Tuesday, July 22, 2008

God Would Be Dead, if He Existed in the First Place (Part III)

William Lane Craig continues:
The teleological argument. The old design argument remains as robust today as ever...
Wait...you're serious? Let me laugh even harder. We have a theory--biological evolution by natural selection--that explains how complex features with a superficial appearance of "design" can and do develop naturally, without any Cosmic Architects with glowing golden drafting calipers in their hands. It explains why we share genes with puffer fish, but far more genes with chimpanzees, how eyes develop, and so on. It has an immense quantity of evidence in its favor, from a range of scientific fields like genetics, biology, paleontology, anatomy, and physics (radiometric dating). I'll leave it to the folks at TalkOrigins.org to eviscerate the "robust" design argument in greater detail. Craig doesn't try to wield debunked arguments about bacterial flagella "motors." Instead, he turns to the latest fashion in Goddidit invisible Imperial apparel:

But the cutting edge of the discussion focuses on the recently discovered, remarkable fine-tuning of the cosmos for life. This finetuning [sic] is of two sorts. First, when the laws of nature are expressed as mathematical equations, they contain certain constants, such as the gravitational constant. The mathematical values of these constants are not determined by the laws of nature. Second, there are certain arbitrary quantities that are just part of the initial conditions of the universe--for example, the amount of entropy.

These constants and quantities fall into an extraordinarily narrow range of life-permitting values. Were these constants and qualities to be altered by less than a hair's breadth, the life-permitting balance would be destroyed, and life would not exist. [emphasis in original]
A couple things to point out here. First of all, as an argument for any sort of anthropomorphic personal, supernatural deity, this approach is self-refuting.

1. A proposed Cosmological Fine-Tuner (CFT) is a product of a Universe like this one, or it is not.

2. If the CFT(s) are products of a Universe like this one, they are bound by the same physical principles we are, and are therefore not supernatural.

3. If the CFT(s) are native to some other sort of dimension or state that is significantly different from our Universe, then the conditions of our Universe are not necessary for the existence of intelligent life.

4. If there is more than one possible way for intelligent life to exist, then Cosmological Fine-Tuning is not necessary to explain the existence of intelligent life.

Second, even if our Universe were fine-tuned, how sure can we be that it is fine-tuned "for life"--by which Craig and the I.D. crowd mean: for us? Is it not possible that beings capable of designing and creating Universes to their desired specifications might have other goals in mind than the creation of human beings, and garnering human worship and obedience?

We could be like some little patch of mildew growing on the wall of one of the tunnels in the Large Hadron Collider saying, "See? This place is suitable for our type of life! If it was much hotter or colder, or lacked air, we could not live here. Therefore, this place was built as a home for us!

One way to avoid that sort of foolish hubris is to consider the Form Follows Function argument:

1. Beings capable of designing and creating a Universe to their desired specifications would be far more efficacious in the fields of design and construction than we are.

2. It is possible that such beings could create Universes for purposes we cannot imagine, as mildew cannot imagine the purpose of the Large Hadron Collider.

3. Given premise (1) we should expect that a designed Universe should efficiently fulfill its function.

4. Nearly all of this Universe would be instantly fatal to a human being without special protective gear (e.g. a spacesuit) and inhospitable to human settlement.

5. Nearly all of this Universe is physically inaccessible to human beings, and almost certain to remain so indefinitely.

6. Therefore, this Universe was not designed to be a residence for human beings.

Nutshell: Humans can exist in less than 0.0000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000001% of Universe. A Cosmic Designer seeking to create a home for intelligent beings could have created a far more efficient Universe for this purpose than the Universe we see. For example, a gigantic computer with minds stored in it Matrix-style. Or, the Designers could have created sapient robot space probes, for whom a far greater portion of the Cosmos as we know it would be habitable, instead of humans like us.

Or, Universe could have been made, say, as a Ziplock bag to store dark energy for later use, and we're like barnacles convinced the ship exists for our sake. As to why our Universe is the way it is, I'm willing to hang a question mark on that and give people much smarter than I am in the field of cosmology, who also have the right equpment for the job (things like space telescopes and giant particle accelerators) a chance to figure it out. This isn't blind faith. People smarter than I am in other fields have answered all sorts of questions I could not have figured out on my own. Like, "How can we make a car that works?"

Friday, July 18, 2008

Crady's Wager

We've all heard of Pascal's Wager. Here's a little bet for the kind of people who actually think Pascal's Wager is an argument:

Step 1: Read the Book of Job. Notice that Job is "covered" according to the promises made by Yahweh in the Old Covenant. He is described by Yahweh as an "upright" man. He worships Yahweh as he requires, makes the required offerings needed to cover "sin," etc., and is protected by Yahweh in accordance with the promises Yahweh made in the Old Covenant.

