Dialogue with Dan from Dante’s Inferno

I love debates and arguing. Not sure why, perhaps it’s just the cynical skeptic in me who wants to lash out at things I don’t agree with and pull them down a peg or two. And by “lash out”, I mean in an intellectual way… Oh, why do I even need to qualify that? The violent atheist stereotype should be long dissolved by now, the operative word there being “should”, of course. Pity it’s not.

This post is kind of about that. Well, not really, it’s more about sharing ideas and communicating between two rival camps. But what the hell.

Some of you who read this blog might know Dan from the comments he has posted under the name facilis. Yes, he’s a Christian creationist. But we’re going to leave that latter word aside for now, and focus on just the Christianity.

Dan has kindly opened a discussion/debate/dialogue/any other synonym starting with “d”, between himself and me, basically a back-and-forth about the recent post I wrote about Uncommon Descent and reasons to believe in God. Yes, this one. He wrote a long response to it over on his blog, Dante’s Inferno, which you can find here. And so, of course, I shall respond. It’s the way the Internet works, if you haven’t figured it out already.

What I would first like to ask is about is Jack’s worldview.

His page states

“I consider myself a naturalist: one who believes that the scientific method is the only way to study the Universe and gain knowledge.”

However this seems to be an untenable view because there are many things that the scientific method cannot prove. For example, how does Jack make ethical judgements. How does he know it was wrong for Nazi scientists to experiment with and kill Jewish people? How does he make aesthetic judgements as to what is good or beautiful? and how does he justify science itself? It seems that if he uses the scientific method to justify science ,he would be using circular logic. If he uses some other method to justify science he would have refuted his own claim that the scientific method is the only way to study things. I would suggest Jack modify his statement a little. Perhaps he should say “the scientific method is the most reliable way to study the universe” or perhaps “the scientific method is the only way to make decisions within science”.1

Hmm. These are good points, but most of the objections come down to one thing: what do you classify as “knowledge”? I don’t pretend to think that my moral decisions are in any way an absolute truth, or knowledge that can be gained by observing and testing reality. They are simply the product of the society in which I was brought up in. As such, by judging for myself that killing is wrong, I’m not claiming that I have found out anything new. Thus, no new knowledge. It’s as simple as that.

The objection to science not being able to prove science doesn’t hold up either, because a system of gaining knowledge can be shown to be effective by what it produces in the form of tangible progress. For example, the scientific method has allowed people to fly in machines crafted of metal at hundreds of kilometers per hour all around the world. If science did not work, then the fruits of science, the great technologies that most of us enjoy today, would not work or exist. This seems to justify science outside of itself very nicely.

Plus, Dan’s point that “this seems to be an untenable view because there are many things that the scientific method cannot prove” seems to be a bit backwards. A worldview shouldn’t be constructed around what it can and cannot prove. The inability to “prove” that love is a supernatural force that transcends time and space should not be a limiting factor.

And I would like to know what Jack’s own position on the rationality of theism. Many atheists hold that while theism is false , belief in theism may be rationally justified.2

I think that theism cannot be rationally justified, unfortunately. The problem lies with what I define as theism. Theism, according to me and most people, is the belief in a personal God, usually one with the Big Three Properties: omnipotence, omnipresence and omnibenevolence. These three characteristics are incompatible with each other, as well as free will, something that most theists ardently believe in for ad hoc theological reasons. I’ll go into this more later if Dan wants me to, but I’ll leave it here for now, as it’s a big topic.

But don’t be put off by this, Dan. If you change your definitions of theism, or alter God to step outside the boundaries I have just placed Him into, then I could still be convinced. But logical impossiblity does not a God make plausible.

1) God and the Origin of the universe

The Kalam cosmological argument for a first cause states

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

Let us examine these premises.

Premise one seems very plausible to me. If I came up to you and said that a raging tiger came into being uncaused you would say I was being quite implausible. We all know that things do not pop into existence uncaused.

Very astute. I would agree with that.

Can the past be infinite?

