July 23, 2006

Deducing God from Nature

Psiomniac and I have been having an interesting exchange on the subject of faith, reason, and the scientific support for theism. His latest volley contains some good food for thought, and I've spent some extra time on a reply that I've chosen to share here as a separate post.
[Psiomniac said:] I think you are right about the main area of disagreement being the relative strength of the rational case for theism. I think the so called 'anomalies' [faced by the atheist in foundational areas of science] that you mention [like the origins and design of the universe and consciousness theory] are either questions of detail or genuine areas of inquiry.
I think that some of the problems faced by science at this juncture in the road are not just quantitatively different than it has addressed thus far (like learning more about physics and chemistry so we know how stars work), but qualitatively different (like facing the reason for the very origin of matter and the finely tuned laws that allow things like stars and life to exist). But the great utility of science has led many like yourself to have great hope that it can give us answers to even the most intractable questions. For this reason, for some, there is nothing that theists could ever point to that would be conclusive proof of their case, since it can always be said, "Give us time, we'll find the answer eventually."

But I haven't millennia to wait in order to make my commitments. I must, as with every generation before me, take what is offered and apparent to me at this time. Some would say that we are living in the greatest age for the scientific support of theism. I've even heard it said that if you want a hardcore atheist to debate, don't go to the hard sciences department, go to the humanities department. While I'm not sure that I agree that the scales are tipped any more heavily in this age than they were in ages past, I will say that the problems in this age that strict materialism faces are at every point where the deepest questions about life and meaning reside. Theism, at least my brand, answers those concerns in a very systematic way. I find it eminently reasonable; especially when I bring all other things, like philosophy, history, psychology, sociology, and ethics, into the equation.
What really matters is the methodology employed in order to conduct such an enquiry. This is where I think theism falls down.
I have news, theists are right there beside the atheists doing scientific research in every way that you would affirm (e.g., the head of the Human Genome Project is a Christian). It is in the interpretation of that data where the debate lies. I think that what you are really implying is that while we can test natural processes, we can't do experiments to test for God. I am sympathetic to the concern, but it is a philosophically tenable difficulty given the premise that there could be a God; simply because we have this difficulty does not invalidate the existence of God. God, by nature, is transcendent and a personal agent. This makes it difficult both materially and causally to pin Him down. For this reason, the best way to "test" for God is through the effects of what He has done. But if one is tenaciously committed to finding a material explanation for all effects, no matter how many divine fingerprints are found upon it, then one will never arrive at a divine conclusion.

And do you suppose that scientists are perfectly objective in their methodologies and anxious for their own theories to be refuted? I just recently read the following passage in Nancy Pearcy's book, Total Truth, that speaks to this very issue:

"The famous duo who discovered the double-helix structure of DNA, Francis Crick and James Watson, freely admit that anti-religious motivations drove their scientific work. 'I went into science because of these religious reasons, there's no doubt about that,' Crick said in a recent interview. 'I asked myself what were the two things that appear inexplicable and are used to support religious beliefs.' He decided the two things that support religion were 'the difference between living and nonliving things, and the phenomenon of consciousness.' He then aimed his own research specifically at demonstrating a naturalistic view of both."
The thing is, the truth doesn't come easy. Anyone can make a miraculous claim and say they were inspired by god or whichever deity and if they are charismatic enough they may even start a cult. . . . I remember a case of a so called 'psychic' who had undergone investigation and who had produced statistically significant results under laboratory conditions. . . . What happened in fact was that the results could not be replicated. It then took thousands of researcher-hours to uncover the telltale statistical patterns that are the signature of fraud. . . . You see the difficulty here? This is people we are dealing with. It takes one charismatic individual to set a problem and then thousands of research-hours to realise that the solution is fraud. Zip back now to Palestine 2000 years ago, when there were no researchers. . . .The theistic framework doesn't even make it to first base in the methodology stakes.
I sympathize with what you are saying, and I have an inverse concern. Even if the New Testament portrait of Jesus is true (as I have come to believe), there are so many ways that the evidence for it could be obfuscated and equivocated. How can one ever get past the uncertainty and the layers of just-so stories lain down by the skeptics? While there may be no smoking-gun argument against it (and there have been centuries to try), being distant history, it still leaves persons wiggle-room for their doubt. For this reason, one may start by affirming that the testimony of Scripture and the church Fathers is all in order and is reasonable as far as it goes (assuming one will grant the premise that a God could exist to make sense of it all), and then move on to look at other factors in life and the cosmos that the claims of Scripture would serve to make sense of.

I am also increasingly convinced that the doctrine of the illumination of the Holy Spirit is epistemologically necessary in order to overcome both the predisposition not to believe such a thing and the difficulties in knowing with any kind of certainty that it is so. It is not that I think it unreasonable, or contrary to all the indicators to be found in life, (indeed, the more I look, the more astonishingly plain it becomes); it is that things like data, perceptions, beliefs, and biases are so philosophically and psychologically complex, and most persons are so unaccustomed to thinking carefully, that I am amazed that so many people come to the same conclusion I do about Christianity, or, more accurately, that I have separately come to conclude that classical Christianity is true.

Ultimately, I don't think that there is a problem with the theistic "methodology" in this area. I simply think that it is a matter of the natural complexities of dealing with history and recorded testimonies. It is a different kind of science than mathematics and chemistry, which does not reduce well to formulas and repeatable experiments.
You KNOW the truth already, so it is obviously true that the heavens declare his glory, you just have to articulate how it declares it well enough and we will get it.
I agree in general that people often simply shape the facts (some facts anyway) to fit their preferred truths, but the funny thing here is that the very thing that set me on the road to Christianity was the teleological and cosmological arguments. In a very real sense, the heavens did declare the glory of God to me. And I am not alone in this: Antony Flew is but a recent example of an antagonist of Christianity whose skepticism has been eroded by the design argument. It is a fiction that every Christian begins his life as such and simply rationalizes his way through it.
You cannot start from a position of knowing god loves you, deduce the way cosmology must play out if this is the case (brilliantly I must say) and expect that it will be credible that you are swimming with the current of evidence.
I think there is a compliment in there, and the fact that you seem to believe that I am doing a plausible job of weaving my tale means that I am at least not being irrational. Perhaps my premise is ultimately untrue, but it is at least consistent with the data that I am presenting.

And isn't this how science works? Does it not test the data against its hypotheses? It is not so important where those hypotheses originate, but it cannot be said to be a respectable theory if it does not have explanatory and predictive power. I suggest that theism does so; it simply does not pass your explanatory filter.
I think that there are many processes in the universe that are observable that give rise to structure through blind algorithmic processes. Like the formation of a snowflake.
You are right; though you assume they are "blind" processes and not the regular, orderly, direct actions of God to sustain the universe (but that's another discussion). This is indeed a remarkably ordered universe, which is invested with a great deal of potential by its very forces, material, and constants. But this is one of the very things that begs for an explanation!
So wouldn't it be more honest to admit that the generation of universes better fits this analogy than the analogy of being designed? Surely I have legitimate epistemological objections to the validity of postulating a designer as a solution, since all of a sudden we are going the wrong way in terms of explanatory gradient if we do that.
It is an unjustified leap to assume that some "natural" and law-driven process, like we see within this universe, is the very thing that brought those laws into being in the first place. I think that when you get to the point of originating causes, all bets are off.

