Monday, April 02, 2007

Intelligent Design or Secular Moonshine?

(Posted on behalf of Steve Hays)

This is part of an ongoing debate that I’ve been having with an old friend. His words are in blue.

So, when you say “observable universe”, it seems you just mean “our universe” regardless of whether all of it has been observed or not. In fact, much of it, if not most of it is beyond the reach of our instruments at this point.

For purposes of extrapolating from the known to the unknown, the observable universe is our reference point.

At any rate, even if we ignore the possibility of a multiverse and other universes, and focus on the universe we know, inflationary theory provides a naturalistic explanation for the origin of our universe that does not involve violation of the conservation law.

Except that if we ignore the megaverse hypothesis, then the so-called law of conservation, which is simply be descriptive of a natural force or constant, would be a *result* of cosmic origins, and not, therefore, a *constraint* on cosmic origins.

While we should not assume that the various constants obtaining in our universe would have the same values in other universes, it’s hard to see how the law of conservation would not apply within these other universes (if, of course, they exist in the first place and are self-contained closed systems).

It’s only valid to extrapolate from our universe to a parallel universe if you already know that the parallel universe is the same *kind* of universe. But since it’s inaccessible to direct or indirect detection—much less inspection)—we have no empirical basis for such an assumption. Indeed, it’s a circular proposition. You’d already need to know that an alternative world is analogous to your own to justify the comparison in the first place.

I think we have a fundamental difference here. For you, a supernatural explanation is just fine and dandy, a perfectly normal thing.


For me, it definitely isn’t. You yourself keep speaking of the only universe we know, yet you want to leap to something of which we have no experience and no example in the universe – a supernatural phenomenon or realm. You contradict yourself. You criticize extrapolations to another universe (which is merely another example of a known object – our universe), yet you don’t even extrapolate. You resort to a supernatural explanation. For you to argue that God created the universe through fiat, requires you to first create God by fiat. (I know that you deny that God is not a postulate but I think in reality it is, because all the various theistic arguments fail, as far as I’m concerned.)

The God theory or hypothesis is neither testable nor potentially testable. So it’s totally removed from the possibility of actual evidence.

Several issues here:

1.You simply assert that we have “no experience and no example of a supernatural phenomenon in the universe.”

This is nothing more than an admission of your own personal inexperience. Many credible witnesses testify to having had just such an experience. So there’s no inconsistency on my part.

2.It also depends on whether you are talking about a specific experience/example regarding the supernatural origin of the universe, or a general experience/set of examples regarding the existence of the supernatural.

3.The scientific method generally deals with the impersonal, empirical, and repeatable. That is not the appropriate model for “testing” the existence of a personal, transcendent agent.

Many things are real which escape the net of the scientific method. I have personal memories of things that no longer exist. In that respect, many of my memories are unverifiable. The past is irrevocable. But my memories of the past can be accurate all the same.

It’s like the old adage: “If all you have is a hammer, then every problem will look like a nail.” We need a bigger toolkit than the scientific method to accommodate reality.

4.We don’t know that a parallel universe would be “another example” of a known object—our universe. For we only have one relatum of the comparison—our own universe.

You and other Christians are certainly free to postulate God (or provide various arguments for God) as an explanation for the universe. But it is at best a hypothesis and you need to label it as such. I happen to think it’s a hypothesis that fails to explain the origin of the universe and lots of other things that it claims to explain. Besides, as I’ve just said above, it’s inherently untestable. It’s simply a matter of belief – and therein lies the problem.

Unlike theists, those who hypothesize a multiverse or other secular cosmological concepts don’t go around claiming certainty for their ideas.

For some reason, you seem to be bothered by the idea of religious certainty. But you don’t explain why.

I believe that writers like Sam Harris and Andrew Sullivan regard religious certainty as dangerously dogmatic—unlike theological moderates or secular fallibilists who are allegedly more tolerant and flexible. Maybe that’s your objection.

But, actually, there’s no much cash value difference between absolutism and relativism. A secular fallibilist may be ever so doubtful on paper, but as a practical matter he must still makes decisions. At a pragmatic level, his probabilities and dubieties will have the same force as certainties. Maybe I’m unsure if I should make a left turn or a right turn. But I can’t very well split the difference between left and right. I can’t turn partly right and partly left. I can only do one or the other.

In the ream of public policy, a law based on uncertain theories or doubtful hypothesis will still have the force of law. It will have the same legal teeth as a law based on religious verities.

