Unabashedly Self-Promoting Blurb

John Loftus’ latest anthology, The End of Christianity has been printed by Prometheus and is now being distributed. I have an essay in the book titled “Hell: Christianity’s Most Damnable Doctrine.” (BTW, John and Victor Reppert are having a knock-down-drag-out squabble on their respective blogs–Debunking Christianity and Dangerous Idea–about what John calls ‘the outsider test of faith.’ The imbroglio now seems to be generating rather more heat than light.)

I really enjoyed doing the piece on hell. For one thing, it let me indulge my mean streak guilt-free since it is impossible to be too harsh on such an odious doctrine. Some of hell’s defenders now mitigate the severity of the dogma to some extent. Jerry Walls, for instance, considers that many people are at an epistemological disadvantage, as he sees it, with respect to “the truth about Christ.” That is, many people, through no fault of their own, are in circumstances that make them unreceptive to the Christian message. For instance, someone may have been born into a culture of dogmatic, reactionary Islam and will therefore naturally give Christian claims short shrift. Walls understandably thinks that a just and loving God will not condemn to hell one whose unchosen circumstances preclude a fair hearing of Christian claims. His solution is “eschatological evangelism,” i.e., that after death those who have lived in invincible ignorance of Christian “truth” will be given a full and fair hearing and allowed to make an unbiased and free choice of whether to accept that “truth” or not.
Of course, Walls is pretty sketchy about how all of this is supposed to take place. After death will you find yourself in the presence of angelic beings who assure you of the truth of Christianity and the falsehood of Islam, Hinduism, paganism, or whatever? Whatever the scenario, Walls thinks that you will still have the choice to freely reject the Christian message. Further, since, in his view, free and conscious rejection of the “truth about Christ” can only be due to “concupiscence and hardness of heart” those who reject the eschatological evangelism will then deserve hell.
Let me generate a little heat of my own: Shouldn’t it be obvious when we get to topics like “eschatological evangelism” that the discussion has left the realm of good sense and flown off into Cloud-Cuckoo-Land??? Gee. How many angels CAN dance on the head of a pin? Grrrrr.

About Keith Parsons
  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16247404092985882680 David Mabus

    The End of America – The End of War

    graveyardofthegods.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=25&p;=176806

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12132821431322748921 LadyAtheist

    I look forward to reading it. Hell & Heaven are such stupid ideas when you think through all of the ramifications. Eternity of not feeling anything but a kind orgasmic joy while simultaneously spending all your eternal time kissing the ass of the deity that put you there sounds really really boring. Sure, joy is great for awhile, like maybe a dozen eons or so, but if we continue to have our personalities at all, we'll want a break from it.

    Likewise, wouldn't you develop a tolerance to heat? And anyway, without a body you wouldn't burn or feel flames. If you were able to burn, wouldn't your fuel source eventually run out? And where does the oxygen come from if it's in the middle of the Earth?

    Not to mention, how fair is it to punish someone for eternity for not kissing god's ass but to let a mass murderer into heaven as long as they repent and say the right words. Hitler in Heaven. Gandhi in Hell.

    Even if Gandhi got that last-minute chance to accept Christ, why would he? He would have the same value system he had in life, and he wouldn't choose to kiss the ass of a narcissistic genocidal whimsical jerk.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16641266062186767500 Keith Parsons

    LadyAtheist,

    Jerry Walls sounds like a humane, intelligent gentleman. He seems genuinely concerned that God level the epistemological playing field and give everyone a full and fair chance to accept or reject Christ. However, if you have had such a hearing, and you reject Christ anyway, he says that this can only be due to "concupiscence and hardness of heart." I feel about such a pronouncement pretty much the way that thoughtful Christians do when someone says that Christians are all chumps or morons. In short, it just seems like an arrogant ad hominem to me.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Keith,

    I agree that the doctrine of hell is odious. I also find it interesting to note that an atheist can see that this doctrine does not fit with theism (as you say it’s a damnable doctrine) when many a theist apparently can’t.

