Last post I presented evidence that indicates that the scientific evidence shows that the universe is indeed “fine-tuned” – i.e. of all the possible universes allowed by theoretical physics, very, very few would have allowed life to evolve.
This post I consider objections to using this scientific evidence to argue that God exists.
The theistic argument
I have discussed the theistic argument in detail in The Teleological argument. In summary, it takes the following form.
- Science says the universe is “fine-tuned”.
- The only options are that it was due to physical necessity, or chance, or design.
- It wasn’t due to physical necessity or chance.
- Therefore it was due to design.
There are arguments supporting each of the premises:
- The science is fairly clear, as my previous posts showed.
- Either it could have been some other way or it couldn’t (physical necessity). If it could have been some other way, then either it was designed or by chance. Thus it appears that these options are exhaustive.
- No-one has been able to show why the laws could only be the way they are, and most cosmologists think this is unlikely. And virtually all cosmologists agree that the odds against a life-permitting universe are “astronomical”. 🙂
- So the conclusion follows as the most likely.
I won’t here be defending this argument (see the reference above for that), just considering the objections raised by cosmologist Sean Carroll.
Objections were, in summary:
- God doesn’t need to fine-tune anything – he could create life in any situation.
- Theism fails in many ways as an explanation, whereas naturalism provides a better explanation.
1. God doesn’t need to fine tune anything?
God is generally defined as being able to do anything that is not logically impossible, or nonsense. So it is presumably true that there were many ways he could create intelligent life. But since we don’t know his requirements, we cannot say whether there were others ways that were suitable.
But we are not discussing whether God could have created in a different way, but whether the universe provides evidence that God was its cause. We have a logical argument in front of us and the question is – where is it wrong?
This “objection” doesn’t make any of the premises of that argument less likely. It doesn’t even address any of the premises. The argument remains unaffected by this “objection”.
I conclude that it is irrelevant, perhaps momentarily persuasive in a debate, but it doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.
2. Naturalism provides a better explanation than theism?
This is a much more interesting objection. Carroll says at the start that he thinks the fine-tuning argument is the best theistic argument because it follows the scientific approach of testing which of two different models, theism and naturalism, better explains the phenomena. And so he gives a number of different facts which he believes are better explained by naturalism.
I agree with him that this is a good approach. So let’s consider the different facts he raises.
Enough tuning but not too much?
Carroll says that if theism was true, “you would expect enough tuning but not too much”, whereas if naturalism was true “a physical mechanism could far over-tune by an incredibly large amount that has nothing to do with the existence of life and that is exactly what we observe”.
This is a very strange comment. What does “over-tuned” mean? Does he mean God would have created a universe where the probability of it occurring randomly was lower than some particular number? ON what basis can he say this? Granted the physical universe we live in, this amount of fine tuning was necessary. We have already addressed arguments that God could have done the whole thing differently, and shown that they aren’t relevant to the theistic argument.
But further, on what basis would he expect an “over-tuned” universe? If naturalism was true, I wouldn’t expect “over-tuning”, but random tuning, with the odds highly favouring a formless, or short-lived universe – that’s what scientific fine-tuning has established. Carroll has substituted an extremely unlikely outcome for the likely outcome established by science, and given us no reason to believe it is the case.
Random particles and parameters?
“You would expect under theism that the particles and parameters of particle physics would be enough to allow life to exist and have some structure that was designed for some reason whereas under naturalism you’d expect them to be kind of random and a mess. Guess what? They are kind of random and a mess.”
The same objection applies. Particle physics looks random and messy (I guess – I’ll take his word for it as an expert), but the parameters (such as the masses and charges on particles) all turn out to be within the ranges required to allow the complex chemistry that is required for life. I can’t understand his point – did he expect all these masses and charges to be integer values using the units we have chosen?
Again, Carroll has overturned a scientifically established fact about the life-permitting range of parameters without offering any reason to go against the established science.
Life to play a special role in the universe?
He argues that under theism, we’d expect life to play a significant role in the universe, whereas under naturalism you’d expect it to be insignificant. Significant means “worthy of attention” or “having a particular meaning”. So what does it mean for Carroll? How does he measure significance?
It is true that life is confined to one or more small “islands” within a large volume of space, but does anyone believe that size is a measure of significance? In the film Apollo 13 (based on true events), 3 astronauts in a small spacecraft are in danger of being marooned in space without the possibility of ever returning to earth alive. Their focus, and the focus of their colleagues back on earth, is to get those three men back alive. No-one cares about getting the vast volume of space and its particles back, because it wasn’t significant.
Important to the running of the universe?
I think this may be what Carroll was meaning, but on this meaning, very little is significant. You could take away our solar system, or our entire galaxy, or even everything but one atom, and the laws of physics would go on describing what happens. The universe would be different, that’s all. And of course that’s what fine-tuning is all about – the really significant things about the universe are the laws than control it, and we know these are fine-tuned for life. This meaning of significant seems to point towards the theistic argument, not against it.
So what do we all think is significant?
The Apollo 13 example gives us the clue. We hold human life to be very significant, much more than inanimate things like planets, even galaxies. The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms
the dignity and worth of the human person and declares all humans
are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. It doesn’t say that about galaxies or planets or deep space.
If naturalism was true, it is hard to find a basis for this Declaration. Humans would just be smarter animals with no more than personal, subjective experience. In fact I’m not sure if the word “significance” could have any objective meaning – everything would just be random and purposeless.
Theism, not naturalism, can provide this significance. Carroll’s argument seems to open up counter arguments that are far stronger.
It’s because I was going to be here?
Finally, Carroll suggests that theists look at the universe and think: “I know why it is like that. It’s because I was going to be here or we were going to be here.” But again, Carroll fails to see that his “objection” doesn’t address any part of the argument.
Nothing in the fine-tuning argument presented above says anything about the purpose of the universe, certainly not that any individual was important to it. The argument simply points out that a life-permitting universe is unexpected, and that design is the best explanation. Humans may be a by-product, or central, we don’t know. But regardless, the fine-tuning is a phenomenon that merits explanation.
A category mistake?
If my assessment of his arguments is correct, how did Sean Carroll, a fine physicist and a thoughtful man, get it so wrong?
There is a clue earlier in the debate with William Lane Craig, when Carroll says: “If you go to cosmology conferences there’s a lot of talk about the origin and nature of the universe; there is no talk about what role God might have played in bringing the universe about. It is not an idea that is taken seriously.”
I think this is a category mistake, which the dictionary defines as “a semantic or ontological error in which things belonging to a particular category are presented as if they belong to a different category”.
Cosmology is a science, meaning it seeks to understand physical processes. The scientific evidence for fine-tuning relates to physical processes, it is thus science, and it is properly discussed at scientific conferences. But the existence of God is not a scientific question, in that God is not physical.
The existence of God is a philosophical question, and is rightly discussed at philosophical conferences. Once the scientists have given their conclusion (sometimes provisional) about the science, philosophers and the rest of us (including cosmologists) can discuss the implications for theism or naturalism, but we wouldn’t be doing science at that point.
I can’t help wondering if Carroll sometimes thinks that if God isn’t useful in describing the physical processes, then theism has no value.
I can see little value in Carroll’s arguments here (I bet you weren’t expecting that! 🙂 ). It seems to me that the fine-tuning argument is strong, and there are only two ways to effectively argue against it:
Unknown future discoveries
It may be that one day scientists will discover a theory of everything that explains the fine-tuning we see (essentially contesting premise 3). It may be that they won’t. And even if they do, one may well ask why that theory of everything is true and leads to our universe. The fine-tuning argument would simply be pushed back one step, although it may be less compelling then.
This would be an argument of faith, something naturalists traditionally oppose. But it is one way to oppose the argument.
It is not surprising that the hypothesis of the multiverse – that there are zillions of universes, or domains of the one enormous universe, each with different laws and parameters, and while most of them don’t permit life, we are in one of the few that does – is the most popular response to the theistic fine-tuning argument. It has some scientific basis (though it has a long way to go to being shown scientifically to be true) and it offers a reasonable explanation that doesn’t need to involve God.
But, it isn’t yet established science, so there is still an element of faith in it. And, if the physics of a multiverse can be worked out, the fine-tuning argument may then be able to be re-formulated to relate to that physics, and ask for an explanation. It is impossible to say how this would work out because neither the scientists nor the philosophers have enough information.
The never-ending story?
Good science and good philosophy relate to what we know. Science tries to explain the processes and then philosophy and the human spirit can legitimately ask “Why is it like that?”
I can’t see that process ever coming to an end. I can’t see how science can ever explain everything, and I think we will always be left asking “Why is it so?” I think science does its job really well, but naturalism doesn’t explain why it is so nearly as well as theism does – and I think it will always be that way.
- Transcription of the Craig-Carroll debate.
- Post debate reflections by Sean Carroll and William Lane Craig.
- My previous post on More objections to the science of cosmic fine-tuning, and a full discussion of the Teleological argument.
Sean Carroll raised a number of non-cosmological arguments against theism. I think it will be interesting to examine them also. Coming soon!
Picture: Wikipedia and NASA, via SNAP.
If you found this worthwhile, you may like these:
Welcome to atheists (and others)
What readers can expect from this blog.
Does there have to be a reason for everything?
Can the universe be explained except that God made it?
What is faith? (Peter Boghossian vs the Oxford Dictionary)
What can we learn from a prominent atheist’s views on “faith”?