I would also say that we could look at the analogy of "mind," which we also see examples of in this universe, and make an analogical connection between that and the effect of the universe itself. Since mind is a natural thing, even by materialistic standards (though not adequately explained), is it not a natural candidate for an explanation? Indeed, I have heard world-class physicists propose that our entire universe is nothing more than a computer simulation originating from a prior advanced civilization — this being based on the analogy of what human minds can accomplish in relation to the environment we find ourselves immersed within.

The multiverse hypothesis is not something that suggests itself from anything we see in the universe (like the flight of galaxies suggests the big bang) so much as it is an attempt to explain the remarkable nature of the universe itself without admitting the obvious: that the universe is exquisitely designed because it had a Designer. It is the same as telling someone who has just won the Powerball jackpot for the thousandth time in a row, "It's really not so incredible if you consider that there are an infinite number of worlds populated with people just like you. This was bound to happen to one of them, and you just happen to be that one." I think they could be forgiven if they preferred the explanation that someone purposed that they should always win.

And one last thing: in order to avoid personalizing the "cause," you are willing to compound your entities to require infinite universes and at least one, grand universe-barfing machine. How this "machine" is constructed such that it spawns universes, and why we should believe that each one must be purely random in its physical laws (so as to yield fortuitous order in at least one) I do not know. Nor am I certain how we would ever know such things; it will always be a matter of faith to those committed to materialism. A theistic cause is at least a premise which has hope of secondary support within the cosmos — the Causer may choose to get involved after the fact.
The vast majority of structure we see in the world is not overtly designed (unless you want to beg the question). It is the result of the iterative application of simple rules. A designer is more likely, by analogy from what we observe, to be a product of such processes than a cause.
Since the vast majority of what I "see in the world" is its surface, which is dense with biological strata, I would have to take issue with this. That is because biology is not merely "the result of the iterative application of simple rules," like gravity forming stars from molecular clouds or molecular attractions forming crystals; biochemistry, according to naturalistic theory, is the product of random chance applied to supposed chemical processes. For example, while there may be repeatable chemical pathways to the formation of some amino acids, there are no biochemical rules or pathways that inevitably result in amino acids lining up in polypeptide chains (like Na Cl lines up into crystalline structures) short of the aid of a ribosome working at the direction of the DNA. Nor are there any known laws of physics which would invest chemicals with information content. Finding such pathways and processes is the holy grail of evolution, and since that is the very foundation upon which it depends, I do not know why we should find it plausible (even ignoring its other faults) until such time as it does so.

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14 Comments:

At 7/23/2006 9:36 PM, Blogger beepbeepitsme said...

"Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it, you'd have good people doing good things and evil people doing bad things, but for good people to do bad things, it takes religion." Steven Weinberg

 
At 7/24/2006 8:15 AM, Blogger Paul said...

And just exactly how do you define "good" and "evil," and from whence do such things as morality and "human dignity" arrive if not your own preference or imagination? If you have no answer to offer which is binding upon me, then my religion is as "good" as your atheism.

 
At 7/25/2006 8:01 PM, Blogger Psiomniac said...

Paul,
There is a lot to respond to in what you have said. I may have to break my answers into several posts.
You said:
I think that some of the problems faced by science at this juncture in the road are not just quantitatively different than it has addressed thus far (like learning more about physics and chemistry so we know how stars work), but qualitatively different (like facing the reason for the very origin of matter and the finely tuned laws that allow things like stars and life to exist).
I'm not sure that you have made the case that a qualitative difference necessarily exists. It seems like jumping the gun to me. I will concede that it is possible that the laws of physics that we know now may not be subsumed by a unifying framework that nobody in our millenuim can dream of but it seems arrogant to assume that this must be the case. Wait though, you said an interesting thing, you said that you can't wait a millenium for an answer. I picture our ancestors in 1000CE grappling with things they could not explain. Why do people fall sick? They couldn't wait for an answer either. So they made some answers up. They are sick because they are possessed by evil spirits or because...well we know they did not and could not have known about bacteria so what were they to do? What humans always do when they have vexing questions to which they need answers that are not forthcoming by rational means. They resort to explanatory fictions.

I have news, theists are right there beside the atheists doing scientific research in every way that you would affirm (e.g., the head of the Human Genome Project is a Christian).
Actually this is not news to me. I personally know scientists who are Christians. But I also know that when they are at work they adhere to the most rigourous methodological practices, whereas if they brought the methodology they use to validate their faith into such a professional arena, they would be drummed out of the lab. I have news. People have a high tolerance for their own inconsistencies.

But if one is tenaciously committed to finding a material explanation for all effects, no matter how many divine fingerprints are found upon it, then one will never arrive at a divine conclusion.
Well I have looked hard and have found no divine fingerprints whatsoever. As I said, the truth doesn't come easy and tenacity is a useful quality in the search for what is really the case.

And do you suppose that scientists are perfectly objective in their methodologies and anxious for their own theories to be refuted? I just recently read the following passage in Nancy Pearcy's book, Total Truth, that speaks to this very issue:

"The famous duo who discovered the double-helix structure of DNA, Francis Crick and James Watson, freely admit that anti-religious motivations drove their scientific work...

This is a common misconception about science. The whole point about the rigour of the scientific process is that it does not matter one jot why Watson and Crick set out to find the mechanism of heritability. What matters is that their results can be replicated and that they have had predictive power. So the point is that the answer to your question is 'yes'. They are objective in their methodologies, that comes with the job. The methodologies are designed to specifically render the motivation of the participants irrelevant.
Well that might be about half way, so I'll sign off until tomorrow.

 
At 7/26/2006 6:45 AM, Blogger Psiomniac said...

No, not close to half way. Well to continue...

How can one ever get past the uncertainty and the layers of just-so stories lain down by the skeptics?

I think your use of the term 'just so' is a good example of dysphemism as mentioned by ephphatha. As you know I regard the objective historical evidence for Christian belief to be weak.

I am also increasingly convinced that the doctrine of the illumination of the Holy Spirit is epistemologically necessary in order to overcome both the predisposition not to believe such a thing and the difficulties in knowing with any kind of certainty that it is so.
This is the clearest indication of the central flaw in theist methodology that one could wish to have pointed out. It is not just that the experimental methods that pertain to, for example, chemistry cannot be used. It is more fundamental than that.
but the funny thing here is that the very thing that set me on the road to Christianity was the teleological and cosmological arguments.
So the thing that set you on to Christianity was a set of arguments specifically designed to interpret cosmological and teleological observations in a Christian context. Your culture is immersed in Christianity in a way that European culture is not. It is tempting to wonder what chance you really stood to attain an objective critical outlook.