    LadyAtheist,

    There are more sophisticated views of heaven than the one you describe. In many views (see for example “soul-making theodicies”) heaven is a condition of being in which one is captured in God’s orbit as it were, but also a place where much work needs to be done – so it is nothing like the unchanging and boring state of pleasure you describe. Moreover, one of the oldest ideas is that our existence in heaven realizes its apogee in “theosis”, which is an event in which one becomes one with God, and at which point one’s individual existence presumably ceases. Please observe though that theosis is not the end of one’s life but the fulfillment of it, the highest possible state a personal life can reach, indeed its apotheosis.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Walls' concern about 'epistemological disadvantage' seems based on a scrupulous demand for justice that requires a degree of 'equal treatment' which might not be satisfiable, even by God.

    If I have bad experiences with hypocritical Christians, might not that earn me a 'get out of jail free card'? What if I had religious parents who were harsh and unkind to me? What if I experience more pain and suffering than the religious people who attend church services in my neighborhood? What if my genes incline me to be more intellectual and more skeptical than my religious friends and neighbors?

    It seems to me that Walls' opens up a big can of worms for defenders of hell. I see no end to the variety of differences and thus inequalities between how people are influenced and inclined to respond to the Gospel or to any other collection of religious ideas.

    Such differences are what make us unique individuals. How can God possibly remove all traces of inequality here, other than be removing all of the things that go into making us unique individual people?

    Take skepticism for example. Different people have different inclinations and degrees of skepticism, and that is part of what makes us different and unique. How can God send any person to hell for all eternity, if that person was slightly more inclined towards skepticism than others who accept the Gospel (or whatever the religious-belief test may be) and get to go to heaven for all eternity? What a terrible injustice this would be!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16641266062186767500 Keith Parsons

    Bradley,

    Good points. If, as I suspect and as mounting evidence appears to indicate, some people are neurologically inclined towards unbelief, what will God do for these individuals? As you imply, God would seemingly have to negate or overwhelm these skeptical tendencies, and for many this would seem to involve a pretty major personality overhaul (It certainly would in my case). A further problem is the question of freedom. Walls wants the person who has been eschatologically evangelized to still have freedom to reject the message. I dunno. If after death I found myself in the presence of angelic beings who assured me of the truth of Christianity I would immediately gather: (a) that my atheistic/naturalistic convictions had been completely wrong, and (b) that I had better get with the program if I know what's good for me. My freedom to reject would be pretty much curtailed. Walls might respond that acknowledging God is not enough; you must love him. But who or what I love is not something over which I have control, so if I am punished for not loving God, I am still being punished for something I cannot do anything about.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06375439323633124420 andy.scicluna

    Yeah, I can see it… a muslim waking up on top of a cloud, being told by St Peter at the pearly gates whether he would like to accept christs message or not.

    Can you guess what he'd say? Do you think he'd reject it as a hallucination? NO! He'd take the deal! Anyone would under those circumstances. So why can't God give us atheists a choice that mindbogglingly obvious, instead of forcing us to trust vague ancient documents and complex philosophy, all the while giving us contradictory scientific evidence?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12891880571689735576 Philo

    Keith,

    Astute observation and responses to the above commenters. It is my inclination to think, in regards to your final point regarding love, is that it would depend on your definition of said "love."

    If defined as a feeling presented by your senses with corresponding neurological response, then yes it would be another factor outside of your control, thus voiding the pretense.

    However, if "loving" God is defined as the "act of choosing to value him/his will over your own" (thus a decision / not a feeling) or variations of this definition, I believe the issue raised may be avoided.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12891880571689735576 Philo

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12891880571689735576 Philo

    Andy,

    It does seem obvious that, presented with the reality of angles, afterlife, God, etc, one would chose to cooperate in any way required.

    The question you ask is very important. Why would we have to first decide that "God" exists, and then "choose" him. Many people willing to "love" (as defined above) a real God are incapable to love a theoretical one.

    My suggestion – please address – is that in the case of "God", doubt is a prerequisite of free-will, which is itself a prerequisite of love (the posited goal of existence). As you mentioned above, "Anyone would [take the deal] under those [mindbogglingly obvious] circumstances." Remove doubt = remove choice, thus removing the opportunity to love as I've laid it out above.

