6 Innovative Rebuttals to the Fine-Tuning Argument (2 of 2)

Jenga

In part 1, I listed a few other posts that respond to the fine-tuning argument (the physical parameters that define our universe had to be pretty much exactly what they are or else life would’ve been impossible). I also gave four innovative responses that you rarely hear. We’ll conclude with the final two.

5. Atheist Single Universe Hypothesis

Another response is Keith Parsons’ critique of the Atheist Single Universe Hypothesis (ASUH). The fine-tuning argument says that our universe is very unlikely. The multiverse is the obvious atheist response, but what do you say if the multiverse isn’t an option? That’s the ASUH.

If there is only one universe, Parsons wonders, what sense does it make to say that the constants that define that universe could be something else? How could they be anything else without other universes for them to be in? “If the universe is the ultimate brute fact, it is neither likely nor unlikely, probable or improbable; it simply is.” We don’t have billions of universes to evaluate, some designed and some natural, so that we have some probabilistic framework in which to place our own universe and evaluate its likeliness. Therefore, imagining that we can evaluate the likelihood of our own poorly understood universe makes no sense. You say our universe looks designed? Compared to what?

We must say that the values of the constants are neither probable nor improbable; they just are. In that case, as the proponent of the ASUH sees it, the only rational expectation of the values of the constants is that they will be whatever we find them to be.

ASUH supporters posit the universe and its laws as brute, inexplicable facts, but Christian apologists do the same. They posit God as a brute, inexplicable fact.

Parsons concludes by turning the fine-tuning argument on the apologist. If we’re insanely lucky to be in a life-friendly universe (according to the apologist’s thinking), there must have been a supernatural Fine Tuner to create this universe. But, by recursively applying this thinking to the Fine Tuner, the fine-tuning problem falls on the Christian. There’s a myriad of conceivable supernatural beings. Christians must marvel at our good fortune to have one who wanted humans (rather than any of the infinite number of other possible intelligent life forms) and had the power to fine tune the universe so that we’re here to seek out this Creator.

6. Evaluating all the probabilities

Is the fine-tuning argument even well formed? It weighs the likelihood of (1) the universe is all natural vs. (2) God created it, and it concludes: The probability of Hypothesis 1 is very small; therefore, Hypothesis 2 is true

Wait a minute—let’s find out the probability of Hypothesis 2 before we make any conclusions!

We’re evaluating the probability of the parameters that define our universe being natural vs. being created by a supernatural Creator without having any idea what the probability of this Creator is. And since the fine-tuning argument is trying to establish the probability of the Creator (its conclusion is typically “therefore, the Creator probably exists”), it’s circular reasoning if that’s one of the inputs to the process!

One snappy answer is to say that most people throughout history have been theists, so atheist skepticism at least loses the popularity contest. However, this unanimity falls apart when probe theists’ beliefs with the most basic questions: How many gods are there? What are their names? Why are humans here, and what is our purpose with respect to these god(s)? Pick any religion, and the majority of the world thinks that its answers to those questions are wrong.

What does the theist admit when using this argument?

Consider the theist’s desperation in advancing an argument like this. For most plausible claims of existence, we are given evidence. You want to know what “the sun” is? Just look up on a sunny day, and there it is. Some things need indirect evaluation, and for this we use instruments such as telescopes or microscopes, but this evidence can be just as compelling.

But for God, the most important thing of all, we get just a vague shadow. If God loves us and desperately wants us to know him, he would make his existence known. He doesn’t.

So—option B—we assume God’s existence (for no good reason, but ignore that for now) and say that he wants to be an enigma for his own reasons that are unknowable to us. This thinking is necessary for the fine-tuning argument. But, of course, if he wanted to be hidden, he would be so! If you’re playing hide and seek with God, you will lose. He’s God—he could leave no trace, and there would be no enigma.

That leaves only option C for the Christian: that God deliberately leaves the vaguest of clues—only enough to tease the seeker. This is rarely enough to give much confidence, so the Christian is always on edge, never quite sure whether he’s got it right or is going to hell. The Christian is like a pigeon in a Skinner experiment on intermittent reinforcement.

Mother Teresa wrote about her doubts, “The damned of hell suffer eternal punishment because they experiment with the loss of God. In my own soul, I feel the terrible pain of this loss. I feel that God does not want me, that God is not God and that he does not really exist.”

By arguing for deistic arguments like the fine-tuning argument, apologists argue for this trickster god.

The skeptical mind prefers to rest in the mystery of the visible world
without going beyond it to a further invisible mystery.

— John Hick

(This is an update of a post that originally appeared 4/30/14.)

Image credit: Ed Garcia, flickr, CC

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  • Tony D’Arcy

    As the vast majority of the observable universe is absolutely hostile to the formation of life, what room is there for any deity ? And if they / it are there, where exactly ? In the cupboard under the stairs ?

    • Anthrotheist

      That’s what always got me about the fine-tuning argument. Even if we were to assume that the universe was fine-tuned by a creator to permit life, why the heck would God’s chosen life form be designed to be so poorly-tuned to live virtually anywhere in the entire universe?

      • Ignorant Amos

        Mysterious ways indeed.

  • skl

    With a publicly available quote like that from Mother Teresa,
    it’s puzzling and remarkable that her religion would so highly respect her.
    They even made her a damn saint!

    • Only Some Stardust

      No, that quote would make them admire her more. She’s talking about having doubts, and not about actually being a disbeliever, and that giving fully into your doubt (being willing to experiment with it) will cast you into hell for all eternity. That is very stereotypical Christian thought there, and exactly what they’d want a saint to say, because they need to control people (a majority, I imagine) who experience doubt at times about God. Christians aren’t stupid, their minds notice that God doesn’t seem to pay attention to them as much as their religion says he should, and it takes some hefty fear, desperate clinging to omens, and bribery to deal with that.

    • RichardSRussell

      You expect logic and consistency from the Catholic Church? Yikes! Could I interest you in some nice ocean-front property here in Wisconsin, where it’s sunny and pleasant all year round?

    • Doubting Thomas

      It’s not her words that made her un-saint like. It’s her actions.

      • Pofarmer

        Oh, her actions were perfectly Saint like. When you probe some/most of the Catholic Saints, you find some really nasty people. Sir Thomas Moore, for instance.

      • skl

        If both her words and her actions were un-saint-like, I don’t see how she got to be a saint.

        • Greg G.

          If they wanted to be logical, they wouldn’t vote on saints.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          The “devil’s advocate” position was an actual job within the Catholic church, and it was that person’s job to argue against canonization. It’s now been disbanded, but the last holder was Christopher Hitchens when he argued against Mother T in the hearing on her canonization.

        • skl

          I didn’t realize Christopher Hitchens was a Catholic, let alone that he held such a lofty position within the Catholic Church.

        • Michael Neville

          Hitchens was originally an Anglican but he had been an atheist for decades when he testified against Mother Teresa. He browbeat the Vatican into letting him testify at MT’s canonization hearing.

        • Ignorant Amos

          Really?

          Your incredulity knows no bounds.

          http://www.romancatholicism.co.uk/hellsaints.html

      • Ignorant Amos

        Apparently a lot of her words made her un-saintly. She wrote about her crisis of faith, not that that would prevent the RCC from creating another money spinning canonisation.

        http://time.com/4126238/mother-teresas-crisis-of-faith/

        The wee witch was chased out of Belfast by her Catholic superiors for what remains a mystery to this day. Something not many are aware of….

        In Belfast, Mother Teresa ran up against enemies in the Church, leading to a dramatic departure

        https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/life/features/in-belfast-mother-teresa-ran-up-against-enemies-in-the-church-leading-to-a-dramatic-departure-35017211.html

  • skl

    Some other observations in the interest of logic, consistency, and convincing-ness:

    First,
    “However, this unanimity falls apart when probe theists’
    beliefs with the most basic questions: How many gods are there? What are their
    names? Why are humans here, and what is our purpose with respect to these
    god(s)? Pick any religion, and the majority of the world thinks that its
    answers to those questions are wrong.”

    Here you seem to be dismissing a subject on the basis that many opinions exist on the subject.

    I think it logical that given the multiplicity of religions,
    each with its own set of beliefs, they can’t all be right. And they could all
    be wrong. But if any is right, I think it most likely that only one is right.

    But to dismiss based on multiplicity would also require the
    dismissal of the 17 models referenced at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/2017/11/when-christianity-hits-reality-the-william-lane-craig-vs-sean-carroll-debate/

    Second,
    “But for God, the most important thing of all, we get just a
    vague shadow. If God loves us and desperately wants us to know him, he would
    make his existence known. He doesn’t.”

    While such an argument may be convincing to an atheist or
    skeptic, it’s not convincing to a theist. The latter will readily acknowledge
    that their god or gods are not physically observable, but they believe anyway,
    if only as an explanation for what is physically observable
    (e.g. the universe). Also, from a logic standpoint, they might rely on the old
    formula that ‘Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.’

    • RichardSRussell

      Also, from a logic standpoint, they might rely on the old formula that “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”

      Do you have an elephant in your bathtub? Are you sure? What leads you say so?

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

        Has he checked behind the curtain? Cuz that’s where I always find them. They’re sneaky bastards.

        • Greg G.

          I often find them hiding behind the hippopotamus.

    • Anthrotheist

      “Here you seem to be dismissing a subject on the basis that many opinions exist on the subject.”
      Not at all. The subject is being considered, not dismissed. What is being dismissed is any particular conclusion on the subject of theistic beliefs, on the basis that many opinions exist and none of them are in agreement.

      As to the second point, as RichardSRussell illustrates, absence of evidence must be considered evidence of absence until any evidence at all can be provided. By the “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence” logic, criminal trials would be a nightmare: until evidence is produced that supports a claim as valid, the claim must be presumed to be inadmissible for argument (or at the very least as purely hypothetical as a thought-experiment; I’ve found that atheists love to consider God as a thought experiment, but that’s vastly different from accepting that the hypothetical scenario is in any way real).

      • skl

        “What is being dismissed is any particular conclusion on the subject of theistic beliefs, on the basis that many opinions exist and none of them are in agreement.

        That’s what I meant by “many opinions.”

        As to the “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”, I always took the meaning to be more like
        ‘Absence of evidence is not proof of absence.’

        • Greg G.

          Absence of evidence where there should be evidence is evidence of absence. Where there is an absence of evidence when there should be abundant evidence of presence is as good as proof gets for absence. It’s how you know there is no bull elephant hiding in your bathroom.

