Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Assumptions, Assumptions

So, I pointed out my FTAN (Fine Tuning Argument for Naturalism) to Alexander Pruss of Prosblogion, who was kind enough to respond in the comments of his post on fine tuning vs. the problem of evil. Alexander is not just some random blogger. All the folks at Prosblogion are Genuine Sophisticated Theologians - philosophy professors, no less. So, I was glad to get the opinion of an expert on my version of the fine tuning argument. Here's what he wrote (in part, I think I am fairly representing his responses with my excerpts here, but see the original post for his full remarks):

The FTA needs an assumption that there is a significant value to a universe that with very few exceptions, if any, follows orderly and elegant mathematical laws of nature. Such an assumption is compatible with miracles.
Now, this is exactly the sort of thing I was complaining about in my Purple Pachyderm post, and that Carl Sagan was complaining about in his Dragon in the Garage, and so on. For any argument against the existence of God, the theist simply introduces an arbitrary and unfounded assumption in answer.

So I pointed out that in a universe with any miracles at all, my FTAN would still work. For instance, on an earth that was too close to its sun for life to exist, God could prevent the excess radiation from reaching earth, thus allowing life to exist. The exception to energy conservation would be localized, satisfying the "few exceptions" assumption.

Alex responded:

Leibniz argued against Newton/Clarke that it would be inappropriate for God to rely on on-going miracles for the ordinary operation of the universe.
One way to defend this is to say that God has reason to avoid miracles. This reason can be overridden, of course.

OK, so now we have a new assumption: that miracles should not be on-going. Dragon in the garage once again.

 Unfortunately for Alex, this new assumption still doesn't answer the objection. Even with one-time miracles, there will still be infinitely more possible life-containing universes if there is an omnipotent God than if there is not. One example I pointed out was if the laws of chemistry don't allow for chemical evolution of life, but do allow for the existence of life. Then a single miraculous intervention by God could get life started. But there are infinitely many ways God could make this intervention, so there are infinitely many more possible life-containing worlds under the theistic assumption. So my FTAN still works.

Also, this new assumption flies in the face of an argument that theists have been making for centuries:  that it takes God's on-going miraculous intervention to sustain the universe. Here, for example, is Pope John Paul II discussing proofs of God's existence  (emphasis added):
Without such a supreme Cause, the world and every movement in it would remain "unexplained" and "inexplicable", and our intelligence would not be satisfied. The human mind can receive a response to its questions only by admitting a Being who has created the world with all its dynamism. and who continues to maintain it in existence
The theist wants to have it both ways. On-going miracles? Proof of God! No on-going miracles? That's proof of God, too!


Alex answered:

  • 1. Dougherty and Poston in the paper I linked to argue that one can't consistently run both the FTA and ID-type biological design arguments. Your point is similar, though not the same.
  • 2. I think both your and their point is somewhat weakened, but not destroyed, on the supposition that God would have good reason to minimize the number of miracles, subject to other desiderata.
  • 3. But in any case, I think many of the proponents of the FTA would say that a number of the constants going into the FTA are such that not only need the values be "just right" (tough making sense of that rigorously, but there is an intuition there that many theists and non-theists find compelling) for life to begin, but for life to persist.
In (2) Alex is saying, I think, that God would prefer to create a life-containing universe without using miracles rather than one that requires miracles.Yet another new assumption. But Alex recognizes that that even this assumption does not "destroy" my point.

Anyway, isn't God supposed to want us to know about him? Wouldn't these miracles be evidence of a God? So why would God want to avoid them?

In (3), Alex is just saying that you can run the FTA (for God) on those parameters that allow life to persist. But this is irrelevant to my argument, which takes precisely the fine-tuned nature of those parameters as an argument against God.

So I have to say, I'm not too impressed with the Sophisticated Theologian's response to my counter-argument. Of course, with enough additional assumptions you can neutralize any argument. But the very need to make those logical contortions reveals how weak the theist's position is.

