Questions for Atheists: Why is there Regularity/Law in Nature?

This is part of a series of posts answering Michael Egnor’s eight questions for atheists.  I am taking the questions out of order, as suits my fancy, but you can see all questions and my responses here.

I can default to the standard atheist response to this question and reply that the probability of regularity in nature, conditional on my own existence as a living conscious creature is one, but I’d like to go into a little more detail on why I believe that is true.

Go ahead.  Try to imagine a universe devoid of natural law.  It probably looks something like this:

Irregularity and/or lack of natural law is the number one hallmark of bad fantasy and science fiction.  When magic can do anything, when there are not predictable costs for actions taken/energy expended, plot and pacing falls apart.  There’s no rational way for people to judge the consequence of their actions in a world of constant flux.  It’s hard to imagine any sense of causality or induction in such a world, and given this deficiency, hard to imagine any possibility of moral action or will at all.

A world without natural law or regularity seems much more likely to require a creator than the world we live in.  Even a world of smaller scale irregularities (miracles, smitings, etc) would be fairly persuasive evidence for an External Actor, if not a benevolent God.  You don’t have to scale up all the way to full-on roiling maelstrom to imagine God(s) that undermine nature’s regularity; the supernatural interventions of the Greek pantheon fit the bill, and would require unnatural explanations.

As it stands, our orderly universe might or might not be subject to the whims of a God, but no God is necessary.

P.S. This post is dedicated to all my friends who have signed up for NaNoWriMo this year.  Happy writing, and make sure the worlds you create follow the rule of Nature as an arms race.

About Leah Libresco

Leah Anthony Libresco graduated from Yale in 2011. She works as a statistician for a school in Washington D.C. by day, and by night writes for Patheos about theology, philosophy, and math at www.patheos.com/blogs/unequallyyoked. She was received into the Catholic Church in November 2012."

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04746612189094458441 Lukas

    Sounds like you are unfamiliar with the theistic argument on this. For an introduction, try this: http://www.firstthings.com/article/2007/01/anthropic-coincidences-40

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16496144988509668275 Leah

    Hi Lukas,I've taken a first read of the article you linked, and I'm still a Weak Anthropomorphic Principle-ist. It is relatively certain that, for us to make observations about the world, it must be fairly stable and regular. I really don't think anyone has sufficient data to back reason about how unlikely such a universe is from the set of all possible worlds or all possible physically regular worlds, etc. The only datum we have is the existence of this world and our knowledge of its laws.The universe's regularity is not in conflict with an atheist anthropomorphic principle and is not in conflict with a deist or theist worldview. It is not a debunker for either side.As I wrote above, I do think theism would be helped and naturalism would be hurt by evidence for irregularities in the law of nature, but, absent that, both sides remain as they are.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04746612189094458441 Lukas

    Good stuff."for us to make observations about the world, it must be fairly stable and regular."This sounds a bit like, "if our universe wasn't hospitable to life, then we wouldn't be here to argue the point." I'm not sure if that's what your saying, but if it is then I can try to explain why I think that that point doesn't really prove anything useful."I really don't think anyone has sufficient data to back reason about how unlikely such a universe is from the set of all possible worlds or all possible physically regular worlds, etc."Even if this is correct, the argument can be modified to deal with that. Suppose you saw an arrow hit a black bullseye of a target. The obvious assumption a person would normally make is that the arrow hit the target because someone was aiming for it. You would not say to yourself, "well, the arrow did hit the target, but we have no way of knowing how many other black colored things there might be which it could also have hit. Therefore, since there might be an infinite expanse of similarly colored surfaces which the arrow might have hit, I cannot speculate about whether hitting the bullseye should be seen as the sort of thing that needs to be explained by recourse to a conscious actor." You'd agree that that would be odd reasoning, wouldn't you?In a similar way, even if you don't think we can speculate about the probability of the existence of life in all possible worlds, we can still speculate about the probability of the existence of life in possible worlds reasonably similar to our own and use that to draw conclusions. To put it simply, if it is true that having the nuclear force or gravity off a bit would prevent the evolution of life, then the fact that gravity or the nuclear force does happen to fall in the sweet spot is something which needs to be explained. That is true even if there are many other imaginable worlds that might also have life.BTW – I'm mostly taking from John Leslie's book Universes and the article I linked to.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03543293341085230171 Eli

    Oh dear…"Suppose you saw an arrow hit a black bullseye of a target. The obvious assumption a person would normally make is that the arrow hit the target because someone was aiming for it. You would not say to yourself, 'well, the arrow did hit the target, but we have no way of knowing how many other black colored things there might be which it could also have hit. Therefore, since there might be an infinite expanse of similarly colored surfaces which the arrow might have hit, I cannot speculate about whether hitting the bullseye should be seen as the sort of thing that needs to be explained by recourse to a conscious actor.' You'd agree that that would be odd reasoning, wouldn't you?"Lukas, what "you would say to yourself" is at best a very weak piece of evidence in arguments. This sort of reasoning is driven far more by social/cultural background states of mind than by evidence, which is demonstrated by the fact that you haven't provided a criterion about which things need to be explained. If you want to make this a consistent feature of your epistemological philosophy, you need more than just what "you would think."Trying to construct one of these out of what you've said doesn't work very well either, unfortunately. On the one hand, you seem to use the criterion that whatever seems to be purposeful action should be assumed to be purposeful. Later, however, you switch to something like whatever would change things greatly if it were slightly different should be assumed to be purposeful. Not only is neither of these a good general principle to use, neither gets you to a traditional view of God.To wit: for the first candidate criterion, it's well known that humans project agency onto things that can't possibly be agents. The analogy to an arrow and a bullseye is an extraordinarily poor one because it is precisely not the sort of situation we're in with the universe. We can use induction to generate a probabilistic law of arrows hitting bullseyes with and without intent and hence come up with a decent (although by no means perfect) way to infer agency, but we only have one universe and so cannot induce anything.As for the second criterion, you're overlooking the fact that life is not the only thing dependent on the so-called fine-tuning of the universe. Many (most? all? I forget) of the constants are also requisites for things like molecules – why should we consider ourselves to be special and not, say, molecules? Especially given the very rare occurrence of life in the universe, it would be a major leap to say that it was designed to sustain life. I mean, right? We can design a life-sustaining environment better than this, so how could God do such a poor job?Granted, none of this explains why there's regularity, let alone the regularity that there is. But theism provides no good explanations here, either. This is a question for scientific evidence and scientific evidence alone (unless and until someone comes up with a mind-blowing mathematical proof that universes must be regular, but I sincerely doubt that'll ever happen). You should be exceedingly careful not to discredit atheism just because we atheists aren't willing to pacify you with bad answers.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04746612189094458441 Lukas

    "you haven't provided a criterion about which things need to be explained."No, I didn't. I figured that would emerge from discussion eventually.What criterion would use use? I think that we normally judge things as 'needing an explanation' when they are both unlikely and 'special.' For example, picking a winning number in the lottery is unlikely and special. Picking any particular number in the lottery is unlikely (there is only a very small chance of choosing a particular loosing number) but choosing a particular loosing lotto number is not special. To continue with the example – if you won the lottery every time you played, eventaully it would be reasonable to assume that this was so unlikely that the chances of it happening randomly were so low that it would be more reasonable to assume that either the lotto was rigged or a miracle was occurring. Do you agree with that? If you do agree with that, then do you agree that we are using the criterion of "unlikely + special"?"we only have one universe and so cannot induce anything"I'm not sure why the fact that we only have one universe is a problem. To go back to the bullseye example: we don't need to observe lots of arrows trying to hit targets to get the idea that hitting the bullseye is an unlikely event. We can just see that the bullseye is tiny in comparison to the target as a whole."it's well known that humans project agency onto things that can't possibly be agents."Of course they do. But that doesn't mean we give up thinking about agency; it means we have to think carefully."why should we consider ourselves to be special and not, say, molecules"I would also consider molecules to be special. So maybe I should explain a bit more about what I think would could as 'special'. I admit, it is a bit of a 'I'll know it when I see it,' concept. But think about the SETI program… the SETI program is run by guys who believe that they can distinguish the general 'noise' of the universe from the 'special' signals that indicate intelligence."none of this explains why there's regularity, let alone the regularity that there is."Maybe I'm confused, bu I thought you were just arguing that we might not need to explain the regularity, and here you seem to switch to saying that we may need to explain it, but that neither science nor theism are much help. So which is it? Do Anthropic Coincidences need an explanation, or don't they?"This is a question for scientific evidence and scientific evidence alone"I don't understand what you're trying to say here. Why is this a question for scientific evidence alone? What is the sort of speculation that you are trying to say is invalid, and why do you think it is invalid?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03543293341085230171 Eli

    The problem with using "special" as a criterion is that it's substantively question-begging. What differentiates specialness from non-specialness, in other words, is not something we can easily agree upon."I'm not sure why the fact that we only have one universe is a problem. To go back to the bullseye example: we don't need to observe lots of arrows trying to hit targets to get the idea that hitting the bullseye is an unlikely event. We can just see that the bullseye is tiny in comparison to the target as a whole."Take this as a case in point. I was at a summer camp one year when a guy shot a bird with an arrow. This, you would think, requires quite a bit more skill than just hitting a stationary target – but, in fact, he just missed the stationary target by a wide margin and happened to hit a bird that was flying above it. This is one of the many ways that "specialness" can be deceptive: some processes are, near as we can tell, irreducibly probabilistic, so to look for any further explanation is to beat one's head against a wall. Another way "specialness" can deceive is for us to impose our preexisting values onto a situation, especially when we lack the context for that situation. This, of course, is the case with the universe.I would like to believe that the actual values of the physical constants have an explanation. I would like to believe this because those don't seem like the kinds of things that just are (in the same way that, for instance, ~(P&~P) just is). But I'm not a scientist so I could be wrong about that. Assuming that they have an explanation, the way to find that explanation is to appeal to science and math, which you are not doing. (I'm hoping here that you understand that you're not doing this, because if you don't understand this then this conversation is going to get very complicated indeed.) I'm not sure what any of this has to do with a need to provide an explanation; maybe you can go into more detail about what you think that need is all about.From a strictly philosophical perspective, I only demand explanations when those explanations are in fact reconciliations. In other words, if there appears to be tension between a theory and some facts, a proponent of that theory is, to my mind, obligated to deal with that tension somehow or other. But there is no tension between atheism and this universe, is there? We simply don't know enough about the origins of the universe yet to make that kind of statement.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04746612189094458441 Lukas