        • skl

          The theists would argue the evidence is in you and all
          around you (i.e. the universe). The “absence” part would just apply to their god/gods’ physically-discernable presence.

        • Michael Neville

          No, the theists will hand-wave and tap-dance and try to distract attention from the point that there is no evidence for their gods. We’ve seen that shuck and jive done many times on this blog alone.

        • Greg G.

          That’s all they have left to argue. If there was never any “physically-discernable presence,” then they had no reason to conceive of the idea besides wishful thinking and an over-active imagination. The earliest theists were trying to explain things they were not equipped to explain, they were not even equipped to observe such things adequately, systematically, or associated phenomena beyond the limits of their senses.

          All of their questions have been answered except for “what happens to us when we die” but that is because they are too afraid to accept that nothing happens to you when you die except that you stop existing. They have an explanation with nothing left to explain so they have to keep moving it to the edge of ignorance of science, which they didn’t even know about when their explanation was proposed. But the explanation only handwaves magic at the problem without actually explaining it.

        • skl

          “If there was never any “physically-discernable
          presence,” then they had no reason to conceive of the idea besides wishful thinking and an over-active imagination.”

          I think they might say there is normally no current/contemporaneous physically-discernable presence,
          but that at certain times in the past there were (e.g. god walking in the
          garden with Adam and Eve; god speaking from burning bushes; Jesus).

          “All of their questions have been answered except for
          “what happens to us when we die” …”

          and which, if any, of the 17 models is correct, among other things.

        • Greg G.

          I think they might say there is normally no current/contemporaneous physically-discernable presence,
          but that at certain times in the past there were (e.g. god walking in the
          garden with Adam and Eve; god speaking from burning bushes; Jesus).

          Those are fairy tales.

          and which, if any, of the 17 models is correct, among other things.

          What are the 17 models? Are they all based on observed evidence? Do they have potential observations that could falsify them?

        • skl

          “What are the 17 models?”

          Ask Bob S., the person who brought them up.

        • Ignorant Amos

          I think they might say there is normally no current/contemporaneous physically-discernable presence,
          but that at certain times in the past there were (e.g. god walking in the
          garden with Adam and Eve; god speaking from burning bushes; Jesus).

          One group of woo-woo merchants will make that claim, but there are many others who will make many equally conflicting claims. It’s what they can demonstrate with supporting evidence….to date, they all fail, so I’ve no need to give a fuck what there was at certain times in the past until such times as one of them can.

        • Rational Human

          ” at certain times in the past there were (e.g. god walking in the
          garden with Adam and Eve; god speaking from burning bushes; Jesus). ”

          Evidence please.

          This is what it all comes down to…claims of fantastical events that happened, rather conveniently before video capture technology was around to adequtely document it for us meanie pies of the future who demand something more than a story book.

        • skl

          “…claims of fantastical events that happened, rather
          conveniently before video capture technology was around to adequtely document it…”

          Having it on video would not resolve the matter.

        • Rational Human

          Nice deflection. It would at least move the discussion forward, something more substantive than 2 millennia of baseless assertions about totally awesome stuff that happened in the past, or will happen…any day now…

        • Ignorant Amos

          Ya got that right…for a change.

    • Pofarmer

      The problem is, those 17 models exist to try to explain observations. Ie, they started with evidence, they aren’t the evidence. And they will be whittled down as more and better evidence comes in and experiments are conducted based on the models.

      • skl

        We could at least agree that all 17 models may be wrong.

        • Pofarmer

          All 17 models, are indeed, almost certainly wrong in some respects. The difference is, the models will converge until they are much, much closer to what is “correct” To quote Leonard from Big Bang Theory. It’s wrong to call a Tomatoe a Fruit, but it’s more wrong to call the Brooklyn Bridge a fruit.

        • skl

          Perhaps the multiplicity of religions will likewise converge.

        • Michael Neville

          History suggests otherwise. Churches tend to cleave apart. Around 50 CE the Council of Jerusalem ruled on whether or not gentile Christians should be bound by the Mosaic Law. That such a conference was needed shows that Christian unity didn’t exist even in the earliest days. Churches split apart for various reasons, both theological and political. The Great Schism of 1054 was about which prelate should be supreme, the Pope in Rome or the Patriarch of Constantinople. In the end, both prelates were supreme in their own separate churches. I could go on, discussing things like the difference between Shia and Sunni Muslims or how Buddhism has innumerable sects, but I don’t think that’s quite necessary.

        • skl

          “History suggests otherwise. Churches tend to cleave apart.”

          That’s true.

          It may also be true regarding the models. I would imagine
          there were a lot fewer than 17 of them 80-some years ago when the Big Bang theory was born.

        • Pofarmer

          Before 1920, it was thought that the milky way was the whole Universe. Giordano Bruno, 500 or so years before him, thought that the stars were other planets and other suns. Ever heard of Lumineferous Aether? What is Newton famous for? There have been innumerable theories about Cosmology throughout history.

        • skl

          I wasn’t talking about 500 years ago or about all of human
          history. I was talking about the last 80 years.

        • Pofarmer

          Well. It’s rather irrelevant. As we have more and better observations we get néw theories and better answers, and some dead ends. Sure “Goddidit” is one simple answer, and it takes more than the same simplicity to refute. Doesn’t mean it’s correct.

        • Greg G.

          But the scientific models have potential observations that can rule them out, so they can be eliminated. Religious models are contrived to be irrefutable by evidence because so many former religions have been refuted because they were susceptible to refutation by the claims they made.

          Einstein’s Theory of Relativity predicted that light was affected by gravity. Nearly a century ago, some astronomers realized that a star would be behind the sun during an eclipse but it would be visible if Einstein was right so astronomers fanned out across the path of the eclipse to observe whether that star was visible. It was visible precisely where the theory predicted it would be seen. Religions do not make such predictions because handwaving is imprecise. But that possibility of falsifiability is the difference between a scientific hypothesis and a hypothesis.

        • skl

          You seem to be complaining that religion should be held to the same
          standards as science.

          I don’t see why two fundamentally different things should be
          treated the same.

        • Greg G.

          You seem to be complaining that religion should be held to the same
          standards as science.

          Not at all. You brought up 17 theories regarding the Big Bang in response to the divergence of religion. It is that they have such different standards that makes one more reliable than the other. Religion is contrived to be indistinguishable from imagination. It is not based on any observed evidence and it cannot have in of that pesky observed evidence refuting it.

        • skl

          “You brought up 17 theories regarding the Big Bang in
          response to the divergence of religion. It is that they have such different standards that makes one more reliable than the other.”

          Perhaps we could agree that neither is reliable, based on
          the multiplicities.

        • Greg G.

          Perhaps we could agree that neither is reliable, based on
          the multiplicities.

          Nah. We can look at the results of the methodologies to see which is reliable. One progresses when its predictions are confirmed or disconfirmed. The other tried to explain wind and lightning but got it wrong and hasn’t actually explained anything ever since.

        • skl

          “We can look at the results of the methodologies to see
          which is reliable.”

          If any one of the 17 was really reliable,
          then the 17 would drop to that 1.

        • Greg G.

          No, it is not necessary that they drop to one. They are all probably incomplete. They could all be incorrect, too. If they are scientific models, they have built-in ways to determine if they are false and can be eliminated. Religions never do that. But each of the models will correspond to the observed evidence that we have to date which means they are more alike than religions are.

        • skl

          At least we can agree that science and its models are fundamentally
          different things than theism and its religions.

        • Greg G.

          Yes. Science attempts to align with reality. Religion attempts to align with imagination and wishful thinking.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          You mean because science is based on evidence and religion is based on wishful thinking and superstition?

          Well, yeah, obviously.

        • MNb

          Are you really that stupid? You don´t even seem to understand the difference between a theory and a methodology.
          Those methodologies demand something we don’t have yet.
          It’s called empirical data.
          Concerning the Big Bang they are notoriously hard to obtain.

          It gets worse than this.
          You just have dismissed the entire scientific method.
          Greg G talks about 17 theories that have been formulated thus far.
          See, given any set of empirical data an infinite amount of theories is possible that accurately describes them. Hence it is simply impossible to reduce the amount of valid scientific theories on any randomly given topic to 1.
          So according to your illogic every single scientific theory that ever has been formulated is not really reliable.
          You are tallking like a Young Earth Creationist.

        • Greg G.

          Greg G talks about 17 theories that have been formulated thus far.

          skl has harped on there being 17 theories for some time. I asked what they were and he told me to ask Bob. I guess “17 theories” is a talking point with a no specified reference to anything in reality.

        • MNb

          Ah, I see. I actually have no idea how many theories there are.

        • Greg G.

          I edited my response to add the links I found. Bob quoted Sean Carroll’s response to WLCraig in a debate. That would be
          Sean M. Carroll, if I recall the mnemonic correctly that Sean B. Carroll is a biologist.

        • TheNuszAbides

          the former is a ‘mologist.

        • Joe

          17 plausible models trumps a single, implausible model.

        • Ignorant Amos

          Yes would appear to be the answer to your opening question.

        • skl

          I think I understand the difference between a theory and a
          methodology, and I do not dismiss the scientific method.

          “See, given any set of empirical data an infinite amount of
          theories is possible that accurately describes them. Hence it is simply
          impossible to reduce the amount of valid scientific theories on any randomly given topic to 1.”

          When they get down to 1, then we’ll be closer to having a “fact”.

        • MNb

          Demanding that we only can accept a theory when the amount of candidates has dropped to 1 rejects science, no matter how often you deny it.

          “I think ….”
          That doesn’t make it so.

          Fact: empirical data, observation. Example: our Universe is expanding right now (actually the redshift in the spectra of galaxies), cosmic background radiation.
          Theory: a model that describes the facts, preferably accurately. Examples: Aristoteles’ Theory of Gravity, Newton’s Theory of Gravity, Einstein’s Theory of Gravity, Quantummechanical Gravity.
          Methodology: the way you decide whether a theory is correct or not. Example: heuristics, constructing a thermometer, statistics, Feynman’s “It doesn’t matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn’t matter how smart you are. If it doesn’t agree with experiment, it’s wrong.”