    Nonetheless, "faith" that flies in the face of reason and scientific evidence is, I think I speak for most here, out of the question. The above suggestion solely addresses the lack of a "mindboggling obvious" choice.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16641266062186767500 Keith Parsons

    Philo,

    Your remarks raise what I have always thought is the most difficult problem for the religious apologist: How much evidence is just right? If there is TOO much evidence, then human freedom would seemingly be abridged. When atheists suggest, like Andy, that God come right out and show himself, the reply is always that this would remove the need for faith and abrogate human freedom to accept or reject. God seems to need to maintain some degree of "hiddenness."

    On the other hand, if there is too little evidence, then the unbeliever will be perfectly within his epistemic rights rejecting belief in God. That is, unbelief will be a perfectly reasonable response given the paucity of evidence. Yet, apologists tend to hold that there is something morally and rationally culpable about nonbelief. As Walls says, not believing when you have been give a fair presentation of the "truth about Christ" can only be due to "concupiscence and hardness of heart."

    How does the apologist walk this tightrope between too much and too little evidence? How much is enough to make it wrong not to believe but not so much as to abrogate faith and free will?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17239457772830013242 tmdrange

    Keith wrote "If there is TOO much evidence, then human freedom would seemingly be abridged." It does not seem that way to me at all. We have tons of evidence all around us for millions of different propositions, often making the propositions absolutely indubitable, and yet our freedom remains totally unscathed.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12891880571689735576 Philo

    tmdrange,

    Back to eschatological evangelism, let us theoretically assume the that the individual acts completely reasonable after pre-disposals are removed. Clearly offered the choice of eternal ecstasy or eternal damnation to me really is no longer a choice. For example, if I offered you 2 options for dinner – one being a stick, the other a 10 course meal.

    Now, I may here be dealing with a non-traditional definition of choice, but it seems that the two options of said choice, to be volitional, must appear equal. Stress on the word appear.

    ————-
    Keith,

    Very well said. The traditional religious apologetic's argument appears reasonable regarding too MUCH information but does seem to break down on differing an individual's non-belief when provided too LITTLE info to "concupiscence and hardness of heart." It seems perfectly reasonable and epistemologically justifiable for someone to follow the evidence wherever it may lead.

    It thus seems to be the charge of the religious apologetic to demonstrate that the evidence does in fact lead to theistic belief.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    I don’t think that the relevant factor here is freedom of choice. I think that in many situations where I necessarily chose A, I was still free to have chosen B. To put it in modal terms: Suppose I am dining in an Italian restaurant with friends. There is no metaphysically possible world where I will choose to spill my spaghetti over my head, even though I am in a state of complete freedom to choose to do so.

    Rather I think that God’s hiddenness is best explained not by the nature of freedom but by the nature of love. It’s not so much that one will necessarily love a God who is completely visible to one in all His/Her goodness, but that this love will lack value or meaning. To slightly paraphrase something that Jesus says somewhere in the gospels: What merit is there to love those who are good to one? Don’t bad people do the same?

    Let me give a personal example. I am now married for some 8 years. I believe I love my wife today not less than I loved her 8 years ago when I was madly in love with her and she struck me as almost perfect in all ways. Today I know many of my wife’s imperfections and defects, but this makes my love for her far more valuable and more meaningful and indeed more beautiful than before. The value of love resides in self-transcendence, in loving what in some sense is not deserving of one’s love. Love is a creative force. If this kind of true love is of great value, then we here find an explanation not only for God’s relative hiddenness (which increases the value of our love for Him/Her) but also for our own imperfection (which increases the value of God’s love for us). Incidentally, in my mind God’s hiddenness does not lie so much in the “lack of evidence” for the existence of God (I think those who think that there is such a lack of evidence are looking in the wrong place). Rather I think that God’s hiddenness lies in how little we perceive God’s beauty and goodness and love and care.