Nothing in the fine-tuning argument presented above says anything about the purpose of the universe, certainly not that any individual was important to it. The argument simply points out that a life-permitting universe is unexpected, and that design is the best explanation.
This seems mistaken. How can the argument argue that the fine-tuning of our universe that makes life possible is better explained by positing a designer yet deny that the argument says anything about the purpose of the universe?
P1. Design implies purpose.
P2. The universe was designed for life.
C. Therefore, the universe has a purpose.
Even if there are other purposes for the existence of the universe it doesn’t follow that the fine-tuning argument says nothing about the purpose of the universe. At least one of the purposes of the universe is to allow for life. Otherwise the fine-tuning argument would be false.
Hi Terrell, how have you been?
I think your post shows that the argument I outlined says nothing about purpose, for you have had to add some other premises to bring purpose in. The argument I used doesn’t mention purpose for 2 very good reasons. (1) purpose can’t be inferred from the science, whereas design can, and (2) if God had a purpose, we can only know a little of it and only guess at the rest.
So I agree with you that inferring purpose is a reasonable next step on from the argument, but it doesn’t form part of the argument.
I think your post shows that the argument I outlined says nothing about purpose, for you have had to add some other premises to bring purpose in.
I wasn’t bringing in purpose. The point of the syllogism was to show that purpose is implied in order to say anything is designed. It simply doesn’t make sense to say something is designed for no purpose.
1) purpose can’t be inferred from the science, whereas design can
How can you infer that X is designed without inferring that X was designed for a purpose? How do you define design? I have never come across a definition of design (outside of biology) that doesn’t assert an intentional plan or purpose.
(2) if God had a purpose, we can only know a little of it and only guess at the rest.
Everything I have said is perfectly consistent with this point. I stated that at least one of the purposes of the universe is to allow for life if you are concluding that the universe is designed for life. This doesn’t mean that allowing for life is the only purpose or is the ultimate purpose for the existence of the universe.
So I agree with you that inferring purpose is a reasonable next step on from the argument, but it doesn’t form part of the argument.
No. We don’t agree on this matter. I’m arguing that inferring design is inferring purpose. To separate the two seems like an illegitimate move unless you are using some sort of definition of design that doesn’t imply purpose. If so then I don’t see how you can say the universe was intentionally created the way it is if not for some purpose.
Anyways, it’s been a while since we’ve conversed. Nice talking to you. I’m doing fine. How are you?
I don’t disagree that we can infer from design that there is purpose, all my point is that (1) that isn’t part of the argument I was discussing, and (2) we cannot be certain of the purpose even if we feel certain about the design.
Regarding 2, if a person from a remote tribe that had never seen modern western people or artifacts saw a radio, they would presumably conclude it was designed even if they had no idea of its purpose. Likewise we might be able to infer from scientific fine tuning that there is a designer, but we would be kidding ourselves if we thought we could infer his/her/its purpose with any reliability.
“at least one of the purposes of the universe is to allow for life if you are concluding that the universe is designed for life”
“If so then I don’t see how you can say the universe was intentionally created the way it is if not for some purpose.”
This isn’t what I said, nor what the argument says. The question was once posed in the form of how likely is it that the universe which actually exists would allow an intelligent observer to exist? The argument doesn’t say anything about intentionality, only outcome; nor that life is the purpose of the creation, only that it is a result. Do you see the difference?
Hi Eric and Terrell,
The argument has many flaws but I think the one Terrell is pointing at can be described in another way: it is not logically valid to equate ‘not chance’ with ‘design’.
So even if we grant the premise that ‘chance’ cannot possibly be the cause of the apparent fine tuning of the universe (but I wouldn’t ever do that btw; I can explain) we are not left with the conclusion that ‘design’ is more likely, because ‘design’ has an objective definition that implies more than just ‘not chance’, such as intent or purpose, as Terrell mentioned.
Therefore, when Eric mentioned that the argument does not imply intent or purpose, it’s both correct and incorrect.
(1) It’s correct in the sense that the argument only works if ‘design’ literally means ‘not chance’, so the argument does not imply intention or purpose, in that sense.
(2) But of course, the argument fails precisely for the same reason, as the mistake is to then conclude that ‘not chance’ equates ‘design’, which then becomes ‘real design’ based in intention and purpose. I.e. there is an equivocation fallacy where ‘design’ changes definition to suit the argument’s intended purpose (pun intended) which is to justify belief in a design-er, a conscious entity purposely creating a universe with the intention to have life be part of it.
I think I understand where you are coming from but there definitely is still some confusion on my part. To be clear, I’m not arguing against the arguments conclusion. For the sake of argument, I’m granting the conclusion but what I’m saying is that I don’t see why “we would be kidding ourselves if we thought we could infer his/her/its purpose with any reliability” given that there is so much emphasis on how exact the parameters should be in order for life to exist. Why couldn’t I at least reliably infer that at least one of the purposes of the universe is for life to exists even if it’s not the main purpose or even if it does not exhaust other purposes? Why is inferring that the result (life) is at least one of the purposes of the universes an unreliable inference?
“Regarding 2, if a person from a remote tribe that had never seen modern western people or artifacts saw a radio, they would presumably conclude it was designed even if they had no idea of its purpose. Likewise we might be able to infer from scientific fine tuning that there is a designer, but we would be kidding ourselves if we thought we could infer his/her/its purpose with any reliability.”
Presumably the tribe could infer that the radio is designed because they presumably know what a designed object looks like since they presumably have designed artifacts themselves. Or perhaps the object would be so foreign to them that they would think it’s some sort of demon-like creature and not think it was designed at all. Perhaps they couldn’t decide either way.
“The argument doesn’t say anything about intentionality”
At least the conclusion seems to literally assert intentionality. Design is an intentional word in this context. To design anything is to create something with the intent of having it serve a purpose or purposes.
In summary, I think the fine-tuning does say something about purpose (know matter how minimal) and I’m confused about why there is such an emphasis on life if one can’t conclude the universe is designed for life.
“The question was once posed in the form of how likely is it that the universe which actually exists would allow an intelligent observer to exist?”
I assume that you meant to ask how likely it is that a universe with intelligent observers would exists out of all the other options on chance or necessity. I would say unlikely but why couldn’t it be just as unlikely that it were designed?
Hello Hugo and Eric,
Hugo, I was not pointing out a flaw in the argument but granting the conclusion and wondering why one couldn’t infer that the universe was at least designed for life regardless if it doesn’t exhaust all the purposes that the universe may be created for since the argument itself puts a big emphasis on life. However, after going over Eric’s argument another time I can see where I made the mistake of thinking that one could infer that at least one of the the purposes of the universe was for life. Eric’s argument is below:
1. The character of our universe is determined or described by physical laws and constants.
2. If these laws and constants had been different, life would probably not have arisen.
3. The laws and constants which led to this suitability for life must have been determined by either physical necessity, chance or design.
4. The laws and constants have not been determined by physical necessity.
5. The laws and constants have not been determined by chance.
6. Therefore our universe was designed.
From this point on I will be responding to Eric but I’m sure you will read on anyways, Hugo.
Ironically, from what I can tell, life could have absolutely nothing to do with the purpose of why the universe is finely-tuned for life. It could be so finely-tuned for some entirely unrelated purpose that merely allowed life to exists or it could be the exact opposite. It’s simply an open question. I say this because the conclusion states that the laws and constants that lead to the suitability of life were designed but that in no way states that life was an intention of the designer. In other words, life could merely be an irrelevant consequence of the design, a very relevant intention of the design, or somewhere in the middle. As far as I am concerned, the argument says nothing about the universe being designed for life. I very much believe that you think that life, especially life like us, has a lot to with the purpose of the universe but that is beyond the scope of this post so I’ll leave it at that.
Hi Hugo, if not-chance doesn’t equal design, what else could be included in not-chance? I’ve never seen anyone suggest anything else.
I disagree that design changes definition. I’m happy to agree on a definition than substitute it into the argument consistently, to show that. Rather, once design is established, we may then choose to go on and ask if there is purpose or a designer.
Simply put, ‘not true’ doesn’t necessarily imply false, logically; same with design and ‘not chance’. By definition.
But, we also do have examples of things that are explained by neither chance nor design. Therefore, we find the claim that ‘not chance’ equals ‘design’ to be false.
I can explain further if you still don’t understand?
Please do explain. I do think not true = false. A = ~ (~A). And I’d be interested in your examples. Thanks.
“Why couldn’t I at least reliably infer that at least one of the purposes of the universe is for life to exists even if it’s not the main purpose or even if it does not exhaust other purposes? Why is inferring that the result (life) is at least one of the purposes of the universes an unreliable inference?”
No, I agree with you here. I didn’t express myself well. I think that is a reasonable inference, I just meant we can’t infer all the designer’s purposes. IN other words, the universe appears to be unusually suited to allow life, but that doesn’t mean that is the main or only purpose of the designer. Sorry I wasn’t very clear.
“In summary, I think the fine-tuning does say something about purpose (know matter how minimal) and I’m confused about why there is such an emphasis on life if one can’t conclude the universe is designed for life.”
So I agree here too.But we can’t know from the design argument WHY God might have designed the universe in this way, only that it happens to be amazingly suitable for life and we can presume he intended that. To know why, we need to look at other evidence.
“I assume that you meant to ask how likely it is that a universe with intelligent observers would exists out of all the other options on chance or necessity. I would say unlikely but why couldn’t it be just as unlikely that it were designed?”