Step 2: Notice also that Satan is able to get Yahweh to break his end of the Old Covenant by making a simple bet: "Job's a mercenary. He only worships you because you protect him and grant him prosperity. If you destroy all he has and torment him for no reason, he'll curse you to your face." Yahweh takes that bet without hesitation.

Step 3: "Hello, God? I see how wonderfully devout and faithful these Christians of yours are. But you know what? I bet you they're just mercenaries. They worship you because they're sure they've got some wondrous and beautiful eternal hereafter waiting for them. I bet you that if you tossed them into Hell and saved the atheists or Buddhists instead, that they'd curse you to your face!"

Christians: We know from Yahweh's past behavior, which has been enshrined in his magic holy-book, that he is more than willing to break his promises and subject his most devout worshipers to horrible suffering when presented with a challenge of this sort. He's even willing to kill--witness the demise of Job's family.

Therefore, you no longer have any guarantee of entering Heaven when you die. Now, you are most likely bound for Hell. Will you still worship Yahweh? Will you love him as you twist in the flames of Hellfire?

Labels: , ,

Thursday, July 17, 2008

God Would Be Dead, if He Existed in the First Place (Part II)

Christianity Today offers its next example of believers' "intellectual muscle:"
The kalam cosmological argument. This version of the argument has a rich Islamic heritage. Stuart Hackett, David Oderberg, Mark Nowacki, and I have defended the kalam argument.
I find it rather amusing that despite this argument's origins and "rich Islamic heritage," that Craig only cites Westerners as its notable advocates. Not one respected Imam?
Its formulation is simple:

1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
2. The universe began to exist.
3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.

Premise (1) certainly seems more plausibly true than its denial. The idea that things can pop into being without a cause is worse than magic.
What could people like Mr. Craig possibly have against magic? It's their proposed causal mechanism! Also, as I understand it, the physicists tell us that virtual particles "pop into being without a cause" all the time. Weird, but apparently true. And while we're talking about things "just being there" without a cause, what about Mr. Craig's invisible super-person?

Craig goes on to attack the idea of an eternal Universe (or, presumably, series of Universes in a Multiverse). He drags out the usual argument from infinite regress:
Philosophically, the idea of an infinite past seems absurd. If the universe never had a beginning, then the number of past events in the history of the universe is infinite. Not only is this a very paradoxical idea, but it also raises the problem: How could the present event ever arrive if an infinite number of prior events had to elapse first?
This is like saying you can never get to the number 4 because you would have to count up from an infinity of negative numbers (or, if you want to stay positive, the infinitude of tiny decimals lower than 1 but bigger than 0) in order to reach it. "Infinity" is an abstraction. No matter how far back you go to pick your starting point, you can only land on some particular event (or number), resulting in a finite number of events (or numbers), however large.

Also, it is never a good idea to assert as impossible something to which your own proposal is vulnerable. Craig's chosen "cause" is a personal, anthropomorphic, thinking mind. If we decide to be charitable enough to grant Craig the possibility of a disembodied mind with no physical substrate, then the only possible substance his god can have is its thoughts, emotional states, and other elements of mentation. Which means, such a mind would have to be thinking, feeling, and so on, because without mental states it would be indistinguishable from nothing. Which means: Craig's god must have a continuous series of thoughts, emotions, experiences, etc.. If this entity itself has no beginning, then we're right back to the paradox of infinite regress.

If we have a choice between an infinite regress of real events in a real Universe (or Multiverse), vs. an infinite regress of disembodied thoughts without anything to do the thinking, the former is the more elegant and parsimonious option. Craig goes on to argue that Big Bang cosmology mandates that our Universe has a beginning, and is therefore caused. Then he makes the usual quantum leap:
It follows that there must be a transcendent cause that brought the universe into being, a cause that, as we have seen, is plausibly timeless, spaceless, immaterial, and personal.
What, exactly, is "plausible" about that? Look at the first three "attributes." They're all negations. Without time, without extension in space, without material/energetic substance. They are descriptors of non-existence. His final attribute, "personal," is incompatible with the others, by any meaningful definition of the word "personal." Craig's god is the ultimate Nowhere Man: made of nothing, existing in no place and at no time. Aside from his wish to call this non-entity a "person," his position is indistinguishable from atheism.

As human beings, we have a great deal of experience with "persons." "Persons" can only be known as such within a context of time. For example, without time, you would not be able to read the words of this blog in succession, or hear them if they were read to you. You would not be able to think about them, or relate the experience of reading them to the experience of feeding your pet earlier in the day. You would not be able to do or think anything at all, since such an act would create a temporal division between "before" the thought or act and "after" it.