Premise 2 seems to be where the real dispute lies. I think there are good arguments for this premise. If Jack wishes to claim that the universe if beginningless he would have to say that time existed infinitely in the past. But this seems absurd. Imagine a man running up a flight of stairs and every time his foot strikes the top step, another step appears above it. It is clear that the man could run forever, but he would never cross all the steps because you could always add one more step.It would not be possible for the man to reach the top of the staircase because he would have to traverse an infinite number of steps .We are in a similar situation with respect to time. 1993 would never have arrived had it been preceded by a infinite number of years, because one cannot cross an infinite number of years to reach 1993 anymore than the man running up the stairs can cross an infinity of steps.Such paradoxes arise in reality when we try to claim the past is infinite. These kind of paradoxes caused German mathematician David Hilbert to say “the [actual] infinite is nowhere to be found in reality. It neither exists in nature nor provides a legitimate basis for rational thought”. This discussion has spilled over from mathematics into cosmology and physics so that cosmologists Ellis, Kirchner, & Stoeger say

“This is precisely why a realised past infinity in time is not considered possible from this standpoint – since it involves an infinite set of completed events
or moments”.3

I have two problems with this, both coming from different angles.

Problem One: If you apply infinity to reality, it doesn’t make the present moment unattainable. Just think about a number line. A real number line exists with positive infinity at one end and negative infinity on the other. Does this make the journey from one to two impossible? No. The same applies to the Universe and infinite time.

But this point is made moot by the second problem…

Problem Two: Time is not infinite. According to Big Bang cosmology, time began at the point of the Big Bang. And what happens when you have no time? Causality breaks down. For a deity to create the Universe, which I am presuming is a causal process, otherwise the whole Kalam cosmological argument (KCA) is useless, causality is needed. For that you need time. There was no time, so causality could not apply. See where I’m going with this? Applying the logically-relevant concept of cause and effect to conditions where time did not exist creates a situation where the Universe needs no cause.

And if you’re going to argue that God does not need time to cause things to happen, then you’ve just special pleaded your way out of the KCA and into a realm untouched by any form of rational logic.

Evidence for a beginning from physics

Premise 2 also has strong support from cosmology and physics. The expansion of the universe, red shift, cosmic background radiation ,general relativity, age of the stars and Sunyaev-Zel’dovich effect all serve to disconfirm models of a beginningless universe (such as Hoyle’s steady state model) and support the idea that it began with the Big Bang. The evidence is so firm that British cosmologist Paul Davies said in a recent interview that even though there is disagreement over minor details

“I think the fact of the big bang – that the universe began abruptly at some finite moment in the past – is thoroughly established. There are very few scientists, very few cosmologists, who would dispute that.”4

As if this evidence was not enough, in 2003 three physicists, Arvin Borde, Alan Guth, and Alexander Vilenkin, were able to develop a simple kinematic proof that any universe that is expanding must have a beginning.5After developing the proof Vilenkin said,

“It is said that an argument is what convinces reasonable men and a proof is what it takes to convince even an unreasonable man. With the proof now in place, cosmologists can no longer hide behind the possibility of a past-eternal universe. There is no escape, they have to face the problem of a cosmic beginning.” 6

I may have jumped the gun a little, because Dan hasn’t finished explaining his points in relation to KCA, so consider the last bit a summary of my objections to KCA. I’ll bring them up again, I promise.

I don’t doubt the Big Bang cosmological model, clearly. But to use the word “beginning” in relation to the Big Bang is to use the term loosely. Yes, at the instant of the existence of time the Universe had a beginning, but before that? Eh. It doesn’t really translate back into anything. Time is needed to make sense of causality, and so causality cannot be invoked to explain the origin of time. I don’t pretend to have the answers of how the Universe came to exist, but I don’t think a causal argument can be justified, not in any way that makes sense from our perspective.

Premise 3

The universe began to exist. Ponder that. The universe is by definition all of spacio-temporal existence, everything physical. It must have been brought into existence by something beyond space-time , something non-physical , immaterial and timeless. this should make Jack very uncomfortable, because as a naturalist he believes the only kinds things that exist are physical.What kinds of non-physical entities are there? Some philosophers hold that mathematical truths (like numbers) and abstract objects (such as sets) are not physical. But the thing is that abstract objects do not cause anything to exist. For example did you ever see the number 7 cause anything to exist?

Nope. It’s abstract. Hey, that means I think things can exist that are non-physical! Guess I’m not really a naturalist then, eh? Or perhaps naturalists don’t think that? Perhaps so.