You may say that such a law is subject to future revision, but you’re just exchanging one set of uncertainties for another, and the revised law will still penalize lawbreakers. So however uncertain the secular fallibilist may be in principle, he will have to act with a measure of practical certainty. Principled relativism translates into pragmatic absolutism. De jure relativism on paper; de facto absolutism in action.

This is not a question of faith. I have no faith that science will find an explanation for any particular thing. All I’m saying is that science might find an explanation and is the only known way an explanation might be found. You certainly don’t say there might be a God, you say there is a God – that’s faith.

1.There’s a difference between formal and informal certainty. As writers like Pascal, Michael Polanyi, and Cardinal Newman have pointed out, there’s a difference between reflective and prereflective knowledge.

We frequently begin with intuitive knowledge. This is preanalytical or pretheoretical. And it supplies the raw materials for formal analysis or formal argumentation.

But it isn’t possible to explicate all of our tacit knowledge in logical syllogisms or intersubjectival propositions. Experience is person-variable. And a lot of experience is too subtle and pervasive to objectify and formalize.

For purposes of dialogue, a Christian will attempt to find common ground with the unbeliever, but their common ground lies on the tip of the proverbial iceberg. This is what lies above the surface, in the public domain.

But a Christian may also have a multitude of reasons that are intransitive because they are tied to his unique, personal experience. So we know more than we can say.

2.It is very difficult to demonstrate anything, in the sense of apodictic proof. Ironically, some of the most familiar and “undeniable” phenomena, like the existence of the external world, are the hardest to prove—in part because these are the things we presume in order to prove anything else.

What you’re doing is rejecting the whole enterprise of science. If such thinking had been prevalent down the centuries right until today, we would still believe that thunder and lightning had supernatural causes. And we certainly would not be anywhere near the technological level that we have achieved.

Sorry, but that’s an outsider’s uniformed caricature of Christian theism. Jews and Christians have always believed in ordinary providence and second-causes. Ancient Israelites knew that rain came from clouds, trees came from seeds, babies came from sex, &c.

In general, Christian theism doesn't offer direct divine agency as a substitute for second-causes. Rather, God would be the source of secondary agents and agencies.

A Christian philosopher or theologian, unless he happens to be an idealist or occasionalist (which is very rare), doesn't think of divine agency as ranging along the same continuum as second causes. He doesn't view God as discretely intervening every time to send rain or make babies.

As a rule, theism would explain particular phenomena by explaining the origin of the second causes and not the effect (particular phenomena) of the second-causes. In other words, God would be the ulterior or indirect cause.

There are exceptions, such as when a stage-4, terminal cancer patient who goes into spontaneous and total remission the very next day in answer to prayer.

In Christian theology, particular events are normally the result of ordinary providence. Second-causes. Natural forces. Natural mechanisms.

But there are also miracles as well as certain occultic phenomena which bypass ordinary providence.

I’ll start with Plantinga but let me first quote at length from the decision of Judge John E Jones III in the Kitzmiller et al. vs Dover Area School District case concerning the teaching of ID in Dover, Pennsylvania public schools. Bear in mind that Judge Jones is a Republican who was appointed by Dubya.

And why do you want to begin with Judge Jones? He’s not a philosopher of science. And I believe that in his written opinion he was simply plagiarizing an ACLU legal brief.

I find it fascinating that opponents of ID are prepared to forfeit the autonomy of science and cede the definition of true science to the judiciary.

Plantinga writes that “a Christian academic and scientific community ought to pursue science in its own way, starting from [his italics] and taking for granted what we know as Christians”. An extraordinary and extraordinarily absurd statement. It’s first of all a bald-faced admission of what I said above: that the Christian God has to be considered a given, it’s the starting point rather than something to be proven.

You’re overlooking a key word: what we “know” as Christians. Plantinga takes the position that we should judge any particular claim by our larger body of beliefs. By everything we know or have good reason to believe.

And Plantinga has often argued for his Christian faith. So this is decidedly not a case of assuming what one needs to prove.

I certainly don’t see anything irrational in altruism and I’m sure many other atheists would agree. Humans are both self-centered and altruistic. Many people would consider being altruistic a necessary part of being a complete human being who is an integral part of society, rather than just being an isolated, atomized individual.

The question at issue is not whether altruism per se is irrational, but whether secularism has the wherewithal to justify altruism.

