Initial Impressions on the Andrews-Schieber Debate: Part 4

In this post, I’m going to comment on Schieber’s’ first rebuttal.

Schieber’s First Rebuttal

In defense of his argument from divine lies, Schieber writes:

As to my argument against Christian knowledge, Mr. Andrews replies that he knows God is essentially truthful – that it is impossible for God to lie because it logically contradicts his moral perfection. The problem here is that nothing about moral perfection logically entails always telling the truth. While lying is usually seen as a moral deficiency, there are certainly obvious instances where lying is justified because it is necessary for some over-riding greater good or to avoid some greater evil. To claim that it is impossible for God to ever be morally justified in lying, Mr. Andrews would need to be morally omniscient – he would need to have exhaustive knowledge of all possible goods that God might act towards and evils that he might act to avoid then conclude that none of these reasons could, in any circumstance, justify a divine lie.

Excellent point. Schieber continues:

Moreover, Mr. Andrew’s criticism of the noseeum inference in the Rowe-style evidential problem of evil wont [sic] allow such epistemological boldness. …

Not exactly. In fairness to Andrews, his primary objection against the argument from divine lies is not a noseeum inference based upon the failure to think of any greater goods which would justify divine lies. Rather, his objection is based upon God’s moral perfection, a point which Schieber addressed above.

Turning to the fine-tuning argument, Schieber writes:

I want to address these arguments in the order they were presented – though, a few comments first. Regarding likelihood arguments, Elliot Sober, Research Professor in the Department of Philosophy at University of Wisconsin writes,

[Likelihood arguments] don’t tell you which hypotheses to believe; in fact, they don’t even tell you which hypotheses are probably true. Rather, they evaluate how the observations at hand discriminate among the hypotheses under consideration.

That is what we call a “money quote.” And Sober’s point is very similar to an objection I made in part 1, albeit worded in a different way.

What about the Thomistic cosmological argument? Schieber writes:

That aside, lets examine Max’s first argument – a likelihood version of a Thomastic-type cosmological argument that argued for the existence of an uncaused cause of the contingent constituents of the Universe. For the sake of argument, I am willing to go along with Max’s conclusion here – World-views that are atheistic have no problem adopting necessary beings.

When I first read that, I said out loud, “Huh?” Atheistic worldviews are logically consistent with abstract objects, impersonal things which include necessarily true propositions. But I cannot figure out why Schieber would say that “World-views that are atheistic have no problem adopting necessary beings.” I’m not sure off the top of my head, but it may be true that atheistic worldviews have no logical problem adopting necessary beings. In other words, it may be the case that there is no logical contradiction between “There is no God” and “There are one or more necessary beings.” But even if that is so, I think the existence of one or more necessary beings would be an evidential problem for atheism. If such beings exist, they would be metaphysically necessary. I don’t see any way to reconcile such metaphysically necessary beings with metaphysical naturalism, since any metaphysically necessary beings would have to be supernatural persons by definition. And metaphysical naturalism is very probable on the assumption that atheism is true. So the existence of necessary beings would be evidence against atheism.

Furthermore, if Schieber admits there are necessary beings, then it seems that Schieber is conceding the Thomistic cosmological argument to Andrews in the debate. He admits that the conclusion of the argument (4) is true.

Andrews’ First Rebuttal 

Abductive Arguments

As puzzling as I found Schieber’s statement about atheism and necessary beings, I found Andrews’ statements about abductive arguments to be the most bizarre statements in the entire debate. He writes:

First, he argues against my wording concerning the relationship of the evidence and the fine-tuner. This is simply a dislike for abductive arguments on his part. It is not the case that the premises strongly support the conclusion. It is the conclusion that supports the premises. An abductive argument for fine-tuning is very similar to induction. Rather than the premises adding to the probability of the conclusion the conclusion adds to the probability of the premises.  This is not to completely exclude the role of the premises adding to the probability of the conclusion but there is a greater emphasis of using the best explanation (the conclusion) to fit the data (the premises).  The belief in question is assessed as the consequent and then considering what may be the best explanation for that belief, antecedently.  This may seem fallacious but inference to the best explanation is a commonly accepted form of reasoning.  Additionally, this abductive process only comes into the process when assessing whether the evidence sufficiently corresponds to the belief since the belief typically arises by the antecedent evidence and then as the consequent, it is the assessment of the belief that requires working backwards.

First, the idea that abductive arguments are separate from both deductive and inductive arguments is a controversial idea among logicians, but Andrews writes as if it were a fact. For my part, I think abductive arguments are a type of inductive arguments, but I recognize that not all philosophers agree.