Numbers aren’t “things”, but concepts. As such, they don’t really “exist” in the physical world as objects, they’re rules that explain and describe how object exist. So of course they can’t create things.

The other option is what theists hold to, that there is some sort of non-physical spirit or mind, that is able to engage in causal relations with the physical world. The universe would have been caused by some timeless, immaterial intelligent mind able to create the universe from nothing, which is what theists understand to be God.

Oh, of course. But wait, why the jump to “mind”? Why does the supernatural have to be sentient? All the minds we know of are fundamentally linked to physical structures called brains. There’s no reason to think that minds can exist outside of physical brains, so how can you, as a theist, justify the existence, purely on “say-so” grounds, of a supernatural cause of the Universe that is a mind?

Another argument is there are 2 types of explanations we can have. One is personal explanation and the other is explanation in terms of impersonal causes. For example, imagine you came into the kitchen and saw a pot of water boiling. You can explain it by saying your mother placed it on the stove to boil. This is a personal explanation in terms of the actions of a mind acting as a personal agent . Alternatively you can also describe the change of state of the water molecules, the conduction of the pot and the convection currents in the water. This would be an impersonal explanation in terms of physical laws and matter. Now which is the explanation of the universe? At the beginning of the universe there was no matter or physical laws, so the cause could not be a natural one or physical one.

The only explanation open is a personal explanation, which fits in quite nicely with what I previously argued for where a personal agent, a mind caused the universe.

But, my mother used the physical laws of the Universe to her advantage to make the water boil. Plus, I know my mother exists. And why is the “mind acting as a personal agent” so important here? Couldn’t a robot put the water on the stove? Where does purpose come into this? I don’t see a real distinction between a “personal” explanation and a purely physical one.

The reason why this particular part of your argument fails is that you’ve created, in essence, a false dichotomy: either the Universe was created by a natural process or a personal agent. I agree that the natural process is wrong by definition, but you can’t/haven’t justified the dichotomy of natural vs. personal, and neither have you demonstrated that a personal agent can exist outside of a natural process. That needs to be done before you can move forward.

2)An argument from the  existence of the universe

1) Anything that exists has an explanation of its existence, either in an external cause or in the necessity of its own nature.
2) If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God.
3) The universe exists.
4) Therefore, the universe has an explanation of its existence. (from 1, 3)
5) Therefore, the explanation of the existence of the universe is God. (from 2, 4)

There are lots of things wrong with this argument, but let’s deal with them in the same order, and at the same time, as Dan tries to prop up each premise.

Let us examine the premises.

Premise 1 seems quite plausible. We know from our experience that things we see, whether it be a human or a planet or even a galaxy can be explained by referring to an external cause. If we deny this principle Jack might as well give up all science and biology and declare the world is just inexplicable and we should not do science to explain things. Now jack may ask “What’s exists out of the necessity of its nature?”. Now some philosophers and mathematicians hold that mathematical concepts and logic exist because it is necessary for them to exist. Any world that had no mathematics or logic would clearly be absurd. Mathematical truths are not caused and are eternal, that is they could not possibly fail to exist. Jack may wish to claim that the universe exists out of necessity, like logic and mathematical concepts. But we can clearly see this is false. For something to be necessary it could not possibly fail to exist. But cosmologists tell us the universe did begin to exist and the the universe will end and fail to exist in the future. It cannot possibly be necessary.

This premise doesn’t get around the objection I pointed out before that causality breaks down when time does not exist. If Dan can resolve this, I’ll be very impressed.

Also, it’s worth pointing out here that the Big Bang does not really say anything about the singularity of the early Universe other than it existed. What this means is that the singularity, according to what we know, never didn’t exist, if that makes grammatical sense. I’m not saying it always did, but we have no evidence that it didn’t. Of course, since time began at the point of the Big Bang, it doesn’t really mean anything to say that it has always existed, as time did not exist. A little bit confused? Yep, so am I.

As for premise 2 ,I have argued for God as the cause of the universe in my previous argument so I should not repeat myself here.

And I’ve taken care of that previous argument, for now.

It’s good that Dan backed up this premise with an argument about inferring the existence of God from the cause, no matter how broken that argument was, because if you don’t try and place the characteristics of God into the equation, then all this argument says is, “The Universe had a cause that we call ‘God’, therefore ‘God’ exists.” Without clarification, ‘God’ could be anything.