In order for Craig's god to design Universe, it would need to actually engage in the act of designing, i.e., of purposeful thought toward setting cosmological constants or visualizing the mechanism of a flagellar motor. In the absence of time, there could be no time "before" "god" had a design for Universe, or a time "after" it had a design and was ready to start building, or a time when it set to work.

A "god" bereft of temporal succession would be as impotent as the character pictured on the 356th frame of a movie film sitting in its canister. It doesn't matter how big a superhero the character might be. Without the temporal sequence, he can't save the day. There's no "day" to save. And, without the ability to think its thoughts in time, there would be no thoughts, and thus no disembodied mind.

Craig began his article by sneering at the lack of "intellectual muscle" present in the "New Atheist" books, yet he fails to respond to a powerful argument advanced by Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion. This is the argument Dawkins refers to as "the Ultimate Boeing 747 Argument."[1]

Evolution is difficult to grasp intuitively, because we see complex things like life forms, and find it difficult to imagine how they could have come to exist without a guiding intelligence to design them. Complex life forms are wildly improbable, like having a tornado go through a junkyard and leave a newly-assembled Boeing 747 in its wake. Darwin's great discovery was of a non-random organizing principle, "natural selection," that provides a mechanism for life to gradually "climb Mt. Improbable" (another Dawkins analogy) by conserving small changes that work while weeding out changes that don't, over a very, very long period of time.

In the case of Craig's god, we are supposed to have a "person" even more complex than humans and all of our Universe put together. In the Christian belief system, there are said to be many angels and demons, but only one god. That means that it is far more probable that a given disembodied mind would be an angel or demon, rather than a god. And if the god is supposed to possess a certain type of personality (as opposed to all other possible personalities), then it follows that the specific set of thougts, emotions, values, psychological attributes, etc. that comprises god is highly improbable.

If we take into account all of the gods worshiped by all human cultures, then add in all of the possible gods that could be worshiped by all of the alien cultures that could exist within a hundred billion galaxies of over a hundred billion stars each, we have an enormous set of potential disembodied minds to work from. There are billions of distinct individual human minds on this one planet alone.

In a nutshell, Craig's god would be a unique, and highly improbable complex being. If you had a roulette wheel that contained a slot for every possible mind that could exist, the odds of spinning it and hitting on William Lane Craig's preferred version of the Christian deity[2] are virtually nil.

Add to this the immense degree of complexity that a sapient, humanlike mind represents (much less a vastly superhuman mind), as compared with, say, a "timeless, spaceless, immaterial" equivalent of a paramecium. Whichever way you slice it, a god like William Lane Craig's or Grand Ayatollah Sistani's would be the "ultimate Boeing 747." Its existence would be more improbable (as a function of its complexity and the uniqueness of its attributes of consciousness) than our Universe and everything in it. The "god hypothesis" is the explanatory equivalent of a cure worse than the disease.

In addressing the kalam argument, we are left with the possibility of either an infinite regress of causes, or some sort of irreducible starting point. Arguably, the infinite regress of causes (IRoC) makes more sense than the irreducible starting point (ISP). With the IRoC, each cause/effect relationship is an example of the sort of cause/effect relationships with which we are familiar. It does not require anything exotic and unknowable.

That our universe began with a Big Bang and is causally disconnected with anything on the other side of the Big Bang singularity actually makes the IRoC model even more plausible. Instead of the analogy of an infinite regress of numbers, we have an infinite regress of distinct sets (Big Bang cosmoses, with ours as a "daughter universe"), each caused by, but temporally separate from, its predecessor. In the numerical analogy, it would be something like:

(1, 2, 3, 4)(5, 6, 7, 8)(9, 10, 11, 12). Each "set" is itself finite (thus, no infinite regress problem), but has its "transcendent cause" in another cosmos that is spatially and temporally disconnected from it. Since each cosmos is its own island of space and time, there is no unbroken chain to infinity to worry about. Once you pick any specific reference frame (such as "here and now") to count backward from, you're in a finite set, and you can count back to the beginning of that set and no further. Each universe is basically a familiar sort of entity whose behavior is something we can model mathematically. Thus, even if there's an infinite number of them, this view has the parsimony of not introducing any novel entities.

The introduction of a "first cause" requires the introduction of something fundamentally different from all that is know. Then we're left with the question, "what made the first cause cause the second?" If this "first cause" was in some sort of timeless, eternal stasis until it sparked the Big Bang, how did it break free of its stasis? If the "first cause" started causing at a particular point (the Big Bang), then what caused it to change its state from non-causal to causal?
And what caused that? Etc..