Here is how I understand it happened. Back in the 60s and 70s, cosmologists started to realise there were these “large number coincidences”. The simplistic explanation was that of course we as observers were in a life-permitting universe, we couldn’t have evolved in any other. So then the question was asked how likely was it that a universe would occur with intelligent observers? No-one could find a physical law (necessity) and theoretical physics showed the odds were unbelievably against if it happened by chance. So the only two ways to account for us being here were the multiverse or our universe was designed. They calculate how unlikely it was as a chance event, but there is no way to calculate the probability of design because it (presumably) is determined by factors outside our knowledge.
Consider the statement:
“This statement is false.”
Is it true? No.
Is it false? No.
It’s neither true nor false; it’s undefined.
It is thus both not-true and not-false.
Other examples include:
– 10 divided by 0 equals infinity.
– My car is happy.
– A square smells good.
– I’m certain that I am not certain.
None of these are false, even if they are clearly not true.
Next, apply this to chance vs design… can something be caused by neither? A bit of both? Clearly both? Etc… I have to leave it at that for now since I want that 1st point regarding true/false to be agreed upon before diving in the actual argument again.
Thanks for the clarification, Eric.
Hi Eric, did you see my message from earlier today by any chance? Didn’t show up here… thanks.
Hi Hugo, yes I saw it, as you can now see! I’m pretty busy right now, so I don’t always get to this immediately. Sorry.
Re your statements: all rational discussion, especially logical arguments, assumes words and statements mean something, and exclude logical inconsistencies. So of course we can think up nonsense that is neither true or false, like the sentences you wrote. I can do it too, easily:
Have you stopped beating your wife yet, yes or no?
What is the area of a four sided triangle?
Why zok plukle glinkelspiel?
But “The universe is designed.” and “The universe is either necessary, random or designed.” are not nonsense, even if you disagree with them.
So we come back to my question, if you think “not random” doesn’t equate to “designed”, what else could it be?
Your answer here (“A bit of both?”) doesn’t affect my argument because it doesn’t add anything new. So if that was true, it would still be true that there was design.
So have you got another answer, or is “a bit of both” your conclusion?
Hi Eric, no problem for the delay, I was actually worried about my side not working; I thought it might have failed as I was using my phone and switched network while writing…
Today I will send 2 comments your way, a long and a short one, as I have done before. Feel free to ignore the long one, right here, as the short version is what really matters for the topic at hand, I think…
Regarding the true/false dichotomy, you said “of course we can think up nonsense that is neither true or false” but the use of “‘of course’ and ‘nonsense’ makes me doubt that we really agree here, since you previously said that “I do think not true = false” as if that were also obvious. But my point is precisely that: it is ‘not’ obvious. The person making the argument needs to make the case as to why the statement is ‘true’ if they want to prove the statement ‘true’, not only just ‘not false’, and vice versa, OR, they need to first prove why ‘true’ equals ‘not false’ and then prove either. The person on the receiving end, who is assessing the argument, does not have any burden of proof when it comes to proving the negative case; pointing out a flaw in the argument is sufficient, in either type of argument. In other words, in the first case, the argument would support a statement ‘A’ and the response should address that statement ‘A’. There is no need to support the validity of ‘Not A’. And in the later case, the argument would use some definition of ‘A=!B’, attempt to justify ‘!B’ and then conclude ‘A’. So the response would need to address the validity of either ‘A=!B’ or ‘!B’, which would directly address ‘A’ at the same time.
Next, it’s even less obvious that ‘not chance’ literally equals ‘design’ since we don’t always use the 2 words as direct opposite. (At least with true/false we do so, for any valid statements…) If something happens purely by chance, like winning the lottery, would you say ‘Oh wow, you won! That was totally not by design!’ No? Why is that? Because in that case the fact that chance was involved is actually by design. The lottery is designed to produce random outcomes. So, ironically, it is actually by design that the outcome depends purely on chance. Hence, something that is designed can look random, and it follows that ‘design’ does not always equate ‘not chance’. It also works the other way around; with nature randomly creating things that look designed, such as the wings of flying animals that do not even share a close common ancestor (convergent evolution).
Therefore, because the words ‘chance’ and ‘design’ are not obvious logical opposites, it’s not sufficient to show that something is ‘not random’ and conclude that it’s thus ‘designed’; you need to either prove why, in that specific case, the absence of randomness cannot possibly attributed to nothing else but design, OR, actually prove that it was designed and, more importantly, explain what ‘design’ actually means! Because, going back to the actual question of the universe’s apparent fine tuning, the notion of ‘design’ is not well defined at all. It means absolutely nothing to say that the values we measure are precise, thus not random, and conclude ‘design’! It does not say how, why, when, by whom/what, etc… it just means not completely random. In any other context where we use the word ‘design’, it means a lot more than just ‘not chance’. For instance, we mostly discuss ‘human design’, which is highly specialized and well understood, something that contrasts with nature, something ‘artificial’, planned, executed, that does not arise by chance alone. Sometimes, we also discuss ‘animal design’ such a beaver’s dam, but this is already quite different from ‘human design’ as it’s more of an instinct than actual planning/execution. We also have ‘nature’s design’ such as the eye for vision or wings for flight, which nature “designed” over time with the completely un-guided process of evolution by natural selection. That latest version of design is actually not design at all, but since it’s definitely ‘not chance’ either, it would fit the argument’s vague usage of ‘design’. And that’s actually the problem…
So, when you ask “if you think “not random” doesn’t equate to “designed”, what else could it be?” the answer is simply “I don’t know!” We are talking about the entire energy and matter of the universe coming into existence into a space smaller than an atom, then expanding faster than the speed of light in a fraction of a microsecond, only to continue growing for billions of years until we show up on some random planet and try to figure everything out. And you ask me to explain this or else I should conclude ‘designed’? The truth is that nobody knows; and that’s the only rational answer at this point. Sure, the values we get when measuring the constants are extremely precise, and if there were just a tiny fraction bigger/small nothing would work, so we can safely say that there must be an explanation for these values. But just saying that ‘it does not appear completely random’ answers nothing at all, and certainly does not lead to the conclusion that it was ‘designed’. It’s just an interesting observation; actually, no, scratch that, it’s a fabulous observation and a marvelous feat of modern science!
In short, I disagree with “…”The universe is either necessary, random or designed.” are not nonsense…” because it should be ‘either necessary, purely random, purely designed, both random and designed, or something else completely’. This is the biggest problem with the argument, but not the only one. Without the full logical spectrum of possibilities, it’s a nonsensical statement because it is logically valid if, and only if, ‘random’ equals ‘not designed’, which is indefensible. As you wrote “…(“A bit of both?”) doesn’t affect my argument because it doesn’t add anything new. So if that was true, it would still be true that there was design”. So you agree that ‘not chance’ does not equal ‘design’, logically, as it could be a bit of both. Therefore, ‘not chance’ and ‘design’ are not logical opposite and the argument’s conclusion fails.
This might be hard to follow, so let me try to make it more explicit. The argument goes like this:
1) The universe is either ‘necessary’ or ‘not necessary’.
2) It is ‘not necessary’. (Could have been different.)
3) It is either ‘random’ or ‘not random’.
4) It is ‘not random’. (The odds, out of all possibilities, are too small for the values to be random.)
5) ‘Not random’ equals ‘designed’ (Why?)
6) It is ‘designed’.
The problem is that you agree that a bit of both ‘chance’ and ‘design’ is possible, but also say that the conclusion would still hold in such case. However, that’s not possible, as #5 has to be true for #6 to be true, and #5 is true if, and only if, the definition of ‘design’ is ‘not random’ and the definition of ‘random’ is ‘not design’. By definition, this thus makes the scenario of ‘a little bit of both’ logically invalid and it’s false to claim that it does not affect your argument; the mere possibility of ‘a bit of both’ exemplifies why the argument is not logically valid. And, if you’re tempted to argue that ‘a bit of both’ is impossible, in order to rescue the argument, well… good luck! 🙂
Let me know if that makes sense or if there is something still not clear.
Hi Hugo, I am enjoying and appreciating this discussion because it is good to examine these things in detail. Thanks. I’ll respond to your “short” comment first.
Even if you want to add to my statement, that still doesn’t make it nonsense, or more strictly, logically inconsistent. It could be true, you just don’t think it is. Statements like “The sun rides a chariot across the sky” or “I have two heads” are incorrect, but they are not logically inconsistent in the way that your “This statement is false” is.
But let’s go with your expanded statement, and let’s expand it even more. How about this:
The universe is either (1) necessary, (2) random, (3) designed, (4) something else, (5) a combination of two or more of these, or (6) we live in a computer simulation.
The first 3 options are clear and understandable (i.e. the words have dictionary definitions that can be applied here), so let’s look at the others.
#6 could be said about anything and everything. It could be true, and if it was true, the programming could be clever enough that we’d never know. It seems like a waste of time including it because we’d have to include it as a possibility in everything that ever happens. I know you haven’t mentioned it, but I thought it would be useful to at least mention it.
#4 isn’t really much better. It also could be true of many, many things. The evidence points to evolution, but it could be something else. This person died of a gunshot wound, but it could be something else. Atheists often quote Christopher Hitchens that what can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence. So let’s channel the Hitch here, and say #4 can be dismissed unless an option is proposed and the evidence examined. So far I haven’t seen anyone offer any logical option.