          Here is the problem. If we had sufficient empirical data we could apply Feynman’s principle and decide which of the 17 is correct (or perhaps an 18th one). If. We don’t have sufficient data.
          Religion doesn’t have anything that is remotely comparable. No matter how many data you bring up, religion will keep on relying on faith, because empirical data by definition don’t say anything about a supposed supernatural reality. That’s why my prediction regarding you jumping off a bridge (despite we having no less than four theories) is far more likely to be correct than your wish regarding converging religions. They don’t have a reliable method. Regarding the Big Bang it’s not the method that is lacking, but empirical data. The latter may change; I don’t see how believers will, can develop a reliable method. Last millennia they have made exactly zero progress.

          So in reply to Greg G’s “We can look at the results of the methodologies to see which is reliable”
          your “If any one of the 17 (theories or methodologies? – MNb) was really reliable (ah, methodology), then the 17 would drop (no, 17 theories! – MNb) to that 1.”
          is nonsense in the most literal meaning of the word.
          So is your “When they (theories – MNb) get down to 1, then we’ll be closer to having a “fact”.”
          You don’t understand the difference between a theory and a fact either.
          You are still talking like a Young Earth Creationist.

        • Joe

          If any one of the 17 was really reliable,
          then the 17 would drop to that 1.

          Not necessarily. Different languages can describe the same object, and some may be more useful in certain applications, like Newtonian physics is preferred for it’s simplicity even though it has been superseded by General Relativity.

        • Max Doubt

          “You seem to be complaining that religion should be held to the same standards as science.”

          Anyone making a claim that something is true should be held to the same standards for demonstrating that it is indeed objectively true. It just so happens those standards require applying the scientific method to the claim. The fact that religion can’t objectively show their claims are true isn’t the fault of people setting their standards too high. We rely on the scientific method to determine what is true. It is the only method that has ever worked to reliably improve our understanding of how the universe works. The failure of religion is that it sets its standards too low.

        • skl

          “Anyone making a claim that something is true should
          be held to the same standards for demonstrating that it is indeed objectively true.”

          Maybe you have some suggestions as to who should enforce
          this “should”.

          “It just so happens those standards require applying the
          scientific method to the claim. The fact that religion can’t objectively show their claims are true isn’t the fault of people setting their standards too high. We rely on the scientific method to determine what is true.”

          Given the popularity of theism relative to atheism, it seems
          the majority of the world’s population feels that not all that is true is
          subject to discovery via the scientific method.

        • Max Doubt

          “Maybe you have some suggestions as to who should enforce this “should”.”

          It’s not a matter of enforcement. It’s a matter of concern for what is true. The scientific process is the only method we have for reliably determining that, so if you care whether a claim is true or not, you should hold it to the same standards as science.

          “Given the popularity of theism relative to atheism, it seems the majority of the world’s population feels that not all that is true is subject to discovery via the scientific method.”

          If something displays no effect whatsoever on the universe, it can’t be said to exist. If something does affect the universe, it is subject to scientific scrutiny. If you imagine something exists, like a god for example, but that thing has no objectively demonstrable effect on the universe outside your head, like gods for example, it is a figment of your imagination.

          Given the absolute lack of objective evidence that gods exist, and the complete failure to objectively support gods-exist claims when subjected to scientific scrutiny, it seems the majority of the world’s population simply accept those claims with little concern for whether they are true or not . You’re verging on an argumentum ad populum.

        • skl

          I’m not verging on an argumentum ad populum.” I’m just
          acknowledging an observation that is made by the entire population, with the possible exception of you.

        • Michael Neville

          I’m just acknowledging an observation that is made by the entire population

          Which is the definition of argumentum ad populum.

        • skl

          No. More like an observationis ad populum.

        • Max Doubt

          “I’m not verging on an argumentum ad populum.”

          Why, yes. Yes you are.

          “I’m just acknowledging an observation that is made by the entire population, with the possible exception of you.”

          I acknowledged it right where I wrote, “… it seems the majority of the world’s population simply accepts those claims with little concern for whether they are true or not.”

        • Susan

          “… it seems the majority of the world’s population simply accepts those claims with little concern for whether they are true or not.”

          It’s almost as if skl does nothing but insist we disprove a position for which he can build no case.

          As if that’s his whole schtick

          Call me crazy.

        • Greg G.

          Given the popularity of theism relative to atheism, it seems the majority of the world’s population feels that not all that is true is subject to discovery via the scientific method.

          Given that all of those theisms disagree with one another proves that they do not have a method for determining fact from imagination. The fact that they believe conflicting “truths” prove their methods do not work. Since they do not have a method better than the scientific method for approaching truth, it is irrelevant what “the majority of the world’s population ‘feels’.”

          The scientific method is the best method to distinguish imaginary concepts from those that have a basis in reality. When we come up with a better method than the scientific method, I am switching to that new one.

        • Pofarmer

          It generally does the exact opposite. But you can keep wishing.

        • Greg G.

          The Cao Dai religion in SE Asia would be something like that. It is fusion of Western and Eastern religion and philosophy. It is a combination of Asian philosophy and Buddhism (one from a Chinese man, one from a Vietnamese man, but I can’t keep it straight which is which without looking it up) and European Christianity and philosophy. The patron saints of the religion are the Chinese man, the Vietnamese man, and Victor Hugo.

          Hugo is famous as the author of Les Miserables but he was a famous statesman who convinced four European governments to eliminate the death penalty, too.

          Pardon my digression but I visited a Vietnameses Cao Dai temple that I am told was near Laos. It had a painting of their three patron saints. A few days later, we went to see Les Miserables, the movie with Russell Crowe, Hugh Jackman, and Anne Hathaway in Saigon. I had seen it when it came out just before we left the US. It had subtitles in Vietnamese but the original soundtrack. The theater was packed and there was applause at the end. I don’t know whether our hosts realized the Hugo connection but I thought it was cool.

          But even a convergence is another divergence. The most likely way for a convergence to happen would be for all religions to die out until there was only one left.

        • skl

          “The most likely way for a convergence to happen would be for all religions to die out until there was only one left.”

          Perhaps.

        • MNb

          Islam was developed as an attempt to converge judaism and christianity by seeking a middle ground. Quite a success in this respect, don’t you think?

        • skl

          Many in islam and christianity seek to “converge” everyone
          into their religion, although their tactics can differ greatly.

        • MNb

          And how many of those attempts have succeeded at making your “the multiplicity of religions will likewise converge” come true last 2000 years?
          Exactly zero.

        • skl

          Right. But that’s only the difference between did and will.

        • Greg G.

          Will? Do you expect millennia of constant divergence to reverse?

        • skl

          As I said above,
          Perhaps the multiplicity of religions will likewise converge.

          It seems unlikely, given history.
          But the past is not always precedent.
          And I can’t predict the future.

        • Susan

          Perhaps the multiplicity of religions will likewise converge fairies will fly out of my nostril..

          It seems unlikely, given history.
          But the past is not always precedent.
          And I can’t predict the future.

        • MNb

          Now I have to correct you.

          “It seems unlikely, given history”
          plus religion lacking a reliable method.

        • MNb

          I can.
          When you jump off a bridge tomorrow I predict that you will fall downward and not fly away, no matter how hard you flap your arms.
          Granted, I don’t have 100% certainty, but it’s high enough to decide what my bet will be.
          In the same way I predict that in the future several of those 17 Big Bang models that you are obsessed with will be demonstrated to be incorrect.
          You nicely confirmed how consensus in science is reached – something religion thus far has failed. What’s more, we understand why. In one word:

          method.

        • Joe

          Perhaps the multiplicity of religions will likewise converge.

          They could converge tomorrow. No magic required, just the stroke of a pen.

        • TheNuszAbides

          true enough – “divinely inspired” scripture has no actual deadlines, historical windows of verification/viability, or other limits.

        • MNb

          Right. So because X did fall downward all the times he/she jumped off a bridge in the past you don’t feel urged to conclude that you will fall downward when you try the same tomorrow.
          Shall we make a bet?

        • Michael Neville

          If you knew anything about physics you’d know that Newtonian gravity was replaced by relativity, so skl might not fall. Or something like that. Physics has become just plain weird in the past hundred and twenty odd years.

        • skl

          I’d bet the same as you on the falling from the bridge and
          on religions not converging.

          But you’re still wrongly conflating fundamentally different
          things: science (e.g. observation of physical, repeated, testable things) vs. religion (e.g. faith in non-physical, unique, un-testable things).

        • Max Doubt

          “But you’re still wrongly conflating fundamentally different things:…”

          Comparing is not the same as conflating.

          “… science (e.g. observation of physical, repeated, testable things) vs. religion (e.g. faith in non-physical, unique, un-testable things).”

          The comparison is between science, a successful, reliable tool for helping us better understand the universe, and religion, with its implicit suggestion that wishful thinking and superstition are also reasonable tools for that purpose. And the result of that comparison? The tools offered by religion – guessing, wishing, believing things are true – are not reliable paths to understanding, while the scientific method is.

        • skl

          Apples and asparagas.

          After billions of years of evolution, the majority of people still eat “asparagas.” But perhaps in another billion years of evolution, no one will. Or just the opposite.

        • Max Doubt

          “Apples and asparagas.”

          No. The comparison is between one tool for helping us better understand the universe and another. That’d be apples and apples to use your metaphor. You said…

          The latter will readily acknowledge that their god or gods are not physically observable, but they believe anyway, if only as an explanation for what is physically observable (e.g. the universe).

          So we’re reminding you that believing gods exist is not a reliable method for developing explanations for the workings of the universe while the process of science is.

          “After billions of years of evolution, the majority of people still eat “asparagas.” But perhaps in another billion years of evolution, no one will. Or just the opposite.”

          Now you’re just talkin’ out your ass. Given what we do know about the progression of life, it’s not likely there will be any life that we’d recognized as people in another billion years.

        • skl

          “Now you’re just talkin’ out your ass. Given what we do know
          about the progression of life, it’s not likely there will be any life that we’d recognized as people in another billion years.”

          Ok. In a million years.

        • Max Doubt

          “Ok. In a million years.”

          Your ignorance of science in general and biology in particular is making you look like an idiot. I’d helpfully suggest you take a beginner level biology course, something geared toward middle school children. If you have trouble locating a tutor or after school program, let us know where you live, and someone here will most likely be able to point you in the right direction.

        • skl

          Ok. In 250,000 years.

        • Max Doubt

          “Ok. In 250,000 years.”

          You can keep pulling numbers out of your ass, but you’re really only making yourself look the fool by doing it. Go take a science course, something designed for eleven year old children. Unless you actually want to be stupid, you’ll be glad you did.

        • Ignorant Amos

          You’re a Buffoon.

