Monday, March 7, 2011

The Probability of Design

I’ve been going through Richard Swinburne’s and Robin Collins’ versions of the teleological argument for my Philosophy of Religion students recently.  A striking point has leapt out at me.  Both arguments insist that some empirically discoverable features of the universe make it more likely than not that God was responsible for it.  In Collins’ case it is the fine tuned constants and values in physics that make the world hospitable to life.  For Swinburne, it is the fact that there is something rather than nothing, the matter in the world is uniform and subject to uniformities of succession (lawful behavior), and that the laws of nature are relatively simple and elegant. 

In both cases, it is fair to attribute to these authors the view that were it not for the efforts of God, the universe would have a radically different state than we find it in.  That is, the occurrence of physics in a world left to itself is exceedingly unlikely.  Another way to put it is that the non-God augmented or default state of the world is to be nothingness, or chaos.  Call this N)  The default state of reality (without God) is nothingness or chaos. 

It’s this last statement that I find to be extraordinary.  I have always been incredulous about design arguments.  But the more I ponder this idea, the more stultified I become.  What I cannot fathom is how anyone might claim to argue with confidence that N is true.  On what possible basis, aside from a prior (question begging) assumption that orderly worlds must come from God, could one claim to possess reasons that justify N.  I certainly can understand that many people have very strong intutions in favor of N, and that it is a very appealing notion.  But the majority of people have the strong intuition that they can control the physical world with their minds if they just believe hard enough. 

N) is an intriguing claim, certainly.  But I, for one, just don’t have the sort of confidence necessary in my intuitions to proclaim that they are reliable guides to what must be real or not real at the broadest, most cosmic level.  I can’t fathom what sorts of arguments or reasons one might have for thinking that N) is true.  And I certainly can’t fathom being  sure enough about those grounds to rest the weight of a belief in an almighty, supernatural creator on it.  Would you be willing to flip a coin to decide if you have cancer?  And then would you be willing to claim certainty about the result if the flip goes in favor of cancer.  In general, rational people proportion the strength of their conviction that some conclusion is true to the strength and reliability of their evidence.  To believe (or disbelieve) while disregarding the quality and quantity of the evidence one has is the paradigm example of irrational. 

I’m no expert of matters of probability, but here are a few more thoughts that occur to me here.  On objectivist accounts of probability, the way one would gather the relevant evidence to evaluate the probability of X happening giving conditions C is to look at lots and lots of cases where C occurs and then determine the rates at which X is the outcome.  If X happens 90% of the time when C obtains, then predicting or postulating X in some instance of C is a really good bet.  But we can’t do anything like that in the teleological argument cases above. We aren’t able to look at lots and lots of universes that either have a divine designer and don’t, and then compare the rates at which the designed universe are orderly and lawlike.  If we had the data sets, we might be able to argue—in general, we have found that when a divine designer is responsible for creating a universe, that universe is orderly in 92% of cases.  Furthermore, we find that in universes with no divine designer, the odds are less than 3% of order occurring.  We find ourselves in an orderly universe.  So, all other things being equal, we conclude that our orderly universe was most likely the handiwork of a divine designer.  Or something like that.  That’s all absurd, of course, because we do not have, nor we will ever be able to acquire, that sort of data about universes, order, and Gods. 

On subjectivist Bayesian accounts of probability, like Swinburne and Collins are invoking, it is the information that one has and the prior beliefs that one brings to the table that leads one to make estimations of the likelihood of some hypothesis being true given some observations.  Those prior beliefs and expectations, whether they are accurate or based on anything in reality, will generate some subjective expectations.  Given your priors, you will find some outcomes to be quite surprising and some other outcomes to be quite predictable.  On this account, a medieval doctor, if you can call them that, would be quite shocked and incredulous to find out that the plague is caused by a bacterial infection of yersenia pestis (instead of, say, an evil demon possession).  Nevermind that he’d be dead wrong in this, on Bayes’ theorem, if I’m understanding this right, he’d find that hypothesis to be outlandishly improbable. 

So on these estimations of probability, anything, no matter how improbable, irrational, or false it is, can turn out to be excedingly improbable.  Probability here is a function of the information and expectations you have, not necessarily the facts. 

Now back to N).  We certainly can’t agree that N) is exceedingly probable on the basis of the previous account of probability.  We don’t have the information we’d need for that.  Can we even see the way clear to agree with Swinburne and Collins that N) is improbable on the subjectivist Bayesian account?  I can’t really imagine non-question begging considerations that would lead me to agree here either.  


Roy Sablosky said...

Ignored in these pseudo-Bayesian arguments is the fact that no one would ever consider the possibility of the Christian God if they had not already been told about the Christian God before trying to calculate the probabilities of various world outcomes.

You could never find direct evidence for the Christian God by studying the natural world. It was simply made up. This is perfectly plain, and someone as educated as Swinburne is perfectly aware of it. This means that his entire "Bayesian" argument is designed to mislead. It has no other purpose. It is a deliberate lie.

Matt McCormick said...

Thanks Roy. I don't think S is employing a pseudo-Bayesian argument. It's really Bayesian probability, applied to God. But you're dead right--the systematic problem with teleological arguments, and lots of others, is that they seriously underdetermine the Christian conclusion. That is, even if you grant that they work, they fall far short of justifying a belief in the particular Christian God that S and C seem to want to defend. I don't recall what S says about that exactly, but many of them say that the teleo argument is a step in the right direction and that other considerations make it possible to reasonably close the circle. Swinburne seems to genuinely believe and be committed to these arguments, so it doesn't seem fair to accuse him of lying or deliberately misleading.

JSA said...

Hi Matt,

I think Vic Reppert just dealt with this basic question over on his blog. He says, "My expectation that God would keep things regular is a direct inference from the immediate knowledge I have of my own mind (about the only thing, perhaps, that I have immediate knowledge about). I know what it is to have a mind. And a mind that prefers disorder to order is simply not a mind. Hence there is something incoherent about the idea of a disordered and chaotic universe that was made by a mind, but there is nothing incoherent about the idea of a chaotic universe that was not made by a mind."

As I commented on that post, it feels like that argument cuts both ways (i.e. admits that people with minds that seek order would want to seek order that isn't there). But that was just a gut reaction.

Matt McCormick said...

Thanks JS. Yeah, I thought that Reppert would have something to say about this. But the "incoherent" language here is just another way of smuggling in the prior expectations. Calling it incoherent is just another way of expressing one's subjective surprise about it. Reppert is giving some justification, of a sort, here. But it sounds question begging, or just weak. The universe must have had a mindful designer. Why? It is orderly, and mind's prefer orderly things. Why? My mind does, and I have some orderly reasons for thinking that they do. Why? Because it's incoherent for a mind to prefer disorder.

It's also suspect to confuse epistemological needs or limitations for ontological or metaphysical requirements.

JSA said...