I think there is a compliment in there, and the fact that you seem to believe that I am doing a plausible job of weaving my tale means that I am at least not being irrational.
There is a compliment. I have great respect for your clarity and intelligence as evidenced by your lucid exposition. However I'm afraid it does not follow from this that you are being entirely rational. Your account has internal consistency and factual integrity and is therefore a plausible job. Its just that the conclusion you draw does not follow from the rational and factual content of your account in my view, and is thus irrational.
Perhaps my premise is ultimately untrue, but it is at least consistent with the data that I am presenting.
You are right that there is nothing necessarily inconsistent with your premise being true or indeed false given the account you have given. My objection is therefore that it is not rational from this to accept the inference that it is true from your account.
The final section needs more preparation so I will come back to this later.

 
At 7/26/2006 1:20 PM, Blogger DagoodS said...

paul, I have been good and maintained “watchful lurker” status.

One extremely minor point, only because coincidently, I have been contemplating purchasing his book.

I was surprised to see you refer to Dr. Collins, the head of the Human Genome project, and then discuss interpretation of data. How does he help your position?

Dr. Collins is a theistic evolutionist.

He has said, “From my perspective as a scientist working on the genome, the evidence in favor of evolution is overwhelming” and “Outside a time machine, Darwin could hardly have imagined a more powerful data set than comparative genomics to confirm his theory.”

As to Intelligent Design theory, Dr. Collins has said, “A major problem with Intelligent Design theory is its lack of plan for experimental verification. I view Intelligent design ideas as an intriguing set of proposals, but I certainly do not view them as the kind of threat to evolution that its most vocal proponents imply.”

Dr. Collins is harsh as to the God-of-the-Gaps argument, and vicious as to young-earth creationism: “If the tenets of young-earth creationism were true, basically all the sciences of geology, cosmology and biology would utterly collapse. It would be the same as saying 2 plus 2 is actually 5.”

Do you agree with his statements?

I have read reviews of his theistic reasoning which have not been…..complimentary. Even Christians claim his attempts to align science up with the Bible are weak, and actually employ the very thing he decries—God of the Gaps!

If you do not hold to his conclusions in the area of his expertise, why would I hold to his conclusions in an area he is not an expert?

I guess I thought referring to Dr. Collins weakened your argument, because he employed the scientific method (even being a theist) and came up with very different conclusions. Much of your argument can be boiled down to fine-tuning, which is not exactly God of the Gaps, but is certainly at least its First Cousin.

 
At 7/26/2006 7:45 PM, Blogger Psiomniac said...

Now, the final furlong.

You said:
You are right; though you assume they are "blind" processes and not the regular, orderly, direct actions of God to sustain the universe (but that's another discussion). This is indeed a remarkably ordered universe, which is invested with a great deal of potential by its very forces, material, and constants. But this is one of the very things that begs for an explanation!

Epistemologically this is like saying that I am assuming that my internal combustion engine works without the direct action of Piston Pixies. Now before you leap to over extend the analogy Paley fashion and point to the engine as a designed artifact I will return to the ease with which humanity deploys explanatory fiction when an explanation is not forthcoming later.

I think that when you get to the point of originating causes, all bets are off.

Now ultimately, on this point we agree but since we are in the business of discussing the relative plausibility of candidate explanations we must press on.

I would also say that we could look at the analogy of "mind," which we also see examples of in this universe, and make an analogical connection between that and the effect of the universe itself. Since mind is a natural thing, even by materialistic standards (though not adequately explained), is it not a natural candidate for an explanation?
No it isn't. Unless you want to beg the question big time, minds are a very recent fragile evolutionary development and are the result of complex structure but they are not the cause of most of it. Only in very recent times has a tiny fraction of the structure we can observe been directly designed by us. As I said, a far better analogy for a cause is the interaction of blind algorithmic processes which thus far have been described perfectly well without recourse to any 'guiding hand'.

I have heard world-class physicists propose that our entire universe is nothing more than a computer simulation
yes I have heard that one. I regard it as a bit like a modern day Zeno paradox (though not in the same class) we know it is most likely false but it is hard to pin down why.
The multiverse hypothesis is not something that suggests itself from anything we see in the universe
I don't think this is quite right. What we observe informs our mathematical models which seem to work better with many dimensions. We would then have to make the assumption that ours is the only universe in order to fit in with your explanation. What is this assumption based on however? We know one universe has happened but we can observe nothing that precludes others.
it is an attempt to explain the remarkable nature of the universe itself without admitting the obvious: that the universe is exquisitely designed because it had a Designer.
Obvious to some, but like a lot of explanatory fictions, probably wrong. Wait though, why is my set of explanatory fictions marginally less problematic than yours? Well, as you said all bets are off, so whilst the universe could have had a designer this is an argument from analogy. This only really works if you know a lot about each kind of thing you are linking. Otherwise you are in danger of making an analogy like: 'if I put a hole in the middle of this tree it will probably die since that is what happens with people', which is clearly false. Now, we have quite a lot of direct data about the universe but nothing about the kinds of things that create universes. (No the Bible doesn't really give us what we would need). So the basis of the argument by analogy for a Designer is flawed. Supposing we waive this objection and concede that design might have taken place, what conclusions could we draw? Well most complicated things are designed by teams, obviously so was the universe. Or perhaps this is the first draft universe made by an apprentice god and it got 3 out of 10 for design. Perhaps we are being too anthropomorphic though. Spiders make complicated webs without a conscious thought in their heads, so perhaps the creator of the universe is like that; a pan dimensional spider spinning a universe without a thought. You see the problem with analogising?

I think they could be forgiven if they preferred the explanation that someone purposed that they should always win.

And they would be right to prefer it since the probabilty of being in one of those universes where this just happened is smaller than that the lottery was rigged. Unfortunately he anology doesn't work since if the infinite multiverse theory is true there will be some people who can be forgiven but are nonetheless wrong.
Suppose though, that there isn't an infinite number. Supposing some universes arise where the physical laws give rise to black holes. Suppose further that these black holes are the birthplaces of other universes whose constants vary slightly. Then we would get more and more universes from those whose constants are likely to produce black holes in abundance. It so happens that these are universes in which complexity is possible also. An explanatory fiction? Yes. But there are fictions that involve detectives and cars and bridges and fictions that involve pixies and leprachauns and dragons. Which kind are more likely to be close to the truth? The trouble with your fiction is that it postulates something, a designer God, the origin of which is even more difficult to explain than the universe itself. If you want to deploy the move that god is eternal and so has no origin, then you will have a tough time explaining why this move is not available to explain the universe itself and save a step. William here will give you a nice close shave whilst you attempt it if you like.
Of course I have no faith in any of these explanations or in any multidimensional universe barfing machines. Nice phrase by the way. They probably lie outside the bounds of possible human knowledge. I can admit that though since I have no faith in God to sustain.

Since the vast majority of what I "see in the world" is its surface, which is dense with biological strata, I would have to take issue with this.[that it is the result of the iterative application of simple rules that is] That is because biology is not merely "the result of the iterative application of simple rules," like gravity forming stars from molecular clouds or molecular attractions forming crystals; biochemistry, according to naturalistic theory, is the product of random chance applied to supposed chemical processes.
No it is NOT the result of random chance, it is the result of that grandaddy of blind algorithmic processes, namely evolution by natural selection and that is quite a different thing. Yes chance is part of the mix but only that.
Now finally you argued from some of the modern molecular architecture back to the unfeasibility of abiogenesis. This is not legitimate. You also say there are no known laws of physics that would invest chemicals with information content. This is false since the entire science of genetics deals with information encoded within DNA. I guess you didn't follow or perhaps agree with that abiogenesis link I posted last time we locked horns on that one.