    The hitting the bird example doesn't help your case. I do think hitting the bird would count as a "special" event. But the fact is that you don't need to attribute purposeful action to hitting the bird for another reason – if you shoot enough arrows enough times, eventually you will end up hitting some surprising things, such as the bird. Unusual events will happen given enough trials. Just because an event is special is not sufficient – it must also be unlikely. And given enough kids doing archery, the chances of eventually hitting a bird are very high."I would like to believe that the actual values of the physical constants have an explanation. I would like to believe this because those don't seem like the kinds of things that just are (in the same way that, for instance, ~(P&~P) just is)."There may be an explanation for why the physical constants are the way that they are. However, even if we assume such an explanation, that actually doesn't help the atheist position. Because if there is an explanation for an anthropic coincidence, then that really only takes the problem one step back. The article I linked to has a quote from a astrophysicists Bernard Carr and Martin Rees:"One day we may have a more physical explanation for some of the relationships . . . that now seem genuine coincidences. For example, [some of them] may eventually be subsumed as a consequence of some presently unformulated unified theory. However, even if all apparently anthropic coincidences could be explained in this way, it would still be remarkable that the relationships dictated by physical theory happened also to be those propitious for life. [emphasis added]""there is no tension between atheism and this universe, is there?"That's the question we've been discussing, and I believe there is a tension between atheism and this universe. Suppose that we lived in a universe that was identical to our current one, but with the words "MADE BY GOD" carved into the moon and all of the planets in our solar system. Would you say that there would be a tension between atheism and that universe?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03543293341085230171 Eli

    But what makes hitting the bird special as opposed to hitting anything else? I didn't say that it was unlikely, I said it wasn't special. You telling me that it was, in the long run, probable doesn't give me any more reason to think that it was special."…if there is an explanation for an anthropic coincidence, then that really only takes the problem one step back…"Unless, of course, the explanation is itself logically necessary. Like I said, ~(P&~P) is its own explanation. I think we both agree that there must eventually be some point at which the explanations stop coming – why should it be a mind of some sort and not something more like the kinds of things we already know exist in and of themselves? (Unless, of course, you think that ~(P&~P) is a mind of some sort…?)The problem here is that you aren't showing that atheism can't explain this universe, only that it hasn't. But that's a useless statement to make because no system has explained this universe yet. If that's our criterion, we're going to end up rejecting everything out of hand."Suppose that we lived in a universe that was identical to our current one, but with the words 'MADE BY GOD' carved into the moon and all of the planets in our solar system. Would you say that there would be a tension between atheism and that universe?"No more than there is tension between atheism and seeing the face of Jesus in a grilled cheese sandwich.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04746612189094458441 Lukas

    As far as the 'special' example of the bird – I refer back to what I already said about SETI. The people doing SETI research believe they can find patterns that are special enough that they strongly suggest intelligence. Do you think they are wrong about this? In the case of the bird – when someone hits a bird or a bullseye or whatever, you normally figure it's because they are aiming for it, don't you? Of course it might turn out that they aren't aiming for it, and that they just happened to hit it by accident, but that doesn't change the fact that it's reasonable to suspect that when an arrow hits a bird it's b/c someone was aiming for it. That's common sense, right?"why should it be a mind of some sort and not something more like the kinds of things we already know exist in and of themselves"I think this is a very good question. Except that I don't understand the last bit, when you mention "things we already know exist in and of themselves." I think you are saying that matter exists "in and of itself" while mind does not."No more than there is tension between atheism and seeing the face of Jesus in a grilled cheese sandwich."The situation with the Jesus in a grilled cheese sandwich can be explained by two things (1) the faces don't normally look all that similar to Jesus and (2) if you make enough sandwiches some of them will end up having some very surprising shapes – like I said before, given enough trials very unlikely events become very unlikely.It is not difficult, however, to construct an example where (1) and (2) don't have very much strength. If the event matches the expected pattern very well and the event is extremely unlikely, then (1) and (2) can be overcome. For example, if I rolled a dice 50,000 times and got the same number each time, I'd say either the dice are crooked (most likely) or there was a miracle. If you disagree, I'd say that's a sign that you are methodologically closed to the possibility of miracles.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04746612189094458441 Lukas

    oops that should have been 'very unlikely events become likely'

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03543293341085230171 Eli

    You keep giving me ostensible examples – I don't want examples, I want the rule. Until I have a rule, I can't say whether or not the examples are good examples or not. If I sit here and tell you that arrows hitting targets and SETI investigations are both looking for florbs, that won't help you to understand what a florb is. Likewise for specialness."In the case of the bird – when someone hits a bird or a bullseye or whatever, you normally figure it's because they are aiming for it, don't you?"Right, because normally they are. There is, however, no normally when it comes to universes – I've said this once already. Common sense is not useful, especially when you try to apply it in an uncommon context."I think you are saying that matter exists 'in and of itself' while mind does not."Wow, no. I mean that logical necessities exist in and of themselves. There is no cause of ~(P&~P), for example; it is its own explanation."If the event matches the expected pattern very well and the event is extremely unlikely, then (1) and (2) can be overcome."But expectation is something that is mind-dependent. It doesn't, in other words, just exist as a property of events. So, again, why should we expect one thing as opposed to another?Furthermore, the word "miracle" has no explanatory power. It itself requires explanation, first in terms of expansion (i.e., what does it actually mean) and then in terms of establishing an ontology on which miracles are actually possible – and then in terms of establishing that one has actually happened. But if you can establish all of those things, why bother using the word "miracle" in the first place? It would serve no purpose.

  • A Philosopher

    Surely the crucial question regarding the Carr and Rees quotation is whether "remarkable" entails "stands in need of explanation". I don't see any argument that it does. So I can, as best I can tell, perfectly coherently hold that it would be a thing quite worth remarking on, and quite interesting and important and unexpected, that physical law allows for the development of life, but at the same time think that there is no explanation (and no need for an explanation) for why physical law is the way that it is.I think it's easy to allow an illegitimate step to sneak in here. We think of the actual characterization of physical law as occupying one spot in a larger space (for example, we think of the actual values of basic physical constants as being one value in the larger space of real numbers). Then we tacitly suppose some probability distribution over that space, and conclude that the actual values are highly unlikely, and hence in need of explanation. I think the move from "highly unlikely" to "in need of explanation" is an error, but more importantly I think the assumption that there is a particular probability distribution (or, indeed, any probability distribution at all) over the space is an error.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04746612189094458441 Lukas

    "You keep giving me ostensible examples – I don't want examples, I want the rule."I was trying to get you to generate the rule by first trying to find something that we would both agree would qualify as a good example – SETI, or some other situation where people are trying to figure out whether something is caused by a conscious agent, by chance, or by some natural process. I took a look at there web site and here is what they had:http://www.seti.org/Page.aspx?pid=856Unfortunately they sort of talk around the issue. But it seems like the signs of conscious agency could mean a few things. One way we might define 'special' is complexity with an underlying principle. For example, the a listing of prime numbers contains a lot of data, but all the data is unified by an underlying principle. They talk about a signal being 'artificial' but that word really doesn't clarify things much.The people doing SETI are looking for signals at 1420 mhz apparently that particular frequency transmits more clearly. "Right, because normally they are. There is, however, no normally when it comes to universes – I've said this once already."You already said it and thought I already responded. The word 'normally' compares the current situation to what has been observed in the past, so you are right that there is "no normally when it comes to universes." I don't think this matters, though. I still think you can consider something to be a coincidence in need of an explanation, even without having observed other trials.Perhaps another way to figure out whether something is artificial is to decide whether randomness and natural processes are, in themselves, sufficient explanations. In this way, we can ask ourselves, "which of the possible causes – conscious agents, natural processes, and randomness, are most likely to be the explanation for what we are seeing here?""Wow, no. I mean that logical necessities exist in and of themselves. There is no cause of ~(P&~P), for example; it is its own explanation."Okay I misunderstood what you were trying to say. Fair enough. But I think it can be argued that in order for matter/energy to exist, there needs to be some sort of first mover or necessary being."Furthermore, the word "miracle" has no explanatory power"So what would you say, then, if you flipped a fair coin 1000 times and got heads each time?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04746612189094458441 Lukas

    @A Philosopher – I think the move from "highly unlikely" to "in need of explanation"I think everything is can be classified as either 'necessary' or 'in need of an explanation'. But most events already have perfectly explanations. For example, if a person wins the lottery, they figure that someone's going to win eventually, so randomness + many trials = people winning occasionally. If, on the other hand, they were to play the lottery 1000 times and win with exactly the right numbers each time, that would be so unlikely that you'd have to start looking around for a different explanation. "more importantly I think the assumption that there is a particular probability distribution (or, indeed, any probability distribution at all) over the space is an error."That is an error. However, my argument doesn't require that assumption.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03543293341085230171 Eli

    You mean you were trying to get me to generate a rule…that I don't think exists? You're not likely to have much success there, I'm afraid."I still think you can consider something to be a coincidence in need of an explanation, even without having observed other trials."Then why bother continuing to bring up irrelevant examples? Almost your whole system is built on cases of inferential probabilistic reasoning, yet we both agree that this case is one that cannot be decided in that way. Do you see why this is a problem? Even if I agreed with you that specialness were important in standard cases – which I don't – we're not talking about a standard case."Perhaps another way to figure out whether something is artificial is to decide whether randomness and natural processes are, in themselves, sufficient explanations."But we don't know the answer in this case (again, "you aren't showing that atheism can't explain this universe, only that it hasn't"). The science is just not well-enough developed to say whether random and deterministic natural processes could, combined, be expected to generate this universe."I think it can be argued that in order for matter/energy to exist, there needs to be some sort of first mover or necessary being."Right, but we already have some candidate necessary "beings" and they don't look anything like the sorts of things that might think to themselves, "Hey, why don't I create a universe well-suited for life.""So what would you say, then, if you flipped a fair coin 1000 times and got heads each time?""Well, this certainly is unusual"? I certainly wouldn't think it was an angel or a fairy or something.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04746612189094458441 Lukas

