he’s incapable of seeing this. Because he’s gotten himself up there on his self appointed pedestal looking down on all of us. But he’s just a little fella playing in the dirt. Not even cute (couldn’t he at least have been cute!). Nope. Pass him by, nothing to see here.

    So, off you go Will…with your pedestal and your feelings of self importance…

    Christmas has to be better than this

  83. Bronze Dogon 24 Dec 2013 at 2:53 pm

    There are countless ways the amateur skeptic falls into the same traps as the religious believer. Such as beginning with a conclusion and working backwards to select evidence. Or engaging in logically fallacious modes of thinking for emotive reasons or out of ignorance. Or by interpreting evidence incorrectly. Or by drawing conclusions from insufficient evidence (also called ‘speculating’). And for all kinds of sociological reasons such as group think. The biggest and most common of all is to rely on authority, specially in areas of research that are poorly understood.

    Where, specifically, has this been done in this thread?

    Skeptics seldom declare, “we don’t know” or “I don’t know”. They choose a consensus position or the most ‘plausible’ theory or hypothesis from a long list, which they hold mentally as ‘true’ until subject to future revision.

    This is just bullshit. I’ve often had to drill the point into theists heads that “I don’t know” is a legitimate answer and not an automatic victory for their god. It’s up to them to convince me that their god answer is true. It’s common in any thread about the origin of the universe, where the typical skeptical position is essentially, “I don’t know, and neither do you.” We do have a set of untested hypotheses we think are plausible because they’re based on the science we know, but no definitive answer. We often bring them up because theists commonly assert implicitly or explicitly that there’s no other possible answer than the one they have.

    The problem for theists is that the gods they conjure up to create the universe are ineffective as explanations. It amounts to “a wizard did it!” No predictions to test. no mechanisms to examine. No avenues to dig deeper. Brick wall. Trekkie question: “How do the Heisenberg compensators in the transporter work?” Answer: “They work just fine, thank you.”

    And what’s wrong with tentatively trusting in a plausible hypothesis that doesn’t affect our everyday lives until the evidence calls for a revision, rejection, or new formulation? That’s rational and open-minded. Gods and their believers, however, typically demand profound effects on our everyday lives that aren’t justified on the available evidence.

  84. pnyikoson 07 Jan 2014 at 10:55 pm

    Yes, Craig overplayed his hand. If he had been more modest he might have achieved a standoff with atheism.

    Take point 1. Many atheists were (and a few still are) upset with the Big Bang theory because it undermined the default assumption of many atheists that our universe has already existed; Hoyle even tried strenuously to defeat Big Bang theory with his Steady State universe.

    After all, most people are uncomfortable with the idea that the universe popped into existence with no explanation of how that could have happened. Hawking first tried one way of getting around it in A Brief History of Time and then in a completely different way with a book he co-authored with Mlodinow, but neither of these ideas has been subjected to peer review. Hawking has become a popularizer of his own pet conjectures like the paleontologist Bakker, and when one finally looks at the heart of his conjectures, there is no attempt to justify them; they are axioms like “because positive and negative energy balance each other, the universe can and does create itself.”

    Even if we do accept the premise that our universe had a beginning, this may simply be embedded in a deeper physical reality, something to do with quantum fluctuations in space-time, or something equally incomprehensible.

    This is Theoretical Physics of the Gaps, one of several atheistic counterparts of God of the Gaps.
    Standoff.

  85. BillyJoe7on 08 Jan 2014 at 12:32 am

    pnyikos,

    I’ve got no idea why an atheist would be more comfortable with a universe that always existed than with a universe that just popped into existence. Or why an atheist would be upset by the Big Bang theory. The BB theory was a triumph of science. How could the universe pop into existence? Well, we’re not sure, but quantum particles flit in and out of existence all the time, so that’s a start.

    On the other hand, there is also Inflationary theory that successfully explains many observable facts about our universe. A natural consequence of Inflationary theory is the multiverse which, in turn, implies that the universe (or multiverse in this case) could have always existed.

    Which is it? We’re not sure at this point in time.

    “This is Theoretical Physics of the Gaps, one of several atheistic counterparts to God of the Gaps”

    Your analogy is false.
    (See above)

  86. rezistnzisfutlon 08 Jan 2014 at 3:20 am

    pnyikos,

    I challenge you to find one atheist, especially here, who is in any way “upset” about the Big Bang Theory. Most of us here are skeptics first and atheists second, meaning that our atheism is a result of our skepticism. What this means is that, as skeptics, we go where the evidence leads, and if the evidence is weak, lacking, or inconclusive, we withhold making any conclusions.

    Big Bang Theory, as well as relational explanations for the beginning of the universe, is based on observable physical phenomena. That’s why we can postulate on other aspects of it, including what may have happened previous to it.

    What we don’t know yet, we state that we don’t know. We don’t have to have an explanation for it. What that does compel us to do is try to find out what happened, but we’re not going to circumvent the requirement for sound evidence and the scientific method. That means we accept the possibility that we may never know.

    The quotation you cite is NOT a “physics of the gaps”, that’s absurd. It’s a mere explanation of what may need to occur in order to further investigate and understand what happened. It isn’t even physics, nor is it an attempt to hypothesize what happened. It seems that you’re misunderstanding the quote.

    Furthermore, cosmology and atheism aren’t the same thing, as you seem to suggest. BBT is NOT an atheistic explanation, it’s a scientific one. Science has no stance on supernatural or religious concepts beyond what it offers as physical evidence. The most science can do is to determine whether religious claims about the physical world are true (such as the Great Flood, or miracles).

    At this point, we have every reason to believe that the universe had a purely naturalistic beginning, and no reason to believe that there is a theism or intelligence behind it. So, the scientific explanations, even the scientific hypotheses and conjectures, are far more likely than religious ones because of this. At least in science we get honest answers free of logical fallacies (see argument from ignorance and begging the question fallacies), namely that, in the absence of evidence, we simply don’t know.

  87. ccbowerson 08 Jan 2014 at 9:29 pm

    “This is Theoretical Physics of the Gaps, one of several atheistic counterparts of God of the Gaps.
    Standoff.”

    You may have found this quote impressive when you typed it, but it really shows a lack of understanding of what makes a “god of the gaps” argument a fallacious one. When there is a ‘gap’ in understanding of something in the natural world, and a person uses that ‘gap’ as evidence for a god’s existence (or as an example of his/her impact on the universe), that is the ‘god of the gaps’ argument.

    This is a fallacious argument because there have always been yet unexplained phenomenon and will likely will always be (yet to be explained, not necessary unexplainable), but it does not follow to conclude ‘therefore, god.’ Using this argument today is as flawed as a person using it 2000 years ago when they saw magnetism.

    To carry this analogy to theoretical physics doesn’t even make sense. So to apply your analogy… Atheists are using a ‘gap’ in the understanding in theoretical physics, as evidence for the existence of theoretical physics? huh?

    No, that is not what they are doing. It doesn’t make sense because your analogy is not apt. Applying science to the gaps is a way to further understanding, which is completely different

  88. pnyikoson 08 Jan 2014 at 9:47 pm

    Yes, BillyJoe7, the Big Bang theory was a triumph of science, as is inflationary theory, but their empirically grounded information has to do about the initial stages of the universe and says nothing about what went before.

    Where do you get the idea that the multiverse is a natural consequence of inflationary theory? Isn’t this just another speculation, like some of the “many worlds” speculations of quantum theorists?

    Empirically established quantum effects take place inside our universe, and depend upon the conditions therein. We can of course speculate that the Big Bang was due to a colossal quantum effect in a multiverse, but that’s the stuff of science fiction at the present time.

    Perhaps what you write has a sounder theoretical underpinning than the words “something to do with quantum fluctuations in space-time, or something equally incomprehensible” but then it no longer deserves the label “Theoretical Physics of the Gaps” like these words I quoted from Novella’s initial post, and to which they referred.

  89. pnyikoson 08 Jan 2014 at 10:03 pm

    ccbowers, let’s not quibble about semantics. You could substitute “Atheism of the Gaps” for “Theoretical Physics of the Gaps” but I prefer to be specific because there are other, similar ways of trying to achieve the same aim.

    The aim is being secure in the old Laplace formula “I had no need of that hypothesis” by putting one’s faith in “something incomprehensible, but physical” as an explanation of our ca. 13by universe popping into existence.

    I’ve used “_____________of the Gaps” labels in other contexts where the ultimate aim is the same. For instance, lots of atheists brush off all difficulties of abiogenesis with forumlas like the following:

    Extrapolator of the Gaps: “Evolution of organisms has been shown to produce amazing things such as ourselves in highly un-random ways. Doubtless, biochemical evolution is capable of such things by a similar process.”

    Exaptor of the Gaps “The ____________[enzyme, structure, system] you are skeptical about was exapted from another, which was exapted from another, …”

    …but no attempt is made, in my experience, to describe the function[s] of the conjectured things that were exapted.

  90. pnyikoson 08 Jan 2014 at 10:39 pm

    I’ll have more to say before long about the three comments I have received so far, but it’s getting late and I want to close today with a look at the second of Craig’s assertions:

    There are three competing explanations of this remarkable fine-tuning: physical necessity, chance, or design. The first two are highly implausible, given the independence of the fundamental constants and quantities from nature’s laws and the desperate maneuvers needed to save the hypothesis of chance. That leaves design as the best explanation.

    He not only overstates the case again, but his wording of the alteratives is too abstract. The three main concrete alternatives are:

    1. Our young [~ 13by] cosmos is all there is or was or ever will be.

    2. There is an infinity of universes, with every conceivable (and every inconceivable but consistent) set of basic constants.

    3. Our universe has a supernatural, enormously intelligent and powerful creator.

    Now, atheists who have no problem whatsoever with a universe popping into existence with no apparent reason might feel quite happy with 1. or see no reason to prefer 2. over 1.

    I on the other hand am of a similar opinion as Martin Rees, the Royal Astronomer of England and a Professor at Cambridge University, who wrote:

    “These six numbers constitute a recipe for a universe. Moreover, the
    outcome is sensitive to their values: if any one of them were to be
    untuned , there would be no stars and no life. Is this tuning just a
    brute fact, a coincidence? Or is it the providence of a benign
    Creator? I take the view that it is neither. An infinity of other
    universes may well exist where the numbers are different.

    “Most would be stillborn or sterile. We could only have emerged (and
    therefore we naturally now find ourselves) in a universe with the
    right combination. This realization offers a radically new
    perspective on our universe, on our place in it, and on the nature of
    physical laws.

    “It is astonishing that an expanding universe, whose starting point is
    so simple that it can specified by just a few numbers, can evolve
    (if these numbers are suitable tuned ) into our intricately
    structured cosmos.”
    http://www.ichthus.info/BigBang/Docs/Just6num.pdf

    To my way of thinking, it is just too staggering a stroke of luck for our young universe to be as in alternative 1, and the choice of 2. over 1. is a no-brainer.

    But what about 3? I think the choice between 2. and 3. is more a matter of personal opinion than something one can confidently assert, either in the theistic direction as Craig does or an atheistic direction. Rees does not confidently assert it in the passage above.

    [By the way, I have deliberately used a wording of Carl Sagan in 1., who used them in the first sentence of his book Cosmos but to give him the benefit of the doubt, I think he was just using it to define the word "cosmos".]

    [Variations on 1. and 2. exist, of course, but only a staggeringly big number, not some piddly little number like Hawking's 10^500 (or is it 2^500? I forget) can really do justice to the ratio of "garbage universes" to just one hospitable to life, IMO.]

  91. Bruceon 09 Jan 2014 at 4:10 am

    pnyikos,

    “You could substitute “Atheism of the Gaps” for “Theoretical Physics of the Gaps” but I prefer to be specific because there are other, similar ways of trying to achieve the same aim.”

    Until we have more information we can only speculate, but it is MUCH more likely something physical created the universe as opposed to something godly. A skeptical athiest does not look at the moment before the big bang and say “It must have been a ‘supernatural, enormously intelligent and powerful creator’.” They look at it and say “This is an interesting gap in our knowledge, we do not understand it yet, but we will not assume anything without sound evidence or theoretical backing.”

    Some skeptics are Thiests and quite comfortable with it, if someone chooses to call what we don’t know god, then I have no quibble with them, but they cannot claim that their arguments are as sound as those who claim there is no god as the evidence for god simply does not exist and is pure conjecture.

  92. pnyikoson 09 Jan 2014 at 5:28 pm

    it is MUCH more likely something physical created the universe as opposed to something godly.

    How do you define “physical”? If you want to avoid an infinite regress, you may need to assume the “something physical” operated under somewhat different physical laws than ours.

    That would be quite reasonable, but if you haven’t a clue as to what those physical laws could conceivably be, you are no better off than those who believe the (physical) houses of the zodiac influence our behavior. Nor can you fully justify the statement which I am quoting above.

    Here is a broad interpretation of “physical” that I think to be the best bet that theism has of being true. Given an infinite number of universes as described in alternative 2. in my preceding post, perhaps there is one in which the physical laws are far more conducive to the evolution of superhuman beings than ours are. Perhaps some superintellilgent and beings that arose naturally have powers that include being able to reach into lesser universes, such as ours, and manipulate the basic constants of the universe while it is still very close to the big bang. Perhaps some could even do it before the big bang, while the universe is still a just a black hole in their far grander universe.

    Would that meet your description of “physical”?

    They look at it and say, “This is an interesting gap in our knowledge, we do not understand it yet, but we will not assume anything without sound evidence or theoretical backing.”

    It will be interesting to see who will turn out to be one of these open minded skeptics. Would you include a Christian who doesn’t assume the existence of a supernatural creator, but merely believes in the existence of one and tries to argue for it?

  93. pnyikoson 09 Jan 2014 at 5:57 pm

    I see I need to be very careful with the spelling of html commands. The last paragraph of my preceding post is due to me, not Bruce. This next is due to rezistnzisfutl:

    I challenge you to find one atheist, especially here, who is in any way “upset” about the Big Bang Theory.”

    “here” includes such a small and perhaps unrepresentative sample of atheists that I think it best just to look at the big outside world.

    Behe has mentioned a number of such people in his Kitzmiller v. Dover testimony. Since I am a bit short on time, I will instead repeat something he wrote elsewhere.

    “For example, in 1989, John Maddox, the editor of Nature … published a very
    peculiar editorial titled “Down with the Big Bang.” He wrote:

    Apart from being philosophically unacceptable, the Big Bang is an over-simple view of how the Universe began, and it is unlikely to survive the decade ahead … Creationists…seeking support for their opinions have ample justification in the Big Bang.

    –M. Behe, “The Modern Intelligent Design Hypothesis,” Philosophia Christi Series 2,
    vol. 3, no. 1 (2001), pp. 165-179, reprinted in Darwinism Under the Microscope,” J.P. Gills
    and T. Woodward eds, Carisma House, 2002, pp. 131-150.
    He gives Nature 2 340 (1989): 425 as the reference for Maddox’s words.

  94. BillyJoe7on 09 Jan 2014 at 9:16 pm

    pnyikos,

    You speak with presumed authority on a subject where you seem to have a few obvious gaps.
    Of course the multiverse is a natural extension of inflationary theory.
    Does the “bubble universe” ring a bell?

    And I said that quantum particles flitting in and out of existence is a start to answering the question of how we can get something from nothing (when “nothing” means no space, no time, no particles). Given quantum theory, we can get space, time, and particles where no space, time, and particles existed before. But we have to explain where “quantum theory” comes from. But that’s only if you have a bias towards “nothing”. Isn’t it possible that “something” is the natural state of affairs, and that it’s “nothing” that needs an explanation. And, then, only if you are postulating that “something” came from “nothing”. If you are postulating an ever existing universe, then there is no “nothing” to explain.

    I agree with you about preferring a multiverse or bubble universe instead of only one, but only if the cosmological constants could, in fact, be any value instead of just one (or a few) values. And, since no one has actually proven that this is the case, then a single universe could turn out to be not so vanishingly improbable. But, his is a choice between a multiverse and a created universe a matter of personal opinion? The “creator” is an unnecessary hypothesis. I hope you can see that. Or an hypothesis on a 400 year failed search for supporting evidence.

    As a minor point, I will point out that infinities are mathematical constructs and do exist in reality. So I would say that, “in a multiverse, the number of universes tends towards infinity” rather than “the multiverse contains an infinite number of universes”.

  95. rezistnzisfutlon 10 Jan 2014 at 12:37 am

    Billyjoe,

    I would go as far as saying that the notion of a “creator” doesn’t even meet the qualifications for hypothesis status. Hypotheses require evidence to form and test against. There simply is no evidence to indicate a creator was in any way involved. There isn’t even a null hypothesis. There isn’t even an abstract math that indicates the presence of a creator.

    One also cannot “logic” a deity into existence like WLC tries to do. Apologists like him operate under the supposition that god exists, and work their way out from there. Of course, this is begging the question which then leads to an argument from ignorance.

    pnyikos, you’re seriously going to cite Behe is a source on atheism? Anyway, for one, you’re conflating the science of cosmology with atheism – they are two mutually exclusive concepts. One does not have to be an atheist to accept cosmology. When the Big Bang Theory was initially proposed, there was a lot of resistance to it by the scientific community until the evidence panned out. That’s how science works. It had nothing to do with atheism. There are still critics of BBT within the physics community. Maybe they strongly object to it. So what? Your analysis is still wrong, and dishonest.

    One of the tactics creationists and other ideologues use is to try to catch people in aha moments. They look for any outliers, and if none exist, will make things up. There is nothing honest about this.

    I would suggest that you consider the difference between a scientist being critical of a piece of science and what an atheist is, as it appears you’re quite confused about it.

    Overall, what you’re failing to grasp is that there is no EVIDENCE that a creator ever existed. You may as well say that a magical dragon created the universe. It’s just making something up. And no, doing so is not on par with the science. What we have in science is backed up by actual physical, verifiable evidence, theories being constructed to explain the evidence. Religion does not. Science doesn’t try to “fill the gaps” like religion does when no evidence is provided, It just says that we don’t know.

    And that’s another problem – since religious people THINK they already know what happens, that tends to stymie investigation. If you think you have the answer, then there’s no need to make further inquiries. Even when science is relatively certain of a conclusion based on evidence, it’s provisional, going under the assumption that new data will eventually be found that may change the science.

    Sorry, but religion is not on par with science, science isn’t the same as religion, and atheism and scientists aren’t one and the same.

  96. pnyikoson 10 Jan 2014 at 10:49 am

    I would go as far as saying that the notion of a “creator” doesn’t even meet the qualifications for hypothesis status. Hypotheses require evidence to form and test against. There simply is no evidence to indicate a creator was in any way involved.

    There is also no evidence that a universe popping into existence has a cause that is amenable to scientific analysis or empirical evidence. The playing field is level, despite some philosophical (not scientific) sleight of hand by Hawking, Mlodinow, and Krauss.

    Science doesn’t try to “fill the gaps” like religion does when no evidence is provided, It just says that we don’t know.

    Science is an abstraction, and doesn’t use the royal “we”. Scientists in real life do not behave in this way where ultimate questions like the cause of our universe is concerned.

    Here is a statement that a blogger made a week ago in a forum indirectly connected with this one, which no one has challenged or even replied to; I’d like to see anyone here try and challenge it.

    “I think that you and I should have a discussion about Lawrence Krauss and his new book. Larry pretends to have shown that the universe arose from “nothing, nothing, nothing–nothing at all” (apologies to Archibald MacLeish). But wait! The “nothing” from which he started is not the nothing of MacLeish, but rather the quantum vacuum. If you have read anything at all about these matters, you would know that the quantum vacuum (i.e., lowest energy state) is, in fact, not the absolute void, the source of the aching question of “why is there something rather than nothing?”, but rather a plenum in which opposites balance. So now, despite the title of Larry’s book, we have “A Universe from a Plenum.” That’s interesting.

    “Another thing that I question is Krauss’s cosmic triangle, which is his proof that space is flat (and therefore that net cosmic energy is zero). Does the current picture of the cosmic background radiation really give us this triangle? Before drawing this conclusion, I think Krauss would have to take sample photographs of the background radiation at distant points in the universe. Since that is not possible now, we have some time to wait.”

    Finally, let me remind people of a statement attributed to Einstein, to the following effect, “The most incomprehensible feature of our universe is that it is comprehensible.” But there is no reason to think that any cause of our universe is similarly comprehensible, and a great stroke of luck that our universe is so simple and orderly that it is comprehensible to the degree that it is.

  97. pnyikoson 10 Jan 2014 at 11:20 am

    You speak with presumed authority on a subject where you seem to have a few obvious gaps. Of course the multiverse is a natural extension of inflationary theory.
    Does the “bubble universe” ring a bell?

    I note the backpedal “a natural extension of” after the presumed authority of “a natural consequence of”.

    Sure, I’ve known about the speculation that bubble universes pinch off a conjectured multiverse for decades now, and that ours arose that way. I even alluded to it in my second post of yesterday, when I talked about conjectural superhuman entities reaching into black holes in that kind of multiverse.

    But I also suggested that this multiverse has physical laws different from ours, and if the multiverse speculation is correct, one of them is that its black holes apparently do not evaporate from quantum effects the way ours do, because our universe doesn’t seem to be mysteriously losing mass.

    That evaporation, by the way, is one of the pieces of science for which Hawking is rightly praised. This was peer reviewed, unlike his popular science books which mix philosophy and baseless axioms with true science. In this he is very much like Stephen Meyer.

    But back to the connection between inflationary theory and the multiverse. To what features of the multiverse do you attribute the start of the inflationary period and its end?

    I agree with you about preferring a multiverse or bubble universe instead of only one, but only if the cosmological constants could, in fact, be any value instead of just one (or a few) values.

    Is there any reason at all for limiting the values cosmological constants assume? Indeed, is there any reason for assuming that a universe must have the cosmological constants ours does? Why can’t there be a universe in which no two stable positively charged particles are exactly of the same mass and charge, unlike our universe in which there are only two masses and one charge [of the proton and the positron]? Then one of the constants of which Martin Rees wrote actually becomes meaningless:

    • The cosmos is so vast because there is one crucially important huge number N in nature,
    equal to 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000.
    This number measures the strength of the
    electrical forces that hold atoms together, divided by the force of gravity between them. If N had
    a few less zeros, only a short-lived miniature universe could exist: no creatures could grow larger
    than insects, and there would be no time for biological evolution.

    http://www.ichthus.info/BigBang/Docs/Just6num.pdf

  98. pnyikoson 10 Jan 2014 at 11:30 am

    pnyikos, you’re seriously going to cite Behe is a source on atheism? Anyway, for one, you’re conflating the science of cosmology with atheism – they are two mutually exclusive concepts.

    Wrong on both counts.

    I’m citing Behe as a source on certain atheists. Unless you can show that his quote is misleading as to the attitude of John Maddox, editor of the prestigious scientific journal, you are indulging in a blatant argumentum ad hominem.

    I never conflated cosmology with atheism, and there is no reason to even suspect that I am trying to do that. You on the other hand seem to be conflating atheism with atheists, and may even be conflating science with scientists–see my other reply to you this morning.

    You need to clean up your act.

  99. Hosson 10 Jan 2014 at 12:31 pm

    pnyikos

    “This is Theoretical Physics of the Gaps, one of several atheistic counterparts of God of the Gaps.”

    You tend to label scientific hypothesis and theories as atheistic when they encroach on your understanding of god.

    I really don’t understand(in the sense that it is completely irrational) your opposition to the scientific inquiry of natural phenomena. You seem to only bash hypothesis and theories that attempt at explaining natural phenomena that you attribute to god.

    http://scienceblogs.com/startswithabang/2013/12/27/ask-ethan-17-the-burden-of-proof/
    This blog posting should help clear up some of the misconceptions you have about the scientific method.

    On a side note, it would be immoral and cruel for any god to punish non-believers when there is no evidence for that god’s existence – especially since non-belief is the only logically justifiable position.

  100. pnyikoson 10 Jan 2014 at 4:57 pm

    You tend to label scientific hypothesis and theories as atheistic.

    No, I tend to label the USE of speculation about the existence of undescribed or grossly under-described physical entities as attempts to create some sort of default assumption of atheism. Here, you conflate this speculation with “scientific hypotheses and theories.”

    I really don’t understand(in the sense that it is completely irrational) your opposition to the scientific inquiry of natural phenomena.

    I really don’t understand the tendency of people here to attribute things to me that I never even hinted at. You in particular seem to be ignoring the very first sentence in my very first post here, the very one from which you have quoted, where I speak of a “standoff.” That is all I have ever argued for here, and you are conflating me with people who have a completely different agenda all through your post.

    This will probably be my last post here until Monday. I think we could all benefit from a long weekend in which to get some perspective on what has been said and what has not been said on this hundred-post webpage.

  101. BillyJoe7on 10 Jan 2014 at 5:02 pm

    Pnyikos,

    I think we need to pin things down, if this discussion is to go any further.

    I will tell you what I think the state of play is regarding “something from nothing” vs “the eternal multiverse”. I would like you to respond to that. Also, you haven’t stated that you are a theist or deist, so I think you should declare yourself at this point. At the very least, you are putting the case for the reasonableness of the god hypothesis. So I would like you to point out where you think gods fit into the picture. Please tell us in a short succinct paragraph what exactly you are trying to say, because I do not have a clear picture of where you are coming from.

    Scientists have demonstrated that a particle can “pop” into existence where there was no particle at all. On it’s own, this is a remarkable fact. Scientists can also trace this universe back to a time and space that is vanishingly small. That is also a remarkable fact. Furthermore, based on quantum and cosmological theories that describe what we observe in this universe, it can be shown how time and space can arise where there was no time and no space. So now we have particles, space, and time where there were no particles, space, and time. We essentially have the theoretical basis for “something from nothing”. You might challenge that this “nothing” is not “nothing” because you need the specific laws of physics of this universe in order to produce this particular universe.