Phew, over to you.

 
At 7/26/2006 9:55 PM, Blogger Paul said...

Psio, now I've gone and done it, haven't I? Hope you'll forgive me if I don't get a response out right away. I'd like to start by wrapping up a few other things I've got outstanding, like our conversation over in Sam's blog for one. Till then...

 
At 7/27/2006 4:29 PM, Blogger Paul said...

Dagoods,

Good catch! You didn't disappoint me, since I kind of expected you to be the one to raise this issue. You see, it wasn't until after I compiled this post that I discovered that Collins was a theistic evolutionist. I came within inches of switching to a different name. Actually, I should have on other grounds, since Collins works in the area of genetics and not astrophysics, which is more germane to my present area of focus. Perhaps I should have picked one of these names (warning: PDF), instead, if I were going to go with those in the sciences who took issue with evolutionary theory. (BTW, please don't send me a link to the "evolutionists named Steve" list. That would do nothing against my original point.)

To answer your questions: No, I do not agree with his theistic evolutionary viewpoint. And, yes, I do believe that it suffers from cognitive dissonance. And, yes, I do presently believe that the Young Earth Creationist position is incorrect. However, I do not believe that an old earth = evolution as some presume.

As to your god-of-the-gaps comment... I believe that argument has outlived its usefulness. I have at least two problems with it. 1) It is basically the same thing as saying that science = methodological naturalism, and that theists lose because they are appealing to a supernatural cause which is completely out of bounds in such an inquiry. Sorry, but that seems circular to me.

2) I do not appeal to God to fill in the gaps of my ignorance; I appeal to God because of the scientific knowledge that we have gained in recent years. You can't say that simply because scientists are still having a go at the reasons and causes for certain phenomenon that the theists must automatically shut their mouths until all scientists have thrown their hands up in despair. That will never happen, and there will always be some wild theory in play — testable or not.

However, do not mistake me for rejecting some form of soft methodological naturalism. I have no qualms with looking for "natural" causes for various phenomenon, especially since I believe in a God of law and order. And you materialists are free to continue looking for your causes to the absolute ruddy end. It is your theory and you are free to explore it. I just feel no obligation to accept it while it continues to be unproved at most of its foundational points, and especially since I find few materialists who are even capable of living and thinking consistently with their own worldview.

 
At 8/03/2006 12:21 PM, Blogger Paul said...

Psio,

I will concede that it is possible that the laws of physics that we know now may not be subsumed by a unifying framework that nobody in our millennium can dream of but it seems arrogant to assume that this must be the case.

Two difficulties here that are problematic, in principle, from a materialist perspective. 1) The laws of physics are a part of the universe that you observe, test, and make theories about, but all of this has a point of origin. You can't explain the universe and its related laws by appealing to those laws. 2) Even presuming we could find some explanation for how the universe came to be as it is, it still does not explain why it had to be this kind of universe as opposed to one of the trillions of other slightly or radically different ones that could not support order and complexity.

you said that you can't wait a millennium for an answer. I picture our ancestors in 1000CE grappling with things they could not explain. Why do people fall sick? They couldn't wait for an answer either. So they made some answers up. They are sick because they are possessed by evil spirits... They resort to explanatory fictions.

First, I'm not sure what you are suggesting they should have done. I can imagine some chieftain saying, "Let us sit here and believe nothing and die like men until that great day when we know with certainty the cause of our ills." Sure people can be wrong, but investments are made and criminals are convicted every day in spite of the chances of being wrong. And if there indeed is a God who is concerned for me, He will surely judge me upon the knowledge I have at hand.

Second, science and secularism are not immune to their own "explanatory fictions," and many of the places where science has fallen flat on its face have been as a result of the application of a materialistic worldview, e.g., spontaneous generation of life, calling dozens of vital organs "vestigial," the Steady State theory of cosmology, racism based on Darwinian assumptions, and "Junk DNA."

I personally know scientists who are Christians. But I also know that when they are at work they adhere to the most rigourous methodological practices, whereas if they brought the methodology they use to validate their faith into such a professional arena, they would be drummed out of the lab.

What, you mean if they brought in their presupposition that God is the author of law and order, upon which they base their confidence in science? Systematic science did not arise in the Christian west for nothing (the connection being noted by secular historians). I think what you mean by a "Christian methodology" is that we are free to throw out the goddunnit card whenever we get stumped. Again, I concede, as do most theist, a form of soft methodological naturalism, but you are arguing that science = naturalism, which is arguing from your conclusion.

Well I have looked hard and have found no divine fingerprints whatsoever.

No, you've surely seen them, but you prefer mystery, ignorance, and naturalistic explanations. If you die tomorrow and meet Jesus, you will know in an instant where you have filled in the blanks with the wrong answers.

The whole point about the rigour of the scientific process is that it does not matter one jot why Watson and Crick set out to find the mechanism of heritability. What matters is that their results can be replicated and that they have had predictive power.

The problem is, what these fellows discovered kind of throws a wrench into the works. They discovered not only that the cell is far more complex than that "blob of protoplasm" that Darwin and company thought, but that life has information content. For every supposed step forward that evolutionary science makes it seems to take ten steps backwards. It is the distaste for theism that drives fellows like Watson and Crick to imagine that they have achieved some great victory against it, and to prefer esoteric explanations when their naturalism runs up against roadblocks (e.g., Crick's proposal of directed panspermia in his book, "Life Itself: Its Origin and Nature").

But you're right, I don't mean to be guilty of the genetic fallacy. I only meant to point out that theists are not any more "biased" than non-theists. But then you continue on to say:

They are objective in their methodologies, that comes with the job. The methodologies are designed to specifically render the motivation of the participants irrelevant.

And to this I would say first that insisting on methodological naturalism — the only methodology that you want to call scientific — is itself a bias. And second, I would have to hearken back to the earlier point about making the facts fit your pet theories, and scientists are most certainly not immune to such things. Scientific axioms die a hard death, especially when it means overturning your entire worldview.

I said: "I am also increasingly convinced that the doctrine of the illumination of the Holy Spirit is epistemologically necessary in order to overcome both the predisposition not to believe such a thing and the difficulties in knowing with any kind of certainty that it is so."
You said: "This is the clearest indication of the central flaw in theist methodology that one could wish to have pointed out. It is not just that the experimental methods that pertain to, for example, chemistry cannot be used. It is more fundamental than that."


Hmm... I not sure where you got a methodology out of that statement. I was not advocating belief merely based on feelings. I was only making a commentary on the difficulties of forming beliefs in general, especially where it pertains to something as complex and bias-laden as religion. I continue to believe that Christianity is perfectly reasonable and can be defended on an objective basis, so long as methodological naturalism does not hold a monopoly on truth and the means of arriving at it.

So the thing that set you on to Christianity was a set of arguments specifically designed to interpret cosmological and teleological observations in a Christian context. Your culture is immersed in Christianity in a way that European culture is not. It is tempting to wonder what chance you really stood to attain an objective critical outlook.