Premise 3 is undeniable and 4 and 5 follow logically from the other premises so it seems to me that this is sound.

The argument is nicely structured, but, of course, I have an issue with Premises 1 and 2. Premises 3 to 5 are, of course, perfectly fine, just like the body of a person in a coma is fine even if the brain is on its last legs.

3)The evidence of fine-tuning

Now physicists and cosmologists have recently discovered that in order for us to have a life-permitting universe (LPU) there has to be a lot of fine-tuning. The evidence for fine-tuning has to do with the fact that the laws of physics, the constants and initial conditions of the universe all fall into a very narrow range that would allow for the growth and development of intelligent beings such as ourselves.

Now there are 3 types of fine-tuning. They are:-

(i) The fine-tuning of the laws of physics.

(ii) The fine-tuning of the constants of physics.

(iii) The fine-tuning of the initial conditions of the universe.

Okay, I’ll agree to that. It doesn’t make much of a difference though, as I’m about to point out.

Now i) has to do with the existence of certain laws and principles without which life would be impossible. To give a few examples, if gravity did not exist, masses would not clump together to form stars or planets, and hence complex, intelligent life would be impossible; if the electromagnetic force didn’t exist, there would be no chemistry; if the strong force didn’t exist, protons and neutrons could not bind together and hence no atoms with atomic number greater than hydrogen would exist; and if the strong force were a long-range force (like gravity and electromagnetism) instead of a short range force that only acts between protons and neutrons in the nucleus, all matter would either almost instantaneously undergo nuclear fusion and explode or be sucked together forming a black hole. As physicist Freeman Dyson points out, if the Pauli-exclusion principle did not exist, which dictates that no two fermions can occupy the same quantum state, all electrons would occupy the lowest atomic orbit, eliminating chemistry; and if there were no quantization principle, which dictates that particles can only occupy certain discrete allowed quantum states, there would be no atomic orbits and hence no chemistry since all electrons would be sucked into the nucleus. Without Baryon Conservation, ‘the entire material contents of the universe would disappear in a fireball of gamma radiation, as the protons decayed to positrons and annihilated all the electrons’.

Yep, all fine. This is all padding to an argument. No need for me to really comment.

ii) has to do with the constants of nature.

Now how do we assign probabilities to these? Now there are a range of theoretically possible values for each constant from the background theories. The actual value of the constant takes one of these values. There is a principle statisticians use called the “principle of indifference”7 or assumption of equiprobable alternatives. It says that unless we have good reason to assume otherwise we should assume every event is equally likely. For example imagine a 50-sided die. It would be highly impractical to roll the die and record the results so we can estimate the probability of each side turning up. Using the principle of indifference we can say that unless we have reason to think someone rigged the die, we can assign the probability of each side a 1/50 chance. In the case of the constants of nature we have no reason to think that a constant would fall into one value out of theoretically possible values rather than another so we can assign equal probabilities to each option. What I mean by “fine-tuning” of a constant is to say that of the theoretically possible values for the constant , the life-permitting range is small in comparison with the non-life permitting range.

I have a slight problem with this, but I suppose I’ll just talk about it later, all in one go. Hint: it’s about the principle of indifference.

What examples do we have of such fine-tuning? Take the gravitational constant (G).If it was too small , masses like stars and planets could not form. If it was too large any kind of intelligent life would be crushed could not evolve . The life-permitting range is so narrow Robin Collins estimated it was fine-tuned to a degree of one part in 10^36. Take the cosmological constant ,which governs the expansion of the universe. If it was too large space would expand so quickly that all matter would disperse and no galaxies or stars or planets could form. It is fine-tuned to a degree of 1 in 10^53.The strong force is fine-tuned to one part in 100. The proton-neutron mass difference is fine tuned to 1 in 18000. The weak force is fine-tuned to 1 in 10^9.8

I’m not going to try and dispute these claims. More padding.

iii) Has to do with the initial conditions of the universe after the big bang. One is the low entropy state of the universe. Without this low entropy , stars and galaxies could not form. Roger Penrose, an eminent Oxford mathematician and physicist calculated the odds of the universe having a low entropy state as 1 in 10^(10^123).9There are many other such instances of fine-tuning such as the initial distribution of matter and anti-matter, the balance between baryons and anti-baryons and the density of the universe that I will just mention in passing.10

Now for an illustration of the extraordinary improbability Robin Collins uses the analogy of a dart flying across the whole known universe and striking a target the size of a proton as analogy for the fine-tuning of gravity of 1 in 10^53.