Altruism is beneficial to the common good. As such, it is often beneficial to the individual. However, we also have cases like the lifeboat scenario in which there’s a conflict between altruism and self-interest.

“There are now tens of thousands of hominid fossils in museums around the world supporting our current knowledge of human evolution. The pattern that emerges from this vast body of hard evidence is consistent across thousands of investigations. All models, all myths involving the singular, instantaneous creation of modern humans fail in the face of this evidence.”

And how do you identify these fossils as “hominid” fossils? You could only do that if you could arrange them according to lineal descent. But how do you establish lineal descent when the fossils are so widely separated in time and space?

Plantinga writes that “the theist knows that God created the heavens and the earth and all that they contain”. Pray tell, how in the world does the theist know this?? What is the theist’s evidence?? The biblical account of Genesis??

Plantinga has made his case elsewhere, both in what he himself has written and other works he references or recommends.

Besides, as Judge Jones astutely noted, “attributing unsolved problems about nature to causes and forces that lie outside the natural world is a “science stopper.” ” The problem is precisely that the Christian does not want to follow the evidence where it leads: rather than continuing on the evidence path, she puts up her own divine barrier and decides there’s no need to go further.

1.I don’t see anything particularly astute about a judge who is simply regurgitating a catchphrase from Dawkins.

2.As I’ve said before, this objection also confuses the level at which a theistic explanation operates.

3.The methodological naturalist is not prepared to follow the evidence wherever it leads, for he rules out of abounds, in advance of the evidence, any evidence that might lead back to God.

On what basis does he conclude this?? The only basis is his Christian belief, not any type of evidence beyond Biblical stories.

You obviously haven’t read very much Plantinga.

And, anyway, it’s absurd for theists to say that humans were created in the image of God. Does that mean God is humanoid or hominid??? And…God is supposed to be omnipotent, omniscient, eternal, infinitely benevolent, non-physical, and beyond space and time. Does any human being possess these qualities?? God seems to be everything that humans are not!! Indeed, I believe that’s exactly why humans created him.

That’s an exegetical question. Here’s one standard answer:

Plantinga writes about the basic physical constants that “it seems puzzling that these values should have been just as they are”. He probably would have said that regardless of what the values were!! Constants are constants, they have to have a certain value rather than another. The values of the constants could be inherent (in a particular universe, if there is more than one), just like the pi ratio, as Dawkins suggests in The God Delusion. Did God set the value of pi? Could he have given it another value? And the constants may even be interdependent, but verification of this notion will only come if a “grand unified theory” is formulated.

This confuses a necessary truth like the value of pi with a contingent truth like the basic physical constants.

There is an interesting Darwinian explanation proposed by astrophysicist Lee Smolin. Dawkins mentions it in The God Delusion but I’ve read more about it elsewhere.

I’ll come back to Smolin (see below).

These assertions make a mockery of science. We simply have no reason to suppose that a supernatural realm exists – apart from religious beliefs about this. There is no justification whatsoever for concluding that something hard to explain has a supernatural cause. That would be tantamount to shutting the door on science. And anyway, just exactly how are we supposed to learn about the supernatural? And is there just one supernatural causal agent, or are there many others? For example, poltergeists or your garden-variety demons lurking behind bushes.

Christian theism doesn’t preclude demonic agency. So what’s your point?

Let me quote once again from the Dover decision:

once you attribute a cause to an untestable supernatural force, a proposition that cannot be disproven, there is no reason to continue seeking natural explanations as we have our answer.

This assumes that ID explanations are untestable. What’s the basis for that assumption?

If nature is designed, how is science supposed to find this out? Nature contains many regularities and patterns. Is that design? If all of nature is designed, then why would this be perceivable only through alleged gaps? Only those who believe in a Designer perceive design in nature. In other words, you have to assume a Designer to begin with. It’s the same problem we saw with Plantinga.

i) Human beings have a prereflective sense of what constitutes design. This is true whether you’re a Christian or an atheist.

Dembski has tried to mathematically formalize this intuition in terms of specified complexity. So that would be one of the criteria, along with irreducible complexity (a la Behe).

ii) Christian philosophers aren’t looking for God in the “gaps.” Rather, they find God in the overall design—among other arguments and lines of evidence.

