Wednesday, January 11, 2017

"Ten arguments for God destroyed!"

I'll comment on Richard Carrier's latest screed:


Just a general observation. I'm struck by Carrier's unquesitons self-confidence when he opines about technical fields in which he has no expertise. He doesn't have a doctorate in cosmology or astrophysics or biology or any cognate disciplines. Like most of us, he has a layman's understanding of science. 

Likewise, if chance produced this universe, we should expect it to be only barely conducive to life, not almost entirely lethal to it (as in fact it is), since there are vastly more ways to get those universes by chance selection, than to get a universe perfectly suited to life throughout...

I always love these armchair comparisons. Is a universe "perfectly suited to life throughout" even a coherent concept? Is it physically possible for every solar system in the universe to have the biofriendly configuration of ours? Can every solar system have the same number of planets and satellites with the same spacing? Given gravity, wouldn't there be a cosmic butterfly effect? if the number and position of cosmic objects changed? 

Don't regions hospitable to life require regions inhospitable to life? Carrier fails to distinguish the conditions necessary for life from the conditions sufficient for life. For instance, the Ozone is a necessary condition for life on earth. That doesn't mean you can life in the Ozone. That doesn't mean the Ozone itself is hospitable to life. 

The Moral Argument: If atheism is true, it is still true that: (a) we all want to live in a just and kind and honest world, which desire is sufficient reason for us to try and create one...

i) I thought atheism was simply nonbelief in God or gods. So how does it follow that if atheism is true, we all want to live in a just and kind and honest world? How is that supposed to be an implication of atheism? 

ii) Is that how we all want to live? Do military dictators, Latin American drug cartels, the Russian Mafia, &c. want to  live in a just and kind and honest world? 

We are social animals, and social animals need to be just and kind and honest to work together well, and they need to work together well to optimize survival and realize their goals.

Wolves are social animals. Do members of wolf packs need to be just and kind and honest to practice teamwork? 

Argument from Meaning of Life: “It would be better if I had a million dollars; therefore I have a million dollars” is not even a logically valid argument to start with.

The Moral Argument: If atheism is true, it is still true that: (a) we all want to live in a just and kind and honest world, which desire is sufficient reason for us to try and create one...

Umm, doesn't his justification for secular morality commit the same fallacy him imputes to the argument from the meaning of life? It would be better if secular morality is true, therefore secular morality is true.

Argument from Reason: I also cover this in TEC (ibid.), and elsewhere I have exhaustively refuted every version of it. But it all reduces to a simple Bayesian case against God: if God did not design us, our innate reasoning abilities should be shoddy and ad hoc and only ever improved upon by what are in essence culturally (not biologically) installed software patches (like the scientific method, logic and mathematics, and so on), which corrected our reasoning abilities only after thousands of years of humans trying out different fixes, fixes that were only discovered through human trial and error, and not communicated in any divine revelation or scripture. But if God did design us, our brains should have worked properly from the start and required no software patches, much less software patches that took thousands of years to figure out, and are completely missing from all supposed communications from God.

So humans have no pretheoretical grasp of logic or math. That's just cultural. 

Unclear how we'd discover logic through trial and error. How could we recognize error if we had no instinctive sense of logic? 

Apparently, no one used logic before Aristotle. No shepherd numbered their sheep before Greek mathematicians. 

We don’t know if time is the sort of thing that can even have a cause; the notion is not even intelligible. If it began, time in fact seems necessarily causeless, since a cause is by definition what precedes an effect in time.

Assuming, for argument's stake, that his objection is true, it's inapplicable to the agency of a timeless God, for in that case, there's no temporal gap because cause and effect. It wouldn't be a case in which God did something, then a moment later you had the effect of his action. If God is timeless, then there is no instant separating the cause from the effect. Indeed, there was never a time when God didn't cause that outcome.

Because if God exists, disembodied minds can exist, and are the best minds to have, therefore we should also have disembodied minds.

Which assumes, without benefit of argument, that creatures could have minds like God's. 

Therefore, the fact that thought is dependent on complex evolved brains, which are physical machines, and which also inefficiently exhaust oxygen and energy, and place us in needless risk of injury and death, and intellectual malfunction, due to their delicate vulnerability and badly organized structure, is exactly what we expect if there is no God…

Among other things, that overlooks the benefits of embodied existence. Take the science fiction trope of extraterrestrials who in their nature state lack human senses. To colonize earth, they acquire human bodies, which exposes them for the first time to the five senses. Suddenly they realize the sensory deprivation they suffered when they didn't have our sense organs. It opens up an unimaginable world of experience. 

All the evidence of history and science weighs heavily for the conclusion that we are mortal, and that we actually value our lives because of that, and not because we are immortal—which would actually render this life cheap as dirt (since death would cost us nothing, and life is better and vastly longer on the other side of it).

i) Immortality doesn't entail that the afterlife is better. Take the doctrine of hell. 

ii) Carrier's evaluation is very atomistic. He ignores the pain of separation. 

Argument from Miracles: This works the same way, too. Atheism predicts random good luck and bad luck will be observed, and therefore anything we can confirm happened that seems miraculous will be physically explicable (because, not really miraculous) and rare (because, random). 

i) Aren't we incessantly told that atheism is just nonbelief in God or gods? If so, how does that make predictions?

ii) Would he apply the same reasoning to apparent cheating at cards? 

iii) If good luck and bad luck alike are random, why would good luck be rare? If both are random, wouldn't good luck and bad luck happen about 50/50? 

