Consider this parable:
A certain mathematician, in a philosophical mood one day, wonders what grounds his mathematics. The math works, of course, but he wonders if he’s missing something foundational.
He consults a friend of his, a theologian. The theologian knows almost nothing about mathematics, but he knows his Christianity.
The mathematician says, “Mathematics is like an inverted triangle with the most advanced math along the wide top edge. The top layer is grounded on the math below it, which is grounded on what is below, and so on through the layers, down to arithmetic and logic at the point at the bottom. And that’s where it stops.”
The theologian nods his head wisely. “I see the problem—what does the bottom rest on?”
The mathematician was silent.
“In your view, it rests on nothing,” said the theologian. “It just sits there in midair. But the problem is easily resolved—mathematics and logic comes from God. There’s your grounding.”
“Are you saying that I need to convert to Christianity to be a mathematician?”
“No, just realize that you are borrowing from the Christian worldview every time you make a computation or write an equation.”
Satisfied that this nagging problem has been resolved, the mathematician returns to his work and thinks no more of it.
So, is the mathematician any better off? Is he faster or more accurate or more creative? Do his proofs work now where they hadn’t before? In short, did he get anything of value from the whole episode?
I’ve heard this “grounding” or “atheists borrow from the Christian worldview” idea many times, but I’ve yet to discover what this missing thing is that is being borrowed.
“God did it” is simply a restatement of the problem. “God did it” is precisely as useful as “logic and arithmetic are simply properties of our reality” or “that’s just the way it is” or even “I don’t know.” A curious problem has been suppressed, not resolved. In fact, the theologian himself has his answer resting in midair because he provides no reason to conclude that God exists. His claim is no more believable than that of any other religion—that is, not at all.
The person who stops at “God did it” has stated an opinion only—an opinion with no evidence to back it up. It doesn’t advance the cause of truth one bit.
Mathematics is tested, and it works. Scratch your head about what grounds it if you want, but God is an unnecessary and unedifying addition to the mix.
I’ve been told the only reason I think killing is bad is because the commandments.. Ugh if I really followed biblical morals… Slavery, mass genocide, and rape to marry tactics would sound moral. I don’t need to know who or what dunni t , and I am certainly not gonna settle on a mystical being no one interacts with… But I think there’s something to be said for the intriguing field of particle physics and how there does seem to be an invisible law, with interesting and unnatural looking factors… But it’s not Yahweh.
Right, as if people responded to the Ten Commandments with, “Huh? Don’t kill? Wow–that’s nutty stuff, but if God says so, OK, I guess I’ll do it.”
If anyone says that the moral grounding provided by God is the only thing that keeps us from killing, stealing, and raping, my stock response is “Well, then I’m sure glad YOU believe in God, because by your own admission that’s the only thing holding you back from being a raging maniac. Now please stay away from me in case any of my atheism rubs off on you.”
But look at all the advances in Mathematics since the birth of Christ! Isn’t that proof enough? 😉
Using God (specifically the Christian God) as the basis for mathematics reminds me of “name magic.” This came from actual magical beliefs that knowing someone’s true name allows you to cast a spell on them. The more current meaning is that having a name for something is equivalent to having an explanation for it. I’ve seen something similar to this (and even experienced it myself) in the labels people use for themselves – sometimes it’s their profession or avocation, but often it’s a “disease” such as alcoholism, asperger’s, ADHD … okay, that’s just the a’s. Many people say “Iam a (label)” with the implication that the label explains everything the person is or does.
Okay, I drifted off-topic a bit. But it’s obvious that True Christians label things as Godly or ungodly (unGodly?), and their responses and reactions are “appropriate” to those labels. There’s no need of more explanation, as according to Christianity “The Lord works in mysterious ways,” far beyond any possible human comprehension.
Getting geeky, mathematics is based on axioms. Axioms are NOT things that everyone agrees are true, but rather things that everyone agrees a certain area of mathematics works out a certain way if we PRESUME the stated axioms are true. It’s easy enough to come up with two different areas of mathematics based on different axioms: Euclidean geometry, and Non-Euclidian Geometry.
Ben Bradley, human being. 🙂
YHWH, the tetragrammaton, doesn’t have any vowels, and those who did know them could call up Yahweh (oops!). I think that’s what you’re referring to. It’s why some Jews write “G-d”–this way, there’s no chance of accidentally violating the blasphemy commandment.
A popular t-shirt among some of my atheist friends says (roughly), “I am an atheist; I am also a lot of other things” to try to break away from the [label] = me thinking.
The parable is both absurd and incorrect.
It’s absurd because the supposed “solution” solves nothing. If you say that “mathematics rests on god”, that simply begs the question. What does god rest on? If you say “nothing”, there you’re right back where you started. And if you suggest anything else, then god becomes irrelevant, as god is then nothing special, just another link in the chain.
And it’s also wrong, because the the statement that mathematics rests on god” is simply incorrect. The fact is that the original question is pointless, because it’s based on an incorrect assumption, that everything must have something simpler to “rest on”. That assumption is wrong, and consequently any answer based on that assumption is also wrong.
So the whole discussion is just silly. Like any other religious discussion.
“I know where you’re going with this young man, but you’re not going to fool me. It’s turtles all the way down.”
“So, is the mathematician any better off? Is he faster or more accurate or more creative? Do his proofs work now where they hadn’t before? In short, did he get anything of value from the whole episode?”
Of course mathematics “works” just as well for the atheist as for the christian, and of course so does ethics, at least sometimes. That is the point. They both work, but we humans also like to ask the why question – why do they work, what is the explanation?
And it is arguable that there are two main possibilities:
1. There is no god, the material is all there is, and it is an amazing and joyful surprise to discover there is a universe, and not just a chaotic one we might expect, but one with amazing order to allow suns and planets and life to form, and the basic physical laws seem to be constant everywhere. Humankind is just a result of natural selection and nothing more. As a result, it is as Professor William Provine has said: “Naturalistic evolution has clear consequences that Charles Darwin understood perfectly. 1) No gods worth having exist; 2) no life after death exists; 3) no ultimate foundation for ethics exists; 4) no ultimate meaning in life exists; and 5) human free will is nonexistent.” And if no free will, then we choose our views because we were programmed to choose them because they help our genes to survive, not because they are rational and true.