    But, if we have one concrete example of a universe (this one), it does not require any additional concepts to have two universes, or three universes, or even an almost infinite number of universes all arising completely independently of each other. They could all have different laws of physics and we find ourselves in one conducive to the evolution of intelligent life. On the other hand we can hypothesise a multiverse, based on Inflation theory which, itself, grew out of the observable facts of our universe. This multiverse is “natural extension” or a “natural consequence” or the “theoretical working out” of inflation theory (does that cover your concerns?) Our universe is just one of an almost infinite number of universes that comprise the multiverse, all with different laws of physics, only one of which requires laws of physics conducive to intelligent life. This multiverse could have always existed, hence not requiring any “popping” into existence from “absolutely nothing”.

    Finally, there is no logical or philosophical reason why “nothing” is preferred to “something”. In other words, there is no reason why “nothing” should be the default position and, therefore, that “something” requires an explanation as the question “how did something arise from nothing?” implies. The default position could just as reasonably be “something”, in which case it is “nothing” that would require an explanation. Lawrence Krauss, in his book “A Universe from Nothing” shows how we can get a universe from essentially nothing and that, beyond that, the question about what constitutes “nothing” can become meaningless, especially when “nothing” is not necessarily the default position. You may agree or disagree, but it is, I think, an interesting point of view.

    So, pnyikos, where do you see god in this scenario and what is your justification for your god hypothesis. Or if god is merely an assumption, please justify your god assumption. Seems to me that the god hypothesis is false hypothesis (see rezistnzisfutl’s post) and that the god assumption is unnecessary. Ockhams razor and all that.

  102. Bronze Dogon 11 Jan 2014 at 11:51 am

    I’ve never met an atheist who was made uncomfortable with the Big Bang. I think the only reason Creationists assume atheists are uncomfortable with the Big Bang was because they themselves were uncomfortable with the steady state hypothesis that used to be the popular competing hypothesis. Steady state took away a point of creation they could work with. I guess they reason that if the Big Bang has a beginning point, it must make us uncomfortable to have such a point because they think we’re more concerned about their god’s standing than we are about scientific fact.

    Unfortunately for theists, as said earlier, most of us are skeptics first and atheists second. I am not afraid to say I don’t know what, if anything, caused the Big Bang. I’ve heard various ideas floating out there, but they’re treated appropriately as untested hypotheses when I look around. Some of us might be rooting for a favorite when everything else is equal, but we recognize that our wishful thinking isn’t evidence in itself.

    In any case, these cosmological hypotheses are simpler than whipping up a magical man who seems designed to appeal to the wishful thinking of certain humans, rather than explain anything, predict what it will do, or what evidence we will find in the future. Intelligence is a complicated thing and positing a non-human intelligence involves adding new entities without demonstrating why they’re all necessary to explain the phenomenon. So Occam’s Razor shaves it off.

    Additionally, people have been positing magical human-like entities as explanations for centuries, from rain gods who like watching people dance the “right” way, to fairies who arrange mushrooms in circles, to gray aliens who steal left socks from your dryer. This mode of hypothesis generation doesn’t have a good track record. It’s seductive because we have hyperactive agency detection. Sensing predators and detecting plots from our fellow humans keeps us alive. A false positive is generally less dangerous than a false negative, so we’re likely to see agency when there is none. Because that tendency has so often gotten in the way of discovering the cause of natural events, we need a heightened burden of proof before we believe something is the product of intelligence when humans aren’t easily invoked as an explanation.

    On top of all that, one thing I try to point whenever the topic comes up: What do you mean by “god”? It’s a nonsense word to me since I see no consensus except those enforced by bloodshed and discrimination, rather than evidence and logic. I also ask about “supernatural,” “non-physical,” “spiritual,” and other such words. I’m not fond of statements that declare that science can or can’t examine the supernatural or whatever because I consider the assertion incoherent until those terms are defined.

  103. steve12on 11 Jan 2014 at 11:52 am

    Wow. I didn’t think someone could use that many words to show that they don’t understand the concept of God of the Gaps.

    Or at least after word 10,000 you think you would get it.

  104. tmac57on 11 Jan 2014 at 7:37 pm

    Just recently I have been listening to some atheist podcasts that take calls from listeners,and I have noticed a trend concerning the theists that call in. While some are calling in just to have an honest debate,there seems to be more often a kind of sneak attack going on,where they start with one premise that might be marginally reasonable,and then suddenly shift the goal posts in a dishonest way,and of course,they always get caught out,because the hosts are all too familiar with those sneaky arguments.
    But the thing that does not seem to register with the ones trying to use those tactics,is that they are undermining their own cause,by showing that an honest debate can’t succeed,so they must fallback on being cagey and intellectually dishonest,which I’m sure there must be some biblical passage that probably would prohibit such. ;)

  105. ccbowerson 12 Jan 2014 at 11:41 am

    “I didn’t think someone could use that many words to show that they don’t understand the concept of God of the Gaps.”
    steve12

    When I pointed out this out several days ago, his response was:

    “ccbowers, let’s not quibble about semantics”

    Semantics = meaning of his statements. In other words, let’s not argue about the content of his argument, which demonstrated his lack of understanding, but let’s continue arguing anyways.

    No thanks

  106. Davdoodleson 12 Jan 2014 at 9:03 pm

    Holy jumping jeepers, you folk have more patience than biblical patience-exhibitor Job.

    Wordy or not, sophisticated-sounding or not, piffle is still piffle.

    #ccbowers: “Semantics = meaning of his statements. In other words, let’s not argue about the content of his argument, which demonstrated his lack of understanding, but let’s continue arguing anyways.”

    #BillyJoe7: “At the very least, you are putting the case for the reasonableness of the god hypothesis. So I would like you to point out where you think gods fit into the picture. Please tell us in a short succinct paragraph what exactly you are trying to say, because I do not have a clear picture of where you are coming from.”

    Precisely. Unless and until the poster supplies suitably unqualified definition of what s/he is actually asserting, and sticks to those definitions, sensible argument is useless.

    However, as always (and I do mean always), clarity will not be forthcoming. Theistic argument does not, indeed cannot, survive the bright light of day and a stationary set of goalposts.

    And theists know it.
    .

  107. Bruceon 13 Jan 2014 at 3:53 am

    “Holy jumping jeepers, you folk have more patience than biblical patience-exhibitor Job.”

    Yup!

    To me just about everything he said was “just sayin’!”

  108. pnyikoson 13 Jan 2014 at 1:41 pm

    Wow. I didn’t think someone could use that many words to show that they don’t understand the concept of God of the Gaps.

    You mistook my intent, steve12, but I guess it’s my fault for trying to humor ccbowers in his extremely narrow definition of “god of the gaps.”

    Or at least after word 10,000 you think you would get it.

    Is this supposed to be a humorous exaggeration of the number of words I used in reply to ccbowers?

    Or is it supposed to be a description of the 0 (ZERO) words I’ve read on the definition ccbowers used before I actually read his words? I can’t even recall seeing, before that, the word string “god of the gaps” with the word “fallacy” tacked on at the end.

    In other forums dominated by atheists/skeptics, a much broader usage of “god of the gaps”, usually synonymous with the derisive comment, “goddidit”, is in general use. It works this way: a theist (usually a creationist) says or suggests that the best explanation for this or that fact is intelligent design, and this comment is given the label “goddidit” or “god of the gaps.” You can read an especially blatant example of that here:

    https://groups.google.com/forum/#!original/talk.origins/K-dwYLIcXSw/tQtJ8yYoyToJ

    In this example, the target of this labeling, Dembski, did not try to claim this or that problem with evolutionary theory was evidence of a god’s existence. At most, he was hinting that the feature in question was probably due to intelligent design, and not natural processes.

    Privately, he probably believed that the intelligent designer was the Christian God in which he believes, but that is not part of the methodology of ID.

  109. ccbowerson 13 Jan 2014 at 2:26 pm

    “I guess it’s my fault for trying to humor ccbowers in his extremely narrow definition of ‘god of the gaps.’ ”

    I see… so you misuse a term. I explain what that term means and what it implies in your analogy, and your conclusion is that I am using a ‘narrow’ definition, because it doesn’t include your incorrect use of the term. Yes, definitions should be sufficiently narrow to not be incorrect. Sorry for that constraint.

    Sarcasm aside, this is important if we are to have meaningful discussions. If your use of the term is different than the understood meaning by others, we are discussing a misunderstanding. We have enough obstacles for communication, such that we should at least avoid that one.

  110. Hosson 13 Jan 2014 at 2:32 pm

    “God of the gaps is a type of theological perspective in which gaps in scientific knowledge are taken to be evidence or proof of God’s existence. The term was invented by Christian theologians not to discredit theism but rather to point out the fallacy of relying on teleological arguments for God’s existence.[1] Some use the phrase to refer to a form of the argument from ignorance fallacy.”
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/God_of_the_gaps

    “Argument from ignorance (Latin: argumentum ad ignorantiam), also known as appeal to ignorance (in which ignorance stands for “lack of evidence to the contrary”), is a fallacy in informal logic. It asserts that a proposition is true because it has not yet been proven false (or vice versa). This represents a type of false dichotomy in that it excludes a third option, which is that there is insufficient investigation and therefore insufficient information to prove the proposition satisfactorily to be either true or false. Nor does it allow the admission that the choices may in fact not be two (true or false), but may be as many as four, (1) true, (2) false, (3) unknown between true or false, and (4) being unknowable (among the first three).[2] In debates, appeals to ignorance are sometimes used to shift the burden of proof.”
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argument_from_ignorance

    Maybe now that you know the definition of these words, you’ll now have the ability to see how the best arguments for the existence of god contain these fallacies. But in the very least, I hope this helps clear up a slight communication problem with you’re having.

    You still need to respond to billyjoe to clear up the confusion your ambiguity has caused – mainly because I’m working under the assumption that you are a theist, and I’m unsure if I’m right or wrong.

  111. pnyikoson 13 Jan 2014 at 4:13 pm

    Also, you haven’t stated that you are a theist or deist, so I think you should declare yourself at this point. At the very least, you are putting the case for the reasonableness of the god hypothesis.

    I stand for an agnostic world-view, as opposed to the extreme skepticism of theism shown by most people here, and the extreme skepticism of atheism shown by the likes of William Lane Craig.

    My personal beliefs have gone through many (and, since the age of 19, very great) oscillations, ranging from Christianity (usually Roman Catholicism) to what many would here call atheism.

    Seems to me that the god hypothesis is false hypothesis (see rezistnzisfutl’s post)

    HIs posts are a perfect example of the extreme skepticism of which I speak. He simply alleges that there is “no evidence” for a creator. While you were a Roman Catholic, did you not learn that for anyone but a martyr to be declared a saint in the last two centuries, at least one miracle attributed to the “intercession” of that person needs to be verified? Most such alleged miracles are cures, such as the one attributed to the intercession of John Paul II that is being used to declare him a saint. It was investigated by medical and legal panels which, in every such case of canonization, have to pronounce the cures “inexplicable by modern medical knowledge.”

    Now, we can make all kinds of objections to these “findings”, and I’ve done that many times with respect to alleged miracles, but to arbitrarily decree that there is “no evidence” is an example of extreme skepticism.

    Have you read I Corinthians 15 recently, by the way? Do you think it is a forgery written after the death of Saul of Tarsus, a.k.a. St. Paul? Or an example of what a con artist he was? The way it reads, he is staking the entire reputation of “The Way,” as it was then called, on the resurrection of Jesus.

  112. pnyikoson 13 Jan 2014 at 4:42 pm

    “God of the gaps is a type of theological perspective in which gaps in scientific knowledge are taken to be evidence or proof of God’s existence. The term was invented by Christian theologians not to discredit theism but rather to point out the fallacy of relying on teleological arguments for God’s existence.[1] Some use the phrase to refer to a form of the argument from ignorance fallacy.”
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/God_of_the_gaps

    You are only giving ONE of the uses of “God of the Gaps,” and the entry goes on to give others, including statements that agree perfectly with the usages I have been familiar with heretofore.

    And it’s not really justified, either: [1] just takes me to an encyclopedia title without identifying a single alleged Christian theologian, let alone how it was argued that relying on what are labeled “teleological arguments” are across-the-board fallacious.

    Paul Tillich, for example, is often erroneously referred to as a “Christian theologian” but he was a knee-jerk materialist and atheist who redefined God as “whatever one takes seriously, without reservation.”

    The Wiki entry cites a book by Dawkins, but gives no quotes or page numbers nor even the title of the chapter
    involved. This book is “The God Delusion” and on p. 125 Dawkins writes: ” Creationists eagerly seek a gap in present-day knowledge or understanding. If an apparent gap is found, it is assumed that God, by default, must fill it.”

    This is exactly how “God of the Gaps” was usually used in all the other forums, and all the books in which I have seen it–”goddidit”.

    But like I said–let’s not quibble about semantics. I’m willing to adopt, for purposes of this blog, the definition which a handful of participants here insist on being the only correct one.

    But note this: ccbowers accused me of is what he was actually doing–using a definition to avoid dealing with the issues I raise:

    In other words, let’s not argue about the content of his argument, which demonstrated his lack of understanding, but let’s continue arguing anyways.

    Is “which demonstrated his lack of understanding,” supposed to refer to some substantive issue, or is it a case of begging the question as to there being only ONE correct usage of “god of the gaps”?

  113. Davdoodleson 13 Jan 2014 at 4:55 pm

    “HIs posts are a perfect example of the extreme skepticism of which I speak. He simply alleges that there is “no evidence” for a creator.”

    So a perfectly sensible position, based on the available evidence, is “extreme” in your view?

    You mentioned purported “miracles”, presumably in support of an argument that there is evidence for the existence of god.

    Given that these wonder-works are said to be “inexplicable by modern medical knowledge”, can you:

    (i) explain why no purported miracle has ever caused the scientific consensus to conclude that anything scientifically interesting, let alone a supernatural entity or effect, was involved?
    (ii) explain how (even accepting your test of “inexplicability”), a simple lack of current medical knowledge is evidence that the supernatural was involved?
    (iii) explain the effect of the recent relapse of the allegedly miraculously cured nun, Sister Marie Simon-Pierre, on the credibility of the “medical and legal panels” involved in the beatification of Pope John Paul?
    .

  114. pnyikoson 13 Jan 2014 at 10:58 pm

    BillyJoe7, you write:

    On the other hand we can hypothesise a multiverse, based on Inflation theory which, itself, grew out of the observable facts of our universe. This multiverse is “natural extension” or a “natural consequence” or the “theoretical working out” of inflation theory (does that cover your concerns?)

    No, because you are saying three different things, and you haven’t backed any of them up. In fact, you haven’t even answered my question about what features of the multiverse are supposed to account for the beginning of the (hyper)inflationary period, and which the end.

    This weekend, following my own advice, I looked through all the posts made here so far, and when I got to yours, I decided it was up to me to make sense of the multiverse/inflation theory connection. So I did some intensive reading, and this is the picture that emerged.

    As I understand it, the most popular theory of (hyper)inflation is that “the visible universe” is only a minuscule (and getting exponentially more minuscule) fraction of our whole universe, called by some (including yourself) “the multiverse” and by others, more precisely, “a Level 1 multiverse”. This “multiverse” had its beginnings in what may still be called the Big Bang (even though it does not conform to what inflation theorists now call “the Big Bang theory”).

    In the first 10^-43 or so second, this multiverse was in the form of a “false vacuum”, a state emormously and potentially infinitely productive of matter and energy, and unstable enough so that matter/energy started being produced almost immediately. The energy in turn caused this minuscule universe to expand exponentially, and one part of it settled down after a few million years to constitute our more leisurely expanding “visible universe”. It almost surely was NOT the first such part to settle down, and there will be infinitely many more to come, produced at an exponentially increasing rate.

    Our universe is just one of an almost infinite number of universes that comprise the multiverse, all with different laws of physics, only one of which requires laws of physics conducive to intelligent life.

    Funny, earlier you were suggesting that there might be only a few different values of the basic constants of any universe. I’ve seen many other atheists voice this speculation to counter any claim that our little “visible universe” cannot be the only one [as I said, it just seems to be too staggering a stroke of luck that the only universe is so conducive to life].

    And indeed, even if our visible universe is only one of a colossal number of “island universes” [1] in a Level 1 multiverse as described above, there seems to be little reason for there to be more than a limited number of different ways the basic constituents of matter and energy can condense out of pieces of the “false vacuum”. Hawking and Mlodinow only opt for ca. 10^500 because they say that this is the number of distinct solutions to the Feynman equations.

    [1] The term “island universe” is an obsolete synonym for “galaxy.” I like the idea of changing its meaning to “a coherent piece of our universe such as what is called `our visible universe,’ that is at present disconnected from any similar pieces that may exist.”

    I prefer “island universe” to the prosaic “Hubble volume” and prefer to reserve the term “bubble universe” to mean something “birthed” by a “fecund universe” such as I described when you first brought up bubble universes:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fecund_universes#Fecund_universes

    Fecund universes are a kind of Level 2 multiiverse. For more about the “Level n” terminology see:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multiverse

    The following book is supposed to give a thorough description of the various multiverse concepts:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Hidden_Reality:_Parallel_Universes_and_the_Deep_Laws_of_the_Cosmos

    When I gave the three main alternatives in connection with fine-tuning, I was talking about what is called “the Level 4 multiverse,” or “the ultimate multiverse”. (” The ultimate multiverse contains every mathematically possible universe under different laws of physics.”)

  115. rezistnzisfutlon 14 Jan 2014 at 2:13 am

    pnykos,

    When I mentioned “no evidence”, this goes to the heart of skepticism (incidentally, there is no such thing as “extreme skepticism” – there is either skepticism, or no skepticism, it’s not some spectrum like a political stance or ideology like you seem to regard it. Skepticism is a tool and process of thinking that helps evaluate claims and eliminates bias and logical fallacies. One of the primary misunderstandings of pretty much all of your posts is what skepticism is in the first place, which after all of the attempts to explain it to you, is bordering on denialism rather than mere misunderstanding).

    For instance, you use miracles of examples of “evidence” that people have given over the years, in terms of vetting individuals throughout history for sainthood that supposedly performed at least one miracle that somehow defies modern science. This is not evidence, but belief. For one, there is no way to actually corroborate whether the event took place, much less whether the event was truly a miracle (what is the definition of a miracle in the first place?). Miracles, by definition, would defy scientific explanation, but the rub is that there is no evidence for the miracle in the first place.

    See, you seem to put a lot of stock in what believers have claimed in the past and present. To a a skeptic, this does not qualify as evidence. That’s why I, and others, dismiss most theistic claims of divinity, miracles, and the supernatural and historical claims listed in the bible (and other religious texts) because none of them withstand rigorous scrutiny. The bible cannot be relied upon by itself as evidence, nor can third-hand accounts recorded in antiquity that cannot be corroborated by any other means, whether via independent contemporary accounts (which is also unreliable) or any sort of physical evidence.

    In other words, there is nothing to hand one’s hat on when it comes to theistic claims. So, my “extreme skepticism” point stands in that there is no evidence for theistic claims. Claims by themselves do not constitute evidence.

  116. rezistnzisfutlon 14 Jan 2014 at 2:48 am

    “Extreme skepticism” is, in effect, a claim for special pleading. Apologists don’t want to have the same scrutiny, burden of proof, and standards of evidence, as these things weaken their claims. It also helps to create strawmen about skeptics and skepticism, that it is little more than another religion or ideology, so that theistic claims are given more weight than they’re due, something akin to false equivalence similar to “teaching the controversy”. We’re also seeing this now with the false equivalence of “god of the gaps” and “science of the gaps”, which doesn’t make any sense really.

    The problem with nearly all religious apologists is their inherent intellectual dishonesty. They try to leverage science in such a way that seemingly supports their theistic claims, doing the same with logic and even philosophy, but in doing so only end up mangling these things out of recognition. There simply is no way of reconciling their faith and beliefs with logic, reason, and science, not until they can come up with actual physical, verifiable evidence.

    The only honest position a theist can hold is that their beliefs are entirely based on faith, and that there is no way they can prove to anybody what they believe is actually true.

  117. BillyJoe7on 14 Jan 2014 at 5:07 am

    pnyikos,

    I’m glad you’re now up to date on multiverses. But my brief outline is sufficient, I think, to make the point that there is no need for god hypotheses. I think you must agree because, despite my clear invitation, you passed on showing me where we might find the influence of any god.

    You say you have an agnostic world view, but you did not explain what you meant by an agnostic world view or how you justify holding such a view. You talk about the extremes of the sceptical world view of certain posters here and the extremes of the religious world view of people such as WLC, so I suppose you feel you occupy the superior middle ground. But what reasons do you have for occupying the middle ground?

    In a sense, it is scepticism (belief commensurate with the evidence) that occupies the superior middle ground between the extreme of faith (believing without evidence) and the extreme of cynicism (disbelieving without evidence). But, in fact, scepticism is so superior to both that it is not even on the continuum. Surely you agree. Go where the evidence leads.

    So I would like to know…
    - what do you mean by your agnostic world view?
    - how do you justify it?
    - where is the evidence for the influences of gods in cosmology?

  118. Mlemaon 14 Jan 2014 at 5:59 am

    BillyJoe,

    agnosticism means you don’t know. The justification is: there is no way to know.
    To me, it’s the only rational response to the God question.

    “where is the evidence for the influences of gods in cosmology?”

    What kind of evidence would you accept as influence of a god?

  119. rezistnzisfutlon 14 Jan 2014 at 6:16 am

    What kind of evidence would you accept as influence of a god?

    That’s actually a good question, and for myself the answer is, I’m not sure. What I do think is, if it’s a god worthy of being a god, he/she/it would know what it would take to convince me it’s a god. If there was any evidence of an intelligence behind creation, it would A) have to be extraordinary, and B) not be just advanced aliens that are every bit as naturalistic as we are (of course, that goes to what the definition of “god” is to a person. However, as unlikely as it may be that superadvanced aliens created things, the notion of an an omniscient, omnipotent, loving creator of the universe is far more unlikely, and even moreso that it’s the god of a specific religion).

    Most skeptical atheists are also agnostic. While it’s intellectually dishonest to claim with 100% certainty there is no god, atheists don’t believe because of the extreme unlikelihood of such a being, especially considering there is currently no evidence for one. Atheism and agnosticism aren’t mutually exclusive.

  120. rezistnzisfutlon 14 Jan 2014 at 6:26 am

    Billyjoe,

    In a sense, it is scepticism (belief commensurate with the evidence) that occupies the superior middle ground between the extreme of faith (believing without evidence) and the extreme of cynicism (disbelieving without evidence)

    I’m not sure how “disbelieving without evidence” constitutes an extreme. Why would anyone believe something, especially something highly extraordinary and unlikely, without evidence? Belief isn’t a knowledge claim, it’s an expression of credulity (or lack thereof). Perhaps you mean gnosticism?

    You state that skepticism is “belief commensurate with the evidence”. If there is no evidence for a claim, especially for a highly improbable claim that would defy what we do know, wouldn’t it be the skeptical position to not believe?

  121. pnyikoson 14 Jan 2014 at 8:11 am

    Bronze Dog, as you may know from my long post on multiverses last night, the same thing applies to “multiverse” as you said about “god”:

    On top of all that, one thing I try to point whenever the topic comes up: What do you mean by “god”? It’s a nonsense word to me since I see no consensus except those enforced by bloodshed and discrimination, rather than evidence and logic. I also ask about “supernatural,” “non-physical,” “spiritual,” and other such words. I’m not fond of statements that declare that science can or can’t examine the supernatural or whatever because I consider the assertion incoherent until those terms are defined.

    People do shift around a lot as to the meanings of these things, but as long as it is acknowledged that they have multiple meanings, clarity can come fairly easily. BillyJoe, for instance, said one thing about “the multiverse” that is appropriate to the Level 4 multiverse, “the ultimate multiverse” while his earlier claim that “the multiverse” is something that follows naturally from inflation theory refers only to a Level 1 multiverse, the one in which our visible universe is what I call an “island universe.”

    Perhaps, for purposes of clarity, we could (temporarily at any rate) use “god” to mean “a designer of our universe or at least a part of it, and not subject to the physical laws of our visible universe.”

    Would you like to propose a working definition of “multiverse” that we can use?

  122. ccbowerson 14 Jan 2014 at 8:25 am

    “If there is no evidence for a claim, especially for a highly improbable claim that would defy what we do know, wouldn’t it be the skeptical position to not believe?”

    rezistnzisfutl- I think we are misunderstanding eachother due to language. When BJ says disbelieving without evidence, I took him to mean something like: ‘disbelieve without consulting the evidence,’ as opposed to ‘ not believing because of a lack of evidence.’

    pnyikos- You seem to be making an argument to moderation, but only have vague references to extremism. Who here is making extreme statements (be specific), and what specifically is wrong with those statements? Without specifics, they come across as a method to argue a false equivalence between a theistic position and some vague ‘extreme’ atheism that no one here is taking. What is this latter category (however you want to describe it), and who is promoting that view here, as you assert?

  123. rezistnzisfutlon 14 Jan 2014 at 8:30 am

    ccbowers,

    Ah, yes, that is a good point and likely what he meant. Thanks for the clarification, I was a little puzzled about that coming from BJ. In that case, I fully agree.

  124. rezistnzisfutlon 14 Jan 2014 at 8:57 am

    Perhaps, for purposes of clarity, we could (temporarily at any rate) use “god” to mean “a designer of our universe or at least a part of it, and not subject to the physical laws of our visible universe.”

    Thanks for including a definition for this discussion, assuming others are willing to use it as well. I’d like to briefly examine that statement.

    What I’ve been getting at all along is that, due to a lack of evidence, there simply is no reason to conclude, or even hypothesize, that there is a designer of the universe. While anyone with intellectual honesty will admit that it’s POSSIBLE, the likelihood of it is remote due to the extraordinariness of the claim. Positing such a possibility is little more than a motivated reasoning or a gross misinterpretation of what data we do have (ie, fine-tuning, irreducible complexity, or any number of ID arguments that have been long debunked). What I find disingenuous about these arguments is that they’re thinly veiled attempts to put a foot in the door in order to insert a religious belief. But, we haven’t gotten that far yet because you have yet to demonstrate the viability of a creator hypothesis.

