Monday, April 20, 2009

The real issue: More arguments that don't mix

I think the discussion in the last post picked up on a soft target in Ross's discussion that is tangential to the issue I wanted to bring up.

Yes, I do have a problem with him saying that if there is an intelligent cause of the universe, it has to be the God of the Bible. I suppose the Allah of the Qu'ran would be equally unacceptable to philosophical naturalists, but would also be unacceptable to Christians like Ross. But this is not the point I wanted to make. The point I wanted to make was to question whether someone could, at one and the same time, accept the multiverse hypothesis as a response to the fine-tuning argument, and at one and the same time think that atheism is to be preferred to theism on the basis of parsimony. That just seems really implausible to me.

25 comments:

Kenny said...

It's not all that implausible. A totally natural multiverse is much simpler than, say, one universe and God. This is because, with the former, we only assume one entity (nature), whereas, with the latter, we assume two different realms.

unkle e said...

Victor, you would know better than I, but isn't one issue the definition of parsimony?

I think the Dawkins Boeing 747 argument that any God who creates the universe must be more complex than the universe he creates. But christian philosophers, following the early church fathers, say that God is not complex at all, and can be described more simply than we can describe the universe - e.g. Keith Ward argues this.

I would have thought Dawkins' argument was not intuitive, otherwise the universe must always increase in complexity, whereas the second law of thermodynamics suggests otherwise. But whether that is so or not, we need agreed on definitions of parsimony and complexity.

Many people quote Ockham's Razor to refer to complexity, whereas some say it is based on the number of entities, not their complexity. Again, disagreement of how we measure or define these things makes disagreement on the larger matters inevitable.

I wrote this before I saw Kenny's post. His comments illustrate the difficulty. I would have thought a multiverse of 10^500 separate universes would be many entities, but he has neatly sidestepped that by calling it one "nature". How can we possibly apply these principles if we have such divergence of definition?

Icabod's Cranium said...

It's not all that implausible. A totally natural multiverse is much simpler than, say, one universe and God. This is because, with the former, we only assume one entity (nature), whereas, with the latter, we assume two different realms.It's that simple?
What about the universe creation process? Where do all of these universes come from?
You don't just have to account for mutlitude of universes, you have to account for the process by which they are created.
Also, it's not just "one entity (nature)" because in the multiverse scenario you have an infinite array of 'natures'. All of them (with some overlap I'd assume) with different laws than the other, different constants than the others.
You are therefore assuming more than "two different realms" with your multiverse approach.

Ken Jacobs said...

God is by definition unique, and he supposedly creates a unique universe according to most religious theists. Because religious theists specify two things that are unique, these are two big assumptions.

The multiverse hypothesis merely assumes that where one universe exists, others are possible. This is true even if God exists, for if he created this one, he could have created many more. We do know that one universe exists and we also know that any type of natural thing that exists is not unique within the universe. It seems to be a lesser assumption to think that, just as there are many trillions of different stars, extrasolar planets (most probably) and galaxies, there are also countless universes -- the same kind of thing as our universe, yet different.

The bottom line is I don't think that the multiverse hypothesis breaks the law of parsimony, at least in the sense that simple repetition of a single procedure (creation of multiple universes) is actually less complex than two distinct explanations required for a God and a universe.

Kenny said...

It's that simple?
What about the universe creation process? Where do all of these universes come from?
You don't just have to account for mutlitude of universes, you have to account for the process by which they are created.
1.) I admittedly don't have a definite answer, but there are theories as to how universes are created. A guy named Stenger says that it is physically possible that a void without radiation, energy, or matter would be highly unstable and would give off "space/time bubbles" that would expand in a way very similar to our universe in the inflationary stage. Another theory states that the universes in the multiverse "reporduce" by budding, and the amount of buds a universe has are in proportion to the number of black holes in it. As to the question of where the multiverse itself came from, it could have always had universes and hence would exist forever. It could be an oscillating one, like one theory holds.

2.) Why do we even need to explain the technical details of multiverse theory in order to accept it as more likely than one universe and God? Couldn't we simply admit that we don't know much about the details and say that it is more reasonable considering it presupposes one entity rather than more than one? (more on the "nature" part below)

Also, it's not just "one entity (nature)" because in the multiverse scenario you have an infinite array of 'natures'. All of them (with some overlap I'd assume) with different laws than the other, different constants than the others.
You are therefore assuming more than "two different realms" with your multiverse approach.
True, there would be many "natures", considering the sheer number of universes. However, these universes, along with their respective laws and constants, would compose the total natural world, which is what I meant by "nature". Assuming the total natural world without the supernatural would be more in principle with Occam's Razor than assuming one universe and God, which involves accepting the total natural universe (in this case, the sole universe) and the supernatural world.