Regarding (2), he asserts that “it is often the conviction that something is a product of design that keeps scientists in the hunt. Any company trying to reverse engineer a competitor’s new computer model pays particular attention to puzzling components”. But this is a flawed analogy. A computer is obviously a product of design, and of human design at that. We know computers are human-designed.

That only pushes the question back a step: how do we know that computers are designed? Dembski will discuss that.

Using this line of reasoning, we should ignore new work in all fields of study and research, be it historiography, literature, medicine, whatever. What is fresh and exciting today may tomorrow turn out to be a dead end or replaced by something better.

You’re waxing hyperbolic. Some fields of research are less speculative than others. There’s also a difference between technological progress and scientific theorizing.

You’re therefore once again evading the issue. It’s very simple actually. You maintain that God created the universe. In that case, you need to give a plausible explanation of how he did this. To say that God created the universe is to say that he is the cause of the universe. I don’t plan to do an intensive internet course on philosophical and theological notions of causation! This is a clearcut case. The fact is that neither you nor any other theologian can explain the causality of ex nihilo creation, and thus find it necessary to engage in philosophical acrobatics to get out of having to expaining this.

i) The “how” question is prejudicial since it tends to suggest an intervening medium or mechanism—which is precisely what creation ex nihilo is not.

ii) Moreover, a causal mechanism is not the bedrock explanation. As one philosopher explains:

The question seems to presuppose that there must in general an account of how a physical thing acts upon a non-physical thing. This seems too strong… Perhaps the greater mathematical tractability of physical causation contributes to the illusion that modern science has unraveled the metaphysics of causation. But at some point, causation itself is proximate rather than mediated; and at that point, it is mysterious.

It sets it apart on the superficial level that it shows that the causal interactions we notice at the level of ordinary medium-sized, medium speed events are mediated, examples of distal causation rather than proximate causation. But at the bottom level of the physical-physical causal models, we have a brute interaction for which we have no model whatsoever.

My point is that there's no such thing as paving the last mile; at the bottom level of any theory of P-P causation, no matter how elaborate, you're going to have a case of proximate causation, and the causal relation at that point will be mysterious, not graced with any model at all. So the impressive success of a multi-layered reductive approach to P-P causation is not squeezing the dualist into a corner; it is simply beside the point.

Yes, from a metaphysical point of view unmediated interaction is always utterly mysterious, that is, unexplicatable, precisely because it is unmediated. Another way of putting this is that proximate causation must always be a brute metaphysical fact. No analysis or insights will eliminate such facts; the growth of science is in many ways a story of the substitution of one layer of brute facts for another. The reductions available in physics are very impressive. But they never get rid of the layer of brute fact.1

McGrew’s comments have special reference to dualism, but they are equally applicable to causal explanation in general.

OK, let’s play your game. I assert the existence of exactly 100 gods who control the universe. Let’s call them collectively the Centotheon (although linguistic purists might prefer the name Hekatotheon), which would make me a centotheist. (Btw, the head of the Centotheon is the mighty Megalotheus). So, before you reject centotheism, you would have to make an in-depth study of natural centotheology, philosophical centotheology and Centotheist apologetics. Just give me 10 years or so (and enough money to live on during that period) and I’ll try my best to come up with works in those fields. Then you will have to read these works, before daring to dismiss centotheism. Do we have a deal?

Several issues here:

1.A Christian philosopher is not “asserting” the existence of God. Rather, he is *arguing* for God’s existence.

2.If you’re going to issue sweeping denials about the absence of any evidence for the supernatural, then it isn’t asking too much of you to read the other side of the argument.

3.I’m under no obligation to disprove purely hypothetical scenarios.

4.Your hypothetical, which is variant on Hume’s divine committee, would merely push the problem back a step, for one would then need a unifying principle to coordinate the divine committee.

And, no, there is no burden of proof on the shoulders of atheists. It is theists who are claiming the existence of something, not atheists. Otherwise I could also state that “acentotheists” (and I presume you’re one of them) have a burden of proof of showing how the universe can possibly function without the Centotheon (glory be unto them!)

This is far too facile:

1.If there is no evidence for something, then there is no onus to disprove it. But if the presence or absence of evidence is the very issue in dispute, then it would be question-begging to limit the burden of proof to only one side of the contested issue.

2.Where it’s a choice between atheism and (Christian) theism, the atheist does not believe that a world without God is indistinguishable from a world with God. To the contrary, he thinks that these two opposing positions predict for different consequences. And he is also of the opinion that the actual world is more consistent with atheism than theism. Therefore, he does have his own burden of proof to discharge.