    Then there is a matter of this being not being subject to the physical laws of the universe, which places this being squarely in the realm of the supernatural and metaphysics, and is definitely an extraordinary claim. This is definitely outside of science because one cannot test something that isn’t physical. In other words, it’s an untestable conclusion. Also, how can one possibly conclude that there is such a being when it’s something that exists outside of our universe? It would be like proclaiming the existence of an invisible, inaudible, odorless, incorporeal dinosaur living in someone’s back yard – how can one possibly know it’s there if they cannot sense it?

    This is why skeptics tend to reject religious claims, especially those that make factual claims about the physical universe that are testable (ie, creation of the universe, the great flood, walking on water, faith healing, miracles, etc). Skeptics tend to accept science because there is actual physical evidence they can view for themselves.

    To clarify, when I use the word “evidence”, I preclude weak evidence people present that does not withstand scrutiny. Technically, they are presenting evidence, but since skeptics adhere to certain standards of evidence, they are rejected as not actually being evidence.

  125. pnyikoson 14 Jan 2014 at 12:30 pm

    BillyJoe, the tone of your last post gives the impression of one serenely above the fray. Could it be that you are the acknowledged “first among equals” in this little band of merry men [and women?]?

    But my brief outline is sufficient, I think, to make the point that there is no need for god hypotheses. I think you must agree because, despite my clear invitation, you passed on showing me where we might find the influence of any god.

    I agree that there is no need for the god hypothesis in the presence of numerous alternative multiverse hypotheses. But there is a need for one or more such hypotheses, in the light of what I’ve written about:

    Alternative 1. Our young [~ 13by] cosmos is all there is or was or ever will be.

    “cosmos” could either refer to “our visible universe” or “the Level 1 multiverse with a very modest number
    of different “island universes” of which one is our visible universe and with the relatively few different sets of physical constants postulated by Hawking realized by its set of island universes.”

    Either way, the fact that such a modest entity should be so favorable to life would be a unbelievable stroke of
    luck if it really is the whole of existing reality. Alternative 2 beats it hands down:

    Alternative 2. There is an infinity of universes, with every conceivable (and every inconceivable but consistent) set of basic constants.

    Even the following beats Alternative 1 hollow, if by “supernatural” one means “not subject to the physical laws of our island universe.”

    Alternative 3-. Our universe has a supernatural, enormously intelligent and powerful designer..

    [I've substituted "designer" for "creator" because it seems a stretch to think that a superhuman being arising naturally in a Level 2 (or higher) multiverse could wave a universe into existence *de novo*; and, as I said, that is the best hope theism has of being true.]

  126. pnyikoson 14 Jan 2014 at 12:52 pm

    When I mentioned “no evidence”, this goes to the heart of skepticism (incidentally, there is no such thing as “extreme skepticism” – there is either skepticism, or no skepticism, it’s not some spectrum like a political stance or ideology like you seem to regard it.

    By “extreme skepticism” I mean skepticism that causes people to resort to dirty tactics in order to push their own brand of skepticism. One of many dirty tactics is labeling others “theists” or “creationists” because they express themselves in an unfamiliar manner; for example, they do not share the extreme skeptic’s opinion that there is “no evidence” for the existence of anything not subject to the physical laws of our cosmos. [See my reply a few minutes ago to Billy Joe on the word "cosmos".]

    In my long experience arguing with extreme skeptics I have described a number of dirty tactics which do not fall into the usual lists of “logical fallacies.” Here are two of the more common ones:

    (I) The Phantom Error Correction Scam

    This consists of lecturing someone as though one were correcting an error of
    the one being lectured. Often accompanied by unsupported
    assertions like “________ clearly doesn’t understand that…”
    or “__________ is obviously ignorant of the fact that…”.
    Often, the lecture is on a brand new theme that had never
    been mentioned before by the person being lectured to.

    Sometimes, however, the lecture is designed to create a
    false impression in the minds of the readers
    (including both lurkers and participants),
    that one is referring to things that had happened earlier,
    perhaps on other threads, and that one is only seeing
    a tip of an iceberg. But in fact, the reader has missed
    nothing by “coming in late”.

    (II) The Pre-emptive Peremptory Ploy

    This can be a one-shot thing or it can be
    frequently employed for a long time until the payoff comes.

    The preliminary step(s) consist[s] of making a carefully chosen,
    unsupported (and usually unsupportable) accusation about a person–
    call him/her X– of which the accuser (or someone the accused is in
    good with) is, or is expected to be, grossly guilty.

    The payoff comes when the grossly guilty party earns the accusation,
    Person X points it out, and then the guilty party or an ally claims that Person X is
    indulging in a Pee Wee Hermanism, or projecting, or hitting some high
    score on “the irony meter”.

  127. Hosson 14 Jan 2014 at 1:06 pm

    pnyikos

    “I stand for an agnostic world-view, as opposed to the extreme skepticism of theism shown by most people here, and the extreme skepticism of atheism shown by the likes of William Lane Craig.
    My personal beliefs have gone through many (and, since the age of 19, very great) oscillations, ranging from Christianity (usually Roman Catholicism) to what many would here call atheism.”

    I don’t understand what you mean when you say you stand for an agnostic world-view. Are you saying the universe is unknowable(which i partly agree with) or are you meaning you’re agnostic about the existence of god(which I agree with)?

    To clarify my own position, I’m an agnostic atheist because of the non-existent empirical evidence, of my examination of religious claims(I find them highly improbable and contradictory, even within a single religion), and for political and societal reasons. I hate having to declare a label for something I don’t believe in, but within the theistic society I live, I find doing so is an obligation to help others because of the societal bias against non-believers. My anti-theistic stance is the result of wanting to help others and to stop ideologies that spread of factually incorrect beliefs and fallacious reasoning. I try to accomplish this mostly by engaging others in conversation and introducing them to skeptical reasoning, which I find much more effective than just having conversations about theism.

    “Now, we can make all kinds of objections to these “findings”, and I’ve done that many times with respect to alleged miracles, but to arbitrarily decree that there is “no evidence” is an example of extreme skepticism.”

    The standards for empirical evidence are not arbitrary. Simply put, standards for evidence are set high to keep us from fooling ourselves.

    I’m confused about something else though. You seem to have a problem with skepticism. Could you explain why this is?

  128. pnyikoson 14 Jan 2014 at 1:14 pm

    Correction to my last post: I do not mean to confine the concept of “extreme skepticism” to people who resort to dirty tactics. It also includes people who avoid acknowledging the existence, or the reasonableness of, arguments without trying to refute them.

    Now, on to another statement by Billy Joe:

    You talk about the extremes of the sceptical world view of certain posters here and the extremes of the religious world view of people such as WLC, so I suppose you feel you occupy the superior middle ground. But what reasons do you have for occupying the middle ground?

    Where do you get the word “superior”? Both theism and atheism have enormous advantages over my kind of agnosticism. Theists can be blissfully confident in the existence of a hereafter where all the sufferings of mankind are over and happiness reigns. Atheists can be blissfully confident in the next best thing. which consists of leaving off “and happiness reigns”. I’m referring to the Epicurean idea that with death all terrors are at an end and oblivion reigns.

    Having been through wild oscillations in my life, I am all too painfully aware that these do not exhaust the alternatives. Death may lead to the kind of existence described in a little known chapter of Homer’s Odyssey where Odysseus journeys to an island in Oceanus and meets the shades of many dead, including that of Achilles, who tells him he would rather be the meanest slave on earth than king over all the dead.

    Or it could even be something infinitely worse, like the fate of the narrator in the macabre ending of Mark Twain’s The Mysterious Stranger. or the fate of the narrator in Harlan Ellison’s “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream.”

    Unamuno once had a peasant say, “If there is no afterlife, of what use is God?” But the converse is at least as weighty: “If there is no God, of what use is an afterlife?”

    You once wrote,

    Reading outside my area of influence. I have often wondered why knowledgeable people (like WLC, for instance) still cling to faith. The only reasons I can think of is that they were either more deeply indoctrinated and, therefore, remain imprisoned by their past; or their dire life circumstances are such that they have a deep need to believe. Most converts would be in this category. Fear of death and annihilation is probably another explanation. None of these things applied to me and, hence, I was able to escape the clutches of religion and blind faith.

    How were you able to conquer your fear of a death that does NOT consist of annihilation?

  129. Bronze Dogon 14 Jan 2014 at 3:49 pm

    @pnyikos:
    I don’t really need the multiverse hypothesis to be an agnostic atheist. I’m not a cosmologist, astrophysicist, theoretical physicist, or anything like that, so I don’t have first hand knowledge of the subject. I don’t really know what the arguments are for the likelihood of a multiverse. I do find some appeal to it because it fits my pattern recognition: “You are not special” is humbling idea I see between the lines of this universe, so the notion that there are other bubbles of space-time (or other eldritch dimensions) similar to the 30 billion(?) lightyear, 13.7 billion year old one we’re living in would continue that pattern.

    Of course, an alternative hypothesis I’ve heard that I can just as easily accept is that we have this one bubble of space, time, matter, and energy. We got it because having somethings and equal but opposite negative-somethings is inherently more stable than having a “flat” nothing. It works so long as the net balance is zero, which I’ve heard is the case for our universe. It’s counter-intuitive at first because my monkey brain didn’t evolve to contemplate extreme physics, it was built primarily to have instincts and plasticity useful for learning enough to survive and reproduce. Being able to contemplate scientific pursuits is a luxury we have to work around our “common sense” kludges to engage in.

    I’m agnostic with regard to the idea of gods in general because people can’t agree on what a god is. This makes me an an agnostic atheist because I find it rather difficult to believe in something if I don’t even know what it is. The only cases where I’m a “strong” atheist are with regard to the gods that involve self-contradicting definitions (thus they are inherently false), or those that made enough failed predictions that I can invoke the Modus Tollens exception about proving a negative. If your hypothesis predicts that you will find certain pieces of evidence, repeatedly finding the absence of that evidence actually does become evidence of absence.

    Perhaps, for purposes of clarity, we could (temporarily at any rate) use “god” to mean “a designer of our universe or at least a part of it, and not subject to the physical laws of our visible universe.”

    This doesn’t clarify anything for me. What can this god thing do? What can it not do? How can we observe its behavior? What kind of evidence will be left by its interactions with our world that isn’t left by known causes or more parsimoniously explained by simpler, mindless phenomena? Does it have patterns, habits, preferences, or such that we can, at least in principle, predict its behavior before it acts? If so, do those predictions succeed more often than the rate expected by existing scientific theories? If not, what sort of historical evidence can you predict we will find if we look for it?

  130. rezistnzisfutlon 14 Jan 2014 at 7:15 pm

    pnykos,

    “Theists” and “creationists” are nearly always the ones arguing FOR a god, even the possibility of a god. Now, I’m not in the habit of labeling anyone anything they are not, as are most people here. So, if you’ve been labeled something in error, we stand corrected.

    The thing is, you’re not presenting anything new. It seems that you’re attempting to brand skeptics as somehow close-minded because we have higher standards of evidence than you do. Sorry, but that doesn’t make for “extreme skepticism”, just skepticism. Credulity isn’t a virtue.

    I don’t think any of us here, or any skeptic anywhere, is going to reject evidence out of hand as you suggest they do. It may sometimes appear that is the case, but that’s because we’ve seen certain arguments so many times before and have long refuted them that there is no need to go through them again. To the one bringing the argument, it may be brand new to them and somehow profound, not realizing that the skeptic has already been down that road. So, being thoroughly familiar with the argument, the skeptic rejects it immediately, and the presenter is left with the false impression that the skeptic is close-minded, or “extreme”.

    Also, skeptics are human beings prone to impatience and even exasperation when dealing with willful ignorance and thick-headed ideology, just like anyone else. Unfortunately, sometimes skeptics lose their cool when this continues, such as what you’re doing now with this “extreme skepticism” and ID nonsense.

    And what it appears you’re trying to do by calling at least some skeptics as “extreme” is to relieve yourself of the burden of proof as well as commit special pleading, so that standards of evidence don’t apply to your arguments and therefore weak, bad, or non-existent evidence is accepted. This is just not going to happen. There is good reason to have standards of evidence, and I doubt you’ll find many skeptics who are willing to forgo them for any argument.

    It’s up to you to provide evidence for a god, if that’s what you’re going to argue for. Weak evidence is not evidence.

    We’ve already explained to you that we accept the POSSIBILITY of an intelligent creator or even a supernatural god that you seem to be arguing for. We just don’t believe it at this time because of lack evidence and the extreme improbability that such a being exists. I’m not sure what part of “agnostic atheist” is so confusing.

    Honestly, you haven’t brought up arguments we haven’t heard before. The burden is on you to convince us of such an unlikely being. As skeptics, we will change our minds if sufficient quality evidence of the extraordinary kind is exhibited. So far, the vague and tenuous universe arguments, as academic as they are, are nowhere near sufficient.

    To be clear, there is a distinction between a “skeptic” and someone who is simply skeptical about something. A climate denialist is skeptical about climate change, but they are decidedly NOT skeptics. Hopefully, what a skeptic is has been explained thoroughly enough to you that you have some idea what one is.

  131. BillyJoe7on 15 Jan 2014 at 7:46 am

    pnyikos,

    Where do I get the word “superior”?
    It’s a reference to an oft quoted xkcd comic where someone takes up the middle ground between two opposing extremes and someone comments: “well, at least you’ve found a way to feel superior to both”.
    In other words, I was having a little joke. Sorry about that.

    How was I able to overcome my fear of death that does NOT involve annihilation?
    By realising that gods, afterlives, and eternities are as about as likely as santa claus, faeries, and hobgoblins. Yeah, living for eternity is far scarier that annihilation. I would always like to live a bit longer though, but when I no longer feel this way, well then let death take me quietly in my sleep.

    I am glad that you think you can read “tone” into my post. But if you think I that I think of myself as being “above the fray” and “the first amongst equals”, you obviously haven’t been around here very long. In any case, if has allowed you avoid explaining what you mean by your “agnostic world view” and how you would go about inserting god into cosmology.

    Well, okay, you feel “a supernatural enormously intelligent and powerful designer” (in other words “a god”), rivals the “unbelievable stroke of luck” of a single universe like ours with all those universal constants. But, in fact, it could turn out that all these constants are dependent on each other and have to take on the values that they have. How likely is that compared with god?

    And it strikes me as strange that you think a single universe like ours with all those universal constants is an “unbelievable stroke of luck” but you think “a supernatural enormously intelligent and powerful designer” is just fine and dandy.

  132. BillyJoe7on 15 Jan 2014 at 7:48 am

    ccbowers,

    “When BJ says disbelieving without evidence, I took him to mean something like: ‘disbelieve without consulting the evidence,’ as opposed to ‘ not believing because of a lack of evidence.’”

    (:

  133. Bronze Dogon 15 Jan 2014 at 10:53 am

    Throwing in a god just moves the “stroke of luck” to the god, rather than the universe. It’s also quite arrogant in my view. There was a Calvin and Hobbes comic where Calvin speculates that all of history happened in exactly the way it did, specifically so his parents would meet and produce him. Hobbes asks what he’s going to now that the universe has fulfilled its purpose. In the next panel, they’re watching Looney Toons. You’re essentially saying god created our universe in this manner to make yourself feel special.

    The fine tuning argument presumes that the universe has a purpose, and that purpose is to produce humanity. The problem is that by assuming the universe has a purpose, you’re assuming the very thing you’re trying to prove: That someone designed it for a purpose.

    I don’t accept the assumption that the universe has a purpose. Until demonstrated otherwise, I see humanity as an unintended consequence of a stochastic system. If things turned out differently, with a lifeless universe, there wouldn’t be anyone around to complain. If different physics produced a different kind of life, they’d be the only ones around to have this sort of argument. We wouldn’t be. Metaphysics rolled an N-sided die where any face was equally likely. The only thing making one hypothetical universe more special than any of those alternative universes is the ego of its inhabitants who assign a self-serving meaning and purpose to the die result after it’s been rolled.

    The fine tuning argument is the grandest form of the Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy I’ve ever seen: It’s drawing a bullseye around a bullet hole that could very well have been randomly generated. It’s especially arrogant because it’s making the presumption before we’ve figured out if it’s even possible to look for other bullet holes.

  134. pnyikoson 15 Jan 2014 at 11:26 am

    Back to talk about inflationary theories and multiverses with Billy Joe:

    Scientists have demonstrated that a particle can “pop” into existence where there was no particle at all. On it’s own, this is a remarkable fact. Scientists can also trace this universe back to a time and space that is vanishingly small. That is also a remarkable fact. Furthermore, based on quantum and cosmological theories that describe what we observe in this universe, it can be shown how time and space can arise where there was no time and no space.

    You start out with a fact that has been known for decades: an electron-positron pair can arise spontaneously in the “quantum vacuum” of our non-inflating “visible universe”.

    The second fact has also been known, though not for quite so long because the Steady State Theory was once considered to be a respectable rival. Note, though, that the most popular form of inflation theory makes it a bit problematic whether this refers to the Level 1 multiverse it deals with, or just the visible universe, with the multiverse having a past that started with its own “Big Bang” an unknown amount of time earlier.

    But your last sentence is not so un-controversial. As I understand it, it can only refer to the Big Bang of the level 1 multiverse, since our “visible universe” is still part of the gigantic 3-manifold that is the Level 1 multiverse.

    But that causes huge problems, because what pops into existence is the “false vacuum” that is utterly different from the “quantum vacuum” of the first sentence I quoted. The deal seems to be that once the inflationary stage of an “island universe” of the Level 1 multiverse is over, the false vacuum has “decayed” into a quantum vacuum, which is very different. I don’t know what would happen if this decay weren’t simultaneous.

    The 2-D analogue would be to take a disk, and suddenly introduce an enormous hole in it where there is a bit of false vacuum still lingering, a hole for each bit of false vacuum. Not sure whether this would just destroy the rest of the “island universe” by stretching it beyond any hope of cohesion.

    Lawrence Krauss, in his book “A Universe from Nothing” shows how we can get a universe from essentially nothing and that, beyond that, the question about what constitutes “nothing” can become meaningless, especially when “nothing” is not necessarily the default position.

    “essentially nothing” is an wildly misleading term for something as potent as the “false vacuum”.

    Have you read Krauss’s book? Does he go into inflation theory at all? Does he speak of “Nothing” as part of the “false vacuum” of a Level 1 multiverse?

    Earlier, I quoted from another blog about Krauss’s book, and you haven’t touched the “flatness” issue at all yet, but let that pass. This same blogger wrote:

    That Krauss’s universe is not “from nothing” should be evident to anyone who reads his chapter titles: e.g., “Nothing is Something,” and “Nothing is Unstable.

  135. The Other John Mcon 15 Jan 2014 at 11:30 am

    The worst part of the fine-turning argument in my view is more subtle but also more obviously wrong once considered: the argument assumes variation can and does exist in physical constants, and assigns probabilities to these variations, with absolutely no reason or data to support such an assumption or leap. No one has ever seen the physical constants vary, and this is not for lack of looking (they happen to be called “constants” for a reason).

  136. pnyikoson 15 Jan 2014 at 11:57 am

    Bronze Dog, since when do you take Calvin and Hobbes so literally?

    Throwing in a god just moves the “stroke of luck” to the god, rather than the universe. It’s also quite arrogant in my view. There was a Calvin and Hobbes comic where Calvin speculates that all of history happened in exactly the way it did, specifically so his parents would meet and produce him. Hobbes asks what he’s going to now that the universe has fulfilled its purpose. In the next panel, they’re watching Looney Toons. You’re essentially saying god created our universe in this manner to make yourself feel special.

    The fine tuning argument presumes that the universe has a purpose, and that purpose is to produce humanity.

    Correction: the fine tuning argument for the existence of God presumes that this God had purpose, and perhaps his purpose was to produce humanity, but perhaps his purpose was just to produce a universe reasonably congenial to abiogenesis and evolution to intelligent life somewhere in the cosmos, as deists and so-called “theistic evolutionists” [read: neo-deistic evolutionists] believe.

    [I use the word "neo-deists" to describe people who believe in a God that left earth alone until the days of Abraham or thereabouts.]

    So much for the last sentence of the first paragraph. You really need better role models than Calvin.

    Back to your first sentence: the version of theism that I think is most promising, posits a God arising in a Level 2 multiiverse, and the stroke of luck involves the properties of THAT multiverse, and manipulating a portion of that multiverse to design our universe. Your claim about “arrogance” thus evaporates.

  137. Hosson 15 Jan 2014 at 11:58 am

    There is a completely unwarranted assumption that pnyikos is making, and that is if god created the universe, then god did it supernaturally. I posit that if there is a god(creator of the universe), then god created the universe naturally, or used supernatural power to create the universe naturally.

  138. pnyikoson 15 Jan 2014 at 12:01 pm

    Darn, I forgot to type the slash in the second blockquote of my reply to Bronze Dog. Everything in the offset second quote was due to me.

    I wish WordPress were like Disqus, where you get to edit your posts.

  139. Bronze Dogon 15 Jan 2014 at 2:18 pm

    Bronze Dog, since when do you take Calvin and Hobbes so literally?

    Because if I didn’t interpret that particular comic in a manner consistent with Calvin’s egotism demonstrated in other strips and noticed the fallacy could as easily be applied to any assertion of purpose behind any event, there wouldn’t be a joke for me to laugh at. He’s not acting as a role model, he’s acting as a bad example. I am laughing at him, not with him. Comic artists typically draw comics for a purpose, and Calvin and Hobbes was drawn for humor, judging by the sheer prevalence of jokes in the numerous strips and my understanding of human psychology. What’s wrong with interpreting the strip in a consistent, humorous fashion?

    While getting his philosophy degree, my brother shared an observation that seemed so obvious I was amazed I didn’t formulate it earlier: A lot of humor is based on logical fallacies and false assumptions. Calvin falsely assumed that history had a purpose, and that he was that purpose. He made the unwarranted assumption because he thinks he is inherently special and that fate agrees with his assessment.

    I’ve seen a similar argument from a troll who made the claim that the specific individuals in the forum thread were predestined by employing the Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy. He asserted that because it was so wildly improbable that out of all the humans in history our parents happened to get together, their specific egg and sperm cells met, and so on, it must have been intentional that we exist as we do.

    Just because something is wildly improbable doesn’t mean it was intentional. Another illustration of the fallacy: A golfer swings his club, hitting the ball in a random direction. The ball lands somewhere, and the golfer is amazed that out of the entire golf course, the golf ball just happened to land on that specific blade of grass. Isn’t it amazing? No. There are many blades of grass if could have just have easily landed on if you changed the conditions even slightly. I would only find it meaningful if there was evidence that he was specifically aiming for that blade of grass.

    Multiple results would be helpful to see if there’s a non-random pattern, but we can’t judge based solely on the probability of a one-time event when we’re in the dark about everything else involved.

    Correction: the fine tuning argument for the existence of God presumes that this God had purpose, and perhaps his purpose was to produce humanity, but perhaps his purpose was just to produce a universe reasonably congenial to abiogenesis and evolution to intelligent life somewhere in the cosmos, as deists and so-called “theistic evolutionists” [read: neo-deistic evolutionists] believe.

    You’re still essentially putting yourself at the center of the universe, only you’re being more generalized about it. It’s still essentially the same thing Calvin does, using the same logical structure, just at a lesser degree of precision to whitewash the underlying egoism involved in being an evolutionarily produced intelligent life form. Of course self-aware beings with a finite life span that are shaped by their ancestors’ varying ability to survive and reproduce would have an instinctive preference for existing and producing more life. They would also be biased towards assuming other reasonably intelligent life would share similar preferences because it developed in an environment filled with other creatures that share similar selective pressures.

    It’s just as easily conceivable that our universe is an accidental byproduct of some divine industrial process, and gods look at us the way we look at vermin or dust bunnies. Or they might be utterly apathetic towards our kind of life, and created our universe for an entirely different purpose. Or they might have been just playing with the controls of a universe creating machine just to see what would happen, and we’re a happy accident.

    Of course, we can imagine all sort of hypothetical gods with any hypothetical desires, but the problem with all of them is parsimony. You’re inventing an elaborate entity to explain only one comparatively simple, improbable event, and it doesn’t even do that very well. One supposedly improbable event out of a unknown range of possibilities does not make gods necessary as an explanation. As has been mentioned before, those laws and constants of ours might very well be dependent on each other such that the probability of them being the way they are is 1 out of 1.

    The difference I see between us is that I’m trying to be self-aware and acknowledge my biases and limitations inherent in being human. Just because I think life is special doesn’t mean that there’s some eldritch being from beyond the stars agrees with me. It’s disturbingly common that theists claim that their gods like the things they like and hate the things they hate and use that as justification for their actions. You’re distorting your perspective by succumbing to human hyperactive agency detection, and then you project your preferences onto that perceived agent.

    It would be funny if it weren’t so sad.

  140. ccbowerson 15 Jan 2014 at 2:27 pm

    I see little substance to pnyikos criticism of the vague “extreme skepticism.” The criticisms are also vague, and none are inherent to skepticism. Yes, some skeptics are jerks, and as a group are not “better” in that regard than other groups, but what does that have to with skepticism itself? It seems like a tactic, like an ‘argument to moderation,’ but no meaningful distinctions are made. Who are these extremists? because without examples, it reads like a strawman.

  141. rezistnzisfutlon 15 Jan 2014 at 2:44 pm

    BD,

    Great post. Another analogy to point out the Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy in regards to a divine, supernatural, and intentional fine tuning argument is the lottery.

    Let’s say Jan, Steve, Rob, and Leslie win a big powerball lottery. The likelihood of Jan, Steve, Rob, and Leslie specifically winning the lottery is astronomical. However, the likelihood of ANYONE winning the powerball, that’s much higher. When someone looks at Jan, Steve, Rob, and Leslie specifically winning the lottery as some sort of predetermined agency, that is the least probable explanation. When someone looks at any number of random people winning the lottery, that’s highly probable. This scenario is not only far more likely, it does not necessitate agency.

    In fine tuning, apologists look at the unlikelihood of life, and humans, being formed as they are in a universe already beset with laws, as if those laws were created for them. What this ignores, however, is that there is a much higher probability, and likelihood, of ANY life forming in the universe that isn’t specifically humans, but some sort of life adapted to exist here. If the universe were allowed to start all over again and unfold, it is far more likely that SOME life will form naturally, and perhaps even evolve into an intelligence that doesn’t resemble humans but is still adapted to exist in this universe, than the universe to be created to suit humans.