But I would go further and argue that there can be no other option. Random implies no defining cause (Dictionary: “without definite aim, reason, or pattern”) So the alternative is with aim, reason or pattern, or with a defining cause. These options are mutually exclusive and exhaustive – either the thing is without those characteristics or it is with at least one of them.
One possible cause or pattern is necessity, which is covered in #1. The other form is intent, which is design. So I think this confirms that there can’t be “something else”. But if you think otherwise, I invite you again to propose something else.
So this leaves us with the combination (#5) and I fully agree that this is a sensible and logical option. And I would say that there are always random elements in virtually anything. Even something highly designed, like a computer program, has bugs. A designed brick wall has a random pattern. A painter designs the picture, but the exact point in molecular terms where red changes to green is random even though designed at the eyesight level.
So 1. necessary and 3. designed will always have random elements. And designed is quite compatible with necessity – i.e. some elements are designed but others are necessary or controlled by physical laws. A building is designed but the physics of gravity, materials science, optics, etc are still important in how it is and looks. All of this is fine.
In the fine-tuning argument, we don’t have to totally eliminate necessity or random to establish design. In the end, the argument isn’t at all about what percentage of the universe is caused by necessity or randomness. The argument is simply that there is design, it doesn’t matter how much, provided it is significant. And that is what the argument does. It provides logical reasons to believe that randomness and necessity are not sufficient to explain the fine-tuning of the universe, and design is the only remaining alternative.
I suggest that so far the argument stands and you haven’t dented it.
It’s not clear to me that design is the best option for explaining fine-tuning even if chance and necessity are unlikely candidates to explaining fine-tuning. In an earlier post you stated this:
“Here is how I understand it happened. Back in the 60s and 70s, cosmologists started to realise there were these “large number coincidences”. The simplistic explanation was that of course we as observers were in a life-permitting universe, we couldn’t have evolved in any other. So then the question was asked how likely was it that a universe would occur with intelligent observers? No-one could find a physical law (necessity) and theoretical physics showed the odds were unbelievably against if it happened by chance. So the only two ways to account for us being here were the multiverse or our universe was designed. They calculate how unlikely it was as a chance event, but there is no way to calculate the probability of design because it (presumably) is determined by factors outside our knowledge.”
If there is no way to calculate the probability of design then couldn’t one remain agnostic about the conclusion of the fine-tuning argument? Shouldn’t the supposed remaining alternative have justification beyond the other options being unlikely? Couldn’t the third option be unlikely as well? Perhaps I could illustrate my point a lot better but borrowing your argument for a moment but tweaking it a little. My reasoning goes as thus:
1. The character of our universe is determined or described by physical laws and constants.
2. If these laws and constants had been different, life would probably not have arisen.
3. The laws and constants which led to this suitability for life must have been determined by either physical necessity, chance or design.
4. The laws and constants are unlikely to be determined by physical necessity.
5. The laws and constants are unlikely to be determined by chance.
6. Presumably, the probability of the universe being designed is inexplicable.
7. Therefore, determining whether the laws and constants are due to necessity, chance, or design is unknown (admission of agnosticism about what best explains fine-tuning).
I’ll simply borrow your justification for premises 1-5 from your argument (http://www.is-there-a-god.info/clues/teleological.shtml). I may have a few different things to say in regards to justification for premise 1-5 but I’ll set that to the side for now on the assumption that you believe premises 1-5 are true. I will support premise six with this statement from you:
“So the only two ways to account for us being here were the multiverse or our universe was designed. They calculate how unlikely it was as a chance event, but there is no way to calculate the probability of design because it (presumably) is determined by factors outside our knowledge.
Your statement above isn’t enough justification for premise 6 so I’ll try to explain myself further. The way I see it, premise 6 isn’t saying that design is unlikely or likely because there is simply no way to calculate that probability. What premise 6 does say is that design could be probable (perhaps 100% probability) but at the same time it could be just as improbable as chance and necessity or even more improbable than chance and necessity. We’re simply in no position to make that sort of judgement. The unknown probability of one option (design) cannot be enough to rule out the other two options even if those two options are unlikely. For all we know, the fine-tuning of the universe is due to chance or necessity despite that it is unlikely being that we have no idea what the probability of design is. At the same time design could be 100% correct. We just don’t know. Therefore, one should or could remain agnostic about what best explains the fine-tuning of the universe.
Anyways, hopefully you understand my reasoning. If not you could always probe my reasoning by asking questions. Perhaps you could give some thoughts or point out where I possibly went wrong.
Hi Terrell, I understand your reasoning (I think), I just don’t agree with it. Here’s why.
We are trying to answer a particular question – does God exist? One piece of evidence is the fine-tuning of the universe. Assuming for the moment we accept that the three options are physical necessity, random chance or design, we can say that the cosmologists generally don’t believe our universe is physically necessary. It is also impossibly long odds to have occurred by chance unless there is a multiverse.
I’ll come back to the multiverse in a moment, but if we don’t accept that, then we are left with design, which we all know implies a designer, or God. Now it is true we could assume the probability of God existing is very low as you suggest (and it would have to be very, very low to not be more probable than the other options), and thus make the argument inconclusive. But that is the thing we are trying to establish – whether God exists.
So what your suggestion reduces to (in my opinion) is this: if we assume it is extremely unlikely that God exists, then we can conclude that God’s existence is no more likely than chance or necessity – hardly a convincing conclusion!
So I conclude that the only way to avoid the God conclusion is the multiverse – and that is pretty much how cosmologists seem to see it. And the multiverse is far from certain.
But there is one more thing here. If this was a school debate, with you defending the view God doesn’t exist and me taking the opposite view, this would be the best way for you to approach that debate.
But this isn’t a debate, but life.
Surely a better response is to conclude that “there seems to be reasonable evidence here that God may exist, so perhaps God may exist after all. I need to look into this more.”
Each of us makes our own choice on that, but I think it makes more sense to accept the argument and consider other evidence to see if it supports the same conclusion, rather than trying (desperately it seems to me) to avoid a conclusion that may at first sight be unpalatable.
Thanks for sharing your ideas.
Hi Hugo, I’ve read your longer comment now, and I think I answered it in my other comment. To reiterate….
1.If we accept for the moment that we have established not necessity and not random, then we can make a list of other options. So far all we have is design or partly random and partly design. Either of those options leads to the conclusion that there was design going on, and that is enough to point to the possibility of God. Unless and until another option is actually proposed.
2.But I argued in my other post, from the definition of random or chance, that not random or chance = with aim, reason, pattern or cause. Now design (verb) = to plan according to an aim or purpose, or to make a plan – which is pretty close. In the absence of any alternatives, we can reasonably say design = not random and random = not designed.
“Each of us makes our own choice on that, but I think it makes more sense to accept the argument and consider other evidence to see if it supports the same conclusion, rather than trying (desperately it seems to me) to avoid a conclusion that may at first sight be unpalatable.”
I honestly wanted some feedback on whether it was a good argument or not rather than trying to desperately avoid a conclusion. I actually saw some flaws in my argument because of your feedback which I was looking for.
I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to be rude. I was not just thinking of you, but of all the many people I have come across in discussing this argument. But I should have been more careful with my words. That comment was unkind and unnecessary, which I try to avoid. I shouldn’t have said it and you were right to pick me up on it. I’m sorry.
No worries, Eric. I remember being rude to you at times and we’re not perfect. Let’s put it behind us. Looking forward to future posts my friend.
Great to read some friendly exchanges! And Eric, I also agree that this is a very interesting discussion; the topics that this thread relates to are fascinating. However, for the purpose of this particular thread, I think it was run its course. Let me just take a few steps back and explain why.
The original post contains the following:
As I mentioned previously, I think there are many flaws with this reasoning. They can be broken down in 3 parts. (1) First, I don’t agree that we can definitely rule out neither ‘necessity’ nor ‘chance’ completely. However, I am willing to grant that for the sake of argument. (2) But then, I think the biggest problem shows up: there is no reason to claim that ‘design’ is the only thing left and hence the most likely explanation. (3) Finally, even if we grant that there was ‘design’ involved, the term is extremely vague in that precise context and does not provide any explanation as to ‘how’, ‘why’, ‘when’, ‘by what/whom’, etc… the definition of design is reduced to nothing more than ‘not chance’, which is meaningless, and if we go even further and grant that there was some intent behind the constant of the universe, it seems that the main outcome was to fuse hydrogen and move stuff around, a lot. And in that case, ‘a lot’ is such an euphemism… because things in the universe moves constantly, do any random thing we can possibly imagine, and even hardly imagine, create billions and billions of galaxies, each with billions of stars, and, sometimes, planet with life. So the jump from the universe is ‘designed’ to ‘designed for life’ is incredibly huge, even after granting (1) and (2).
Ok, so where do we stand now in the discussion? Well, we really just tried to address #2, as I believe this was the biggest flaw. My understanding is that you, Eric, now agree that it was indeed flawed, even if you, ironically, claimed that the argument was not dented. Because now, as you pointed out, the argument can be better expressed as:
This is exactly what my point was from the very beginning. The biggest flaw in the argument (2) has now been addressed.
However, this now leaves us with a completely different argument to talk about; one which requires a completely different set of explanations. I appreciate the fact that some of these points were quickly discussed in the comment box already, but I don’t think this was thought through very well; that new argument has a lot more pieces now that would need to be expanded, and addressed separately.