    "You mean you were trying to get me to generate a rule…that I don't think exists? You're not likely to have much success there, I'm afraid."That is correct. I'm assuming that there are times where you observe things which you assume are explained by the causality of an intelligent agent rather than a natural process. I'm assuming that you think SETI is able to do this sort of thing."Almost your whole system is built on cases of inferential probabilistic reasoning, yet we both agree that this case is one that cannot be decided in that way. Do you see why this is a problem?"I think I see why you think it is a problem. Let me try to state why you think it is a problem. In your view, probabilities are determined by repeated observations of the way that cause and effect work in our world. Absent a knowledge of the laws of the system, there is no way to predict what constitues an unlikely or special event. Is that a fair summary of your position? Assuming it is, then I guess you are objecting to my examples because most of the examples I'm giving our close to our experience and hence you can use inferential probabilistic reasoning when thinking about them. I agee with most of that. Where I disagree is that I think complexity, "specialness" or orderedness can, by itself, indicate an intelligent agent, even without 'inferential probabilitistic reasoning.' I think you can distinguish complexity from chaos without inferential probabilistic reasoning. For example, without any inferential probabilistic reasoning I can say that the list 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, 19, 23 is more complex than 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, 15, 17, 19. The first list is more suggestive of intelligence than the second."The science is just not well-enough developed to say whether random and deterministic natural processes could, combined, be expected to generate this universe."Even if science did find such a process, that wouldn't have make a difference to my argument. It would only take the question one step back – instead of 'why these anthropic coincidences' it would become 'why this process that generates universe(s) with anthropic coincidences'. The Anthropic Coincidences article I posted goes into more detail about this."I certainly wouldn't think it was an angel or a fairy or something."Can you explain why not?

  • A Philosopher

    Four questions:(1) Why do you think that the physical laws aren't necessary?(2) Why do you think that all contingencies require an explanation?(3) Why do you think that necessities don't require an explanation?(4) If all contingencies require an explanation, doesn't that entail either infinite explanatory regresses, or an eventual explanatory grounding in a necessity, and hence the necessitation of everything thereby grounded, and hence the non-existence of contingencies after all?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03543293341085230171 Eli

    "I'm assuming that there are times where you observe things which you assume are explained by the causality of an intelligent agent rather than a natural process. I'm assuming that you think SETI is able to do this sort of thing."Yeah, I do it either when it will make my decision-making process better or when I have past experience in similar situations. Neither of those applies about the cause of the universe. I think SETI has a nonzero chance of success but I think there are too many confounding epistemological problems for that to be a useful example – and anyway, I think its chances of success are directly tied to inferential reasoning. ("This is what we would do/have done, so assuming that other things out there are like us…")"I think complexity, 'specialness' or orderedness can, by itself, indicate an intelligent agent, even without 'inferential probabilitistic reasoning.'"Okay, under the right circumstances anything can indicate intelligent agency. But can order do so reliably, all by itself? No – unequivocally no, absolutely no. Nature is literally full of examples of order with no intelligent agency behind it. This is just totally wrong.A Philosopher seems to have picked up the thread about causal regress, so I'll leave that aside for now."'I certainly wouldn't think it was an angel or a fairy or something.'Can you explain why not?"Because of the burden of proof, is why not.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04746612189094458441 Lukas

    (1) Why do you think that the physical laws aren't necessary?I'm not assuming that they aren't necessary. I'm saying that if they are necessary, the fact that the physical laws are anthropic coincidences should be problematic for atheists.(2) Why do you think that all contingencies require an explanation?Maybe we should define our terms here. I am working with the understanding that events and objects are either necessary (they cannot but be) or contingent (they depend on some other event or object for their existence). If something is contingent, then there is some prior event or object that caused it. Do you see things differently?(3) Why do you think that necessities don't require an explanation?I think the definition of a necessity is that it is something which could not be otherwise. Explanations have to end at some point, right?(4) If all contingencies require an explanation, doesn't that entail either infinite explanatory regresses, or an eventual explanatory grounding in a necessity, and hence the necessitation of everything thereby grounded, and hence the non-existence of contingencies after all?I don't think 'infinite explanatory regress' is coherent. I think we have to have 'eventual explanatory grounding in a necessity.'If you think that the things which are caused by a grounding necessity in a deterministic way, then yes, you could say that everything is necessary. It really doesn't matter which way you want to talk about it as long as the person you are talking to is clear on what you're saying. You could say that contingent means 'dependent on a prior cause' or you could say contingent means 'could not have been otherwise.' It doesn't matter, as long as everyone is clear on which way you are talking.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04746612189094458441 Lukas

    "But can order do so reliably, all by itself? No – unequivocally no, absolutely no. Nature is literally full of examples of order with no intelligent agency behind it. This is just totally wrong."In the case of nature, you can explain order by some combination of evolution and randomness. What I am trying to argue is that you cannot do something similar with Anthropic Coincidences."Because of the burden of proof, is why not."I think that strange things or things that would require a big paradigm shift should have a higher burden of proof. But I'm not sure how to decide how much higher the burden of proof should be.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03543293341085230171 Eli

    "What I am trying to argue is that you cannot do something similar with Anthropic Coincidences."Yes, that is what you're trying to do. But you haven't succeeded in explaining your position in any kind of self-consistent way, let alone defending it, soooooo…"I think that strange things or things that would require a big paradigm shift should have a higher burden of proof."Right, like fairies or angels – or, y'know, necessarily existing minds.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04746612189094458441 Lukas

    "But you haven't succeeded in explaining your position in any kind of self-consistent way, let alone defending it, soooooo…"What did I say that was inconsistent?"Right, like fairies or angels – or, y'know, necessarily existing minds."Right. I would be interested to know, though, what it would take to overcome your burden of proof.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03543293341085230171 Eli

    Well, for one, you still haven't defined "special." For another, unlikeliness is allegedly a necessary part of your story, but you haven't proved unlikeliness and in fact you deny that you could prove it using either induction (because, again, there's only one universe) or deduction (because you deny assuming any probability distribution over the various physical constants). So on the one hand you want to say that the universe's current setup is both unlikely and special, but on the other hand you apparently don't know what one of those words means and self-admittedly can't establish that the other one applies.All I need to be convinced is a good argument. So far, though, I haven't seen one.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04746612189094458441 Lukas

    "Special" is short hand for "indicitive of intention from a conscious agent." The question is whether we can successfully pick out which things are indicitive of intention from things which are not. Conscious agents can intend anything, so there is no way to generally specify what things they might intend. That is why I've been giving some thought experiments – I'm trying to get you to agree about cases where we can reason from an observed occurance to a conscious agent.Scenerio #1I flip a fair coin 1000 times and I get more or less the expected distribution of heads and tails. The probability this particular result that I get is 1/2^1000. However, this result is not "special." If I said, "It's amazing that I flipped a coin and got H, T, H, H, T, H,…." you would say I was nutty.Scenerio #2I flip a fair coin 1000 times and I heads 1000 times in a row. The probability of the particular result is 1/2^1000 – the same as with any other particular listing of 1000 heads and tails. However, this result is "special." I must look for some explanation… either there is something wrong with the coin or there is some other explanation.Do you agree with this? Any combination of heads and tails is equally unlikely, but to flip 1000 heads in a row can fairly be considered to be 'special' – that is, it can be considered to require some additional explanation. If you are very sure that the coin is an ordinary coin and yet you continually flip heads, eventually you'd have to consider this to be a "special" occurance. Agreed? It seems to me that if you are very sure the coin is a fair coin, then eventually you'd have to admit that chance alone couldn't explain an endless succession of heads.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03543293341085230171 Eli

    So, in fact, you're trying to prove that the universe is special, not using its specialness as a premise. Like I said waaaaay back in my second comment, specialness is question-begging.Anyway, having now firmly established that point, let's return back to the whole thought experiment thing. The reason that H,H,H,H… (call this the "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead distribution") is suspicious is that we know more or less a priori that the long-term distribution is a 50/50 split. But you already said that your argument doesn't include any a priori knowledge of the probability distribution, so that particular thought experiment tells us nothing about the universe.Anyway, even if we did know and we knew, furthermore, that the distribution was heavily skewed against this universe, that is still not a great reason to allege the existence of an overmind. We must also know, for example, the number of trials, whether the probabilities are conditional on anything, and so on – and then, on top of that, have a reason to connect the particular oddities in question to a particular kind of agency. Granted flipping 1000 consecutive heads is unlikely, but as you say, any possible event becomes likely with enough independent trials. The entire point, in fact, is that we know that chance can explain unusual outcomes: that is practically the definition of "chance." And, of course, we have yet to come up with a good understanding of the kind of agent that could explain the universe, let alone an argument that one did.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04746612189094458441 Lukas

    "The entire point, in fact, is that we know that chance can explain unusual outcomes: that is practically the definition of "chance.""That is only true up to a certain point. If the event is sufficiently unlikely, then at some point chance stops being a reasonable explanation.As far as the question-begging nature of "specialness." I looked back on your comment – "What differentiates specialness from non-specialness, in other words, is not something we can easily agree upon." It is true that the experience of this argument has demonstrated that we are not able to easily agree on specialness! However, I think that is because you are refusing to acknowledge what, to me, seems like a very obvious distinction. To take the example of the arrow hitting the bird – it just seems obvious to me that hitting the bird is more special than having the arrow fly up and just land on the ground. It's inferrential reasoning – we suspect that the bird was hit because someone was aiming for it. If we see an arrow hit the ground, we don't suspect someone was taking special aim at that particular patch of ground. If you don't agree with that, I'm not sure what I can say to convince you. Similarly, one possible explanation as to why our universe appears to have physical constants that are propitious for life might be that someone intended that the universe be propitious for life.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04746612189094458441 Lukas

    "For another, unlikeliness is allegedly a necessary part of your story, but you haven't proved unlikeliness and in fact you deny that you could prove it using either induction (because, again, there's only one universe) or deduction (because you deny assuming any probability distribution over the various physical constants)."That's a misunderstanding of the position. My claim is that it doesn't matter whether you assume only one universe starting from a big bang or first mover or whether you assume a probability distribution over the various physical constants. I am trying to argue that you can consider both possibilities… consider the significance of anthropic coincidences assuming only one universe, and then consider the significance of anthropic coincidences assuming many universes with a probability distribution.(1) One universe – Assuming that we find that there is some necessary material cause of all that is, and that our universe is the only one. In this case, do we need to look for an explanation for anthropic coincidences? Would your response be that the answer to this is "no, there is nothing to explain given that our universe is necessary?" I think even if there ours is the only universe and even if the origin of the universe is eventually traced to an original necessary physical cause, we still need an explanation for anthropic coincidences.(2) Many universes with a probability distribution – Assume that many universes exist, and that these universes are varied. Assume, further, that the chances that one of these universes will be advantageous to life is near 100%. In this case, do we need to look for an explanation for anthropic coincidences? Given that the probability of a life-supporting universe existing is near 100%, it would seem that we would not. But we can ask, "Why this probability distribution rather than some other probability distribution where the chance of life is near 0%?" So even in the multi-universe scenerio, we still end up having to give an explanation for anthropic coincidences."All I need to be convinced is a good argument."Good, but that doesn't explain to me your previous answer to the question about flipping a coin and having it come up heads 1000 times in a row. To my mind, that would count as a miracle (unless both sides are heads… that would make it less amazing) – it would be an exception to the way the universe normally works. I thought the normal skeptic response would be, "that would be a miracle, but in fact that sort of thing doesn't happen." But you response is instead seems to be, "even if I got 100,000 heads in a row when I tossed a fair coin, I wouldn't call it a miracle, because it would not amount to a good argument for belief."