Second, abductive arguments are invalid arguments. (To be precise, abductive arguments are deductively invalid because they commit the fallacy of affirming the consequent.) In other words, if the premises of an abductive argument are true, that does not guarantee that the conclusion is true. The conclusion may or may not be true. But that entails that the truth of the conclusion is uncertain. So what? Here’s the problem for Andrews: probability measures uncertainty. It makes no logical difference whatsoever  whether the person making an abductive argument is placing “greater emphasis” on “using the best explanation” than on “adding to the probability of the conclusion,” since there is no logical distinction between the two. The best explanation for the data must be the most probable explanation of the data.  

I don’t know if this applies to Andrews, but in my experience what typically motivates the “abduction is an independent category of logic, not a type of induction” position is this. People who hold that view think of induction as nothing but induction by enumeration, i.e., moving from an enumeration of individual cases to a generalization. But induction includes much more than enumerative arguments. To cite just one example, statistical syllogisms are universally recognized to be inductive arguments, but statistical syllogisms are not enumerative arguments. (In fact, they go in the opposite direction: they move from premises about what is generally true of a population to a conclusion about an individual.)

Third, Andrews is simply mistaken when he writes, “It is not the case that the premises strongly support the conclusion. It is the conclusion that supports the premises.” That is simply false. Even in abductive arguments, the premises supports the conclusion.

The Fine-Tuning Argument

While I disagree with much of what Andrews writes in defense of his fine-tuning argument, I’m going to comment on only one item. Andrews writes:

What is an adequate cause for the effect in question—the origin of cosmic information? Logically, one can infer the past existence of a cause from its effect, when the cause is known to be necessary to produce the effect in question. In the absences of any other known causes then the presence of the effects points unambiguously back to the uniquely adequate cause—a mind.[4] This issue will also address the range of possible values for constants. If physics can be expressed counterfactually then we can certainly derive a random sample by which to compare to some type of background information. The full range of values is not a necessary epistemic component. It’s my suspicion that the greater the range is it inversely increases the probability for the fine-tuning argument to be true.

Once again, Andrews is understating the evidence. In order to avoid begging the question in favor of intelligent design, let’s focus on all examples of complex specified information except for complex specified information related to intelligent design.(In other words, we’re going to temporarily ignore cosmological fine-tuning, the origin of life and biological information, the origin of complex specified information related to the Cambrian “explosion,” etc.) For all of the remaining examples of complex specified information, let’s assume, but only for the sake of argument, that the only known cause of complex specified information is a mind. But Andrews fails to mention that the only known cause of that (remaining) complex specified information is not only a mind, but a mind dependent on a physical brain and a mind working with preexisting matter (and laws of physics). So, to sum up, the only known cause of that complex specified information has three features: a mind, a brain, and preexisting laws of physics. It seems arbitrary for Andrews to focus solely on the one feature which supports the inference to fine-tuning while ignoring the two features which count against it. At the very least, this much is certain: Andrews has not yet given us any reason to justify that.

Schieber’s Second Rebuttal

I’m only going to comment on one item in Schieber’s rebuttal because I think Schieber’s point is so important.

Nearly every one of Mr. Andrew’s blog posts related to Fine-tuning cites the work of prominent Christian philosopher Robin Collins – so, clearly, this is someone who Mr. Andrews holds in high esteem – and rightly so. However, In his excellent and very well-known article in the Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, Collins makes this very point much clearer than I.

Because of certain potential counterexamples, I shall use what I call the restricted version of the Likelihood Principle, although I shall often refer to it simply as the Likelihood Principle. The restricted version limits the applicability of the Likelihood Principle to cases in which the hypothesis being confirmed is non-ad hoc. A sufficient condition for a hypothesis being non-ad hoc (in the sense used here) is that there are independent motivations for believing the hypothesis apart from the confirming data e, or for the hypothesis to have been widely advocated prior to the confirming evidence.

Now, because Max’s fine-tuning argument clearly fails to restrict the likelihood principle to hypotheses that are Non ad-hoc, Robin Collins would almost certainly agree with my criticism. This is a significant technical problem for Mr. Andrews‘ particular formation of the argument as it is now susceptible to damaging counterexamples.

This objection is not just “damaging” to Andrews’ fine-tuning argument, but devastating.

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.

  • Justin Schieber

    ” I don’t see any way to reconcile such metaphysically necessary beings with metaphysical naturalism, since any metaphysically necessary beings would have to be supernatural persons by definition.”

    By ‘necessary being’, I only mean a necessarily existing concrete object – not supernatural persons.

    • http://secularoutpost.infidels.org/ Jeffery Jay Lowder

      OK, thanks for the clarification. Two or three follow-up questions:

      1. What type of necessity do you have in mind?
      2. Do you actually believe there are necessarily existing concrete objects or is that an assumption made just for the sake of argument? If you actually believe it, what leads you to believe such objects exist?

      • Justin Schieber

        No problem.