You seem to be suggesting that you are in the position of the objective observer. I might conversely suggest that your culture is so steeped in secularism that you are unable to see the weight of the design argument. Are you not also a product of your own culture? But let's not sink back into the genetic fallacy that you are so keen for me to avoid.

And besides, I would beg to differ that the presentation of cosmology was offered to me in a Christian context. It was not in my church that I learned about physics and astronomy. I learned it from fellows like Isaac Asimov and Carl Sagan, who were poster-children for materialism, and from my purely secular astronomy classes in college. Unfortunately, none of these sources spent very much time pointing out all of the details and the implications of the science, e.g., that we would never even have celestial objects forming or complex chemistry if not for the precise values of the forces and constants. The big bang always suggested something very fishy to me, though my imagination pushed that aside, but it was not until I was exposed to some material by a Christian astrophysicist that I began to see the connections and the implications. And when I began to realize that the data he was presenting was affirmed by his secular colleagues I realized that atheism vs. theism was not so much about the evidence as about the conclusions and the limitations placed upon the formation of those conclusions.

I have great respect for your clarity and intelligence as evidenced by your lucid exposition. However I'm afraid it does not follow from this that you are being entirely rational. Your account has internal consistency and factual integrity and is therefore a plausible job. It's just that the conclusion you draw does not follow from the rational and factual content of your account in my view, and is thus irrational.

I thank you for your compliment, which is doubly flattering coming from one who disagrees with me at such a profound level. However, I take issue with your use of the word "irrational" to describe my position, and if you lookup this word in a thesaurus you will see why (e.g., incoherent, unstable, ridiculous, reckless, demented). There is a difference between being wrong and being "irrational." I can accept that you believe I haven't taken all of the data into account or that I have put it together incorrectly.

And before I continue I should probably clear something up. It was not my intention to prove the existence of God with this series of blog entries. Even assuming I get around to doing the fourth post, where I put the icing on the cake, I do not expect it to be a slam-dunk argument for the need of a designer. Even if I made a reasonable argument for design from, say, statistical probabilities it will likely not be a subjectively winning case, since our remaining ignorance of cosmology and imagination are ready allies in the defense against certain conclusions. Personally, I find the Anthropic Principle in the area of the laws of physics to be far more of a direct challenge to atheism.

[I suggested that if you want to appeal to the world that you see for your explanations for the existence of this world, and if "mind" is a part of that world, then perhaps mind could be reasonable candidate for a cause. You said:] No it isn't. Unless you want to beg the question big time, minds are a very recent fragile evolutionary development and are the result of complex structure but they are not the cause of most of it. Only in very recent times has a tiny fraction of the structure we can observe been directly designed by us. As I said, a far better analogy for a cause is the interaction of blind algorithmic processes which thus far have been described perfectly well without recourse to any 'guiding hand'.

You seem to be suggesting that the only possible explanation can be the simplest, most elemental things upon which our own universe is built. But I think it is reasonable to think that a cause must be at least as great as the effect. Also, perfectly describing the blind processes does nothing toward explaining their origin and why they must be as they are. And I still think you cannot appeal to the "processes" observed within the universe in order to explain the cause of those processes.

I said: "The multiverse hypothesis is not something that suggests itself from anything we see in the universe."
You said: "I don't think this is quite right. What we observe informs our mathematical models which seem to work better with many dimensions. We would then have to make the assumption that ours is the only universe in order to fit in with your explanation. What is this assumption based on however?"


Perhaps you are speaking of String Theory. Unfortunately, the extra dimensions that it suggests are dimensions that are part of OUR universe — and not necessarily ones that still remain in any case. If the residents of Flatland heard rumor of a third dimension, it would not justify thinking that there were OTHER three-dimensional worlds.

We know one universe has happened but we can observe nothing that precludes others."

With that methodology I could introduce any explanation at all. I can observe nothing that precludes the universe flying out of a monkey's butt. However, I have no reason to include that explanation unless the universe happened to smell of ... monkey buttness. All we do observe is that this universe smells of order and design.

Now, we have quite a lot of direct data about the universe but nothing about the kinds of things that create universes. (No the Bible doesn't really give us what we would need). So the basis of the argument by analogy for a Designer is flawed. Supposing we waive this objection and concede that design might have taken place, what conclusions could we draw? Well most complicated things are designed by teams, obviously so was the universe. Or perhaps this is the first draft universe made by an apprentice god and it got 3 out of 10 for design. Perhaps we are being too anthropomorphic though. Spiders make complicated webs without a conscious thought in their heads, so perhaps the creator of the universe is like that; a pan dimensional spider spinning a universe without a thought. You see the problem with analogising?

First, I would say that the Bible certainly does give a good bit of data that is relevant here, and interestingly consistent, e.g., God being outside of nature, outside of time, omniscient and omnipotent, etc. However, appealing to Scripture is outside of the scope of the design argument, and I will admit that the Cosmological and Teleological Arguments can only get you so far. But I think you can make certain assumptions by looking at the effect. Since the universe is tuned for complexity and order, it is insufficient to posit a random or mindless cause that does not explain that order. Your spider analogy is a reasonable rejoinder, but the problem with that is that the spider is profoundly more complex than its web and its "mindless" action is dependent upon sophisticated programming (instinct) that must itself be explained. Of course, you will appeal to evolution, but I will take issue with that (which is another topic), though I would have you ask yourself where the instruction set for web weaving is to be found in the DNA.

[regarding my lottery analogy:] And they would be right to prefer [the rigged lottery explanation] since the probability of being in one of those universes where this just happened is smaller than that the lottery was rigged. Unfortunately the analogy doesn't work since if the infinite multiverse theory is true there will be some people who can be forgiven but are nonetheless wrong.

No, the probability would be 100 percent. It would only seem remarkable because they happened to be the person to whom it happened. Probabilities only apply when you are picking winners before the event. It is true that they would be wrong if there happened to be an infinite number of universes, but I am trying to impress upon you the story that the multiverse theory is imposing upon me and expecting me to swallow. There is no reason the lottery winner should be expected to believe in the multi-lottery theory unless she is shown evidence of the other lotteries. And simply getting very lucky is not reason enough to believe that they MUST exist.

Please at least see what materialism is expecting me to believe: luck and infinity at every turn. It gets even worse when it comes to evolution, since it is built upon the idea that chance can produce miracles without fail, quadrillions of times in the history of the earth (or whatever the sum total of all beneficial mutations for all unique species is). I know you think that theism is expecting you to believe something remarkable as well, but more on that later.

Supposing some universes arise where the physical laws give rise to black holes. Suppose further that these black holes are the birthplaces of other universes whose constants vary slightly. Then we would get more and more universes from those whose constants are likely to produce black holes in abundance. It so happens that these are universes in which complexity is possible also....

I know that you are just offering this as a possible alternative to make plausible the idea of a naturalistic solution, but I cannot resist pointing out how it fails at several levels. First, black holes are objects within the host universe else they would not continue to exert gravity and emit energy. Second, the contents of a black hole cannot amount to any more than the sum total of the universe in which it exists (that is, if the whole universe collapsed into it). The largest black holes in this universe only contain enough material to make an average sized galaxy.