Yet we find it almost impossible to live as if everything is determined, there is no rationality, no ethics, and physical laws and mathematics are not somehow universal. So we find ourselves living as if things are true that we can find no explanation for.
2. Alternatively, there exists a creative personal God, who delights to give – to give life to people and animals and the universe, and who set up the universe so it would indeed develop stars and planets and eventually life, and that life would have consciousness and self, freedom to act and make a difference, rationality, a sense of ethics and beauty and justice. He allows us the immense privilege of re-creating our own world and even ourselves via our choices, even though this will not work out well, because that is how we will mature and become the people we have made ourselves to be, not just the people he has made us to be. And he has intervened in history to make sure we have opportunity to know him, if we want.
There are things to be said for each view. Modern people find lots of challenges in the second view, but it actually hangs together better and explains things better than the first one, that can only explain mechanisms and not ultimate causes and reasons.
That, if he or she is interested, is what the mathematician gains by being attentive.
To posit a supernatural creator of everything is perhaps the most extraordinary claim imaginable. It’s hard to see that we have the evidence to make this conclusion.
And it’s a deist argument. It argues for the Flying Spaghetti Monster as strongly as it does Yahweh.
G’day Bob, I’m interested that you didn’t contest the claim that the christian view hangs together better and explains more (if true). Do you agree that, if true, it would do that?
“To posit a supernatural creator of everything is perhaps the most extraordinary claim imaginable.”
On what criterion would you say God is “perhaps the most extraordinary claim imaginable”? Many people, including me, don’t find it all that extraordinary. Do you have a particular criterion in mind? I personally find the idea that the universe has always existed, or that it appeared out of nothing for no reason and with no cause much more extraordinary, on the criterion that it is contrary to everything we know about the universe. I could give others.
“It’s hard to see that we have the evidence to make this conclusion.”
I guess it must be hard for you to see that, but I don’t find it hard at all – I think there is much more evidence to support that hypothesis than to support any other hypothesis – I could refer you to this summary of why I think that. What hypothesis do you think has more evidence?
“And it’s a deist argument. It argues for the Flying Spaghetti Monster as strongly as it does Yahweh.”
Do you really think so? The FSM is made of pasta – where did that pasta come from, except as part of the universe? In which case, the FSM couldn’t have created the universe. If that isn’t enough of a bummer, how many people have had experiences they believe were of the FSM, as many as have had experience of the theistic God? And did the FSM ever come to earth in a historically verifiable way, teach, do miracles, and apparently be resurrected?
Further, “God” and “FSM” are only convenient labels. If the FSM could do all these things, and could be defined the same as the christian God, then it would be the christian God under another name. So even if your statement was true, it would be a non sequiter.
So in my view what I said still stands. What do you think?
Too much to write; not enough time.
Sorry, no. I see little more evidence for Yahweh than for the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
I can imagine that it’s quite familiar, but that doesn’t mean it’s not extraordinary.
I say it’s perhaps the most extraordinary simply because I can’t think of anything more extraordinary. Can you?
Science recognizes lots of things that have no cause. Radioactive decay, for example.
You do appreciate that simply saying, “I don’t know” (1) doesn’t undercut the incredible insight into Reality that science gives us and (2) doesn’t provide any support for the Christian position?
Aside: here’s my post on the Map of World Religions. Kinda relevant.
Oh, please. A couple of smart guys like us could cobble together some credible answers to questions like these. We’d have no evidence, of course, but so what?
The FSM disdains revelations like this. After all, Hindus claim that they’ve had experiences with their gods, but we both know that’s untrue (since their gods don’t exist). Since this evidence is dismissable, the FSM has no use for it.
No. Did Jesus?
The FSM isn’t part of a trinity; the FSM didn’t sacrifice a part of himself to himself to create a loophole in a rule that he made himself; etc. They’re not very similar, and I think we’re back to deist arguments.
G’day Bob, sorry to take up your time. I guess that’s a hazard for all bloggers, and better than being ignored?
“Sorry, no. I see little more evidence for Yahweh than for the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
That actually didn’t answer the question.
“I can imagine that it’s quite familiar, but that doesn’t mean it’s not extraordinary.
I say it’s perhaps the most extraordinary simply because I can’t think of anything more extraordinary. Can you?”
We can only answer that if you give some criterion for what is extraordinary. I don’t find that easy, so I’m wondering what you think here.
“Science recognizes lots of things that have no cause. Radioactive decay, for example.”
Depends how you define “cause”. There are certainly antecedent conditions that are necessary before decay can occur, so in that sense decay is caused.
This is the nub, isn’t it? You think God is extraordinary, though I’m not sure on what criteria, whereas I think the universe out of nothing is extraordinary because it is contrary to everything we know from physics, chemistry, etc. Unless we have criteria to compare and contrast, the discussion stops here really, do you agree?
“You do appreciate that simply saying, “I don’t know” (1) doesn’t undercut the incredible insight into Reality that science gives us and (2) doesn’t provide any support for the Christian position?”
I don’t honestly understand what you ate getting at here. Either naturalism can explain some things or it can’t. I haven’t seen a naturalistic explanation for the universe’s existence or its design, or ethics, or free will, that I could even begin to accept. If christianity can explain these things (which I think it can) , then it is doing better as a hypothesis.
“Aside: here’s my post on the Map of World Religions. Kinda relevant.”
I think the argument is mistake, but I will post there not here. Thanks.
“Oh, please. A couple of smart guys like us could cobble together some credible answers to questions like these. We’d have no evidence, of course, but so what?”
Perhaps you’d like to demonstrate that, for I don’t think it can be done so easily.
“No. Did Jesus?”
Most historians, secular or otherwise, think the evidence is compelling. Are you not aware of that? You might like to read Was Jesus a real person? and Jesus in history.
Bob, just a personal question. Do you welcome questions and disagreement, or would you rather I wasn’t taking up your time? I don’t want to make myself unwelcome. Thanks.
I thought a colloquial understanding would suffice, but let me try to clarify. “Extraordinary” is the distance between the claim and the expected or assumed. Back to my claim, the distance between that which we see and understand and the claim (a supernatural being exists who created everything) is very large. In fact, I can’t think of anything larger.
?? What are those conditions that precede spontaneous radioactive decay? And why do physicists say that this is uncaused?