More padding.

I think we can make a good argument for fine-tuning using a principle of reasoning called the likelihood principle.11 The likelihood is a general principle of reasoning which tells us when some observation counts as evidence in favor of one hypothesis over another. Simply put, the principle says that whenever we are considering two competing hypotheses, an observation counts as evidence in favor of the hypothesis under which the observation has the highest probability (or is the least improbable). (Or, put slightly differently, the principle says that whenever we are considering two non ad-hoc* competing hypotheses, H1 and H2, an observation, O, counts as evidence in favor of H1 over H2 if O is more probable under H1 than it is under H2.)

This used in general reasoning all the time. For example , imagine that there was a murder and there are 2 suspects Bill and Bob.The 2 competing hypothesis’ could be that either Bob or Bill shot the victim.Now imagine finding Bob’s fingerprints on the murder weapon. Normally, we would take such a finding as strong evidence that the Bob was guilty. Why? Because we judge that it would be unlikely for these fingerprints to be on the murder weapon if the Bob was innocent, but very likely if the Bob was guilty.

I see where this is going. Let’s move on.

This sort of reasoning is used in biology also. For example, evolutionary biologist Edward Dodson said.

“All [pieces of evidence] concur in suggesting evolution with varying degrees of cogency, but most can be explained on other bases, albeit with some damage to the law of parsimony. The strongest evidence for evolution is the concurrence of so many independent probabilities. That such different disciplines as biochemistry and comparative anatomy, genetics and biogeography should all point toward the same conclusion is very difficult to attribute to coincidence.”

So Dr. Dodson took the evidence from different fields and judged that while it might be improbable under other theories of biological development , it was not improbable under evolution.

Very sneaky, trying to appeal to my acceptance of evolutionary theory as way to get this kind of argument past my scrutiny. But let’s look at the whole argument that Dan is putting down for fine-tuning:

So let me lay out my argument

1)Fine-tuning is highly improbable under atheism

2)Fine-tuning is not improbable under theism.

3)From premises 1) and 2) and the principle of likelihood we see that observation of fine-tuning is evidence for theistic design over atheism.

The premises seem to be valid and the conclusion logically follows. Now let me be clear. fine-tuning is not “proof” of theism any more that Tiktaalik is “proof” of evolution. It is just evidence in favor of theism and against atheism.

It’s useless to put down my objections here, because…

Jack’s objections

“However, this point is negated by the second problem with this argument: you’re looking at the outcome after the event.”

Now usually there is no problem with looking at evidence after the fact. For example, historical sciences look at history of biological development after the fact and use it to support different theories of biology.

That’s a quote that, in a way, has been taken out of context and misinterpreted. What I meant here was directly linked to the next paragraph, which Dan discusses next. I wasn’t talking about looking at the outcome in the way that biologists do when they observe fossils change throughout the fossil record, I was talking about probabilities. I thought this would be clear, since my next paragraph deals directly with probability and nothing else.

“You shouldn’t be shocked when, if you throw a pack of playing cards on the ground, a certain combination of cards lands face up. The odds against the combination were extremely low, astronomically low, in fact. It must have been designed, right? Wrong.”

I would say the difference is that we are comparing the probabilities of 2 different hypothesis. For example imagine I rolled 20 dice and got 66341 12366 45655 23455. This is a highly improbable sequence. However , imagine if before I rolled the dice an occult group came to my house and said that there was a demon in the dice, whose favorite number was 66341 12366 45655 23455. There the roll would be evidence for the demon hypothesis. (However I may have other arguments against the existence of demons in dice.)

Yep, that’s true. But roll the dice again another twenty times. Did the same number come up? If it did, and it does consistently, then you have strong evidence for the demon hypothesis. But if it fails to reappear, chance can easily explain that sequence of numbers.