But one of the biggest problems is with the idea of generating other universes with random forces and constants. It seems highly problematic to think that natural laws and processes would, firstly, produce other physical laws and, secondly, do so randomly. We can trace the laws that cause things like supernova, neutron stars, and black holes to form, but suggesting that the output of a universe-barfer is random and unrepeatable based on some natural process seems to break the continuity of nature that you wish to maintain.

... An explanatory fiction? Yes. But there are fictions that involve detectives and cars and bridges and fictions that involve pixies and leprechauns and dragons. Which kind are more likely to be close to the truth? The trouble with your fiction is that it postulates something, a designer God, the origin of which is even more difficult to explain than the universe itself. If you want to deploy the move that god is eternal and so has no origin, then you will have a tough time explaining why this move is not available to explain the universe itself and save a step. William here will give you a nice close shave whilst you attempt it if you like [a reference to Occam's Razor]. Of course I have no faith in any of these explanations or in any multidimensional universe barfing machines. Nice phrase by the way. They probably lie outside the bounds of possible human knowledge. I can admit that though since I have no faith in God to sustain.

Now I think we've gotten to the heart of the debate. We both agree that there is something fishy going on here that needs an explanation. You also seem to admit that there just isn't an explanation available, or at least one that is subject to confirmation (and perhaps could ever be). All we know with certainty is that the universe began to exist and that this universe is a very remarkable one.

I am open to a personal explanation while you prefer to keep it to the "natural." In fact, I would say that you are maintaining a "faith" in an unknown and unseen naturalistic explanation — that one exists and might possibly be found in the future — and your entire worldview rides upon that premise. I believe I understand your rationale for appealing to the natural, and on the surface I would say it is a reasonable one. However, let me offer several thoughts in opposition to a "natural" solution.

A naturalistic explanation depends upon the idea of an infinite regress of causes back into the infinite mist of time. This leaves you with deep philosophical problems. For example, how do you ever get to NOW on an infinite timescale: You cannot count from zero to infinity; how can you count from negative infinity to zero? You need to break out of the constraints of natural causes and time in order to escape the problem of infinities. The God of Christian theism is the right kind of thing to do so.

Occam suggested that you should not compound entities when proposing solutions. Infinite universes and causal agents versus one universe and one Causer seems to violate the spirit of that.

If there is indeed just one universe (which is all we have evidence of), then the theistic solution seems to me the most "probable" one. If you were merely explaining the universe itself as the theist is, then we might have an apples-to-apples comparison of viable explanations. As it is, the multiverse theory is a form of non-explanation of the universe; its existence is merely brushed off due to the omnipotent power of randomness. Again, I appeal to the lottery analogy where the "natural" explanation is to tell the thousandfold winner, "Nuthin' to explain. You're just the lucky one." Surely it is at least equally reasonable to appeal to something that purposed the outcome.

A personal agent has explanatory power not only for the task of creating and designing the universe, but additionally makes sense of so many of the troubling things we find within the universe itself. I am tempted to rattle off dozens of such things that theism resolves, but you will surely shrug off every one as either mystery to be explained by future science or as illusion and fiction because they do not fit into your secular framework. But for me, I find that theism is a plausible solution to the cosmological problem because it is also a consistent and plausible solution to so many of the other mysteries of life that are both important to most humans and which science sometimes cannot even touch in principle.

No [biochemistry] is NOT the result of random chance, it is the result of that grandaddy of blind algorithmic processes, namely evolution by natural selection and that is quite a different thing. Yes chance is part of the mix but only that.

I'm afraid I have to disagree with you here. Natural selection is a part of it — a part that I do not reject — but there is nothing to "select" if there is not an agent of change in the organism. And that agent is genetic mutation, which is driven by random forces, e.g., copy errors and molecular corruption. This is hardly a meaningful algorithmic process. I may just as well write my computer programs by randomly changing bytes and then testing to see if my code has improved.

Now finally you argued from some of the modern molecular architecture back to the unfeasibility of abiogenesis. This is not legitimate.

Not following you here.

You also say there are no known laws of physics that would invest chemicals with information content. This is false since the entire science of genetics deals with information encoded within DNA.

You're not making any headway here. Pointing out that there IS information content in the cell is in no way an explanation for how it came to exist. Genetics is nothing more than the unraveling of the meaning of this information and how it relates to biochemical systems. While they may have some interesting theories on how stretches of DNA might change, this is no explanation for the origin of DNA itself.

I guess you didn't follow or perhaps agree with that abiogenesis link I posted last time we locked horns on that one.

I had seen that article before. It is loaded with problems which would require months of dialog for us to unpack, but the bottom line is that it downplays the enormity of the problem, goes beyond the available evidence, inflates the supposed accomplishments, and ignores many of the chemical defeaters to its proposed solutions. And it is still merely playing in the fields of speculation, where one of my main points is that they do not have a solution to the problem of abiogenesis, a problem that seems to get bigger with our increase of knowledge, a problem that caused one if its biggest cheerleader (Dean Kenyon) to bail out. But this is a whole other debate. Here is something you may find interesting reading in the meantime.

 
At 8/05/2006 7:29 PM, Blogger Psiomniac said...

Paul,
I will respond in detail soon. In the meantime I will just take timeout and say we have:

P1: We do not have a complete explanation for the origin and form of the universe.

P2: God did it.

I go with P1 you seem to accept P2. My case is that P1 is self evident and P2 is speculative, as we have seen and will continue to see as our arguments go back and forth. Maybe yours are right. Maybe, deep down, you concede mine might be right, or maybe this is precluded by the illumination of the holy spirit. Or perhaps you concede the theoretical possibility that it is an illusion. So, what is the good reason for preferring P2? Join me in a little teabreak banter.

 
At 8/06/2006 7:14 PM, Blogger Psiomniac said...

Ok, now more detail;
Two difficulties here that are problematic, in principle, from a materialist perspective. 1) The laws of physics are a part of the universe that you observe, test, and make theories about, but all of this has a point of origin. You can't explain the universe and its related laws by appealing to those laws. 2) Even presuming we could find some explanation for how the universe came to be as it is, it still does not explain why it had to be this kind of universe as opposed to one of the trillions of other slightly or radically different ones that could not support order and complexity.

These are not problems that theism solves however since all it does is postulate something even more wonderful and complicated, namely God, which is left without explanation. I think that you are a little hasty in dismissing the alternatives however.

First, I'm not sure what you are suggesting they should have done. I can imagine some chieftain saying, "Let us sit here and believe nothing and die like men until that great day when we know with certainty the cause of our ills." Sure people can be wrong, but investments are made and criminals are convicted every day in spite of the chances of being wrong. And if there indeed is a God who is concerned for me, He will surely judge me upon the knowledge I have at hand.
No, I agree the chieftan would not hae lasted long saying that. But that isn't the point. The point is that he did not have access to the sophisticated tools of logic, technology and experimental design that we do. He had an excuse, we do not. Clearly, history tells us that if you do not have access to, or willfully ignore the proper use of the tools of reason, then you are very likely to be wrong.