Wait–who says that the universe came from nothing? Is that the scientific consensus? And if you object to nonsensical claims, reject quantum physics. Completely counter-intuitive. Stuff happening without cause, quantum entanglement, quantum tunneling–all complete nonsense. Of course, it’s all been experimentally verified, so we know it’s true, but it’s still nonsense.
And science has a very long To Do list of problems to solve. Science can’t explain many, many things. But so what? Do we say, “Well, if science can’t, God can!”?
Fact is, “God did it” can explain anything. Unfortunately, something that explains everything explains nothing. We’re no wiser after “God did it” than before. Compare this to “your covered photographic plate is being exposed by a new kind of radiation that is both invisible and able to penetrate solid objects” (for example), which actually tells you something.
You asked “where did the pasta for the FSM come from?” You’re just not thinking like a Pastafarian! The FSM appears as spaghetti only when he enters our world. His proper domain is outside of our universe.
Now, imagine what happened with Christianity–hundreds of thousands of scholars over 2000 years working to cobble together coherent answers for any possible question. It’s not surprising that they succeeded (or that Hindu scholars did the same thing for Hinduism, Buddhist scholars for Buddhism, etc.).
I disagree. Show me a book that reflects the historical consensus that Jesus did miracles and was resurrected. Miracles were associated with the life of Augustus Caesar, for example, but the historical consensus never records those as historical fact. Same for Jesus.
A thoughtful question! No, I’m quite happy to have you hang out and disagree. And I invite others to answer questions or put forward opinions as needed.
““Extraordinary” is the distance between the claim and the expected or assumed. Back to my claim, the distance between that which we see and understand and the claim (a supernatural being exists who created everything) is very large. In fact, I can’t think of anything larger.”
But Bob, this is a useless definition. Extraordinary is what you think is extraordinary. But why do you think that? What are your reasons for making thisa priori judgement? Why should the idea of God be extraordinary?
“Wait–who says that the universe came from nothing?”
Well, what is your hypothesis then?
“Fact is, “God did it” can explain anything. Unfortunately, something that explains everything explains nothing. We’re no wiser after “God did it” than before”
This is an extraordinary statement! How can you actually say that the statement “God did it” makes us no wiser if it is true? Think about it. The biggest of the big questions, the answer to many other questions, the possibility of eternal life, and you say it makes us no wiser????
It is true that “God did it” adds no scientific information in a statistical sense, but this is trivial compared to the amazing worth of the knowledge of God.
Here is an example. An intergalactic explorer lands on an unknown and apparently uninhabited planet. But then she finds a plough. She discusses it with her home base and says, “I guess an alien civilisation has been here.” And the base replies. “The idea that an alien civilisation did it can explain anything. Unfortunately, something that explains everything explains nothing. We’re no wiser after “an alien civilisation did it” than before.” But surely the base is wrong, because that plough tells them a lot, even if they remain ignorant of the mechanism how it got there.
I think the arguments you present here are an elaborate atheist smokescreen to avoid the unwanted idea that God could indeed have done it. By all means believe whatever you think the evidence points to, but making a priori claims without any useful criteria and evidence, or thinking you can dismiss the importance of God (if he exists) seems to me to be folly.
Am I being offensive? I hope not. Best wishes.
OK. But the problem is, your explorer did not find a plow.
He/she didn’t find anything, but instead just arbitrarily insisted that there was an alien civilization around, on the basis that someone, sometime in the past, said so.
All the elaborate arguments and hand-waving that you’ve been doing, all the smoke and mirrors, still can’t get around the basic problem: there is no evidence. Your reason for believing in god is simply that you want to.
That’s pretty much the same reason for kids believing in the easter bunny.
So until you have some proof, based on hard evidence, not just rumors and stories and wishful thinking… there’s really no point to arguing. All the wishful thinking in the world will never change anything.
My top extraordinary claim is, “A supernatural being exists that created everything. But I can’t show you this guy; you’ll just have to take that on faith or trust vague inferences.” Top that.
My point simply was that there is no scientific consensus on what caused the universe or what it came from. We don’t know–a perfectly reasonable scientific answer. Not embarrassing. Maybe our universe is a reformulation of matter/energy that came from something else. Or maybe the question is ill-formed, since there can be no “before” and no “cause” since our time didn’t extend to that point.
You’re talking about fallout from the existence of God. I see that. What I’m saying is something different: let’s grant Christianity’s truth. Now you say that Yahweh causes earthquakes (say). But why? And how? What natural laws does he use, and what laws we have yet to discover? What natural laws did he break? But compare that to the theory of plate tectonics which actually explains things.
Problem with these examples is that we already know what makes plows. Or pocket watches (Paley’s example).
What about crystals? They can be marvelously intricate. Golly–did an extraordinarily skilled artist make this? No–now we know the natural processes that make these. What you need is an example for which there is no obvious precedent.
Why invent God as an explanation where we have scientific explanations (evolution, for example)? And why jump in with, “God did it” to those areas where science doesn’t yet know? Isn’t it embarrassing to have to retrench over and over again when science finally does come up with an answer?
Are you looking to discuss here, or did you just want to make a statement? For you make it difficult to have a discussion.
“All the elaborate arguments and hand-waving that you’ve been doing, all the smoke and mirrors, still can’t get around the basic problem: there is no evidence. “
Hand-waving? Smoke and mirrors? I’ll ignore those pejorative cliches for they mean nothing in the end.
The reality is that you have made a strong statement of your own opinion. But my opinion happens to be different. I think there is plenty of compelling evidence. If you don’t want to discuss thoughtfully, let’s leave it there – two people disagree.
But if you want to discuss, I suggest we look at what you mean by “proof ….hard evidence …. rumors and stories and wishful thinking” I think there is as much evidence for my belief as for most important things in life, and I don’t that is wishful thinking. I think you cannot support the strong statements you have made, and I’m willing to discuss both your conclusions and mine
So would you like to discuss how we make judgments on evidence (and leave the pejorative statements to one side for a moment)? I’m up for it if you are.
No, I did not state my opinion. I stated something that appears to be a fact, which is a completely different thing. Opinions require no evidence, reasoning or anything else; saying “blue is the best color in the world” is a completely valid opinion, but it does not qualify as a fact. Most people are pretty hazy on the difference between the terms “evidence”, “fact”, “opinion”, “statement”, “argument”, “speculation”, and so on, which is where most discussions break down. (It’s hard to discuss anything if you can’t agree on the basic meanings of the words you’re using.)