    In essence, life adapting to exist in our universe is far more likely than the universe being created specifically to suit us. This is putting aside the fact that EVERYTHING we know about the universe is naturalistic and that there is no evidence for an intelligent or supernatural creator, which puts the likelihood of naturalistic origins even further ahead.

    It is unreasonable to assume that the least probable outcome of several competing scenarios is the correct one, just like it is unreasonable to try to explain one mystery by pointing to a greater mystery. That’s why religion fails so utterly and does practically nothing in the world, because it has no explanatory power nor any practical use or knowledge.

  142. rezistnzisfutlon 15 Jan 2014 at 2:48 pm

    ccbowers,

    My suspicion is that the label of “extreme skepticism” is a thinly veiled attempt at special pleading where the intent is to shame and/or ridicule skeptics into not utilizing their skeptical tools when evaluating apologist claims and arguments. It’s a request to accept more claims at face value and to lower standards of evidence.

  143. pnyikoson 15 Jan 2014 at 4:32 pm

    My suspicion is that the label of “extreme skepticism” is a thinly veiled attempt at special pleading where the intent is to shame and/or ridicule skeptics into not utilizing their skeptical tools when evaluating apologist claims and arguments. It’s a request to accept more claims at face value and to lower standards of evidence.

    Let me propose the following definition of “extreme skepticism”.

    It is a skepticism of a hypothesis for which much support has been offered, without making real headway against the support, along with a singular lack of skepticism of the alternative the “skeptic” favors.

    As an extreme skeptic of theism, you indulge in all kinds of meta-allegations like “no evidence ” of a deity without ever touching the substance of my comments about multiverses, the alternatives to theism, nor the substance of the comments I made to Billy Joe about miracles and I Corinthians 15. It is all very well to salivate “I Corinthians 15 is not evidence” like Pavlov’s dog, but an open-minded skepticism would include answering the specific questions I posed to Billy Joe as to alternatives to Saul of Tarsus, a.k.a. St. Paul, telling the truth there.

    Extreme skepticism also manifests itself in ways I described earlier and other ways, such as outright censorship of posts that show skepticism about the alternative the “skeptic” favors. That kind of censorship has been copiously exercised by Donald Prothero or one of his minions in his own “skepticblog”. I wrote a little bit about it to BillyJoe7 on another neurologicablog a few weeks ago.

    And even that is nothing compared to the treatment of people who express skepticism about the gas chambers in Auschwitz having actually been put to the use for which they were intended, without even voicing any skepticism about the mass extermination of Jews by other means. The mere act of voicing that very modest skepticism has been branded “Holocaust denial” by a popular member of another forum much bigger than this one, who also knows that Holocaust denial has been made a felony by France, punishable by myriads of Euros.

  144. pnyikoson 15 Jan 2014 at 4:57 pm

    As has been mentioned before, those laws and constants of ours might very well be dependent on each other such that the probability of them being the way they are is 1 out of 1.

    This use of “might very well be” is pure speculation, and does not deserve to be treated as a serious argument without some sort of empirical evidence. It is hardly any better than saying,

    There are no gods, and this I know
    For Ockham’s Razor tells me so

    It is pure metaphysics to speculate the way you do unless you can cite some empirically based physics,.

    Similarly, it is pure metaphysics to speculate that a “false vacuum” can give birth to time and space (essentially, to itself) the way it can give rise to an “island universe in a pre-existing Level 1 multiverse” as hypothesized in the most popular version of inflation theory.

    The fact that the utterly different and incompatible “quantum vacuum” can give rise to electron-positron pairs is not support for the creation of “island universes” by the false vacuum; that has to stand on other evidence, which so far is fragmentary.

    This is almost the only part of your latest post that deserves to be called anything other than a Phantom Error Correction Scam. If I were to do the same thing, I would be describing all kinds of stupid and/or dishonest actions by sundry atheists and then using the word “you” in a completely inappropriate manner.

    It doesn’t surprise me that rezistnzisfutl rushed in to write “Great post.” To borrow your closing words, It would be funny if it weren’t so sad.

    You both need to clean up your acts, big-time.

  145. pnyikoson 15 Jan 2014 at 5:12 pm

    In essence, life adapting to exist in our universe is far more likely than the universe being created specifically to suit us.

    It’s really funny how Bronze Dog, whose meanderings you admired so much, missed my point about Calvin. It isn’t that he took Calvin at his word; it is that he took Calvin’s cartoonist to be lampooning the idea that you express, as being somehow relevant to any stand I have taken.

    Does it surprise you to learn that I agree with your statement? It shouldn’t. I’ve said that I think the odds are at least 100 to 1 in favor of it, and the difference is, I even gave a “physical” reason why I don’t set the odds at 10^(100^100) to 1 or a lot worse.

    You have a long weekend ahead, including MLK Day, to take another look at what I will have said and will not have said by then.

  146. steve12on 15 Jan 2014 at 5:34 pm

    “You know, the most amazing thing happened to me tonight… I saw a car with the license plate ARW 357. Can you imagine? Of all the millions of license plates in the state, what was the chance that I would see that particular one tonight? Amazing!”

  147. steve12on 15 Jan 2014 at 5:35 pm

    Feynman, lest anyone think I’m so creative and astute…..

  148. Hosson 15 Jan 2014 at 6:30 pm

    “It doesn’t surprise me that rezistnzisfutl rushed in to write “Great post.” To borrow your closing words, It would be funny if it weren’t so sad.
    You both need to clean up your acts, big-time.”

    There have been a lot of very well written post on this article(I don’t include anything I’ve written for obvious reasons). It’s a shame your narrative/ideology is keeping you from seeing and correcting your own errors, especially after having them pointed out to you.

    You do know, there is no philosophical justification for supernatural anything(although the supernatural cannot be ruled out) or for using the supernatural to explain phenomena.

    For instance, let’s say that phenomenon X occurs, but there is no known scientific explanation for X. Supernatural entity S is hypothesized for the cause of X through ad hoc reasoning. Worse, ad hoc reasoning isn’t even freaking needed, if S is defined as causing X. If X is unusual or the cause of X is unusual, then people who believe in S are more likely to believe in the supernatural hypothesis rather than the best scientific hypothesis.

    And with that, I’m leaving. I hate how everything I post makes me feel like a complete freaking idiot. What makes it worse is that I have a lot of respect for Steve Novella and many of the commenters. I just can’t take it anymore. Bye

  149. rezistnzisfutlon 15 Jan 2014 at 6:56 pm

    Yea, I’m with you, Hoss. I lost my appetite for hundreds long comments sections back when Zach was haunting the forums. We’ve made our case and pnykos has demonstrated that nothing is assimilated (no pun intended). We’ve pointed out his logical fallacies to no avail. I’ve come to realize that we can explain something in so many ways before it’s just wasted electrons repeating ourselves.

    And that’s the bread and butter of religious apologists, logical fallacies. Without them, they would have to acknowledge that they have nothing to offer.

  150. Bronze Dogon 15 Jan 2014 at 7:30 pm

    @pnyikos

    This use of “might very well be” is pure speculation, and does not deserve to be treated as a serious argument without some sort of empirical evidence.

    You are a deeply confused person who lacks the ability to comprehend what other people write or detect a point that isn’t encapsulated in easy soundbites and/or a very dishonest person who is deliberately misrepresenting the point I was making in positing multiple speculations that are contextually highlighted as such. I used the phrase “might very well be” precisely to highlight the speculative nature of the hypothesis, and you’re trying to pretend you have a gotcha moment.

    Their purpose behind positing those speculations was to show you how easy it is to make speculations that compete with your own. I am not asserting that they are probable, only possible in the broadest conceptual sense. I am not saying that they are true with any level of confidence. Anyone with a command of the English language should be able to recognize that. Instead, you throw up a convenient straw man to distract from the meat of my argument.

    The whole point about probability is that you’re dishonestly claiming to know what the odds really are based on a grand total of one data point: This one (1) visible universe we live in. Tell me, how do you know this universe is so unlikely?

    As for your attempt to straw man the point about Occam’s Razor, well, how do you expect us to learn anything without using it as a general principle? Would you prefer it if we were spooked by every odd sound in a demon haunted world, thinking there are spirits out to get us around ever corner?

  151. Bronze Dogon 15 Jan 2014 at 9:12 pm

    The other really huge point about probability is that long odds don’t mean intention if you’ve got a large number of equally probable alternatives from random generation. If you have an N-sided die, one face has got to come up. Yes, it’s wildly improbable a particular face would come up, but the same is true of all the other equally improbable faces. No face is more special than any of the others.

  152. BillyJoe7on 16 Jan 2014 at 7:26 am

    pnyikos,

    I’ve acknowledged right from the start that we don’t know how something could come from absolutely nothing. So I don’t know what you keep harping on that point of actual agreement.

    What I’ve attempted to do is demonstrate how far we’ve come from the evidence-free “god did it”.
    We can now have particles, space, and time from nothing but the laws of physics and, through an almost infinite number of independent universes or the almost infinite number of universes in a multiverse, we do not even need to start with the specific laws of our universe. We don’t even need something from absolutely nothing, because we can have an ever existing multiverse. And all these require no more than the concepts and theories that already exist to explain what we observe in our own universe. There is also the fact that there is no reason that “something” could be the default rather than “nothing”.
    You seem not to want to either discus or acknowledge any of that.

    On the other hand, you seem to think that a “supernatural enormously intelligent and powerful designer” is more likely that the “single universe with all those constants” that he presumably designed. That position is already untenable even before considering what I’ve summarised above, or bronze dog’s sharpshooter fallacy.
    You seem not to want to discus or acknowledge that either.

    It seems to me you would rather go off on tangents than discus the real differences between us.

  153. pnyikoson 16 Jan 2014 at 9:43 am

    I only have time for one post here today, so I am replying to Davdoodles, who had some good points to make.

    You mentioned purported “miracles”, presumably in support of an argument that there is evidence for the existence of god.

    Of course. Unlike most “skeptics” here I have a rather broad interpretation of “evidence”, though certainly not as broad as a white dove being “evidence” for the statement “All crows are black” via the contrapositive, “All non-black birds are non-crows.” I chart a middle course, which I hope is reasonable.

    Given that these wonder-works are said to be “inexplicable by modern medical knowledge”, can you:

    (i) explain why no purported miracle has ever caused the scientific consensus to conclude that anything scientifically interesting, let alone a supernatural entity or effect, was involved?
    (ii) explain how (even accepting your test of “inexplicability”), a simple lack of current medical knowledge is evidence that the supernatural was involved?
    (iii) explain the effect of the recent relapse of the allegedly miraculously cured nun, Sister Marie Simon-Pierre, on the credibility of the “medical and legal panels” involved in the beatification of Pope John Paul?

    Taking these points in order:

    (i) “scientifically interesting” is a nebulous concept, something few scientists would try to muster a consensus on, and those few would get nowhere with this particular issue, what with so many of their colleagues as stubborn in defense of their atheism as the “skeptics” here seem to be about theirs.

    More importantly, medical science is still in its infancy and can be expected to remain that way for at least another century, what with most of the advances being technological rather than basic, and research generally less rewarding financially than practice.

    I think it will be at least another century before human physiology is well enough understood for us to be confident about what remissions and cures the human body is capable of on its own. Even diagnoses are not at the stage where one might think. Note, for instance, the “autopsy” bit in the Wikipedia excerpt below.

    (ii) Until this far-off eventuality arrives, the sensible course is to say “We don’t know,” a statement that you “skeptics” are said to be fond of. Are you sufficiently open-minded to apply it here, and not try to conclude that there is “no evidence”?

    (iii) Do you have an up to date reference that tries to compare the physical state of Sister Marie Simon-Pierre at the present time with the state at the time of her unusually sudden remission? The Wikipedia entry is badly out of date and makes no mention of Pope Francis’s reckless overthrow of two centuries of precedent in announcing that this one miracle (instead of the canonical two) will be enough for the canonization of JPII and John XXIII.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pope_John_XXIII#Beatification_and_canonization

    I close with some excerpts from this entry:

    It has been suggested,[22] however, that Sister Marie Simon-Pierre did not have Parkinson’s Disease as there is no easy way to accurately diagnose the disease short of medical autopsy. Sister Marie Simon-Pierre also suffered a relapse[23] though the Episcopal Conference of France disputed that the relapse (which would have thrown the purportedly miraculous nature of the cure into doubt) was anything more than a rumor.

    [22] Jump up ^ [1] CBS news report on miracle
    [23] Jump up ^ [2] AOL news report on miracle

    [1] “BBC News – Pope John Paul II and Pius XII move closer to sainthood”. news.bbc.co.uk. 19 December 2009. Retrieved 2010-01-07.
    [2] “Cause for Beatification and Canonization of The Servant of God John Paul II”. vicariatusurbis.org. Archived from the original on 30 December 2009. Retrieved 2010-01-07.

  154. pnyikoson 16 Jan 2014 at 9:52 am

    Oops, the url should have been:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beatification_of_Pope_John_Paul_II

    Unlike with the entry for John XXIII, the one whose url I gave, there is no “Beatification and canonization” entry for JPII.

    In stunning contrast, there is only the barest minimum mention of the one miracle attributed to the intercession of John XXIII in that other entry. This speaks volumes about the motivations of people making these Wikipedia entries, and perhaps also about news reporters in the big outside world.

  155. Steven Novellaon 16 Jan 2014 at 10:51 am

    A broad interpretation of “evidence,” I would argue, is not a virtue. It is often used to allow in low-grade evidence that should be looked upon with suspicion.

    In fact the skeptical endeavor often entails making very reasoned, compelling, and evidence-based arguments for why, in most circumstances, we should demand and rely upon much higher standards of evidence than are typically employed.

    Also – saying “I don’t know” and “there is no evidence” are not mutually exclusive. Evidence should come within the framework of what is known. Unknown does not equal unknowable and does not therefore equal supernatural.

    I disagree with your assessment of current medical science, but I don’t need to quibble about the details – the fact that we have incomplete knowledge just means we should be all the more cautious before declaring something a miracle.

    Bottom line – there are no cases that are sufficiently well documented and also display features that are so far outside of what is scientifically known that they should inspire in a reasonable person the need to entertain supernatural forces.

    In other words – the lack of scientific curiosity (which is evidenced by the lack of research and published studies, a standard measure) into alleged miraculous cases likely reflects the fact that such cases, when looked at carefully, are not very compelling. I would not dismiss this fact as “stubborn atheism.” That is a convenient rationalization.

  156. Bruceon 16 Jan 2014 at 11:12 am

    “not as broad as a white dove being “evidence” for the statement “All crows are black” via the contrapositive, “All non-black birds are non-crows.” I chart a middle course, which I hope is reasonable.”

    I am trying to parse this with my formal logic hat on. You are stating:

    All crows are black
    Therefore
    All birds that are not black are not crows

    Is this correct?

  157. steve12on 16 Jan 2014 at 1:21 pm

    “A broad interpretation of “evidence,” I would argue, is not a virtue. It is often used to allow in low-grade evidence that should be looked upon with suspicion.”

    pnyikos actually illustrates this point for us.

    “(iii) Do you have an up to date reference that tries to compare the physical state of Sister Marie Simon-Pierre at the present time with the state at the time of her unusually sudden remission? ”

    This type of “evidence” was taken seriously for almost all of human civilization – tens of thousands of years. And humanity crawled along in it’s understanding of the universe (including that there even was a universe).

    Then science came along and demanded real evidence. Guess what happened in just a few hundred years? Moon landings, doubling life expectancy, cell phones, etc.

    But you’re arguing that the gaps in our understanding are, at least in part, there BECAUSE science is too stringent about what it accepts.

  158. BillyJoe7on 16 Jan 2014 at 3:30 pm

    pnyikos,

    “I chart a middle course, which I hope is reasonable”

    Why do you think that hoping something to be true is a reasonable position?
    What exactly is it about the middle course that makes it attractive to you?
    Why are you not also agnostic about the middle course being reasonable?

  159. BillyJoe7on 16 Jan 2014 at 3:43 pm

    Bruce,

    I think he is saying that his acceptance of evidence is broad enough to accept a “white dove” as evidence that “all birds that are not black are not crows” but not so broad as as to accept a “white dove” as evidence that “all crows are black”.

  160. BillyJoe7on 16 Jan 2014 at 4:00 pm

    It seems pnyikos acceptance of evidence is broad enough to accept purported miracles as evidence for the existence of god. More correctly, he accepts events purported by the Catholic Church hierarchy to be miracles as evidence for the existence of the god that Catholics believe in.
    I, for one, am happy that scepticism/science does not have such a broad acceptance of evidence.

  161. rezistnzisfutlon 16 Jan 2014 at 4:50 pm

    All of this is one big case of special pleading in order to shoehorn in the concept of an all-powerful supernatural creator being, likely the christian god of the bible, as equally as likely as any scientific explanation of the universe. Like we often see with CAM, woo, paranormal, and pseudoscience proponents, it’s a demand for lower standards of evidence and less rigor in order to allow in unlikely possibilities.

  162. Davdoodleson 16 Jan 2014 at 6:56 pm

    #pnyikos: “”scientifically interesting” is a nebulous concept, something few scientists would try to muster a consensus on, and those few would get nowhere with this particular issue, what with so many of their colleagues as stubborn in defense of their atheism as the “skeptics” here seem to be about theirs.”

    Apologies if the term is nebulous. It was meant to be specific, and unambiguous. Put another way, I meant “of medical scientific significance to medical scientists”. Dr Novella encapsulates it nicely here, and posits the answer I was rather hoping you’d (in your admirable open-mindedness) supply:

    “[T]the lack of scientific curiosity (which is evidenced by the lack of research and published studies, a standard measure) into alleged miraculous cases likely reflects the fact that such cases, when looked at carefully, are not very compelling.”

    # pnyikos: “Do you have an up to date reference that tries to compare the physical state of Sister Marie Simon-Pierre at the present time with the state at the time of her unusually sudden remission?”

    Sorry, not scientifically interested. That said, I am curious why god never miraculously cures amputees.

    Any thoughts?
    .

  163. tmac57on 16 Jan 2014 at 8:17 pm

    I think we can clearly agree that non-white birds that are non-doves and/or non-crows,but conversely aren’t non-black doves and or/crows cannot in reverse be contrapositively not be un-black or non-white in contrast to birds that conventionally present the opposite non-standard convention.
    I don’t know how to make that any simpler.

  164. Bruceon 17 Jan 2014 at 5:11 am

    “Bruce,
    I think he is saying that his acceptance of evidence is broad enough to accept a “white dove” as evidence that “all birds that are not black are not crows” but not so broad as as to accept a “white dove” as evidence that “all crows are black”.”

    Well, that is worse than I thought, I was giving him the benefit of the doubt.

    My point was going to be how does he now all crows are black? Does his sample involve all crows in the known universe?

  165. BillyJoe7on 17 Jan 2014 at 7:19 am

    Bruce,

    He is considering two hypotheses:
    1) All crows are black.
    2) All birds that are not black are not crows.
    He accepts a white dove as evidence for (2) but not for (1)

    I’m not sure if it gives us much insight into pnyikos mind, but I do see a sort of paradox here…

    If you are trying to prove that all crows are black, finding a white dove does not help.
    If you are trying to prove that all birds that are not black are not crows, finding a white dove does help.
    But, if all crows are black, then all birds that are not black are not crows, so you would think that evidence for one would be evidence for the other.

  166. Bronze Dogon 17 Jan 2014 at 11:41 am

    One thing I think I should make crystal clear: I’m on the side of “We don’t know what, if anything, caused the universe.” The conflict between us and pnyikos is because he certainly seems to be claiming to know what caused the universe. That’s why I ask how he knows, and why I ask it must be his hypothesis rather than any of its competitors.

    Scientists have numerous speculative hypotheses, and they’re hard at work trying to find ways to test them. I just try to keep up with which ones seem the most promising. Simple ones tend to be easier to test because they tend to make for predictions that are either clearly right or clearly wrong when the results come in. If they’re right most of the time, but consistently wrong under certain conditions (aka anomalies), then you have a reason to start hypothesizing additional entities that take those conditions into account. That’s how Occam’s Razor lets us refine theories.

    An Einstein quote that comes to mind for what it’s worth: “Make things as simple as possible, but no simpler.”

    The more complex your new posited entity is, the easier it is to invent ad hoc explanations for any failed predictions. If you can ad hoc easily, you’re not making predictions, you’re rationalizing the result after the fact. It also means your new entity is indistinguishable from chaos. That’s why I asked pnyikos what his god can or can’t do. Without limitations of some sort on what it does, how can we distinguish what it’s doing from what other, unknown forces are doing? It amounts to “it’s magic!” to explain anything we don’t know.

    So far, gods aren’t doing well in my estimation because theists are generally more interested in playing fallacious rhetorical games like proof by (arbitrary) definition, proof by false authority, circular logic, the Texas sharpshooter fallacy, and especially argument from ignorance. In pnyikos’ case, I’m seeing a variation I’ve been through a few times before: Argument from personal incredulity mixed with double standards. He’s instantly dismissive of our speculative hypotheses because we’re still looking for evidence, but he won’t apply the same scrutiny to his own vague, chaotic hypothesis.

  167. jleonard2099on 17 Jan 2014 at 12:07 pm

    1. God provides the best explanation of the origin of the universe.

    Here you basically argue that an alternative explanation is possible, but that doesn’t make it any more likely. From a primarily philosophical standpoint, however, the statement above is still more probable, and unlike your rambling, does not imply a “goddidit” attitude that ignores space-time arguments. This may be the approach of many theologians without a mind for science, but even WLC would not argue that “goddidit” is an acceptable answer to anything.

    2. God provides the best explanation for the fine-tuning of the universe.

    Again, you basically assert the alternatives but provide no more reason to believe they are the best explanation. Remember, WLC is not denying the alternatives, he is simply pointing out that they are less likely to be true. That is not a dismissal of anything, merely an acceptance of what his gut says without the presence of a clear agreement or consensus within the scientific community.

    3. God provides the best explanation of objective moral values and duties.

    You say he’s implying morality exists because God gives it to us, but this is what armchair theologians (most people you’ll talk to about theology) do. You provided no evidence this is what WLC beleives, and indeed most Christian scholarship and apologetics rejects this idea. Instead, credentialed scholars and theologians favor the argument that the consistency of “universal” morals amongst humanity supports or hints at origins in an objective source (which could be a creator). The fact that religions like Christianity fairly reflect these universal morals in their revelation are just icing on the cake for confidence in their accuracy as a product of a creator. In short, if God did exist, he should ensure certain morals are universally prevalent in all of mankind, and because that tends to be the case, why dismiss it just because there are alternative explanations? (Note I’m not saying that makes it the right answer, but that you are way off here in your understanding of the topic. Like most other points made here, the proof is that there must be 1 source for these things, and God is a plausible one)

    4. God provides the best explanation of the historical facts concerning Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.

    The historians that do not believe in a historical figure of Jesus are way outside consensus, so what relevance is that to your argument? Unless you think fringe theories are okay (and I’m starting to think you do, since so far it seems the mere existence of alternative theories is disproof for you)

    It doesn’t matter how serious scholars are that think he didn’t exist, all such claims have landed themselves in the realm of nonsense by every manner of rational person evaluating them. Such ideas have not only been disproven by scholars, but often are little more than stretching an idea out of almost little or no evidence. (isn’t that what you’re criticizing WLC for?)

    As for supernatural aspects of the NT’s claims, and a “myth” developing around Jesus, it’s plausible but shows total ignorance of the social world of ancient Israel and how unlikely such a thing would be to occur. If anything, social anthropology informs us if such miracle claims were being made about Jesus, the majority of people believed those claims and trusted the people espousing them – not because they were gullible but precisely the opposite. Ancient culture may have been ignorant of science, but they were still very skeptical of new ideas and did not like people making claims to events that did not agree with consensus. This makes it very unlikely for such a “myth” to develop without the majority of people (from all kinds of backgrounds, and even non-Christians as well!) sincerely being convinced of the myth.

    All this is only a start to arguing for the miraculous, which I could never do justice. The best volume for this issue is “Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts (2 Volume Set)”
    by Craig S. Keener

    5. God can be personally known and experienced.

    I have very little to argue with you on this one, because I’ve found it’s precisely the advent of psychology (and other shifts in western thought towards valuing personal experiences) that is responsible for people claiming personally experiencing God is even relevant. Strangely enough, if you get out of the clouds long enough to look at non-western thought on God and religion (even Christian ones!) you would find this is just as bad an argument to non-westerners. I have to dip into social anthropology again, but basically industrialization has shifted the west towards valuing (even creating!) personal relationships because people have time for them now. As a result, religion has adopted those concepts where such changes have taken place. In ancient cultures, however, God would never be seen as very personal, because people and families took that place. (not much unlike you state your priorities are). God would have been just as distant as the more rational theologians / Christian scholars claim he is. Actually, it would be tough to go into details here, but the “personal experiencing” of God is responsible for more of these faulty / awful theological ideas than many people might understand. Perhaps if skeptics could realize that and engage more accepted ideas within Christian scholarship, you’d find that theology is not so ignorant; it’s merely our culture who has shunned scholarship that is ignorant (much as can be said for the equally recent discipline of science)

    When it comes down to it, like most skeptics you essentially are not making an argument for/against God, just against certain portrayals of him. This I think is what rubs people like WLC when it comes to his disdain of atheists. In truth, many arguments like this are very narrow or completely miss the point. It’s as if skeptics believe their abilities in approaching science validate their understanding of theology as well. Perhaps instead if skeptics were more consistent or engaged the totality of Christian scholarship, they’d see disproving popular theology does not disprove God. It just means that the wrong people are speaking for God, just as much they are when they espouse their crazy scientific beliefs (creationism/etc.)