I'll concede that Vic's subjective surprise isn't entirely arbitrary, though. Of all the minds we have experience with, almost none of them prefer chaos. It may just be a matter of definitions, though. If we encountered a class of minds that truly preferred chaos, would we even call them minds? We'd probably call them something else.

Matt McCormick said...

I think there are lots of problems with this idea. But for starters: Nor have we ever encountered a brainless mind, or one whose functions are not dependent upon the operation of a brain. So, by similar reasoning, we should expect to find a God brain somewhere too, since brains are spatial temporal things. Second, this position will have to first argue that there has to be a mind similar to my own out there to explain order, but then acknowledge that God's mind is not a temporal or spatial one, it isn't confined to mere propositional or discursive knowledge, it creates ex nihilo utterly unlike our own, it isn't confined to a single perspective in space and time, and so on. In short, this view has to hold that there must be a God because there has to be a mind like mine out there to explain all of the order, but that mind is utterly unlike my mind or any other sort of mind I can imagine. I don't envy the contortions this theist will have to go through to make all of this hang together plausibly.

Garret Merriam said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Garret Merriam said...

While I don't buy N) either (nor any argument from design for that matter), I do think the theist has at least a better case for it than you're letting on.

Consider a slightly modified version of N), call it N'): the default state of any system (without interference from an intelligence) is chaos.

N') is both more general, and more testable than N). We'd have to exclude from our sample any systems for which there is controversy over whether or not there is interference from an intelligence (e.g.-neither side can point to the universe and beg the question in their favor; I'd also rule out appeal to biological systems, since theistic evolution is at least compatible with all the facts). But there are many systems we could look at that would either confirm or undermine our confidence in N'). Weather systems, for example, would seem to confirm N'), whereas crystal formation would seem to undermine it. (Of course, a theist might be inclined to insist that ALL systems are influenced by God, but playing that card would make N') just as untestable as N), and hence shoot this strategy in the foot, so I'll assume they wouldn't be so foolish.)

I have no idea how N') would stand up after an extensive analysis of 'fair game' cases, but it sure seems a more reasonable thesis for Swinburne and Collins than N).

Ultimately, though, I think the tables could be turned on N') (and any cosmological design argument) by asking for an independent means of measuring chaos and order, then asking how the universe as a whole measures up. If the universe as a whole IS chaotic and if chaos is evidence of absence of intelligence, then they're right back to square one.

JSA said...

@Matt -- If I understand you correctly, you're not so much arguing with Vic's inference as pointing out that, even if he happened to be right, it would seriously underdetermine Christianity. Is that correct?

@Garrett -- This is sort of what I was getting at with my "cuts both ways" response. For example, the weather wouldn't be an example of your N', since even atheists agree that the weather follows orderly laws. Maybe my use of the word "chaos" was confusing, since Lorenz, Mandelbrot and others used the word "chaos" to describe an emergent property of large complex systems. These complex systems follow orderly laws, but appear at the surface to be chaotic. Chaos theory does have a mechanism for measuring how ordered the apparent chaos is.

It's hard to imagine anything that we would call a "system" which is truly without any order at all. So I don't know how we could test your hypothesis of a system that lacks order. For example, if we measured a natural system, and couldn't detect a fractal dimensionality or any other sign of order, we would probably conclude that we had poorly defined that particular "system".

In fact, at a very large scale, neither theists or atheists believe metaphysically in the existence of true randomness. So, again, I don't think your hypothesis can be tested. And at the smallest scale, both theists and atheists believe that QM is truly random, but also very ordered -- the distribution of particles in a double-slit experiment is very predictable.

So that's what bothers me about the original argument. We think that we can mentally conceive of a system that completely lacks order, but I don't think we've ever actually found one. Our failure to find true disorder in the universe could be evidence that we live in a universe which is so ordered as to strain credulity, or it could just be evidence that we're obsessive enough about order to find order in anything.

AIGBusted said...

Here's another point that must be made: the prior probability of the world being designed by God is extraordinarily low, in light of the fact the prior probability of God must be exceedingly low.

Think about it: Out of all the possible minds that there are (many being incoherent, insane, of negligible intellect, etc.) how likely is it that a super-complex ultra-information processing mind like that of a God would exist uncaused?

Matt said...

Of course I agree about the misuse of Bayesian probability, but on the general fine-tuning argument, I always rely on my favorite Weinberg quote,

"Even a universe that is completely chaotic, without any laws or regularities at all, could be supposed to have been designed by an idiot."

Patrick said...

I'm fairly certain that this is the methodology, at least in the fine tuning argument.

1. Imagine all logically possible universes that could exist without a God to create them. Count them. Call that Y.

2. Imagine all the logically possible universes that could exist without a God to create them, AND that also have order/fine tuning/whatever. Count them. This set will be a subset of (1). Call this number X.

3. X/Y = the probability that a non-theistic universe will have order/fine tuning/whatever.

This is why in most fine tuning arguments the focus is always on claiming that Y is as enormous as possible, and then sweeping all other matters under the rug by pointing to the size of Y relative to X.

...for the record, most fine tuning arguments I've run across then proceed to totally screw over their own integrity by not using the same technique to calculate the probability of an ordered/fine tuned/whatever universe under theism, but I don't think that's an inevitable failure, just a common one.

Unknown said...

forgeting all the pseodo this and bayesian that if i made a basic mechanical model of the solar system with basic non organic materials no one but no one would believe it came about by random process , thats why i have a problem with the real thing coming into being by a random process

Matt McCormick said...

Thanks for the input, Garret. This is an interesting suggestion, and it's a little bit better than the view I attribute to the teleo advocate. But I think that N' still suffers from a weird circularity:
N'): the default state of any system (without interference from an intelligence) is chaos.

We're not talking about any particular finite system or segment of the universe here, we're talking about the totality of reality itself. Certainly we can find lots of examples of systems that have been intelligently fostered that are not chaotic. Arguing that all such systems are like that is implausible: see Salmon's work on Hume and miracles. Salmon argues that given the abundance of natural, orderly systems, and the high volume of chaotic systems created by intelligences (like war), there's a better inductive case for any particular orderly system that it was not brought about by an intelligence. But back to the circularity: if we try to muster evidence for N' from within the universe and then generalize to the universe itself from those cases, it seems that we're still assuming the very framework of order and probability that needs to be proven.

Matt McCormick said...

Thanks for the input, Martin. But sorry to be a dick: you need to get the basics from 10th grade science class clear. The formation of the solar system wasn't a random process. It all happened by a regular, predictable set of laws. In fact, these days we have astronomical evidence for as many as 500 million Earth like planets in the Milky Way galaxy alone.

Anonymous said...

Hi Matt,
Your blog post reads: "On this [subjective/Bayesian] account, a medieval doctor, [...] would be quite shocked and incredulous to find out that the plague is caused by a bacterial infection [...](instead of, say, an evil demon possession).[...] he’d find that hypothesis to be outlandishly improbable."