Quickly, it seems that one of the biggest flaw now is found in this quote: ” The first 3 options are clear and understandable (i.e. the words have dictionary definitions that can be applied here).” because there is no definition for a ‘universe design’; the dictionary does not help here. It’s something that needs to be explained and justified, on its own. The type of ‘design’ required to start a universe has absolutely nothing to do with the word the dictionary is defining. And now that we finally ended up listing all the ‘real’ list of possibilities, it’s not sufficient to just quickly dismiss some unknowns just because they look unlikely, and try to make ‘design’ more likely. Thate problem is seen here:
The problem here is that there is evidence ‘for’ evolution, or there is evidence ‘for’ a gunshot wound. But the argument presented here shows no evidence ‘for’ design; it only states that the other things are unlikely (not even impossible, which is required logically) and that nothing else can be thought of (argument from ignorance), hence it ‘seems’ like design fits, or in other words, it’s consistent with God, which proves nothing at all…
What’s very ironic is that the original scientific observation used to build this argument is that the universe is ‘fine-tuned’, and fine tuning means ‘of all the possible universes allowed by theoretical physics, very, very few would have allowed life to evolve. ‘ So, when it comes to ‘fine tuning’, we need to look at all the theoretical cases, such that we get the lowest probability possible for the universe’s constant, but when it comes to looking at ‘why’ the fine tuning came to be, it’s not really all possibilities now, it’s just the ones that we know of, just the ones that make sense to us today; the ‘others’ are dismissed without further consideration just because they don’t fit the narrative, or cannot be well explained. But we know, for sure, that there are tons of scenarios that theoretical physics allow as explanation for the universe. Why are they dismissed now that it’s to explain fine tuning?
Therefore, again, it seems that for the context of that thread, the topic has reached a pause. The argument that was presented in the post is very different from what we agreed on in the last few comments. So I will not have much more to add here, but it would be interesting to see a better attempt at defending that new version, with all of the real possibilities, if you still think it really works. Or, it could be interesting to discuss the problems that are before and after what I call the ‘main’ issue (2). Since even if that ‘main’ issue was solved, the other 2, (1) and (3), would still make the overall end conclusion of the argument flawed.
Thanks for your time!
p.s. I wanted to add something more, because of an event that happened in my life at the end of last week… not sure where to put that comment so I will just do it here…
When it comes to the question of ‘Is there a God?’ in general, as an Atheist, my most rational and thoughtful answer is simply ‘I don’t know’ but I see no reason to believe; what I have been presenting with does not convince me and people believe in so many different version of gods that I am not even sure what it means… However, there are also emotional reasons to believe, or not believe. For instance, the fine tuning argument is interesting to discuss but I don’t think anyone believe in God because of that; the argument’s purpose is more to justify some pre-existing belief. Most people believe because of family values, society’s influence and some emotional need to have a greater purpose in their life, something to look for after death, some comfort in the knowledge that there is more to this life.
But this goes both ways unfortunately, as there are also so many emotional reasons to ‘not’ believe in a god, and certainly not in a ‘loving’ god that cares about humans. Basically, the ‘problem of evil’ has never been properly addressed in my opinion. I know there are lots of rationalization and explanations, but it’s always very empty in my opinion, and at best it relies on the fact that people have free will and can thus cause evil despite gods’ wishes to not make humans suffer. However, this never addresses the random horrible things that happen; it never addresses the bad luck that randomly hit people of all background. In these cases, if a god is watching, it simple let things happen…
Last week, another of these bad event happened… I lost a dear colleague after working with her for 4 years. She had been reporting to me for the past year so we were very close. She was only 29 years old and a mother of a 2 year old girl. She went for a routine surgery and something went wrong, the most stupid thing ever. The pain of losing her is still fresh and disturbing, as you can imagine, but what makes it worse is that this is part of an unlucky series of events that I have experienced… Only 1.5 years ago, another friend of mine passed away; at only 30 years of age he got a devastating cancerous tumor that grew behind one of his eye and killed him within weeks. And exactly 1 year ago this month, one of my best friend from back home lost his 4-year-old daughter to a heart attack; she had issues since birth and just did not make it after 3 attacks.
None of these are rational reasons to not believe in a god of course, but… come on… why on Earth would a real existing god that watches over us allow for that!? These cases are the best definition of people who did not deserve any of this. My colleague was the sweetest person ever, the most ethical, devoted and caring person I knew. And these are horrible things, but they are not even that bad compared to what happens every day around the world. They affected me personally but they are nothing compared to war on civilians, population dying of hunger, prisoners being tortured over ideas, women being kidnapped and rapes for years, dictators living like emperors while their citizens struggle… I don’t know, it just seems so pointless to even talk about ‘fine tuning for the existence of god’, even if it’s more rational, when we have all of this crap going on… Don’t take me wrong, I love the world we live in and I want to make the most out of it, but these days are just yet another reminder that life is fragile, that there is nobody looking over us, and that we, humans, are alone, with each other. We need to make things better; we are in control, and nobody will come to change us. It’s our job and calling out to a god that apparently does nothing better than healing 1% of the time is not helping much…
First of all, I’m sorry about losing your friend and colleague, and the other friends too. There’s really nothing more I can say about that.
I can see you are looking to ease out of this topic, so I will just address the main issue in each of your comments.
” My understanding is that you, Eric, now agree that it was indeed flawed, even if you, ironically, claimed that the argument was not dented.”
Not at all Hugo. I think you have claimed way too much here. To explain why, I need to discuss how logical arguments work (as best as I can understand).
Philosophers summarise philosophical arguments in a few simple statements, which can be quickly seen to be logically valid. Then they spend significant time on justifying those propositions, and dismissing alternatives. It is the same here.
The argument I present is logically valid, and addresses the main issues. The matters you raised (other possibilities and combinations) are relatively minor. I addressed them all to show that they were minor and not at all telling against the main argument. You still haven’t offered any viable alternative option, and I have shown that the argument isn’t affected if we consider combinations of causes.
So the argument still stands, you haven’t offered anything against it that I can see, and in my opinion the minor objections don’t merit inclusion in the main argument.
I haven’t agreed on anything substantial in the comments because you haven’t offered anything substantial. So I can see absolutely no justification to say that the argument is flawed. I think our discussion has been interesting, and helpful because it seems to me that it has strengthened the argument, not weakened it.
I won’t be changing the propositions in the page where I discuss the argument in detail, but I will be adding a sentence or two in the discussion about the points we have raised here.
“why on Earth would a real existing god that watches over us allow for that!?”
I agree with you here. I agree that the world seems senseless sometimes, and the grief and suffering that occurs forms a strong argument against the existence of God. I have written about this on this website several times. I cannot explain it all.
I continue to believe in God because I find all the other evidence too strong to disregard. And even the evidence of the suffering can only make a decent argument if we believe that ethics are truly objective, something that atheism cannot justify (in my opinion). So the suffering cannot be an argument against God because it relies on God to justify objective truth in ethical judgments about suffering, but suffering sure is a quandary for a believer.
Now the challenge back to you ….
I am quite willing to agree that suffering is a strong argument against God, because the evidence points that way. Yet when the evidence of the universe clearly points to God, I rarely find an atheist willing to admit it. Why is that? If I tried to rationalise suffering, if I said there could be other possibilities, or perhaps this or perhaps that, you would rightly criticise me for avoiding the obvious. But somehow atheists feel they can rationalise fine-tuning and the lack of cause for the universe when the conclusions there are equally obvious. (Doubtless you will disagree, but I think the comparisons are valid.)
I think we should all be able to accept that there are some good arguments against God’s existence and some good ones in favour. The real choice isn’t black and white, but a judgment about the balance of those arguments.
I think a lot of the nastiness and frustration that can occur between believers and non-believers could be ameliorated if both sides were a little more straightforward in accepting the obvious.
Thanks to you too.
Yes, I thought we would move on to something slightly different because I was under the impression that you understood 1 of the flaw of the arguments; I was mistaken, my bad. So, no problem, I think it’s interesting to focus on it more. Let’s just take a step back and discuss the following, from the original argument:
“1. Science says the universe is “fine-tuned”.
2. The only options are that it was due to physical necessity, or chance, or design.”
Premise 2 needs to be justified. Where is that justification? #1 is clear, and documented, but I don’t see the support for #2. Your last comment shows 1 type of support:
“You still haven’t offered any viable alternative option.”
But this is a fallacy, as you need to justify #2 on its own. What makes you think that the universe is limited to these 3?
I honestly don’t know where the answer to this is. So, it’s a repeat but an important one I think.
Your challenge sounds interesting; I will write a thoughtful response. I think it matters a lot actually! I just don’t have time now…
Hi Hugo, I have indeed offered justification of the proposition about physical necessity, or chance, or design. It is in the full analysis of the argument which I have referenced (The Teleological argument and I have offered some thoughts here in this discussion – see my comment of SEP 13, 2015 @ 00:46:09. Plus I have several times suggested that if this statement isn’t true, that you suggest another option, and you haven’t.
So I have offered an argument in support of this proposition, you have disagreed with it but not offered any alternative. I really think the ball’s in your court.