23 comments:

  1. I have been in a very very pissy mood since I found out my Father had first stage lung cancer and I have been taking it out on everybody. This is one of the reasons I was perhaps overly harsh to Prof Oerter when he posted his last set of philosophical bungles that he seems prone to make. However in this latest round of bungles and fallacies of equivocation he has made in this post I will try to be more kind.

    (BTW FYI my Dad has had a 3rd of his lower right lung removed and the tests show the lymph nodes don't contain any Cancer. He is fortunate this was detected early by accident otherwise in a year when he showed symptoms it would have been too late. He & Mom won't be able to spend Christmas with us this year but I can live with that.)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I am dealing with a similar situation in my family, too. I'm sorry.

      Delete
  2. Anyway so many mistakes as my friend Crude said on other blog where to begin? Well obviously one is that Prof Oerter is equivocating between the classic view of a miracle vs the post enlightenment view of one. Also he is equivocating between causing Miracles within natural existence itself(i.e. Nature) verses the necessary view that creation and divine conservation of Nature by God are miraculous acts. That God must always cause the universe to exist from moment to moment has little to do with Him always parting the Red Sea or raising the dead within the Universe.

    Anyway what is the difference between the Classic view of miracles vs the Post enlightenment one?

    The classic view of a Miracle is an event caused by God, who is Pure Act, to actualize some natural potency directly(as opposed to secondarily threw the Chain of Being) & or in such a way that exceeds the productive power of nature.

    For example God who is Pure Act could directly actualized a pile of wood to ignite on fire without a natural ignitor being present (which by it's given nature could actualize the potency in wood to burn) or He could do something even more radical and cause/actualize a pool of water ice to catch on fire and burn very hot without melting which would be beyond it's given natural power to do so.

    The Act of Divine Creation and Divine Conservation would be a type of Miracle since it is outside of Nature to cause Itself(since it isn't Pure Act since nature changes) & by definition that requires God's Act to cause things To Be from nothing and to continue in the Act of Being.

    The Post enlightenment view of a miracle denies the Aristotelian metaphysics that underlie this concept & postulate that nature only contains material and efficient causes that are governed by "Laws of Nature" that compel their ends. A Miracle is in this scheme God "violating" or setting aside these Laws to cause different ends. Divine Conservation is not held since existence/being is seen as something God bestows on things that then have it by nature & in principle could continue to have it even if God went away somehow or caused Himself to not exist.

    It is clear when we talk about "God having good reason to minimize the number of miracles" we are talking about God acting directly on things to actualizes various potencies they might have or acting on them to have powers that exceed their given nature.

    Prof Oerter writes:
    >OK, so now we have a new assumption: that miracles should not be on-going. Dragon in the garage once again.

    Sorry there is no "new assumption" here there is just Prof Oerter committing the Fallacy of equivocation based on his general self admitted ignorance of Philosophy.

    ReplyDelete
  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Then there is the FTAN. As my buddy Crude said to someone who was arguing that Science has shown Evolution is "unguided" QUOTE"[the view]... 'Gods don't need to create life consistent with physical laws because they can create ghosts.' is confused because granting the existence of ghosts would also grant the existence of laws governing their existence. It's not as if we consult a list of set-in-stone physical laws and go, aha, the physical laws were violated! We observe phenomena, and hypothesize physical laws that account for and include such.

    Let me repeat that, since it seems as if so many people forget it: as far as science goes, 'physical law' is that which we describe to account for observations. When we encounter phenomena that is not subject to physical law as we understand it, the response is not always 'miracle!' but amending those laws.