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03543293341085230171 Eli

    "To take the example of the arrow hitting the bird…It's inferrential reasoning…Similarly, one possible explanation as to why our universe-"Stop – stop right there. There is no "similarly" here, as there is only the one universe. You absolutely positively cannot apply inference to a sample size of one. It can't be done, period, the end. I know that specialness seems obvious to you – and, in fact, it seems obvious to me, too, when I don't stop to think about it. But I'm asking you to stop and think about it and this is not a very thoughtful argument."I think even if there ours is the only universe and even if the origin of the universe is eventually traced to an original necessary physical cause, we still need an explanation for anthropic coincidences."Why? If A is necessary and A entails B and B just so happens to be the state of our universe as it is now, in what sense has B not been explained by A? What is left to say?"we can ask, 'Why this probability distribution rather than some other probability distribution where the chance of life is near 0%?'"Sure – but to attribute this to a mind is, frankly, a bit on the insane side. Can you even conceive of how it would be possible to alter the probability distribution of the physical constants of the universe? Obviously we can put the words together, but this is so far beyond any of our current capacities that it is surely a wild shot in the dark to conclude that some cognitive entity has set things up the way they are. It is, again, a non-sequitur.So do you think that anything with a probability less than or equal to 10^-302 is a miracle? Is that your standard? Because I'm sure I can find you specific examples that don't seem to be miraculous at all. But this only raises the question: why should there be a threshold for unlikeliness of events in the universe? Again, the very definition of "chance" leaves room for extremely unlikely events – why is that not enough?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04746612189094458441 Lukas

    Point taken regarding inference with a sample size of one. Inference is the wrong word. I still think you can reason with a sample size of one."Why? If A is necessary and A entails B and B just so happens to be the state of our universe as it is now, in what sense has B not been explained by A? What is left to say?"Good question. I want to argue that there can be still something left to say. It is possible that you can give a cause-and-effect account of everything and still have an unsatisfying explanation. Typically, people say that a scientific theory is good if it is simple and accounts for all the data. However, we have to admit that the criteria of simplicity sometimes vague and is sort of an aesthetic preference – people prefer simpler theories to more complex ones. The point I want to make is that there can be multiple theories which account for the data, some of which may be much more satisfying than others. Also, people usually think that falsifiable theories are better than non-falsifiable theories. When there are several theories which explain the data, there may be room for disagreement about which theory is best. I say this to come around to my point that I think you can have a causal account that strings together a number of necessary causes following certain laws and yet have the account be unsatisfying. For example, imagine we discovered that the surface of Mars was covered with the words, "Made By God" in many different human langauges and we determined that this had occurred as a result of a purely naturalistic process governed by univeral and consistent laws, we might say that we had a sufficient explanation. However, I would find that explanation to be unsatisfying."So do you think that anything with a probability less than or equal to 10^-302 is a miracle? Is that your standard?"Wouldn't it be 2^-1000? But anyway, you consider both the likelyhood of the event and also the number of occurances. "Again, the very definition of "chance" leaves room for extremely unlikely events – why is that not enough?"I don't think you can find anyone who will agree with what you are saying. Imagine, for example, that you think of a word and another person tries to guess the word. Imagine that he guesses right every time. If your view is correct, you could simply say, "It is extremely unlikely that you could guess the word I was thinking of 100 times in a row, but there is a chance that you were just lucky. Therefore, there is nothing else to explain. The fact that you guessed my numbers was just an extremely unlikely coincidence – it does not mean you have clairvoyence or anything like that." At some point, things become so unlikely that you need to think there is something else going on. Really, this is at the basis of a lot of scientific research – when a correlation between two variables is found, it is _possible_ that the correlation has occurred by chance, but more likely there is causal relationship between the two variables, or there is some third variable that is connected causally with both variables, or something similar.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03543293341085230171 Eli

    Ah – excellent. So let us pretend for the moment that there aren't purely logical reasons to avoid positing an orchestrating mind in the case when nonconscious factors are sufficient. I think it should still be relatively clear that satisfaction is a non-rational criterion to apply. I'd rather not call it irrational – I prefer arational, neither in line with reason nor against it – but in any case it's not something driven by reason. In that case, there are perhaps some things to say in favor of permitting satisfaction to guide one's own beliefs – you're the one who has to live with it, for example. But it would be a terrible mistake to say that a theory is deficient because it fails a personal, non-rational test. I fully grant that an atheistic universe may not be satisfying to everyone. But do you know what? I wouldn't be satisfied with a theistic one, so how can we resolve this if not to say that satisfaction has no bearing on the truth?As for the rest, I completely disagree that nobody ever refers to coincidence or chance to explain rarities. This is, in fact, one of the standard skeptical responses to studies purporting to show ESP: that the sample size is too small and the people just got lucky. But okay, let's say that nobody would agree with me. What's the alternative? We've been assuming that chance is a real thing in the universe and not just a reflection of our limited knowledge. Now maybe that assumption is flawed – probability is a notoriously difficult concept to nail down – but if we allow the assumption to pass, I'm not sure how we can avoid saying that some things are just dumb luck. Right? If the premise is that there really is a probability distribution operating in such-and-such an event, we shouldn't then turn around and say that the thin parts of that distribution don't really count.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04746612189094458441 Lukas

    Just because a theory explains all of the data does not necessarily mean it is a good theory. Gilbert Chesterton explains this: "The madman's explanation of a thing is always complete, and often in a purely rational sense satisfactory. Or, to speak more strictly, the insane explanation, if not conclusive, is at least unanswerable; this may be observed specially in the two or three commonest kinds of madness. If a man says (for instance) that men have a conspiracy against him, you cannot dispute it except by saying that all the men deny that they are conspirators; which is exactly what conspirators would do. His explanation covers the facts as much as yours. Or if a man says that he is the rightful King of England, it is no complete answer to say that the existing authorities call him mad; for if he were King of England that might be the wisest thing for the existing authorities to do. Or if a man says that he is Jesus Christ, it is no answer to tell him that the world denies his divinity; for the world denied Christ's." Most scientific theory rests on the unprovable assumption that things in the future will behave similarly to how they've behaved in the past. This assumption is reasonable, but it is not logically required. If I wanted to propose the idea that gravity would stop working tomorrow, there would be no way you could actually disprove my idea. But my idea would still be unreasonable.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03543293341085230171 Eli

    "Just because a theory explains all of the data does not necessarily mean it is a good theory."Right, okay, but I'm not denying this."Most scientific theory rests on the unprovable assumption that things in the future will behave similarly to how they've behaved in the past."Yes, and…? All I'm saying is that one's own satisfaction with a theory doesn't bear on the truth of that theory. What does any of this have to do with that claim? We can go through all of the standard extreme skeptical hypotheses – I'm just a brain in a jar; there is no external reality; induction is rationally unsupportable; the world was created yesterday – but that won't help us to answer anything about atheism as opposed to theism (or, indeed, any other -ism).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04746612189094458441 Lukas

    Good, so we're more in agreement than I'd been thinking."the premise is that there really is a probability distribution operating in such-and-such an event, we shouldn't then turn around and say that the thin parts of that distribution don't really count."It's not that they don't count. When scientific papers are published they will account for this possibility – if they find a correlation they will also examine the likelyhood that this correlation could appear by chance. However, the fact that there is a possibility that the correlation could be due to chance does not prevent the advance of science.I think that you will probably agree with the previous paragraph, but you will want to argue that the same logic cannot be applied to the case we are interested in – the explanation of anthropic coincidences.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03543293341085230171 Eli

    Wait, you think I've been saying that we can't make progress in understanding why the physical constants are what they are? Give or take the fact that this is not my area of expertise, I'm tentatively very optimistic that we can and in fact will make progress. Remember?"This is a question for scientific evidence and scientific evidence alone (unless and until someone comes up with a mind-blowing mathematical proof that universes must be regular, but I sincerely doubt that'll ever happen)."But when's the last time that science made progress by telling us that God was responsible for something? Was it…never?* Alternatively, when was the last time someone developed a scientific theory of identifying the signs of agency? Was it…also never?***This is maybe a bit hyperbolic, but you get the idea.**This one is quite literal, however.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04746612189094458441 Lukas

    Miscommunication. What I was trying to do was to assume that you do believe in scientific progress and then demonstrate how that belief in scientific progress is in tension with something else you said – "If the premise is that there really is a probability distribution operating in such-and-such an event, we shouldn't then turn around and say that the thin parts of that distribution don't really count." For example, if an experiment gives patients a placebo and a real drug, and the patients due better with the real drug, there is some chance that what seems to be a correlation is in fact merely the result of random variation among patients in the study. However, if the sample size is big enough and if the different between those taking the drug and those taking the placebo is large, eventually we get to the point where we are pretty confident that the drug is making the difference. You could say there are two theories 'the drug is making the difference' and 'random variation among patients makes the difference.' Science can only make progress if you assume that even though the latter is a possibility, the former is the more reasonable theory. When you criticize the idea that, "thin parts of that distribution don't really count" I have to say, "that statement is to vague to really be evaluated, but science works on the assumption that if one theory predicts that the observed outcome is likely, and another theory predicts the observed outcome is very unlikely, the former theory is to be preferred to the latter theory. Agreed?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03543293341085230171 Eli