    My greater point is this: If God is love, then understanding the nature of love will help us understand God.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17239457772830013242 tmdrange

    Philo said "I may here be dealing with a non-traditional definition of choice, but it seems that the two options of said choice, to be volitional, must appear equal." That is indeed non-traditional. In fact, it's another language. There is nothing whatever in the English terms involved that requires that the options between which one makes a free choice appear equal. Every day, not only do we freely choose things that appear BETTER to us than the alternatives, but it is BECAUSE they appear better that we choose them. Philo's way of thinking here is incomprehensible to me.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12891880571689735576 Philo

    Dianelos,

    I think of choice as equal with your statement, "The value of love resides in self-transcendence, in loving what in some sense is not deserving of one’s love."

    To bring tmdrange and Dianelos Georgoudis's points together,

    We "freely" chose things that appear better for us, but in terms of love, the better it appears for us the less value it has.

    Clearing up "choice": Decisions that require more "volition" correlate to more of a "choice," and expresses more "love." It may be that you can choose to love your wife when she appears perfect in all ways, but that required little volition and love with little value. In fact, the opposite (not loving your wife) under these circumstances would take much volition and reflect malice. Thus, when someone is appears perfect, the options are love of little value or malice.

    Thus, choice requiring more volition, something that does not appear BETTER to us, offer the opportunity to express love of more value or malice of more value.

    I have used the words as I have defined them. Please let me know if I have faulted here.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17239457772830013242 tmdrange

    Philo speaks of "choice requiring more volition." I have no idea what that is supposed to mean. Does it have anything to do with the old fable about a donkey who starved to death because the bale of hay to its left appeared exactly equal in value to the bale of hay to its right, so it was unable to move in either direction?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06056410184615941086 M. Tully

    "That is, many people, through no fault of their own, are in circumstances that make them unreceptive to the Christian message."

    And yet it never occurs to Jerry that the converse, "That is, many people, through no fault of their own, are in circumstances that make them unreceptive to the (Muslim, Buddhist, Zeusist, etc.) message."

    So, Jerry is using this as an argument to make the point that Loftus's argument is flawed? He better be able to answer why the the converse arguments are flawed…I'll wait, but at first face he seems to be making Loftus's argument for him.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16641266062186767500 Keith Parsons

    M.Tully,

    But, but the Christian message is the one that's truuuuuuue!!!!

    Yeah, double standards are no problem for the True Believer.

    Christianity, or at least those of its claims that are coherent and consistent, MIGHT be true. Further, I am happy to admit that some very intelligent, amiable, and reasonable people are Christians. What REALLY bugs me is not the claim that Christianity is true, but that it is so obviously or demonstrably true that anyone who has considered it fairly must be convinced, and those who still reject it are guilty of "concupiscence and hardness of heart." It is one thing to say that you are right. It is something else entirely to say that those who persistently disagree with you must be evil. I think the worst single thing that Christianity has ever done is to make hell the penalty for disagreeing with Christians.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16360897119962486447 andy.scicluna

    Keith: I have agee with you. I honestly believe that Christianity has a chance of being right. I just get ticked when I hear an apologist say it is DEFINATLEY right- and then precede to mock the intelligence of the atheist because they doubt it! This kind of ad-hominem arument is far too common in apologetic circles.

    Dianelos:
    The comment of angels and the pearly gates was supposed to be a joke- but I'm happy to see my comment sparked an intellectually satisfying conversation.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    If I died and then God (or Jesus or an angel) offered me the option of either spending eternity in heaven or eternity in hell, then I would opt for an eternity of happiness, freedom from pain, suffering, and sorrow, and choose to go to heaven rather than hell. Although this choice seems rather obvious and inevitable, this would be (or might well be) a perfectly free choice on my part.

    But if I died and then God (or Jesus or an angel)offered me the choice of being his obedient servant for all eternity or maintaining my independence for all eternity, and if he also noted that choosing the former option would result in my being allowed to go to heaven for all eternity, while the latter option would result in my being forced to go to hell for all eternity, then should I decide to become an obedient servant of God, that choice would NOT be a free choice, at least not a fully free choice.