Relatively short post again; or at least short in terms of topic. It’s really just 1 question again, but with a lot of quotes. You referred to the post on “The Teleological argument” and comment SEP 13, 2015 @ 00:46:09; they contain the following, with emphasis added:
Nowhere does it ever explain ‘why’ we should consider ‘design’, nor what ‘design’ means. Currently, we don’t have any example of a natural thing, i.e. not a human creation, which is designed by an external, again non-human, agent. The goal of the argument is actually to prove, or at least point to, the existence of such non-human designer. Therefore, only listing that something natural ‘could’ be designed requires justification; listing it as a possibility is ‘not’ straightforward and certainly ‘not’ a justification as to why it’s possible. To contrast, ‘necessity’ and ‘chance’ are justified options since we have clear definitions and examples of what they mean, when it comes to explaining natural phenomena; if you don’t agree, I would explain that more.
Therefore, where’s the support ‘for’ design, including what it means?
And, again, if the answer is ‘not chance’, there are 2 options: either ‘not chance alone’ or ‘no chance involved at all’. Both are wrong in the context of the argument, but it’s hard to explain why when they are not clearly separated, so let me know which one you need clarification on.
Hi Hugo, I don’t I have much more to say. Few words have absolutely precise meanings, but I have shown that design and random are close to antonyms. You have been unable to offer any other meaning that would make them less antonyms.
So that proposition still stands uncontested by anything substantial – it is probably true. The fact that you can neither offer any other option, not admit that you can’t, says something. I don’t think I need say any more.
I don’t understand why, as the person who actively believe a claim, you refuse to explain why you believe it. You say:
“I have shown that design and random are close to antonyms.”
But you have not! That’s precisely what I am discussing with you, why do you believe that when looking at the fine tuning of the universe, it’s clearly by design? I understand you think it’s unlikely it’s just chance alone, and I partially agree, but where do you see design? The human eye didn’t come by chance alone, but was not designed either, you understand that. Would it be accurate for someone to conclude that because it’s unlikely that the eye came about by chance alone, it’s therefore designed, even just a little bit? No, it was an unjustified hypothesis 200 years ago, and it has now been proven wrong. So you cannot say that because we are not aware of such process for the universe, it cannot be so. It’s one of many options.
This relates to your challenge above now,
“Yet when the evidence of the universe clearly points to God, I rarely find an atheist willing to admit it. Why is that?”
Because that would be lying! I genuinely do not believe you, nor anyone else ever, when they claim that the universe points to God. They never show why I should believe them. Moreover, you also clearly do not understand what I believe and why, and that’s why you cannot even agree with me as to what we actually disagree on. Terrell mentioned that too above, and I have done it many times. Hence, it’s so weird for you to claim that I somehow won’t ‘admit’ to something YOU believe, something you don’t even want to explain… you refused to explain how nature can be designed; when design currently refers to non-natural thing. You refused to explain how design would work, if the universe were designed; when we can explain any other kind of design.
To further prove the point, you keep saying the following:
“Plus I have several times suggested that if this statement isn’t true, that you suggest another option, and you haven’t.”
And in the last comment:
“The fact that you can neither offer any other option, not admit that you can’t, says something.”
So clearly, you think I ‘cannot’ give options, because I keep insisting I don’t ‘need’ to; don’t you see the jump in logic here? I purposely write it very carefully every time. I dont need to give you options, but I CAN. An evolving universe is one, as mentioned above; yet you never acknowledge that, and instead jump to how it’s not a proven option. But why would I try to prove that option? I dont believe it, it’s just a possibility.
However, you are the one who does believe something, and presumably think I should believe it too, so you need to defend it. Your argument either stand on its on, or not, regardless of what I already believe. For instance, I showed your argument to my wife before, not recently but nothing changed anyway, and she also doesn’t think it makes sense. It’s just 1 person of course, but it’s relevant because she believes in God… so this thing of you wishing Atheists would just ‘admit’ that you are right is irrelevant, since it’s not because of an atheist bias that your argument fails, it just does, on its own.
But that’s not all, regarding other options, since the multiverse you dismiss so easily is clearly another option. Again, I don’t believe it, it’s not proven, but it provides an explanation, an option, which means that eliminating another option such as ‘chance alone’ only leaves us still with many options. You also don’t seem to understand the possibilities involved, as you pointed out in your article ‘Was the universe designed?’ that “even if there were 10500 universes (the current estimate of the size of the multiverse), the odds are not significantly improved” but that number is wrong… it’s 10^500… more than enough to explain some apparent fine tuning. And obviously, the actual number does not even matter, in the context of the argument, since it’s the ‘possibility’ that the multi-verse is incredibly diverse, for all of its parameters, that makes the argument fail. The option doesn’t need to be proven, just listed as an option, to discredit your technique of argumentation by elimination. I.e. since you never justify design, and only make it the de facto option because of lack of others (also a fallacy on its own), presenting another option is enough. (And no, just claiming that the multiverse itself is fine tuned doesn’t help; you have nothing to present regarding it! No numbers justifying its behavior or characteristics. It could randomly create any universe similar to ours, that’s the point)
But, it’s still not the end of it, as there are yet other options, and I am finally getting to the one I think is the most relevant, as of today: the universe can be described with 11 dimensions, in which the numbers that appear constant to us are actually varying across the dimensions we don’t experience. It’s exactly like taking about a piece of paper and describing it as a 2D object in a 3D universe. The thickness of the paper appear constant as the sheet moves in a 3D space, but it doesn’t follow that the thickness is actually fixed. String theory tells a similar story about the universe. It’s not proven, I dont believe it yet, but it’s certainly possible; more so than any other options I heard about. Ultimately, I don’t know if that’s right; nobody does. Except you do! You think you know enough to claim “the evidence of the universe clearly points to God and Atheists should admit this, they should concede you are right. Sorry, but I don’t believe you.
Finally, there’s 1 more thing to explain, a parallel to this discussion I believe, as it’s something that I do positively believe in: where atoms come from. Only ~100 years ago, people had no idea. If we had asked a chemist, or physicist, how to link their fields, they would come empty handed. Atoms were just there (designed maybe?) without any obvious origin. However, while studying the cosmos, astrophysicists figured out that certain massive stars, at the end of their lives, after burning all their hydrogen fuel, start burning heavier and heavier elements until they hit iron. Then, if the star is big enough, and only above a certain threshold, it explodes into a supernova, creating all the heavier elements of the periodic table. These, in turn, get scattered throughout the galaxy they are in and form the next generation of stars and planets, which now contain the same elements we find on Earth today. These natural processes explain how we got here, without anything supernatural needed. So even if we were to find that the universe was designed by a supernatural god, it wouldn’t even change these facts; we live in a self-sustaining natural unguided universe capable of spawning an incredible number of diverse planets, of which at least one got enough relatively stable years for delicate self-reproducing structures to evolve. This was once science fiction, a riddle without any support, just an idea; it’s now the truth.
Remember how I got a tattoo because of that fact? (I think I linked to the short explanation video; let me know if you don’t know what I am referring to) I did that because it’s the most astonishing fact about the universe I know! And I raised that example because it seems to me that, on your end, the equivalent would be these “fine tuned” numbers, which are simply very precise observations, probably not entirely random, and completely unexplained, i.e. designed according to you, since you cannot think of anything else. I choose to focus on what we know, and try to know more; instead you give up, when you run out of options, and conclude: Design! By my God! You cannot disprove it so I win, nothing more to say. And here I was thinking you want to discuss… nah, you just wanted to make a point.
“But you have not!”
But I have! See my comment of SEP 13, 2015 @ 00:46:09. And you haven’t demonstrated those definitions are wrong, and you haven’t (even now, as we will see) offered any reason to think differently.
“An evolving universe is one”
So did an evolving universe arise by chance or design …. or something else you still haven’t named? This changes nothing!
“the multiverse you dismiss so easily is clearly another option”
This is an inaccurate statement of my views. I have said more than once, including in the post itself, that the multiverse is the most popular alternative to God, because it is really the only one. But note that it isn’t an alternative to design vs random as you seem to say – it is well and truly in the “random” category.
“the one I think is the most relevant, as of today: the universe can be described with 11 dimensions”
How does this offer an alternative to random vs design?
“Finally, there’s 1 more thing to explain, a parallel to this discussion I believe, as it’s something that I do positively believe in: where atoms come from. ….. These natural processes explain how we got here, without anything supernatural needed.”
Again, how does this add another alternative to random vs design?
“And here I was thinking you want to discuss… nah, you just wanted to make a point.”
I’m sorry if you’re feeling exasperated. Of course I want to make a point, just as you do. But my point is that I want you to make a point rather than make long comments that don’t answer the question of what alternative is there to random and design.
We have had a long discussion here, but still you haven’t offered anything as a logical, definitional alternative, yet you keep insisting that it can’t be design. I am happy to discuss, but I get impatient with all the words avoiding the obvious conclusion.
So can we either finish up, or you give a short clear answer to this question please?
Random means “without definite aim, reason, pattern, intent or purpose”. Design means with aim, reason, pattern, intent or purpose. That makes them close to antonyms.
Can you show these definitions to be wrong, or can you offer something in principle (related to these general definitions) that isn’t covered by them, but still isn’t necessary?