The reason that that was a false analogy, though, is that the outcome of the “dice roll” is intimately intertwined with our own existence. This means that we can’t be expecting to see anything other than what we do in the Universe, in terms of physical constants and laws, because if we didn’t, we wouldn’t exist! It’s the ultimate rigged dice game. Plus, we can’t start the Universe over again to see if the same result would occur, negating any semblance to a demonic infestation of physical game of chance.

We should not be surprised to find ourselves in a Universe in which we can exist, because we couldn’t be in any other Universe and still be there observing our existence!

Philosopher John Leslie compared this sort of reasoning to a man led out to be executed by a firing squad. All member point their guns and fire at him. It is highly improbable that he would survive. Yet somehow he finds himself standing unscathed. The commonsense view is to weigh different hypotheses and perhaps check if was a mock execution , or their guns were not loaded or they all deliberately missed. Using this kind of logic , the man could merely say that his survival needs no explanation because he would not have survived had they missed.

Interesting analogy. But it breaks down, as it is ultimately a false one.

The man who’s life is spared can find out about what happened, as the cause of his survival is probably within his reach. He can talk to the squad members, he can examine their guns, he can check the bullets. We can’t do that with the Universe. We know that guns can jam, that people can change their minds and not kill someone at the last moment. But we don’t know that intelligent, causative minds can exist outside of physical reality. We have no evidence for that.

The product of the Universe’s current existence is the fact that we can’t check out what happened “before” it using physical evidence. That is the difference between the execution analogy and the beginning of the Universe.

Plus, this misses the point of the Weak Anthropic Principle. The WAP is not designed to say that the cause of the Universe couldn’t be a God, just that it doesn’t have to be. The entire point I was trying to make was: the fine-tuning argument cannot be used to justify the existence of a creator God based simply on the fact that we exist in a Universe that can support life. We don’t know the probabilities, we can’t know the probabilities.

And thus, just like that, I fall into the principle of indifference. It’s a nice principle, but, really, come on. You can’t base an argument about the existence of God on the assumption that the probabilities are the same. You might use it when talking about dice for practical purposes, but you can’t apply it to a situation we know nothing about and draw huge, worldview-changing conclusions from.

The principle of indifference is just a nice thing you can put into an application of probability to make it easier on yourself. But it doesn’t change reality.

4)The intelligibility of the Cosmos and laws of Nature

The laws of Nature seem to be carefully arranged so that they are intelligible, and in addition discoverable, by beings with our level of intelligence. This has been stressed by many prominent physicists. For example ,Albert Einstein famously remarked that “the eternal mystery of the world is that it is comprehensible…. The fact that it is comprehensible is a miracle” .Physicist Eugene Wigner,said “The miracle of the appropriateness of the language of mathematics for the formulation of the laws of physics is a wonderful gift which we neither understand nor deserve”. As theoretical physicist Paul Davies notes,

“uncovering the laws of physics resembles completing a crossword in a number of ways…. In the case of the crossword, it would never occur to us to suppose that the words just happened to fall into a consistent interlocking pattern by accident….” 12

Hmm. If the laws of Universe really do come together to form reality, then should we really expect them not to have any relationship to each other? This quote by Davies seems a bit odd to me.

I think I can formulate this argument in a similar fashion to the one above.

1)the intelligibility of the universe is improbable under atheism

2)The intelligibility of the universe is not improbable under theism.

3)From premises 1) and 2) and the principle of likelihood we see that observation of intelligibility is evidence for theistic design over atheism.

I would like to contest Premise 1. Why is it improbable? I would like Dan to further explain this premise.

5)The reliability of thought

Let’s examine this quote from Charles Darwin

“With me … the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?”14

Charles Darwin’s fear seems well founded. If our mind is only the product of unguided evolution, how can we trust its convictions or know that it is reliable. Recent research into evolutionary biology and neuroscience seems to show Darwin’s fears were well founded.For example Patricia Churchland ,a pioneer in neurophilosophy has said ,

“Boiled down to essentials, a nervous system enables the organism to succeed in the four F’s: feeding, fleeing, fighting, and reproducing. The principle chore of nervous systems is to get the body parts where they should be in order that the organism may survive. Improvements in sensorimotor control confer an evolutionary advantage: a fancier style of representing is advantageous so long as it is geared to the organism’s way of life and enhances the organism’s chances of survival. Truth, whatever that is, definitely takes the hindmost.” (Churchland’s emphasis)15

Now think of our cognitive faculties. Cognitive faculties are the things that form belief. Examples of these faculties would be memory, perception and a priori intuition (which is the method by which we know things like logical truths). It is clear that if you believe we evolved cognitive faculties were selected for survival value and not for their ability to form true beliefs.