In response, I think a Bayesionist would request you finish that first sentence with "... on the hypothesis of bacterial infection, but not on the hypothesis of demon possession" if you want to represent his thinking. However, I suspect it's the not case that the doctor would be shocked by plague on one hypothesis and not the other, since both account equally for the medieval observation of plague if true. Of course, if there were no other independent evidence for demons or bacteria, both hypotheses would arguably have an extremely low prior probability (and cf. Collin's "ad hoc" filter in the Blackwell Comp. to Natural Theology). Historically, however, I think that for any particular medieval physician, the prior probability of demons would honestly have been much higher than that of bacteria, and I think it is the case that such an individual would be more rational in his unique epistemic circumstance to assume demon-possession. (And sure enough, isn't that what they all believed? The most rational people of their age did too.) [Continued in next post]

Anonymous said...

[Continuation of previous post:] I suspect if you were a medieval physician, you'd naively *but rationally* assume the same thing, just like a rational ancient could believe in a flat earth). So this isn't a defeater to the subjectivist approach, and that's a good thing.. the bayesianist approach is something we want to keep in our arsenal. Consider:

Colin Howson & Peter Urbach (in Nature): Bayesian scientific reasoning has a sound foundation in logic and provides a unified approach to the evaluation of deterministic and statistical theories, unlike its main rival.

Robert Matthews (in Scientific American): In recent years, scientists have become more comfortable with the idea of priors. As a result, Bayes's methods are becoming central to scientific progress in fields ranging from cosmology to climate science (Nature, vol 350, p 371). Not bad for a formula describing the behaviour of billiard balls.

E.T. Jaynes: In these old works there was a strong tendency, on both sides, to argue on the level of philosophy or ideology. We can now hold ourselves somewhat aloof from this, because, thanks to recent work, there is no longer any need to appeal to such arguments. We are now in possession of proven theorems and masses of worked-out numerical examples. As a result, the superiority of Bayesian methods is now a thoroughly demonstrated fact in a hundred different areas. One can argue with a philosophy; it is not so easy to argue with a computer printout, which says to us: ‘Independently of all your philosophy, here are the facts of actual performance.’ [Probability Theory: The Logica of Science, xxii.]

Pliny-the-in-Between said...

As a related point about the old anthropic principle argument, the probability that life finds itself within a universe that supports life would seem to be high. Far more convincing of design would be to find life in a universe that cannot sustain life. Then again, this universe is pretty hostile to life as we know it when you get right down to it.

Unknown said...

a genral statement about laws does not really cut the mustard , what specific laws?,where and how did these laws come from? and please dont direct me to someone else you explain it to me unless your faith is in someone else having the answers.

Reginald Selkirk said...

martin.finnegan: forgeting all the pseodo this and bayesian that if i made a basic mechanical model of the solar system with basic non organic materials no one but no one would believe it came about by random process...

Perhaps you recall the anecdote about Pierre-Simon Laplace responding to Napolean on why he had not invoked God in his explanation for something, and Laplace famously replied, "I had no need of that hypothesis."

The something Laplace was explaining was the nebular hypothesis for the origin of the solar system, which was introduced by Swedenborg, developed by Kant, and then by Laplace.

The nebular hypothesis has been improved to accommodate advances in scientific theory and evidence, but the basics are intact and generally accepted in astronomy/astrophysics.

Thus, you appear to be a few hundred years behind in your reading of science.

Unknown said...

reginald - i watched Brian Cox on tv last night explainaing where we all came from ,and he said all that was created in the first instant after the big bang was hydrogen and small ammounts of helium , all the heavier elements were made later in the interior of stars , I assume this is the most upto date scientific information on the creation of everything.
so simplely put hydrogen a colourless odourless gas that given enough time will become humans, and this by undirected random chance .Why do scientist not put this to the test in a lab, we all know why . Nebular hypothesis dont make me laugh.

A. J. Grady said...

Order in the universe and, for that matter, life is just an illusion. Given enough time, any ordered system will breakdown into chaos. This is governed by the fact that disorder, the entropy, of a system is always increasing. Within a disordered system, there are always moments of order, but the initial and final result is chaos. It is natural for the human to see order through cause and effect, i.e. induction, but our beliefs are founded on shaky grounds; our belief that we know anything at all is only probable.

The Atheist Missionary said...

Martin, for a lesson in entropy, take a look at the aftermath of the recent Japanese tsunami. For a lesson in the grace of your supposedly all-loving god, watch the videos of the tsunami hitting Sendai and Minamisankiru. If you can watch that kind of natural fury and still believe in the Judeo-Christian god, nothing will dissuade you of his likely non-existence.

JSA said...

@Atheist Missionary - If Christians had a problem with a God who slaughters large groups of people, they would have ceased being Christians long ago. I fail to see how the example of Japan adds anything significantly above what Christians already have to make sense of in their Bibles and history.

@A. J. Grady - You don't make any sense. You say that "our belief that we know anything at all is only probable". What does that mean? It sounds like you're saying that there is a 51% chance that people end up believing that they know something, and a 49% chance that they end up NOT believing that they know something.

If, on the other hand, you're arguing that our knowledge of the world is on tenuous epistemic grounds (i.e. that we can't know any facts for sure), isn't it self-defeating to base that conclusion on the "fact" that entropy will always increase?

And I honestly have no idea what you mean by saying "life is an illusion". That's just addle-brained. When you say things like that, I don't doubt that entropy may have eaten your brain, or that your intellect may be illusory. But life certainly isn't an illusion.

The Atheist Missionary said...

JS, I can't argue with your comment. I still think the aftermath of the tsunami is a perfect illustration of entropy.

JSA said...

@AM - Agreed. It's not thermodynamic entropy, but it's an illustration of the idea of entropy that is a lot more relevant to most people.

JSA said...

Speaking of ways to interpret the Japanese tragedy, check out this ignorant, reprehensible screed.

Anonymous said...


Tim McGrew has recently written an article that deals with the best way to formulate an argument for an intelligent designer of the cosmos. In it, he tentatively concludes that various elements from Dembski's explanatory filter, the virtues invovled in an inferenece to the best explanation, and Bayesian considerations all should be used. Now, I know that you (McCormick) have long been puzzled about where the probablities for calculating the probability of a life-permitting universe and the existence of God come from, in comparison to the probabilites of life-permitting universes and the non-existence of God. However, that is to frame the question in a manner that would preclude, in principle, any method of finding such a probability. Luckily, we have another way to calculate the probability: In order to calculate the probability of a constant’s being such that it leads to a life-supporting universe, we need to calculate the ratio between the range of life-permitting values and the range of values it might have, whether life-permitting or not. We can assess the range of life-permitting values by holding the laws of nature constant while altering the value of the constant which plays a role in that law. So, for example, we can figure out what would happen if we decrease or increase the force of gravity, and we discover that alterations beyond a certain range would result either in large-scale objects’ ceasing to stick together or else collapsing. That will give us an idea of the range of strength of the gravitational force that is compatible with physical life forms.