    "…if one theory predicts that the observed outcome is likely, and another theory predicts the observed outcome is very unlikely, the former theory is to be preferred to the latter theory."Depends what the theories are. If your theory is that the putatively effective medicine works because it releases tiny elf doctors into the bloodstream and those elf doctors proceed to fix the disease, then no, that's not a theory I'd particularly prefer. But this is not really relevant to the conversation we were having, I don't think.We were saying stuff about coin flips before, and I think this is supposed to be somehow relevant to coin flips. The key premise with a coin flip, though, is that we know with an exceedingly high degree of certainty what the probability distribution is. Maybe we can be off by a bit – I think actual coins land something like 51/49 tails – but it is inherent to the definition of the problem that the probability distribution is known a priori and is known, therefore, certainly or almost certainly. With medical research, on the other hand, the problem is precisely that we don't know the probability distribution because we have an insufficient knowledge of the relevant biological mechanisms. So the same kind of evidence – a surprising outcome – doesn't have the same epistemological effect in the one case as opposed to the other.Maybe a better way of putting it is in the inverse. In some sense we're comparing likelihoods, right? If the result of any series of coin flips is less likely than the hypothesis that the coin isn't fair, then it's rational in some sense to conclude that the coin isn't fair just like competing medical theories fare better or worse relative to a set of experimental data. But do we know the likelihood that any given coin isn't fair? Can we even estimate that? I really doubt that we can, short of pulling a number out of thin air.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04746612189094458441 Lukas

    Hey Eli,"So the same kind of evidence – a surprising outcome – doesn't have the same epistemological effect in the one case as opposed to the other."That's true, but if we have a large enough sample and if we're doing a double blind study with a large study group and we find that those taking the drug do substantially better than those on the placebo, then we have pretty strong evidence that the drug is having an impact, right? I'm not saying it is impossible that the results of the study are due to chance rather than to the drug. And I'm not saying that anthropic coincidences are impossible without a divine designer – I'm trying to argue that a designer is a more reasonable explanation for anthropic coincidences than either necessity (the universe is how it is, and that's it) or chance (there are many universes, and some of them have conditions that are good for life)."But do we know the likelihood that any given coin isn't fair? Can we even estimate that?"Yes, we can estimate it. We can can take measurements to see whether the weight is distributed equally throughout the coin. I'm sure there are examples of gamblers being caught using weighted dice.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03543293341085230171 Eli

    Er, no, but in the absence of a direct weighing of the object, do you have any idea how many weighted dice their are relative to the total number of dice? Obviously if you measure the thing directly that's another story – we're trying to figure out when to conclude that a die is loaded simply based on the results of rolling the die. And the reason for this is…"I'm trying to argue that a designer is a more reasonable explanation for anthropic coincidences than either necessity (the universe is how it is, and that's it) or chance (there are many universes, and some of them have conditions that are good for life)."…that you're making a comparison here where at most one of the things being compared has a real value. Right? If you admit that you don't know how likely necessity or chance are, then how are we supposed to determine that some other thing is more likely? It doesn't help that you haven't even given us a particularly good reason to think that a designer is likely, but the strategy couldn't work anyway: if you're saying "x is more likely than y or z," either x had better have a likelihood at or near 100% or you had better provide the likelihoods of x, y, and z. Otherwise, how is that argument supposed to be even a little effective??

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04746612189094458441 Lukas

    "If you admit that you don't know how likely necessity or chance are, then how are we supposed to determine that some other thing is more likely?"I'm not trying to determine such a thing. I am trying to argue that it doesn’t matter whether the universe exists by chance or by necessity. The argument goes something like this:1) Either the fine tuning of our universe occurred by necessity or it occurred by chance.2) If the fine tuning of the universe occurred due to necessity, then we are still left with the odd fact that the necessary fine tuning appears to be purposeful. 3) If the fine tuning occurred by chance, then we can ask why the probability distribution was what it was or we can ask why we 'got lucky' and ended up with the appearance of fine tuning.To put it another way – when something appears to be purposeful, there is the possibility that that apparently purposefulness will turn out to be illusory once we investigate further. Most dramatically, a few centuries ago people assume that the appearance of purpose in animal and plant life could only be explained by belief in a divine purpose. As we learned more, we came to understand that evolution could give rise to the appearance of purpose. Evolutionary science has taught us that deterministic and purposeless processes can give rise to apparent purpose in biological life. Similarly, there's the old saw about a thousand monkeys typing for a thousand years eventually coming up with Shakespeare – enough random trials and eventually you get something that looks purposeful, even though it does not. So, this argument, in my view, is about whether the purposefulness of anthropic fine tuning is real purposefulness or merely apparent purposefulness. I want to say that there are times where purposefulness is merely apparent. However, I want to argue that there are preconditions for such apparent purposefulness – for example, you can't get evolution unless you have a stable lawful universe. Could a stable universe come into existence by some combination of chance or spontaneous order? Maybe, but if the physical constants of the universe were the results of a “die roll,” you can ask why the die had the numbers that it did. In that case, you only end up taking the question a step back – why is the probability distribution of universes fine tuned such that one of them may end up having anthropic fine tuning. If, on the other hand, you say that the universe exists by necessity and there is nothing else to explain, then you end up in the odd position of saying that there is necessary purposefulness in the universe which comes into existence neither through many trials and randomness nor through spontaneous order/evolution. Although this is not actually illogical, I would hold that it is quite unreasonable.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04746612189094458441 Lukas

    BTW, Eli – did you read the article I linked to? http://www.firstthings.com/article/2007/01/anthropic-coincidences-40

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03543293341085230171 Eli

    Yeah, fine, I understand that it's a proposition that you find unreasonable and odd and all manner of other things. I'm not questioning that and I'm not even saying you have to (or have reason to) stop holding it in that regard – it's primarily an emotional reaction and emotions are by definition not rational. What I am saying is that this is not a good premise in an argument, which is a claim that I think we have borne out quite adequately during this conversation: your argument centers, and indeed has had an incredibly difficult time getting away from, oddness or specialness, yet not even you can produce a way to connect that intuitional state to the sort of conclusion you're aiming at. Human intuitions are barely suitable for the everyday tasks that presumably shaped their evolution; to apply them to a question like the creation of the universe is simply perverse.And yes, I have read that piece at First Things, as well as 15 or 20 equally- or better-written arguments along the same lines. I remain unimpressed. The so-called "force" of these coincidences is not a philosophical force – that is to say, one that can drive philosophical argument. If you want to use it as fuel for introspection or imagination, feel free to do so; if it compels you to do so, then absolutely go right ahead. But we're not talking here about idle pondering. We're talking about what is really true, and neither you nor whoever wrote that article nor anybody else has ever been able to draw up a philosophically compelling fine-tuning argument. If you want me to admit that the universe seems strange if you think about it for long enough, fine – it seems strange if you think about it for long enough. I just have a really hard time seeing how that's a useful starting point for this kind of reasoning.Maybe you'd be happier settling with agnosticism. That is an option, you know – given that you can't meet the burden of proof and I've already admitted that the scientific question is open, maybe it would be best for us to conclude that nobody knows and, perhaps, that that lack of knowledge is a contributing factor to why we feel so weird about the whole thing. Agnosticism, however, is a conclusion and not just a feeling, so even that would require something more than just a gut reaction.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04746612189094458441 Lukas

    "it's primarily an emotional reaction and emotions are by definition not rational."I agree that emotions are by definition not rational. But I think even Leah would agree that reason involves more that simply logic and the scientific method – http://www.unequally-yoked.com/2010/11/q-what-counts-as-proof-what-beliefs-are.html. I think the epistemology that you are defending is impoverished.Please show me a proof that it is wrong (or right) to sell your kidneys. Or that it is wrong to lie. Or give describe an experiment that will falsify or substantiate the claim, "it is sometimes acceptable to kill innocent people" or "Hamlet is a great work of literature." I think that your understanding of rationality is too constricted to be able to help in these cases.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03543293341085230171 Eli

    Oh, now you're just being silly. All of those claims are normative, whereas the statement "the universe was intentionally created" (or however you want to phrase it) is simply descriptive. I should hope that you know the problems that result from conflating those two kinds of thinking. This is random flailing and, quite frankly, beneath you.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04746612189094458441 Lukas

    Fine, the normative thing wasn't helpful. I suppose our difference comes down to the fact that I do think I can discern purposefullness, or, as we were calling it before, specialness. I'm not sure why you say this amounts to a "feeling." It seems to me just about as obvious a principle of reasoning as Occam's razor.As far as the general agnosticism thing – this is only one of the two arguments for the existence of God that I find compelling. The other big one is that I think materialists have to be moral relativists in order to be consistent. Also, I think there are strong arguments against materialism (oddly, by David Chalmers, who is himself an atheists but not a materialist).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03543293341085230171 Eli

    "I suppose our difference comes down to the fact that I do think I can discern purposefullness, or, as we were calling it before, specialness. I'm not sure why you say this amounts to a 'feeling.' It seems to me just about as obvious a principle of reasoning as Occam's razor."Yes! Yes, that's it exactly, and I'm pleased to see that you've come to the point of recognizing this yourself. The reason I think this is a feeling in your case is that oddness, so far as I've encountered it, is intimately connected with a certain (kind of) emotion. Call it puzzlement or bewilderment or curiosity or whatever, but usually when people say that a thing is odd (outside of math anyway, ha) they are having or have had a specific kind of emotional or affective sensation in regard to that thing. There is often more to oddness than just the affective content, of course, but in practice I find that the two are very closely related and I see no reason to depart from that general assumption here. Also, it doesn't help any that we've never found a purely linguistic way of expressing your concept of oddness."As far as the general agnosticism thing – this is only one of the two arguments for the existence of God that I find compelling."No, I meant, you can be agnostic about the origin of the universe.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13116034158087704885 March Hare

    Couple of things:"Just because a theory explains all of the data does not necessarily mean it is a good theory."Indeed, however a good theory MUST explain all the data.As to the 1000 coin tosses: all heads is equally likely to any other specific outcome. All we are doing is being human and recognising a pattern and assigning some strangeness to it because it has been wrongly pre-selected as less likely to happen than any other pattern.This is coming from someone who hates statistics!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04746612189094458441 Lukas