If you have some objective evidence, let’s hear it.
I feel it fair to warn you, I’ve had similar discussions with quite a number of people, over a long period of time, and to date, no one has ever been able to come up with even one single shred of actual evidence for the existence of deities. Actually, no one has ever come up with anything, in all of known history. All the arguments ever seen boil down to “I believe it because I want to.”
So if you think you’ve got something brand new, that’s cool. Speak up.
Bob, I don’t wish to be rude, but I think you are avoiding the questions I ask (and being unfair as well).
“My top extraordinary claim is, “A supernatural being exists that created everything. But I can’t show you this guy; you’ll just have to take that on faith or trust vague inferences.” Top that.”
1. This is unfair. I have mentioned several times that I believe I have very specific evidence and reasons for believing, and have offered you references that explain these better than I can in a comment, and yet you misrepresent my position as if I was asking you to “take that on faith or trust vague inferences”. I understand you don’t accept my reasons, but that is different from implying I don’t have any.
2. And yet you haven’t answered my question of the criteria for “extraordinary” – the best you have offered so far is “the distance between the claim and the expected or assumed”, which is useless as a criterion because it doesn’t allow us to make an objective assessment (which is what criteria are supposed to do) and instead leaves us still with our respective and subjective assessments.
Is there a connection between your inability to come up with an objective criterion and your unfair misrepresentation of my viewpoint? I hope not. I said at the start I have given this matter some thought, and I too find it difficult to come up with an objective criterion for “extraordinary” – which is why I think statements about the extraordinary are not very logical, scientific or helpful.
So, do you have a criterion rather than sarcasm, or do you not?
“My point simply was that there is no scientific consensus on what caused the universe or what it came from. We don’t know–a perfectly reasonable scientific answer.”
So, you have no answer, you can explain nothing on this matter, yet you criticise me for my answer explaining nothing?
But in reality, my hypothesis explains many things, just not all the things you might want it to explain – for a discussion of this see God explains nothing?
“You’re talking about fallout from the existence of God. I see that. “
Well I’m glad we may have reached an understanding of this. We are not discussing (at this point) whether God exists, but whether, if he exists, this explains anything. Hopefully you can see that it does.
“What I’m saying is something different: let’s grant Christianity’s truth. Now you say that Yahweh causes earthquakes (say). But why? And how? What natural laws does he use, and what laws we have yet to discover? ….. Why invent God as an explanation where we have scientific explanations (evolution, for example)? And why jump in with, “God did it” to those areas where science doesn’t yet know? Isn’t it embarrassing to have to retrench over and over again when science finally does come up with an answer?”
I’m sorry Bob, but again you are basing your comments on a misunderstanding. Perhaps some christians hold the view that you are describing, but I don’t, and most thoughtful christians I meet on the web don’t. So let’s clarify.
I accept the findings of science – not necessarily the philosophical conclusions that some scientists draw from that, but the genuine scientific conclusions. My faith and my reasons for believing in God are based on those findings, not the gaps in those findings. So I never have to be embarrassed to retrench, because I only retrench when science does. So I accept what cosmology tells us and what neuroscience tells us, etc.
And then I ask, why is it so?, how did it get to be that way? For example cosmologists tell us that it is virtually impossible that the settings of universal constants and laws are the way they are by chance. So I ask, what else could have caused this but God? Then the cosmologists say (speculatively) that perhaps we live in a multiverse that generates zillions of universes with different properties, and we happen to live in the one that can sustain life, so I ask, how did the multiverse get to be so amazing?
So God is not in the gaps, but in the explanation of why everything we know is like it is. And if you say that one day science will understand all the why questions, I say that is enormous faith on your part, far greater than any faith I have, and that science doesn’t answer those questions, it only answers questions about the physical universe where we can observe and experiment.
I do hope you can stop making these assumptions about christians and find out more what we really think first. Thanks.
“science doesn’t answer those questions, it only answers questions about the physical universe where we can observe and experiment.”
This is the crux of the issue being discussed: That the definition of what you call the “physical universe” is, everything. There is nothing else. So talking about “why questions” is so much blather. It’s like asking “what’s outside of everything?” Some things don’t have causes, and the universe is one of them. The universe is everything, and to ask what caused it is a meaningless question, like asking what the color red smells like.
Gods do not exist, and I challenge you to prove otherwise. Feel free to try. But posing nonsensical pseudo-questions does not accomplish that.
Perhaps I don’t understand what you want.
Huh? OK, you have reasons.
Now, back to the question at hand: you asked what “extraordinary claim” meant and I tried to make this clear in two comments. Are we now on the same page on that issue? If you at least understand what I’m getting at, feel free to modify my extraordinary claim into something you think is extraordinary. Or perhaps we can get back to the original point: that the God claim is about as extraordinary a claim as you can make.
I have indeed answered it; it’s just that my answer doesn’t satisfy you. I admit: I’ve failed in this task. If you want to give the answer that I should’ve given, that’d be fine. Otherwise, I guess there’s no common language with which to discuss this question.
And yet there has to be some way to differentiate between, ” I have leaves in my yard” and “I have fairies in my yard.”
I’m saying that, “Oooh! Over here! My god can explain that!” is very unconvincing. I could say the same about the Flying Spaghetti Monster but could demand no respect for such an answer.
I’ll try to read your “God explains nothing?”
Excellent! We’re definitely on the same page here. I meet too many Christians who don’t feel that way.
Huh? You just finished saying that you’re not a God-of-the-gaps kind of guy, and yet now you’re saying, “Aha–science has no answer to this apparent fine tuning. But I know something that does!”
What am I missing here?
If you’re determined to ask “But why?” to every answer you get (not necessarily a bad position), sure you’ll keep insisting that science push the boundaries further. And expose yet more questions for science. Again: not necessarily a bad thing. But how does your God answer eliminate this problem? I think the answer is that faith gives you permission to stop asking questions.
Faith has no such role in science. Why then apply it within Christianity?
You can always ask your “But why?” question to any resolved issue to uncover yet another layer to the onion of science’s knowledge.
You stated: “cosmologists tell us that it is virtually impossible that the settings of universal constants and laws are the way they are by chance.”
This is an amazing claim. I am very interested in astrophysics and cosmology, and out of all the research I have read on the subject, not only have I never seen this claim, but every researcher I have ever seen states exactly the opposite. Can you substantiate this by citing some reliable scientific (i.e., not religious) sources that make this statement?