    Third, in principle, just about any means of creation you can imagine has an analogue in a hypothetical 'naturalistic' universe. You can have ghosts existence without God creating ghosts. You can have no origin of life, and life simply being past-eternal. You can even have factories, with the factories either law-spawned or merely existing. Hell, just look at the life theories prior to evolution: spontaneous generation, etc, comes damn close to 'factories making animals', and this wasn't some Christian or even theistic invention."END QUOTE

    Anyway read the full discussion I think Crude's response has applications to Prof Oerter's so called FTAN.
    http://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=10584495&postID=4164527330968577959


    Some further comments:

    Pruss writes:

    >Dougherty and Poston in the paper I linked to argue that one can't consistently run both the FTA and ID-type biological design arguments. Your point is similar, though not the same.


    Which is sad news for the ID crowd & their implicit anti-Aristotelian metaphysics but not Thomists and Real Essentalists.

    >Anyway, isn't God supposed to want us to know about him? Wouldn't these miracles be evidence of a God? So why would God want to avoid them?

    How could they since if they happened with frequency they wouldn't be "miracles" they would be observed regularities and thus physical Laws. Or do you want to claim Quantum Events are miracles since they are ration counter intuitive to how matter behaves on the macro scale?

    >The theist wants to have it both ways. On-going miracles? Proof of God! No on-going miracles? That's proof of God, too!

    Which Theist from which Philosophical School? You can't equivocate between them & be taken seriously anymore then I could put on the Hat of an ID anti-Evolution polemicist and equivocate between Darwin vs Lemark or Dawkins vs Gould and be taken seriously.

    God is proven by Philosophical Argument not Scientific Argument.

    Philosophy and Science are the keys to natural knowledge not Science alone as the Positivists believed. I've already posted links on other threads explaining why Positivism is wrong.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks as usual for your comments.

      Ben wrote:
      "Let me repeat that, since it seems as if so many people forget it: as far as science goes, 'physical law' is that which we describe to account for observations. When we encounter phenomena that is not subject to physical law as we understand it, the response is not always 'miracle!' but amending those laws."

      Agreed. But if, as in my example, we found that energy was conserved everywhere in the universe except for a thin shell around the Earth, that would be very hard to account for by naturalistic explanation. And you haven't given any reason why, under your version of theism, God wouldn't do this sort of thing.

      Ben wrote:
      "Third, in principle, just about any means of creation you can imagine has an analogue in a hypothetical 'naturalistic' universe."

      I don't see how this is relevant to the present discussion. We're not talking about means of creation, we're talking about miraculous intervention.

      "How could they since if they happened with frequency they wouldn't be "miracles" they would be observed regularities and thus physical Laws."

      Again, if energy was conserved everywhere except in a bubble around the earth, how would that be seen as anything other than an exception to a natural law?

      And, as I pointed out, my argument doesn't rely on on-going miracles. It's just as valid for one-time miracles. So you really haven't addressed my objection at all.

      "Philosophy and Science are the keys to natural knowledge not Science alone as the Positivists believed. I've already posted links on other threads explaining why Positivism is wrong."

      Again the straw man of Positivism. I haven't ever claimed to be a Positivist.

      For some clues as to how one can be a pragmatic naturalist without being a Positivist, try reading Every Thing Must Go, by Ladyman and Ross. I'm working my way through it - maybe will blog about it soon.

      Delete
    2. Happy New Year Proffessor.

      >Agreed. But if, as in my example, we found that energy was conserved everywhere in the universe except for a thin shell around the Earth, that would be very hard to account for by naturalistic explanation. And you haven't given any reason why, under your version of theism, God wouldn't do this sort of thing.

      How would we judge it a "non-natural occurance" since it would always have been the case that it existed there? It's would certainly be a unique coincident & phenomena not unlike the razor edge values found in the Fine-tuning Anthropopic coincidences. But how can we call it supernatural? Maybe it might be unexplained but so are quantum events. By your logic Prof Oreter quantum events are "supernatural" events.

      Sorry no.

      >I don't see how this is relevant to the present discussion. We're not talking about means of creation, we're talking about miraculous intervention.