    @Eli – Actually, it would be more precise to say that we haven't agreed about a concept of specialness / purposefullness in this context. In the context of everyday human interaction, we both agree that we discern purposefullness all the time… like if you come and find a note asking you to clean the kitchen, you normally suspect human purposefullness. The question is whether that sort of reasoning can be applied in the case of anthropic coincidences."As to the 1000 coin tosses: all heads is equally likely to any other specific outcome. All we are doing is being human and recognising a pattern and assigning some strangeness to it because it has been wrongly pre-selected as less likely to happen than any other pattern."@March Hare – I understand perfectly well that 1000 heads are as likely as any other patter. I still think it is legitimate to assign strangeness to that particular pattern.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03543293341085230171 Eli

    Oh, no – as a concept, I can articulate purposefulness relatively clearly: a state of affairs is purposeful if it was willed by an agent and that agent brought it about intentionally. What I am saying is (1) that there is no hard-and-fast rule as to how to read purposefulness off of states of affairs, and (2) as a result, we are tempted to rely (wrongly) on our guts.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13116034158087704885 March Hare

    "I understand perfectly well that 1000 heads are as likely as any other patter. I still think it is legitimate to assign strangeness to that particular pattern."That makes no logical sense.Unless you pre-state that you are going to do it, unless there is some reason that 1000 heads has any significance then there is no legitimate reason to think that it is special. e.g. Would you think it special in any way if it was 500heads then 500 tails? How about head, tail, head, tail… alternating all the way? That ends up as 500 each but all are equally likely.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04746612189094458441 Lukas

    @Eli – Right, your definition of purposefulness is what I was meaning by specialness. I absolutely agree that there is no hard-and-fast rule to read it off of a given state of affairs. I think we only disagree about the extent to which that fact is a problem. I think you'd be willing to say that there are cases where we can trust our guts… for example, when I see a note on the fridge, I assume that someone wrote that message purposefully. In that case, I am correctly relying on my gut, and in fact people would think I was crazy otherwise. There are borderline cases, where it is difficult to tell whether or not something was purposeful… when people 'make it look like an accident' they are trying to make something which was purposeful look accidental. But the fact that there are limitations to our ability to discern purposefulness doesn't mean that we are wrong to rely on it – it just means we need to be careful about how we rely on it. Most everything is fallible – our eyes can be fooled by optical illusions, but that doesn't mean we stop using our vision, it just means we can't be simplisticly trusting of our sight.@Mark – "That makes no logical sense." – I don't see how assigning 'strangeness' would be either logical or illogical."Unless you pre-state that you are going to do it"What difference would that make? The probability that my guess happens to be the same as the resulting coin flips is no greater or less than the probability of any other guess and any other combination of coin flips. Why assign special significance to the fact that my guess happened to be the same as the resulting coin flips?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13116034158087704885 March Hare

    I don't see how assigning 'strangeness' would be either logical or illogical.I agree! So how is it that you manage to choose one as strange and not another?The probability that my guess happens to be the same as the resulting coin flips is no greater or less than the probability of any other guess and any other combination of coin flips. Why assign special significance to the fact that my guess happened to be the same as the resulting coin flips? Look, there are 1000^2 (1 million) possible combinations of outcomes of the coin toss – all unique.The fact that you are pre-emptively selecting one as less likely is human. We look for patterns and assign agency to them as that was evolutionarily effective. This is pure mathematics, therefore unless you have a reason to suspect that 1000 heads is in any way outstanding then you are being illogical by pointing out that one of the million possibilities came out was not one of the 999,999 that didn't. They are all equal in this. That is why it only makes sense to point it out as 'special' if someone predicted it.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04746612189094458441 Lukas

    "Look, there are 1000^2 (1 million) possible combinations of outcomes of the coin toss – all unique."No, there are 2^1000 possible results if you flip a coin 1000 times. That's a number much, much larger than a million."That is why it only makes sense to point it out as 'special' if someone predicted it."Let's not use the word 'special' since really 'purposeful' is more specific. If I said, "I'm going to flip a coin and get heads 1000 times in a row," and then I went ahead and did the coin toss and got heads 1000 times (and you knew that the coin was a normally weighted fair coin and that I wasn't somehow cheating) then you might think that I'd somehow had some purposeful control over the results of the coin tosses. Actually, if I got 1000 heads in a row, the most reasonable inital assumption would be that I was cheating somehow and cheating is really just a non-miraculous form of purposeful control. Now suppose I did the coin flip without predicting the results ahead of time and got heads 1000 times in a row. Again, I think the most reasonable initial assumption would be that I was cheating. If you saw someone flip a coin and get 1000 heads in a row, wouldn't you suspect they were cheating? But regardless of whether there is cheating, it seems to me it is also reasonable to suspect that the reason I got that result is that someone had purposeful control over the results. It would be _more_ obviously purposeful if I first announced my purpose and then proceeded to carry it out. But we clearly often reason from actions to purposes. If I say, "I am going to list the first 20 primes" and I do so, you would clearly connect the purpose to the act. But if I just went ahead and listed the first 20 primes, you'd probably think, "based on what I'm seeing, I bet he was deliberately listing primes." You wouldn't think, "The chances that he would choose that particular list of primes is the same as choosing any other list of numbers. There is nothing special about that list." Or maybe you would, but I wouldn't think that way."The fact that you are pre-emptively selecting one as less likely is human. We look for patterns and assign agency to them as that was evolutionarily effective."This is stating the obvious. I already know this. Of course humans have certain mental quirks, such as the tendency to assume purpose when they see patterns when really the patterns are just the predictable result of many random trials. Sure, people mistakenly think they see the face of Jesus in a cheese sandwich. But despite that, people can distinguish a painting of a cheese sandwich from a Jackson Pollack.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03543293341085230171 Eli

    Here again we have hit on a useful distinction: what "we can trust" in the everyday world of conjecture and response is not at all the same as what suffices for a philosophical argument (or, I venture to say, any other kind of argument). While I agree that our normal behaviors are justified, I disagree that they're justified in the same sense that we are seeking justification in this conversation. In fact, I'm perfectly happy to admit that most of our behaviors are not, strictly speaking, rational; instead, they only approximate rationality to various extents.Maybe at this point you're going to say something about inconsistency – how I allow irrational behaviors but not irrational metaphysical beliefs – but we are not compelled to adopt a metaphysics. To bring back my point from earlier, agnosticism is an option for belief but not for behavior – what would it mean not to adopt any plan but to remain agnostic with respect to all of them? Far from being a solution to the tension between pragmatism and rationalism, inaction (the closest approximation of agnosticism) is itself a choice and a behavior. Given the compulsion to act – which I hope you agree is a given – the best* we can do is to choose the most rational thing, whether that turns out to be actually rational or not.The last place you could take this is to say that actions need only be actions – that, to continue with your example, I can act as though the note were written intentionally but refrain from believing as much. If you think this is a real possibility, I encourage you to try it and let me know how long you can keep it up. Otherwise, I think we've pretty much exhausted every avenue.*Purely in terms of rationality, I mean. This isn't me making a moral claim.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04746612189094458441 Lukas

    At any street corner we may meet a man who utters the frantic and blasphemous statement that he may be wrong. Every day one comes across somebody who says that of course his view may not be the right one. Of course his view must be the right one, or it is not his view. We are on the road to producing a race of men too mentally modest to believe in the multiplication table. We are in danger of seeing philosophers who doubt the law of gravity as being a mere fancy of their own. Scoffers of old time were too proud to be convinced; but these are too humble to be convinced. The meek do inherit the earth; but the modern sceptics are too meek even to claim their inheritance. It is exactly this intellectual helplessness which is our second problem….That peril is that the human intellect is free to destroy itself. Just as one generation could prevent the very existence of the next generation, by all entering a monastery or jumping into the sea, so one set of thinkers can in some degree prevent further thinking by teaching the next generation that there is no validity in any human thought. It is idle to talk always of the alternative of reason and faith. Reason is itself a matter of faith. It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all. If you are merely a sceptic, you must sooner or later ask yourself the question, "Why should anything go right; even observation and deduction? Why should not good logic be as misleading as bad logic? They are both movements in the brain of a bewildered ape?" The young sceptic says, "I have a right to think for myself." But the old sceptic, the complete sceptic, says, "I have no right to think for myself. I have no right to think at all."From "The Suicide of Thought," Chapter 3 of Orthodoxy by GK Chesterton

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13116034158087704885 March Hare

    Well done Lukas, you found a poetic version of the Evil Demon Problem.Ignoring my post-pub maths (thanks for correcting that) the sentiment still remains the same.You are looking at the bell curve of distributions of heads for 1000 spins, I am looking at the flat line of equal probability of every one of the 10^301 possible outcomes.If there was someone who had spun a fair coin, without cheating, 1000 times and got heads each time that would be remarkable. But not miraculous. The odds are 10^301 against, but that's the same odds for every single possible outcome of 1000 spins.What are the odds when you hit a golf ball that it will come to rest on a specific blade of grass, everything had to be just right, power angle, spin, wing, humidity etc. That it comes to rest on a blade of grass isn't remarkable UNLESS you had preselected the blade of grass beforehand.I hope the sober version makes more sense…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03543293341085230171 Eli

    Yeah I don't exactly see an argument in there. I see a lot of stirring prose – Chesterton was a novelist, so no surprise there – but no real argument. Am I now supposed to go find a novelist of my own to quote? I could, I guess, if given enough time, but it seems lazy and intellectually fake to rely on that sort of thing.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04746612189094458441 Lukas

    Hi March Hare,I wish you had responded to some more of what I said in my previous response to you, because now I feel like I'm going to end up repeating what I said previously. For example, it would have been helpful to know what you made of my example of the person listing prime numbers.As far as I can tell, the principle you are defending is, "If there is a probability that an event will occur, then there is no reason to suppose purposefulness when it does occur, unless the event is preselected." I have two problems with this. First, "preselected" seems vague. If we are playing golf, am I preselecting the goal of getting the ball in the hole? Or, suppose we are playing golf and you know that the person I most hate in all the world is standing 500 yards away. Suppose I swing and the ball hits him. Does that count as a preselected target? That is, could you reason, "that is the sort of target I suspect he might deliberately aim for, so I believe his hitting the person may have been purposeful." Second, suppose I did explicitly preselect the blade of grass and then have my golf ball stop on it. I don't see why you couldn't just as easily say, "well, there is a calculatable probability that he happened to preselect the event which happened to occur. Therefore, I do not see the need to assume that he hit it on purpose. Such events do occur from time to time. Having the preselected blade of grass match with the blade of grass that the ball actually landed on is no more or less likely than any other outcome." Third, what you are saying is contrary to the scientfic method. Drug studies essentially say, "The people taking the real drug did better than those taking the placebo. It is possible that this is due purely to chance, but we have good reason to suppose that it is in fact due to the drug having a causal impact on health." They do not say, "Since there is a calculatable probability that the health outcomes which occured could have been due to random variation, we can say nothing about whether the drug improved health outcomes."