I believe that you are misquoting what you may have read, or possibly someone you know told you this, and you just didn’t check. Because It’s pretty much the exact opposite of the current scientific consensus that I’ve seen, and I find it hard to believe that you could have gotten it turned around exactly backwards by sheer accident.
Secondly, I wish to point out that there is a logical fallacy in the statement the way that you quoted it, (which explains why I’m so sure that you are misquoting it). The problem is that if the constants of the universe were any different than they are, we would not be here to be wondering about them. So OF COURSE the conditions of the universe are perfect for our kind of life; if they weren’t, there wouldn’t BE life as we know it.
This is like saying that it’s amazing that every single triangle has just three sides. Conveniently ignoring the fact that if it didn’t have three sides, it wouldn’t be a triangle. Duh.
This is a type of tautology; one of the basic kinds of logical fallacy.
I have also seen claims like what unkleE cited, so I’m interested in any rebuttal. I have Vic Stenger’s The Fallacy of Fine Tuning but haven’t read it yet.
Paul Davies is one physicist who argues for fine tuning.
Sounds like you’ve seen some pretty compelling evidence on the other side. I’d like to see it. I agree with you that Wm. Lane Craig or Bill Dembski spout this argument but are no authorities themselves. It’d be nice to shut them down on this point.
I was not familiar with Paul Davies until you mentioned him. I looked him up and read several reviews of his works and critiques of his views.
Chad Orzel, another physicist whom I *am* familiar with, is quoted as saying in a review of Davies’ latest book on cosmology, that “it’s hard to comment about a topic that you can’t take seriously.” I take that to mean that he thinks Davies’ view isn’t even worth considering.
From my own brief research, it appears that while Davies does have credentials as a physicist and even as a cosmologist, he also appears to be very strongly religious, to the point where it influences his scientific judgement. So while he is certainly entitled to his viewpoint, I would have to say that he’s a long way outside the scientific mainstream and certainly in a tiny minority on this topic.
According to another review, apparently Davies’ approach to dealing with the logical problem that I referred to is to simply dismiss it out of hand, without offering any rebuttal. That doesn’t strike me as a well-considered response or one that would make me inclined me to give him much credence.
I also note that Davies was a protege of Fred Hoyle, another astronomer whose theories tended to run counter to that of the scientific mainstream, and most of which have now been widely discredited. Somehow, I suspect a connection.
The basic problem here is again, somewhat mathematical in nature. There are indeed some constants, (such as the coefficient of the strong nuclear force) which, if much different, would not allow matter to exist as we know it. If you are of a creationist mindset, this could be interpreted to mean that “someone” picked that particular value to “make” this universe possible. The problem with that theory is that it makes two huge, and unsupportable, assumptions:
1) It assumes that any value of that constant is possible, and the observed one is not an inevitable result. We have no evidence to support this hypothesis. Maybe the reason the numbers are what they are is that that’s the only way they CAN be, for other reasons yet to be determined.
2) It assumes that the universe “as we know it” is the only way life can possibly exist. Again, there is no evidence that this is true. Maybe there are lots of other dimensions, or hyper-spaces, or whatever, full of living creatures, all thinking that THEIR particular plane of existence is the only possible one, and reaching the same conclusion that therefore their “god” must have picked THEM as the favored species.
Both of these assumptions are structurally similar to assertions about the existence of deities: one can insist that they are true, despite the fact that there is no direct evidence to justify saying that.
There is also no way (even conceptually, at this point) to definitively disprove them, so proponents can always shout “You can’t prove it isn’t so!” until they are blue in the face and there’s not much anyone can do to rebut that except to sigh and point out that the burden of proof is on the side of the proponents. [Which doesn’t seem to register much.]
All of which kind of leaves us right back where we started: anyone who is willing to insist, with no evidence, that unseen deities exist is probably also likely to insist, with no evidence, that the basic structure of the universe was deliberately designed.
Personally, I don’t foresee any way to shut down this argument. Anyone who is wiling to ignore logic is going to be hard to reason with in any other way. But I certainly wish you good luck in trying.
Bottom line: Anyone can insist that god, or Vishnu, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or whoever you want, hand-picked the basic constants of the universe, but there’s no observable or scientific justification for adopting that position, and there are some good logical reasons for rejecting it.
So much within “scientific” Christianity is a joke. William Lane Craig pretends to be a cosmologist, and while loads of Christians tell us that evolution is nonsense, the fraction of those who are actually biologists (and so know what they’re talking about) is miniscule.
I’ve heard so much about the fine-tuning argument that I accepted that it was indeed a conundrum within the field of physics/cosmology. Do you know if there’s a scientific consensus on this point? I’d like to be able to cite a credible article.
Have you heard of Vic Stenger’s “Monkey God” simulation? He changes 4 constants randomly by 5 orders of magnitude up or down and sees what kind of universe that would make—average age of stars, etc. His conclusion is that many of these could plausibly bring forth life.
Yes! I’ve never seen justification for the “tuning” part of this issue. Could the physical constants of the universe really be anything? They could be 10^1000 just as likely as 10^-1000? How would we know this?
One common confusion is to say that if the constants of the universe were any different, human life wouldn’t exist. Granted, but so what?
But we can at least understand how science and reason critiques their arguments to know if there’s in indeed an open issue here or if this argument is nonsense.
Dear Michael & Bob
There is a lot here to answer, and I don’t want to keep making long posts. So I will try to address matters one at a time, and gradually get around to all of it. May I also add that I appreciate both your courtesy and the opportunity to comment. But I find that you both have many views about christians and christian thinking, as we’ll see. My main purpose all along here has been to try to disabuse Bob (and now you Michael) of these misconceptions – I haven’t being trying to “prove” christian theism to be true, because that would be a pojntless exercise until we can agree what christian theism is, and what proof and evidence and reason and science, etc, are.
First topic: cosmology and fine-tuning.
I start here because this is factual, should be easy, and should illustrate a point. You say Michael: ” every researcher I have ever seen states exactly the opposite. Can you substantiate this by citing some reliable scientific (i.e., not religious) sources that make this statement?”
My sources are not religious writers, any of them, but some of the world’s most eminent cosmologists. here are some quotes (and they are not taken out of context):
Gribbin & Rees (“Cosmic Coincidences”): “The conditions in our universe really do seem to be uniquely suitable for life forms like ourselves.”