Then we compare that range with the range of values that the constant could have assumed. This is trickier, but a simple rule of thumb is to take the range to be as wide as we can see that such values are possible. There may be values that a constant could have which lie outside our ken, but so long as the range that we can see is large in comparison to the life-permitting range, then that constant’s having the value it does is improbable. For some of the constants, like the cosmological constant, the range of life permitting values is incomprehensibly tiny in comparison with the range of values we see that it could have, so that the chances of the constant’s having the value it does is virtually next to impossible.


Kevin Vandergriff

Matt McCormick said...

Thanks Kevin. Interesting ideas. One way to embed one's prior expectations, explicitly or implicitly, is in the construction of these auspicious sounding lists of explanatory virtues, that you mention from Dembski, and the like. And framing those criteria for "good" explanations in general terms can make them sound more objective than they really are, and can make their recommendation of a particular theistic outcome to the argument seem more objective than it is. When evangelists or apologists with a prior conviction about God or Jesus' resurrection, or whatever, come to a topic like cosmology and then, coincidentally start invoking general criteria for explanatory adequacy that also, coincidentally, recommend that their version of theism, or their thesis about Jesus, is the correct answer, I'm quite suspicious. They might be right, but since the cart (God) was put well before the horse (the criteria for explanatory adequacy) I have my doubts. If the best criteria for explanatory adequacy actually recommended that there was no designer and no God that was responsible, would deeply committed advocates like Craig or Dembski actually acknowledge that? Craig, at least, has been very clear that he would not.

More generally, adjusting various constants and forces in nature to get a range of values, and then making estimations about the biophilic possibilities within that range is a HIGHLY speculative enterprise about which there is very little consensus, particularly within the design advocate community. We are far from anything like a consensus among the people who really know cosmology and physics (not Dembski) about the probability or improbability of life in these scenarios. Some recent research in peer reviewed science journals suggests that our previous estimations have been too anthropomorphic, if you will:

So I remain unimpressed by over confident pronouncements from committed and zealous theists and non-cosmologists, particularly ones who have announced that they wouldn't change their minds under any circumstances anyway, that the range of values that permit life is exceedingly small and unlikely, pseudo scientific arguments about explanatory adequacy notwithstanding.

Consider this article just published

Patrick said...

Here's my take on Vandergriff's argument.

Grant that we observe finely tuned physical constants. Grant that the probability of finely tuned physical constants under atheism is very low. Grant that the reason it is very low is because of the methodology Vandergriff used: we counted up the possible range of universes, determined which subset we think will have finely tuned physical constants, and made a ratio.

Now because we are good mathematicians we will do the same thing for the other variables in our probability calculation. First, we will come up with some idea of the total possible set of universes that could exist given an omnipotent universe creator. Then determine which subset of that set will have finely tuned physical constants.

The total possible set of universes under theism contains all of the universes that are possible under atheism, plus every other logically possible universe that could be created by an omnipotent being. For example, a universe where all of the planets rotate because angels push them is included. A universe where bullets don't work on innocent people is included. Under theism it is permissible for a possible universe to have arbitrary physical laws that react teleologically on a moment by moment basis to anything around them. The sky's really the limit here. This set of possible universes may even be unbounded. Whatever it is, its vastly, vastly, vastly larger than the set of possible universes under atheism.

The set of fine tuned universes, of course, is exactly the same under both theism and atheism.

So we do Bayes, and find that finely tuned constants are overwhelming evidence of atheism.

Of course they're still evidence of theism given the assumptions I put in above, but they're also evidence of atheism if you just construct a different Bayesian equation. That's the fun of Bayes, you can't stop with just one.

Thoughts? I'm pretty sure I kept the methodology exactly the same.

Anonymous said...


1) You sound just like Arif Ahmed from Oxford University who also confuses that the relevant probabilities with respect to an inference to design are confined by what is nomologically possible, not what is logically possible. All probabilities become meaningless if you use what is logically possible as your sample, including something as simple as flipping a coin! Such a coin could vanish,it could fly off into outer space, land on its side, morph into a nickel etc.

2) I didn't give an argument for anything per se, I simply explained why the fine-tuning is considered to be highly improbable. The question is what is the best explantion of this apparent fine-tuning? To answer that you have to give an argument: you can't simply affirm as you did, without begging the question, that atheism is just as probable as theism given the fine-tuning of the universe.

3) Collins argues that the fine-tuning is significantly more probable on theism that it is on atheism: Pr (FT/T) >> Pr (FT/ASU). Therefore, the observed fine-tuning confirms the hypothesis of theism.

On this version of the argument, it doesn't seem that your question is especially pressing. We can calculate the probabilities of other observations as well to see if they similarly confirm theism. Take rainbow planets with fiery rings (X3). Is Pr (X3/T) >> Pr (X3/ASU)? It doesn't seem like it. There's no reason to think that Pr (X3/T) is very high or that Pr (X3/ASU) is very low—unless you're thinking it to be naturally impossible, in which case such a miraculous phenomenon would be evidence of theism.

Anonymous said...

So it seems to me that on a Bayesian approach, one can plug in any sort of observation we have and ask if it's more probable on theism than on atheism, and if it is, then it confirms theism. Computing the comparative probabilities of the fine-tuning of the universe for intelligent life would be a natural thing to do, given that we are intelligent, living beings.

Your question seems more pressing for an argument for intelligent design formulated along statistical lines such as William Dembski presents. According to this theory for detecting design, one looks for the conjunction of high improbability with an independently given pattern. For example, if you're playing poker and your opponent consistently deals himself the winning hand, you will suspect that he's cheating, not simply because of the high improbability of the sequence of cards he gets (any sequence is equally improbable!), but because that highly improbable sequence conforms to the independently given pattern of winning poker hands.

As Dembski points out, however, the key factor here is not that the pattern is given in advance ("before the hand is dealt"), but that it is given independently of one's knowledge of the deal. The pattern doesn't need to be given chronologically prior to the deal, so long as it is specified independently of the deal. If we don't require independence, someone looking at the result of the deal can always concoct some game in which the hand dealt is a winner. Such a pattern is "cherry-picked," as they say, to fit the result and therefore is not significant.

Matt McCormick said...

This is all very interesting, and it's very tempting to dive in to the nitty gritty disagreement of it. But I'm serious about the deeper problem. If I thought that the advocates of these types of design arguments could pass the defeasibility test:

I'd be happy to engage. But if their views aren't really defeasible (and we've got a lot of reasons to think that they aren't), then it's not really time spent productively.