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04746612189094458441 Lukas

    Hi Eli,Depending on your disposition, the rhetoric can be either a benefit or a distraction. I do think, however, that there is an argument being made in the passages I quoted. The argument is basically a reductio ad absurdum. Chesterton is showing that certain assumptions will lead to a 'suicide of thought.' 1) If a line of reasoning leads to a ridiculous result, we should question assumptions that would necessitate that line reasoning.2) If we are skeptical of our reason, we end up with "philosophers who doubt the law of gravity as being a mere fancy."3) This result is ridiculous.4) Therefore, we should trust our reason.Earlier you wrote, "Here again we have hit on a useful distinction: what "we can trust" in the everyday world of conjecture and response is not at all the same as what suffices for a philosophical argument." My question, then, is: How do we determine what "sufficies for a philosophical argument"? Could you perhaps give an example of an argument that you do consider to be philosophically valid? Are you willing to accept anything other than tautological truths?Another argument goes like this:On what basis do we decide "what suffices for a philosophical argument"? If you only accept what is logical as being philosophically true, then I may reply that you cannot convince me on the basis of logic alone that logic is the sole basis of philosophic truth.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04746612189094458441 Lukas

    By the way, I'm going to a monastery until Tuesday, but I'll respond to any responses once I return.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03543293341085230171 Eli

    First, you may be interested in this: http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2010/11/feeling-the-future-is-precognition-possible/As for the rest…"1) If a line of reasoning leads to a ridiculous result, we should question assumptions that would necessitate that line reasoning.2) If we are skeptical of our reason, we end up with 'philosophers who doubt the law of gravity as being a mere fancy.'3) This result is ridiculous.4) Therefore, we should trust our reason."Okay great, but I'm not saying we should be skeptical of reason, soooooo…"My question, then, is: How do we determine what 'sufficies for a philosophical argument'?"This is a bit silly, really. The basic idea is that philosophical arguments are supposed to get you to the truth every time, whereas your everyday reasoning only needs to get you to a decent approximation of the truth most of the time. I think it should be obvious that the former kind of reasoning requires a different (and more stringent) set of standards than the latter. There likely is no a priori set of things that works for philosophy – at least, not in any great detail – but you can absolutely eliminate things when it turns out that they sometimes fail to produce truth."Could you perhaps give an example of an argument that you do consider to be philosophically valid? Are you willing to accept anything other than tautological truths?"Do you mean sound? There are lots of valid arguments, they just don't necessarily have true conclusions. Anyway, I like Hume's argument about the circularity of induction and I am convinced by the problem of evil, so there are two. But the interesting thing about this is that all logically valid arguments are tautologies (at least, if you conceive them in a particular way). Tautologies get a bad rap because there's the implication that the statement being made is trivial, but (for instance) theoretical math is just a bunch of tautologies."On what basis do we decide 'what suffices for a philosophical argument'? If you only accept what is logical as being philosophically true, then I may reply that you cannot convince me on the basis of logic alone that logic is the sole basis of philosophic truth."Yeah, but like I said, you can do this destructively instead of constructively. Anything can be a candidate for becoming part of a philosophical argument, but then you have to get rid of candidates that turn out not to work. Like, you can say, "Hey, I bet popular consensus is a guarantor of truth," but then when that turns out to be inaccurate you've got to admit that it's a fallacy. That sort of thing.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04746612189094458441 Lukas

    Regarding the Wired link – did you see the update that links to two studies which failed to replicate the results?"The basic idea is that philosophical arguments are supposed to get you to the truth every time, whereas your. I think it should be obvious that the former kind of reasoning requires a different everyday reasoning only needs to get you to a decent approximation of the truth most of the time(and more stringent) set of standards than the latter."Sorry, it isn't obvious to me and I don't think the distinction you make between 'everyday' reasoning and 'philosophical' reasoning makes much sense. I pray everyday, so from my perspective the question of whether God exists is as much a practical question as is the question of whether my family exists. I think we want as much certainty as we can get, all other things being equal. If I'm 'pretty sure' that a gun is unloaded, I will still treat it as though it is loaded. "Tautologies get a bad rap"Not from me. What I object to is that you seem to equate the logically valid with the philosophically valid."Like, you can say, 'Hey, I bet popular consensus is a guarantor of truth,'"From my persepective, this is begging the question. The thing I want to know is why you insist on philosophy exploring only those things which are guaranteed to be true.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03543293341085230171 Eli

    "I think we want as much certainty as we can get, all other things being equal."Ah, but all other things aren't equal. Once again – and now is the time when I get kinda tired of repeating myself and expect you to display a learning curve – there is a compulsion to make practical, everyday decisions and there is not a compulsion to make philosophical stands. "As much certainty as we can get" is, therefore, much greater in the case of philosophy than it is in the case of everyday decision-making – unless, of course, you make the utterly inexplicable decision that you're going to lower your philosophy to the level of your everyday reasoning even though you know there's a better option."From my persepective, this is begging the question."How?? How can it possibly beg the question to say that ad populum reasoning is fallacious?"The thing I want to know is why you insist on philosophy exploring only those things which are guaranteed to be true."Er, no – philosophy is only supposed to generate truths. It can nonetheless explore subjects in which truth is unclear (or even, in some sense, impossible). The reason that philosophy is supposed to generate truths is because what the hell else is it for?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04746612189094458441 Lukas

    "there is a compulsion to make practical, everyday decisions and there is not a compulsion to make philosophical stands"I mean, if you want to call one set of things 'philosophical stands' and another set of things 'everyday decisions' and say that the philosophical stands are the things which you know with absolute certainty, then you are entitled to do that. So let's go ahead and agree that we cannot have philosophical (in your sense of the term) knowledge of the existence of God. Fine. So can we have practical knowledge of the existence of God? In other words, I can agree that we cannot know the existence of God in the same way that we know the principle of noncontradiction, but might the argument be strong enough that we might have enough certainty that we can behave as though God exists?"philosophy is only supposed to generate truths"Of course philosophy is only supposed to generate truths, but why must those truths be guaranteed to the same extent that the principle of noncontradiction or the Pythagorean theorem is gauranteed? If you like, when we state the truth claim we can include a caveat about the uncertainty involved. For example, if the statement, "When I drop the ball, it will fall" is not philosophical, how about "When I drop the ball, it will fall (provided that the universe behaves according to the laws which is has been observed to follow in the past)"

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13116034158087704885 March Hare

    Lukas,> But if I just went ahead and listed the first 20 primes, you'd probably think, "based on what I'm seeing, I bet he was deliberately listing primes."I would think you had listed them intentionally, but that doesn't mean you did. Flowers often have their petals arranged in rings that follow the Fibonacci sequence. When seeing this I might think it's a message from God, or I might investigate further to see why they are in that particular pattern.I guess the point it you are assuming intent with insufficient evidence, and on your assumption you stop seeking more evidence.> Second, suppose I did explicitly preselect the blade of grass and then have my golf ball stop on it. I don't see why you couldn't just as easily say, "well, there is a calculatable probability that he happened to preselect the event which happened to occur. Therefore, I do not see the need to assume that he hit it on purpose."Indeed, like people who preselect the correct lottery numbers. If there is an unlikely sequence (say the same person winning the lottery twice in a row/year) then that usually warrants further investigation. But it does not warrant making the assumption that the person is psychic!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04746612189094458441 Lukas

    @March Hare -"When seeing this I might think it's a message from God, or I might investigate further to see why they are in that particular pattern"Exactly. The 'purposeful actor' explanation is only one possible explanation. You also need to consider other explanations and decide which explanation or explanations are most reasonable."But it does not warrant making the assumption that the person is psychic!"That is because there is a more reasonable explanation – given that many people play the lottery, it is likely that some people will win some of the time. However, if a person won the lottery every single time they played, that would no longer be a reasonable explanation. At some point it becomes more reasonable to think the repeat lotto winner is either cheating or psychic.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13116034158087704885 March Hare

    > At some point it becomes more reasonable to think the repeat lotto winner is either cheating or psychic. Indeed it does. However, you are calling psychic on the basis of a single event! We have one universe with one set of constants and laws (that we know of) and you are claiming it must have been done with intent by a knowing actor, I say you are premature.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03543293341085230171 Eli

    "I mean, if you want to call one set of things 'philosophical stands' and another set of things 'everyday decisions' and say that the philosophical stands are the things which you know with absolute certainty, then you are entitled to do that."No no no – slow down and read what I actually said: "there is a compulsion to make practical, everyday decisions and there is not a compulsion to make philosophical stands." The thing about a philosophical question on my definition is not that one can or does know the answer with certainty; indeed, it may not be the case that one can know the answer at all. Rather, the thing about a philosophical question is that there is no need to settle for an answer that isn't really, really good. Unlike practical cases of reasoning, you aren't going to starve to death or get hit by a truck or wind up with an infection if you just plain don't decide on the answer to a philosophical question. Nobody ever wound up in the hospital because they couldn't decide if aesthetic values were objective or subjective."So let's go ahead and agree that we cannot have philosophical (in your sense of the term) knowledge of the existence of God. Fine. So can we have practical knowledge of the existence of God?"Why would I care? Practical knowledge – by which I guess you mean belief that satisfies the demands of practical reasoning – is not knowledge properly speaking. And, again, there is no reason to apply practical reasoning to the question of God's existence (unless, of course, you assume God's existence – but then in what sense are you still answering a question?)."If you like, when we state the truth claim we can include a caveat about the uncertainty involved."Okay, so what caveats are you willing to place on God's existence?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04746612189094458441 Lukas