Leonard Susskind (“The Cosmic Landscape”)” “To make the first 119 decimal places of the vacuum energy zero is most certainly no accident.”
Paul Davies (“The Mind of God”): “There is for me powerful evidence that there is something going on behind it all….It seems as though somebody has fine-tuned nature’s numbers to make the Universe….The impression of design is overwhelming.”
Astronomer Fred Hoyle (“The Universe: Past and Present Reflections”): “A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with the physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature. The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question.”
Lee Smolin (“Life of the Cosmos”): “Perhaps before going further we should ask just how probable is it that a universe created by randomly choosing the parameters will contain stars. Given what we have already said, it is simple to estimate this probability. For those readers who are interested, the arithmetic is in the notes. The answer, in round numbers, comes to about one chance in 10^229.”
Roger Penrose, former Professor of Mathematics at Oxford University and a cosmologist who worked with Stephen Hawking (“The Emperor’s New Mind”): “This now tells us how precise the Creator’s aim must have been: namely to an accuracy of one part in 10^10^123. This is an extraordinary figure.” (Note that Penrose is an agnostic, and his use of the term Creator is not literal.)
You infer that I may have chosen my sources selectively, but one of you mentioned Stenger, and I’m afraid that is a selective source. Stenger is a physicist but not a cosmologist, his model considers only a few of the factor that are important, his conclusions are not accepted by other cosmologists as far as I can discover, and he is badly biased.
Secondly you say: “I wish to point out that there is a logical fallacy in the statement the way that you quoted it”
No, it is you who commit the logical fallacy. Of course we could only be here if our universe allowed life, but that isn’t an explanation of why it allows life, only a partial explanation of why we know it allows life. You are confusing ontology with epistemology. It doesn’t alter the fact that the cosmologists say it is virtually impossible that this universe could have arisen by chance. Of course their answer isn’t God (though some accept that as an explanation, they don’t like it because it’s not a scientific explanation), but the multiverse, but as Paul Davies points out, then how do we explain the even more extraordinary design of the multiverse?
So that is what I am basing my statements on. What do you say?
Could be, but why not imagine your quotations to have come from biased sources? This isn’t a big deal, but this claim just hangs there, unsupported by evidence.
Is this the consensus within the field of cosmology? If so, show that. If not, then just claim what you have evidence for–for example “many cosmologists say that …”
A good question, but not the record scratch that many apologists imagine. You could say that about a dozen important issues within science–“What explains abiogenesis?” for example. That science (at the moment) says “I don’t know” advances the Christian cause not a bit.
Just a brief comment Bob:
Re:Stenger. He is a committed atheist and uses his cosmology to “prove” a viewpoint he has already arrived at, something you don’t agree with. Neither does Michael, because he suggested I might be quoting theistic cosmologists. Note the cosmologists I quote (especially Rees, Susskind and Penrose are some of the top names in the field.
“Is this the consensus within the field of cosmology? If so, show that. If not, then just claim what you have evidence for–for example “many cosmologists say that …””
It is as far as I can see – I have read about half a dozen books on the topic and researched it on the web and they mostly agree, and they mostly use the multiverse as their explanation, even thought the multiverse cannot be observed or tested – sort of like God. : )
“That science (at the moment) says “I don’t know” advances the Christian cause not a bit.”
I think you still aren’t taking hold of the idea that science cannot explain the ultimate questions of why, for the reasons I gave. But I think I’ll say no more on this – I only answered it to show Michael that I was quoting the best names around and not some faith-head scientist (like Stenger!).
You’re right–I don’t agree with that. But this is a bold charge without evidence, and we don’t know that the same charge of bias isn’t applicable to the handful of authorities you cited.
My own preference is to look for the scientific consensus. Where there isn’t one, there isn’t much for laymen to say.
Is your reading wide enough to encompass people who say things you like to hear as well as those that don’t? Anyway, consensus is the conclusion after a poll or survey. Let’s look for that before we conclude what the consensus says.
And I don’t think you are grasping the idea that this gives no support for the idea that Christianity can.
We understand how science works and what a reliable window into reality it is. If it is unable to explain something, why imagine that anything can?
Response #2, to Michael:
” I stated something that appears to be a fact, which is a completely different thing.”
I suggest you are stating something which in your opinion appears to be a fact. My opinion is different.
When you say your conclusion that ” there is no evidence” is a fact, or appears to be a fact, I am left wondering what you think of the words “evidence” and “fact”. Let’s start there, by asking you a few questions.
1. Do you think “evidence” means only scientific evidence, or do you think that legal evidence in a court, historical evidence, personal observation can also be included?
2. When you think of scientific evidence, do you mean only evidence that can be experimentally and repeatably tested?
3. When you say “proof” or “proved”, do you mean proved beyond shadow of doubt, or with reasonable probability?
4. Do you only believe things which can be “proved”?
I think if we can be clear about what each other thinks on these matters, we’ll know whether we can make any progress on the more important questions. Thanks.
And now some comments to Bob:
I said: “you haven’t answered my question of the criteria for “extraordinary” and you said: I have indeed answered it; it’s just that my answer doesn’t satisfy you. …. And yet there has to be some way to differentiate between, ” I have leaves in my yard” and “I have fairies in my yard.”
Yes there is a way, and it is establishing objective criteria. Your answer didn’t satisfy me because it didn’t establish objective criteria. Here are a few criteria for extraordinary I have considered, but find inadequate:
* beyond what is commonly believed
* difficult to believe
* scientifically contentious
(For my reasons for rejecting these, see ECREE.)
So in the end, extraordinary is subjective – whatever a person finds hard to believe. So to say you don’t believe something because it is extraordinary is meaningless, for it is simply saying you don’t believe because you don’t believe.
Unless, of course, you can find an objective criterion to measure extraordinary.
“You just finished saying that you’re not a God-of-the-gaps kind of guy, and yet now you’re saying, “Aha–science has no answer to this apparent fine tuning. But I know something that does!” What am I missing here?”
Let me try again. We can define the universe as everything that is space-time-material. Science measures these things and if there is anything beyond the universe, science cannot measure it. And neither in fact can we know it unless that “super-natural” world intersects with ours in some way. So if God created this universe, that is one interaction.