        • MNb

          “But you’re ….”
          And still you saying so doesn’t make it so. In other words: back up (where I’m guilty of conflating science and faith) or shut up.
          In the first place science is not only about repeated, testable things. Your birth is not repeatable nor testable. Still it can be researched by science.
          In the second place science is more than just observation. It’s also formulating theories and hypotheses.
          In the third place we totally can observe what people believe and believed.
          In the fourth place we totally can formulate theories and hypotheses that describe how religions develop (ie what people believe and believed). The Bible is an excellent source for this.
          In the fifth place, even if I was guilty of conflating science and faith, it has zero relevance for the your “only the difference between did and will.”

          That’s a major failure of yours.
          Because these five points are exactly why the sensible bet is on religions not converging.

        • skl

          “And still you saying so doesn’t make it so. In other words: back up (where I’m guilty of conflating science and faith) or shut up.”

          If you’re not conflating the two, then
          you should have no problem with science being science and with religion being religion. You would not reject one because it fails to match the standards and methodologies of the other. But you seem to be conflating and rejecting. For example: “Here is the problem. If we had sufficient empirical data we could apply Feynman’s
          principle and decide which of the 17 is correct…Religion doesn’t have anything that is remotely comparable. No matter how many data you bring up, religion will keep on relying on faith, because empirical data by definition don’t say anything about a supposed supernatural reality…”

          “In the first place science is not only about repeated, testable things.”

          I didn’t say it was. I said an example, an e.g.,
          of science is the observation of physical, repeated, testable things.

          However, I would say further that, regarding phenomena which
          may not be observed or repeated (e.g. the Big Bang), the theories about same are based on observable/repeatable/testable things.

          “…these five points are exactly why the sensible bet is on
          religions not converging.”

          As I said before, I’d bet with you that all the religions will not converge into one. (I just don’t know that they won’t.)

        • Max Doubt

          “If you’re not conflating the two, then you should have no problem with science being science and with religion being religion.”

          Your understanding of the English language appears to be severely sub-par for the general level of this conversation. If English is not your primary language, let us know what is, and someone here might be able to help you translate so you can stop fucking up your use of the word “conflate”. If English is your primary language, get in touch with an English teacher there at the middle school you attend and ask for some personal help with your vocabulary and reading comprehension. If you’re just being a dick for the sake of being a dick – and there is much evidence right here in this thread to support that conjecture – knock it off.

        • skl

          Perhaps instead of “conflate” you would better like
          “evaluate the two as though they were parties in the same field competing for the same prize”.

        • Max Doubt

          “Perhaps instead of “conflate” you would better like “evaluate the two as though they were parties in the same field competing for the same prize”.”

          That’s called comparison not conflation. The comparison, which you seem to feel is not valid, is this: Science is a process we employ to help us better understand and explain the universe we live in. Religion, at its root, claims to also be a method for helping understand and explain the universe. That claim is ubiquitous among religious people. They intentionally make the comparison, and you’re spending an inordinate amount of time trying desperately to invalidate their effort.

          Now let’s jump to the results of comparing methods for explaining the way the universe works. Religion, faith, god belief in pretty much all its renditions, fails as an effective tool for that. Science, on the other hand, works reliably and consistently. Get that? Bottom line, comparing religion and science as methods for understanding the workings of the universe, religion is an altogether shitty tool for that. It utterly fails. Science, on the other hand, succeeds wonderfully.

        • skl

          “That’s called comparison not conflation.”

          You’re comparing apples and asparagas.

        • MNb

          “you should have no problem with science being science and with religion being religion.”
          I haven’t. How else could I have (had) long lasting relationships with two muslima?
          What I have a problem with is religion violating Gould’s NOMA – ie making claims that belong to science. May I hope you are not going to deny that this is very common?

          Indeed I wrote “Religion doesn’t have anything that is remotely comparable” (methodology – MNb).
          Tell me, how do you derive “conflate” from “remotely comparable”?

          “(I just don’t know that they won’t.)”
          And like I said before, for exactly the same reasons I don’t know that you will fall downward when you try to fly way by flapping your arms tomorrow. It’s just my bet.
          Again, tell me, how do your derive “conflate” from “bet”?
          Has it occurred to you that you rather derive “MNb conflates” from your love for a strawman that was born from your prejudices? It looks like you are the one who is all too eager to read things in my comments that aren’t there. Now that’s very human. I do it myself all the time. So the polite and sensible thing is simply accept it when the addressed one corrects you. Are you one of those who has problems with this simple things? If yes, good for me – I think it funny. If no you must do a better job to demonstrate your “conflate” claim, because thus far you totally failed. You can start with answering my two questions.

        • skl

          “Tell me, how do you derive “conflate” from “remotely comparable”?
          … you must do a better job to demonstrate your “conflate” claim…”

          As I wrote to Max yesterday, perhaps instead of “conflate”
          you would better like
          “evaluate the two as though they were parties in the same
          field competing for the same prize”.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          (Perhaps it begins, “It’s wrong to call a tomato a vegetable.”)

        • Michael Neville

          Technically tomatoes are berries.

        • Pofarmer

          dammit.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          … which is not to say that your tomato/Brooklyn Bridge example wasn’t relevant or interesting. I remember that line myself.

        • Ignorant Amos

          Especially when quoted accurately…from the episode called “The Hofstatder Isotope”….

          Stuart: Oh, Sheldon, I’m afraid you couldn’t be more wrong.

          Sheldon: More wrong? Wrong is an absolute state and not subject to gradation.

          Stuart: Of course it is. It’s a little wrong to say a tomato is a vegetable, it’s very wrong to say it’s a suspension bridge.

          Pedantic moment over.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Someone had to go back to the original sacred text. Thank you.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Wikipedia: “The definition [of berry] includes many fruits that are not commonly known as berries, such as grapes, tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplants (aubergines) and bananas.”

        • Ignorant Amos

          I always thought berries were fruit…

          http://www.nourishinteractive.com/healthy-living/free-nutrition-articles/104-fruits-by-season

          Tomatoes are noticeable by their absence from those lists of fruits.

        • Pofarmer

          Maybe………

  • JustAnotherAtheist2

    IMO, the best response remains pointing out the flaws of reverse engineered probability.

    For instance, if rarity alone was enough to indicate intent, then falling leaves would need a guiding hand to settle on their specific resting spot. I mean, the odds against landing at that time in that position at that location are astronomical!

    Then there’s the fact that even mundane events can be made rare simply by shifting perspective. Showering this morning isn’t exactly unusual, but what are the odds that the last 1,000 years would lead to me stepping into that particular shower at that particular time and have those articular water molecules cascade over me?

    Rarity only becomes meaningful after there is a non-probability based reason to find the event important. Using rarity as the basis for importance, as the Teleological Argument does, begs the question. So the argument is DOA even before getting into nitty gritty about god’s likelihood or multi-verses, etc.

    • Tony D’Arcy

      Agreed. Why did that particular cloud have to blow into sight just as that cat crossed the road, and the 41 bus arrived .

      Why did my parents have to do what they did, when they did, and not produce a Henry instead of a Tony ? Beats me.

      • Greg G.

        If your father’s steak was slightly tougher so it required an extra chew, a different sperm with an X chromosome might have jostled into position for the fertilization so you would be posting as Toni D’Arcy.

    • Greg G.

      For instance, if rarity alone was enough to indicate intent, then falling leaves would need a guiding hand to settle on their chosen resting spot. I mean, the odds against landing at that time in that position at that location are astronomical!

      Do the same calculation for the next leaf and the one after that and so on. The odds are raised to the power of the number of leaves on the tree.

    • Tommy

      This video sums exactly what you’re talking about. An oldie but goodie:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hKPrBV_PCKs

      • JustAnotherAtheist2

        I’m familiar with his work, but I ever saw that one. Thanks!

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      If I understand your point, your laying out your bridge hand and saying, “Look at this hand! What are the chances??!” doesn’t make much sense. Yes, that hand was super unlikely, but so what? They all are.

      But suppose I got all the spades in my hand. That was one of the very few kinds of hands that we find interesting/meaningful. The analog in the universe case would be a life-permitting universe.

      So I see their argument, but it must rely on life-permitting universes being insanely rare. Maybe they are; maybe they’re not.

      • JustAnotherAtheist2

        You got the first part, but missed the second.

        All spades aren’t inherently meaningful, it’s the rules of the game that imbues that particular hand with importance. This importance is then supplemented by our knowledge that dealers can cheat and have a motivation to do so. Only then does the hand’s rarity become meaningful because, as you said, all hands are equally rare.

        By contrast, there are no rules to the universe that imbues life with meaning. To the contrary, there being universal importance to life (and humans in particular) is ostensibly the conclusion of the Teleological Argument. Since the argument relies on the assumption of its conclusion, it necessarily begs the question. Incredibly, the odds could actually be worse than theists claim and the argument would still fail.

        To hopefully make the error more transparent, here is a more apt card analogy.

        You sit a table with four dealt hands, three players and an empty chair. You don’t know what game is being played, whether it is competitive or cooperative, what the teams are, who dealt or even if the dealer is one of the apparent players. Furthermore, you don’t know whether the deck is standard, if it was shuffled or what pattern was used to distribute the cards.

        You pick up your hand, calculate the odds of this precise arrangement and find it to be very unlikely. Based solely on this rarity, did the dealer cheat?

        Edit: watch the video Tommy linked for a more expansive explanation.

        • Greg G.

          If I examine the second hand, I find that the odds of it being that arrangement is not only unlikely, it is precisely as unlikely as my hand. Then I find the third and fourth hands are also precisely as improbable as every other hand. What more proof do you need that the dealer cheated?

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          I agree that there’s no inherent value in life; I’m saying that it’s interesting/curious. If you were cataloging universes (of course that’s just sci fi, despite the assurance the apologists give us for their knowing what fraction would have life), “has life/doesn’t have life” could be one metric. As you went through them, you might say, “Oh, look! Here’s one that has lots of space, hydrogen, fusion-driven stars, and solar systems!” but that’s probably not particularly noteworthy. Having life would be (we’re assuming).

          Of course, there would be other noteworthy, rare traits that universes might have. Maybe there’s something as startling as having life that we simply can’t conceive of. Maybe many of them.

          I’m saying that there’s something inherently noteworthy about having life (assuming, of course, that the apologists are right that life-permitting universes are very, very unusual).