No, you have not! Yes I have! ( Well, this is fun 😉 ) Anyway, yes, I gave you reasons to think differently already, more than once. For instance, I told you before that the dictionary definitions do not help here and that, in general, the way you define these words is invalid, for at least 2 independent reasons: (1) the definitions don’t make sense in the context of the universe’s origin and (2) the definitions are not logically sound. So it’s nothing new, but you still don’t understand, so let me try again…
Reason (1) – Contextual error
The apparent fine tuning of the universe relates to the origin of our entire visible universe since, as far as we know, the constants we are talking about have never changed since the beginning of our universe, but we don’t know about ‘before’, whatever that means. It is thus a very particular case where the notions of time, cause and effect cannot be assumed to mean the same as our everyday usage. Therefore, concepts such as ‘chance’ and ‘design’ need to be defined in the context of our universe’s origin. The dictionary definitions apply to things we observe, as humans, within our reality; they are labels we use to communicate. It’s wrong to assume that the labels fit for any event whatsoever, especially not the universe’s origin…
We already know for instance that the notion of ‘chance’ does not mean the same at the quantum level, where randomness appears to dominate at first glance but vanishes and depict clear predictable patterns when studied more carefully. Another analogy can be made with electrons: they have a value that physicists call the ‘spin’, but it has nothing to do with the electron actually ‘spinning’. It would thus be wrong to try to use the ‘spin’ of an electron as part of an argument on whether electrons are actually spinning or not. It’s the same principle with the constants that describe the universe: the notion of ‘design’ requires a clear definition. What does it mean for an entire universe to be designed? How could you recognize such ‘design’? What does ‘not designed’ would look like? What does it mean to ‘design’ a particle, or light, or energy fields? What does it mean to ‘design’ a mathematical constant that we use in today’s equation to describe how things work? In any other case of actual ‘design’ you would be able to answer these questions…
Yet another way to show why the context matters is when it relates to biological evolution. This is a great example since you do understand that evolution is not an example of design. However, Creationists and Intelligent Design proponents like to claim that because the complex organisms we see around us could not have come to be by chance, they must be… designed! And what I find super ironic here is that at least the appearance of design makes sense for biological things. One can (wrongly) argue that the eye was clearly designed to process light, correct for distance and rapidly move around in its socket for maximum range. You cannot even come close to anything like that with the fine tuning of the universe; all you do is repeating “It’s not chance! “ without 1 single idea in direct support of your design hypothesis.
Reason (2) – Logical error
Here, there are at least 2 errors that can be analyzed separately. This was also addressed before so again, it’s not new, but I will try to give yet another angle to help you understand where the problems are.
(2A) ‘Chance’ and ‘Design’ are not logical opposite
If we were to define the 2 words as logical opposite, nothing could be caused by ‘both’ at the same time. This would be a violation of their logical definition, by the law of excluded middle. Something cannot be both ‘A’ and ‘Not A’ at the same time. If we have ‘B = Not A’, we cannot have something be both ‘A’ and ‘B’ at the same time. As we agreed before, there are examples of things that are caused by both ‘Chance’ and ‘Design’, so we cannot accept a definition of ‘Chance’ and ‘Design’ as logical opposite. “Close to antonym” is a better definition, but it does not hold the same weight as ‘logical opposite’, which the argument tries to use. All of that is obvious, and I am sure you would agree; it seems to me that you get it but, at the same time, you still insist that showing ‘Not chance’ is the same as showing ‘Design’, which is illogical. So I still count this as a reasoning error on your part since you hold 2 incompatible ideas: ‘chance’ & ‘design’ are almost opposite and ‘chance’ & ‘design’ are opposites such that if ‘not chance’ then ‘design’. This is irrational.
(2B) Equivocation fallacy
As the quote above shows, you defined ‘chance’ & ‘design’ as the following:
— ‘Chance’: without definite aim, reason, or pattern
— ‘Designed’: with aim, reason or pattern, or with a defining cause
In the argument, you say that ‘Chance’ is not possible because the odds are really low. But this is not what the definition says here; ‘Chance’ is supposed to relate to ‘aim, reason, or pattern’. So there is an equivocation fallacy here: it’s not the same ‘Chance’ concept that was found impossible, it’s ‘Chance’ in the sense of ‘Completely random’, as scientists say. They don’t claim that the fine tuning was not ‘without aim, reason, or pattern’, they say is that it looks like it’s unlikely that these values came about completely randomly. You make the equivocation between these 2 ideas, for absolutely no good reason at all.
To make it more obvious, we can see that claiming ‘Not-Chance’, as defined here, is actually the same as directly asserting ‘Design’. Let’s add more definitions, starting from a few lines up, and substitute:
— Not ‘Chance’: Not ‘without definite aim, reason, or pattern’ (double negative…)
— Not ‘Chance’: ‘With definite aim, reason, or pattern’
— Not ‘Chance’: ‘Designed’
Basically, the argument says that when looking at the fine tuning of the universe, we can see that it’s ‘not not-design’, hence it’s designed! This is not an argument, it’s a claim disguised as an argument in order to pretend that the claim has scientific support via an equivocation fallacy.
What I find interesting here is that it’s actually similar to (2A) in the sense that definitions are not grounded in logic before proceeding with a logical argument. Saying that something is either by ‘chance’ or ‘design’ implies that it’s literally ‘either’, yet for you it turns out that after some discussion, it’s not really that clear cut, it can be a bit of both. So it’s a sort of equivocation fallacy under (2A) also, where the word ‘either’ is loosly used to either mean ‘complete logical opposite’ or ‘almost antonyms’. Then it’s the same with ‘chance’… scientists say that the ‘odds are astronomically low that these constants are completely random’ and you think this is close enough to ‘with definite aim, reason, or pattern’, because to you both basically means ‘chance’. This kind of reasoning works well 99% of the time, because in our everyday live we don’t care that much and we don’t always have to question our assumptions. But here, you are trying to prove an extremely difficult point to make: the universe was designed. Being loose on your logic and definitions won’t cut it.
Evolution works partially by chance, but not by design at all. It is actually an example of something that falls between the (invalid) logical definitions of ‘chance’ and ‘design’ as logical opposites. Therefore, it is possible for the entire universe to have followed a similar process; it may have evolved over time, whatever it means for a universe, and came to be the way it is for us because that’s the kind of universe that survived the best against other universes. It sounds strange of course, and it’s not proven either, but the point is that if we can list logically valid options that don’t require design, your argument fails. This is what this example servers to illustrate: it’s possible the universe was not designed yet be not completely random either. Please note the use of the word ‘completely’ because that’s the problem with your previous logical statements, and the quote I am replying to. As I am writing this, I can imagine you typing ‘So an evolving universe arise by chance… This changes nothing!’ but that would be the error I explained under 2A, where you forget that ‘chance alone’ is what seems unlikely, but a process combining ‘chance’ and something else is still possible. Such an option would look like what we see: unlikely to be completely random, but not necessarily designed. Just like biological evolution.
Yes, it is in the “random” category but it serves a different purpose. Because, as you surely remember, I noted above that your argument has a lot of errors. And I mean it; it’s literally full of logical gaps. The multiverse serves to contradict the step eliminating chance alone. So I actually made a small error in my paragraph on the multiverse before, because it’s not really another option to ‘chance’ or ‘design’, it’s more of a reason as to why ‘complete randomness’ could still explain the apparent fine tuning, which would be an illusion and just 1 out of many possibilities under that scenario. If there
By the way, I don’t know where ‘God’ comes from in this argument by the way, because that’s another huge gap in logic. Even if we were to conclude that the fine tuning shows some form of intent, purpose, or planning, it would not equate to ‘God’, certainly not with a big ‘G’, which implies your particular god of course… Since you cannot even explain what ‘design’ means, I find it fascinating that you insert ‘God’ so casually, when you cannot even explain what ‘God’ would have to do with the ‘design’ either; there is no mechanisms listed, no obvious plan and no reason to do it that particular precise way. Actually, this reminds me of a quote by Sean Caroll that you did not understand; you said that you didn’t get what he meant by ‘too fine-tuned’. That’s an example right here; why is the universe so fine-tuned that a tiny tiny change in 1 basic component and nothing at all works? A good design would arguably allow for more flexibility in order to avoid errors. Of course, we can simply say that it’s mysterious, that God has some other means of designing. But you see, that’s the problem; there is nothing about that ‘design’ that makes sense in terms of what ‘design’ usually means!
Well, it’s hard to explain since I don’t know if you understood the analogy with the piece of paper… probably not, otherwise you would not have asked… and you would already know of more options than just ‘chance’ or ‘design’. Anyway, the problem is that if I simplify it, it’s exactly like the multiverse hypothesis where there could be lots of universes like ours with different values for their constants. The difference though is that there is no limit on the number of universes because there is no meaning attributed to the odds of having certain values as constant; these values are never really fixed. They appear to be fixed for us because we experience less dimensions than there are. Similarly, the sheet of paper moving in a 3D space has a certain thickness, which appears fixed and so small it’s almost negligible. A 2D observer living on it would be confused by what it means to have a different thickness, since it does not make sense for that observer to have another variable dimension. But we, as 3D observers, know that this is due to the limiting view of the 3D world that the 2D observer has. In a way, the 2D observer is right; the sheet of paper really has a fixed thickness and it never changes regardless of where the 2D observer is or looks. But in reality, the thickness is arbitrary and meaningless, you could poor water on it and it would change, but it would still be a piece of paper. It’s random in a way, because the thickness could have been anything else, and the 2D observer would think that nothing in their world makes sense if it’s thicker or thinner; the entire sheet would have a different weight, the shape of the sheet might become different, maybe it could not bend anymore, etc… however, there is no special reason for the sheet to be like that and it does not need to be this exact thickness to exist, but the 2D observer couldn’t be sure of this.