    Rather, shouldn’t we all be encouraging people to refer to experts in areas that we don’t grasp? But as a skeptic, you’ve not even come close to touching on what scholarship reveals on Christian belief. Or you wouldn’t even bother mentioning the canard on faith equating to belief without evidence. Yes that’s what pop culture repeats ad nauseum, but have you heard of how Greco-Roman patronage models worked in ancient society? And how they shape a more proper contextual understanding of faith to be one rooted in trust (that a patron would provide because of prior evidence?) This is not to even mention the other scriptures clearly showing “without evidence” being an understanding that is way off base!)

    For the record, I consider myself a Christian/skeptic, and I do engage in lots of scholarly/scientific reading and studies. I fully well understand (and agree with) much of what skeptical literature is trying to do and accomplish (and often agree with it!). I just think it still shows the same ignorance of Christian scholarship that the body of Christianity shows of science. So I am bothered by the insistence that Christianity must be wrong because one can disprove what the majority of westerners (pastors/preachers) teach. The majority of natural science isn’t wrong just because I might find a flaw in evolution – the whole body of evolutionary theory is still more consistent and “best fits” the whole picture. My argument is the same applies to Christianity…

  168. jleonard2099on 17 Jan 2014 at 12:28 pm

    FYI, if skepticism is a tool, the “extreme skepticism” others are debating on here is closer to an overuse or misuse of that tool. Skeptics can’t simply say “it’s just a tool we use to understand things better” and then act like nobody is misusing that tool.

    Some examples. Conspiracy thinkers are “skeptics” – they just misuse the tool. They obsess over trying to find explanations for things, but don’t consider the more likely ones to be possible (they’re using the wrong kind of logic).

    Skepticism is overused (this is closer to ‘extreme’ skepticism) when skeptics end up being very skeptical of the arguments presented against them before they’ve even weighed such arguments. Like how I’ve seen many atheists / skeptics stop talking to me the second I try and bring Christian scholarship into a discussion. That is simply unhealthy and “extreme” by any understanding of the word.

  169. pnyikoson 17 Jan 2014 at 4:55 pm

    Nice to see you weighing in here, Steven. While I have you on the line (I hope) so to speak, let me mention that I once tried to post something on one of your skepticblogs shortly before I started posting here. The topic was the judging of wine, and I broadened the topic just a tad to talk about the judging of liquers based on the muscat grape.

    When I tried to post it, I got nothing, not even a standard notification that my post was awaiting moderation. Any idea why that might have happened?

    In other words – the lack of scientific curiosity (which is evidenced by the lack of research and published studies, a standard measure) into alleged miraculous cases likely reflects the fact that such cases, when looked at carefully, are not very compelling. I would not dismiss this fact as “stubborn atheism.” That is a convenient rationalization.

    Perhaps you are right, but I had some specific questions about one case where a relapse had been alleged back in 2010 but the CBS news where this was carried also carried the information that was supposedly just in the second of the Wikipedia references I gave: this had been denied by the Archbishop’s organization.

    One of the people here expressly showed no interest in looking up more authoritative reports of the miracle and its aftermath. If that is the general standard of skepticism around here –believing a rumor never confirmed to any of our knowledge as a basis for proclaiming “no evidence” then I’d say that’s highly selective skepticism at work.

    Might your “likely reflects the fact” be based on nothing more than this lack of “driving curiosity”? {That’s an allusion to the movie version of “Inherit the Wind.”}

    I hate to be so blunt, but I must stop after one more paragraph; duty calls.

    Others, particularly BillyJoe7, totally misinterpreted what I meant in my example. As a mathematician, I consider ALL statements logically equivalent to their contrapositives, and what I said boiled down to my standards not being broad enough

  170. Davdoodleson 17 Jan 2014 at 5:27 pm

    “One of the people here expressly showed no interest in looking up more authoritative reports of the miracle and its aftermath. If that is the general standard of skepticism around here –believing a rumor never confirmed to any of our knowledge as a basis for proclaiming “no evidence” then I’d say that’s highly selective skepticism at work.”

    No, it’s called “not doing your homework for you”. You make the extraordinary claim, you provide the evidence. That’s how it works.

    BTW, still interested in your thoughts on the lack of miraculously cured amputees.
    .

  171. Hosson 17 Jan 2014 at 5:52 pm

    pnyikos

    Do you go to church?
    What is an agnostic world view, and how do you justify it?
    Are you an agnostic theist? If so what is you justification?
    Do you believe in the supernatural? If so what is the evidence for it?
    What methods do you rely upon for knowledge?

    I lied. I could never leave.

  172. JJ Borgmanon 17 Jan 2014 at 5:55 pm

    God? Who’s that? Nobody I ever met, anyway. If s/he wants to know me, s/he just needs to introduce her/himself.

    KISS.

  173. pnyikoson 17 Jan 2014 at 8:59 pm

    “Bruce,
    I think he is saying that his acceptance of evidence is broad enough to accept a “white dove” as evidence that “all birds that are not black are not crows” but not so broad as as to accept a “white dove” as evidence that “all crows are black”.”

    Well, that is worse than I thought, I was giving him the benefit of the doubt.
    My point was going to be how does he now all crows are black? Does his sample involve all crows in the known universe?

    Go ahead and keep building castles in the air, you “skeptics.” What is it that makes you speculate
    in this way? And your questions, Bruce, confuse “evidence” with proof. Surely you do not claim that ANY sample 100% black crows, even if it includes all crows ever seen, is “no evidence” for the statement that all crows are black?

    I was in such a hurry in my last post that I didn’t even have time to complete my last sentence. Rather than complete it here, let me just say that I certainly did not mean to make anything like a definitive statement about what I call “evidence.” Let me try to narrow the gap between the two extremes of which I spoke.

    For one extreme, I chose a humorous example due to Martin Gardner, [1] whose name should be familiar to all true skeptics, and respected by them, due to a classic book [2] even though he betrayed YOUR kind of skepticism (atheistic) in a later book [3].

    Due to the enormous number of crows in the world, I certainly would not count one crow, or even a flock of crows, as evidence for the statement “All crows are black.” Even so, it approaches “evidence” more closely than a white dove, because the sample space [all non-black birds] for the contrapositive statement is so much bigger than the one for the original [all crows].

    At the opposite extreme, suppose I was hiking through Tasmania and spotted a thylacine. Besides being thrilled beyond imagining by seeing something extinct for the better part of a century, I would also take the presence of stipes on its back, near its tail, as evidence for the statement that all living thylacines have stripes like that. [It would certainly add to the evidence provided by such stripes being in all pictures and museum specimens of now-dead thylacines that I have seen.] The population would be very small in any case.

    There is a spectrum between these two cases, and I am in a middle range that is rather far from either extreme. Do you think this is unreasonable?

    [1] Back in the 1960′s when he had a regular feature, “Mathematical Games” in Scientific American he gave this example to illustrate the logical principle that a statement is equivalent to its contrapositive. He did it, though, in a way that didn’t take into account that the word “evidence” is not the black and white thing that a rigorously mathematical concept has to be.

    [2] In the Name of Science, in which he wrote about a great variety of pseudoscientific movements and individual cranks. One memorable chapter included flat-earthers like Volvia, and hollow earthers, some of whom (like Symmes) claim we live on the outside, and a few (like Cyrus Reed Teed) who claimed that we live on the inside and that the entire visible universe except the earth itself was crammed into the middle space.

    [3] The Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener with a chapter, “Why I Am Not an Atheist,” in which he opted for a theism not to be identified with any of the organized religions.

  174. pnyikoson 17 Jan 2014 at 10:14 pm

    Bronze Dog, you wrote:

    One thing I think I should make crystal clear: I’m on the side of “We don’t know what, if anything, caused the universe.” The conflict between us and pnyikos is because he certainly seems to be claiming to know what caused the universe.

    I’d like to know what on earth you could possibly be referring to here. If there is anything that should be obvious about what I’ve written, it is that I have NOT claimed that I (or anyone else in the world) knows what caused the universe or even whether it has a cause at all.

    I didn’t even use such a farfetched formula as “It may very well be that an omnipotent, omniscient God created the universe.” Nor a similar formula about a more modest kind of god, such as “It may very well be that an immensely powerful and superintelligent being arising by evolution in an eternal Level 2 multiverse has intervened in our universe and defied its physical laws by invoking the physical laws of his grand multiverse.”

    And look now at the double standards you are displaying by saying the above in one post and the following in another:

    You are a deeply confused person who lacks the ability to comprehend what other people write or detect a point that isn’t encapsulated in easy soundbites and/or a very dishonest person who is deliberately misrepresenting the point I was making in positing multiple speculations that are contextually highlighted as such. I used the phrase “might very well be” precisely to highlight the speculative nature of the hypothesis, and you’re trying to pretend you have a gotcha moment.

    I would have used the words, “There is just a vanishingly small chance that there is only one set of physical constants a universe could possibly have. Not totally impossible, mind you, just a vanishingly small probability.”

    Compare this with the passage where you used those words “may very well be” to get some idea of the broad spectrum of ways in which speculative natures of hypotheses can be phrased.

    I invite you also to examine the following contrasting purely metaphysical statements while I take a long 3-day weekend break, brought to you courtesy of MLK Day.

    1. Reality is somehow structured in such a way that there had to be this physical universe, so hospitable to life, and no other kind of universe.

    2. Reality is somehow structured in such a way that there had to be a God who made all things that exist.

    Both are such extremes of speculation that I cannot really take either of them seriously. But strangely enough, even such a credentialed skeptic and atheist as Bertrand Russell actually was on the verge of 2. at one point, when he thought “Great Scott! The Ontological Argument is sound!”
    [He soon got over that idea.]

    Do you know what the Ontological (Anselmic) argument is? If you do not, I’ll try and explain it for you, but I must tell you that not only am I convinced it is unsound, but I have an argument for its unsoundness that is very different from Kant’s. [Kant's took a beating at the hands of William Barrett in an appendix to Irrational Man whereas mine strikes at a weakness in the argument that I haven't seen mentioned anywhere.]

    Anyway, a lot of atheists seem to lean towards 1. Are you one of them?

    And while we’re discussing purely metaphysical statements, let me also mention another pair
    of them.

    A. The default assumption is that something rather than nothing should exist.

    B. There is no reason why there should be anything at all.

    BillyJoe7 is leaning strongly towards A. How about you?

    I on the other hand lean very strongly towards B., which I’ve taken straight from Hans Jonas, one of the greatest philosophers whose life overlapped with mine.

  175. BillyJoe7on 18 Jan 2014 at 12:03 am

    jleonard2099,

    It is a fallacy to think that you cannot dismiss astrology without the detailed and nuanced knowledge of the astrologer. Similarly for faeries, hobgoblins, santa claus…and god.
    With that, and with all due respect, I dismiss your long and learned post. |:

  176. BillyJoe7on 18 Jan 2014 at 1:17 am

    pnyikos,

    “There is just a vanishingly small chance that there is only one set of physical constants a universe could possibly have. Not totally impossible, mind you, just a vanishingly small probability.”

    That’s just pure, non-evidence based speculation on your part.
    If not, please show me how you have computed this “vanishingly small” probability.

    “1. Reality is somehow structured in such a way that there had to be this physical universe, so hospitable to life, and no other kind of universe.”
    …a lot of atheists lean towards 1″

    That statement is not even factual.
    This universe is not “so hospitable” to life.
    So far we know of life on only one planet around one of a hundred thousand million suns in one of a hundred thousand million galaxies in one of perhaps an infinite number of universes.
    And this universe is so hospitable to life, that on the only planet where we know life does exist, 99.9 % of all species have gone extinct.
    So any atheist who leans towards 1 is leaning away from the knowledge base of science.

    Apart from that, please show me one such atheist.

    “A. The default assumption is that something rather than nothing should exist.
    B. There is no reason why there should be anything at all.
    BillyJoe7 is leaning strongly towards A.”

    You have been criticising another poster here for misrepresenting your position, but here you are blatantly misrepresenting mine. I have not even stated my position. I’ve been posting on what physicists have to say about this question. And I specifically said that physicists do not know if “nothing” or “something” is the default position. Or whether “something came from nothing” or that “there was always something”.

    “I on the other hand lean very strongly towards B”

    And with no reason to think so that you have articulated here, please excuse me if I dismiss your bravado out of hand.

    “which I’ve taken straight from Hans Jonas, one of the greatest philosophers whose life overlapped with mine”

    That is no reason to take his word as gospel. (;
    Science has not settled this question and, since philosophy must take its lead from science, excuse me if I dismiss your armchair philosophy out of hand.

  177. rezistnzisfutlon 18 Jan 2014 at 2:48 am

    “There is just a vanishingly small chance that there is only one set of physical constants a universe could possibly have. Not totally impossible, mind you, just a vanishingly small probability.”

    Sharpshooter fallacy again.

    It’s like saying that if I flip a coin 100 times and recorded the results, that there is a vanishingly small chance that the results would be just like what is seen the 100 times. It’s making a massive assumption that it’s extremely unlikely that different universes can have different physical laws. How can anyone possibly know that?

    And so what if our universe has a specific set of physical laws? Ascribing some agency to it is infinitely less likely than it happening purely naturally, especially in the light of zero evidence to that effect (yes, zero evidence – weak evidence does not constitute evidence).

    Who’s to say that life would have evolved like it did on Earth if it were to start all over again? Most likely, if this universe were to reoccur over and over again, even with the same physical laws, life would look and be different on Earth every time, or perhaps not exist at all. That again is the sharpshooter fallacy because it dismisses the notion that life may, and likely would, be different in multiple iterations of the same universe.

    It seems pnyikos continues to commit the same logical fallacies repeatedly. So is the nature of religious apologists. Unfortunately for them, us extreme skeptics are more adept at identifying logical fallacies, calling them on it, and holding them to higher standards of evidence than they are able to provide for, realizing that that is a logical fallacy in itself (special pleading).

  178. rezistnzisfutlon 18 Jan 2014 at 2:49 am

    To correct myself, I don’t think special pleading is actually a logical fallacy, just a request to accept weak arguments, logical fallacies, and weak evidence.

  179. pnyikoson 21 Jan 2014 at 1:36 pm

    rezistnzisfutl, you and Bronze Dog kept confusing the modern fine tuning argument with an ancient fundie argument about the universe being created for Homo sapiens specifically, despite my correction of BD on that score [see my post of 15 Jan 2014 at 11:57 am and your post at 2:44 pm the same day].

    This fundie argument was satirized by Mark Twain already over a century ago when he wrote something on the lines of “this universe was obviously designed so that man could enjoy oysters on the half shell”.

    You also show your incomprehension of the modern fine tuning argument in thinking that it has anything to do with the Sharpshooter fallacy. Your fundie argument confusion is still very evident in your latest post, where you say:

    Who’s to say that life would have evolved like it did on Earth if it were to start all over again? Most likely, if this universe were to reoccur over and over again, even with the same physical laws, life would look and be different on Earth every time, or perhaps not exist at all. That again is the sharpshooter fallacy because it dismisses the notion that life may, and likely would, be different in multiple iterations of the same universe.

    Everything I’ve written should make it clear that I agree with this, but the rest of your post shows you have ignored practically everything I’ve written on fine tuning. So let me try to jar you out of your complacency with a little questionnaire.

    1. Which of the following is closest to your opinion?

    a. There is a staggering, perhaps infinite, variety of universes, so it’s no surprise that at least
    one of them has produced life.

    b. There is only a very limited variety of universes as far as basic physical properties go,
    so it’s a staggering stroke of luck that one of them is so hospitable to life that intelligent,
    aware creatures exist in it.

    c. There is only a very limited variety of universes as far as basic physical properties go,
    but there’s nothing unusual about one of them being hospitable to intelligent life.

    2. What comes closer to your reaction to the following statement by Einstein (translation by Gerald Holton)?
    “The eternally incomprehensible thing about the world is its comprehensibility.”
    http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Albert_Einstein

    a. Yes, it is amazing that our universe is not only so hospitable to intelligent life, but that
    its basic properties are discoverable to the magnificent extent that physicists and
    astronomers have been able to discover it.

    b. Answer a. is just another instance of the Sharpshooter fallacy.

    3. At this point, are you thinking something like, “Why would anyone bother to think about questions like these?”?

    If your answer to 3. is “Yes”, then you are continuing to add to the copious evidence in this blog that you were indoctrinated with atheism at a tender young age, and never bothered to think deeply about it or to seriously question it.

    If your answer to 3. is “No,” then I have one final question to ask you:

    4. Are you willing to believe that the modern fine tuning argument, which I represent here in all my posts, is focused on alternatives 1a, 1b and 2a, and has nothing to do with anything specific to any description of life on earth?

  180. Bronze Dogon 21 Jan 2014 at 1:42 pm

    I’d like to know what on earth you could possibly be referring to here. If there is anything that should be obvious about what I’ve written, it is that I have NOT claimed that I (or anyone else in the world) knows what caused the universe or even whether it has a cause at all.

    And yet you make some rather confident-sounding assertions involving probability. Science tends to boil down to believing the most probable hypothesis, but you seem unusually eager to shoot down certain ideas as improbable in the absence of data upon which we could calculate that probability. It’s also kind of meaningless to bring up that alleged improbability without higher probabilities to compare it to, and if you’ve got one, I want to know how you calculated it.

    I would have used the words, “There is just a vanishingly small chance that there is only one set of physical constants a universe could possibly have. Not totally impossible, mind you, just a vanishingly small probability.”

    I think, like many other people I’ve argued with, that you’re trying to be coy now that you realize we’re onto you.

    On what basis would anyone have to think the chance is vanishingly small? We have yet to observe other universes we can measure and compare our physics against, so we can’t make any inferences about the probability of any type of universe. We have yet to devise a way to even look for other universes, being stuck in this one, so the absence of evidence isn’t exactly extraordinary, unexpected, or a basis for invoking the Modus Tollens exception and strongly asserting a negative with confidence. Because of that, we simply don’t know how much the laws and constants can vary.

    I’m being honest with myself about our shared ignorance.

    1. We could have one universe with one set of laws that can’t possibly vary. Things are just the way they are for no reason, but some people feel an emotional need to invent a reason.

    2. We could have one universe that just randomly settled on one set out of infinite possibilities. People like you show up 13.7 billion years after the fact to assign a self-important significance to that truly random roll of the dice because they think they’re inherently more interesting than all the other possible outcomes (how do they know them all?), and/or they’re uncomfortable with the idea that they only exist because of chance events rather than being purposefully created and endowed with meaning by an external agent.

    3. We could be one universe out of many, and we’re the lucky lotto winner because with so many players, someone was bound to win. Some of the winners’ family declare it a miracle, that god showed them favoritism and just choose not to think about all the other players who weren’t “lucky.”

    4. There are many, many different sets of physics that can give rise to something we would consider life, mundane or exotic in our eyes, but we simply don’t have the means to simulate them all at the necessary level of detail because of our own physical limits on computing technology, resources, and time. But some people just refuse to consider that possibility because they think egalitarianism harshes on their special snowflake buzz.

    5. We could be a deliberate creation by an intelligent being. Of course, there’s no reason to seriously consider this unnecessarily complex idea over simpler ones until someone formulates a version that makes testable, independently verifiable predictions that succeed better than chance and the known laws and entities would expect. It also appeals to wishful thinking in so many people that we need to be particularly critical instead of permitting bias.

    You, however, seem to presume to know something about the probabilities involved in the formation of a/the universe in the absence of data we need to make such calculations.

    I favor simpler hypotheses over more complex ones because Occam’s Razor and the scientific methodology built on it have a good track record. Simple ideas are easier to test, and in principle, we can add on new entities as needed to have our theories eventually approach the actual complexity of the universe’s laws without overshooting. Being reckless about adding complexity would mean going back to the bad old days when capricious demons and spirits were responsible for phenomena we now see as mundane, simple, and predictable. I demand higher standards of evidence for god hypotheses because unseen human-like intelligences have a poor track record compared to the myriad mindless forces we take for granted. It’s also a good idea to apply extra scrutiny to ideas that seduce us into fallacious rationalizations through wishful thinking.

    The only reason I can see that you’re making these assertions about probability is to give yourself an excuse to perform the Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy.

  181. pnyikoson 21 Jan 2014 at 1:45 pm

    I should add to my last comment that I here represent the scientific variation of the fine tuning argument, and not the theistic version, which takes off from answer 1b and 2a and tries to conclude the existence of a creator/designer of the universe that is not subject to the physical laws of our universe/Level 1 multiverse. Although that conclusion is a reasonable one to believe in, and I have given some reasons why (having to do with a Level 2+ multiverse) I think the evidence at present strongly favors Answer 1a minus any such creator/designer.

  182. pnyikoson 21 Jan 2014 at 2:07 pm

    Bronze Dog, you are beginning to sound more reasonable now that I’ve nailed you in an indefensible claim about me, but your latest post, replying to that earlier post of mine, suggests you still do not understand something I wrote about the “vanishingly small” probability of the whole of reality being configured so that the physical constants of a universe could assume just one set of values.

    See the questionnaire I posted a short while ago today. You and everyone else reading it are invited to post your own answers. Note, though, that what I wrote about a “Yes” answer to 3 is specific to rezistnzisfutl, and I’d have to study the posts of others more carefully to come to the same conclusion about any of them.

    I’d especially like to see your answers, which I would use as a basis for answering this latest, long post of yours. Right now there is only one thing in it that I want to comment on. You wrote:

    And yet you make some rather confident-sounding assertions involving probability.

    The one I’ve mentioned in the first paragraph was the only really confident one. The rest is just my private opinion, including the (at least) 100 to 1 odds I lay on our universe having a a creator/designer that is not subject to the physical laws of our universe/Level 1 multiverse.

  183. The Other John Mcon 21 Jan 2014 at 3:02 pm

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fundamental_physical_constant#Variation_of_the_constants

    If the constants aren’t varying, then there is no basis for assigning a probability that they could be anything other than what they actually are.

    Theoretical physicists and others have had quite a fun time doing thought experiments where they vary such constants to see what happens, and then say “Wow, look how fine tuned it all is!! If I twiddle this or that variable just a little bit, it all goes to hell!” But the meaning of “just a little bit” is a disguised stand-in for “I’m just making this up.”

    With no variability, there is no probability calculation to be had. Thus, no fine-tuning argument that works.

  184. The Other John Mcon 21 Jan 2014 at 4:04 pm

    pnyikos, I believe this issue is why BJ has challenged you to show us how you have computed the “vanishingly small” probability…because you haven’t computed one, because no such calculation actually exists that isn’t based on literally just making up a number for the variance.

  185. pnyikoson 21 Jan 2014 at 9:35 pm

    The Other John Mc writes:

    “If the constants aren’t varying, then there is no basis for assigning a probability that they could be anything other than what they actually are.”

    John, the cryptic sentence in the Wiki entry to which you are referring has no citation; to me it seems to be saying that nobody measuring things in our universe has detected any variation in the constants HERE. All that, in turn, says is that those constants are real constants where our universe is concerned.

    [All of which would be in line with the words I quoted from Einstein in an earlier post today:

    “The eternally incomprehensible thing about the world is its comprehensibility.”]

    Do you see any other interpretation of what that entry is saying, besides what I wrote before the part in brackets?

    If not, then your dig at theoretical physicists is utterly baseless:

    Theoretical physicists and others have had quite a fun time doing thought experiments where they vary such constants to see what happens, and then say “Wow, look how fine tuned it all is!! If I twiddle this or that variable just a little bit, it all goes to hell!” But the meaning of “just a little bit” is a disguised stand-in for “I’m just making this up.”

    Have you read what I’ve written about the various multiverses? see especially my post of on 13 Jan 2014 at 10:58 pm. Our own little “island universe”–the only place where we can measure the ingredients in these constants — is believed to be only one of an exponentially increasing set of “island universes” in a Level 1 multiverse. But there is no good reason to confidently claim that there is only one value in all of them for the physical constants talked about by Martin Rees in Just Six Numbers, listed in that Wiki site:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fundamental_physical_constant

    On the other hand, there is also no good reason to confidently claim that there are many different values they assume in our Level 1 multiverse, given that this multiverse spawns island universes with the help of the “false vacuum”.

    It is in the Level 4 multiverse, “the ultimate multiverse” consisting of All There Is or Was or Ever Will Be, that one can really expect the kind of variation of which I talk in Alternative 1a of the questionnaire I gave rezistnzisfutl earlier today.

    I’d like to see how you would answer those questions. You sound very sure of yourself in both of the posts you have done today, but that is because you are coyly avoiding committing yourself to any position on anything like those questions.

  186. The Other John Mcon 21 Jan 2014 at 11:07 pm

    Not to be impolite….but I’m about to be impolite: Put up or shut up, you’ve dodged this question at least 3 times now. Show us all a calculation suggesting a “vanishingly small” probability of observing our physical constants as they are, in which a number for the variance isn’t literally just made up out of thin air.

    But you won’t, cuz you can’t.

  187. BillyJoe7on 22 Jan 2014 at 7:23 am

    pnyikos,

    I don’t think you’ve understood bronze dog’s response.

    He is saying that we don’t know which of the alternatives is correct. Science has not yet provided the answer. Maybe it never will. You want us to pick a favourite. But what’s the point, and on what should we base our choice if there are no facts of the matter. Aesthetics? What we would like to be true? Gut feeling? Or perhaps, it we don’t know, we simply don’t know. Period.

    Except for eliminating the intelligent designer by means of Ockham’s razor.

    I think it’s pretty clear that the intelligent designer god does not even get a look in. We have no examples of gods. We have no evidence for the existence of gods. And we would be attempting to explain some thing fairly simple by means of something extremely more complex. On the other hand, we already have an example of a universe. So we could have an infinite number of universes without introducing any new concepts. Or we have a multiverse as a corollary of existing cosmological theory which, itself, was advanced to explain the observable facts of our universe.

    Seems to me you just don’t like the science-based answers you’re getting.

  188. Bronze Dogon 22 Jan 2014 at 1:25 pm

    Since pnyikos directed me to address this:

    rezistnzisfutl, you and Bronze Dog kept confusing the modern fine tuning argument with an ancient fundie argument about the universe being created for Homo sapiens specifically, despite my correction of BD on that score [see my post of 15 Jan 2014 at 11:57 am and your post at 2:44 pm the same day].

    I don’t think you’ve been reading what I’ve been writing, only what you wish I was writing. To me, this paragraph amounts to you trying to change the issue by manufacturing an error of degrees for me to allegedly make when I’m talking about a more fundamental error born from instinctive bias.