And by "two natural realms" I meant both the natural one and the supernatural one. Sorry if I wasn't clear.

I may sound incredibly fake by writing this, but thanks for the response.

Crude said...

What's more, at least according to Paul Davies (among others), a multiverse scenario also opens the doors up to designed universes - and designed universes within designed universes (nesting scenario), etc. And even with those considerations we STILL have the God question to answer.

But even with all that aside - and as unkle e is saying, I think - how can we take the 'parsimony' argument seriously when it's subject to, frankly, what really seems like cavalier fast-talk? If nothing else it exposes appeals to parsimony as strangely weak.

Crude said...

And, to quote Paul Davies on this...

"It then struck me in a flash that an uncritical appeal to a multiverse opens up a Pandora's box by permitting fake universes to swamp the real ones. And since fake universes contain fake physics, the pat argument leading from the laws of physics to a multiverse to the elimination of God would be neutralized in a self-contradictory loop. The multiverse advocates would be hoist by their own petard! I repeated the argument in an article in the New York Times, pointing out that the threat of fake universes constitutes a reductio ad absurdum of the entire multiverse theory. The response from multiverse supporters was a big surprise. Rather than recoiling from the fake universe threat, they embraced the possibility with alacrity as part of an enlarged concept of the multiverse. ... I remain cautious and skeptical about universes multiplying willy-nilly. Once the possibility of fake universes is accepted, there are strong arguments for concluding that ours is a fake, simply on the ground that the multiverse is likely to contain vastly more fake universes than real ones. While it may be true that our universe is a fake, it seems to me that drawing that conclusion would spell the end of scientific inquiry."

(Ellipsis'd out is a similar quote from Sir Martin Rees. All this is from page 188 of The Goldilocks Enigma.)

So, not only does a multiverse not provide much answer (much less argument against -- as discussed in the other thread re: Barr and Davies, I believe) to the question of God, it opens to door to other problems.

Doctor Logic said...

The problem with most multiverse theories is that they predict nothing. If you predict nothing, you explain nothing. There's no such thing as a non-predictive explanation because that would just be a restatement of what you're trying to explain.

Here's another way to see this. Suppose two astronomers are looking through a telescope when they see a galaxy explode. "Aha!" says one astronomer. "The explanation for this explosion is the Theory of Everything."

"Really?!" says the other. "What does the Theory of Everything say?"

"I don't know," says the first astronomer, "but, by definition, Theory of Everything must explain this."

Has the first astronomer explained the explosion?

Of course, he hasn't. He's falling for the placeholder fallacy. He thinks a mere name reference to a theory (a theory he would one day like to have) is somehow explanatory.

And this brings us to the problem with the theistic answer. God is not an explanation because it explains nothing whatsoever. It predicts nothing. When people say "God explains the universe" they really mean, "If I understood the mind of God, I could have predicted he would make this universe the way he did."

But this is of no more value than me saying "If I knew the equations for the Theory of Everything (and could do the corresponding calculations), I could have predicted every observation we are making today."

Both of these "explanations" are equally illusory.

As for fine-tuning, theism is in no better position than the multiverse. In theism, the world (i.e., God) "wants" what actually exists to exist, which is about as empty a statement as can be. In the multiverse theory, the cosmos consists of all possible universes, and, by consistency, we can only find ourselves in one of the universes we're suited to.

There are going to be some things that cannot be explained. The complete set of laws of the cosmos cannot be explained without positing another set of laws, which violates the initial assumption that we had a complete set. Some degree of fine-tuning is inevitable.

I fail to see how a God who is far more fine-tuned than our universe shows any parsimony at all.

Darrin said...

// But this is not the point I wanted to make. The point I wanted to make was to question whether someone could, at one and the same time, accept the multiverse hypothesis as a response to the fine-tuning argument, and at one and the same time think that atheism is to be preferred to theism on the basis of parsimony. That just seems really implausible to me.//

You're right, it is. It begs the question in favor of atheism, because it a priori rejects any argument for a creator, who could have designed the Multiverse due to, say, a possibility that it is logically impossible to "tweak the constants" once you kick off the football to begin with. Poop out all of 'em and you'll get the ones with humans in it. Since a Multiverse still must begin to exist and thus have a cause, for example, Kalam is still due an exploration, and "parsimony" has to be put on hold.

Blue Devil Knight said...

I don't think we need multiverse to respond to the fine-tuning argument. I talked a bit about this in recent comment to the last post.