My general view here is that the only way to get the sort of high confidence probability conclusions that advocates of the design argument are laying claim to here is by 1) adopting a number of highly speculative criteria about what counts as an adequate explanation, and highly speculative claims about the range of universe possibilities, and 2) assigning degrees of certainty to those speculations that are far out of proportion with the quality and quantity of our relevant evidence. You can get the strong conclusion that the universe must have been designed if you stack the deck in just the right sorts of ways. I'm not surprised to see McGrew, Dembski, Craig, et al stack it like that at all. What I find mystifying is that they can make these pronouncements about the presuppositions and their likelihoods with such confidence (and a straight face.) And surely they can't expect the rest of us to sign on when the house of cards is built on this foundation. And surely they don't expect the rest of us to believe that this argument is what leads them to adopt the theistic conclusion when it apparently had nothing to do with even their own coming to believe in the first place. People, except for a tiny peculiar minority, don't generally come to believe or become religious on the basis of these arguments. I was just reading Plantinga's spiritual history and he acknowledges that he's giving philosophical defenses of the same sort of Calvinist theism that he was taught in church as a child. Should I take that as just a coincidence?

Anonymous said...

Here is what expert Paul Davies says about the community of experts and their opinion on the status of whether or not the universe exhibits fine-tuning: "There is now broad agreement among physicists and cosmologists that the universe is in several respects ‘fine-tuned' for life (Paul Davies, "How bio-friendly is the universe?" International Journal of Astrobiology, vol. 2, no. 2 (2003): 115."
While this doesn't mean that there aren't dissenters (aren't there always), it does mean that fine-tuning enjoys the support of the majority of the scientific community. So, just as you view substance dualists as scientifically ignorant, I am persuaded that your denial of the evidence for fine-tuning is like like being a flat-earther. It is interesting to look at the recent history of atheistic arguments in relationship to the changes in science and what you see is that when science seems to support atheism over theism, atheists are very confident in that science; but when science supports theism over atheism, atheists claim to be very reserved and even skeptical of the current state of science and try to give theists grandfatherly advice to not get worked up over such highly speculative science. That is very dishonest. I await to hear some scientific arguments as to why the majority of experts are wrong that the universe exhibits fine-tuning. Unless and until you can do that, I am siding with the experts.

2) Also, somebody like Collins or McGrew is an EXPERT in formulating arguments. Since you are a philosopher perhaps you could show us what is wrong with their suggested formulation of the Teleological argument. If you are skeptical of Collins' use of confirmation theory, then I think that you would have to be skeptical of too many scientific hypothesis that are accepted today on the basis of confirmation theory, at least if you are going to be consistent.

Why do you think the majority of scientists are wrong in affirming fine-tuning? What specifically is wrong with Collins and/or McGrews formulation of the Teleological argument?

Matt McCormick said...

First, thanks all for interesting discussion on this. I'll probably have to split my comments over a couple of posts:

Do I deny that the universe exhibits fine tuning? Well, there’s fine tuning and then there’s fine tuning. I’ll acknowledge this: We have found organisms that are highly adapted to the physical conditions that presented themselves in the universe. Calling that “tuning” already begs the question. As for stronger claims like the one’s that Swinburne, Collins, Craig, and perhaps McGrew (I’ll consider his argument when he gets it published in a real, peer reviewed philosophy of science or philosophy of religion journal) endorse, I’m much more circumspect. Those arguments appear to implicitly or explicitly endorse strong claims about the improbability of biophilic conditions occurring were the universe left to itself. That is, stronger claims about the fine tuning of the universe entail N), and I’ll slightly modify it to include more: The default state of the universe is to be nothingness, chaos, or otherwise have physical laws that are not biophilic. My argument has been that this is an exceedingly queer claim to make—I have serious doubts about it. And I can’t fathom the non-question begging grounds that design advocates might have to support it. My objection hasn’t really been dealt with as I see it by emphatic restatements of the question begging and dubious Bayesian prior assumptions.


Matt McCormick said...

As for Davies insistence that there is consensus on fine tuning, that’s a bit like the widespread mistake of conflating “Paul reports that some unknown sources claimed that hundreds of people saw Jesus performing miracles,” with “Hundreds of people saw Jesus performing miracles.” These claims of the form “There is now widespread consensus that ________,” coming from Christian apologists and pop philosophers have been consistently exaggerated in the past to the point that we are prima facie justified in taking them to be false when they are uttered, depending on the source, of course. It’s rhetorical excess to That’s not how I read Smolin, Tegmark, Guth, Hawking, Rees, and so on:

A passage from
Dimensionless constants, cosmology and other dark matters
Max Tegmark1,2, Anthony Aguirre3, Martin J. Rees4 & Frank Wilczek2,1

The options are:

1. Fluke: Any apparent fine-tuning is a fluke and is best ignored.
2. Multiverse: These parameters vary across an ensemble of physically realized and (for all practical
purposes) parallel universes, and we find ourselves in one where life is possible.
3. Design: Our universe is somehow created or simulated with parameters chosen to allow life.
4. Fecundity: There is no fine-tuning, because intelligent life of some form will emerge under extremely
varied circumstances.

Options 1, 2, and 4 tend to be preferred by physicists, with recent developments in inflation and high-energy
theory giving new popularity to option 2.

Matt McCormick said...

So now I have questions for Anonymous: Do you or don’t you endorse N)? And if so, then what grounds do you have that justify thinking it is true that are not implicitly or explicitly question begging? And given the nature of the subject and our limited ability to investigate the question, isn't claiming that N is true on the basis of our evidence going far beyond what we are epistemically entitled to?

Next question: If an omnipotent God sought widespread belief in himself through evidence of design, could he have made that evidence abundant, non-controversial, compelling, and manifest? That is, could God, if he designed the universe and if he desired that people believe in him by means of evidence for his act of design, have made his designing the universe clear? The answer to both of these is yes. But the paradox is that he didn’t make it manifest, obvious, compelling, or abundant. At the very least, the path to the God conclusion through the design evidence is convoluted, controversial, obscure, and highly contentious even among people who believe. I have to conclude that if there is a God, he did not want us to believe in him by way of the design argument and those that continue to perform these rational gymnastics to engineer one that works are engaged in a perverse project that runs contrary to his will.

Anonymous said...

I read Smolin, Tegmark, Guth, Hawking, Rees. It's funny you mention scientists who all accept fine-tuning as a fact:

Hawking says, "The laws of science, as we know them at present, contain many fundamental numbers, like the size of the electric charge of the electron and the ratio of the masses of the proton and the electron. ... The remarkable fact is that the values of these numbers seem to have been very finely adjusted to make possible the development of life."[A Brief History of Time, Bantam Books,125). He also affirms fine-tuning in his latest book as well.

Martin Rees writes wrote a book wherein he beautifully explains that the universe is fine-tuned called Just Six Numbers: The Deep Forces That Shape The Universe.