Second, science and secularism are not immune to their own "explanatory fictions," and many of the places where science has fallen flat on its face have been as a result of the application of a materialistic worldview, e.g., spontaneous generation of life, calling dozens of vital organs "vestigial," the Steady State theory of cosmology, racism based on Darwinian assumptions, and "Junk DNA."

No, science is not immune. But at least it has a functioning immune system. The main reason we know science sometimes falls flat on its face is, well, science.

What, you mean if they brought in their presupposition that God is the author of law and order, upon which they base their confidence in science? Systematic science did not arise in the Christian west for nothing (the connection being noted by secular historians). I think what you mean by a "Christian methodology" is that we are free to throw out the goddunnit card whenever we get stumped. Again, I concede, as do most theist, a form of soft methodological naturalism, but you are arguing that science = naturalism, which is arguing from your conclusion.

Here I think you are conflating the issues of methodology with the underpinning philosophy. For example suppose scientist A is a Christian and scientist B is an Atheist. A thinks that the laws of physics require a divine lawgiver whereas B thinks that there are laws and we are a long way from figuring out the whys and wherefors of them (we may never) but that there is no good evidence for God. Now, suppose A and B co-author a paper on whether drug X has a beneficial effect for patients with Alzheimers. Whilst they may profoundly disagree on the nature and origin of what we perceive as reality, they will absolutely agree that a randomized double blind placebo controlled trial is the way to go. That is the methodology point and the set of methodologies that science uses has been shown to get things done. Scientist A uses these to validate their faith at their peril. Or at least the peril of continuing belief. I am not sure what distinction you are making by invoking 'soft naturalism'. This again seems to be confusing methodology with underlying philosophy.

I said: Well I have looked hard and have found no divine fingerprints whatsoever.

You replied:
No, you've surely seen them, but you prefer mystery, ignorance, and naturalistic explanations. If you die tomorrow and meet Jesus, you will know in an instant where you have filled in the blanks with the wrong answers.
That's a bit rich, saying I prefer mystery. You seem to imply there is some link between ignorance and naturalistic explanations. This is backwards. Just compare the track records of naturalistic explanations with their alternatives. What you gonna do, pray over your child or administer antibiotics? No, both is not an option in this thought experiment. You gonna catch a scheduled flight to your next holiday destination or catch a flying carpet? Or do the right ceromony and materialize at your destination?

The problem is, what these fellows discovered kind of throws a wrench into the works. They discovered not only that the cell is far more complex than that "blob of protoplasm" that Darwin and company thought, but that life has information content.
Actually, rather than throwing a wrench in what it did was expose the fact that the works are more complicated than we ever dreamed of. None of the explanations offered that meet difficulties have been as esoteric as: 'God did it' though.

I continue to believe that Christianity is perfectly reasonable and can be defended on an objective basis, so long as methodological naturalism does not hold a monopoly on truth and the means of arriving at it.

So, if you reject the only set of procedures that have been demonstrated beyond doubt to get reliable results, you can defend Christianity? Of course. I can also say that God is a ham sandwich wrapped in tinfoil. If you want to criticise this theory, how are you going to do it? Any really effective tools that will strike against the esoteric theology of the sacred lunch will also be effective against Christianity. I'm afraid you cannot have it both ways.
That might be about a third of the way so...

 
At 8/06/2006 7:49 PM, Blogger Psiomniac said...

Part two:

You seem to be suggesting that you are in the position of the objective observer. I might conversely suggest that your culture is so steeped in secularism that you are unable to see the weight of the design argument. Are you not also a product of your own culture? But let's not sink back into the genetic fallacy that you are so keen for me to avoid.

That's a fair point, I apologize.

However, I take issue with your use of the word "irrational" to describe my position
In that case, I withdraw it. Really, this is a technical response to those who say atheism is a faith. If you want to insist on that then we have to distinguish between rational faith and irrational faith. Perhaps I should have said non-rational faith instead.

But I think it is reasonable to think that a cause must be at least as great as the effect
This is demonstrably not the case. The butterfly effect aside, what about the decimal place incorrectly positioned that causes a rocket to crash and explode spectacularly?

Also, perfectly describing the blind processes does nothing toward explaining their origin and why they must be as they are. And I still think you cannot appeal to the "processes" observed within the universe in order to explain the cause of those processes.

You are missing the point here. We are both arguing from analogy, you see a designer, I see blind algorithmic processes as a fitting analogy. That's because from what I observe, mine fits better. You think the opposite.

Perhaps you are speaking of String Theory. Unfortunately, the extra dimensions that it suggests are dimensions that are part of OUR universe — and not necessarily ones that still remain in any case. If the residents of Flatland heard rumor of a third dimension, it would not justify thinking that there were OTHER three-dimensional worlds.

But this is begging the question since it assumes that our multiverse contains only one spacetime locality that renders 3 dimensions plus time as 'visible'. Flatlanders would not be justified in assuming that theirs was the only globe.

With that methodology I could introduce any explanation at all. I can observe nothing that precludes the universe flying out of a monkey's butt. However, I have no reason to include that explanation unless the universe happened to smell of ... monkey buttness. All we do observe is that this universe smells of order and design.

It smells of order but as far as the design goes I get the distinct whiff of blind algorithmic processes.

Since the universe is tuned for complexity and order, it is insufficient to posit a random or mindless cause that does not explain that order. Your spider analogy is a reasonable rejoinder, but the problem with that is that the spider is profoundly more complex than its web and its "mindless" action is dependent upon sophisticated programming (instinct) that must itself be explained.
But this is precisely the problem with postulating 'god' as an explanation. After all, you claimed earlier that the cause is at least as great as the effect. So suppose God is vastly more complex than the universe. This fits the spider analogy. You say that the spider's instinct must be explained but if you ask a theist to explain how god came by any universe creating attributes, he is either curiously silent or will say that god 'passeth all understanding'. Well, in that case, so does my mindless pan dimensional spider. Not a thought in its head but it is brilliant at spinning universes.

 
At 8/06/2006 8:00 PM, Blogger Psiomniac said...

I don't think I will get to the end this session but:

No, the probability would be 100 percent. It would only seem remarkable because they happened to be the person to whom it happened. Probabilities only apply when you are picking winners before the event. It is true that they would be wrong if there happened to be an infinite number of universes, but I am trying to impress upon you the story that the multiverse theory is imposing upon me and expecting me to swallow. There is no reason the lottery winner should be expected to believe in the multi-lottery theory unless she is shown evidence of the other lotteries. And simply getting very lucky is not reason enough to believe that they MUST exist.

The analogy is flawed though. A better one would be to say: 'Hey, I won the lottery, God did it! Oh, wait no actually millions of people bought tickets and they all lost.

Please at least see what materialism is expecting me to believe: luck and infinity at every turn
Well that's the point, if you have a grasp of transfinite arithmetic you can see that luck is not an issue. Its certainly nowhere near as lucky as a benevolent god conveniently always being there and deciding to create everything.
Now, there are some more technical questions ahead so I need to come at those after some sleep. Until then...

 
At 8/07/2006 5:21 PM, Blogger Psiomniac said...

Ok, now I'll try to get to the end!

