April 30, 2009

A Short Response to the “Fine-Tuning Argument” (thanks, Siamang)

Posted in Answering Apologists, Atheism, Creationism, The Universe tagged , , , , , at 12:14 pm by Andrew

I think I was less than clear in my previous post on Francis Collins using creationist rhetoric to argue for the fine-tuning of the universe. That post was not really about the merits of Collins’ argument (which I think are dubious), but about Collins employing tactics that are indistinguishable from those trotted out by the garden-variety creationists against whom Collins still seeks to distinguish himself, including misappropriation of scientific credentials and intentionally misleading language.

With respect to the so-called “fine tuning” argument itself, I’ve noted that the universe is, to 37 significant figures, completely, 100% uninhabitable by humans. It strikes me as a very strange view of the facts when Christians characterize “100% uninhabitable” as “fine tuned for our unique benefit!”

Commenter Siamang makes another terrific point: the fine-tuning argument is vacuous because if the facts were exactly the opposite of what they are, creationists would be able to make the exact same argument! If the constraints of the universe were such that life was incredibly likely, that stars and planets would always form, then the very same Francis Collins-style creationists who declare that the universe is finely-tuned “on a razor’s edge” could make the exact same claims about divine providence in establishing a universe that would always be able to support us. But here, I’ll let Siamang say it, because he’s much pithier than I am:

What I want to know is, if the universe is fine-tuned, Who decided what settings the Tuner had to set the knobs to? I mean, if God was really God, couldn’t He create life in any kind of universe, not just the tuned ones? If God was merely following a recipe, then who wrote the laws that God was following?

I see these as fundamentally flawed competing claims:

[1.] The universe is fine-tuned for life. Therefore YAY GOD!
[2.] The universe is NOT fine-tuned for life, but life exists anyway. Therefore REALLY YAY GOD!

In any universe where life existed, beings using this argument are only extrapolating a God from the fact of their own existence. You don’t need to run this supposition through physics to come to this conclusion. That’s running around the barn to get a tool you’re already holding.

I don’t see a way, in principle, to rescue the “fine-tuning” argument from this criticism.

April 29, 2009

Francis Collins, Creationist

Posted in Answering Apologists, Atheism, Creationism tagged , , , , , at 3:00 pm by Andrew

Many atheists are familiar with the conversion story of the brilliant geneticist Francis Collins; if not, here’s a recap:

Nobody gets argued all the way into becoming a believer on the sheer basis of logic and reason. That requires a leap of faith. And that leap of faith seemed very scary to me. After I had struggled with this for a couple of years, I was hiking in the Cascade Mountains on a beautiful fall afternoon. I turned the corner and saw in front of me this frozen waterfall, a couple of hundred feet high. Actually, a waterfall that had three parts to it — also the symbolic three in one. At that moment, I felt my resistance leave me. And it was a great sense of relief. The next morning, in the dewy grass in the shadow of the Cascades, I fell on my knees and accepted this truth — that God is God, that Christ is his son and that I am giving my life to that belief.

[emphasis added]

Okay, got that? Collins tells us that (a) he was not “argued all the way” into becoming a believer on the basis of evidence, but rather that (b) his personal experiences changed his mind.

Now — as I’ve said elsewhere on this site — I can’t argue with that. Personally, I don’t think I would have had the same reaction to what strikes me as a relatively ordinary experience, but I can’t second-guess Dr. Collins’ personal motivations and conclusions. If he wants to do good science with one part of his brain and accept Jesus with another, so be it; that’s a concession that atheism is a rational response to the world.

But Dr. Collins doesn’t stop there. He doesn’t leave faith as a personal experience, to be divined from a tripartite waterfall or the equivalent; no, he’s got a new apologetic website in which he attempts to “argue all the way” to Jesus. Worse, on that site, Dr. Collins deliberately attempts to use his legitimate and unimpeachable scientific credentials in one field (genetics) to buttress standard schlock creationist arguments in an entirely different field in which he has no expertise whatsoever (astrophysics). This is standard creationist stock in trade, but it’s disheartening to see Collins using the same sleazy tactics.

Think I’m overstating the case? Here, let Collins speak for himself:

There is a law of physics called the Second Law of Thermodynamics that states an isolated system’s entropy can never decrease, it can only increase or stay the same. In other words, all changes in isolated systems lead to states of higher disorder. Therefore, the same must be true of our entire universe. However, it is also known that the formation of stars and galaxies, essential for the development of life on Earth, requires a high degree of order. This implies that the universe was once much more ordered than it is now, and therefore it began with a very low entropy.

No serious astrophysicist would write something that stupid. First, entropy is not really about ‘order’ in the cosmological sense; second, stellar formation is really well-understood (and not threatened at all by the increasing entropy of the universe), and third, the Big Bang model postulates the lowest possible initial entropy of the universe in any event.

In his apologetics, Collins protests that he is neither an ID creationist or a Biblical creationist. Why, then, is Collins peddling a classic ID creationist argument; one that has been debunked for over a decade (including Penrose’s garbage probability calculations)? And notice that when it comes to his own field, genetics, Collins ably refutes the creationists. But he rips a page from their playbook when he pretends to be an astrophysicist and regurgitates stuff you’d find at Answers in Genesis.