    "there is a compulsion to make practical, everyday decisions"What exactly do you mean by compulsion? We are compelled to make choices every day – when I wake up, I have to decide whether to get up or stay in bed. I have no way of opting out of that decision. Similarly, I have to decide whether or not to pray. I also have no way of opting out of that decision. Is that the sort of compulsion you are referring to?"Rather, the thing about a philosophical question is that there is no need to settle for an answer that isn't really, really good."That's a normative claim. How do you decide what should be considered to be a need? What if I think I need to decide whether God exists? Some people decide they don't need to continue living – they commit suicide or choose death in some other way."Unlike practical cases of reasoning, you aren't going to starve to death or get hit by a truck or wind up with an infection if you just plain don't decide on the answer to a philosophical question."Martyrs are are starved to death, hit by trucks, or injured in other ways due in part to their belief in God.http://www.persecution.com/public/newsroom.aspx"Practical knowledge – by which I guess you mean belief that satisfies the demands of practical reasoning – is not knowledge properly speaking."Is this just a matter of semantics? Whatever it is, it's good enough that we can act on it but not as good as a tautology. Let's call it "practical belief.""Okay, so what caveats are you willing to place on God's existence?"I think I need two caveats. 1) I a genunine, although limited, ability to discern what is purposeful from what is not purposeful. 2) Things that appear to be purposeful need an explanation. That explanation might be randomness, spontaneous order, a purposeful actor, or some other cause, but some explanation is needed.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03543293341085230171 Eli

    If one doesn't get out of bed (ever), one will die of thirst; if one doesn't pray (ever)…nothing at all will happen differently. Although I have to say, this is not exactly what I meant. The decision to pray or not to pray is not what I had in mind when I was talking about philosophical reasoning because it's not a decision that governs belief (to wit, you can decide to pray even though you don't believe it'll work or decide not to pray even though you believe that it will). But I guess it's in the ballpark."How do you decide what should be considered to be a need? What if I think I need to decide whether God exists?"I mean, you don't decide that a need exists. (A need can exist as a result of your having decided something, but that's not the same.) You need to get out of bed in order not to get fired from your job, to eat, to bathe yourself, etc.: needs aren't absolute but relative to certain outcomes, and they exist whether you think they do or not. There is no outcome of any significance that depends on reaching the correct (or indeed any) answer to a philosophical question – you don't need such an answer in order to avoid hurting yourself or others or to help yourself or others – so there is no need (of any significance) to decide on answers to philosophical questions."Martyrs are are starved to death, hit by trucks, or injured in other ways due in part to their belief in God."Don't be absurd. People who are persecuted are persecuted because of their behaviors, not their beliefs. It's a convenient linguistic shortcut to say that someone is persecuted because of their beliefs, but nobody has ever been able to read another person's mind."Things that appear to be purposeful need an explanation."Or else what? No need is absolute; the concept of a need in a vacuum is incoherent. So what do you think is the "or else" for this so-called need?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04746612189094458441 Lukas

    "The decision to pray or not to pray is not what I had in mind when I was talking about philosophical reasoning because it's not a decision that governs belief (to wit, you can decide to pray even though you don't believe it'll work or decide not to pray even though you believe that it will)."Miscommunication. I was trying to ask whether the decicision to pray or not to pray would be a case of practical reasoning. I want to argue that the decision to act as though God exists is a practical question. Since it is a pratical question, we should use the same (fallible) reasoning process we use in other everyday situations."Don't be absurd. People who are persecuted are persecuted because of their behaviors, not their beliefs. It's a convenient linguistic shortcut to say that someone is persecuted because of their beliefs, but nobody has ever been able to read another person's mind."Notice I said, "due in part." Beliefs impact our decision making process, and the decisions made result in persecution. A belief doesn't necessitate an action, but it does make it more likely. "No need is absolute; the concept of a need in a vacuum is incoherent. So what do you think is the "or else" for this so-called need?"The need to decide whether to live as though I believe in God.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03543293341085230171 Eli

    "The need to decide whether to live as though I believe in God."No, see, this isn't an "or else." This is another putative need – you can't say that you need something because of another need, that's a turtles-all-the-way-down manner of reasoning."I was trying to ask whether the decicision to pray or not to pray would be a case of practical reasoning. I want to argue that the decision to act as though God exists is a practical question."Oooookay, but how does this connect to reasoning about the origin of the universe? Let's say for the sake of argument that "to pray or not to pray" is a practical question. How, then, does that permit sloppy thinking? There are lots of people who (claim to) pray without being confident that God exists and some who (claim to) pray despite believing that God does exist. The action needn't entail the belief."Beliefs impact our decision making process, and the decisions made result in persecution."But you can see that this is a different kind of thing than the consequences that will necessarily follow if you never leave your bed. You can believe any given thing you want and still behave in a way that optimizes your own survival or safety, but you cannot simultaneously make the decision to act recklessly and behave in a way that optimizes your own survival or safety. It's a category mistake to say that the one is like the other.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04746612189094458441 Lukas

    No, see, this isn't an "or else." This is another putative need – you can't say that you need something because of another need, that's a turtles-all-the-way-down manner of reasoning.I'm having trouble understanding this. It seems to me that needs in general aren't things you can really interrogate past a certain point. If someone says they need food in order to live, you can ask, "Why do you need to live?" And then they might give some reasons like, "I want to live so I can enjoy life and help people." Then you could respond, "why do you need to do that?""There are lots of people who (claim to) pray without being confident that God exists and some who (claim to) pray despite believing that God does exist."Yes, and there are some people who talk to their stuffed animals despite realizing that their stuffed animals are not living, conscious beings.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04746612189094458441 Lukas

    "you cannot simultaneously make the decision to act recklessly and behave in a way that optimizes your own survival or safety."How is this different from, "you cannot simultaneously make the decision to disobey God and behave in a way that optimizes your likelyhood of eternal salvation"?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16496144988509668275 Leah

    Hey, Lukas, Eli, and March Hare,I've been following this discussion with interest, but, since this post is about to turn a month old, I'm sure most other readers aren't keeping up, and someone who found the page might be put off by the length of the comment thread. So…Would the three of you be interested in writing guest posts summing up your arguments? One each or one post and then a rebuttal for each? I'd love to be able to feature some of the arguments happening here.Let me know in thread if you'd like to, and I'll figure out how to set this up.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04746612189094458441 Lukas

    I'm game.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03543293341085230171 Eli

    Okie doke. It'd be good to narrow the subject matter, though, cause this has been kinda wide-ranging :-

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13116034158087704885 March Hare

    I'm always willing to spout my nonsense…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04746612189094458441 Lukas

    Can you set us up with some sort of 'guest blogger' access that will allow you to preview our posts before you approve them?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04746612189094458441 Lukas

    So guest posts?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16496144988509668275 Leah

    Sorry, I got mired in work for exam week. Just to make sure y'all will still be talking about the same thing, can each of you summarize the topic you'll cover in your guest post in 1-3 sentences?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03543293341085230171 Eli

    Well, I could make up a topic that's 1-3 sentences long, but I'd rather let Lukas set the terms. I guess in the absence of that happening it'd look something like this:Humans, contrary to the impression given by the well-known saying, are not rational animals per se. Rather, we approximate rationality to various degrees in various contexts, and this is not a real problem except when we mismatch the context and the degree….something like that.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13116034158087704885 March Hare

    I guess my message would be that people are premature in deciding that the universe needed a designer due to the fine tuning argument. I think the argument fails on several points, most of which have been argued better and more thoroughly by others so I'd focus on a single point that I have rarely seen discussed in many places: (I may not have been looking…)We are looking at the remarkable improbability of the constants being just right for us after we have developed in the universe with them and then deciding this combination is unlikely and assigning agency. We are looking at things after they have happened and deciding if they are special which is unjustified since we only have a sample size of one.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04746612189094458441 Lukas

    1. Assuming careful investigation, we are able to discern purposefulness, and from that to infer a purposeful agent.2. Careful investigation has demonstrated that the universe appears to have been created purposefully.3. Therefore the universe was created by a purposeful agent.I think our disagreement centered around #1 – we couldn't agree that you could observe something and infer a purposeful agent.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13116034158087704885 March Hare

    Lukas, I would actually disagree with 2 + 3 as well, but we haven't really been discussing that up 'til now.Plus your arguments are out of order. 2 should come before 1.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03543293341085230171 Eli

    >_<…and that was why I would have preferred him to set the terms. I'll happily go with Lukas's topics instead of my original ones.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04746612189094458441 Lukas

    @March – I don't think there is much point in talking about 2 until we agree about 1… that is, until we agree about what it looks like (or whether it is even possible) to infer an agent from observations of events or objects, there is no point in talking about #2.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16496144988509668275 Leah

    Ok, so now that we're on the same page, Lukas has sent me a post on topic 1. When could you two send me s/t? I'd like to put them all up the same week.Email your piece, (and any images you want included) to leahDOTlibrescoATyaleDOTedu (substituting appropriate marks for the capital letters.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03543293341085230171 Eli

    Topic 1 being "Assuming careful investigation, we are able to discern purposefulness, and from that to infer a purposeful agent"? And "s/t" being, um, what?* If we're all writing about topic 1 (and topic 1 is the thing I just quoted), I can get you something by Tuesday at the latest.*Sorry, I've just never seen this before and acronymfinder is not being helpful with this one.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16496144988509668275 Leah

    Yup, you're right. And s/t = something.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04746612189094458441 Lukas

    Fun! Leah, let me know if you want me to make revisions or anything based on what Eli and March come up with.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16496144988509668275 Leah

    Hey March Hare, I've got guest posts from Lukas and Eli. Can you let me know if you're sending one in? I'm starting to post them after New Year's.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13116034158087704885 March Hare

    Yeah, sorry…Been on holiday and forgot about it.I might have to do two posts on it since Lukas has not only changed what we were talking about he has just shown some ridiculous logic.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16496144988509668275 Leah

    March, So far everyone's writing on topic one of the three that Lukas outlined above. Let me know if you'll send me something on that topic, and let me know when to expect it.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16496144988509668275 Leah

    First guest post goes up tomorrow. Sorry I forgot this til now, but if you want me give you any kind of descriptive byline "NAME is a graduate student in X" etc, or link to a specific blog you write, rather than your blogger profile let me know before morning?

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