Alan Guth has expressed some reservations about some purported examples of fine-tuning but still says: "In response to a question as to whether inflation eliminates the need for fine-tuning, Alan Guth commented:
"As far as finely tuning things, there are still two important fine tuning problems that are not solved. ... The second problem is more directly related to inflation. The cosmic background radiation is uniform in temperature to about one part in a hundred thousand. In order to get these nonuniformities to be as small as what we observe, we have to arrange that certain numbers that describe the underlying particle physics be very, very small, for reasons which we do not, at the present time, understand."
Alan Guth, quoted by F. Hereen in "Show Me God", pg 387.

Tegmark and Rees have researched together to establish concrete examples of fine-tuning: "'Either the Universe was designed specifically for us by a creator or there
> is a multitude of universes - a "mulitverse"... [Max] Tegmark and Martin
> Rees of the Institute of Astronomy in Cambridge, have found that stars and
> galaxies could not have arisen if the original clumpiness of the matter
> emerging from the big bang had been slightly different (This Week, 29
> November 1997, p. 11). And Tegmark has found that only with three
> dimensions of space and one of time is physics both predictable enough and
> complex enough for the evolution of life, while yielding stable structures
> such as atoms and planets (This Week, 13 September 1997, p. 11), "Wherever
> physicists look, they see examples of fine-tuning," says Rees.'

Not familiar with Smolin's opinion on fine-tuning but I would bet he appeals to his evolutionary cosmplogy for the same reasons Tegmark, Guth, Rees, and the like appeal to some version of the multi-verse, namely, to explain the fine-tuning in our universe!

Feel free to bring up some scientists that accept the apparent fine-tuning of the universe. By the way, there isn't anything supernatural about fine-tuning. It just might turn out that the best explanation of the fine-tuning is God.

I like the list of plausible explanations you borrowed from that article. Which one do you think is the best explanation of the fine-tuning and why please?

Anonymous said...


However, I am more inclined to say something like this: The Fine-Tuning Argument is a good argument only if the Kalam Cosmological Argument is successful. An article I read pretty well convinced me that if there is a successful argument for a personal, transcendent, and supremely powerful of the universe, and we also find these “finely-tuned” conditions for our universe appearing almost simultaneously in the act of creation, then it highly likely that this fine-tuning was the result of the creator as well. Thus, as you know, I find the Kalam Cosmological Argument very very convincing and so that puts me in an epistemic situation different than others for assessing the probability of a finely tuned universe on atheism vs. theism. I would be so bold to say that were you in my epistemic situation, you would conclude the same thing, namely, that given the acceptance of the kalam argument, it is wholly rational to connect the fine-tuning with this instance of creating at the origin of our universe. In fact, this seems like a smart thing to do in general when testing a worldview, namely, develop a cumulative case to explain a wide array of data: scientific, philosophical, historical, existential, and the like.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your questions:

With regards to N: The default state of reality (without God) is nothingness or chaos I don’t want to say I agree with that. I think something more like N* is more likely on atheism than theism: The universe would be governed by laws of nature and have constants and quantities appearing in those laws of nature that would prohibit the evolution of complex biological organisms.

So, such a universe has properties and isn’t nothing, and I don’t find it chaotic because it would be governed by some laws of nature. How do I judge this? Especially in light of your critique and a point made by Keith Parsons, “According to atheist Keith Parsons,
If atheism is correct, if the universe and its laws are all that is or ever has been, how can it be said that the universe, with all of its 'finely tuned' features, is in any relevant sense probable or improbable? Ex Hypothesi there are no antecedent conditions that could determine such a probability. Hence, if the universe is the ultimate brute fact, it is neither likely nor unlikely, probable nor improbable; it simply is.
As Collins points out, Parson's objection is deeply mistaken. It fails to recognize a common, non-statistical kind of probability that some philosophers have called epistemic probability and others have called inductive probability (e.g., Swinburne, 2001, p. 62).

Isn’t this kind of probability to subjective though? Well, there is an element of subjectivity to it, but what is wrong with that? Moreover, as Collins points out: “let me say a few words about the advantages of using PPC. To begin with, it is
practically uncontroversial. So, it is a principle that all sides can agree upon. Second, many
philosophers think that this principle can be derived, via Bayes’s theorem, from what is
known as the probability calculus, the set of mathematical rules that are typically assumed to
govern probability. Third, there does not appear to be any case of recognizably good
reasoning that violates this principle. Fourth, as mentioned above, the principle allows one to assess the degree to which we are justified in inferring to design, instead of such an inference
being an all or nothing affair, and it accounts for the need for a partially subjective
determination of the initial plausibility of the non-chance hypotheses. These are both features
of how chance is eliminated and design is inferred in ordinary life. Finally, the principle
appears to have a wide range of applicability, undergirding much of our reasoning in science
and everyday life, as the examples above illustrate. Indeed, some have even claimed that a
slightly more general version of this principle undergirds all cases of confirmation in science.

Anonymous said...

As to your question concerning the argument from Divine Hiddenness I have the following to say.

1)This argument severely damaged my confidence in the existence of a perfectly loving God for quite some time. I guess John Loftus would be proud of me for forming by beliefs around arguments and evidence rather than the other way around. In any case, I no longer find it to be a convincing argument and an article you wrote had a lot to do with that actually!

As I understand the argument, the real crux of the matter is that the absence of evidence for God is evidence of God’s absence. Michael Scriven has said that the absence of evidence is evidence of absence when two conditions are met:

1) We have looked in all the right places for evidence of the thing under scrutiny.
2) Assuming the existence of the thing under investigation, we should expect to see more evidence of that thing then we in fact do.

For example, we have looked in the right places for Santa Claus, and assuming Santa Claus exists, we don’t have as much evidence as we would expect if Santa Claus really did exist. Therefore, in the case of Santa Claus, absence of evidence is evidence of absence.

Apply this now to the case of God. Have we looked in all the right places? Maybe, but it has only been fairly recently that we have found the kinds of evidence being used today in arguments for the existence of God. Let that pass, assume we have looked in all the right places, I do not think condition two above can be met by the atheist. Assuming god exists, should we expect to have more evidence of His existence than a contingent universe, the origin of the universe out of nothing a finite time ago, the fine-tuning of the constants in the laws of physics, the apprehension of a realm of objective moral values and duties, the radical claims and historical evidence pertaining to the resurrection of Jesus, and the inner witness of the Holy Spirit?! Clearly not. Notice that this point stands even if as you say, these arguments only convince a small number of people, or that they are convoluted because that still means there isn’t enough absence of evidence to constitute evidence of God’s absence. So, we would be left with agnosticism, which as you know (thanks to Plantinga) is compatible with Christianity being true. Before we look at an objection that naturally arises considering my response so far, let me say that I think you are right to point out that these arguments are difficult and the like. So, since not everyone has had access to them, the ability to understand them, and the like, God (the Christian one) has given people an inner witness (or properly basic belief) that has been accessible to all people, at all times, and in all circumstances that is sufficient for producing saving knowledge. God has made it easy so to speak to believe in Him in a non-evidential, and non-propositional manner which you I think would say is necessary, but of course, the Divine Hiddenness argument is asking God for evidential reasons to believe in Him, but maybe that might not be necessary for producing knowledge of God if such a belief is properly basic. However, I am taking the Divine Hiddenness argument on its own terms. So, I don’t think the Divine Hiddenness argument is a good one given what I have said thus far. However, like the bump in the rug, I think the atheist should ask okay well couldn’t God have given us “better” or “clearer” evidence of His existence, rather than all this fine-tuning stuff?