        1. Metaphysical necessity. It seems possible that perhaps matter-energy could have always existed – If not eternal perhaps timeless prior to some moment.

        2. I have no idea if there are necessary impersonal beings, I just think that such things are available to the atheist.

        • http://secularoutpost.infidels.org/ Jeffery Jay Lowder

          Thanks, Justin. Hmm! I can’t figure out if we do have a disagreement after all, or if we’re just using the same words in different ways.

          Let P = the proposition, “matter-energy have always existed”

          If P is metaphysically necessary, I understand that to mean that there is no possible world in which P would be false.

          You write: “It seems possible that perhaps matter-energy could have always existed – If not eternal perhaps timeless prior to some moment.”

          I translate that as: “It seems possible that P is metaphysically necessary,” which is obviously not the same thing as claiming that P is metaphysically necessary.

          In other words, the reason I am hesitant to agree that the universe is metaphysically necessary is simply that I think there are possible worlds in which the universe does not exist. For example, your GodWorld example is a possible world in which God exists, but the universe does not. The fact that such a world is possible seems to count against the universe being metaphysically necessary.

          As I say, though, I’m not sure I’ve accurately understood your position, so the above comments may or may not apply.

          • http://Doubtcast.org/ Justin Schieber

            Whether or not the universe is metaphysically necessary is a question that I really haven’t thought much about but I think these brash speculations are, on their worst days, on better footing than a cosmic, immaterial mind.

            You may be right that it is possible to conceive of a world without matter-energy and so maybe what I am attempting to articulate is some view of quantum fields that are metaphysically necessary.

            I am still wrestling with whether or not conceivability is sufficient for metaphysical possibility. Modal epistemology makes my brain hurt.

          • Ryan M

            Even granting the universe itself is not metaphysically necessary, I wonder where the incompatibility of naturalism and metaphysical necessity comes from.

        • http://secularoutpost.infidels.org/ Jeffery Jay Lowder

          Also, one other random comment (which may or may not be worth pursuing):

          It seems possible that perhaps matter-energy could have always existed – If not eternal perhaps timeless prior to some moment.

          If time began to exist with the Big Bang, then I think you could say, “the universe has always existed,” in the sense that it has existed for all of time. (In other words, there is no time in the past in which the universe did not exist.) But someone else might say that “the universe has always existed” is false, in the sense that the universe is not eternal but instead has existed for only a finite amount of time.

          • Justin Schieber

            Sure, it may be that the Universe is like Bill Craig’s view of God’s relationship to time. As you almost certainly know, Craig holds that God exists outside of time prior to creation and, at the moment of creation, ‘begins’ to exist in time. God, according to Craig, has two ‘modes’ of his existence – a ‘timeless’ and ‘in time’ – God exists in all temporal moments that have and will ever exist.

            It seems plausible that the Universe could have a similar distinction – at least, its not at all obvious that it couldn’t.

            Perhaps the Universe is factually necessary – that is, perhaps in all the worlds where the universe DOES exist, it exists eternally and is indestructible.

  • Ryan M

    How would we be defining ‘metaphysically necessary beings’?

  • Steven Carr

    ‘…that it is impossible for God to lie because it logically contradicts his moral perfection’

    That’s strange. The Christian god seems to kill a lot of people.

    And the hypothetical Christian god certainly approves of other people telling lies.

    1 Kings 19
    22 “‘By what means?’ the Lord asked.

    “‘I will go out and be a deceiving spirit in the mouths of all his prophets,’ he said.

    “‘You will succeed in enticing him,’ said the Lord. ‘Go and do it.’

  • Bradley Bowen

    Jeff Lowder said…

    When I first read that, I said out loud, “Huh?” Atheistic worldviews are logically consistent with abstract objects, impersonal things which include necessarily true propositions. But I cannot figure out why Schieber would say that “World-views that are atheistic have no problem adopting necessary beings.” I’m not sure off the top of my head, but it may be true that atheistic worldviews have no logical problem adopting necessary beings. In other words, it may be the case that there is no logical contradiction between “There is no God” and “There are one or more necessary beings.” But even if that is so, I think the existence of one or more necessary beings would be an evidential problem for atheism. If such beings exist, they would be metaphysically necessary. I don’t see any way to reconcile such metaphysically necessary beings with metaphysical naturalism, since any metaphysically necessary beings would have to be supernatural persons by definition. And metaphysical naturalism is very probable on the assumption that atheism is true. So the existence of necessary beings would be evidence against atheism.
    ============
    Comments:
    I would like to hear more from you on the above paragraph….
    What do you mean by ‘metaphysically necessary’?
    When it is said that ‘God is a necessary being’ do you take this to imply that ‘God is a metaphysically necessary being’?
    Why would a metaphysically necessary being have to be a supernatural person?

  • Ryan M

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