Thanks for these references, but they all concern the Bible. So…your evidence for God is based on the Bible.

That’s not the only line of evidence, but it’s one line of evidence. Remember, I was responding to your statement that you “don't think there's any more proof for the Christian God, than for Zeus, or for leprechauns.”

If there’s probative evidence for what the Bible claims to be, then that, in turn, would be evidence for the existence of the Christian God. I’m simply responding to you on your own grounds.

This is what I can say (very briefly) based on what I know so far:

There is really no proof of the existence of Jesus. He himself did not write anything, nor are there any accounts mentioning Jesus written during his lifetime. (Correct me if I’m wrong)

Would you apply this same reasoning to the (non-)existence of Buddha, Socrates, or Alexander the Great?

How is the fact that somebody didn’t write anything germane to the evidence for his existence? That would just be one line of evidence out of many others.

And if one were predisposed to be hyperskeptical like you, then one would also deny the authenticity of a personal memoir or autobiography.

To say nothing was written about him in his lifetime is fatally vague. Many biographies are written about an individual after he died. Sometimes they’re written by friends and contemporaries. Sometimes they’re written by strangers who make good use of source material.

Furthermore there are contradictions in the story of Jesus as related by the writers of the Bible.

Since you don’t mention anything specific, there’s nothing specific to rebut. Are you alluding to the sort of pseudoproblems which Richard Dawkins talks about in his book?

As far as I’m concerned, the story of Jesus is a fable that was spread from person to person, writer to writer, in an age when storytelling was a highly developed art form all over the world.

Once again, you’ve given me nothing to respond to because all you’re offering is an unsubstantiated opinion which doesn’t begin to interact with the standard evangelical literature on the historical Jesus. There’s no argument for me to counter.

There is no proof of the divinity of Jesus, even if in fact such an individual existed. I’ve read Craig’s defense of the resurrection claim in his debate with Sinnott-Armstrong, but neither the latter nor I find it convincing in the least.

Why not? Once again, you’re giving me a threadbare conclusion without a supporting argument.

There is voluminous literature on this topic, both pro and con. As far as I’m concerned, to believe in the Virgin Birth, or the various miracles performed by Jesus, or his Resurrection and Ascension is not much better than to believe that Grimm’s Fairy Tales or Aesop’s Fables are true in the sense that they actually happened. And to be honest, I think these tales teach more than the Bible does!

Once again, where’s the supporting argument?

The Bible is full of contradictions, inconsistencies, and historical and scientific inaccuracies as various writers have pointed out. It only goes to show that the book is very much the flawed work of imperfect human beings with a well-developed imagination which is not to say that the Bible doesn’t refer to some real historical events.

This is a string of allegations with nothing specific to back it up, much less interacting with the counterarguments.

The Bible is full of alleged first-person statements and commands by God (Then the Lord said: “XXXX”), third-person references to alleged statements and commands by God, and references to alleged actions carried out by God. This does not in any way prove that such statements or commands were actually made by God, or that those actions (if the events described did in fact take place) were the work of God. None of this is proof of the existence of God.

No one is arguing that the Bible is inspired merely because it claims to be inspired. However, the claim is not irrelevant. If a speech were attributed to Churchill, that alone wouldn’t prove that Churchill wrote it. If, however, a speech were anonymous, that would greatly complicate the process of assigning authorship. So there is a value to self-referential ascriptions. The public verification of Scripture is based on other phenomena, such as prophecy, or internal and external evidence that a book of the Bible was written when, by, and about whomever or whatever it depicts.

The type of God depicted in the Bible, especially the Old Testament, contradicts the Christian notion of God being good, just, or even all-powerful. We see a God who is cruel, jealous, vindictive, and arbitrary.

This is just another string of generic, unsupported assertions. With all due respect, it doesn’t suffice to claim the moral and intellectual superiority of atheism without the rational argumentation to make good on that claim.

And I’d add that secularism has no basis for rendering these Olympian value-judgments in the first place. Indeed, a number of secular philosophers candidly admit as much:

Dawkins has written that “the God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction”. Another writer (I forget who) has written that the OT God is essentially a Middle Eastern tyrant writ large. This is the way people in those times saw powerful rulers and just projected this onto their idea of God.

To the contrary, Yahweh is a covenant-keeping God. This is the opposite of a capricious Oriental despot.