          You pick up your hand, calculate the odds of this precise arrangement and find it to be very unlikely. Based solely on this rarity, did the dealer cheat?

          Yes, I see the difficulty, but this is analogous to saying that life-permitting conditions (= this particular hand of cards) is very rare. The first response is that we don’t know that life-permitting conditions are as rare as the fine-tuning argument claims.

          If you’re saying in your example that this hand of cards is very rare in the same way that a particular bridge hand is very rare, that’s uninteresting. The question is whether the hand is surprising or remarkable (like all spades or 1111222233334 or all red cards). Those are two different things, right? Every universe is unlikely like every bridge hand is, but a life-permitting one would stand out. No?

        • JustAnotherAtheist2

          I’m saying that there’s something inherently noteworthy about having life (assuming, of course, that the apologists are right that life-permitting universes are very, very unusual).

          This is precisely the error being made: confusing rarity for inherent noteworthiness. As the leaf example shows (and even more so if you use a bed of leaves) beating astronomical odds is a perfectly ordinary occurrence. The shower example then illustrates how literally everything beats astronomical odds from some perspective.

          If falling leaves and morning showers aren’t inherently notable, then neither is a universe capable of creating life. And if they are then so is everything else. Either way, rarity alone does nothing to distinguish or feature life’s formation.

          It’s only when we have prior reason to value something that probability becomes meaningful. To borrow from the vid below, if a prediction we made about where and when a leaf would land, it defying the odds would be incredible. But stumbling onto an already fallen leaf and pondering the post-facto improbability is just mental masturbation – even though the odds were identical.

          Do you understand the distinction? Do you recognize that TFA uses the post-facto improbability rather than the predictive version?

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Do you understand the distinction? Do you recognize that TFA uses the post-facto improbability rather than the predictive version?

          Yes and no, respectively, though you can judge for yourself.

          I think a Richard Feynman example of this was the first time I’d heard an example. It was something like his bursting into a room and saying, “I just saw a license plate that read 285AGJ! What are the chances?!”

          This is the bridge hand example. That you got that hand is both incredibly rare and incredibly boring. Big deal–they’re all that rare. I think we’re on the same page as well with the observations that (1) if we had predicted that hand beforehand, that would be interesting and (2) this hand has something special in it from a bridge or card-playing or human standpoint. This would be something like getting all the spades or all red cards. Or even something less rare–I got all the jacks or exactly 2 of each face card or just prime numbers or a hand that would be a winner in some other game (my bridge hand contains a great pinochle or poker or whist hand).

          And (again I think we agree) the trick is to know what would be considered one of these noteworthy rarities. Let’s get back to the universe. Taking an objective viewpoint (not that of a living being), life is a pretty cool trait for a universe to have. And, as I noted, maybe there are other equally cool traits that our universe doesn’t have that others would (and we’re too stupid to even imagine what that would be).

          (A separate issue is whether the apologists are right that life-permitting universes are insanely rare.)

        • JustAnotherAtheist2

          life is a pretty cool trait for a universe to have.

          I agree. Unfortunately, though, “pretty cool” does nothing to overcome the problems of retroactive probability.

          If I find it cool that a leaf meandered its way into a hollow log instead of the otherwise empty ground beneath and around the tree, does that somehow indicate agency influence?

          Of course not. My subjective appreciation has no affect on the application of probability. Inside the log was one of many possibilities, each just as likely as another.

          Note as well that this remains true even if what I find cool resticts the sample to an infinitesimal percentage of all possibilities. In other words, “inside the log is cool” + “the odds of being in the log is substantially less than being on the ground” doesn’t move the needle an inch toward agency causation. Likewise, the combination of life being cool and possible universes that can create life being rare relative to those that can’t doesn’t indicate agency causation either.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Unfortunately, though, “pretty cool” does nothing to overcome the problems of retroactive probability.

          Are we justified in noting that a bridge hand with only red cards is pretty cool (or surprising or remarkable)? Why isn’t a universe with life not cool in the same way?

          Note as well that this remains true even if what I find cool resticts the sample to an infinitesimal percentage of all possibilities. In other words, “inside the log is cool” + “the odds of being in the log is substantially less than being on the ground” doesn’t move the needle an inch toward agency causation.

          Perhaps we should focus on “that’s remarkable” rather than “that’s cool.” Suppose the hollow part of the log is 2″ in diameter, and you found one leaf 10 feet inside the log. There are no other leaves inside the log, but there are plenty outside. A chipmunk (an agent) could’ve put it there, but it’s hard to see how the wind did. Is the needle moved now?

        • JustAnotherAtheist2

          You’re missing the point of the exercise, Bob.

          Are we justified in noting that a bridge hand with only red cards is pretty cool (or surprising or remarkable)?

          Given that you’ve already acknowledged all hands are probabilistically equal, how does subjective interest in one hand increase the likelihood that it had intentional causation?

          Perhaps we should focus on “that’s remarkable” rather than “that’s cool.”

          This is a distinction without a difference. Either something is remarkable for unrelated subjective reasons, or it is due to probability… in which case you start making the same error again. If all spades is remarkable because of how rare it is, then every hand is equally remarkable because every hand is equally rare.

          Perhaps we should focus on “that’s remarkable” rather than “that’s cool.” Suppose the hollow part of the log is 2″ in diameter, and you found one leaf 10 feet inside the log. There are no other leaves inside the log, but there are plenty outside. A chipmunk (an agent) could’ve put it there, but it’s hard to see how the wind did. Is the needle moved now?

          Yes, but only because you added assumptions and knowledge we lack when it comes to the universe.

          Do you realize that you just warped the hypothetical in the same manner as you chided apologists for in the recent abortion posts?

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Given that you’ve already acknowledged all hands are probabilistically equal, how does subjective interest in one hand make it more likely to have had intentional causation?

          We’ve agreed that it’s surprising or interesting. If we suppose that the number of hands that we would find “surprising” are a tiny fraction but we got one nonetheless, this is not the problem of retroactive probability.

          This is not Feynman excitedly saying, “I just saw a license plate that read 285AGJ! What are the chances?!”

          This is a distinction without a difference. Either something is remarkable for unrelated subjective reasons, or it is due to probability

          It’s remarkable because we’re assuming that we got one of the tiny fraction of hands that are interesting (“interesting” based on our human presuppositions).

          “Perhaps we should focus on “that’s remarkable” rather than “that’s cool.” Suppose the hollow part of the log is 2″ in diameter, and you found one leaf 10 feet inside the log. There are no other leaves inside the log, but there are plenty outside. A chipmunk (an agent) could’ve put it there, but it’s hard to see how the wind did. Is the needle moved now?”

          Yes, but only because you added assumptions and knowledge we lack when it comes to the universe.

          Elaborate. As far as I can tell, this is analogous to the fine tuning argument. Point out the dis-analogy.

          The obvious example is your getting dealt the perfect bridge hand (I keep using bridge as an example, but that’s only because it’s the stereotypical example; I don’t play). If this happened to you, would you suspect agency?

          Do you realize that you just warped the hypothetical in the same manner as you chided apologists for in the recent abortion posts?

          No. Explain it to me.

        • JustAnotherAtheist2

          The obvious example is your getting dealt the perfect bridge hand (I keep using bridge as an example, but that’s only because it’s the stereotypical example; I don’t play). If this happened to you, would you suspect agency?

          This argument was addressed in my initial reply.

          All spades aren’t inherently meaningful, it’s the rules of the game that imbues that particular hand with importance. This importance is then supplemented by our knowledge that dealers can cheat and have a motivation to do so. Only then does the hand’s rarity become meaningful.
          —————-
          To hopefully make the error more transparent, here is a more apt card analogy.

          You sit a table with four dealt hands, three players and an empty chair. You don’t know what game is being played, whether it is competitive or cooperative, what the teams are, who dealt or even if the dealer is one of the apparent players. Furthermore, you don’t know whether the deck is standard, if it was shuffled or what pattern was used to distribute the cards.

          You pick up your hand, calculate the odds of this precise arrangement and find it to be very unlikely. Based solely on this rarity, did the dealer cheat?

          Once you understand this point, you’ll also understand why your additions to the leaf/log analogy are flawed.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          All spades aren’t inherently meaningful

          Right.

          it’s the rules of the game that imbues that particular hand with importance.

          Not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about game-independent meaning—all reds, prime numbers only, and so on.

          You sit a table with four dealt hands, three players and an empty chair. You don’t know what game is being played, whether it is competitive or cooperative, what the teams are, who dealt or even if the dealer is one of the apparent players. Furthermore, you don’t know whether the deck is standard, if it was shuffled or what pattern was used to distribute the cards.
          You pick up your hand, calculate the odds of this precise arrangement and find it to be very unlikely. Based solely on this rarity, did the dealer cheat?

          Yeah, we’re on the same page. Every hand is very unlikely, and equally so.

          We’re talking past each other.

          Once you understand this point, you’ll also understand why your additions to the leaf/log analogy are flawed.

          apparently not.

        • JustAnotherAtheist2

          Not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about game-independent meaning—all reds, prime numbers only, and so on.

          There is no such thing. What you are describing is finding something interesting, but that doesn’t provide any meaning to the hand. Not in the sense that it supplements the probability to justify a cheating accusation.

          If I notice a leaf in a position just as likely as any other, does having arbitrary personal reasons to find that position interesting make agency causation more probable?

          Yeah, we’re on the same page.

          Does this mean you now understand why the earlier dealer inquiry was flawed?

          Would you mind answering the question I added at the end of the prior post? Hopefully this is will help us stop talking past each other.

          Given two occurrences that both beat astronomical odds, how do you tell which was remarkable and which was mundane?

        • JustAnotherAtheist2

          I just had a possible moment of clarity. When you say this:

          I’m talking about game-independent meaning

          Do you mean a hand being dealt outside the context of being in a game?

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          No, I’m talking about meaning that comes from my head (and would be shared by pretty much any other human, like you), not from the rules of the game–things like getting just red cards or prime numbers only or your telephone number.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          “Not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about game-independent meaning—all reds, prime numbers only, and so on.”

          There is no such thing.

          Then perhaps we’ve come to the root of our disagreement.

          What you are describing is finding something interesting, but that doesn’t provide any meaning to the hand. Not in the sense that it supplements the probability to justify a cheating accusation.

          How do you tell curious vs. cheating? Obviously, there’s overlap. At some point, your winding up with all 4 aces when playing poker moves from curious to cheating.

          If I notice a leaf in a position just as likely as any other, does having arbitrary personal reasons to find that position interesting make agency causation more probable?