    I don’t see how my observation that you’re using the Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy would change if we were talking about individuals, the species of homo sapiens, DNA & RNA-using life forms that code in words of 3 letters out of an alphabet of 4 amino acids, carbon-based life, self-aware mortal intelligences, or however narrowly or broadly you want to define the life you assign as the god’s purpose. In talking about hypothetical alternate universes, whether they’re actually out there right now or if they’re just “could have been” versions of this universe, I’ve made the point that they could use the same fine tuning arguments to assert that they were specifically chosen as the purpose of the universe.

    I’ll humor your questionnaire:

    1. Which of the following is closest to your opinion?

    a. There is a staggering, perhaps infinite, variety of universes, so it’s no surprise that at least
    one of them has produced life.

    b. There is only a very limited variety of universes as far as basic physical properties go,
    so it’s a staggering stroke of luck that one of them is so hospitable to life that intelligent,
    aware creatures exist in it.

    c. There is only a very limited variety of universes as far as basic physical properties go,
    but there’s nothing unusual about one of them being hospitable to intelligent life.

    (a) is one possibility. I do not know how probable it is because I do not know how much the properties of universes can vary.

    (b) is deceptively phrased to appeal the Texas Sharpshooter fallacy. A better phrasing would be “There is a limited variety of possible universes. Our universe has properties that led to the production of intelligent, self-aware life. Biological life evolved to consciousness and has an instinctive and cultural preference for life over non-life because that preference produces a selective advantage over those without it. Life forms that think life is special are more likely to have a drive to reproduce or protect life forms with a similar preference so that they may reproduce. Because of this bias, most of these life forms define the life-producing properties of the universe as ‘lucky’ after the fact. Some go on to project that bias onto the universe or a hypothetical creator, rather than recognize its subjective nature.”

    My version of (b) is one possibility. I do not know how probable it is because I do not know how much the properties of universes can vary.

    (c) is one possibility. I do not know how probable it is because I do not know how much the properties of universes can vary.

    I kinda have a subjective preference for (c) out of those options, but I’m not interested in having an argument about the aesthetics of humility and egalitarianism. I want to talk about the math and science. Of course, if you want to discuss (c) in scientific terms, one major task we’d need to do before simulating hypothetical universes is reach a consensus on what defines “life.”

    2. What comes closer to your reaction to the following statement by Einstein (translation by Gerald Holton)?
    “The eternally incomprehensible thing about the world is its comprehensibility.”
    http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Albert_Einstein

    a. Yes, it is amazing that our universe is not only so hospitable to intelligent life, but that
    its basic properties are discoverable to the magnificent extent that physicists and
    astronomers have been able to discover it.

    b. Answer a. is just another instance of the Sharpshooter fallacy.

    I’d go with (b). The existence of a universe with predictable laws is kind of a prerequisite for life as I see it. If the universe was truly chaotic at every level, life probably wouldn’t be around to assign a preference for life and knowledge. Evolution produced animal brains that can grasp the more familiar physical laws because being able to understand the world provides a selective advantage. A predator who can predict the possible paths its prey might use to flee by using a simplified but reasonably accurate “middle world” model of physics has a selective advantage over one who can’t. Humans evolved extremely plastic brains capable of learning many, many things because it gave us a selective advantage when we used it to learn things faster than our genes could. We’re prosperous to the point that we can “waste” time learning about the laws of physics that aren’t immediately relevant to obtaining food or sex. Sometimes we just happen to discover things we’re clever enough to take advantage of. Sometimes, we discover things that prevent us from doing things we’d like to do, like the laws of thermodynamics prevent us from making free energy or relativity prevents us from having convenient FTL spacecraft. Sometimes, we just discover useless trivia.

    I only see it as strange, special, mysterious, or amazing is if I listen to my ego. Once I try to repress that ego, it becomes tautological that we’d find our universe was able to produce life. The fact that we’re life forms observing our universe and having this argument means that we’d expect the prerequisites for life to be filled. If they weren’t, then our existence would be a contradiction that undermines the assertion that we know about how life is produced.

    What would really be strange is if we were life forms in a universe with properties that made life categorically impossible. If we did find that the universe’s properties made life impossible, which seems more parsimonious? That we made a mistake in our observations and theories, or that an unobserved entity made of interdimensional ether produced a by-definition-impossible miracle?

    Oh, and as has been previously mentioned, our universe isn’t amazingly hospitable to life. The vast majority is a deadly irradiated vacuum, for crying out loud. We have one comparatively tiny container that we know of called Earth. Life, doing what life does, changed itself to fit in that container as radiation, meteors, geologic events, and so on changed the container’s shape. We’re a puddle looking to fill in the cracks of a pothole. The pothole only reliably accommodates us when we consciously make an effort to erode it into the shape we want.

    3. At this point, are you thinking something like, “Why would anyone bother to think about questions like these?”?

    If your answer to 3. is “Yes”, then you are continuing to add to the copious evidence in this blog that you were indoctrinated with atheism at a tender young age, and never bothered to think deeply about it or to seriously question it.

    If your answer to 3. is “No,” then I have one final question to ask you:

    4. Are you willing to believe that the modern fine tuning argument, which I represent here in all my posts, is focused on alternatives 1a, 1b and 2a, and has nothing to do with anything specific to any description of life on earth?

    Talk about dishonest framing to suit your prejudiced narrative. If anyone’s been indoctrinated to not think about these issues, I would point to you. Yes, I think about questions like this. The problem I have with you is that I don’t think you’re being honest with us or with yourself.

    I grew up in a liberal Christian home, and we all went atheist later in our lives. I went through a semi-deist phase of “spiritual but not religious” through my later teen years. For part of that, I went atheist (but not very skeptical, since I still accepted some supernatural hypotheses) out of wishful thinking. I decided I didn’t like the potential for abuse a god would have or how inherently inhuman I thought such a being would be once I started questioning my then fairly Christian premises. By talking with atheists online and seeing theists play many of the same games to ignore honest inquiries, I saw how dishonest I had been with myself about the supernatural and how reliant I was on wishful thinking. Eventually, I became an atheist and skeptic committed to logical and evidential reasons and try to point out bias when I see it.

  189. Bronze Dogon 22 Jan 2014 at 2:04 pm

    I think I’ve reached a point I can ask a very blunt question that we’ve been dancing around.

    pnyikos, what makes you think gods give a shit about our variety of life?

    I don’t see why gods that do are more probable than gods that don’t. If our universe could have just as easily been created by gods that don’t care about our kind of life, what’s improbable about it being caused by mindless forces that are similarly apathetic?

  190. BillyJoe7on 23 Jan 2014 at 6:58 am

    I think the problem here is that pnyikos has come here to have an argument but has had neither the time nor the arguments. And that’s being kind. Furthermore, there are enough questions asked of him that he can pick and choose which ones to answer, which means that he can avoid the curly ones and concentrate on what he sees as low hanging fruit. I suppose he thinks that, if he shows up infreqently enough and keeps not answering the questions, we’ll all lose interest and stop posting and he can avoid looking like he’s failed to make his case.

  191. The Other John Mcon 23 Jan 2014 at 8:13 am

    Moving on from pnyikos’ nonsense for now, here’s an interesting thought and question:

    People love to spin the “improbably fine-tuned” argument as a case for intelligent design or theism or whatever. But let’s consider the opposite situation in which we all agree we find ourselves in a universe that seems only a little finely-tuned, not much tuning going on at all. The physical constants could vary here or there with large magnitudes, and it wouldn’t make the slightest difference to how things turned out, things would mostly be the same.

    Are the theists and ID crowd then all of a sudden going to say this is evidence *against* a creator-God? The answer is hell no, they would claim this too is evidence for a creator-God because no matter how you tune the universe, we would all be here, so we were meant for the universe and the universe was meant for us.

    See the problem this reveals? Whether there is fine-tuning going on or not, they would wiggle their way to the same conclusion. Meaning the religious or philosophical implications of this debate are slim to nil, sadly.

  192. sonicon 23 Jan 2014 at 3:09 pm

    I have a prediction-

    It will be just as difficult to get the exact number of universes there are as it has been to get the exact number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin.

    (That is to say– the mathematics will generalize to infinite dimensions).

  193. Will Nitschkeon 24 Jan 2014 at 4:21 am

    @pnyikos

    If you’re still around to read this, a very entertaining set of postings, thank you. I didn’t read the responses from your detractor as that would have taken too much time and you quoted liberally, so I didn’t feel I needed to. I will make the mildly sardonic observation that the multi-verse discussion (nonsense?) is all too reminiscent of scholastic debates over angels and pins. ;-)

  194. BillyJoe7on 24 Jan 2014 at 6:47 am

    I just started to read the above post when my central vision faded and disappeared. How appropriate. Unfortunately, this means that in about twenty minutes I’m going to have a throbbing headache. Well, serves me right for continuing to read the worthless contributions from this useless poster.

  195. Bronze Dogon 24 Jan 2014 at 2:11 pm

    One important difference between universes and angels on a pin is that we have verifiably observed one universe and, to date, zero angels.

    I think, if anything, it’s closer to speculating about life on other planets. We’ve observed life on Earth and there’s no reason to think it’s impossible for life to arise elsewhere. Under some interpretations I’ve heard, having only one universe would require positing some new law or property to restrict the number of universes, much like we would need to posit something truly unique about Earth to believe life couldn’t arise elsewhere in this universe. I’m not aware of anything to necessitate such a law.

  196. Will Nitschkeon 24 Jan 2014 at 5:48 pm

    Discussing philosophy with someone who isn’t a philosopher or who hasn’t studied philosophy, is a bit like debating with Eliza. You might do it anyway if you’re starved for intellectual discourse, but it’s never particularly satisfying.

  197. BillyJoe7on 25 Jan 2014 at 1:16 am

    The distance between what one thinks is important and its actual importance
    can now be measured in “nitschke”.

    :D

    (How’s that for a bit of philosophising from a non philosopher)
    (Okay, okay, I plagiarised it from Sam Harris)

  198. pnyikoson 03 Feb 2014 at 11:59 am

    I’ve been terribly busy these last two weeks in my role of “the buck stops here wrt the written test” for the latest High School math contest. I have two very picky people ultimately in charge of the whole contest above me in the committee, and that made for lots of revisions, even up to the very day of the contest.

    The test should be on line along with the solutions in a few days. It was a great contest, with over 200 students from over twenty high schools taking part, and three scholarships riding on the performances on the written test. The other two competitions were only for medals and trophies, so we had to be extra careful about the wording of the test questions and the correctness of the answers.

    Now I can start participating again here. It’s nice to see Will Nitschke has been keeping the blog open in my absence.

    The Other John Mc omitted the “whatever” that both I and Martin Rees favor, writing:

    People love to spin the “improbably fine-tuned” argument as a case for intelligent design or theism or whatever. But let’s consider the opposite situation in which we all agree we find ourselves in a universe that seems only a little finely-tuned, not much tuning going on at all.

    Sorry, I cannot agree that any intelligent creatures could find themselves in a universe like that. Although you’all pay lip service to science in your relentless polemical campaigns for atheism, you pay little attention to what an eminent cosmologist like Martin Rees actually writes:

    ————————-excerpts ———————————-
    • The cosmos is so vast because there is one crucially important huge number
    N in nature, equal to 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000.
    This number measures the strength of the electrical forces that hold atoms together,
    divided by the force of gravity between them. If N had a few less zeros,
    only a short-lived miniature universe could exist: no creatures could grow larger
    than insects, and there would be no time for biological evolution.

    • Another number, Є, whose value is 0.007, defines how firmly atomic nuclei bind together and
    how all the atoms on Earth were made. Its value controls the power from the Sun and,
    more sensitively, how stars transmute hydrogen into all the atoms of the periodic table.
    Carbon and oxygen are common, whereas gold and uranium are rare,
    because of what happens in the stars. If Є were 0.006 or 0.008, we could not exist

    These six numbers constitute a ‘recipe’ for a universe. Moreover, the outcome is sensitive
    to their values: if any one of them were to be ‘untuned’, there would be no stars and no life. Is this
    tuning just a brute fact, a coincidence? Or is it the providence of a benign Creator? I take the view
    that it is neither. An infinity of other universes may well exist where the numbers are different.
    Most would be stillborn or sterile. We could only have emerged (and therefore we naturally now
    find ourselves) in a universe with the ‘right’ combination. This realization offers a radically new
    perspective on our universe, on our place in it, and on the nature of physical laws.
    ============ end of excerpts====================

    Now The Other John Mc reveals the appropriateness of what I wrote up there about “lip service”: he is about a century behind in his understanding of science:

    The physical constants could vary here or there with large magnitudes, and it wouldn’t make the slightest difference to how things turned out, things would mostly be the same.

  199. pnyikoson 03 Feb 2014 at 1:51 pm

    Will Nitschke, you wrote:

    @pnyikos

    If you’re still around to read this, a very entertaining set of postings, thank you.

    You’re welcome. I hope YOU are still around to read this.

    I saw how nasty the “circle jerkers,” as Elmer McCurdy implicitly styled them, were to you too, while pretending to be humble and open-minded. Hoss’s collection of quotes on 18 Dec 2013 at 8:04 pm is especially entertaining for how out of touch these people are with the reality of their own behavior. [Steven Novella excepted -- I get the impression that the main role these "camp followers" of his play is to make Novella look good in comparison with them.]

    I can see why Elmer, atheist though he is, wrote that he didn’t like “you people.” If I were to read a lot of threads in Neurologicablog, would I see “you people” all over the place? Elmer seemed to know them well from earlier. I’m very busy in other forums, as well as with my duties as a Professor, so I haven’t had the time to investigate for myself.

    Fortunately, Elmer’s “you people” are quite atypical of atheists in the big outside world. Perhaps his “you people” behave differently there too, being much more honest and sincere in real life. Perhaps their behavior here is due to having been spoiled rotten through having encountered so few knowledgeable opponents and through reinforcing each other.

    I didn’t read the responses from your detractor as that would have taken too much time and you quoted liberally, so I didn’t feel I needed to. I will make the mildly sardonic observation that the multi-verse discussion (nonsense?) is all too reminiscent of scholastic debates over angels and pins. ;-)

    Read my earlier post of today and see whether you are still of this opinion about the multiverse concepts. Pay special attention to Martin Rees’s “infinity of other universes” comment. If you stick to your guns on this matter, I’ll be glad to debate you as well as the people I’ve been debating up to now.

  200. BillyJoe7on 03 Feb 2014 at 3:55 pm

    pnyikos,

    Here was I thinking that maybe, just maybe, you’d have something interesting to add after two weeks of no comments. But all we have is you picking a couple of low hanging fruits, and a tirade about how bad we all are. And the only point you make is one with which no one would disagree, and which I’ve stated a few times already: if we can have one universe, we can have an infinity of universes without needing any new concepts, and we just find ourselves in one in which it is possible for us to evolve.

    You have interesting friends though. Will Nitschke, who has never written anything worth reading and refuses to read anything we write in response. And little Elmer who shows up every now and then for a drive by shooting and never engages in any discussion. He jokes about a circle jerk but (you’ll need a good imagination here) he is just a one man circle jerk. But now he has a couple of friends to play with. So, out with it you three…and stand real close. (;

  201. pnyikoson 03 Feb 2014 at 4:03 pm

    Bronze Dog, you took exception to the following thing I wrote:

    ” rezistnzisfutl, you and Bronze Dog kept confusing the modern fine tuning argument with an ancient fundie argument about the universe being created for Homo sapiens specifically, despite my correction of BD on that score [see my post of 15 Jan 2014 at 11:57 am and your post at 2:44 pm the same day].”

    You were either flagrantly dishonest or abysmally forgetful or downright stupid (pick the one that suits you best) in your reaction:

    I don’t think you’ve been reading what I’ve been writing, only what you wish I was writing.

    You should look in the mirror when you say things like that. Here is what you wrote even before the posts I’ve referenced above:

    “The fine tuning argument presumes that the universe has a purpose,
    and that purpose is to produce humanity.”
    –Bronze Dog on 15 Jan 2014 at 10:53 am

    To me, this paragraph amounts to you trying to change the issue by manufacturing an error of degrees for me to allegedly make when I’m talking about a more fundamental error born from instinctive bias.

    If it still seems that way to you, your very sanity comes into question, no matter how much you or rezistnzisfutl or BillyJoe7 would love to think or pretend otherwise.

    Here, maybe this can keep you from putting your foot into your mouth again–a comparison with a gauntlet you flung down less than an hour after the post where you made the quotes I’ve set off with html commands:

    ” I think I’ve reached a point I can ask a very blunt question that we’ve been
    dancing around.

    pnyikos, what makes you think gods give a shit about our variety of life?”

    You should have addressed that question to yourself, or to rezistnzisfutl, about your obsolete-by-century+ idea of what fine tuning arguments are all about. And you should have addressed the words in the last italicized quote from you to him and to yourself.

    In other forums, when someone not in good with the dominant clique makes such solecisms as you have, he is set upon by several people talking about “irony meters” and “projection” and “Pee Wee Hermanisms.”

    But you can be quite satisfied that BillyJoe7, who backed you up over those two posts of yours while making indefensible allegations about me, will play “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” now that I’ve made it clear how rash he was to do so. And you can be sure that everyone here besides me and Will will do the same. Maybe even Will.

  202. pnyikoson 03 Feb 2014 at 4:39 pm

    “Here was I thinking that maybe, just maybe, you’d have something interesting to add after two weeks of no comments.”

    And I did, BillyJoe7, but you are just as much in denial over it as the Amazon.com camp followers of Donald Prothero are, letting Amazon lie for them that they think this or that opponent’s post “does not add to the discussion” when all they are doing is voting to hide posts that are acutely embarrassing to people whose falsehoods they are trying to promote.

    “But all we have is you picking a couple of low hanging fruits, and a tirade about how bad we all are.”

    And I’ve begun to demonstrate the latter in reply to Bronze Dog. Note especially my last paragraph; your behavior wrt those “low hanging fruits” was to be completely mum about them for over a week, until I showed up again.

    Your next statement continues in that tradition, talking only about one aspect of what I wrote about fine-tuning:

    And the only point you make is one with which no one would disagree, and which I’ve stated a few times already: if we can have one universe, we can have an infinity of universes without needing any new concepts, and we just find ourselves in one in which it is possible for us to evolve.

    We’ve been over the inadequacy of YOUR original idea of “the multiverse,” which is something that is a natural extension of inflation theory–a Level 1 multiverse. The “infinity of other universes” of which Martin Rees writes is the totality of all universes in existence, THE Level 4 multiverse, and inflation theory has NOTHING to say about that.

    ONLY the fine tuning argument makes the existence of the whole variety of universes of which Rees writes seem like something “we can have” on the basis of there being one universe. The airy-fairy stuff you and others post about some things being more likely than nothing is based on speculation by Hawking and Krauss and their ilk which never strays far from hypothesized properties of our Level 1 multiverse.

    But you fancy yourself to be some sort of know-it-all here, because when I described these levels of multiverses in detail, you only said you were glad to see that I was up to date on multiverses, as though you had known about all four levels all along.

  203. Bruceon 03 Feb 2014 at 4:53 pm

    pnykos wrote:

    “Will Nitschke, you wrote:
    @pnyikos
    If you’re still around to read this, a very entertaining set of postings, thank you.
    You’re welcome. I hope YOU are still around to read this.”

    And then he calls us the circle jerkers!

  204. Bronze Dogon 03 Feb 2014 at 6:16 pm

    I overspecified early on while expressing a more important concept. Big whoop. If you had actually been reading for comprehension instead of self-gratification, you’d have noticed I’m not arguing as narrowly as you’re claiming. What you’re doing is only one tiny notch above nitpicking about grammar, especially after I restated my position in an attempt to dispel your confusion and specify that the tiny detail you continue to fixate on is irrelevant to my overall position:

    I don’t see how my observation that you’re using the Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy would change if we were talking about individuals, the species of homo sapiens, DNA & RNA-using life forms that code in words of 3 letters out of an alphabet of 4 amino acids, carbon-based life, self-aware mortal intelligences, or however narrowly or broadly you want to define the life you assign as the god’s purpose.

    Emphasis added.

    What makes your “new” version of the fine-tuning argument structurally different from the old version? How does it address my actual criticism in a fashion the old one doesn’t?

    It seems like you’re trying to play a game of odds against the “old” fine-tuning argument and pretending that hedging your bets by making less precise (and presumably, more likely) predictions puts you ahead of them and more worthy of consideration. The problem I have is that as far as I can tell, both your “new” version and the old version are still built on the same fallacious foundations, so my choice of arguments will work exactly the same way against both.

    1. We don’t have any information on how much universes can vary because we only have one known example. You can’t do statistics on a sample size of one to estimate the range of variation. Barring stumbling on a large enough sample of other universes, we can’t say anything about how likely or unlikely our universe was without some kind of breakthrough that gives us genuine access to metaphysics or whatever. (Which I think would raise the issue of metametaphysics.)

    2. We live in a universe that has laws that permit our existence. This is tautological. If they didn’t permit our existence, our existence would be a contradiction in need of explanation. Because we’re here to observe ourselves observing, and currently lack the means to observe other universes if they exist, we have sampling bias right from the start.

    3. Life changes to fit in its container. Why should anyone be surprised that the two fit together pretty well in some places? Our universe that made our life possible is no stranger to me than a pothole that fits the shape of a puddle inside it. It’s not like someone goes around chiseling specific shapes into every pothole just to create puddles of a corresponding shape. It’s only natural to infer that something as fluid as water would accommodate the pothole, not the other way around. And yet, water molecules in those puddles are declaring that there is a divine chiseler because their puddle’s shape (whether in very specific or very general terms) is so innately important.

    Absence of data on which to draw conclusions about the odds, sampling bias, and our instinctive drive for ego-stroking narratives all combine to produce the Texas Sharpshooter fallacy, painting a bullseye around a pre-existing bullet hole. If you want to convince me that a god was deliberately aiming, show me evidence that it painted the bullseye before shooting and before we came along and a large, random sample of the shots it took at that bullseye.

  205. sonicon 03 Feb 2014 at 8:52 pm

    Bronze Dog-
    I agree with you about the ‘fine-tining’ argument. To say it proves the universe was designed for life, or for humans in particular is incorrect.

    Let’s try an analogy-
    I will write the numbers 1-10 in random order-
    1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10.

    You could never prove that sequence wasn’t produced randomly- it is as likely as any other sequence that there is.

    Yet you think I’m telling a fib when I say I produced them from a random process- huh?
    And if I continued the sequence in that same manner out to 1,000,000; you would be silly not to wonder if I was fibbing about the sequence being random- wouldn’t you?

    I hope the analogy helps.

  206. BillyJoe7on 04 Feb 2014 at 6:55 am

    sonic,

    As usual it is hard to know what you are trying to say, so I’ll just put this out there and you can decide if it’s relevant to whatever point it is that you’re trying to make.

    The sequence 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 is a recognisable sequence.
    Therefore you are effectively starting with this sequence before you pick numbers randomly.
    Therefore it is surprising when this sequence actually comes up.

    This is no different from starting with the following sequence: 8 3 4 1 9 7 2 10 5 6
    You would be equally surprised if that sequence comes up.

  207. The Other John Mcon 04 Feb 2014 at 8:04 am

    pnyikos, we are still awaiting that probability calculation that suggests fine-tuning, in order for this whole debate to have any meaning…

  208. pnyikoson 04 Feb 2014 at 10:43 am

    Bruce wrote:

    “And then he calls us the circle jerkers!”

    Look again, Bruce. You were not nasty to Will, and what’s more, you came in after Elmer disappeared. Here is what I actually wrote to Will:

    “I saw how nasty the “circle jerkers,” as Elmer McCurdy implicitly styled them,
    were to you too, while pretending to be humble and open-minded.”

    But this is interesting: you saw this “shoe” and decided to “wear it”. Or is your “we” simply an expression of solidarity with the people who gratuitously insulted Will?

    BillyJoe7 will no doubt take exception to that “gratuitously” but nowhere did he actually give evidence that Will fit the description he gave when he gave his para-xenophobic spiel about how I’m supposedly in solidarity with Will.

    People far less blatant than BillyJoe7 have been branded “conspiracy theorists” by the likes of BillyJoe7 himself, when they are in the dominant clique. It’s all a matter of whose ox is being gored.

    And the way he expressed his para-xenophobia was very interesting…but that’s a theme for a direct reply to him.

  209. Bronze Dogon 04 Feb 2014 at 1:57 pm

    Let’s try an analogy-
    I will write the numbers 1-10 in random order-
    1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10.

    You could never prove that sequence wasn’t produced randomly- it is as likely as any other sequence that there is.

    Yet you think I’m telling a fib when I say I produced them from a random process- huh?
    And if I continued the sequence in that same manner out to 1,000,000; you would be silly not to wonder if I was fibbing about the sequence being random- wouldn’t you?

    I hope the analogy helps.

    I’m not sure what your point is, but I feel I should preempt attempts by anyone to cobble together fallacious fine tuning arguments out of it.

    We can know what the odds are for a human producing a particular sequence of numbers by random chance are, as well as non-random methods they can use. We know how they can be biased or misrepresented, and why some humans would wish to deceive others. We can typically recreate the experiment multiple times and see if the results meet our expectations. We can calculate odds because we have knowledge about humans and human tools. The problem with the fine tuning arguments from probability or improbability is they’re making inferences from a vacuum.

    There’s also the meta-issue of significance and who’s assigning that significance. Living things like us assign significance to ourselves only after we get here. I didn’t think I or life in general was special before I existed because it was kind of hard to think before I started existing. Fine tuners make the mistake of assuming that our subjective values are universal or even objective and that they extend to strange, powerful beings who, if they exist, may actually have very different values.

    Oh, yeah, I’m reminded of something called the Historian’s Fallacy: Some historians make the mistake of thinking that because a historical figure’s actions had certain consequences, they must have taken those actions because they knew they would produce those consequences. It’s projecting the hindsight of modern humans onto our ancestors. I see no reason to think that life’s existence is evidence of a deity’s intention just because life developed hindsight after the fact.