I found this link on YouTube but it’s 50min so you won’t be patient enough, but I think it’s a great documentary if you have time. I am pretty sure I watched it some time back (it was actually released in 2003 according to IMDB, not May as the upload suggests). It covers only the surface of the topic because it’s simplified, but I think it did a good job if I remember correctly.
This one relates to ‘after’ the so-called designed. Again, as I said above, the argument has many mistakes and one that Terrell actually hinted at is the notion of intent, or purpose. Basically, if we assume the universe is designed, what was it designed to do? It seems that the only thing the fine-tuning of the universe allowed for is the Big Bang, followed by inflation and then constant collapse of hydrogen on itself due to gravitational pull, which in turn created the first stars and galaxies. This is crucial because once you get galaxies you can get any cosmic bodies we can think of. There are so many galaxies and each have so many planets and stars that it’s possible, completely randomly, to create a planet like Earth. So the point of my parallel was to illustrate that even if we were to agree that the ‘beginning’ of the universe was designed to give it its ‘magical’ numbers, we still get the same non-designed universe in terms of behavior, and non-designed planets in terms of outcome (well, outcomes we care about…)
The other point of that explanation was that, just like complex biological systems, everyone used to think that atoms were just ‘there’. They did not have any specific origin and they were really well suited to do what we need them to do. It would have been easy for someone to argue that they must have been designed! What are the odds that all these atoms got exactly all of these precise numbers of protons and neutrons and electrons around them? How could they fit into this neat periodic table? How could they have ever fused together when nothing has enough energy to do that? You would need something as bright as an entire galaxy! Something releasing as much energy in an instant as the entire Sun’s life! This is so improbable that, surely, a supernatural being with the intention of creating planets rich in minerals could place just the right amount in the soil for us to find. I don’t if it ever happened because maybe the pieces of knowledge may not have come in the right order, but I wouldn’t be surprised if someone made that argument before…
Wow, ok, that was super long already, and I only need to address 1 more thing… I hope you don’t mind all the details. Another one coming soon. Cheers!
I appreciate that you have tried to put some substance behind your disagreement with this argument, but I’m sorry, I think it all amounts to nothing.
I think your argument that words and logic don’t apply to the beginning of the universe is an evasion that proves nothing (or could prove anything!). I think your attempt to apply biological evolution to the universe (which doesn’t have any mechanism like natural selection of genetic variation to drive evolution) is nonsense. I think you still haven’t offered any cogent argument against the definitions of the words “chance” and “design”. I think your attempt to say that the possibility of both chance and design proves they aren’t opposites is also nonsense because something can indeed have random elements even when it is well designed – think of a planned garden.
As for the rest of it, there were a lot of words but I feel that most of it obscures rather than explains. I’m sorry to be so negative, but I started a more detailed response and it started to get way too long, so I scrapped it, and decided to summarise and be direct.
I think this discussion has gone on long enough , but I think it has been useful in showing that despite all the back and forth, it seems clear to me that you don’t have a cogent rebuttal, just a lot of vague points. I appreciate that you have interacted with me, but let’s call this one a day. Thanks.
You are simply out of your depth here, and the fact that you feel that most of my words obscure rather than explain is actually confirmation that you understand very little of the topic at hand and the critical reasoning errors you commit. When one makes an argument, especially regarding a complex topic like you did, an inability to express it in different ways is evidence that the argument does not have legs to stand on. To use one of your examples, it’s as if you keep asking me ‘Have you stopped beating your wife?’ when I have been trying to explain to you in 12 different ways how I have never beaten her.
You don’t need to be ‘sorry’ for being negative; you should simply be ‘sorry’ that you cannot continue a discussion and there’s nothing embarrassing about it. It’s not a big deal for me but I am afraid it is for you; you seem emotionally engaged with this argument because of its link to your personal religious beliefs. Instead of trying to understand what you get wrong, you thus state, among other things, that it’s “obvious” and that someone disagreeing with you “feel they can rationalize” what appears to you as obvious. It’s really as if your argument cannot even possibly be wrong…
As I mentioned, there was also 1 more thing I wanted to address and I think it’s still relevant, since it’s not directly about the argument. I am sorry it was already kind of long so you might not even read it… but hopefully you might at least get to the parts I will put in bold as main points.
After reading this a few times and trying to make it sound better in my head, I am afraid I can’t…. Basically, you really assume too much and make wrong judgments based on your assumptions. You managed to write 4 false things about me with these few lines. Yes, four, and yes, I really mean about ‘me’, not 4 errors in general. It’s one thing to discuss topics we simply disagree on, but when you write falsehood about me, about that what I think, believe or do, then it crosses a line into bigotry territory… even if I know it’s not on purpose. To be clear, I am not calling you a bigot; just like someone telling 1 lie is not automatically a liar. But the way you asses some of the things that are directly related to me, as a person, are so wrong…
#1) No, I am not exasperated… I am amazed, amused and surprised! Well now, maybe, I am getting a bit exasperated yes, because of that last paragraph (and now that last comment…) But I was not before, not at all. If we were face to face I guess you would know better because I would not show any sign of exasperation… That kind of conversation is fascinating to me precisely because they can go one for a long time. For instance, you’ll recall that I thought the discussion would move in a slightly different direction at some point, when I was under the impression you understood something new, but then we went back discussing the same thing again. I did not get exasperated by that either.
#2) No, I did not even want to make a point, because I made my point a long time ago: your argument fails. That’s it; nothing more. Perhaps I should have been clearer but everything since then has been an attempt from my end to make you understand why it fails; to help you see why your reasoning is fallacious. And I am not afraid to sound condescending now; I know, literally, that you are wrong. And I almost never say that! Because I don’t pretend to be ‘absolutely right’ either, especially not about the universe’s origin, and that’s actually another reason why it’s clear that your argument fails; because for it to work you need a level of confidence that even the most intelligent scientist cannot attain, and don’t pretend to attain. In other words, even if we were to agree on most of what your argument says, as posted here, it would still contain the misplaced confidence in theism as a valid explanation, when theism actually offers no explanation at all regarding how/why things are the way they are.
3) You wrote that I have not offered anything as ‘alternative’ when my main issue with your argument is that ‘it’s wrong to ask for alternatives’. So you don’t understand what I mean, what I actually think/believe here. You keep asking for alternatives and pretend I cannot explain them even after I said: “you say I ‘cannot’ give options because I keep insisting I don’t ‘need’ to; don’t you see the jump in logic here? I purposely write it very carefully every time. I dont need to give you options, but I CAN.” Wasn’t that clear enough? That’s the reason why I was not giving you options and I did anyway in that same comment… I really wonder sometimes how much of my comments you skip over, as I cannot possibly believe that you read the entire thing anymore, at least not carefully, because it makes sense to make such comment only if you ignored parts of my previous comments.
Basically, #3 contains 2 errors in it: (a) repeating that asking for alternatives is a legitimate request and (b) not even acknowledging that I did give alternatives. To make things worse, you couldn’t quite see how the alternatives I gave fell outside your false dichotomy of ‘chance’ vs ‘design’: you asked me to explain. Therefore, how can you say that I gave no option when you are not even sure if they are options? Obviously, it’s because you assumed I was wrong, first, while waiting for explanations. It’s your ‘default state’ I suppose: someone cannot disprove your argument under your conditions… therefore your argument must be right.
4) Finally, no, I am not saying the universe ‘cannot’ be designed even if you wrote that I ‘keep insisting that it can’t be design’. This is another wrong assumption on your part; a complete misunderstanding and another example of sloppy thinking: you equate my rejection of your argument with accepting the opposite argument ‘the universe was not designed’. Logically speaking, yes, either the universe is designed, or not. But as long as we have not identified which one it is, there is no clear answer. The fact that there are lots of possibilities tells us only 1 thing: it’s not necessarily design, but the option is still be on the table! Well, actually, it would be on the table if only you could explain what it means properly… right now, it’s not that it’s impossible, or possible, it’s just… nothing. Your ‘design’ hypothesis offers absolutely nothing to the discussion and I am thus certainly not saying it’s ‘impossible’; that would be ridiculous.
And that came after you whining that: “Yet when the evidence of the universe clearly points to God, I rarely find an atheist willing to admit it. Why is that? […]I think a lot of the nastiness and frustration that can occur between believers and non-believers could be ameliorated if both sides were a little more straightforward in accepting the obvious. “
Well, isn’t it clear that it’s because you simply don’t understand? You are making mistakes after mistakes, rejecting the obvious, rejecting reason and logic and then pretending that your personal arguments have value because they are not addressed the way you would want them to be addressed… And now, you have proven to me, again, how you misunderstand my statements and have a completely wrong idea about my attitude, my intentions and my views. I wish I could have helped more honestly, but clearly this just make me look like an arrogant fool to you.
Hopefully the honesty is not too harsh for you; I don’t think that changed who you are as a person but emotions can get in the way of ration discussions sometimes… Moreover, there is actually 1 more reason for me to take this as a stopping point as I need to take a little break… I am very busy with some GMAT preparation these days and I need to go cold turkey on any blogging-related activity; I really need to stop spending time on this for at least a couple more weeks. Analyzing your argument, and many supporting sentences, was somewhat useful though, since Critical Reasoning is one of the sections of the test! It was interesting to practice hidden assumptions, supporting evidence, argument that weakens/support conclusions, etc…
Thank you again for your time!
It is not actually necessary that fine-tuning of certain parameters will have to be there for proving the existence of God, because existence of God can also be proved even if there is no fine-tuning. For this one can see the following link:
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