Swinburne? The man who said the Holocaust gave the Jews a great opportunity to be courageous and noble and that if one less person had been burnt by the Hiroshima bomb, there would have been less opportunity for courage and sympathy (according to Dawkins in God Delusion). So, I assume he’d love to have had a chance to be sent to a death camp.

Now you’re being sophistical. Swinburne’s theodicy is irrelevant to his critique of Hume.

Here we have another flawed analogy. First of all, aliens would not be supernatural, they would presumably be mortal, material, intelligent beings like ourselves.

You seem to be treating the design inference as a one-step argument, so that Dembski (or some other ID theorist) must prove the divine designer at a single stroke.

As I understand it, the design inference is a two-step argument. The first step is to identify the presence of design; the second step is to identify the designer.

You are collapsing the two into one, or maybe reversing them, as if the ID theorist must first establish the designer.

Secondly, such a radio signal would mean the likelihood, not certainty, that an intelligent life form which knows mathematics has deliberately sent out this signal.

You appear to be assuming that a theistic argument is worthless unless it’s certain rather than probable. Why do you assume that? Do you think that historical arguments are worthless unless they are certain rather than probable?

Thirdly, while we don’t know the exact source, it would be a known type of source, another version of ourselves.

Really? Once again, you have things backwards. We don’t have to begin with a classification of the source, viz., these are ETs.

Rather, we’d begin with the phenomenon of design. That the signal would exhibit a level of complexity which we attribute to intelligence.

This does not prejudge the origin of the signal, as if it had to come from biochemical aliens rather than angels or whatever.

Dembski writes that “we infer design repeatedly and reliably without knowing characteristics of the designer”. He then quotes Humean philosopher Elliott Sober in an attempt to find an inconsistency with his Humeanism: “Archaeologists sometimes unearth tools of unknown function, but still reasonably draw the inference that these things are, in fact, tools.” Inferring that these objects are hominid-made tools is a far cry from inferring a supernatural designer from something.

You’re repeating your initial mistake by bundling a two-step argument into one.

-- Dembski says that the Humean approach “can’t account for how we recognize design in the first place”. He gives an example of aboriginal arrowheads and asks: “How did we recognize that the arrowheads in our past experience were designed? Did we see humans actually manufacture those arrowheads? If so, how did we recognize that these humans were acting deliberately as designing agents and not just randomly chipping away at random chunks of rock?”

This is ridiculous! Of course, we didn’t see humans make those arrowheads. But we know humans can make arrowheads and we have found many examples of various types of arrowheads. Arrows of some sort with arrowheads of some sort were used into the 19th century and even now, some primitive tribes use them. So, seeing a group of arrowhead-looking stone objects at a given site, we can safely conclude these are hominid- or human-made arrowheads, especially if remains of ancient hominids or humans have been found as well. And if we have many examples of similar-shaped objects found at a given site or region, we can also safely conclude that these are not just effects of random activity without a particular aim.

What allows us to conclude that stars are like arrowheads, and are products of intelligent manufacture? We know human beings produce arrowheads and have done so for centuries, but we have no evidence for the production of stars by any intelligent supernatural being.

-- Dembski writes that “According to Reid, we attribute design as an inference from signs of intelligence…We do not get into the mind of the designers and thereby attribute design.” But Hume does not deal much with the mind of designers. Rather, he focuses on effects and inferring designers from effects. It is theists like Dembski who have a certain designer in mind from the outset and already “know” the mind of the designer, based on the Bible.

-- Dembski writes that “Design reasoning is effect-to-cause reasoning: It begins with effects in the physical world that exhibit clear signs of intelligence and from those signs infers to an intelligent cause. Neither of Hume’s two main criticisms against design therefore holds up. Induction is entirely the wrong analytic framework for how we infer design.”

This is faulty logic. Dembski is again pre-supposing his conclusion. He sees “clear signs of intelligence” at the outset and then infers “an intelligent cause”. Hume’s whole point was to question whether these effects can indeed be attributed to intelligence. In fact, he argues against making a supernatural induction from natural effects. There is a vast difference between inferring a human designer from an arrowhead, and a supernatural designer from a star or, more broadly, from the structure of the universe.

I think you’re missing the point of Dembski’s argument. Take the hoary example of the watchmaker. We do not perceive the intentions of the watchmaker. His intentions are private, inaccessible. We do not perceive his intention to design a watch. So we are *inferring* his intentions from the product.