    My choice, in this second scenario would be forced or very strongly influenced by the threat of eternal torment in hell, and by the contrasting promise of eternal bliss in heaven.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    I think that for the atheist or the agnostic the truth of Christianity should not be the issue. After all even if Christianity is false theism may well be true. One should always go from the general to the specific. One first ascertains, say, that the Earth is round and then discusses its diameter.

    What matters is to think whether naturalism or else theism is more likely true. And here I think that if a) one takes into account all of one’s experience of life and not just one’s observation of physical phenomena, and b) one actually compares naturalism and theism one to one under the same epistemic principles – one will find that in all cases theism works better than naturalism. A good place to start is to compare which concords better with the physical sciences. Surprisingly enough there seems to be a deep conflict between modern science and naturalism, as evidenced by the fact that naturalists in response to the findings of modern science had to multiply entities beyond imagination, and posit the existence of multiverses within multiverses (all invisible incidentally).

    Another reason I think that intelligent and reasonable people fail to realize how badly naturalism fares in comparison to theism is that they are under the impression that they don't know of anything supernatural. But our free will is supernatural, in the sense that it cannot exist within a naturalistic reality. So in fact we experience the supernatural every single second of our waking life. Now naturalists claim that our experience of free will is “illusory”, but it’s one thing to say that we don’t know of anything supernatural and another thing to say that the supernatural we do know is the result of an illusion. And our sense of free will is not the only supernatural thing we know. Our sense of beauty, our sense of moral goodness, our sense of rationality, even our sense of logical and mathematical truths – they all appear to make little sense within a naturalistic (aka mechanical) reality. They are “queer” things, as Mackie might have said. In fact they should all be described as supernatural, as long as nobody explains how they may exist in a naturalistic reality. So, from where I stand, I observe the following remarkable state of affairs: People whose condition is literally drenched in the supernatural insisting that the supernatural does not exist, basically because they have never observed water being turned into wine, or limbs growing back, or dead people being raised. But our experience of life goes way beyond the causal closure of physical phenomena we observe around us. It’s of course not in the physical that the supernatural abounds.

    But even in the physical, when one actually considers how naturalistic scientists describe it, one can’t really escape the impression that they are talking about deeply supernatural things. How would one qualify a claim that some magician by flipping one single finger caused the entire physical universe, including its hundreds of billions of galaxies, to instantly and mysteriously split into many copies? As a wildly supernaturalistic claim, correct? But this is exactly what many naturalistic physicists claim happens every time anyone of us switches on a light.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16641266062186767500 Keith Parsons

    Dianelos,

    I hope you are well and have not been too badly affected by the turmoil in Greece we are seeing daily on the news.

    Please do explain to me what you mean when, as you have said in a number of previous comments, that the world has a deep mathematical structure. I am not sure how to understand this. Prima facie I would say that the world has no mathematical structure at all. Of course, since Galileo, we have all piously intoned that "the book of nature is written in the language of mathematics." However, the fact that we can describe the world mathematically does not mean that it has a mathematical structure–no more than the fact that we can describe it with natural languages means that it has a linguistic structure. We describe nature in terms of models, and the advantage of mathematics in model-building is the much greater precision of expression and rigor of testing mathematics allows. Indeed, if reality itself had a mathematical structure, I would not expect to find that over time scientists employ mathematical models to describe nature and then abandon those models, and their mathematical details, for incompatible models using different math. If nature HAS a mathematical structure, I would expect that to be fixed and not amenable to human decisions about which mathematical models to employ. I think all that we can say is that reality constrains the choice of mathematical models we can use. It does not dictate them. So, please tell me a bit more about just what you mean here. Thanks.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14479224236264150172 Ben

    Hey Keith,

    I've incorporated the points in your chapter into my comprehensive argument map on the injustice of hell. Also I will be following up with whatever Christian reviewers level at your chapter as it relates to that particular argument. If you'd like to take a look and make any suggestions, feel free. http://war-on-error.xanga.com/747716655/argument-map-the-doctrine-of-hell-is-unjust/

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16641266062186767500 Keith Parsons

