New Secular Outpost Contributor: Bradley Monton

I’m pleased to announce that Dr. Bradley Monton has agreed to join The Secular Outpost as a contributor. Dr. Monton is an atheist philosopher at the University of Colorado at Boulder who specializes in philosophy of religion, philosophy of science (especially physics), probabilistic epistemology, and philosophy of time. He’s written an interesting essay on the fine-tuning argument, “God, Fine-Tuning, and the Problem of Old Evidence,” and his book, Seeking God in Science: An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design.

About Jeffery Jay Lowder

Jeffery Jay Lowder is President Emeritus of Internet Infidels, Inc., which he co-founded in 1995. He is also co-editor of the book, The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave.

  • Some Guy

    Hello Dr. Monton,

    In his defense of the fine-tuning argument, Robin Collins argues that the fine-tuning of the universe for embodied moral and interacting agents is less surprising on theism than on the single universe atheistic hypothesis. In addition to the fine-tuning, he points to the beauty, elegance, intelligibility, and discoverability of the laws of nature to present a cumulative case to try and show that we should be surpised on atheism, but not surprised on theism, that the universe exhibits these features. Moreover, he points out that we can deepen our intuition of surprise by showing that while any universe is equally improbable, it is vastly more probable that any universe which exists that has the same laws of nature as ours will be life-prohibiting. He compares this cumulative case for theism to the cumulative case for darwinian evolution. If you don't like this notion of "surprise," then you can adopt what Tim McGrew has argued "surprise" amounts to in Bayesian terms, namely, explanatory power. So, given the cumulative case Collins' presents, it seems unreasonable to claim that atheism and theism have equal explanatory power as you seem to suggest in your paper. In answer to your rhetorical questions about why focus on our laws of nature: the answer is that the laws of nature are the most basic, fundamental, and cosmically ubiquotous descriptions of the behavior of space-time and its contents. As they go, so goes everything else. As you know, we don't have the cognitive capacity to grasp all logically possible universes operating under all possible laws of nature, and we don't need to either in order to have a successful srgument for theism on the basis of the fine-tuning of our universe.

    Your thoughts please.

  • Bradley Monton

    Wow, there's a lot going on in this comment; let me just focus on one aspect of it, that "it seems unreasonable to claim that atheism and theism have equal explanatory power as you seem to suggest in your paper". I don't recall saying that in my paper, but even if I did, I'll make clear here that my current belief is that atheism and theism have unequal explanatory power. Theism, in postulating the existence of God, requires an explanation that atheism doesn't (why God exists). On the other hand, as an atheist, I don't have explanations for a lot of aspects of reality that I would have if I became a theist (why the universe exists, why it has the laws/regularities that it does, why there's consciousness, why the fundamental constants of physics are life-permitting, and why there are objective moral truths (if, indeed, there are).)

  • Richard Wein

    Hi Bradley. Welcome.

    I'm interested in your comment that "as an atheist" you don't have explanations for those things. This seems to suggest that your not having explanations is a result of your being an atheist. I'll grant you that atheists are less likely than theists to have explanations for these things. But I think you'll find that many atheists do have explanations for some (perhaps all) of them. They may be bad explanations, but then so are the theistic ones. One can always come up with a bad explanation. Or perhaps you think that the atheistic explanations are so much worse than the theistic ones that they're not worthy of even being called explanations.

    I suppose I'm making a point about what it means to assert that someone "has an explanation". You may simply be describing a subjective mental state: they have a belief that functions (in some sense) as an explanation for them. Or you may be making a judgement about the epistemic value of that belief as an explanation. In the latter case you may be judging that the belief has actual explanatory value as opposed to zero value; or that it reaches some minimum level of explanatory value to make it worthy of being called an explanation.

    I'm probably making too much out of an off-hand comment. I just find the point interesting. Please feel free to ignore it if you don't.

  • Richard Wein

    P.S. Let me add that there are different types of explanation. The assertion that "God did X" serves as a partial causal history of X, and I would say this gives it non-zero explanatory value. But giving a causal history is not the whole function of explanations, and a causal history may be not at all the right sort of explanation for some explananda. I would say this applies in particular to consciousness and objective moral truth. The primary question in these cases is not how they came into existence, but how it's even possible for them to exist, or what it means for them to exist. "God did it" just doesn't address the right question in these cases.