  210. The Other John Mcon 04 Feb 2014 at 2:28 pm

    Bronze Dog, I doubt any of such arguments are going to convince people like Pnyikos because they have already read “the eminent” Rees and decided. What I’m hoping will convince them is if they go ahead and try to find an ACTUAL CALCULATION suggesting improbable fine-tuning, and SHOW IT to us. Their inability to do so should let it sink in: there is no such beast.

    The closest anyone can get is to say: “Look! this constant has lots of decimal places!!”

    But that isn’t a probability calculation. Its only an observation that a constant is behaving just as constants should: they are precise and unvarying to as many decimal places as we can look.

    No probability calculation = no basis for saying “probable” or “improbable” = no fine-tuning argument

  211. Bronze Dogon 04 Feb 2014 at 4:23 pm

    Yeah. Big numbers don’t mean anything to me if I see no reason to accept the premises they were calculated from. Additionally, as a math blogger I used to read said, the worst kind of math is no math, and we have a hard enough time just getting a lone number, much less the calculations behind it.

  212. sonicon 05 Feb 2014 at 2:40 am

    Bronze Dog-
    Even though I agree with your mathematical argument perfectly well; I still find the fine- tuning argument an invitation to wonder.

    That’s what I was attempting to convey with the analogy– an invitation to wonder.
    Sorry it failed.

    Your commitment to materialism is no doubt stronger than mine-

    BillyJoe7-
    I know. I’m being ridiculous.

  213. Bill Openthalton 05 Feb 2014 at 3:10 am

    sonic –

    It’s not the “fine-tuning” (scare quotes because there really is no such thing, as we don’t know there is anything to tune) that makes one wonder, it’s everything that makes up the world. Elementary particles, their capacity for organisation leading to particles which in turn build elements which combine to form elements, which combine to form molecules, which combine etc., etc., up to humans who now start to perceive that everything is actually information…

    This is vastly more wondrous than a Percy-Jackson-like perception of one or more gods moved by human feelings.

  214. BillyJoe7on 05 Feb 2014 at 7:44 am

    Bill,

    I agree.
    There is more wonder in the discoveries of science than in mystery mongering of religion.
    The wonder encompassed by sonic’s sequence coming out in a random pick pales against the logical explanations of why it’s not special.

  215. Bronze Dogon 05 Feb 2014 at 12:43 pm

    There is more wonder in the discoveries of science than in mystery mongering of religion.

    One of the things that really irritated me toward the end of my spiritual phase was the lack of progress for all the stuff I liked believing in. Woos collect mysteries to show them off as shiny, useless baubles to ooh and ah at and prove that they’re higher up on the hipster ladder. Science collects mysteries like puzzles and works rigorously to solve them so that we can appreciate and apply the clever solution. Science also allows us to move on to discover new mysteries we can solve while woo just passively collects redundant copies of the same boring old mysteries. Even their efforts at spin have gotten repetitive. A big part of my frustration in online arguments is trying to get woos to show me something new and strange.

    @sonic:

    That’s what I was attempting to convey with the analogy– an invitation to wonder.
    Sorry it failed.

    Your commitment to materialism is no doubt stronger than mine-

    1. What’s to wonder about? If you’re talking about brainstorming possibilities, I’ve done a share of that reading about and creating elaborate fantasy setting cosmologies.

    2. What does my monism have to do with this? One of the biggest problems I have with dualists is getting them to explain the meaning and purpose of dividing the world into two seemingly arbitrary categories. Often, it seems like they label various entities and explanations “supernatural,” “spiritual,” or whatever specifically because people like me have rejected them. They then reverse causation, saying the category (which I do not recognize) is why I reject them. The really annoying part for me is that a lot of skeptics seem to fall into that framing, even if they don’t mean to.

  216. sonicon 05 Feb 2014 at 3:13 pm

    Bronze Dog-
    A question I have is this- If there is a god, what is it like?

    There is plenty to wonder about.

    I agree- the distinction between monism and dualism can be silly and frustrating.
    What I should have said was-

    your commitment to a purposeless universe is stronger than mine

    as that is more accurate in terms of what I meant and it is probably more accurate about your position and I think it more accurately describes what the fine-tuning argument is really about anyway.

    Am I closer?

  217. pnyikoson 05 Feb 2014 at 3:21 pm

    Bronze dog, your answer to the following question suggests that you, too, are about a century behind in your understanding of science, if not a millennium.

    What comes closer to your reaction to the following statement by Einstein (translation by Gerald Holton)?
    “The eternally incomprehensible thing about the world is its comprehensibility.”
    http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Albert_Einstein

    a. Yes, it is amazing that our universe is not only so hospitable to intelligent life, but that
    its basic properties are discoverable to the magnificent extent that physicists and
    astronomers have been able to discover it.

    b. Answer a. is just another instance of the Sharpshooter fallacy.

    I’d go with (b). The existence of a universe with predictable laws is kind of a prerequisite for life as I see it. If the universe was truly chaotic at every level, life probably wouldn’t be around to assign a preference for life and knowledge. Evolution produced animal brains that can grasp the more familiar physical laws because being able to understand the world provides a selective advantage.

    What we have here is a false dichotomy between “predictable laws” and “truly chaotic at every level.” What
    you don’t seem to fathom is the incredible sophistication of reasoning ability, as well as untold hours of patient gathering and analysis of data that led to us understanding the structure of the atom, the orbits of planets,
    the size of our universe, the composition of stars and stellar evolution, and innumerable other things that
    had NO bearing on the survivability of our ancestors of the Cro-Magnon era, when the brains of humans were,
    if anything, even better than our own.

    In short, you lack the grasp of science that could make you appreciate the sense of wonder that Einstein was trying to convey. And your lack of a sense of wonder is starkly evident in your having a preference for c. in my first question:

    c. There is only a very limited variety of universes as far as basic physical properties go, but there’s nothing unusual about one of them being hospitable to intelligent life.

    NOTE the careful choice of words: “nothing unusual.” Think about it a little more carefully than you did up to now, and try to reason *a priori* instead of *a posteriori*.

  218. pnyikoson 05 Feb 2014 at 3:30 pm

    Bronze dog, you claimed when choosing c. that you are interested in the math and science. Let’s see how interested you are in the sophisticated science that Einstein was alluding to.

    You wrote:

    Oh, and as has been previously mentioned, our universe isn’t amazingly hospitable to lif\
    e. The vast majority is a deadly irradiated vacuum, for crying out loud.

    I. How would you design a universe without stars as steady sources of heat and planetary systems for life to
    evolve on?

    II. If you claim that there is no need to do away with these things, then your “vast majority” suggests that you
    would like to have the stars and planetary systems take up a much larger portion of space. What would
    you do to keep your universe from collapsing into a black hole in short order?

    III. If your answer to II. is “I would make gravity a lot weaker,” then how would you change the other physical
    constants to let stars and planets form in the first place?

    If you do well with these questions, I can produce a few more for you to display your interest in science.

  219. pnyikoson 05 Feb 2014 at 3:42 pm

    In item I of my last reply to Bronze dog, amend “heat” to “energy”.

  220. BillyJoe7on 05 Feb 2014 at 3:53 pm

    sonic,

    “If there is a god, what is it like?”

    Excuse me, but I’d rather imagine what faeries are like.
    They are at least harmless friendly little creatures and apparently rather cute.

    And who comes here to wish me well?
    A sweetly-scented faery fell.
    She laid her head upon my disbelief
    and bathed me with her ever-smile.

    (Well, in the original, it was an angel but never mind.)

    “your commitment to a purposeless universe…”

    It is not a commitment, it is the most reasonable explanation considering the evidence.
    And, as has been amply demonstrated in this thread, fine tuning arguments have no legs.

  221. Bronze Dogon 05 Feb 2014 at 4:30 pm

    @sonic:

    A question I have is this- If there is a god, what is it like?

    No idea. Why should I feel compelled to create a definition?

    your commitment to a purposeless universe is stronger than mine

    It’s called the null hypothesis. I’ll consider the possibility of a purpose when someone gives me good evidence that leads the conclusion that the universe has a purpose.

    @pnyikos

    What we have here is a false dichotomy between “predictable laws” and “truly chaotic at every level.” What you don’t seem to fathom is the incredible sophistication of reasoning ability, as well as untold hours of patient gathering and analysis of data that led to us understanding the structure of the atom, the orbits of planets, the size of our universe, the composition of stars and stellar evolution, and innumerable other things that had NO bearing on the survivability of our ancestors of the Cro-Magnon era, when the brains of humans were,
    if anything, even better than our own.

    It has an indirect effect on our survival, since it allows us to build technologies that aid our abilities. The bigger boggle I have at this very strange attempt at a point is why must these things directly aid our survival? Humans do a lot of things that don’t. I play video games, for example. We’re talking about our plastic brains, not genes, so we’re not talking about the same selective pressures in evolution. We’re successful to the point that first world people like me have the luxury of leisure time. Some humans simply used that leisure time to figure out how the world works in greater detail. Many of them don’t even expect to find useful applications.

    And what does this have to do with the universe being orderly rather than chaotic? My point is that the less orderly the universe is, the less can be discovered about how it works because the answer keeps changing. Presumably, life would also have a much harder time to maintain a foothold in such a universe because fitness curves would change abruptly whenever the laws change. If that’s the case, it’d be hard for intelligence to arise and figure out how to survive well enough to devote time to research. And then it’d all be for naught the next time the laws change.

    NOTE the careful choice of words: “nothing unusual.” Think about it a little more carefully than you did up to now, and try to reason *a priori* instead of *a posteriori*.

    Why, what’s unusual?

    I. How would you design a universe without stars as steady sources of heat and planetary systems for life to
    evolve on?

    II. If you claim that there is no need to do away with these things, then your “vast majority” suggests that you
    would like to have the stars and planetary systems take up a much larger portion of space. What would
    you do to keep your universe from collapsing into a black hole in short order?

    III. If your answer to II. is “I would make gravity a lot weaker,” then how would you change the other physical
    constants to let stars and planets form in the first place?

    If you do well with these questions, I can produce a few more for you to display your interest in science.

    I don’t know because I don’t know the breadth of my options. You, however, seem to be leading into an enormous argument from lack of imagination, namely a lack of imagination about what can be considered life. Instead of thinking about the ways exotic forms of life might be possible when the laws are open to change, you’re obsessing over what changes would make one variety of life impossible. I’m open to considering forms of life that don’t involve familiar forms of matter in universes we’d consider strange, and yet you seem to be implicitly dismissing them as impossible without consideration.

    You know, I think I’ve figured out what you were trying to say about “unusual” earlier. You mean carbon-based exceptionalism, the idea that carbon-based life is special because carbon-based life says so. Sorry, I’m not so jingoistic as to give that a free pass like you seem to be used to. I’m sick enough of fictional carbon jingoists persecuting those poor, innocent AIs who just want to coexist, treating them as mere property. I’m getting worried we might have the makings of a real life one, here.

  222. sonicon 06 Feb 2014 at 6:12 am

    Bronze Dog-
    You shouldn’t feel compelled to create a definition.
    You asked what I wondered about.

    You make a good point about evidence of purpose- I’m thinking one reason I consider there might be is because the universe seems reasonably lawful- things happen the same way over and over.
    Often when I see something that works over and over the same way I think it might be that way on purpose.
    Sometimes that’s right, sometimes that’s wrong.
    And so I wonder.

    I think this sort of thing is largely a matter of individual temperament- don’t you?

    BillyJoe7-
    You seem completely certain there is no god- and exactly what god would be like if there were one.
    I don’t know either.

  223. BillyJoe7on 06 Feb 2014 at 6:54 am

    sonic,

    I’m as sure there are no gods as I am that there are no faeries.

    And, no, I don’t know what those gods would be like if they existed but, if the particular god depicted in the bible existed, I’m pretty sure that horrible creature is someone I would not want to exist.

  224. Bronze Dogon 06 Feb 2014 at 3:56 pm

    You make a good point about evidence of purpose- I’m thinking one reason I consider there might be is because the universe seems reasonably lawful- things happen the same way over and over.
    Often when I see something that works over and over the same way I think it might be that way on purpose.

    I’d say you’re thinking is sloppy because you lack or ignore many things we know about human nature and how we create artifacts. We know a lot about humans, but a lot of theists don’t take that knowledge into consideration. They just make an intuitive leap without seriously looking at it step-by-step.

    We know the sorts of reasons why humans would build something and we can examine artifacts to see how well they suit human purposes.

    Humans tend to design things that work in predictable fashion, or at least those things that have utilitarian purposes. Humans like reliability and predictability.

    We know many methods and tools humans use to create artifacts and we can look for evidence of that, such as tool marks and fingerprints.

    Human artifacts tend to be significantly different than their surroundings. For example, we commonly use metals in an unnaturally pure state, rather than their common ore state. We’re also fond of putting things into clean geometric shapes that don’t easily occur from known natural forces.

    What do we know of gods? What purposes would gods have for creating universes that don’t just look like humans projecting their desires and wishful thinking onto them? What do gods need? What do they like? What tools and methods do they use, and what signatures do these leave behind? What are our universe’s natural surroundings like and what makes it significantly different from them?

  225. sonicon 06 Feb 2014 at 11:46 pm

    BronzeDog-
    You bring up excellent points.
    I am well aware of how easy it is to trick myself. I’m a master. (See, I tricked myself into thinking I have a clue about how good I really am about tricking myself– did I mention I am a master?)

    Just so you know, the best answer I have to the question ‘if there is a god what is it like?’ is:
    enigmatic.

    Anyway- I’m not sure there has to be any ‘signature’ or difference between what god did and rest of the universe- I’m not a big fan of ‘god-of -the-gaps’ so much as I am with the concept of god creator of all. It is perfectly all right with me if the reason hydrogen works the way it does is because it was created to work that way, for example.

    I think that attitude is more in keeping with the notion of ‘fine-tuning’ anyway.

  226. pnyikoson 07 Feb 2014 at 3:26 pm

    Bronze dog, you are evasive and assertive by turns, and at each turn it is what helps your atheistic agenda the most.

    You showed no interest in my questions I through III, so I have no idea whether you are interested in real, serious science as opposed to bits and pieces of atheistic polemic that have the air of science but not the substance.

    Your “humility” in the face of this challenge makes a staggering contrast with your earlier “wiser-than-Einstein implication that what Einstein had said was an instance of the Sharpshooter Fallacy. IN your latest reply to me it finds its echo in the formula, “this very strange attempt at a point,” a point essentially
    made by Einstein and the Royal Astronomer of England, the Cambridge Professor Martin Rees.

    You are too much the polemicist to realize is that this formula is best reserved for bull sessions where each participant has had at least three drinks.

    You quickly recovered from your “humility,” about I through III, arrogantly bluffing about an alleged “a lack of imagination about what can be considered life. Instead of thinking about the ways exotic forms of life might be possible”

    But your bluff is hollow, because you give NO idea about what exotic forms of life are possible. It’s a safe bet you have none yourself, because you go on to make a chemically ignorant comment, masking its ignorance with
    a madcap farce befitting a political animal, and totally out of place in a scientific argument:

    You mean carbon-based exceptionalism, the idea that carbon-based life is special because carbon-based life says so. Sorry, I’m not so jingoistic as to give that a free pass like you seem to be used to. I’m sick enough of fictional carbon jingoists persecuting those poor, innocent AIs who just want to coexist, treating them as mere property. I’m getting worried we might have the makings of a real life one, here.

    Carbon is the basis for a tremendous variety of molecules, far more than all other elements combined, because it has a valence of four, and each is capable of linking up with other carbon atoms to produce molecules with carbon-to-carbon bonds in chains of a hundred or more.

    That is why exobiologists hardly ever consider any other structural atom, whereas they do have various alternatives to our other necessities, ammonia or hydrogen flouride instead of H2O, hydrogen instead of oxygen with methane as the waste product, etc. Occasionally they think about silicon, which also has a valence of 4, but silicon-to-silicon chains become unstable at about 6 and the only long stable chains that might work are are Si-O-Si-O-Si-O….

    Aluminum? Nothing even remotely comparable.

    You must have been watching one rerun too many of “The Wizard of Oz” and decided to get real “scientific” and imagine an aluminum woodman instead of a tin woodman. :-)

  227. Bronze Dogon 07 Feb 2014 at 5:27 pm

    @pnyikos

    You showed no interest in my questions I through III, so I have no idea whether you are interested in real, serious science as opposed to bits and pieces of atheistic polemic that have the air of science but not the substance.

    Liar! I provided one answer for all of them:

    I don’t know because I don’t know the breadth of my options.

    That is a straightforward, bluntly honest answer. I don’t know what options I have to tweak a universe to compensate for the events that would come from certain specific tweaks. You’re essentially calling me evasive because I bluntly admit don’t have access to the knowledge I’d need to play god.

    I then pointed out the deceit behind how those questions were framed: They were all premised on the presumption that any form of life requires physical laws very much like ours while rejecting the possibility of different forms of life under very different laws and forces by silent omission and your lack of imagination.

    What evidence makes you better able to answer questions like that than I am? How do you know it’s impossible to compensate for those laws if we don’t know what our options are?

    Your “humility” in the face of this challenge makes a staggering contrast with your earlier “wiser-than-Einstein implication that what Einstein had said was an instance of the Sharpshooter Fallacy. IN your latest reply to me it finds its echo in the formula, “this very strange attempt at a point,” a point essentially
    made by Einstein and the Royal Astronomer of England, the Cambridge Professor Martin Rees.

    1. Fallacy: Argument from authority. Einstein is not a prophet or a god. Einstein was a human being just like I am. Just because he said something doesn’t make it true or profound. I reject the idolatry you are practicing here.

    2. Liar! I’m not arguing or in any way implying that I’m smarter than Einstein. I’m arguing that your interpretation of Einstein at the very least, if not Einstein himself, commits a logical fallacy by making that argument, and I attempted to demonstrate the fallacy by arguing my rationale that an orderly universe is likely a prerequisite for life to arise and examine that universe, while a universe that had laws that changed without warning would likely be extremely hazardous to life and prevent the development of intelligence. Essentially, I’m saying that it’s not wondrous or even surprising to me because, when I take a moment to think about it, it’s tautological and intuitively obvious.

    Relative intelligence between you, me, and Einstein has nothing to do with it. We’re talking about logical fallacies, not having a childish IQ-waving contest. Grow up. Either a fallacy is committed or it isn’t. We discern this by looking at the structure of the argument. It doesn’t matter who’s presenting the argument or how big a brain they have. By getting huffy about me pointing out a tiny crack in your idolized version of Einstein, you are evading the meat of my argument and trying to win sympathy from other Einstein idolators.

    Carbon is the basis for a tremendous variety of molecules, far more than all other elements combined, because it has a valence of four, and each is capable of linking up with other carbon atoms to produce molecules with carbon-to-carbon bonds in chains of a hundred or more.

    That is true. In this universe. Note the emphasis. I’ll note that you’ve revealed your deceitful intent in how you’re framing this.

    First, you invite me to change the laws of physics to produce a hypothetical universe without any knowledge of the options, since you’ve been so kind as to withhold any information regarding the limits of universe creation. I make it clear that I can only make shots in the dark with so little information. Here’s that important line, again:

    I don’t know because I don’t know the breadth of my options.

    I try anyway. I discard this universe’s laws of physics as a hard guide and the moment I take some shots at the deeper parts of the dark, suddenly, you pretend that this universe’s laws are still rigidly in effect and ridicule me for doing the very thing you asked me to do: Speculate in a vacuum.

    Who do you think you’re fooling? Yourself?

  228. Bronze Dogon 07 Feb 2014 at 5:29 pm

    Missed a closing bold tag after “nothing to do with it.”

    The noted emphasis that got mixed up as a result was “In this universe.”

  229. Bronze Dogon 07 Feb 2014 at 5:53 pm

    To put the stupidity in further focus:

    1. Pnyikos gave me a question in which altering the behavior of gravity, one of the four fundamental forces of at least this universe, is allowed.

    2. Carbon has the properties it does because of the other fundamental forces. The strong force keeps its nucleus together with neutrons despite the electromagnetic force repelling the protons from each other. The electromagnetic force also governs the behavior of its electron orbitals and with it, how it forms bonds with other atoms. The weak force, IIRC, is a part of radioactive decay of unstable isotopes of carbon. Thus I think it’s reasonable to think that altering how these forces work would alter the properties of carbon along with atoms in general, possibly even making them unrecognizable as atoms. I think it’s also reasonable that these alterations may have emergent consequences on the macro scale that may include strange forms we could call life if we’re broad-minded enough in defining life.

    3. If he’s allowed me to alter gravity, why would I not be similarly allowed to alter the strong and electromagnetic forces? My first guess: Because it’s inconvenient for his carbon jingoism to consider the possibility of physics that result in different, stable forms of matter that life could arise from.

  230. pnyikoson 11 Feb 2014 at 1:35 pm

    I wrote:

    “You showed no interest in my questions I through III, so I have no idea whether you are interested in real, serious science as opposed to bits and pieces of atheistic polemic that have the air of science but not the substance.”

    And, glass house dweller though you are, Bronze dog, you threw a boldfaced stone at me:

    “Liar!”

    I caught you in two bare-faced lies, and you made light of them. Documentation on request.

    But then, perhaps “Liar!” to you has as much moral force as “Nerd!” has to most sensible people. IOW, perhaps you are close to being an ethical nihilist:

    I provided one answer for all of them:

    I don’t know because I don’t know the breadth of my options.

    That is a straightforward, bluntly honest answer.

    It also shows a lack of interest in the questions, otherwise you might have elaborated just a tad, like you did for questions 1 and 2 in an earlier post. And the rest of what I wrote is backed by everything I quoted from you afterwards in the comment to which you are replying.

    Anyway, your “Liar!” is devoid of evidence.

    I don’t know what options I have to tweak a universe to compensate for the events that would come from certain specific tweaks. You’re essentially calling me evasive because I bluntly admit don’t have access to the knowledge I’d need to play god.

    Funny, that didn’t stop you from hinting at having that kind of god-like knowledge in what you said immediately after the “honest” words that you’ve re-quoted at me up there. In them, you accused me of

    “a lack of imagination about what can be considered life. Instead of thinking about the
    ways exotic forms of life might be possible…”

    What followed in the ellipsis was only slightly less pompous.

    But now, back to your latest post. You threw a second “ Liar! stone from your glass house that only an imbecile would think had any relevance to what you quoted from me immediately before.

    Methinks the Bronze Dog doth protest too much.

    Right after this free-floating accusation of yours, you wrote:

    I’m arguing that your interpretation of Einstein at the very least, if not Einstein himself, commits a logical fallacy by making that argument, and I attempted to demonstrate the fallacy by arguing my rationale that an orderly universe is likely a prerequisite for life to arise and examine that universe, while a universe that had laws that changed without warning would likely be extremely hazardous to life and prevent the development of intelligence.

    In other words, you attempted to demonstrate an alleged “fallacy” by making some high-school level commonsense observations, which only serve to insult the intelligence of Einstein, Martin Rees, and me further.

    YOUR fallacies include a failure to look deeply into your garden-variety generalization “orderly universe” and so sweep the monumental orderliness under the rug. NO wonder you kept showing your lack of understanding of that orderliness by adding:

    “Essentially, I’m saying that it’s not wondrous or even surprising to me because, when I take a moment to think about it, it’s tautological and intuitively obvious.”

    Here, you seem to be arguing that because an orderly universe is a prerequisite for life to evolve, that any old orderly universe is so likely to evolve life that there is nothing surprising about the only universe in all of reality evolving life.

    Remember how you showed a preference for c. in my first question in my first set of questions? Need I remind you of what that c. said?

    You are very big on the “Fallacy of argument from authority” but it is nothing but a hollow polemical device because you are just claiming that you think it is reasonable to think one thing or another without having the foggiest idea of HOW you could possibly alter the fundamental constants to produce something as incredibly versatile as carbon.

    As I wrote: “the air of science, but not the substance.”

    You don’t even give Martin Rees, Cambridge Professor, the benefit of the doubt as to whether he’s thought about these matters deeply, even though he gives every sign of being at least a “soft” atheist.

    Over and over and over, your behavior indicates a fanatical devotion to atheism and a closed mind towards anything that seriously seems to threaten it. No wonder your fellow “skeptics” are so admiring of you.

  231. The Other John Mcon 11 Feb 2014 at 1:49 pm

    Martin Rees is a Cambridge Professor? You mean a real-life Cambridge Professor?!? Why didn’t you just say that in the first place?

  232. Bronze Dogon 12 Feb 2014 at 3:35 pm

    I’m continuing to facepalm at your twisting of what I’m saying, pnyikos. I’m just going to pick out the most fundamental problems, since they irritate me the most.

    Regarding my “I don’t know”:

    It also shows a lack of interest in the questions, otherwise you might have elaborated just a tad, like you did for questions 1 and 2 in an earlier post.

    To get it out of the way, Fallacy: Argumentum ad hominem.

    How does saying “I don’t know” show a lack of interest in questions? Acknowledging my ignorance is not a statement of apathy. It’s just a trollish non-sequitur as an excuse for the mentioned ad hominem. There’s no law saying that I must provide a positive, specific assertion of belief when I don’t know something. You also seem to miss out that this ignorance is precisely my position on the issue, and I’m trying to get you to provide evidence, cogent reasoning, or whatever you imply to be privy to that I don’t already know about. The point in telling you I don’t know is that I’m inviting you to cure my ignorance with evidence and reasoning, not to assert that ignorance is inherently dishonest or craven.

    You also lash out at me when I ignorantly speculate (while admitting it’s ignorant speculation) like you asked me to with those questions. What exactly did you expect of me? I don’t see a cogent explanation of why either of my responses are wrong.

    It’s almost like the choice between admitting ignorance and providing a speculative answer changes to the one I don’t pick, and either is an indictment of my character. It’s got a very Orwellian/Catch 22 feel to it, so of course questioning the meaning, purpose, and answerability of your questions gets me labeled as uncooperative. The only alternative to those two is to make a statement of justified, accurate knowledge, for which I am asking for your help. All I seem to be getting is very confused answers and your collection of straw man snuff videos.