    Wow! Thanks Ben! Yeah, I would love to hear what Christian reviewers say about it, so your help keeping up with that is much appreciated.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Keith,

    What I find remarkable is not that physical phenomena are amenable to mathematical modeling. On the contrary, I’d like to suggest that all knowledge about quantities (or about quantifiable properties) must be of a mathematical nature, i.e. must be of a kind which can be expressed mathematically. After all, mathematical language is the formal language we employ to describe mechanisms. You point out that physical phenomena (or, if you prefer, the physical universe) can also be described using natural language, and that nobody is therefore claiming that they have a linguistic structure. Here I’d like to suggest that physical phenomena cannot be described using natural language *except* to the degree that the natural language employed is a shorthand for mathematical language. What I am saying is that any description of the physical world in natural language is the analogue of a mathematical description; it is an informal way to express a mathematical proposition. So, for example, when I say “there is an apple tree in my garden” I mean “an apple tree is an element of the set my_garden”.

    What I do find remarkable is how *deeply* mathematical the nature of physical phenomena are, or, if you prefer, how deeply mathematical our better models by which we describe physical phenomena are. Here is how I mean that: Math is an abstract field, for mathematicians discover propositions that hold for the abstract mechanisms (aka “mathematical objects”) they invent. And as we know from the history of science something extraordinary and surprising has taken place again and again: Mathematical knowledge about abstract objects with no apparent relation to physical reality, and which knowledge was sometimes developed almost as a curiosity, found deep and dramatic application in the physical sciences. Two examples come to my mind: First the development of complex numbers. Complex numbers appear at first sight not to apply to the real world (indeed what characterizes them is the introduction of an impossible unit, namely the imaginary number i which equals the square root of -1). Nevertheless and quite unexpectedly complex numbers found a major application in the physical sciences. I think it would be fair to say that modern physics would be impossible without complex analysis. The second example would be non-Euclidean geometry. It was developed as a curiosity to show that by denying the (obviously true) fifth axiom one could devise an internally consistent (but obviously false) geometric system. Well, as it turned out much later non-Euclidean geometry found an important application in Einstein’s theory of special relativity; indeed it is today thought that the real physical space is non-Euclidean. (The Euclidean geometry we all learn at school is true only approximately in regions of space with little gravitational force present.)

    The classical paper which first discusses this spooky connection between the physical world and deep math is Eugene Wigner’s 1960 paper “The unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in the natural sciences”. As Wigner argues this connection is so deep, that should a mathematician discover a new deep mathematical theorem it might be a good idea for the physicist to search for its relevance in the physical sciences. Only a few decades after Wigner’s paper the cutting edge theoretical work in physics has become almost indistinguishable from mathematical research; the border between physics and math has become hazy. Metaphysically speaking it looks like there must be something deeper than either math or physics upholding the two.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11030669424412573308 Chris

    "…the border between physics and math has become hazy. Metaphysically speaking it looks like there must be something deeper than either math or physics upholding the two."

    So do you then accept either the multiverse or m-theory? If you do, then how does that impact your view of the fine-tuning argument?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16641266062186767500 Keith Parsons