So we ask for reasons why the universe exists. And it can be sen straightaway that there can’t be a scientific or physical reason for it to exist because if there was a physical reason then it would be part of the universe. So there are only two logical possibilities, the universe as a whole has a non-physical cause outside itself or it has no cause at all. There is a third possibility, that while it didn’t exist it caused itself, but that isn’t logical. And in my opinion, starting without a cause is also illogical, so the only game in town is a non-physical cause.
So we are not looking at a God in the gaps, but for a understanding of that non-physical cause. And it is not, like you keep saying, that science will one day find a cause and fill that gap because science can only find physical causes, and they are within the universe. You may not agree with the logic (although I think if it wasn’t leading towards God, few would argue with it) but hopefully you can see how we are not interested in trying to fit God into science, but in explaining science and the universe.
So that’s enough for now.
And yet you and I would probably both pick the same when given the challenge: “Which of these two is more extraordinary–‘I have leaves in my yard’ and ‘I have fairies in my yard’?” And I bet everyone reading this would agree with our choice.
Maybe there’s more agreement on ‘extraordinary’ that we might at first imagine?
A big, unsubstantiated if.
Is the universe everything or just everything that’s the result of our own local Big Bang? If the former, then science might plausibly be able to explain that (multiverses and all that).
A small aside: the frontiers of physics are so contradictory that this phrase might seem quite silly a century from now. I doubt that we can know for sure what all the possibilities are.
Why are you so frantic to answer this question? How about we just say “I don’t know” and call it a day?
In fact, my guess is that this isn’t an objective and unbiased search for the truth, following the facts where they lead, but an effort to shore up your religious preconceptions. But I could be wrong.
“Maybe there’s more agreement on ‘extraordinary’ that we might at first imagine?”
Yes we know what it means, and our shared beliefs on many matters means we will likely answer the same on those matters. But that’s not the point.
On the question we are discussing (God) we disagree. Remember, the reason we are discussing this is because you said the idea of God was extraordinary and I said it wasn’t extraordinary to me – and you still haven’t offered an objective criterion.
“Why are you so frantic to answer this question? How about we just say “I don’t know” and call it a day?”
I don’t see I am any more frantic to solve it than you are to avoid it.
But it is simple. There was a man named Jesus and his story has made a difference to billions of people. Did he speak the truth or not? If he did, if God exists, then it is the most momentous fact in the universe. I want to know and get on board with that fact if it is true. The creation and design of the universe are facts which support (IMO) the idea that God does indeed exist, and that he may have created an inhabitable universe for a purpose. All the lines of evidence cumulate to support the conclusion that Jesus told the truth.
I only have one life, and not much of it left perhaps, I’m not going to hang out for some vague possibility that sometime long after I die scientists may think they might be able to explain the unexplainable. My life is built on probabilities and decisions – who to marry, what job to accept, what values to live by, what objectives to have in my life, etc – and this is just another one. In each case, I make the best choice I can and get on with it.
I haven’t tried to “proselytise” before, but I will say now that I can’t understand why you needed to ask that question. I suggest you might do better to investigate whether you have rejected something on wrong grounds rather than look for ways to avoid the possibility that all this is true. But it’s your life and you’ll live it your way, just as I’ll live mine my way (or hopefully Jesus’ way). So far, it’s been a good life, and practical experience reinforces the theoretical conclusions more often than not.
So that’s why. Thanks for asking and thanks for reading. Best wishes.
Why don’t you make the case that the idea of God should not extraordinary to a non-Christian.
And if you hope to be unbiased about this, this should be a warning sign. You want something. That doesn’t mean that this desire will color your research, but it certainly has with many lesser men than you.
Something to be cautious about.
And forcing the matter by jumping to conclusions with insufficient evidence is no solution to this problem. If this matter really is as important as you say it is, your desires count for nothing and must be actively suppressed in your quest. Accuracy is what matters. This is too important a matter to let desires affect it. (I’m guessing you agree.)
“we don’t know that the same charge of bias isn’t applicable to the handful of authorities you cited.”
Well I know about several of them because I have read their books and I know what they think. And I know none of them is a theist as far as I could discover (and I checked fairly carefully) and most of them are explicitly NOT theistic. But nothing I can say will convince you, you’ll have to decide that for yourself.
“Is your reading wide enough to encompass people who say things you like to hear as well as those that don’t?”
What makes you think I “liked” to hear what these people say about God? None of them believe in God, several of them say that option is possible but rejected as a scientific explanation (which of course is correct). I find it interesting, I DON’T quote christians but non-believers who are world-recognised experts, and you guys query my integrity, bias and breadth of reading. Yet the ONLY person you guys have quoted is an atheist with a clear bias and very little standing in the field. I think you need to question each other more than me.
“And I don’t think you are grasping the idea that this gives no support for the idea that Christianity can. We understand how science works and what a reliable window into reality it is. If it is unable to explain something, why imagine that anything can?”
Bob, I presented an argument to show that this is beyond science because it is beyond the physical universe. We are enquiring why the physical space-time universe of which science is a part exists at all, so science cannot explain it because it is part of the thing needing explanation. Now if you don’t accept that argument, please produce a rebuttal – but asking me the same questions will only get the same answers.
And if you understand the reasons why science cannot explain this (as briefly outlined above), you will understand that something else that is not part of the universe may be able to explain it.
“Why don’t you make the case that the idea of God should not extraordinary to a non-Christian.”
I would suggest that we don’t a priori have any reason to believe or disbelieve in a God, and therefore no reason a priori to call the idea “extraordinary – and that remains true while we don’t have any clear objective criteria for judging extraordinariness. It depends on the logic and the evidence. And if someone says it is extraordinary a priori without offering any a priori criteria, then I can only suspect their view is based more on wish fulfilment or something. If they look at the evidence and then decide the idea is “extraordinary”, I would simply say that I have looked at the evidence and find it otherwise.
“And if you hope to be unbiased about this, this should be a warning sign. You want something. That doesn’t mean that this desire will color your research, but it certainly has with many lesser men than you.”
Of course, it is true for me as it is true for you and all humans, to one degree or another. The most we can try to do is be as fair-minded as we can.
“And forcing the matter by jumping to conclusions with insufficient evidence is no solution to this problem.”
I guess it depends on what is “sufficient evidence”, but I think it is quite sufficient – just not 100% certain – but then, what is??? We only have one life (as far as we know) and avoiding making a decision is a poor use of it in my view.