I don’t begrude Dr. Collins his personal beliefs; if he wants to be a Christian, that’s his business. But I do wish he’d honor his own reasons and leave it up to the personal experiences of others to affirm or reject, and I really wish he hadn’t crawled into bed with the tactics of the sleaziest creationists in peddling thorough-going dishonest, misleading nonsense.

HT: Pharyngula, of course.

April 28, 2009

Why the Argument from Morality (AfM) Fails

Posted in Answering Apologists, Atheism, Atheism and Morality tagged , , , , , at 11:59 am by Andrew

One of the most popular contemporary apologetics is the Argument from Morality (AfM); William Lane Craig uses it in every debate round, for example. Despite its near-ubiquity, I maintain that the AfM is, on balance, an argument against the command-morality of theism. Let’s dive in:
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April 24, 2009

Bayes’ Theorem and the Argument from Design

Posted in Answering Apologists, Atheism, Creationism, The Universe tagged , , , , , at 12:28 pm by Andrew

Mark Reid has a great article up analyzing the Argument from Design using Bayes’ theorem. The focus is not on whether the Argument from Design is true, but rather explaining how one’s evaluation of Argument from Design depends upon prior beliefs about the supernatural generally. His conclusion validates that:

Bayesianism therefore has an explanation of why religious folk are more ready to accept the argument by design than skeptics.

The whole article is definitely worth a read.

April 23, 2009

Presuppositionalism, Part 4 (answering Cameron)

Posted in Answering Apologists, Atheism, Worldview tagged , , , , , , at 11:07 am by Andrew

(This series begins with Part 1; Part 2; and Part 3.)

In the comments to Part 1 of this series, Cameron takes up the presuppositionalist argument for the existence of God. I don’t think his answers respond to my original claim. Here’s my evaluation of Cameron’s specific arguments:
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April 19, 2009

A Slight Twist on the Way of the Master “Good Person Test”

Posted in Answering Apologists, Atheism tagged , , , , at 2:07 pm by Andrew

Do you consider yourself to be a Good Person?

HT: Unreasonable Faith.

April 17, 2009

Advice for Debating William Lane Craig, part 3

Posted in Advice for Debating..., Answering Apologists, Atheism, Debates tagged , , , , , , , at 12:27 pm by Andrew

Another prominent atheist has chimed in on my posts offering advice for debating William Lane Craig (Part 1 is here and Part 2 is here); this time it’s Christopher Hallquist, whose stuff I also typically enjoy.

As with John Loftus’s response, I find myself puzzled by Hallquist’s overall evaluation — here, he says that my advice is “somewhat misguided.” This is strange, since as far as I can tell, Hallquist and I agree on virtually everything I said! Let’s take a look:
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April 16, 2009

A Short Post on the Argument from Reason (AfR)

Posted in Answering Apologists, Atheism tagged , , , , , , , , at 4:38 pm by Andrew

I very much enjoy Victor Reppert’s Christian blog, “Dangerous Idea,” although obviously I disagree with his conclusions. Reppert’s favorite argument is a modern version of C.S. Lewis’s “Argument from Reason” (AfR); he posts a brief summary of its claims here.

In a recent post, Reppert also commends an article in the Calgary Herald that supposedly sets forth an application of the AfR.

Here’s the problem. The author, Hugo Maynell, summarizes the AfR as follows:

C. S. Lewis argued that scientific materialism is ruined by one fundamental inconsistency. Its proponents asked him to believe, in the name of science, that reason had arisen in the universe as a result of particles of matter moving randomly about over an enormous lapse of time. This is scientism, not science. Science, as Lewis said, depends on the assumption that reason is an absolute; furthermore, that matter in the remotest galaxies conforms to thought-laws excogitated by scientists in their laboratories here on Earth. (emphasis added)

If that’s what C.S. Lewis said, then C.S. Lewis is just flat wrong, and the AfR need not be taken seriously. I don’t want to straw-man a serious argument if it exists, but this claim is nonsense. No serious atheist I know — not the most dedicated, hardcore materialist — claims that reason is “an absolute.” Rather, we look to science as a way of discovering facts about the world because it’s been inductively reliable so far.

Now a fair response to the atheist would be to cite the problem of induction, for example. But it straw-mans the atheist to insist that the he must prove that reason is an “absolute.” We know that reason misleads us all the time. It just so happens it’s the best tool we’ve got.

Advice for Debating William Lane Craig, part 2

Posted in Advice for Debating..., Answering Apologists, Atheism, Debates tagged , , , , , , , , at 10:29 am by Andrew

My first post on this subject went to number one on Google and attracted the attention of Richard Carrier (who has previously debated Craig) and John Loftus (who would like to). Let me expand on my previous remarks.
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April 15, 2009

My Responses to Becky LuElla Miller on Why The Bible Is (Not) True

Posted in Answering Apologists, Atheism, The Bible tagged , , , , , at 5:33 pm by Andrew

Over at A Christian Worldview of Fiction, Becky LuElla Miller has two posts up on “How Do We Know The Bible Is True?” In part 1, Becky argues that internal fulfilled prophecies prove that the Bible is true; in part 2, she suggests that external archaeological corroboration of some Biblical events means that “it is logical to accept as true the Bible’s record of events not yet corroborated independently.” I responded on Ms. Miller’s blog but will repeat those responses here:
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