Without a parade of excuses, theism predicts miracles will be commonplace and physically inexplicable (e.g. Christian healing wings in hospitals would exist where amputees have their limbs restored by prayer, or anything like that; yet we observe not a single thing like that). 

i) He presents no argument for why theism predicts that. His assertion is so illogical. An atheist might argue, as indeed they're wont to argue, that a good God wouldn't permit illness and injury in the first place. If, however, God does permit illness and injury, then there's no presumption or expectation that healing miracles would be commonplace. For if God has a good reason to permit illness and injury in the first place, then, for the very same reason, he might rarely perform healing miracles inasmuch as doing so routinely would be at cross-purposes with whatever purpose is served by allowing them to occur in the first place. Why permit them all to heal them all? It would be more efficient to prevent them. 

At best, Carrier's objection is misplaced. The line of attack should be why God doesn't prevent illness and injury. If there's an opening, that's where it would be. But there are, of course, various theodicies which field that objection. 

ii) Moreover, his objection is sleight-of-hand. Naturalism can't tolerate a single bona fide miracle. 

Likewise, atheism predicts the only miracle claims that will “survive scrutiny,” are claims that are never reliably investigated; and that every time a miracle claim gets proper scrutiny, it dissolves. And lo and behold, that is also what we see. Thus, again, what we observe is exactly what is expected on atheism, not at all what we expect on theism. So even the evidence of miracles refutes theism and confirms atheism.

There's no evidence that he's bothered to read the best available literature on case studies. 

3 comments:

  1. It's always amusing when atheists say that Aristotle invented logic. It's like saying that Isaac Newton invented gravity.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Richard Carrier

    "Therefore, the fact that thought is dependent on complex evolved brains, which are physical machines, and which also inefficiently exhaust oxygen and energy, and place us in needless risk of injury and death, and intellectual malfunction, due to their delicate vulnerability and badly organized structure, is exactly what we expect if there is no God"

    Whaaat? Carrier missed his calling as a stand-up comic!

    How does the brain "inefficiently exhaust oxygen and energy"? It's true the brain is highly sensitive to ischemic injury due to its high oxygen consumption as well as dependence on aerobic glucose metabolism for energy (which, by the way, is more detailed than what Carrier said).

    However, how is this due to "inefficiently" "exhaust[ing]" oxygen and glucose? Rather, isn't it more arguable the brain is efficiently consuming (vs. "exhausting") oxygen and glucose? Not to mention wouldn't this seem to be more of a protective factor rather than one "plac[ing] us in needless risk of injury and death"?

    1. Indeed, it seems more arguable the brain tightly controls oxygen and glucose consumption, for cerebral oxygen consumption is 3-3.8ml per 100g per minute (50ml per minute) in healthy adults, while cerebral glucose consumption is normally 5mg per 100g per minute, most of which is aerobically metabolized. How is this "inefficient"? How is that "plac[ing] us in needless risk of injury and death" when it seems to be more of a protective factor? (One could make further distinctions in oxygen and glucose consumption between various regions of the brain. Or more broadly between white or gray matter, etc. But this should be a good start.)

    2. Also, look at it the other way. Not if there's not enough oxygen or glucose, but what if there's too much oxygen or glucose? If there's too much oxygen or glucose, then the brain can likewise be injured. How is this "inefficient"? How is that "plac[ing] us in needless risk of injury and death" when it seems to be more of a protective factor?

    3. One could likewise look at other neurophysiological processes. Take cerebral autoregulation. That's the ability of the brain to maintain relatively constant cerebral blood flow within a narrow window. Between 40-60ml per 100g per minute (which is about 15% of total cardiac output). And the brain does this across wide-ranging arterial blood pressures too, between as much as 50-150mmHg. How is this "inefficient"? How is that "plac[ing] us in needless risk of injury and death" when it seems to be more of a protective factor?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. 4. Not to mention how sensitive our cerebral blood flow is to respiratory gases. Take CO2. Our brain changes between a tight 1–2 ml per 100g per minute per mmHg change in the partial CO2 pressure. How is this "inefficient"? How is that "plac[ing] us in needless risk of injury and death" when it seems to be more of a protective factor?

      5. Also, temperature. Cerebral blood flow changes approximately 5% per 1 degree Celsius change in temperature. How is this "inefficient"? How is that "plac[ing] us in needless risk of injury and death" when it seems to be more of a protective factor?

      6. The brain likewise has a blood brain barrier which governs movement of substances into and out of the brain. How is the BBB "inefficient"? How is that "plac[ing] us in needless risk of injury and death" when it seems to be more of a protective factor?

      7. The brain is contained within the cranial vault. 80% of the cranial vault volume is occupied by the brain, 12% by blood, and 8% by cerebrospinal fluid. This is tightly regulated inasmuch as a slight increase or decrease in one mandates a corresponding decrease or increase in the others in order to prevent a rise in intracranial pressure. How is this "inefficient"? How is that "plac[ing] us in needless risk of injury and death" when it seems to be more of a protective factor?

      8. Of course, one can always nitpick and say this isn't as "efficient" as [insert idealized notion of efficiency]. But in that case, one is simply comparing reality with imagination or non-fiction with science fiction.

      Delete