          You keep coming back to this. Yes, I understand that all bridge hands are insanely unlikely—equally so. Predicting one ahead of time would be remarkable, but simply getting one is not. You can stop repeating this.

          I’m talking about an inherent meaning (that is, meaning that both of us would agree to) given to some tiny fraction of bridge hands ahead of time.

          Given two occurrences that both beat astronomical odds, how do you tell which was remarkable and which was mundane?

          What does “beat astronomical odds” mean? If it’s astronomical odds like a bridge hand, they’re mundane. If it’s astronomical odds like me predicting it beforehand, they’re remarkable. And then you have the third case, which is where you get a hand that’s curious enough that, after the hand is played, you want to tell the rest of us about it.

        • JustAnotherAtheist2

          You keep coming back to this.

          I keep coming back to it because your responses indicate you still don’t understand it. For instance, the point being made in the portion you quoted was not the point you summarized immediately afterward. Instead it addresses this error:

          I’m talking about an inherent meaning (that is, meaning that both of us would agree to) given to some tiny fraction of bridge hands ahead of time.

          There is no such thing. Yes, you could say that some hands stand out more than others, but that is the opposite of what you describe; something inherent in us that finds patterns noteworthy. Trying to stretch this in reverse – that patterns appeal to us because they are inherently meaningful – stumbles into the same anthropocentrism that plagues most apologetics.

          A quick example that makes this clear is Pareidola. The fact that we see a man on the moon doesn’t indicate inherent meaning on the moon’s part, it illustrates our inherent propensity to find facial patterns important.

          Obviously, there’s overlap.

          Of course there’s overlap! All hands are equally rare, so overlap will occur by necessity. To continue that thought….

          What does “beat astronomical odds” mean? If it’s astronomical odds like a bridge hand, they’re mundane. If it’s astronomical odds like me predicting it beforehand, they’re remarkable. And then you have the third case, which is where you get a hand that’s curious enough that, after the hand is played, you want to tell the rest of us about it.

          As before, this is precisely the point of the leaf example: that rarity and/or subjective interest are wholly neutral characteristics.

          Allow me to restate the point using a slightly different approach. Imagine you’re asked to determine if a leaf’s position (or the arrangement of a card hand, it makes no difference) based solely on the following:

          1) The specific position was astronomically unlikely.
          2) The position is noteworthy.

          Given these criteria, the only acceptable answer is, “how the hell should I know?!”. Every position is astronomically rare, so that tells us nothing, and without further context there is no way of knowing whether interest is elevated for reasons material to the question.

          The same is true of life generating universes; rarity is ubiquitous and subjective interest requires more context.

          Note that this does not mean agency is excluded; there is nothing about those criteria that contradict agency. What it does mean, though, is that those two criteria get us nowhere on their own. The needle remains inextricably locked on, “there is no way of knowing” until more data surfaces.

          Here’s the kicker… Even if data does materialize, the process flows back to front. Data provides context, context supplies importance to certain samples, rarity helps discern which causes are most likely. The whole process relies on the very context missing from Teleological arguments.

          Instead, TFA uses a combination of rarity and subjective valuation to imply life’s universal importance, and then goes back to rarity to discern causation. And it does all of that without any insight as to the relative probabilities of other causes! It’s a three-pronged probabilistic clusterfuck with missteps at every turn!

          Hopefully this clarifies my position.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          If someone else wants to jump in with clarifying comments, please do. JAA and I are making little progress.

          “I’m talking about an inherent meaning (that is, meaning that both of us would agree to) given to some tiny fraction of bridge hands ahead of time.”
          There is no such thing. Yes, you could say that some hands stand out more than others, but that is the opposite of what you describe; something inherent in us that finds patterns noteworthy. Trying to stretch this in reverse – that patterns appeal to us because they are inherently meaningful – stumbles into the same anthropocentrism that plagues most apologetics.

          You’re agreeing and disagreeing at the same time.

          There’s no inherent outside of us, and yet we still find some small fraction of hands meaningful. If you’re saying that there are boring hands and meaningful hands (where that meaning comes from our heads), yes, that’s it. When we get one of those rare meaningful hands, we do wonder if there was causation behind it. I can only get all 4 aces while playing poker a few times before I suspect agency. (For my fellow players “a few times” = once.)

          A quick example that makes this clear is Pareidola. The fact that we see a man on the moon doesn’t indicate inherent meaning on the moon’s part, it illustrates our inherent propensity to find facial patterns important.

          Right. We find a meaningful face, but that doesn’t mean that there’s some objective, celestial meaning there.

          I just noticed the “both of us agree to” disclaimer. This is quite literally the opposite of “inherent”, so now I’m confused as to what you are trying to say.

          I could find meaning that applies only to me. Maybe it’s my own phone number. That would be meaningless to you.

          On the other hand, there are meanings that you, I, or just about anyone else familiar with cards would find interesting: all the reds, primes only, etc.

          “What does “beat astronomical odds” mean? If it’s astronomical odds like a bridge hand, they’re mundane. If it’s astronomical odds like me predicting it beforehand, they’re remarkable. And then you have the third case, which is where you get a hand that’s curious enough that, after the hand is played, you want to tell the rest of us about it.”
          As before, this is precisely the point of the leaf example

          What leaf example? The example of picking one leaf out of thousands and marveling that it landed precisely there, and precisely then? No, that’s the first example: incredibly unlikely and yet incredibly mundane.

          Imagine you’re asked to determine if a leaf’s position (or the arrangement of a card hand, it makes no difference) based solely on the following:
          1) The specific position was astronomically unlikely.
          2) The position is noteworthy.
          Given these criteria, the only acceptable answer is, “how the hell should I know?!”. Every position is astronomically rare

          (Your challenge was muddled.)

          For the thousandth time, yes every card hand is astronomically rare (point 1). But if (point 2) you dealt me 13 random cards and I got every single club, I would immediately suspect that those weren’t actually random because I got one of the very few hands that we, a priori all agree are interesting hands.

        • Ignorant Amos

          Around 10,000 people in the UK play 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, & 6 each week on the National Lottery…or they did at one time when I read that bit of trivia.

          It seems counter intuitive because we always see the winning numbers as a random set. Of course the odds of any six numbers coming up are equal.

          The irony is that if the perceived very rare set of 1 through 6 came up, the poor sods that think they won’t have to share the jackpot will be in for a surprise.

          .Over 10,000 people use the numbers 1,2,3,4,5,6 every week, meaning if they were to be drawn, a jackpot of 5 million would pay each member just £500.

          https://www.lottoland.co.uk/magazine/lottery-demographics.html

          Finding a mutant four-leafed clover in a field of three leafed clover is deemed a give the finder all sorts of luck….what are the odds? Of course a cow grazing that same field cares not a jot, fou leaf clovers taste very similar to three leaf clovers I’d imagine.

          Humans are silly about such nonsense.

          In “Unweaving the Rainbow” Dawkins uses the acronym PETWHAC.

          The book coins an acronymical term, Petwhac (Population of Events That Would Have Appeared Coincidental). This is defined as all those events that may be considered to be a ‘coincidence’ if studied casually, but are both possible and statistically probable.

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unweaving_the_Rainbow#Petwhac

          The final two paragraphs of The balloon of the mind conclude by saying that human beings are the only animal with a sense of purpose in life, and that that purpose should be to construct a comprehensive model of how the universe works.

          It’s a very entertaining book if ya haven’t already read it.

        • JustAnotherAtheist2

          This was what I meant when I said that, rather than certain patterns being inherently notable, there is something inherent in us that finds certain patterns notable. Sounds similar, means something totally different.

        • adam

          “there is something inherent in us that finds certain patterns notable.”

          How else would we survive?

        • JustAnotherAtheist2

          You’ll get no argument from me about the survival benefits of pattern recognition.

        • adam

          So what animals do not have pattern recognition?

        • JustAnotherAtheist2

          How is this relevant to the distinction I made? If all animals have a proclivity toward pattern recognition, does that mean there is something inherent about the pattern itself? Or is it something inherent to living entities?

        • adam

          ” Or is it something inherent to living entities?”

          Without the ability to determine predator from prey how does one survive enough to reproduce.
          And if the offspring cant tell predator from prey how do they survive?

        • JustAnotherAtheist2

          The distinction made earlier was not between humans and other life forms, so you are going down a rabbit hole unrelated to my comment.

        • adam

          ” there is something inherent in us that finds certain patterns notable. ”

          All animals NEED this inherent ability to SURVIVE

          Humans ARE animals

          So I am going down NO rabbit hole at all, but addressing your post.

        • JustAnotherAtheist2

          You seem to be agreeing with me. There is something inherent to animals (including humans) that finds patterns notable.

          The question is whether animals finding patterns notable says anything inherent about the patterns themselves.

        • Joe

          The question is whether animals finding patterns notable says anything inherent about the patterns themselves.

          It’s just been demonstrated that there isn’t. People will see a face in a cloud, and a bear in a thicket. Only one is significant.

        • adam

          “The question is whether animals finding patterns notable says anything inherent about the patterns themselves.”

          Yes, the patterns are based on perceived dangers typically based on movement.

          Those who fail to recognize the patterns of dangers fall prey to those dangers and dont survive.

        • JustAnotherAtheist2

          Yes, the patterns are based on perceived dangers typically based on movement.

          Some are, not all. For instance, none of the patterns discussed in this thread relate to danger.

          More importantly, you are still confusing why animals find patterns inherently noteworthy for inherent noteworthiness of the patterns themselves.

        • adam

          “For instance, none of the patterns discussed in this thread relate to danger.”

          Are they all not related to survival, in a ‘fine tuning’ sense?

          “you are still confusing why animals find patterns inherently noteworthy for inherent noteworthiness of the patterns themselves.”

          You’ve demonstrated no such noteworthiness of the patterns themselves outside survival.

        • JustAnotherAtheist2

          Are they all not related to survival, in a ‘fine tuning’ sense?

          Yes, but survival is an expansion on the “danger” in your earlier comment.

          You’ve demonstrated no such noteworthiness of the patterns themselves outside survival.

          Since it is my contention that patterns don’t have inherent noteworthiness, why should I be expected to?

          The statement isn’t inaccurate even that aside. As an example, survival isn’t what makes a straight flush noteworthy to us.

          You could say that survival is what imprinted the requisite pattern recognition skills on us, but this is just the same conflation in another form.