Things that are consciously designed are usually designed for a purpose.

And how do you know the purpose for which they were designed?

Paley’s watch tells us the time, planes transport us, houses provide us shelter.

And how do you know that? By reading the mind of the carpenter, aerospace engineer, and watchmaker? Or by the teleological features of the artifact itself? You are inferring design from the outcome.

For what purpose were we and other life forms designed, if we are not the products of blind evolution? To be objects of amusement for God?? I don’t see any purpose.

Now you’re confounding the issue of whether X was designed with the issue of what it was design for. But we can answer the former without answering the latter. I could discover a mechanical object of unknown design. Even if I don’t know what it’s for, I can know that it was the product of intelligent design.

Yes, we as individuals can have a purpose or aims in our lives. But that’s very different from a watch or a plane. They don’t have their own aims or purposes. They are only instruments for other entities, intelligent living entities, and have specific functions that assist those entities. What similar functions do we have, whom do we assist? And what is the purpose of all the billions of galaxies, stars, uninhabited planets, nebulae and other cosmic phenomena in our universe? Only to enable life on Earth? Or also on other planets? (Would the latter accord with Christian theology?) Wouldn’t there be a more efficient way of creating life-sustaining worlds, if that was the purpose? Why go through such a tortuous route? It sure looks like our planet is an incidental by-product of blind, unconscious cosmic forces and events. No, the universe does not look designed.

i) You continue to commit a level-confusion regarding the evidence for design.

ii) As far as omnipotence is concerned, one process is just as effortless to instantiate as another.

iii) There may be life on other planets. Or we may colonize space some day.

iv) In one respect, human existence is purely gratuitous. We don’t have to exist. But God, in his magnanimity, creates a race of rational creatures that can share in his beatitude.

Something doesn’t have to be functional to be good. Belief in divine teleology doesn’t commit one to a purely utilitarian value system.

And what Nagel writes about the eye is sheer nonsense. He obviously hasn’t read The Blind Watchmaker or other books explaining how evolution works. Dawkins explains at length how the eye could have developed and at several points.

Perhaps Nagel has been reading Berlinski’s critique of Dawkins:

This statement shows a total misunderstanding of what science is all about. Science is about the pursuit of truth about the physical world. You can’t expect scientists to all agree what The Truth is and present it to us on a silver platter. To make a blanket statement that “they really don’t know what they’re talking about” just because scientists have a variety of views and theories, which sometimes do contradict each other, is like saying historians as a group don’t know what they’re talking about because they often disagree with each other.

i) You need to bone up on the philosophy of science. Whether or not science is about the pursuit of truth is a subject of ongoing debate:

ii) As to the more specific issue at hand, contemporary physics is, from what I’ve read, in a state of extreme disarray:

Well, let me turn the tables here. Since theologians often contradict each other, we can certainly say they don’t know what they’re talking about!

The short answer is that theologians who agree with me know what they’re talking about while theologians who disagree with me don’t know what they’re talking about 

Moreover, let me make the following statement: If theologians and clergy from the world’s religions knew where the truth lay, they wouldn’t propose and propagate so many mutually exclusive theological viewpoints!! The problem is that the latter do claim to know what the truth is.

Actually, there’s a deep streak of scepticism in Indian philosophy (i.e. Hindu and Buddhist philosophical theology).

Scientists don’t make such a claim.

Okay, so according to you, science is all about the *pursuit* of truth, but the quarry is so elusive that scientists never claim that they have actually captured their quarry. What, exactly, is the point of pursuing the truth if you can never bag it?

They propose theories that try to explain various aspects of the physical world. They use observation, experimentation, mathematical problem-solving, and the previous results of these activities to build theories and then to try to verify them.

Okay, so according to you, scientists try to *verify* their theories without every claiming to know what the truth is.

I don’t see how we can gain knowledge of a transcendent realm, since we have no tools, scientific or otherwise, to do this beyond our fertile imagination and sheer willingness to believe without proof.

We gain knowledge by revelation.

Yes, but a field of knowledge like history is essentially irrelevant to the question of the existence of God and God’s being the cause of the universe and of life.

Christianity is predicated on historical events: creation, redemption, judgment, and revelation.

It sounds like you’re backtracking on the Christian argument about the centrality of mankind in the Divine Creation. Or have I got the argument wrong?