1. Dawkins, The God Delusion, pp. 113-114

2. There are, of course, numerous different conceptions of what the god of Christianity is like.
God Would Be Dead, If He Existed in the First Place (Part I)

The July issue of Christianity Today features an article entitled "God is Not Dead Yet" by William Lane Craig, claiming a major revolution in philosophical argumentation over the existence of a god.

You might think from the recent spate of atheist best-sellers that belief in God has become intellectually indefensible for thinking people today. But a look at these books by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchins, among others, quickly reveals that the so-called New Atheism lacks intellectual muscle. It is blissfully ignorant of the revolution that has taken place in Anglo-American philosophy. It reflects the scientism of a bygone generation rather than the contemporary intellectual scene.

The turning point probably came in 1967, with the publication of Alvin Plantinga's God and Other Minds: A Study of the Rational Justification of Belief in God. In Plantinga's train has followed a host of Christian philosophers, writing in scholarly journals and participating in professional conferences with the finest academic presses... Atheism, though perhaps still the dominant viewpoint at the American university, is a philosophy in retreat.

This all sounds quite impressive. From this, we could almost expect to see Christian philosophers lining up to receive their Nobel Prizes for the discovery of a super-intelligent non-human life form, and completely overhauling the science of cosmic origins. At the very least, we would expect the article to contain new, revolutionary arguments for a god's existence that are compelling enough to make atheists seriously reconsider their position.

Instead, Craig just serves up the same old arguments we've all seen before: the Cosmological Argument, the Kalam Cosmological Argument, the Teleological Argument, the Moral Argument, and the Ontological Argument. Each argument is preceded by an ejaculation of name-dropping, listing ostensibly credible intellectuals who subscribe to it.[1] Despite his fulsome praise for Plantinga, he doesn't even cite Plantinga's "revolutionary" argument, which will be addressed at the conclusion of this series.

So let's have a look at the vaunted "sophisticated" Christianity we atheists are supposed to be blissfully ignorant of. The arguments cited here (with the exception of Plantinga's argument) are taken directly from the article in Christianity Today, with the name-drop paragraphs omitted. All quotations are from the article, unless otherwise specified.

The cosmological argument.

1. Everything that exists has an explanation for its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause.

2. If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God.

3. The universe exists.

4. Therefore, the explanation of the universe's existence is God.

Like all of these "sophisticated" arguments for Christianity, this one rests on a giant non-sequitur. We find it here in premise #2. There is simply no reason to leap from "the universe has an explanation for its existence" to "that explanation is the deity who got mad at a talking snake in the Book of Genesis." I think we can be confident that Christians would not accept this argument as convincing if we altered premise #2 to state, "...that explanation is Amun-Re."

The existence of a god is the issue at hand, so merely asserting it as the explanation of Universe's existence as a premise is begging the question. Craig tries to defend premise #2 as follows:

Premise (2) might at first appear controversial, but it is in fact synonymous with the usual atheist claim that if God does not exist, then the universe has no explanation of its existence.

I've read a number of books arguing the case for atheism, including The God Delusion, The End of Faith, and God is not Great (the "New Atheist" bestsellers Craig refers to at the beginning of his article) and I do not recall encountering this "usual" claim. Atheists discuss possible explanations for Universe's existence all the time (e.g. the Big Bang theory, M-Theory, Lee Smolin's hypothesis of cosmic natural selection, etc.). If atheists did make such a claim, it would be a non-sequitur. The non-existence of the Christian deity would not eliminate other deities, or other sorts of possible explanations for Universe's existence.

Besides, (2) is quote plausible in its own right. For an external cause of the universe must be beyond space and time and therefore cannot be physical or material.

Non sequitur. Multiverse cosmologies describing ways a Universe (self-contained Big Bang cosmos) like ours could emerge as a "daughter universe" causally disconnected from its "mother universe" (such as Lee Smolin's hypothesis of universe-creation via black holes) or M-Theory do propose physical explanations for the existence of what we now call "the universe." These theories are certainly debatable and may well be wrong, but they use mechanisms of physics we know something about, and mathematical tools that have worked quite well for us in the past.

Contrast this with the "A super-big invisible magic person did it" theory, which employs nothing but the inherently unknowable. Consider the track record of "invisible magic person" (IMP) theories. Until very recently in historical terms, all of humanity was convinced that invisible magic persons were responsible for virtually all phenomena of nature, from weather to disease to human and animal fertility. Where the IMPs once controlled the entire territory of human experience, the advance of science has routed them time and time again. Today, IMPs can only hide within the Big Bang singularity. And now science is drawing up the most powerful siege engine ever created, the Large Hadron Collider, to assail that final redoubt. On the basis of history alone, we should be wary of clutching at an IMP explanation for anything.