I know that you are just offering this as a possible alternative to make plausible the idea of a naturalistic solution, but I cannot resist pointing out how it fails at several levels.

You probably should have resisted.

First, black holes are objects within the host universe else they would not continue to exert gravity and emit energy. Second, the contents of a black hole cannot amount to any more than the sum total of the universe in which it exists (that is, if the whole universe collapsed into it). The largest black holes in this universe only contain enough material to make an average sized galaxy.

I think it is more like this, which is a quote from an article about this very same idea: "The original theory of general relativity predicted that when a black hole was formed it collapsed into a singularity. That is, space and time would become so curved here that everything would collapse in to a point. General relativity also predicted that our universe sprung from a singularity during the big bang. But we now know that general relativity breaks down on such small scales as the atom. It is here that quantum mechanics begins to play a part. Uncertainty reigns on these scales. For this reason, physicists have suspected for a long time that the singularity does not exist, because it would be too certain. Recently, this conjecture has been investigated mathematically. This is still speculative, but according to the theory of quantum gravity a singularity is not formed. Instead, space and time do not collapse to a point but rather into a (four-dimensional) tube which opens into an entirely new region of space and time. The singularity "bounces" back out into a big bang. This means it is entirely possible that our own universe was created when a black hole was formed in another universe."
In fact, as I am fairly confident you already know, the black hole as universe birthplace idea was put forward by Lee Smolin, who is a theoretical physicist by trade so you will forgive me if I assume that he might have already thought of your objections. The quote is from this article.
Now, you might seize on the 'this is speculative' aspect. of course, this is all speculative. Its just that this brand of speculation doesn't postulate something greater than that which it is trying to explain in the first place, namely God.

But one of the biggest problems is with the idea of generating other universes with random forces and constants. It seems highly problematic to think that natural laws and processes would, firstly, produce other physical laws and, secondly, do so randomly. We can trace the laws that cause things like supernova, neutron stars, and black holes to form, but suggesting that the output of a universe-barfer is random and unrepeatable based on some natural process seems to break the continuity of nature that you wish to maintain.

I don't think so. there is nothing inconsistent in assuming that once starting conditions are set then these regularities play out deterministically, giving supernovae and the like, but that the starting parameters themselves get 'set' during the formation process. Now, are you really wanting to argue that even though quantum indeterminacy is involved, these parameters will definitely be set to the same values every time?

Now I think we've gotten to the heart of the debate. We both agree that there is something fishy going on here that needs an explanation. You also seem to admit that there just isn't an explanation available, or at least one that is subject to confirmation (and perhaps could ever be). All we know with certainty is that the universe began to exist and that this universe is a very remarkable one.

Deep down, this is what we both know. Apart from the 'began to exist' part obviously.

A naturalistic explanation depends upon the idea of an infinite regress of causes back into the infinite mist of time. This leaves you with deep philosophical problems. For example, how do you ever get to NOW on an infinite timescale: You cannot count from zero to infinity; how can you count from negative infinity to zero? You need to break out of the constraints of natural causes and time in order to escape the problem of infinities. The God of Christian theism is the right kind of thing to do so.

These are the antinomies of time and space. The curvature of spacetime is a better solution than God. This is mainly because God is not really an explanation so much as a cop out. It is really a process of wrapping everything we find difficult to explain into one neat narrative bundle that we conveniently neglect to explain.

Occam suggested that you should not compound entities when proposing solutions. Infinite universes and causal agents versus one universe and one Causer seems to violate the spirit of that.

The trouble with this analysis is that universe barfing is just more of the same, namely universes with variables and constants, which is not in the same league of compounding as proposing a universe creator. That is the ultimate in unsupported hypothetical entities.

If there is indeed just one universe (which is all we have evidence of), then the theistic solution seems to me the most "probable" one. If you were merely explaining the universe itself as the theist is, then we might have an apples-to-apples comparison of viable explanations. As it is, the multiverse theory is a form of non-explanation of the universe; its existence is merely brushed off due to the omnipotent power of randomness. Again, I appeal to the lottery analogy where the "natural" explanation is to tell the thousandfold winner, "Nuthin' to explain. You're just the lucky one." Surely it is at least equally reasonable to appeal to something that purposed the outcome.

A personal agent has explanatory power not only for the task of creating and designing the universe, but additionally makes sense of so many of the troubling things we find within the universe itself. I am tempted to rattle off dozens of such things that theism resolves, but you will surely shrug off every one as either mystery to be explained by future science or as illusion and fiction because they do not fit into your secular framework. But for me, I find that theism is a plausible solution to the cosmological problem because it is also a consistent and plausible solution to so many of the other mysteries of life that are both important to most humans and which science sometimes cannot even touch in principle.

I just think you are a modern day chieftan on this one. The theistic solution only seems the more probable because you have neglected to factor in any improbability of there always having been a creator that is interested in little ol' us. The chieftan's rain dancing troupe had success some of the time.

I'm afraid I have to disagree with you here. Natural selection is a part of it — a part that I do not reject — but there is nothing to "select" if there is not an agent of change in the organism. And that agent is genetic mutation, which is driven by random forces, e.g., copy errors and molecular corruption. This is hardly a meaningful algorithmic process. I may just as well write my computer programs by randomly changing bytes and then testing to see if my code has improved.

I think you have misgrasped the process of evolution here. Let me illustrate how with an example from Richard Dawkins (step away from that genetic fallacy, raise your hands!).
Consider the phrase: METHINKS IT IS LIKE A WEASEL. This phrase has 28 characters. Suppose we wrote a computer program to simulate the monkey at the typewriter scenario, so we could estimate how long it would take the monkey to type this phrase random, at a keyboaord with the 26 letters and a spacebar. How long would it take the program on average, generating strings of 28 characters randomly, to 'find' the target phrase? It turns out, using 1986 technology admittedly, that it would take about a million million million million million years. So much for single step selection of random variation. If evolution was supposed to work this way it wouldn't get very far. But what if we introduce stepwise selection? That is, the program starts with a random phrase, but duplicates it repeatedly, but with a certain chance of random error-'mutation'-in the copying. The computer examines the mutant nonsense phrases, the 'progeny' of the original phrase, and chooses the one which however slightly resembles the target. this becomes the 'parent' of the next generation. How long does it take now? The answer is a matter of seconds and usually within 50 generations or so. Of course this is not to say that evolution has a target or that things are deliberate in any way. (The closest analogue to this is probably all the varieties of domestic dog from daschund to german shepherd being selectively bred by humans but all descended from wolves.) No, the point is that evolution uses cumulative selection rather than the single step variety which you charecterized in your analogy.

The final part of your argument is about abiogenesis. The scientific consensus seems to be that although the problem is not solved, the kind of difficulties that creationists seek to introduce as matters of principle are spurious, and from what I have encountered within the subject so far I conclude that there is nothing fundamental that would prevent a fully worked out theory that does not push the goddunnit button. You complain that science has not worked out the detail, you look at modern molecular machinery without access to the millions of years of precursers and say: 'look how complicated and unlikely it is.' This is just an Argument From Personal Incredulity I'm afraid, and therefore lacks credibility.
Phew! Another long one. Your go, unless you want to do the ethics thing next.

 

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