Anonymous said...

In an article you wrote, you claim two things:

1) That the omni-God wouldn't perform miracles at all! and thus you provide your own answer to the Divine Hiddenness argument whether or not I convince you of my answer to it.

2) Any miracle that God could perform would only be consistent with the omni-God's attributes, but it wouldn't demonstrate them. This means that for you, even if God actually existed, He couldn't convince you that He existed no matter what miracles you witnessed. Ironically, your position just as indefeasible as some theists that get on your nerves. How very David Hume of you.

Anyway, that second point of yours really helped me sort through divine hiddenness. So, taking my cue from your work here is what I came up with. The Omni-God has 5 core attributes:

1) Maximal Power
2) Maxiaml Knowledge
3) Maximal Goodness
4) Personhood
5) Singularity

Because the Divine Hiddenness proponent is asking for evidential miracles that would demonstrate the existence of such a God I thought well, what would a maximally rational agent do to convince human beings that it possessed the Big 5 attributes above. Typically, I've heard atheists say God could write in the clouds, perform a booming voice, etc. But as you rightly point out in you article, none of those miracles gets you anywhere close to those Big 5 attributes. Then it hit me, the classical arguments for God are each organically connected to God's Big 5 attributes in the best conceivable way. For example:

Kalam: Maximal Power, Personhood,Singular, and Transcendent

Fine-Tuning: Maximal Intelligence

Moral Arg: Get's you an essentially good God

Resurrection: Get's a specified brand of theism, namely, Christianity

I challenge you or anybody else to think of a miracle God could perform that is evidentially tied closer to each of the Big 5 attributes of God than the evidence we in fact do have. Things like skywriting, booming voices, and the like just don't cut it.

Matt said...

The universe is fundamentally finite. Any argument using the universe as it's basis, be it cosmological or teleological, cannot give you omniscience nor omnipotence. A finite thing cannot lead to the conclusion of infinite power or knowledge.

The amount of mental gymnastics necessary to make a moral argument "work" or be consistent with what we observe and the proposed properties of God seriously undermine any sort of conclusion that can be drawn from them. In many cases there are very creative "shifts" of what is defined as morally good (Plantinga). In other cases (CORNEA), the claim that no evil is gratuitous is fairly easily shown to be untenable, if not blatantly inconsistent.

Craig's Kalaam argument has been shown to be flawed and based on faulty reasoning. His claim that actual infinites cannot exist, for example, is false. His secondary conclusion that only a personal God could have created the universe is very questionable as well.

Teleological arguments make dramatic leaps from "appearance" of fine tuning to claiming that fine tuning is an actual "thing" (vice a perception) that leads to the conclusion of God. Consider: What sort of universe could be observed from intelligent beings living inside it and not be perceived as fine tuned?

The resurrection, as a historical event, has definitely not been proven to have happened to a consistent historical standard.

Lining up four highly questionable, and seriously undermined arguments as the supposed "miracles" that would prove Gods existence is not sufficient. Especially since they do not logically lead to any of the 5 properties.

Matt McCormick said...

Boy, someone sure is excited about his carefully constructed ambush.

Who said anything about miracles as design evidence? Miracles are contra-design evidence; they are violations of the natural order and the biophilic natural laws that are alleged to prove God. My point was that an all powerful and all knowing God could provide us with vastly better non-miracle, design evidence if it was his intention for us to believe on the basis of design evidence. Why does the design argument being advanced here require advanced degrees in inductive logic and the most recent discoveries in physics to prove? Why is it so contentious? Why is it so feeble that a better, more convincing case on its behalf can’t be mustered that convinces anyone except those who already have dedicated themselves slavishly to their belief in God? Oh, I forgot, we are to blame for his shortcomings; the reason that God can’t provide better evidence for his own existence is because we’re too skeptical. An omni-God isn’t capable of making his own existence manifest to someone who dogmatically refuses to accept him. That’s weird, I am perfectlly capable of making my existence, my design capabilities, my goodness, and my feeble power abundantly clear and obvious to anyone I want, even people who might have steadfastly refused to accept that I am real.

Surely an omni-God could do better. The fact that he didn’t shows that your labors to defend the argument are contrary to his will. God wouldn’t need the sort of assistance that apologists are laboring mightily to offer to shore up belief in him. Making his own existence abundantly manifest by means of the evidence for design would be a trivial matter. This list of arguments you list under-determine all of the divine properties; they fall far short of the “best conceivable way” to prove them.

You’ve taken this contentious and fragile argument (you’ve acknowledged how many close cousins of the argument like Swinburne’s fail) from design to be an indicator of infinite power and knowledge in the designer when the evidence for design would be vastly better if an omni-God were responsible. The conflation of necessary and sufficient conditions here reveals the bias. Suppose in the best case scenario that the argument suggests a designer; must we also stipulate infinite power and knowledge in that designer? Only if no other being with less power and knowledge could do it. Omnipotence and omniscience are sufficient to build a universe, but they aren’t necessary. Suppose the designer of this universe could only build one and collapsed from the exertion? What about a being who could build an infinite number of them by contrast? Or a better one? Suppose there are vastly better universes, that have vastly better manifestations of their divine design in them, that are possible, but beyond the grasp of our feeble one-off God? Suppose our universe is finely tuned for life, as you say, but if the designer had been smarter or more powerful, he could have made it vastly more finely tuned in ways that our feeble minds cannot fathom since we were built by an inferior deity? Being able to infer the necessity of infinite power and knowledge from the design argument requires that we be able to grasp the properties and their implications to a greater degree than we are capable. When the skeptical theists contemplate the problem of evil, they are emphatic that we cannot fathom the plans, devices, intentions, or actions of an infinite being, so we cannot conclude that any suffering in the world is actually pointless. I guess that precludes them from endorsing any version of the design argument that requires seeing the full implication of infinite power and knowledge manifest in the laws of nature.

continued. . .

Matt McCormick said...

It is interesting, however, that you appear to be acknowledging my argument that God wouldn’t employ miracles as means to his ends, and then arguing that he’s responsible for the miracle of the resurrection. The other baffling non sequitur here, though, is the leap from “McCormick concludes that miracles are too meager for an omni-God’s actions,” to the “McCormick’s atheism is indefeasible.” I don’t recall arguing anywhere that miracles are the only evidence that can be mustered against the atheist conclusion. I’m quite prepared to revise my provisional conclusions in the light of good evidence; I’m just not as eager to leap to the Christian God conclusion on the basis of such an internally inconsistent story.