      It clearly undercuts your FTAN. Since said argument is predicated on the idea God could have created any "non-natural/supernatural" universe He liked but choose to create this "natural" one & since he had such a wide range of choices it seems improbible he would choose this "natural" universe to create which is consistent with naturalism.

      >And, as I pointed out, my argument doesn't rely on on-going miracles. It's just as valid for one-time miracles. So you really haven't addressed my objection at all.

      Your argument assumes a Paley/Hume view of miracles not a classic view.

      >Again the straw man of Positivism. I haven't ever claimed to be a Positivist.

      Yet you only come up with "scientific" objections to generic Theism and not philosophical objections to classic theism?

      What am I suppose to think? When I said I reject any "deity/theistic Personalist god" that could be proven scientifically you accused me of "rejecting evidence".
      The implication I take from you is the only "evidence" that objectively exists is scientific evidence. Which of course is a Positivist view.

      I don't believe logically (even if we really lived in a purely metaphysical naturalist reality) the only evidence or I should say knowledge is scientific . There is philosophy too.

      >For some clues as to how one can be a pragmatic naturalist without being a Positivist, try reading Every Thing Must Go, by Ladyman and Ross. I'm working my way through it - maybe will blog about it soon.

      The key to avoiding my charge of "Positivism" is to avoid scientific objections to GOd in the classic sense and concentrate on philosophical ones.

      Cheers sir.

      Delete
    3. Let me narrow this a bit.

      >And you haven't given any reason why, under your version of theism, God wouldn't do this sort of thing.

      We already live in a universe when objects on the macro level don't suddenly appear out of "nowhere" yet on the subatomic level we have virtual partials that seem to appear out of "nowhere".

      You once tried to argue such a phenomena was a possible example an "un-caused event". I countered your Atheistic gap argument with a Paley style Theistic gap argument "god-did-it".

      If there was a thin shell around the Earth where the law of conservation of energy as we know it ceased to function how do we judge that is anymore supernatural then quantum events?

      Delete
  5. Anyway Prof Oerter sorry I was so Pissy two posts ago.

    Cheers.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Hi Robert,

    "Leibniz argued against Newton/Clarke that it would be inappropriate for God to rely on on-going miracles for the ordinary operation of the universe. "

    The reason for this is apparently that, were God to have to constantly intervene in nature, this would mean that he lacked the power or foresight to set things up right initially. But I don't find this convincing. To have to constantly intervene is an inconvenience for humans because to do so prevents us from doing other things we'd rather be doing. God, however, is not limited to doing one thing at one time, and foregoing doing another. So we've no reason to think that God would prefer a universe which didn't require his intervention. Actually, he may want a universe where he is heavily involved, his constant influencing of the universe demonstrating his love for its inhabitants.

    " For any argument against the existence of God, the theist simply introduces an arbitrary and unfounded assumption in answer."

    Yes, though I don't think the lack of evidence for the assumption is the problem here. The problem is that, when we add assumptions to the hypothesis of bare theism, we complicate it and thereby make it less (antecedently) probable. It's difficult to say how much less probable, and so difficult to judge whether the theist gains anything by making this assumption.

    Anyway, I think you're on the right track with your argument. It's good.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. >So we've no reason to think that God would prefer a universe which didn't require his intervention.

      Doesn't anybody who posts here besides me and RS have any concept of God other than a Paley styled Theistic Personalist isolani deity?

      Revisit the John Paul II quote.

      As Classic Theists like Brian Davies once pointed out it is incoherent to speak of God as "intervening" in something He is already doing.

      Prof Oerter's whole argument assumes a Theistic Personalist type of deity(in spite of reading THE LAST SUPERSTITION that seems to be the only god concept he is familiar with. Of course it is the "god" of the ID Paley people & that seems to be the only type of Theism he can polemic). Of course the Classic view is a whole other thing..