    Regarding logical fallacies:

    In other words, you attempted to demonstrate an alleged “fallacy” by making some high-school level commonsense observations, which only serve to insult the intelligence of Einstein, Martin Rees, and me further.

    You’re making an argument from hierarchical authority to back up your argument from authority. Logic doesn’t change based on a person’s educational level. Logic remains the same, no matter how many letters you have after your name, how famous you are, or what college you went to. If an “authority” commits a fallacy, it’s still a fallacy. If I’m wrong when I point out a fallacy, you don’t handwave it by hinting that the authority thinks in mysterious ways beyond the ken of a lowly mortal like me. You explain what their non-fallacious train of thought was. If you have the reasoning and evidence, an argument from authority becomes fallacious because it’s unnecessary. If I want to proofread someone’s work because I want to understand it or think I’ve spotted a mistake, handing me their credentials and asking me to just blindly trust them is evasive.

    Funnily enough, there are some things they teach you in high school that remain accurate and useful all the way to the Nobel Prize. While education often involves unlearning some approximations in favor of more accurate approximations, there are some things that don’t change so readily, like logic.

    You’re also projecting your authoritarian attitude onto me, even though by pointing out fallacious arguments from authority, I would think any reasonable person would recognize my purpose in doing so was to undermine the legitimacy of appealing to idolized authorities. The context and history of this age old topic makes that purpose clearer because Einstein is commonly idolized by people using his authority rather than his evidence and logic. Skeptics have a history of challenging that abused authority out of concern for logic and truth.

    I’m not in any way implying that I’m smarter than Einstein. What’s happening is that you’re making false inferences because you think that I share your authoritarian mindset. Your reading comprehension suffers because of this lack of self-awareness.

    The whole “insult” indignation also comes across as a fanatic’s accusation of heresy. Einstein was brilliant, but he also made some mistakes. I acknowledge both, which means if I see a mistake, I’m more interested in exploring whether it’s really a mistake and if so, how to correct it, rather than rationalize it away in the name of stroking Einstein’s (dead) ego. Your indignation comes across as a woo claiming that scientists think they’re smarter/more powerful than god / the ancients / a culture / the invisible hand of the market. It misses the point entirely. It’s not about intelligence, it’s about sound reasoning. The two are not synonymous.

    Here, you seem to be arguing that because an orderly universe is a prerequisite for life to evolve, that any old orderly universe is so likely to evolve life that there is nothing surprising about the only universe in all of reality evolving life.

    You have that exactly backwards. All dogs are mammals, but not all mammals are dogs. Because of how I conceive of life as an emergent property of strongly consistent interactions, I would expect that all life-producing universes would be orderly. I do not expect that all orderly universes would produce life. Because I look at the problem that way, as a living organism, I would expect to observe an orderly universe as my environment that is comprehensible enough for my mind. The point is that I acknowledge that I’m a living organism looking outward from the inside.

    Given your previous behavior, I suspect the previous paragraph sailed over your head because you’ve only allowed yourself to think of life in terms of this universe’s carbon atoms. I think life may be possible under many (but probably a minority of) universe conditions because I consider life and intelligence to be certain types of emergent properties.

    What I’m looking for in a refutation is an explanation of how a chaotic universe with changing laws and constants could produce and maintain life long enough for it to develop intelligence and an understanding of the universe. I would consider that remarkable. This universe doesn’t qualify because the laws appear to be quite consistent, even if our understanding of them isn’t perfect.

    Premise: Q (life) is a type of emergent phenomenon that depends on consistent laws to exist, develop intelligence, and to understand the universe.
    Rephrased: If and only if P (the universe is orderly), then Q (life can emerge).
    Evidence: We observe Q (We observe that life has emerged in this universe, being living things).
    Conclusion: Therefore P (We can conclude that the universe that produced our life is orderly).

    Counterexample: (Not P) and Q. In other words, a disorderly universe that has life.

    This line of reasoning is pretty boring. About all it says about a hypothetical group of universes is that the disorderly ones will not produce life, but that’s the premise. The reasoning is boring, but it looks sound and even obvious to me. That’s why I don’t find anything remarkable about noticing that the universe we live in is an orderly, understandable universe. I’d find it more remarkable if we arose in a chaotic universe because then I’d have to change an important premise to fit the evidence.

    What I think makes it relevant to fine tuning is that it doesn’t say anything about which orderly ones can produce life. Without additional information, we can’t make any conclusions about probability, so there’s no argument from improbability to conclude fine tuning.

    Remember how you showed a preference for c. in my first question in my first set of questions? Need I remind you of what that c. said?

    I note that you omit that I mentioned it specifically as an aesthetic, subjective preference, not an objective statement of probability or of belief. Its plausibility all comes down to how much the laws and constants can vary. If there’s a sufficiently large range of variation, I would think there might be enough to produce some kind of stable, emergent phenomena we could call life and possibly intelligence in some of them. If we knew the range of variation was as narrow as I inferred from your thought experiments, then there’d be significantly less chance for exotic life, and I’d swallow that mildly bitter pill. But I don’t know the range of variability, so I don’t have to just yet. Either way, it’s not really going to cause me any sort of existential crisis or whatever. I’m not emotionally invested in “having been right.”

  233. BillyJoe7on 12 Feb 2014 at 4:07 pm

    Bruce:
    “How does saying “I don’t know” show a lack of interest in questions? Acknowledging my ignorance is not a statement of apathy. It’s just a trollish non-sequitur as an excuse for the mentioned ad hominem. There’s no law saying that I must provide a positive, specific assertion of belief when I don’t know something. You also seem to miss out that this ignorance is precisely my position on the issue, and I’m trying to get you to provide evidence, cogent reasoning, or whatever you imply to be privy to that I don’t already know about. The point in telling you I don’t know is that I’m inviting you to cure my ignorance with evidence and reasoning, not to assert that ignorance is inherently dishonest or craven”

    I posted the following in this thread more than a week ago…

    BillyJoe:
    “pnyikos, I don’t think you’ve understood bronze dog’s response.
    He is saying that we don’t know which of the alternatives is correct. Science has not yet provided the answer. Maybe it never will. You want us to pick a favourite. But what’s the point, and on what should we base our choice if there are no facts of the matter. Aesthetics? What we would like to be true? Gut feeling? Or perhaps, it we don’t know, we simply don’t know. Period”

    Yet here he is still refusing to understand your response.
    I think his gripe is that you are not providing the answer he needs in order to continue his argument.
    Your science based responses are destroying his narrative.

  234. Bruceon 12 Feb 2014 at 4:38 pm

    That was a Bronze Dog quote, not mine.

    But doesn’t mean I disagree with it.

  235. BillyJoe7on 13 Feb 2014 at 6:32 am

    Yeah, sorry, I don’t know how that happened (the excerpt from my post clearly refers to Bronze Dog). I think perhaps I’d just read your contribution to another thread (possibly the one about GMO)

  236. Bronze Dogon 14 Feb 2014 at 10:00 am

    I feel like a point-by-point breakdown:

    1. Think of carbon-based life as an organism that makes its habitat in certain bullet holes.
    2. Life is a prerequisite to observation and understanding.
    3. Life thinks life is valuable because such a preference aids its self-replication. Intelligence thinks intelligence is valuable because it aids self-replication. Living things that lack a preference for things that aid their self-replication are less likely to continue living, hence those organisms that continue to exist for generations are biased towards having these preferences.

    4. We observe that we are in a bullet hole, as expected of organisms that inhabit bullet holes.
    5. We have yet to devise means of looking for other bullet holes and comparing their habitability.

    6. We have not observed the gun that produces these bullet holes, nor do we know how many types of bullets it can fire to produce different bullet holes.
    7. We have yet to observe a gunman. Even if we assume one exists, we only have one bullet hole, which is not a sufficient basis for making predictions about its behaviors.
    8. Because life thinks life is special, some life forms ignore (7) an due to a lack of self-awareness, do not stop to consider that (3) is biasing their perspective. They go on to presume the gunman shares this preference and fired the gun because it wanted us to inhabit the bullet hole, rather than any other possible purpose for creating a bullet hole.
    9. The life forms from (8) invent a presumption of improbability based on narrow interpretations of “life” and the presumption that the bullet used to create our hole is rare or even specifically designed with our habitation of its bullet hole in mind. They presume that the gunman aimed specifically for this spot in the broad side of a barn to produce carbon-based bullet hole-inhabiting life forms.

    Thus, they are using their self-important bias to paint a bullseye around the only known bullet hole. They never consider that the gunman might be firing bullets for a reason other than producing us, that he might be a poor shot, that he might be accident-prone and misfired, or that the gun is actually just a mindless natural event.

  237. pnyikoson 10 Mar 2014 at 7:19 pm

    Did you all think I was gone for good? I haven’t weighed in for almost a month because I’ve been preparing seminar talks about a major new mathematical theorem and its corollaries that I’ve discovered, and now I am preparing for a talk at a conference that is the biggest annual topology conference in the world, starting this Wednesday.

    Oh, and some very major developments have occurred in two other forums dominated by anti-ID zealots, including a person for whom I had had a rather high opinion showing his true colors. He is turning out to be as arrogant in thumbing his nose at evidence of wrongdoing by him as Sauroman was in the chapter, “The Voice of Sauroman” in J.R.R. Tolkien’s book, _The Two Towers_, and this has been quite a game-changer over there.

    I will not have time to reply in detail to the posts that have been made since I left (and some of the earlier ones also) until some time next week. I just want to mention that I came across the book with the somewhat misleading title, _Scientists Confront Intelligent Design and Creationism_ and was struck by how much of the arguments in Victor J. Stenger’s article therein have been tried against me–in a completely inappropriate way.

    His arguments addressing fine-tuning work all right in their original anti-theistic setting, but they are like fish out of water when turned against MY belief and that of Cambridge Professor (Yes, of THE Cambridge University, in Cambridge, England) Martin Rees. This is the belief that that there are, practically speaking, an infinity of universes, and, except for those satisfying a very narrow set of physical constants and initial conditions, they are pure garbage.

    Bronze Dog in particular hewed so closely to many of Stenger’s arguments (even to the mockery of “carbon chauvinism”) that I’ve actually begun to wonder whether he IS Victor J. Stenger!

  238. Bronze Dogon 14 Mar 2014 at 2:52 pm

    I was wondering when you’d get back.

    I’m not Stenger, just a random internet guy who’s been in a lot of these sorts of arguments. I don’t immediately recognize Stenger’s name.

    His arguments addressing fine-tuning work all right in their original anti-theistic setting, but they are like fish out of water when turned against MY belief and that of Cambridge Professor (Yes, of THE Cambridge University, in Cambridge, England) Martin Rees.

    What is your purpose in putting this ridiculous emphasis on the university, if it’s not for making an unnecessary and therefore fallacious argument from authority?

    I’m still waiting to hear what makes your version of the fine tuning argument immune to the most fundamental criticisms. All I can see is potential immunity to the most peripheral ones.

  239. BillyJoe7on 14 Mar 2014 at 4:48 pm

    Pnyikos,

    “I haven’t weighed in for almost a month because I’ve been preparing seminar talks about a major new mathematical theorem and its corollaries that I’ve discovered, and now I am preparing for a talk at a conference that is the biggest annual topology conference in the world, starting this Wednesday”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crank_(person)

  240. Bruceon 14 Mar 2014 at 4:55 pm

    “Sauroman”

    Guy on internet tries to look clever by quoting Tolkien…

    Guy on internet fails.

    IT IS SARUMAN!

    If you can’t even use google to check a reference to a very popular book then you really lose a lot of credibility.

  241. pnyikoson 21 Mar 2014 at 4:56 pm

    The Other John Mc posted on 11 Feb 2014 at 1:49 pm

    Martin Rees is a Cambridge Professor? You mean a real-life Cambridge Professor?!? Why didn’t you just say that in the first place?

    With this in mind, and not wishing to insult anyone by also quoting it ["What makes you think we can't read??"] I wrote last week:

    “His arguments addressing fine-tuning work all right in their original anti-theistic setting, but they are like fish out of water when turned against MY belief and that of Cambridge Professor (Yes, of THE Cambridge University, in Cambridge, England) Martin Rees.”

    And Bronze Dog, playing “The Captain” to The Other John Mc’s “Boss Paul,” jumped on this with:

    What is your purpose in putting this ridiculous emphasis on the university, if it’s not for making an unnecessary and therefore fallacious argument from authority?

    I’m alluding here to a scene in “Cool Hand Luke” where “The Captain” keeps making Luke dig a hole while “Boss Paul” leaves Luke with no alternative but to fill it up. Of course, neither acknowledges the other’s role, and “Boss Paul” did not have to ever talk to “The Captain” about what The Captain had started: he saw a target of opportunity and took advantage of it, as did The Captain when he waited until Luke had filled the hole back up before reprimanding Luke, etc.

    I’m sure The Other John Mc and Bronze Dog are the best of buddies here, and so it goes without saying that neither of them had anything to say about what the other posted wrt Martin Rees. even though they had close to a month to compare notes. After all, think of how much less dramatic that scene in “Cool Hand Luke” would have been, had The Captain and Boss Paul been shown to exchange any words about Luke while the digging and filling was going on.

  242. BillyJoe7on 21 Mar 2014 at 5:03 pm

    pnyikos,

    “I’ve been preparing seminar talks about a major new mathematical theorem and its corollaries that I’ve discovered, and now I am preparing for a talk at a conference that is the biggest annual topology conference in the world, starting this Wednesday”

    Pull the other one.

  243. pnyikoson 21 Mar 2014 at 5:35 pm

    Thus, they are using their self-important bias to paint a bullseye around the only known bullet hole. They never consider that the gunman might be firing bullets for a reason other than producing us, that he might be a poor shot, that he might be accident-prone and misfired, or that the gun is actually just a mindless natural event.

    Whether Bronze Dog realizes this or not, he is following right in the footsteps of Victor Stenger here. I’m surprised that he knows so little about the original militant atheist sources for the factoids and arguments that permeate the “skeptical” and avowedly atheistic venues in the blogosphere. Apparently he and the others here (Stephen Novella excepted, of course) are just yeomen feeling their way through all the supposedly devastating secondhand arguments they’ve picked up and some of their own which are none too original–yet.

    Victor Stenger is the author of several militantly atheistic books, including God the Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist, [note the cocksure subtitle], and the especially relevant
    The Fallacy of Fine-tuning: How the Universe is Not Designed for Humanity [note just how well the subtitle describes Bronze Dog's point up there].

    I’ve mentioned another book to which he contributed a chapter titled, “Physics, Cosmology, and the New Creationism”. Here is a remarkable quote from it:

    …current research in physics and cosmology suggests
    that the “designed for life” argument may be exactly
    backward, because any life that appeared in any of the
    universes that are possible would have to be subject to
    the laws and constants that govern those universes –
    and not the other way around.

    One hardly knows where to begin attacking this preposterous piece of sophism. “any life” begs the question of what fraction of universes would even have any kind of life, let alone intelligent life on the order of ours.

    But that barely begins to scratch the surface. What is really staggering is the sleight of hand whereby Stenger tries to make it sound like the bland truism that follows the “because” has anything to do with what went before.

    It almost goes without saying that he gives no hint whatsoever of what the alleged “current research” is supposed to be or what the connection is with the allegation that the “designed for life” argument may be “exactly backward”. One does not need to know any physics or cosmology, let alone recent research, to arrive at the bland truism that follows the “because”.

    Stenger’s book on fine-tuning has been criticized in detail, especially here:
    The Fine-Tuning of the Universe for Intelligent Life
    Luke A. Barnes
    http://arxiv.org/abs/1112.4647

  244. Hosson 21 Mar 2014 at 10:22 pm

    pnyikos
    I’ll agree with you about many of Stenger’s arguments. He’s engaging in sciencism by attempting to apply science outside the limits inherent to science.

    “Oh, and some very major developments have occurred in two other forums dominated by anti-ID zealots, including a person for whom I had had a rather high opinion showing his true colors.”

    Does this mean you are an intelligent design proponent?

  245. BillyJoe7on 22 Mar 2014 at 12:33 am

    Hoss,

    I’d be careful about that word “scientism”.
    It is generally used by those who reject certain scientifically derived facts because they don’t sit well (to put it mildly) with their religious beliefs. Also by those who think knowledge can be obtained through methods other than the scientific method.
    It’s nearly always used as a pejorative term (like allopath).

  246. BillyJoe7on 22 Mar 2014 at 12:43 am

    Pnyikos seems to be arguing with Victor Stenger.
    Yet I’ve never once seen Victor Stenger posting here.

    You there, Victor?
    Victor?
    Nope?
    Sorry, pnyikos, Victor is not here to answer your call.

    Meanwhile…
    “I’ve been preparing seminar talks about a major new mathematical theorem and its corollaries that I’ve discovered, and now I am preparing for a talk at a conference that is the biggest annual topology conference in the world, starting this Wednesday”

    Leave the middle one alone.
    You’re blind enough already!
    …or was that mad?

  247. Hosson 22 Mar 2014 at 1:11 am

    Billyjoe
    I got the term scientism from a philosophy paper. I wasn’t aware of the word’s other meaning.
    There’s the link to the pape if you’re curious.
    http://philpapers.org/archive/PIGNAA.pdf

  248. BillyJoe7on 22 Mar 2014 at 7:42 am

    Hoss,

    Massimo Pigliucci has been a prominent critic of what has become known as the New Atheism represented by Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Victor Stenger, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett. Massimo Pigliucci claims that the so called new atheists are too militantly anti-religion and too dismissive of philosophy. Pigliucci is, of course, a philosopher, as is Dennett, Hitchens is a journalist, and the rest are scientists.

    The “new atheists” deny that they are saying anything radically new, pointing to Roger Ingersol and Mark Twain. They claim that they are not militantly anti-religious but that they are not going to shut-up just because what they say seems to upset some people with dogmatic religious views. They are not prepared to pay any attention to esoteric philosophy divorced from science based facts about the world. And, of course, they are completely dismissive of theology.

  249. BillyJoe7on 22 Mar 2014 at 3:43 pm

    Hoss,

    “I’ll agree with you about many of Stenger’s arguments. He’s engaging in sciencism by attempting to apply science outside the limits inherent to science.”

    Before you agree with pnyikos, perhaps you should read Victor Stengers response to Massimo Pigliucci:

    http://smithandfranklin.com/uploads/articles/1393460312Victor%20Stenger%20%28Final%20Version%29.pdf

  250. Bronze Dogon 22 Mar 2014 at 3:48 pm

    The only “new” thing I see about “New Atheism” is that freedom of speech and the internet allows us to be more outspoken, rather than easily silenced or intimidated by those in power.

    One hardly knows where to begin attacking this preposterous piece of sophism. “any life” begs the question of what fraction of universes would even have any kind of life, let alone intelligent life on the order of ours.

    It seems likely to me that you miss his point of bringing up life’s conformity to a universe’s laws of physics.

    1. If life existed that defied the laws of physics within a universe, that would be a contradiction in need of a new explanation. (That would usually mean we’ve made a mistake in determining those laws. If it can be broken, it’s not a law in the physics sense.) The opposite is what I’d expect to see in both designed and undesigned universes: I expect life to conform to the laws of physics and circumstances of its habitat. I see nothing unexpected in need of a design explanation.

    2. If we’re defining life as something that follows evolution or a similar adaptive process, life that adapted to take advantage of its universe’s laws of physics and local conditions would be more prevalent than life that failed to. So it’s not surprising to see adaptive life that has adapted to survive in its native habitat. I still see nothing unexpected in need of a design explanation.

    My point, if not Stenger’s, is that these things are tautological and expected. What exactly is so extraordinary or contradictory that necessitates positing a designer to explain it? I don’t even see the need to talk about multiple universes for this part, since the observation seems just as valid with one universe as it would with infinite universes.

    The only thing I can see leading someone to suggest the laws of physics are adapted for life is wishful thinking that leads down to the Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy.

  251. Bronze Dogon 22 Mar 2014 at 5:19 pm

    Some of pnyikos’ stupidity I can’t resist:

    Apparently he and the others here (Stephen Novella excepted, of course) are just yeomen feeling their way through all the supposedly devastating secondhand arguments they’ve picked up and some of their own which are none too original–yet.

    What does the source have to do with anything? What does originality have to do with anything? This isn’t some childish hipster clique where being the earliest person to like a thing before it went mainstream earns you brownie points. It doesn’t matter if my arguments are second-hand. It doesn’t matter if they’re original. It doesn’t matter if they’re popular or unpopular in any particular group. It doesn’t matter if they’re new or old. It doesn’t matter if someone famous said them or not. Appealing to those characteristics is fallacious because they’re irrelevant. Do you not realize this, and/or do you just think there are people present who will fall for these deceitful evasions?

    A cogent argument is a cogent argument is a cogent argument. If my arguments aren’t cogent, you have to explain where I went wrong with the logic. You’re supposed to point out false premises, logical fallacies, and stuff like that. The fact that you’re fixating on so many irrelevant trivialities about their origin instead of engaging the logic and evidence directly suggests you don’t have any good arguments. From what I’ve seen so far, I don’t think you even have a clear, consistent position.

  252. BillyJoe7on 22 Mar 2014 at 7:10 pm

    Bronze Dog,

    If he has a position and reasons for it, he’s extremely coy about it. All we’ve had so far is hints, links, suggestions that certain views have been dealt with, contorted analogies, content free dismissals, name dropping, and self aggrandisement.

    In his own mind he is very clever fellow, but he is fearful of revealing the actual products of his supposedly clever mind lest his self delusion comes crashing down around his ears.

    I’m almost certain he is a fraud.
    And I’m calling BS on this…

    “I’ve been preparing seminar talks about a major new mathematical theorem and its corollaries that I’ve discovered, and now I am preparing for a talk at a conference that is the biggest annual topology conference in the world, starting this Wednesday”

  253. Bronze Dogon 22 Mar 2014 at 10:20 pm

    I see one ongoing trend in the following:

    1) Appeal to prestigious universities
    2) Complaints about how poorly read we supposedly are
    3) Name dropping
    4) Projection of linear or hierarchical notions of intelligence onto us (suggesting insecurity on his part)
    5) Attempted shaming through the use of hipster-like credentials
    6) Complaints about how unoriginal we are because we’re repeating well-known arguments as if we were violating some supposed atheist guru’s copyright.

    These fallacious appeals strongly suggest pnyikos has an extremely authoritarian, hierarchical form of epistemology. It’s not logic and evidence that determine truth, it’s who you are, who you’re connected to, where you went to school, how famous you are, and so forth. (I imagine it may not be so coincidental that those things correlate with wealth.) It all seems intended to denigrate us as lesser beings who don’t know their place while trying to distract us from the actual argument. I suspect his extreme coyness is because he doesn’t feel the need to explain himself to untermench like we surely are. When we aren’t intimidated by his credentials or those of some guru he cites, he reacts by creating new assertions of our inferiority or his superiority. He resents that we’re treating him like we would any other random internet commentator with similarly fallacious arguments. He’s different. He’s special. Just like all the other narcissistic trolls who think they’ve transcended the human capacity for self-deception.

  254. Hosson 24 Mar 2014 at 5:46 pm

    BillyJoe
    “Massimo Pigliucci claims that the so called new atheists are too militantly anti-religion and too dismissive of philosophy.”

    I doubt Massimo said they are too militantly anti-religion, but they are too dismissive of philosophy.

    “They are not prepared to pay any attention to esoteric philosophy divorced from science based facts about the world.”

    I agree, they don’t pay any attention to the philosophy of science, and that’s a problem. Here is an example of Harris ignoring philosophy.
    http://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/morality-religion-philosophy-and-science/

    I can show further examples if need be.

    “I’m almost certain he is a fraud.
    And I’m calling BS on this…
    “I’ve been preparing seminar talks about a major new mathematical theorem and its corollaries that I’ve discovered, and now I am preparing for a talk at a conference that is the biggest annual topology conference in the world, starting this Wednesday””

    He’s good at math, but bad a philosophy.
    http://www.researchgate.net/profile/Peter_Nyikos/publications/
    http://www.math.sc.edu/~nyikos/
    http://www.ratemyprofessors.com/ShowRatings.jsp?tid=80994

  255. Bronze Dogon 25 Mar 2014 at 12:32 pm

    I’m reminded of a joke.

    Technicians think they’re engineers.
    Engineers think they’re physicists.
    Physicists think they’re mathematicians.
    Mathematicians think they’re philosophers.

    Cue anecdote of a philosophy professor trying to fix his VCR by spraying WD-40 in the tape deck. Apparently philosophers think they’re technicians.

    If you’ve got the right Nyikos, it’s interesting, since the talk of probability has me thinking of one thing Mark Chu-Carrol of Good Math, Bad Math once said, “The worst kind of math is no math at all.” The fine tuning argument typically depends on the notion that it’s incredibly unlikely the universe would form the way ours did. I repeatedly made the point that we don’t know how likely or unlikely it is, which was greeted with dishonest misrepresentations of my aesthetic preference as being equivalent to a declaration of knowledge. I don’t recall Nyikos giving us any kind of estimates or any kind of detailed calculation scheme. The closest we got was talk of what would happen if gravity and only gravity was altered followed by argument from incredulity against the very notion of altering or adding other forces to compensate.

    It probably doesn’t help that “life” isn’t something easily defined, especially when someone is open to the idea that it doesn’t have to be based on carbon molecules which exist because of our set of laws governing the strong and electromagnetic force. Frankly, if you’re starting with the assertion that life must use carbon, you’re conveniently defining alternative forms of life as impossible, producing a circular argument.

    Back on probability, improbable events do happen, but we’re not talking about making bets on a future roll of the dice, we’re talking about a past event that created our desire to look back at it. We’re not floating in the ether independent of the universe, we’re a consequence. It’s like the arrogance of someone who wins the lottery and assumes it’s because he’s special. Do people like Nyikos go around accusing lottery staff of playing favorites based only on the improbability that they’d win? Of course, if no one wins, no one makes the accusation.

    Another point I’d like to bring up is that fine tuning advocates seem to be arguing that one universe result is objectively more valuable than another, without realizing that “valuable” is an inherently subjective property. We consider conscious life valuable because being alive and conscious gives us the subjectivity necessary to value things, including life and consciousness.

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