I’m going to suggest we stop here. You keep asking questions which I answer logically. You don’t accept the answers though you offer nothing more than further questions in response. I don’t think this can remain a fruitful discussion unless either you offer some alternative arguments and hypotheses, or you agree that you don’t have them. I don’t want to be unfriendly or rude, but I don’t want to waste your time and mine. What do you think?
These cosmologists provide evidence that you’re able to use to support a fine-tuning argument and I’m to suppose you might not like that?
I certainly didn’t. I’m simply noting that you cite 5 or 6 cosmologists who give evidence that you like and then you dump on the one guy (Stenger), without evidence, who disagrees. Of course, Stenger might be biased and the other guys not, but I’m making the simple point that this is a hard conclusion to come to since you’ve provided no evidence but just claims.
No need to get annoyed; I’m simply making an observation.
If there was a strongly-supported argument that there is such a thing as “beyond the physical universe,” I missed it. Looked like an assertion or speculation. You’re welcome to assert or speculate; just don’t expect it to carry any weight.
If we’re talking about the argument for the existence of something beyond our universe, I don’t have such a rebuttal. I don’t need one.
I disagree. I point to the Principle of Analogy.
Do we have reason to believe or disbelieve claims of unicorns? Or leprechauns? Or fairies? Obviously, we assume that they do not exist. We don’t know for sure, of course, and if we’re open minded, we’ll listen to an argument that they exist. But the burden of proof is on the claimant, and if that case is inconclusive, we are obliged to return to the default assumption, which is that the mythical creature does not exist.
Works the same way for gods.
Well … I’m not sure about that. I have a goal: I want to find the truth. If it overturns some preconceptions on the way, so be it. I’m happy to accept the scientific consensus (I think this is true for you as well, which is unfortunately rare). I’m happy to follow the evidence where it leads. If there’s a god, so be it.
Is there really the symmetry in our positions that you imagine?
Avoiding making a decision when one has insufficient evidence is not only possible, it’s mandatory!
Imagine a gulf of understanding for which we don’t have the evidence to bridge. You can cross only with faith. In that case, don’t cross the gulf. Simply accept that you don’t have an answer.
This characterization seems to be of your position as the calm, rational one and mine as the one with a crumbling foundation, with me frantically asking questions to avoid acknowledging the obvious.
You may not be surprised to hear that I don’t see it that way.
You’ve asked the reasonable questions and it’s me who comes up empty? My explanation of the universe is “science doesn’t know” and yours is “God did it!” Where science has no answer, I don’t have one either. If you want to conclude from that that you’re the one offering sensible explanations and I’m flailing around but coming up empty, go ahead, but again I see things differently.
Sure, let’s stop.
Michael, dunno if you’re still around, but I thought I’d have a look at a few more of your comments.
“the definition of what you call the “physical universe” is, everything.”
I looked up the definition and obtained these:
All matter and energy, including the earth, the galaxies, and the contents of intergalactic space, regarded as a whole.
The Universe is commonly defined as the totality of everything that exists, including all matter and energy, the planets, stars, galaxies, and the contents of intergalactic space …. everything that exists, (has existed, and will exist). According to our current understanding, the universe consists of three principles: spacetime, forms of energy, including momentum and matter, and the physical laws that relate them.
You will notice that these definitions focus on the space-time material, and none of these definitions include non-space-time, non-material, “supernatural”. If you want to include God within the universe, it will be your definition, but not what most people mean by it and not what I mean by it. That is why I generally qualify my usage with the words “space-time”, etc.
“There is nothing else…. Gods do not exist”
Do you have evidence for these very strong and categorical statements? When making a statement, it is usual to offer evidence.
“Some things don’t have causes, and the universe is one of them.”
Can you name any other things that don’t have a cause please?
The decay of a radioactive nucleus. The spontaneous generation of particles out of a vacuum. These quantum events are without cause. Since the early universe was smaller than these particles, perhaps it also had no cause.
G’day Bob, just a few loose ends to tie up.
“The decay of a radioactive nucleus. The spontaneous generation of particles out of a vacuum. These quantum events are without cause.”
Another statement you make so confidently, but which appears to be wrong! Check out these authoritative scientific sources which state quite clearly that radioactive decay does have causes, it is just that these causes don’t lead to a deterministic result, but to a stochastic one – US Dept of Energy Office of Science and Office of health and Safety.
“Since the early universe was smaller than these particles, perhaps it also had no cause.”
“Perhaps” – so much of your counter arguments are based on “perhaps” rather than facts. But think of this – atomic decay and quantum events do have causes as outlined above, and they do have antecedent conditions (matter, forces, energy, time and/or space, e.g. a quantum vacuum which contains many of these things). This is why I think it best to give up this discussion – you accuse christians of believing without reason because they want to believe or were brought up to believe, but the evidence of this discussion is, unfortunately, that you are the one avoiding facts and clear arguments and basing your disbelief on “perhaps”.
“No need to get annoyed”
Just to clarify, I wasn’t annoyed when I wrote that, I was simply pointing out what seemed to me to be a salient fact.
“Sure, let’s stop.”
We are agreed then. I will read any final comment you make (and check if Michael comes back with a comment) but I won’t respond again unless there seems to be some reason to do so.
Thanks again for the opportunity to discuss. I appreciate your courtesy, and although I have become frustrated with what seems to me to be a plethora of non-answers and evasions, I have never felt personally attacked nor have I wanted anything other than the best for you in return. I wish you well. Ciao.
By a “stochastic” cause, I assume you mean that the law of large numbers allows us to predict the rate of radioactive decay but not when any particular nucleus will decay? Yep, that agrees with what I said.
I read your links. Sure looks like they agree with me as well. So I guess we’re on the same page.
(If you meant to say that radioactive decay for any particular nucleus does have a cause, you’ll have to point out for me where it says that because I missed it.)
1. Science doesn’t know everything. Science sometimes says “perhaps” and “I don’t know.” Doesn’t trouble me; I’m not sure why it troubles you.
2. Am I ignoring facts? Show me.
Nope, as outlined above.
That sounds like good advice.
Am I avoiding the facts? The crime here may be stupidity, but it’s not evasion because I don’t see my doing that.
As I said, I’ve read your latest comment but won’t be responding. Thanks again.
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