      Delete
    2. It's simply easier to talk about God in this way, but it doesn't make a difference. I could instead say that there's no reason to think that God would prefer a universe that didn't require him to frequently adjust the dynamics of the world which he maintains in existence.

      Delete
    3. Well in fact is does matter. For example if I come up with a series devastating air tight philosophical refutations of every known Cosmological Argument a Pantheist would yawn at me. Why? Well Cosmological Arguments by definition make inferences from the nature of Creation to suggest the existence of a Creator. Or to put it more simply Cosmological argument presuppose a creator deity. Well a Pantheist doesn't presuppose a creator deity he presupposes creation and deity are identical. So it's a non-starter.

      In a like manner no matter how you slice it. Your critique presupposes a Theistic Personalist view of the deity who is "interventionist" in the sense of Hume or Paley. A Classic view of God is not and cannot be "interventionist" because of the concept of the Divine Conservation(as mentioned by the late great John Paul II cited by Prof Oerter).

      In the classic view there is no such thing as "Laws of Nature" in the Humean sense of Platonic Entities or whatnot that cause things in our reality to act in a certain way. Rather anything created by definition has an essence distinct from it's existence. So called "laws" are nothing but observed regularities in a thing's nature as dictated by it's essence.
      What you are presupposing is a created reality of things whose essence cause their natures to be as such that their mutual existence is incompatible with one another.
      Such as God creating a universe populated by very hot Blue Giants that each have an ice world orbiting at the distance of Mercury yet God miraculously in the Classic Sense actualizes the Ice to not melt.
      But how would you know you where in such a universe as opposed to one where God creates an Ice like substance whose essence is that it must melt at higher temperatures? Also if these planets where inhabited by intelligent beings how would they know Ice is suppose to melt under those circumstances? Given their experience of the observed regularities of Ice not melting at 1000's of degrees Kelvin?

      Delete
  7. Here you go Prof Oerter.

    This might broaden your perspective on the nature of miracles so you can stop equivocating.


    www.tere.org/assets/downloads/secondary/pdf.../MiraclesIntro.pdf

    ReplyDelete
  8. Some trouble accessing it.

    copy/paste the link I provided above in google and click on the first result then you should get it.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Here is Ben's link: Miracles: Introduction. It worked when I tested it. The full link is http://www.tere.org/assets/downloads/secondary/pdf_downloads/ALevel/MiraclesIntro.pdf

    Ben - you probably know this - in Blogger, if you type the link using the following format, Blogger creates the link for you, except you must replace the brackets "[" and "]" with "<" and ">" --- and be sure to put one space between the first "a" and "href" ---
    Format: [a href="URL.address.here"]any.text.you.want.here[/a]

    You can test the link in Preview mode.

    Thanks for the links. I always read them if I have time.

    ReplyDelete
  10. >Even with one-time miracles, there will still be infinitely more possible life-containing universes if there is an omnipotent God than if there is not.

    There is no reason to believe this is true. Philosophically there is no reason to believe there aren't an infinite number of life-containing universes in a godless creation. Aren't you a Sci-fi Fan Prof Oreter? Star Trek? It seems Q could live in a universe when no planets formed or no Carbon existed or stars had short lives. Heck there was a Star Trek novel I once read about an Energy Alien who whose people lived and evolved during the first three minutes of the Big Bang. The poor creature somehow survived to live in our era where it was ploting to bring the "dead universe" back to "life" by causing the Big Crunch(it was an old novel based on older pre-hubble telescope cosmology).

    ReplyDelete
  11. So how do we get the Philosophy versus Science debate into focus? Science is not likely to accept classical theism since there appears to be no empirical evidence for classical theism (or is there?). And classical theism is not going to fold its tent due to any lack of empirical evidence (so what IS its basis, pure logic?)

    So where do we go with this?

    Happy holidays and peace to all?