This is an argument from final consequences, and as such, is emotional, not rational. The fact that I can’t ultimately trust my thoughts if a God does not exist doesn’t affect the matter. What I want to believe exists and what actually exists does not necessarily cross over with each other.

Now a theist believes humans were made in the image of God. God could have created human beings separately or guided evolution so that it could produce humans with reliable cognitive faculties. The naturalist has no similar escape hatch and must live with Darwin’s doubt about his mind.

And I’m fine with that. What are going to do about it?

Now I think several of these are good arguments. Now by this I do not mean this argument is decisive and irrefutable. I think a good argument is something where you can lean back and ask “Does this evidence give me a good reason to change my views on this subject?” and ” Has this argument raised a serious problem with my present view?”. I think these questions that deal with the beginning of the universe, the existence of the universe , the fitness of the universe for life, the intelligibility of the universe and the reliability of thought pose problems for naturalists and I hope Jack will consider them.

And consider them I have, in the way that I always do: fisking. Some of those arguments were interesting and I’d never heard them before. I’m sure Dan will take the time to look over my objections to them and reply.

One thought on “Dialogue with Dan from Dante’s Inferno”

  1. allow me to duplicate my comments from there, to here…

    I only very briefly skimmed through this, but there are a couple of things I wanted to point out:

    “We all know that things do not pop into existence uncaused.”

    Actually, quantum theory allows for it to happen frequently, due to vacuum fluctuations, Hawking radiation, virtual particles, and the like.

    “It must have been brought into existence by something beyond space-time , something non-physical , immaterial and timeless.”

    Why “must” it have? And where did this come from? Why should we assume that such a thing exists, when we have no referent to which we can turn to get an example of what it would be like? And how does something non-physical, immaterial, and timeless create matter and energy within a physical universe? How can it perform any causal action at all, when causal actions by definition require the existence of time?

    “As for premise 2 ,I have argued for God as the cause of the universe in my previous argument so I should not repeat myself here.”

    I think you’re working with an equivocation on the word ‘god’ here. In the first argument, you didn’t argue for anything like the god I’m sure you believe in; just something vaguely non-physical, non-temporal, and conscious. There’s no logical connection from this to any specific theology.

    “The other option is what theists hold to, that there is some sort of non-physical spirit or mind, that is able to engage in causal relations with the physical world.”

    Can you give me an example of anywhere else we see a mind without a physical brain? Or evidence that something like the ’spirit’ exists? Otherwise I don’t see any reason to consider this valid.

    Regarding the universe being fine-tuned for intelligent life, I think the fact that most of the universe would kill us is an argument against that. Even our own planet is often hostile to life. If anything, the universe seems fine-tuned for black holes.

    The argument that the intelligibility of the laws of the universe is evidence of a designer is based on the unstated (and unproved) major premise that intelligible laws could only exist if they’re designed, or at least that they’d be incredibly improbable otherwise. This argument hinges on a presupposition that they were designed; if you don’t believe they were, there’s no reason to assume they must be. To demonstrate that this argument is valid, you would have to (somehow) show that an undesigned universe is chaotic and inconsistent.. and that this universe is designed. It’s a bit circular.

    If you rolled 20 dice and got the sequence 66341 12366 45655 23455, this sequence is not any more improbable than any other sequence. I’m really not sure what you were doing with this argument; the argument that we expected this sequence beforehand is the position of the design argument, not that of evolution. The sequence is only improbable if you start with a goal.

    Most atheists have no problem living with doubt. We consider most absolute certainty to be a sign of emotional conviction rather than logical reasoning, and we don’t see it as justifiable to go with whatever answer makes us most comfortable when there’s something we don’t know.

    It’s nice to see someone who actually knows their stuff in a debate for once, rather than the typical “you can’t prove it’s not true, so it must be true” sort of thing :)

    That said… Even if I grant the design and prime mover arguments in their entirety, all this gives us is a deity that existed at that point. Is there an argument for the continued existence of this being?

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