        • adam

          “Since it is my contention that patterns don’t have inherent noteworthiness”

          Agreed

          “You could say that survival is what imprinted the requisite pattern recognition skills on us,”

          Exactly

          so where is the disconnect?

        • JustAnotherAtheist2

          I’ve been trying to figure that out myself! ☺️

        • adam

          I guess I dont understand what point you are trying to make.

        • JustAnotherAtheist2

          We’re so far removed from the original conversation, I have no idea what point you are referring to.

        • JustAnotherAtheist2

          Fwiw, I scanned through and my point was exactly what you agreed to: that our propensity toward pattern recognition and finding certain patterns especially noteworthy says more about us than it does the patterns themselves.

          So I guess it was a case of miscommunication from the start.

        • adam

          Apparently so!

        • JustAnotherAtheist2

          There’s no inherent outside of us, and yet we still find some small fraction of hands meaningful. If you’re saying that there are boring hands and meaningful hands (where that meaning comes from our heads), yes, that’s it. When we get one of those rare meaningful hands, we do wonder if there was causation behind it. I can only get all 4 aces while playing poker a few times before I suspect agency. (For my fellow players “a few times” = once.)

          There’s some language imprecision here that conflates distinct concepts. (Not entirely your fault, we’ve never formalized terms). To hopefully get past that, let’s parse our usages more finely.

          Noteworthy – the property of standing out for subjective reasons.

          Meaning – the property noteworthy things have when they indicate agency causation.

          These are the critical concepts and the labels that I find most intuitive. I’m open to a label swap if you feel something else is preferable, just let me know.

          Let’s use an example to highlight the distinction between the terms. Imagine you finished playing solitaire and, after personally shuffling the deck for several minutes, you deal yourself five cards. You pick them up and are amazed to see a royal straight flush (RSF). When your friends come over later they’re amazed by the story as well.

          I think we both agree that this is noteworthy, but is it meaningful?

          No, it’s not. The cards were in your possession the entire time and you personally shuffled them. You can be reasonably assured that the RSF was a chance event.

          Later, while playing poker, the dealer (who is a friend of a friend and a relative newcomer to the group) just happens to give himself the same RSF.

          Once again, this is clearly noteworthy, but is it now also meaningful? Yes, context here provides reason to think the possibility of intent is elevated.

          Now, consider the following question: are RSFs inherently meaningful?

          The answer is no. Since RSFs are meaningful in some contexts and not meaningful in others, it is impossible for them to be inherently so. They may be inherently noteworthy* but, as detailed above, this is not the same thing.

          It’s also important to note other things that don’t bridge the divide between noteworthy and meaningful. Unanimity doesn’t do it; everyone you know could be amazed by you dealing yourself an RSF and it won’t make causal agency more likely. Nor does probability bridge the gap since, as you mentioned, the odds of a RSF are identical to any distinct hand.

          Even the combination of all three factors – noteworthiness, unanimity and improbability – doesn’t lead to meaning. Those factors are all present in the initial scenario above, yet the conclusion is unaffected. Only context can link noteworthiness and meaning.

          The next step is to tie these concepts into life and fine tuning, but it seems best to stop here and make sure we are on the same page. Do you disagree with any of the above?

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Noteworthy – the property of standing out for subjective reasons.
          Meaning – the property noteworthy things have when they indicate agency causation.
          These are the critical concepts and the labels that I find most intuitive. I’m open to a label swap if you feel something else is preferable, just let me know.

          They’re fine. I’ll try to use those definitions.

          I think we both agree that [dealing yourself a royal straight flush] is noteworthy, but is it meaningful?
          No, it’s not. The cards were in your possession the entire time and you personally shuffled them. You can be reasonably assured that the RSF was a chance event.

          Yep.

          Later, while playing poker, the dealer (who is a friend of a friend and a relative newcomer to the group) just happens to give himself the same RSF.
          Once again, this is clearly noteworthy, but is it now also meaningful? Yes, context here provides reason to think the possibility of intent is elevated.

          Again, I agree. But note that in the fine-tuning question, we don’t know if there’s a dealer or not. Indeed, that’s the whole point—to find something noteworthy and wondering whether it points back to a dealer.

          Now, consider the following question: are RSFs inherently meaningful?
          The answer is no. Since RSFs are meaningful in some contexts and not meaningful in others, it is impossible for them to be inherently so.

          Right—there is no inherent meaning (that is, meaning that we know is objective or grounded outside ourselves). Nevertheless, there is a priori noteworthiness. If you crowdsourced the question, “which hands of cards are noteworthy?” and you discarded ones that were noteworthy to only that person (card values give their phone number or birthday, for example), you’d find that some small fraction were reliably seen as noteworthy by most people. When you get a hand from this set of noteworthy hands, you are entitled to wonder if there was agency in proportion to how small a fraction of the total the Noteworthy set is.

          everyone you know could be amazed by you dealing yourself an RSF and it won’t make causal agency more likely.

          When you deal yourself a hand, you can easily convince yourself that your hand was random (no agency). When a dealer gives you a hand, you may suspect agency in your card selection.

          In the case of the universe, we don’t know if there was a dealer, so there’s not much of an analogy with you honestly dealing yourself an RSF, since we’re certain there was no agency.

        • JustAnotherAtheist2

          As I said earlier, we’ll get into how my post above relates to fine tuning next. For now i just need to know if you disagree with anything in it.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Not really, though it’s not really a yes/no question. As you see, I did expand on the topic in my comment.

        • JustAnotherAtheist2

          Sounds good. Fwiw, to the stuff you expanded on doesn’t actually apply to the earlier post, they’ll come into play in the next post when we bring fine tuning back in. I feel more confident that we’re finally narrowing down on the discrepancy. ☺️

        • JustAnotherAtheist2

          Rather than post a long continuation of my earlier post, it seems prudent to just start by replying to your expansions.

          When you deal yourself a hand, you can easily convince yourself that your hand was random (no agency).
          —————–
          But note that in the fine-tuning question, we don’t know if there’s a dealer or not.

          I know, that’s precisely the point. The original analogy is biased toward a dealer, my modified version is biased toward no dealer, and together they illustrate that RSFs on their own – no matter how rare or noteworthy – don’t point in either direction.

          Do you disagree?

          Nevertheless, there is a priori noteworthiness. If you crowdsourced the question, “which hands of cards are noteworthy?”

          I might quibble with this, but it’s long and complicated and really doesn’t affect the point that follows either way. Instead, I’ll offer three responses.

          1) I effectively conceded this point earlier here:

          Since RSFs are meaningful in some contexts and not meaningful in others, it is impossible for them to be inherently so. They may be inherently noteworthy* but, as detailed above, this is not the same thing.

          2) Even if they are inherently noteworthy, this falls under the umbrella of “unanimity”, which cannot bridge the gap between noteworthiness and meaning.

          3) The example actually illustrates my point about context. As you said, hand noteworthiness could be innate and universal, but we’re still a ways from meaning. What brings the two together is the surrounding data.

          – By virtue of all being human, noteworthiness will be shared by all parties.
          – We know a dealer exists.
          – The dealer is human so we know he finds the same hands noteworthy.
          – We know the dealer may be motivated to distribute a noteworthy hand for any number of reasons.
          – We know it’s possible to act on this intent.

          It’s all ^this^ stuff that implies meaning. The problem is that it’s so intuitive that it feels like it automatically follows from RSFs conceptually. But it isn’t the case.

          By contrast, when it comes to life generating universes we don’t have any of that context. The parties aren’t all human, we don’t know whether a dealer exists or what the possible motivations might be, we have no idea if a possible dealer could even control the outcome.

          As such, TFA is really talking about life (and life generating universes) in the abstract. To be consistent, we must do the same with the dealer analogy; we must abstract RSFs by stripping away all the extra context.

          If forced to remove the surrounding data above (and anything else that doesn’t have a clear fine tuning analog) would RSFs be meaningful?

          ———————

          Edit: I have one last comment on the relevant “parties” in each scenario, but I don’t want to distract from the ideas above. So for now I’ll just leave a reminder note to myself – bugs and cards.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          I know, that’s precisely the point. The original analogy is biased toward a dealer, my modified version is biased toward no dealer, and together they illustrate that RSFs on their own – no matter how rare or noteworthy – don’t point in either direction.
          Do you disagree?

          I don’t see how this is helpful. You’re dealing yourself a royal straight flush (RSF) in a situation where we are certain there’s no dealer. Yes, we agree: this is noteworthy but not meaningful. We already know that this is 100% random. There is no trickery, no other dealer, no agency external to you.

          Since RSFs are meaningful in some contexts and not meaningful in others, it is impossible for them to be inherently so. They may be inherently noteworthy* but, as detailed above, this is not the same thing.

          You referred to “inherently noteworthy*” earlier, but I couldn’t find the definition.

          Ignoring that, I would agree with your “Since RSFs are meaningful in some contexts and not meaningful in others, it is impossible for them to be inherently so.” Noteworthy hands are simply those that are deemed interesting or curious by a majority of ordinary, playing-card-aware people.

          By contrast, when it comes to life generating universes we don’t have any of that context.

          Right. We look at the universe and ask ourselves if it’s more like (1) the single person dealing random cards and getting something noteworthy or (2) the single person getting cards from an unknown dealer that may or may not be random.

          The parties aren’t all human, we don’t know whether a dealer exists or what the possible motivations might be, we have no idea if a possible dealer could even control the outcome. And, most problematic for the argument, we don’t know whether life is noteworthy to the dealer or just us.

          Right, but we still have the problem above, trying to decide if we’re in situation (1) or (2).

          As such, TFA is really talking about life (and life generating universes) in the abstract. To be consistent, we must do the same with the dealer analogy; we must abstract RSFs by stripping away all the extra context.

          Are you saying that who judges the meaning is important? In the Fine Tuning example, who could judge the meaning but us? We’re the only intelligent beings in the conversation (if there’s another Being in the conversation, He’s not talking—which is another problem with the FTA, but let’s ignore that).

          Perhaps you’re saying that we need to focus on objective rather than subjective meaning. That is, life is actually an important thing from the standpoint of the universe vs. we humans like the environment to be around 75 if it’s not too much bother, thanks.

          Edit: I have a few other examples that elaborate on this last point, but I don’t want to distract from what’s been written so far. For now I’ll just leave a reminder note to myself – bugs, cards and deer tracking.

          I think more analogies would be distracting. I’d rather stick with the universe at this point.