    Dianelos,

    As you say, mathematicians will often come up with new concepts or even whole new branches of mathematics and physicists come along later and find that those ideas are useful in understanding the natural world. Does this show that the world in some sense has a deep mathematical structure? Indeed, I am still not clear on what a “deep mathematical structure” could mean other than the fact that mathematics has proven a very useful, in fact indispensible, tool in describing the natural world. Is the best explanation of this indispensability of mathematics that there is a divine mind somehow behind it all that has made a world to which our concepts, including our mathematical concepts, can apply? Not at all. Recall the famous high table toast from Cambridge mathematician G.H. Hardy: “Here’s to higher mathematics, and may it never be of any use to anyone.” Hardy was right. Most of higher mathematics has no “practical” use, however fascinating it is for mathematicians. Think of math as a Swiss Army knife. You have an instrument with thirty different tools attached. Is it surprising that you occasionally will find that one of those tools is useful in doing something? A better analogy, since a Swiss Army knife is designed with certain jobs in mind, is the process of natural selection. Organisms vary in innumerable different ways, and, occasionally, if the organism is lucky, some of those variations will prove useful for survival in a given environment. Similarly, given a proliferation of mathematical ideas, it is neither “unreasonable” nor surprising that physicists are able to appropriate and use some of these concepts and techniques. Further, we have to remember that mathematics is typically used in the physical sciences to create models, and it is the models that give the math its application and meaning. Pure mathematics is purely syntactic or formal; a physical model supplies the semantics, i.e. the interpretation that gives the math physical meaning and relevance. Theoretical models are, obviously, creations of the human mind, so the physical interpretation of the mathematics, is something WE do. Of course, man proposes and nature disposes (nature might reject our models), but WE do the proposing. Finally, you say, “,…I’d like to suggest that all knowledge about quantities (or about quantifiable properties) must be of a mathematical nature, i.e. must be of a kind which can be expressed mathematically.” However, this looks like a tautology. Of course the quantifiable can be expressed quantitatively. That is what “quantifiable” means. Have I misunderstood you?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Keith,

    I don’t think it’s true that most of higher mathematics has no practical use. I think a physics student nowadays will have become a quite proficient mathematician by the time she graduates. Actually, off the top of my head, I cannot think of one field of mathematics that has not found application in physics. Indeed, there have been cases where some field of theoretical physics was stuck until mathematicians made advances that broke the deadlock; the remarkable thing being that those mathematicians had no idea that somebody was waiting for them. Without any obvious reason it seems that math and physics advance hand in hand. Indeed it almost looks like physics is being absorbed by math. It does look kind of spooky.

    Now I do agree that given that mathematical truths are truths about mechanical models, it is not surprising that mathematical truths would find application in the modeling of physical phenomena. The argument is one about the nature of the math needed. As it happens we understand the Darwinian algorithm well enough to see that a naturalistic world in which intelligent organism will evolve need not have physical laws of the deep mathematical nature our world has. There are possible naturalistic worlds where all physical laws require nothing more than basic arithmetic, and where intelligent organisms will evolve. In the other extreme I think there are possible naturalistic worlds where intelligent organisms will evolve and in which the mathematical order in its physical laws is intractable.

    So I think it’s fair to say that our physical universe has an intrinsic property that appears to be difficult to understand on naturalism, for it looks like purposeful. Math is a universal language which all intelligent beings know. It is widely assumed that should we ever come in contact with some alien civilization our first steps for communicating with them will be using mathematical language, or that if that some alien civilization should wish to make its presence known it would beam a message expressing mathematical knowledge. Thus to find that our physical universe incorporates such a deep mathematical structure looks like a signature, like saying “made by a mathematician”.

    Now perhaps there are ways for the naturalist to make sense of this property of our physical universe. I think it is inescapable that there must be something deeper connecting math with physics. Perhaps this is nothing less than the origin of the physical laws. Perhaps there is some deeper naturalistic process which favors mathematically deep physical laws. Perhaps there is a pre-physical state of the world in which chaotic elements tend to coagulate at stable mathematical structures. There is something objective which makes deep mathematical truths, and perhaps that same something would stabilize such a unlawful pre-physical world until lawful physical spacetime would burst forward. This is pure speculation of course and there are a lot of “perhaps”, but at the very least it is conceivable that there is naturalistic (i.e. mechanical) solution which explains that deep mathematical nature of our universe.