More god of the gaps prehistoric theology here. The gods you use as ontological spackle will soon be superfluous.

William said...

Scientifically speaking, the problem with using the multiverse+anthropic principle hypotheses to explain fine tuning is that it is just as unfalsifiable as the position that Heaven and Hell are different planes of existence in some Christian cosmologies.

So parsimony may not be as much an issue as falsifiability.

Icabod's Cranium said...

I don't think we need multiverse to respond to the fine-tuning argument. I talked a bit about this in recent comment to the last post.

More god of the gaps prehistoric theology here. The gods you use as ontological spackle will soon be superfluous.
But is there any denying that it's at least what should be expected if God does exist?

So it's not solid proof for His existence. Okay, so what?
It should at the least be expected to be the case if He does exist. Maybe there's other ways to ultimately account for it.
But then we still wouldn't know for certain whether that "other explanation" (that non-telic explanation) is the final say on the matter.

And we would still be left with something we would at least expect to be the case if God did exist.

Crude said...

Yes, the explanation of "it's not compelling to me" and "hey, what about quantum Many Worlds!" sure was convincing.

So here's where the great atheist debate finally ends up - writing promissory notes not just for materialism, but absurdism, in the hopes of having a response to every curious point. Atheists aren't getting rid of any gods - they're simply responding with a crazier, more Lovecraftian one.

Anonymous said...

For the theists that reject the multiverse hypothesis, where exactly did Jesus ascend to? Where exactly is Heaven and Hell located at?

Icabod's Cranium said...

For the theists that reject the multiverse hypothesis, where exactly did Jesus ascend to? Where exactly is Heaven and Hell located at?Yeah,
another universe governed by another set of arbitrary laws and different physical constants.

In Christian theism God transcends the created order. He's not sitting in building A mentally conjuring newly created building B

Doctor Logic said...

So here's where the great atheist debate finally ends up - writing promissory notes not just for materialism, but absurdism, in the hopes of having a response to every curious point.Please try to understand. Theism is NOTHING BUT a promissory note. It makes no predictions. Theism has the same status as a hypothetical "Theory of Everything" that we don't yet have.

By definition, the ToE would explain (i.e., predict) a whole bunch of stuff, but it's promissory because we don't (yet) have the details of such a theory, don't have a formulation, and cannot predict anything. Today, I can't use the ToE to explain stuff.

Theism is just like the ToE. If we knew the mind of God, we could have predicted what we see. We could predict the future. But we can't predict anything because we don't know the details of God, don't know his/her/its mind, etc. Theism is constrained by our experience of reality even less than a ToE is constrained by known laws of physics. Theism has zero explanatory power.

So proposing multiverses as an answer to theists makes little sense. First, multiverse theories don't do any explaining until they're predictive, and, second, the theists don't have a solution to the fine-tuning problem worthy of an answer.

It's possible to imagine a theism that isn't a promissory note, but I don't see Christian theism ever getting that far. In my experience, Christians reject the possibility of our ever being able to predict what God will do. In other words, they permanently enshrine the promissory status of their belief system.

Crude said...

"Theism is NOTHING BUT a promissory note. It makes no predictions. Theism has the same status as a hypothetical "Theory of Everything" that we don't yet have."

Why, it's almost as if theism isn't a scientific theory! Good God man, read what you're typing. And notice that it isn't theists typically proposing (many times, infinite!) multiple universes, or universe generating machines (But they aren't persons, we swear!), or otherwise. This, only to begin with.

This while putting aside quite a lot of theistic ground-laying that helped build the science juggernaut. You know, the idea of a rational, explicable and law-based universe. Looks like that prediction's been borne out in spades, which bolsters the cases of Hugo Meynell and CS Peirce both. Either way, it's the non-scientific (the philosophical, the metaphysical) where I find so much of the progress and intellectual satisfaction of theism.

If you're upset with atheists for jumping to multiverses or worse to 'combat' speculative evidence for theism, criticize the atheists. Because from where I stand, what I said holds - many atheists are back in the god game, if they ever left. In fact, between multiverses, many worlds and otherwise, they seem to embracing something similar to the origins of the greek pantheon.

Doctor Logic said...

Crude,

Just claiming your thinking is "philosophical or metaphysical" doesn't exempt you from making your claims rationally explanatory. The explanatory power I am referring to isn't limited to the domain of the physical sciences.

And, no, theism doesn't predict that God will make the world rationally comprehensible. We actually believed the world was rationally comprehensible long before Christianity came along.