        • JustAnotherAtheist2

          I don’t see how this is helpful.

          It’s helpful for the very reason I laid out.

          The original analogy is biased toward a dealer, my modified version is biased toward no dealer, and together they illustrate that RSFs on their own – no matter how rare or noteworthy – don’t point in either direction.

          The point of the analogy isn’t to create an alternate explanation, it’s to show that RSF meaning is entirely context dependent. When understand this, you’ll recognize the error that permeates through your position. Until then, we’ve taken this as far as we can go.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          When you understand this, you’ll recognize the error that permeates through your entire position. Until then, we’ve taken this as far as we can go.

          Yeah, I guess so. Thanks for your input.

        • JustAnotherAtheist2

          I was slow to add an edit to the post above. If you didn’t see it earlier, you might find it worth checking out.

          Thanks for the discussion. While we didn’t find common ground, your rebuttals helped me formulate my thoughts more clearly.

        • ClayJames

          Probability requires an event. Whether you define it before or after the situation is irrelevant. You cannot determine a probability without an event, which is what you are trying to do.

          ¨If I notice a leaf in a position just as likely as any other, does having arbitrary personal reasons to find that position interesting make agency causation more probable?¨

          No, because like you said, the event is arbitrary so why would agency be required?

          If you woke up and found a bloody horse´s head in your bed, would you just say to yourself ¨there is no intrinsic meaning to this event¨ and go on with your day?

        • Greg G.

          And another think. Not only are the odds of each hand being dealt a very small number and precisely equal, the probability is a rational number.

          Also, we don’t know how many cards were in the deck being dealt from. Maybe it had a dozen suits. We don’t know.

        • JustAnotherAtheist2

          Yes, I was going to supplement my post with this:

          “You pick up your hand, calculate the odds of this precise arrangement based on the possibly flawed assumption that the deck was standard and find it to be very unlikely.”

          But I thought it might be confusing. Glad to see the idea got across anyway.

    • Kevin K

      I call it the Fallacy of Retrospective Improbability.

  • Kevin K

    I have a problem with analysis of probabilities, because there is no way to assign a probability to the existence of a god without assuming that god exists AND that the god assumed to exist has certain properties/attributes, usually “omni” properties of the Yahweh-like gods.

    If we base our assignment of probability on the analysis of the real world around us, then any god is infinitely improbable. Because we have a near-infinite amount of data that says “doesn’t have to be god” and zero credible data that says “must-be god”. What theists want to do is assign godly action to natural phenomenon — this doesn’t work. Thor is not hammering lightning bolts on his forge. Nor can you declare without supporting evidence that a god was necessary to set the wheels in motion with a Giant Kablooey.

    We also have no way of assigning any probability to the existence of gods that are hidden or trickster gods who do not wish to be bothered by the sentient scum infesting the small rock. And if you go by what you see, the probability of an actively malevolent god is much, much higher than the probability of a beneficent god — still infinitely small but whatever. I suppose malevolence could include Calvin’s god, but most people who worship Yahweh, et al, would assign that god some qualities of mercy/kindness/etc, which are not evident in the historical record.

    • ThaneOfDrones

      … because there is no way to assign a probability to the existence of a
      god without assuming that god exists AND that the god assumed to exist
      has certain properties/attributes, usually “omni” properties of the
      Yahweh-like gods.

      My understanding is that the omni-god is the answer to your question. That question was: what properties would a being need to have to qualify as a god?
      So the omni-properties are not an assumption, they are a basic definition. If it isn’t omnipotent, it doesn’t qualify as a god. Etc.

      • Kevin K

        Of course, about a billion Hindu would disagree with that definition, which is why it doesn’t work (as a single example out of many). It’s making an assumption that there is only one god to be talked about and that god is The Great and Powerful Wizard of Oz Yahweh.

        • Greg G.

          But Satan appears to be more powerful than the Hindu gods so if he isn’t a god, then the Hindu gods don’t qualify. So where do we set the bar? I think Julius Caesar would be more powerful than any of us so we have to put him and us on the spectrum. There could be wizards that are more god-like than us but still not as powerful as any of the Greek Pantheon or Asgard. Satan beats them, too. So maybe a powerful being that is less than omnipotent is just a powerful being rather than a god. So I would put the bar at omnipotence to qualify as a god.

          But if Yahweh was a zillion times more powerful than Satan, Satan would be a trifle to him. If Yahweh is less than a zillion times more powerful than Satan, then he is not omnipotent. So it looks like Yahweh fails to be a god, too.

          I use “a zillion” to represent some very large number because “a kajillion” would be ridiculous.

        • Kevin K

          Satan, of course, is a demi-god. And Yahweh, according to those in the know, has already defeated him. Which explains why all hurricanes, tornadoes and floods are sent directly by Yahweh as punishment for teh gey.

        • Greg G.

          Defeated but not subdued.

        • Kevin K

          Seems quite a hollow victory, doesn’t it? One wonders how theists of the “pre-defeated” genre square that circle.

          It’s like saying “The Nazis surrendered, but they’re still in charge of Germany and those ovens are working just fine.”

        • Michael Neville

          I use “a zillion” to represent some very large number because “a kajillion” would be ridiculous.

          The proper term is “bazillion” which is “any number larger than three.” Remember that most people count “one, two, three, bazillion”.

        • Greg G.

          Are you sure “bazillion” is right? I put my life savings into a retirement account with banker in Rio de Janeiro who emailed me out of the blue and he says I am now worth a hundred brazilian dollars.

        • Michael Neville

          I believe at the current rate of exchange that’s about US$30.45. Incidentally the Brazilian currency is the real R$.

        • Tommy

          A “gazillion” is any number larger than bazillion.

        • adam
    • JustAnotherAtheist2

      To complicate things further, if there’s a god running around do tasks that otherwise would be impossible, how are we supposed to know it isn’t tweaking other stuff as well? If it can do the impossible, surely it can make the improbable happen as well no?

      If so, then probability as an exercise becomes useless. The best we could do is a limited use “presuming no god” approximation. Amusingly, even in this fictional world, the immeasurable-ness of god’s influence would mean we still couldn’t use probability to demonstrate god for anything other than 100% impossible occurrences.

    • eric

      There is also IMO no way to assign probabilities to the fundamental constants. What range of values can they attain? We don’t know. Within that range, are allowable values quantized or not (not would equal an analog range)? We don’t know. If quantized, how many values within that range exist? We don’t know. Are the fundamental constants independent, or are does one fundamental constant attaining a value influence the probability of other fundamental constants attaining various values? We don’t know.

      Any assigned probability to the constants is a WAG. Even worse, such WAGs generally assume the most favorable premises for theism and the absolute worst starting premises for naturalism – i.e. that values are essentially infinite, that they aren’t quantized, and that they are independent. Well sure, if you assume all that the likelihood of our constants is improbable. But why should I grant that? Why should anyone? The much more rational approach is to say we don’t know enough about how these constants came about to even assign a probability to them. Could they be highly improbable? Yes. But logically or empirically must they be highly improbable? No. And while I don’t think we have really any info on the range question or the dependence/indepedendence question, it seems to me that our empirical observation of pretty much every basic attribute being quantized argues against the pro-theism premise that the fundamental constants could attain literally any value within their range(s).

      • Kevin K

        That’s true. There is no way of knowing whether the constants can be changed…because in our universe, they’re … well … constant.

      • Hans-Richard Grümm

        It is not only the range question which hurts the FT argument, but also their probability distribution on that range. “Equal distribution” makes no sense, because it is not invariant under transformations, e.g. replacing the fine-structure constant with square, logarithm or arctan.

  • ClayJames

    ¨6. Evaluating all the probabilities

    Is the fine-tuning argument even well formed? It weighs the likelihood of (1) the universe is all natural vs. (2) God created it, and it concludes: The probability of Hypothesis 1 is very small; therefore, Hypothesis 2 is true¨

    This is not what the FTA does. It usually gives different reasons for fine tuned parameters of the universe, usually articulated by saying that it must be a result of 1) chance 2) physical necesity or 3) design and then it looks at the implausability of 1 and 2 and therefore claims that it is most likely 3. Therefore the FTA has nothing to do with god at its conclusion.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      it looks at the implausability of 1 and 2 and therefore claims that it is most likely 3.

      Right. It concludes 3 without evaluating the plausibility of 3.

      Therefore the FTA has nothing to do with god at its conclusion.

      If you mean that the conclusion is “Designer” rather than “Yahweh,” OK. But that’s a small difference that they’re eager to eliminate.

      • ClayJames

        Right. It concludes 3 without evaluating the plausibility of 3.

        You don´t need the probability of 3 if initial conditions of the universe are a result of one of those 3 and 1 and 2 are either not it, or incredibly unlikely.

        If you mean that the conclusion is “Designer” rather than “Yahweh,” OK. But that’s a small difference that they’re eager to eliminate.

        Then ¨they¨ are leaving out all the necessary work to get from the designer to their conception of god. But its important to keep in mind that in its scholarly form, the argument stops at design. I definetly think you can get to god´s properties by doing some work but this is not part of the FTA.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          You don´t need the probability of 3 if initial conditions of the universe are a result of one of those 3 and 1 and 2 are either not it, or incredibly unlikely.

          And have we shown that we’ve exhausted the set of possibilities with these three?

          That the universe came about through natural reasons (just like the myriad of other things that we now realize have natural causes, not supernatural) seems pretty darn likely. If you’re going to say that the universe is the one exception, I’m going to need a mountain of evidence.

        • MNb

          There is no such necessary work. Apologists just define god as designer of our natural reality (or universe or whatever).

          “this is not part of the FTA.”
          More plain stupidity. It totally is. The FTA implicitly defines god as a supernatural entity that has the property “capable of designing a natural reality”. As such it is obviously inspired by Genesis chapter 1.

    • Susan

      usually articulated by saying that it must be a result of 1) chance 2) physical necesity or 3) design

      All vaguely defined terms aimed at a forcing argument that it doesn’t make.

      then it looks at the implausability of 1 and 2 and therefore claims that it is most likely 3.

      Without showing that it has any basis for dismissing 1) or 2) under any definition and without making a case for 3).under any definition.

      It’s a fake argument.

    • MNb

      This is plain stupid. “Design” as understood by apologists who favour the FTA (ie not only IDiots and other creacrappers) implies a designer – usually with a capital D. The meaning is totally clear: god. Hence the conclusion of the FTA totally is god.
      This in addition to what Susan writes underneath.