Yes, you’ve got the argument wrong. You’re getting carried away with a metaphor. The *figurative* centrality of man is irrelevant to the old literal debate between geocentrism and heliocentrism, or the size of the universe.

Yes, in fact, you do need a certain amount of stars and star stuff in order to produce the chemical elements necessary for life in our universe. As Carl Sagan famously said “We are all star stuff”! But the existence of a big enough universe to have enough stars to ultimately enable life does not mean the universe was deliberately created to be like that.

But that’s a separate issue. As I already explained, the point of the argument is not that you need a big universe for life to exist on planet earth, but that you need a big universe for life to exist anywhere at all, whether here or elsewhere in the universe.”

This, of itself, doesn’t prove the fine-tuning argument, but the fine-tuning argument is not a one-step revelation.

Well, if the initial conditions were fine-tuned for the possibility and not the inevitability of life, doesn’t that undermine Christian arguments for a divine creation, including the creation of mankind? I imagine God would not have settled just for possibility, but would have ensured the emergence of life, in particular intelligent life on Earth.

In Christian theology, creation is not an automated process—as if life just pops into existence when a certain threshold of self-organization is reached.

You’ve brought us back to the question of the probability of the emergence of our universe – assuming that’s what you mean when you talk about a “physically deterministic system coming into being”. But you don’t really have any grounds for asserting that the emergence of our universe was improbable. We know the probability of picking 4 aces in a row from a well-shuffled deck of cards is pretty low – and I think an exact figure can be attached to the probability. But we can’t assign any sort of figure regarding our universe.

One thing we can say is that IF we live in a multiverse and there are potentially millions of universes co-existing and new ones emerging, then any given universe is no less improbable than any given person being born on our planet. It’s just something that happens fairly regularly. And IF we live in a temporally infinite serial multiverse, i.e. just one universe at a time, then our universe would have been inevitable, assuming of course that the pattern of big bang and big crunch goes on indefinitely. However, a serial multiverse is considered less likely (as Dawkins mentions in God Delusion) given that a big crunch ending for our universe is unlikely. But IF our universe is unique (so far), with no predecessor and no co-existent fellow universes, then it’s really impossible and even senseless to talk about probability or improbability. We have no way to gauge this.

Well, here’s one response:

One reaction to these apparent enormous coincidences is to see them as substantiating the theistic claim that the universe has been created by a personal God and as offering the material for a properly restrained theistic argument—hence the fine-tuning argument.8 It's as if there are a large number of dials that have to be tuned to within extremely narrow limits for life to be possible in our universe. It is extremely unlikely that this should happen by chance, but much more likely that this should happen if there is such a person as God.

Now in response to this kind of theistic argument, Dawkins, along with others, proposes that possibly there are very many (perhaps even infinitely many) universes, with very many different distributions of values over the physical constants. Given that there are so many, it is likely that some of them would display values that are life-friendly. So if there are an enormous number of universes displaying different sets of values of the fundamental constants, it's not at all improbable that some of them should be "fine-tuned." We might wonder how likely it is that there are all these other universes, and whether there is any real reason (apart from wanting to blunt the fine-tuning arguments) for supposing there are any such things.9 But concede for the moment that indeed there are many universes and that it is likely that some are fine-tuned and life-friendly. That still leaves Dawkins with the following problem: even if it's likely that some universes should be fine-tuned, it is still improbable that this universe should be fine-tuned. Name our universe alpha: the odds that alpha should be fine-tuned are exceedingly, astronomically low, even if it's likely that some universe or other is fine-tuned.

What is Dawkins' reply? He appeals to "the anthropic principle," the thought that the only sort of universe in which we could be discussing this question is one which is fine-tuned for life:

the anthropic answer, in its most general form, is that we could only be discussing the question in the kind of universe that was capable of producing us. Our existence therefore determines that the fundamental constants of physics had to be in their respective Goldilocks [life-friendly] zones.

Well, of course our universe would have to be fine-tuned, given that we live in it. But how does that so much as begin to explain why it is that alpha is fine-tuned? One can't explain this by pointing out that we are indeed here—anymore than I can "explain" the fact that God decided to create me (instead of passing me over in favor of someone else) by pointing out that if God had not thus decided, I wouldn't be here to raise that question. It still seems striking that these constants should have just the values they do have; it is still monumentally improbable, given chance, that they should have just those values; and it is still much less improbable that they should have those values, if there is a God who wanted a life-friendly universe.


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