    ReplyDelete
  12. Ben, my remarks were directed at Pruss's comments, so not at the classical God. You may be right that my argument doesn't apply to the classical God. But you have said above that you don't believe in any God that can be proved scientifically. Does this mean you reject the FTA? If so, then we are already on the same page and don't need to argue any further.

    Ben wrote:
    "There is no reason to believe this [more possible life-containing universes under theism] is true. Philosophically there is no reason to believe there aren't an infinite number of life-containing universes in a godless creation."

    You have to remember that my argument is modeled after the FTA - which is a very bad argument. So my argument inherits the defects of the FTA, one of which you are pointing out here. My point is that IF someone accepts the FTA as a good argument, then they must also accept that my argument is a good argument: they're the same argument.

    To clarify: You are right to say that there are infinitely many possible universes under both hypotheses (God and no-God). The same is true in the FTA. The FTA assumes that a meaningful measure can be defined for these infinite possibilities, such that the smaller area in my graph represents smaller probability and the larger area in my graph represents larger probability. I am merely taking over these same assumptions in my argument.

    If you reject my assumptions, then you also reject the FTA, and once again we are on the same page.

    ReplyDelete
  13. @Prof Oerter

    >Does this mean you reject the FTA?

    Of course not but I certainly don't believe by itself it conclusively proves God. It is a very strong argument and many an Atheist Cosmologist has said it has shaken their atheist "faith" thought clearly not destroyed it.
    See Fr. Spitzer's NEW PROOFS FOR THE EXISTENCE OF GOD for details.

    Taken with other stronger philosophical proofs it adds to the tapestry of arguments for God understood in the Classic Sense.

    >You may be right that my argument doesn't apply to the classical God.

    Then as of now we are both Atheists against the "god" you are attacking. Well done my friend.

    As for the FTA. If we both got on a Photon Starship and traveled to a nearby star and observed a Planet or Moon in that system that had REPENT OERTER spelled out clearly in a pattern of impact craters or a line of mountains that might give us both pause if we scientifically eliminate the possibility it was an artifact (i.e. some intelligence within our reality like Aliens did it).

    OTOH if I believe Richard Dawkins(& rarely do since he is such a philosophical incompetent) it might be possible for the hand on a statue of the BVM to wave if all the molecules just happened to move in the same direction and back again. The hand of said statue doesn't appear to move only because the random movement of the molecules creates an equalibrium that balances out. But if we calculate the possibility they could by chance move in the same direction the number we would come up with would take trillions of times the lifespan of the Universe to merely write out the symbol(according to Rich who I am roughly paraphrasing from memory). Dawkins then comments if he saw a statue of the BVM wave he would say "Wow that is very lucky".

    But then I have to ask myself if I saw the statue wave would I really think it was mere "luck"?

    >But you have said above that you don't believe in any God that can be proved scientifically.

    In the strict empirical sense sans philosophy yes. You can't turn on your LHC and come up with "god"(even thought we have stupid Atheists who say proving the existence of the Higgs disproves "god" vs equally stupid Theists who claim science has proven "god" by finding His Holy Partical. "Blank me" with a duck!). Science presuposes an orderly Universe and that is compatible with Thomistic Teleology and I believe the fifth way has teeth with the other ways.

    >So my argument inherits the defects of the FTA,

    Pretty much. The FTA doesn't exclude the possibility of untra-exotic natural life like Star Trek energy beings living during the first 3 minutes of the Big Bang.

    But the point is our particular type of life seems to have arrived on a vastly improbible razor's edge when one looks at the initial conditions(Penrose's Number). So you could remotely think the waving statue is "lucky" but it would still be very reasonable to think it's something else besides luck.

    Mind you some of the "fine-tunings" the ID people put forth are nonsense. Like the nature of our planet's techtonics, having one moon, etc...giving the size and content of our universe at least one planet with our conditions might likely show up so for me for the FTA to be useful one has to concentrate on the initial conditions of creation.

    Cheers.

    ReplyDelete