Note also that this conjunction of arguments tries to have it both ways: the orderliness and lawlike structure of the universe is employed to prove God in the design argument, but then disruptions of that order in the form of miracles prove God too. It would appear that everything is to the glory of God, and nothing, even in principle, can possibly count against it.

JSA said...

"Miracles are contra-design evidence; they are violations of the natural order and the biophilic natural laws that are alleged to prove God."

This is a very important point.

"Why does the design argument being advanced here require advanced degrees in inductive logic and the most recent discoveries in physics to prove? Why is it so contentious?"

I think you're asking more of this argument than its originators intended. As you're well aware, advanced knowledge of physics and biology have thrown doubt on the "evidence of design" that many people throughout the ages have found to be self-evident. An obvious response to this trend would be to attempt to show that it is not unreasonable to see evidence of design in physics. You can hardly fault someone for using physics to attempt to argue that physics doesn't necessarily refute the design that appeared self-evident before.

Of course, as you say, design is not the preferred explanation among scientists for the apparent fine-tuning. We don't even know if the apparent fine-tuning will remain apparently fine, as physics progresses. But you can't really fault someone for using scientific tools to attempt to show that his hypothesis is not unscientific.

Anonymous said...

I am not sure if you are purposefully tossing out Red Herrings or not(Are miracles best characterized as violations of nature? What is the relationship between a miraculous cause, and non-miraculous evidence? Isn’t natural theology hopelessly underdetermined? Do you have to be a genius to understand the moral argument? Is it God’s will to believe in Him based on arguments and evidence?, etc.), and I have even already typed up responses to them, and I really really want to get to them, but I want to re-establish the focus of our current discussion first.
None of those other topics you have brought up lead to the conclusion that God doesn’t exist. They are interesting side questions that we can get too soon enough but for now let’s re-focus. You are putting forth a version of the argument from Divine Hiddenness to show that God doesn’t exist. You are arguing for atheism.

Anonymous said...

Your argument is something like this:
1) If there is a God (omni-God with the Big 5), he is perfectly loving.
2) If a perfectly loving God exists, reasonable nonbelief does not occur.
3) Reasonable nonbelief occurs.
4) No perfectly loving God exists (from 2 and 3).
5) Hence, there is no God (omni-God with the Big 5)(from 1 and 4).
From your complaints about God not making it “clear” enough that He exists, you seem to be acknowledging that premises 2 and 3 are the heart of your argument:
If a perfectly loving God exists, then it wants to have a divine-human relationship with all of us. If you want people to be in a loving relationship with you, then they first have to believe that you exist. Because of the importance of this human-divine relationship, a perfectly loving God would make it as clear as possible that He existed. The evidence for the existence of a perfectly loving God is not as clear as possible. Therefore, a perfectly loving God doesn’t exist. I find it helpful to get clear on what exactly follows from the premises of an argument. This argument, if successful, would show that there is no God that has all five on the Big 5 attributes in conjunction with one another. However, this argument is compatible with there being a God that has 4 of the Big 5 attributes. Such a God would be omnipotent, omniscient, singular, personal, but less than perfectly loving. However, I agree that this is enough to show that the God of classical theism does not exist.
3 Undercutting defeaters:
There are three unproven assumptions in the case you have made so far:
1) There is some other piece, or set of evidence, other than the evidence we actually have, that would make it “clearer,” or even “unmistakable” that a perfectly loving God exists. Really, what is it then?
2) This yet to be identified evidence would have actually convinced all reasonable people in this actual world that a perfectly loving God exists had they understood it. How could you possibly show this?
3) Reasonable people (Schellenberg defines reasonable people as those people who have seriously tried to find the truth about God’s existence) will always recognize and believe in something if the evidence relevant to some hypothesis is “clear” without any interference from any culpable influences. (As an “unreliabilist” I know you know better than to assume this.)
All three of these assumptions seem to me plausibly false, and you have yet to offer a shred of support for any of them.
Rebutting Defeater:
Worse yet for you, I have offered a rebutting defeater of your claim that God could have made it clearer that He is perfectly loving. The problem with your claim, the reason it is false, is that you have to come up with evidence that is more relevant (either probabilistically, deductively, or explanatorily) to the Hypothesis: A perfectly loving God exists, than the evidence we in fact do have (the apprehension of a realm of non-natural moral values and duties). Whether or not you think the moral argument is successful or not, it does lead to the conclusion that a perfectly loving God exists on the basis of these non-natural moral values and duties we apprehend. I am claiming that there isn’t any more relevant evidence than the evidence we do have, that a perfectly loving God exists. If I am right, then your argument not only has three undercutting defeaters, but a home-run rebutting defeater showing it to be false.
In order to maintain your atheism on the basis of the Divine Hiddeness argument you have to prove all three of your assumptions, and show positively that the evidence we have for a perfectly loving being is inferior to some other evidence God could have given us for that same claim: A perfectly loving God exists.

Anonymous said...

I forgot to include one other undercutting defeater, namely,

You would have to show that once this yet to be identified evidence that is also somehow going to convinces all reasonable people to believe THAT God exists would also lead to belief IN God. A person can believe THAT God exists without believing IN God. It is the latter kind of belief that is required to have a relationship with God. How could you possibly demonstrate this?

Matt McCormick said...

Sigh. . . I suspect that this exchange has gone on long past its fruitfulness, and I don’t detect much interest in undestanding the actual argument I’m making. I wasn’t making Schellenberg’s Hiddenness argument, nor any other direct argument for atheism here, but thanks for the boilerplate lecture from the apologetics handbook—predictably, it’s a straw man. My point was that the fact that the design argument is so difficult to present and defend seems to work against it. Any thoughtful believer who doesn’t seriously reflect on this question and who cannot acknowledge that it is a legitimate issue has been enslaved by the ideology: “If God is real, and God built the universe, why is it so staggeringly difficult to salvage a design argument that shows he built it? Even if some carefully constructed and navigated version of the design argument appears to work, why would God, who surely has the power and the knowledge to make himself evident, bury it or allow it to be buried so thoroughly?” I think, since he’s retreated to some argument from morality to do the heavy lifting, that Anonymous is tacitly acknowledging the point.
I’m going to resist the temptation to go futher since so much of what I’ve said so far has been misconstrued, and we’re fracturing into so many tangential issues. The comments section is really ill-suited to these sorts of far ranging discussions. Thanks for putting so much thought into the question.

Anonymous said...

Prof. McCormick,

I am very interested in the point you are trying to communicate. So as not to committ any more "straw man" fallacies or put forth any more misconstruals, would you be so kind as to clarify in a syllogism what exactly you are trying to point out?

Thank you