Now there are only two kinds of things that fit that description: either abstract objects, like numbers, or else an intelligent mind.

Not so. I can think of at least one other possibility off the top of my head: a generalized operational principle, like "triangles are self-bracing," or "natural selection."

But abstract objects are causally impotent. The number 7, for example, can't cause anything.

Generalized operational principles can be "causative." For example, if you start making shapes at random from gum drops and tooth picks, test them for stability, keep the more stable structures and destroy the unstable structures, you will inevitably end up with a bunch of triangulated shapes. The triangle is the only self-bracing polygon, so shapes based on triangles will be more stable than shapes based on squares or other polygons. "Triangles are self-bracing."

The process of destroying the unstable shapes and keeping the stable shapes is natural selection. No matter how randomly the shapes are built, those two principles will leave you with triangle-based shapes, especially if you continue the process for multiple generations, basing succeeding shapes on small modifications of surviving shapes from the previous generation. Thus, the two generalized operating principles have "caused" a non-random result (triangulated shapes) to emerge from a random process of assembly.

What sort of generalized operational principle would it take to "cause" a Universe like ours to exist? "'Nothing' is unstable."

Therefore, it follows that the explanation of the universe is an external, transcendent, personal mind that created the universe--which is what most people have traditionally meant by "God."

Fail. First of all, an abstract "mind" is as causally impotent as an abstract number. If it were otherwise, magic would work. A "brain in a vat" cannot affect reality merely by thinking, feeling, wishing, repeating incantations to itself, etc.. I can wish day and night for Abigail at ERV to fall in love with me, but that won't cause it to happen. I'd have a better chance by doing something materialistic, like sending her flowers. Our minds are causal because they're connected, physically to physical interfaces (our heads and bodies) that can act in Universe. Mental acts alone are not causal in reality.

Second, a "mind" isn't a floating abstraction "beyond space and time." Our minds (the only ones we have any experience with) are emergent properties of the massively interconnected neurons of our brains. If that system is altered, say, by alcohol or Alzheimer's, the "mind" is also altered. The concept of a disembodied "mind" of "God" is not only causally impotent, it is nonsensical.

Third, this last sentence of Craig's is a devious intellectual smuggling operation. Let's look at it again:

Therefore, it follows that the explanation of the universe is an external, transcendent, personal mind that created the universe--which is what most people have traditionally meant by "God."

He lists a whole set of attributes for his proposed "God" that he just takes as given. His "God" is singular, external, transcendent, and personal. Where does he get these proposed attributes? They're "what most people have traditionally meant by 'God.'" Most people--in the West, since the Middle Ages. Other cultures have proposed deities that are immanent in Nature rather than external, plural rather than singular, and sometimes impersonal rather than personal (e.g. Brahman, the Tao).

Why should we assume automatically that gods, if they exist, are anything like what we humans imagine them to be? The Universe revealed to us by modern science has certainly come as a shock, comparing it with ancient cosmologies. Even the "sophisticated" Christian philosopher would have to admit that the divine, whatever it may be (if it exists at all) is an extremely subtle phenomenon, since it has not been detected by our most sensitive instrumentation. On what basis should we assume that ancient peoples, who were completely in error concerning the things we can reliably discern with our scientific instrumentation (e.g. the size and workings of the physical cosmos) would be spot on with regards to some transcendent something-or-other existing beyond all space and time? That's just nonsense on stilts!

Craig and other Christian apologists wielding these "sophisticated" arguments are counting on us to just let them sneak by with the unspoken and unvalidated premise that "the Christian God = the only possible sort of god." The vast panoply of human religious and spiritual thought completely destroys this premise. Without it, all of the "sophisticated" arguments fail to accomplish their goal of establishing Christianity (and not every other religion) as a rational viewpoint.

For example, even if the Cosmological Argument above were irrefutable in all its steps, there is no reason to assume only one transcendent Mind, or to assume that it's male, (i.e. the Christian God rather than the Goddess of the Minoans), that it has multiple personality disorder (the Trinity), that it ghost-writes books like the Bible or the Quran, or that the Bible, rather than the Quran, the Vedas, or the ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts, is the (only) book that it ghost-wrote.

Watch for this smuggled premise in each of the other arguments as this series progresses.


1. In his introduction the Teleological Argument, Craig spurts out the name of William Dembski, which calls into question his ability to pick credible sources.

Labels: , , , ,