    Whether created by God or not, the fact remains that the physical universe we observe around us appears to be of a comprehensively mechanical nature. Thus perhaps there is way to derive the apparently contingent physical laws from pure math. Methodological naturalism may hold all the way down (for all we know, perhaps because it pleased God to make it so).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Chris,

    I consider m-theory to be a valid effort, and do not agree with those who say that string theory is not “real” physics because it makes no predictions. Experimental verification of predictions is the gold standard, but a scientific theory stands or falls on its descriptive power, i.e. by the scope and precision with which it describes physical phenomena. Now, as far as I understand it, it is now the case that there is a huge number (10^500?) of different solutions compatible with string theory, there are simply to many undefined parameters in it. In other words, string theory now consists of a huge number of models all of which work equally well in relation to the data we have. Thus we don’t now know which of these models is the one that most closely describes the phenomena of our physical universe. Some people have metaphysically interpreted the current state of the theory as saying that there exists a huge number of parallel universes (one for each model), i.e. a multiverse. To my knowledge there is absolutely nothing there in string theory that implies that metaphysical interpretation. I have the impression that naturalists are simply trying to find some scientific footing for their multiverse hypothesis, which hypothesis they need in order to give a naturalistic explanation for the fact that the fundamental constants and initial conditions of our universe appear to be fine-tuned for complex life. As far as I know (and I may be wrong) no naturalist would be suggesting the existence of a multiverse with different physical laws if it weren’t for the uncomfortable fact of that apparent fine-tuning. Thus, as far as I know, the multiverse hypothesis is a purely metaphysical hypothesis not supported by science or evidence. As things now stand, it looks like an effort to try and bend physical science to fit naturalism’s needs.

    [continued bellow]

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    [continued from above]

    I am now reading physicist’s Stephen Barr’s “Modern Physics and Ancient Faith”, where I found the chapters on the apparent fine-tuning especially well written (he calls the issue “anthropic coincidences”). He explains and then shoots down the idea that perhaps life can exist in conditions that defy our imagination, i.e. that our universe may not really be fine-tuned for life. As he explains, you need fine-tuning even for basic conditions necessary for life, for example that the universe should last more than a few units of Planck time. He goes on to explain and to shoot down the idea that perhaps there is an as yet unknown physical connection between apparently independent constants, and that perhaps our physical laws could not have been different than how they in fact are. As he explains if physical reality turned out to be necessarily tuned to complex life, that would make naturalism’s problem only worse. In modal terms the latter idea (as I understand it) goes like this: Take the set of all possible naturalistic universes. Out of them only a small fraction will be such that complex life-forms will evolve in them. Out of them only a small fraction is such that any small change in the physical laws would make life impossible (i.e. universes that appear to be fine-tuned for life like ours is). Out of them only a small fraction is such that the physical laws are necessarily as they are. The conclusion then is that any advance in physics which reveals an even deeper order, a connection between apparently independent constants, will only make the problem worse for naturalism.

    So, it seems to me, the only solution out for naturalism is the multiverse hypothesis, but as long as no evidence for the multiverse exists that hypothesis will be very difficult to seriously uphold. Given that by definition there cannot be any physical evidence for parallel universes (for they are causally separated from ours), the only possible evidence would be to discover that the best scientific model for cosmogony should turn out to be such that it entails the generation of a multiverse of the kind that naturalism needs in order to remain viable. This looks like long odds. On the other hand should this come about then it would count, in my judgment, as evidence for naturalism.

    Be it as it may, there is still naturalism’s problem with the deeply mathematical nature of our universe, which cannot be solved by a multiverse of any kind. It looks like modern science has been busy heaping problems on naturalism.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11030669424412573308 Chris

    "Thus, as far as I know, the multiverse hypothesis is a purely metaphysical hypothesis not supported by science or evidence."

    Of course, there is also, as yet, not a single piece of evidence supporting the existence of anything 'immaterial' or 'outside time', etc. Beliefs in such things are equally metaphysical. In fact, they can only *ever* be metaphysical. The multiverse at least is supported by mathematics, which will allow it to be falsified at some point (or some versions of it). (And I'm not offering up falsifiability as the be-all-end-all of a theory. But it's something at least.)

    I should add that I don't consider the multiverse necessary to naturalism. But it is at least a *scientific* theory, as you say.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12540219473554210107 RP
  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14479224236264150172 Ben

    It can be noted that my response to jayman77's main point can be found already cataloged and responded to on my argument map (objection 27). http://x64.xanga.com/bb7f976001433277656070/w221182139.jpg

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16641266062186767500 Keith Parsons

    RP and Ben,

    Thanks much. I just posted a reply to this review.


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