It is circular reasoning to make rational arguments for the power of rationality. Every rational argument implicitly assumes a certain set of rational rules and the efficacy of rational analysis at the outset. So you can't conclude in an argument that applying rational rules will be effective when that was your first assumption. So theism has no utility here whatsoever. At best you can say that some versions of theism are compatible with the efficacy of rational thinking, which is trivial.

Because from where I stand, what I said holds - many atheists are back in the god game, if they ever left.By all means, believe theism is making a comeback. Just relax, and everything will be fine.

Crude said...

DL

"Just claiming your thinking is "philosophical or metaphysical" doesn't exempt you from making your claims rationally explanatory. The explanatory power I am referring to isn't limited to the domain of the physical sciences."

And the power of theism in the philosophical and metaphysical realm is abundant. You may disagree, but given your past arguments that really doesn't concern me.

"And, no, theism doesn't predict that God will make the world rationally comprehensible. We actually believed the world was rationally comprehensible long before Christianity came along."

What you mean "we", Masked Man? I suggest you have a nice, long look at the history of the development of science. Along with those arguments by CS Peirce and Hugo Meynell, just to begin with. Theism at large has the idea of a rational (if supreme) agent at its heart. Christianity honed that point by showing where humans stand in relation to God. Atheism contributed next to nothing to that early progress. (How could they? Atheism makes no claims, after all. ;)

"By all means, believe theism is making a comeback. Just relax, and everything will be fine."

Goodness - doing a little bit of projecting, are you? I didn't say word one about comebacks or popularity. I'm just pointing out that "atheists" oddly are anything but. They simply have a more esoteric god, replete with superstition, unverifiable claims, promissory notes, and even fideistic statements of faith. This will remain the case even if all the world becomes overwhelmingly, explicitly atheist.

Prepare to light a candle to the Lovecraftian Chaos-God, spawning infinite universes without rhyme or reason in every which-way. Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn!

legodesi said...

"This is because, with the former, we only assume one entity (nature), whereas, with the latter, we assume two different realms."

It seems that by grouping the multi-verse under the word nature, one is tempted to think of it as one finite entity. If that were really the case, then there would've only been one universe and one science.

Doctor Logic said...

Crude,

And the power of theism in the philosophical and metaphysical realm is abundant.So abundant, apparently, that you couldn't even defend your point with a single argument.

I suggest you have a nice, long look at the history of the development of science.Do you really think that the Greeks were incapable of inductive inference? How about stone age folk? Why keep chipping at pieces of flint if they could just as well expect to get MP3 players instead of arrow-heads? Do you know anyone who lacks confidence in inductive inference? Pretending that Medieval Christianity gave us all that confidence is just ridiculous.

Crude said...

DL,

You are confusing technology with science. Further, you've set the bar so low that a dog is practicing science if he figures out a new way to get scraps from the table. I said to go read up on it, but it seems like it would do you no good.

Anonymous said...

May I interject? I've often heard atheists claim that the relevant parsimony is a parsimony of kind not of number, so that positing one God is much less parsimonious than positing infinitely many universes.

Is it not possible, though, that in positing an actually infinite number of universes, atheists are also making a violation of parsimony in kind as well as number? We do know that a universe exists, but we do not know that actual infinities exist.

Of course, the atheist can scale back his claim from an infinite number of universes to merely many universes. But that invites the question of why there should be just enough universes to probabilistically explain our universe, and not a few more or less? The second line of response would be to point out that theists also posit infinities in the attributes of God. I would respond that in all cases, to speak of God as having an attribute to an infinite degree is a metaphorical way of saying that God has the greatest amount of this attribute possible. God doesn't literally have infinite love or knowledge or even power, he just has the greatest logically possible amount of each.

I just offer this as idle speculation.

MrFreeThinker said...

Never mind the fact that there is a logic jump from ..maybe there is another universe to ..maybe there is an almost infinite number of multiverses to.. maybe they have different constants.
And even if the multiverse theory turned out to be true, it would only account for the constants ,but not any of the other arbitrary quantities that have been finely tuned.
I think Robin Collins drove the nail into the coffin of naturalistic multiverse scenarios when he pointed out the the mechanism for creating these universes would itself have to have a set of fine-tuned laws so it could produce multiple universes.

philip m said...

Victor,

Speaking of arguments that don't mix, it seems pretty clear to me that most atheists would not agree with doctor_logic's logic. This is because most atheists rely, at least to some extent, on the problem of evil to sustain their unbelief. But to think that evil falsifies God (probabilistically) is to say that God predicts certain kinds of universes will not happen, i.e. ones with immense amounts of evil.